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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.

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).

Home Secretary Pledges New Deportation Law

Home Secretary Theresa May is planning a new law to stop foreign criminals avoiding deportation, according to reports. She told the Sunday Telegraph that the actions of some immigration judges were "not acceptable" and that they were "subverting" Brit...

Anti-Shia group behind Quetta carnage

A Hazara Shia comforts another mourning for a family member who died in a bomb blast, at a local hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013.

The outlawed Pakistani terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has claimed responsibility for Saturday’s massacre in Quetta.

A bomb attack targeting Shia Muslims in the main bazaar of the city in southwestern Pakistan killed at least 79 people, including women and children, and injured nearly 200 others, officials said early on Sunday morning.

According to the police, most of the victims were Hazara Shias. Burnt school bags and books of schoolchildren were scattered everywhere, witnesses said.

A spokesman for Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the bombing. The group was founded in 1996 by Riaz Basra after he broke away from Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan over differences with his superiors.

"The explosion was caused by an improvised explosive device fitted to a motorcycle," said Wazir Khan Nasir, the deputy inspector general of police in Quetta. "This is a continuation of terrorism against Shias."

"I saw many bodies of women and children," said an eyewitness at a local hospital. "At least a dozen people were burned to death by the blast."

On January 10, a twin bomb attack at a crowded billiard hall killed more than 90 people, mostly Shia Muslims, in Quetta, which is the capital of Balochistan province. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi said it carried out the bombing.

Following the incident, massive demonstrations were held across the country to denounce the violence against Shia Muslims.

The demonstrators shouted slogans against the government and criticized Pakistan’s security forces for failing to provide security to the country’s Shia Muslims.

They also denounced the Saudi Arabian policy of funding extremist groups that commit acts of violence against Muslims in Pakistan.

In addition, the protesters called on the government to take immediate action against the forces involved in the sectarian killings.

Commenting on the January 10 bombing in Quetta, the Pakistan director of Human Rights Watch said, “2012 was the bloodiest year for Pakistan’s Shia community in living memory and if this latest attack is any indication, 2013 has started on an even more dismal note.”

“As Shia community members continue to be slaughtered in cold blood, the callousness and indifference of authorities offers a damning indictment of the state, its military, and security agencies,” Ali Dayan Hasan added.

“Pakistan’s tolerance for religious extremists is not just destroying lives and alienating entire communities, it is destroying Pakistani society across the board,” he stated.

GJH/HGL

Big Corporations Put Up Seed Funding for Republican Dark Money Group


Just a sample of the State Government Leadership Foundation's work.

By Justin Elliott, 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."

Rosneft gets access to $100bn gas and oil field in Alaska

Russian President Vladimir Putin (center) at the signing ceremony of cooperation documents between OJSC Rosneft Oil Company and ExxonMobil Development Campaign company. Right - President of Rosneft Igor Sechin. Left - ExxonMobil Exploration Company President Stephen Greenlee.(RIA Novosti / Aleksey Nikolskyi)

Russian President Vladimir Putin (center) at the signing ceremony of cooperation documents between OJSC Rosneft Oil Company and ExxonMobil Development Campaign company. Right - President of Rosneft Igor Sechin. Left - ExxonMobil Exploration Company President Stephen Greenlee.(RIA Novosti / Aleksey Nikolskyi)

Rosneft has reached an agreement with Exxon Mobil to acquiring a 25% stake in the Point Thompson Alaska oil and natural gas field. The deal is part of the larger cooperation on exploring the Russian Arctic shelf.

­The head of Rosneft Igor Sechin and the President of ExxonMobil Stephen Greenlee have signed an agreement on joint exploration of new sectors of the Russian Arctic shelf, expanding the 2011 strategic partnership agreement.

Under the deal Rosneft gets access to one of the largest fields in Alaska which is currently operated by ExxonMobil. Participation in the project will let Rosneft develop up to a quarter of the proved gas resources of the Alaska North Slope, as well as get the latest technology for exploiting liquid gas fields in bad weather conditions, according to Igor Sechin.

In return, ExxonMobil gets the rights to explore 600,000 acres of land in the Russian Arctic, including the Severo-Karsky block in the Kara Sea, three blocks in the Chukchi Sea and two in the Laptev Sea, all of which are “among the most promising and least explored offshore blocks in the world.

According to Sechin, the agreements “take the unprecedented Rosneft and ExxonMobil partnership to a completely new level.” “The acreage in the Russian Arctic subject to geological exploration and subsequent development increased nearly six-fold,” Sechin added.

Point Thompson is a large oil and gas field in the Northern part of Alaska, which was discovered in the 1960s, which has been recently cleared for development after a legal battle between ExxonMobil and the State of Alaska. In 2012 the State, Exxon Mobil and other Point Thomson stakeholders agreed that natural gas production can begin by spring 2016, or the State could begin to take back leases. 

The field is estimated to hold a potential 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas which is a quarter of the known reserves in the region, and also hundreds of millions of barrels of oil. If the estimates are correct the area could be worth more than $100 billion.

48 Arrested at Keystone Pipeline Protest as Sierra Club Lifts 120-Year Ban on Civil...

Forty-eight people, including civil rights leader Julian Bond and NASA climate scientist James Hansen, were arrested Wednesday in front of the White House as part of an ongoing protest calling on the Obama administration to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The action came before a rally planned for Sunday on Washington’s National Mall, which organizers have dubbed "the largest climate rally in history." We speak to Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, who was arrested in the first act of civil disobedience in the organization’s 120-year history.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Forty-eight environmental activists were arrested Wednesday in front of the White House as part of an ongoing protest calling on the Obama administration to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. The proposed 1,700-mile pipeline would deliver tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in Texas. The action came before a rally planned for Sunday on Washington’s National Mall, which organizers have dubbed "the largest climate rally in history."

Among those arrested on Wednesday were two top leaders from the Sierra Club: the group’s executive director, Michael Brune, and President Allison Chin.The protest marked the first time the Sierra Club has engaged in civil disobedience in its 120-year history.

Others arrested included civil rights leader Julian Bond, Bill McKibben of 350.org, NASA climate scientist James Hansen, lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and actress Daryl Hannah. They were charged with failure to disperse and obey lawful orders, and released on $100 bond each. This is Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Julian Bond.

ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR.: I think President Obama is going to kill the pipeline.

INTERVIEWER: Why do you say that?

ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR.: Because I think it’s the right thing to do, and I think he knows that. And I think he—you know, I think he has a strong moral core, and I think John Kerry does, too. And I think, ultimately, he would not do something that is—that is this catastrophic and irresponsible and reckless.

JULIAN BOND: This is a decision that affects all Americans, and we want to make sure he does the right thing, which is to say no to the pipeline. It’s a great deal for Canada, great deal for Mexico; doesn’t do much for the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: That was former chair of the NAACP, Julian Bond; before that, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. The protest outside the White House came one day after President Obama addressed climate change during his State of the Union.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct—I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go now to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by two of the protesters, now out of jail, who were arrested yesterday outside the White House. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, his most recent book is called Coming Clean: Breaking America’s Addiction to Oil and Coal. And we’re joined by Daryl Hannah, the actress and activist, who was previously arrested in Texas in October for protesting the Keystone XL pipeline.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Michael Brune. This is historic for your organization, Michael. In its 120-year history, you are the first leader of the organization to get arrested in a civil disobedience. Why?

MICHAEL BRUNE: Well, first, thanks for having me on the show.

And it might sound a little surprising that an organization like the Sierra Club, that’s been around for so long and has been a part of so many important fights, that it’s the first time we do civil disobedience. But we look at this project, the tar sands pipeline, and it’s a boondoggle. It’s such a—it would contribute to such a climate disaster that we realize we have to use every single tool of democracy in order to fight this thing. We’ll fight it in the courts. We’ll fight it in statehouses and here in the Beltway, in the streets. But we realize that we have to do every single thing that we can to make sure that instead of putting $7 billion into a dirty oil pipeline, that we’re investing in clean energy instead.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the importance of this particular decision that the government must make on the XL pipeline in terms of the continuing crisis of climate change in the country and around the world?

MICHAEL BRUNE: Well, that’s the challenge here, is that last year we had record droughts and record wildfires and temperatures a full degree’s above the previous record in the lower 48, a thousand-mile storm that hit the Eastern Seaboard. And the first big test for the president of his commitment to fight climate change is whether or not we’re going to build a pipeline that would take almost a million barrels of oil every day, the dirtiest oil on the planet, ship it through the U.S. and have most of it be exported. So what we’re doing to—what we’re trying to do is to convince President Obama that he needs to put his full muscle and his full ambition to match the scale of this challenge.

It’s not just about the pipeline; it’s making sure that we’re turning away from fossil fuels, the most extreme sources of dirty energy everywhere—drilling in the Arctic, blowing the tops off of our mountains in Appalachia, building this tar sands pipeline. All of those would just deepen and extend our dependence on fossil fuels, when clean energy is growing by leaps and bounds. It’s coming online in record proportions. And so, we want to push Obama as aggressively as we can to embrace a clean energy future.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Brune, have you gotten a chance to speak with President Obama? He made a very strong statement at the State of the Union address.

MICHAEL BRUNE: I have not—I have not talked with him since the—since his inauguration address, but we are talking to White House officials. And the clear message we want to deliver is that the president has an enormous amount of executive authority, and we want his ambition to match the scale of this challenge. I agree with what Bobby Kennedy said yesterday, that we believe that the president has a solid moral core, we believe that he is committed sincerely to fighting climate change. And in that context, you can’t build a pipeline from the tar sands. You shouldn’t drill for oil in the Arctic. You should not build liquefied natural gas export terminals that will make fracking happen everywhere across the country with even more intensity. So the challenge right now is to show the president that we’ve got his back. Every time he stands up to big polluters, we will mobilize to defend his strong policies. And at the same time, we’ll push the president to go as far as he needs to go.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, he did allude, obviously, in his State of the Union address to his ability to use his executive powers to be able to implement policies to help the country reduce greenhouse gas emissions. What is your—is this the first big test, as far as you’re concerned, of how serious he is about his threatened use of executive power?

MICHAEL BRUNE: Yeah. And so, look at the last two speeches that the president gave on this. In his inaugural address and then a couple nights ago in the State of the Union, he made the best argument for why we have to tackle climate change. He said we need to do it because we have a moral, ethical responsibility to future generations, to our own generation, but he also talked about the economic opportunity that’s inherent in a clean energy transition.

And so, what we need to do now is to say, "When you stand up to these large oil companies, massive coal and gas companies, we’ve got your back." There are millions of people in the U.S. already that are being powered by clean energy, and there are hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. and around the world that will fight for a clean energy future. We have a big grassroots movement in this country. Many of them will show up on the National Mall on Sunday, February 17th, the largest climate rally in U.S. history. But the challenge now is to show that this movement is bigger than Big Oil, it’s bigger than Big Coal, it’s bigger than the gas industry. And we are just as creative, just as relentless, as any opposition that the president might face.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Brune, in 2011, I asked Cindy Schild of the American Petroleum Institute why her organization and TransCanada are pushing so hard for this pipeline. She denied having any financial interest in having the project approved, saying API is looking out for the country’s energy security. This is an excerpt of what she said.

CINDY SCHILD: API doesn’t have a financial interest in the pipeline. I mean, we’re looking out for, again, energy security, national security. We also see supply flexibility and reliability benefits to being able to bring the third-largest resource base from Canada, and our number one trading partner, down to our largest refining center in the Gulf.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Cindy Schild in the American Petroleum Institute. And, of course, President Obama stresses, above all else, jobs. Your response, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune?

MICHAEL BRUNE: Look, this is a decision between what’s right and what’s easy, right? We’ve been building pipelines for more than a century. We’ve been building coal-fired power plants and refineries, oil refineries, for more than a century. We know how to do that. We know how to build out fossil fuel infrastructure. The whole point of fighting climate change is that we can’t do that anymore and expect to have a stable climate.

Last year, the International Energy Agency said that if we want to keep warming below two degrees Celsius, an increase in temperatures below two degrees Celsius, three-and-a-half degrees Fahrenheit, if we want to keep our temperature increases below three-and-a-half degrees Fahrenheit, at least two-thirds of the oil and coal and gas that we know about all around the world has to stay in the ground. Two-thirds of our fossil fuel reserves have to stay in the ground if we want to have a shot at keeping warming at three-and-a-half degrees Fahrenheit, which is a reckless goal considering that we’ve only had about an increase—a degree increase so far. So, in that context, why would we exploit new sources of oil that’s even dirtier than conventional oil? Why would we drill in the Arctic? Why would we blow off the tops of our mountains just to get a little bit of coal? If we’re going to win on climate change, we have to start taking bolder action. We have to start doing it now.

The good news here is that solar is cheaper than ever before. Wind is cheaper than ever before. Nine states get at least 10 percent of their power from wind. California will soon get 30 percent solar plus wind. Iowa is at 25 percent, just wind only. So, all around the country, millions of people are getting their power from clean energy. Millions more are working in the industry, the clean energy industry all around the world. The clean energy future isn’t decades away; it’s actually happening right now. So, we have a shot at arresting climate change, but we can’t kid ourselves and keep investing in fossil fuels at the same time.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Brune, we want to thank you for being with us, executive director of the Sierra Club. It’s the first time in the organization’s 120-year history, an organization founded by the environmentalist John Muir, that a head of the organization has been arrested. When we come back from break, we’ll be joined by actress and activist Daryl Hannah. She was arrested in Texas protesting the Keystone XL pipeline, and yesterday she went to jail in Washington, D.C., for protesting the same pipeline, this time in front of the White House. Stay with us.

We Can Fix This? In SOTU, Obama Shoves Voting Reform into “Sock Drawer,” Leaving...

President Obama announced plans for a nonpartisan commission to "improve the Election Day experience" in his State of the Union address, a response to the long lines and heavy burdens that states imposed on voters during the 2012 elections. But his proposal -- which some have called "the policy equivalent of a sock drawer" -- falls short of what many had hoped.

The president certainly got the rhetoric right.

"We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home," Obama said. "That includes our most fundamental right as citizens: the right to vote."

He referred to Desiline Victor, a 102-year-old Haitian immigrant who became a citizen in 2005 and waited three hours to cast her ballot in Miami. She watched the address from the First Lady's viewing box. More than 200,000 people didn't vote in Florida because of long lines, which resulted in wait times as long as seven hours.

"When any Americans, no matter where they live or what their party, are denied that right simply because they can't wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals."

But the solution -- an election commission -- left much to be desired. As Charles Pierce notes at Esquire, "A bipartisan commission is the Washington policy equivalent of a sock drawer:" where ideas are shoved away and ignored. A similar-sounding federal agency was formed after the voting problems highlighted in the 2000 elections and Bush v Gore debacle, but all four commissioner spots are vacant and it hasn't had an executive director since 2011, largely because of Republican obstructionism. A bill to kill the agency passed the Republican-controlled House in 2011.

Weak Commission Leaves Much to be Desired

Elections are administered by the states, which has resulted in a patchwork of outdated, paper-based election systems, as well as partisan application of voting registration and early voting procedures (which vary state-to-state), and new laws that make it harder for disfavored populations to access the ballot box, such as strict voter ID restrictions advanced by the American Legislative Exchange Council. Along with partisanship, outdated election administration is rife with malfeasance or incompetence -- like when Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus flipped the results of the Wisconsin Supreme Court race in 2011 after she insisted on keeping vote tallies on a personal laptop and said she forgot to include an entire city in the initial count submitted to the state and press.

Groups like the Brennan Center for Justice have called for federal legislation and national standards to limit some of the problems experienced in recent elections. Its proposal would enact a computerized national voting registration system (which, incidentally, would reduce opportunities for the in-person "fraud" that Republicans espouse), mandatory early voting, and minimum standards for polling places. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) has proposed legislation to require same day legislation across the country and prohibit voter ID laws, and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has introduced a bill that would task the Attorney General with creating minimum national standards to prevent wait times of more than one hour, both of which would advance the ball much farther than a bipartisan commission.

The president's commission is tasked with much more modest goals. According to the Executive Order creating the commission, it will "identify practical, commonsense steps that state and local election officials can take to improve the Election Day experience. The Commission will also identify the practices of voting jurisdictions where voters have the best Election Day experience."

Identifying best practices is important but it won't change many of the problems with state-run elections. The Pew Charitable Trusts just released an election performance index along these lines, and ranked Wisconsin as one of the highest-performing states in the nation during the 2008 and 2010 election cycles. This is in large part because the state is one of nine that allows voters to register at the polls on election day. But as the Center for Media and Democracy recently outlined in its report Rig the Vote, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos have both voiced support for ending the highly successful election day registration program, despite it being nationally recognized as helping the state achieve the second-highest voter turnout rate in the nation.

Voting rights advocates recognize that an Election Commission is not enough. Although the Brennan Center urged the Commission to think "boldly," it called on "Congress to do its part by enacting minimum national standards to modernize elections." The League of Women Voters was less conciliatory, stating in a release that "Setting up a commission is not a bold step; it is business as usual."

Republican Lawyer Co-Chair Is a "Puzzling" Choice

The makeup of the Commission itself has led others to question its efficacy. It will be chaired by Bob Bauer, the top attorney for Obama's campaign, and Ben Ginsberg, former election lawyer for Mitt Romney's 2012 operation.

But Ari Berman at The Nation explained why Ginsberg is a "puzzling" choice. He writes:

For over two decades, Ginsberg has been a top lawyer for the Republican Party -- the same party, you may recall, that has led the effort to restrict voting rights of late. Ginsberg helped lead the 2000 recall effort for George W. Bush. He was forced to resign from the Bush campaign in 2004 after it was revealed that he was also advising the vile Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. In 2006, Ginsberg said, "just like really with the Voting Rights Act, Republicans have some fundamental philosophical difficulties with the whole notion of Equal Protection." And in 2012, he was counsel to the Romney campaign when it absurdly claimed that the Obama campaign was trying to suppress military voters by pushing for early voting for all Ohioans. Does that sound like the kind of guy you want leading a "non-partisan" voting commission?

With the Voting Rights Act being challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court and a variety of proposals to make it harder to vote (and change how electoral votes are counted) being considered in the states, a bipartisan commission is certainly not enough.

Many are hoping that, beyond this commission idea, Obama will truly follow through on his State of the Union promise that "We can fix this, and we will. The American people demand it. And so does our democracy."

Tax the world: EU’s controversial ‘Tobin’ tax might take effect in 2014

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso gestures during a press conference with EU Trade commissioner on a major transatlantic trade initiative on February 13, 2013 at EU Headquarters in Brussels.(AFP Photo / John Thys)

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso gestures during a press conference with EU Trade commissioner on a major transatlantic trade initiative on February 13, 2013 at EU Headquarters in Brussels.(AFP Photo / John Thys)

The controversial ‘Tobin’ tax on financial transactions which could raise over $40 billion a year has been agreed upon by 11 EU member states.

­The European Commission agreed a proposal for a financial transaction tax (FTT) to be introduced in eleven EU member states in 2014 despite wide spread opposition. The countries that supported the initiative are France, Germany, Belgium, Estonia, Greece, Spain, Italy, Austria, Portugal, Slovenia and Slovakia. Together they make up roughly two-thirds of the EU's GDP.

Now the law needs to be unanimously ratified by the governments of the 11 members of the FTT zone.

According to the Commission, the main aim of the tax is to raise public funds and encourage more responsible trading by financial institutions. The tax will affect all financial transactions carried out by financial institutions on all financial instruments and markets, except transactions involving the European Central Bank (ECB), the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), and the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).

“On the table is an unquestionably fair and technically sound tax, which will strengthen our single market and temper irresponsible trading,” said Algirdas Semeta, EU Commissioner responsible for taxation.

According to the European Commission the FTT “will not apply to day-to-day financial activities of citizens and businesses,” to protect “the real economy.” Also exempt from the tax will be “traditional investment banking activities in the context of the raising of capital or to financial transactions carried out as part-restructuring operations.”

The tax is to levy 0.1 percent on stock and bond trades and 0.01 percent on derivatives transactions involving one financial institution with its headquarters in the FTT zone, or trading on behalf of a client based there.

The tax also includes tough anti-avoidance measures that would apply to trades executed outside Europe when no eurozone entity is buying or selling the product, which is causing the most controversy.

The long arm of the levy has raised the concerns not only in Britain, Luxembourg and other EU states, but also as far away as the US. Wall Street and the US administration joined others warning that the tax overreaches borders, flouts international treaties and “breaks the bonds that bind our global economy.”

A US Treasury spokesperson said the tax would “harm US investors in the US and elsewhere who have purchased affected securities.”
The jurisdiction issues raise concern among big financial groups about double- and multiple taxation and trade protectionism.

These novel and unilateral theories of tax jurisdiction are both unprecedented and inconsistent with existing norms of international tax law and long-standing treaty commitments,” the groups argue in a letter to Algirdas Semeta, the EU tax commissioner. “There is a high risk that their adoption could lead to -double and multiple taxation and a deterioration of international tax co-operation and trade -protectionism.”

EU officials argue the tax will not place additional burdens on ordinary citizens, although many are concerned the tax “will hit savers and pensions.” Jorge Morley-Smith, head of tax at Britain’s Investment Management Association, told Reuters.

“The impact could be devastating in reducing activity … and could erode up to six out of every 30 years’ worth of contributions to an actively managed retirement savings plan,” he said. Further, stock lending could become uneconomical because the average fee was less than the planned tax.

According to Insurance Europe, which represents the bulk of the bloc’s insurance sector, “the tax would harm savings products at a time when people should be encouraged to save for retirement,” Reuters reported.

Anna Bodrova, analyst from Investcafe, believes there should not be any rush in introducing the ‘Tobin’ tax in its current form.

In its present shape the ‘Tobin’ initiative might be harmful for capital markets. For example, introducing a tax on stocks will increase the cost of capital raising for companies, and the situation with bonds will be even more complex,” Bodrova told RT.

“This measure is quite ambiguous, but it can bring good results if it is implemented step by step, in a course of 2-3 years, so that to avoid provoke sharp market reaction,” Bodrova added.

Alexandria Carr, a former UK Treasury lawyer now at law firm Mayer Brown, told CNN that those 11 countries moving ahead under so-called “enhanced co-operation” are legally bound to respect the rights of member states that do not participate.

"If [the] proposal has the expected extraterritorial reach, it would appear to ride roughshod over the competences of the 16 member states who have opted out," she said.

“This tax is actually quite draconian and bad for the eurozone. It will drive a coach and horses through the single market and force banks to relocate outside the FTT zone,” Chas Roy-Chowdhury, head of taxation at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) told the BBC. 

The ‘Tobin’ tax is named after the US economist James Tobin who proposed a global tax on currency trades in the 1970s. It was proposed by the EC in September 2011 and last January it was adopted by majority of EU’s Council of Finance Ministers in Brussels. However, as 27 member states could not agree, 11 eurozone countries applied to go it alone under “enhanced co-operation” rules.

NRA Working to Elect Pro-Gun Judges and Prosecutors

WASHINGTON - February 14 - Today, as the gun control debate continues on the national stage, the Center for American Progress released “NRA Working to Elect Pro-Gun Judges and Prosecutors,” which traces the millions of dollars that the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, or LEAA, has spent in state races—with the help of the National Rifle Association—to elect candidates that grant broad rights to gun owners and curtail the rights of criminal defendants. This analysis also details the LEAA’s NRA-funded efforts to keep cities and counties from adopting gun-control reforms to keep their communities safer.

Founded and heavily funded by the National Rifle Association, the LEAA operates at the state and local level opposing common-sense gun reforms such as background checks, bans on assault weapons, and measures to keep guns out of the hands of people on the federal government’s “Terrorist Watchlist.” While the LEAA’s refusal to disclose the source of its funding makes it difficult to ascertain the full extent to which the NRA has supported the organization, the NRA’s tax documents reveal that it gave at least $2 million to the organization between 2000 and 2010. Previous media reports indicate that the NRA donated $500,000 annually to the organization from 1995 to 2002, which would total more than $5 million.

By funding the LEAA, the NRA has helped purchase ads supporting pro-gun candidates for state supreme courts and state attorneys general. The judges and prosecutors elected with the aid of LEAA funding have carried out their duties in accord with the values of the LEAA and the NRA. Some examples include:

  • Former Republican Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore was elected with the aid of the LEAA, and his campaigns have also received $11,000 directly from the NRA and its employees. Upon taking office in 2002, Kilgore moved to limit the reach of the “Uniform Machine Gun Act,” which prohibits “aggressive” use of a machine gun. Kilgore also issued a ruling that the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation had no power to ban concealed handguns in state parks.
  • Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette of Michigan was elected in 2010 after the LEAA ran ads attacking his opponent. In 2011 he granted gun owners in his state the right to use silencers if licensed by the federal government. The press release from Schuette’s office on the topic quoted an NRA spokesperson describing silencers as “useful safety devices.”
  • Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, also a Republican, was first elected in 2002, after the LEAA ran ads attacking his opponent. In November 2012 he issued an opinion stating that employers could not enact policies that prohibited employees from keeping concealed weapons in their vehicles.
  • The Mississippi Supreme Court—with three judges elected after millions in ads paid for by the LEAA—ruled in September 2012 that a local Wal-Mart store was not liable for knowingly selling ammunition to a “straw purchaser” later used in a murder.

Since the LEAA was launched with NRA funding in 1991, restrictions on political spending by corporations and independent spending groups have been struck down by federal courts in cases such as Citizens United. The NRA has been a vocal opponent of proposed legislation to shed some light on the opaque funding of independent spenders. Without more effective disclosure rules, elections for judicial and prosecutorial offices can expect more attack ads from anonymous donors intent on shaping our state justice systems.

Read the full analysis here.

Related resources:

To speak with CAP experts on this topic, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202.481.8181 or [email protected].

The Center for American Progress is a think tank dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through ideas and action. We combine bold policy ideas with a modern communications platform to help shape the national debate, expose the hollowness of conservative governing philosophy, and challenge the media to cover the issues that truly matter.

NRA Working to Elect Pro-Gun Judges and Prosecutors

WASHINGTON - February 14 - Today, as the gun control debate continues on the national stage, the Center for American Progress released “NRA Working to Elect Pro-Gun Judges and Prosecutors,” which traces the millions of dollars that the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, or LEAA, has spent in state races—with the help of the National Rifle Association—to elect candidates that grant broad rights to gun owners and curtail the rights of criminal defendants. This analysis also details the LEAA’s NRA-funded efforts to keep cities and counties from adopting gun-control reforms to keep their communities safer.

Founded and heavily funded by the National Rifle Association, the LEAA operates at the state and local level opposing common-sense gun reforms such as background checks, bans on assault weapons, and measures to keep guns out of the hands of people on the federal government’s “Terrorist Watchlist.” While the LEAA’s refusal to disclose the source of its funding makes it difficult to ascertain the full extent to which the NRA has supported the organization, the NRA’s tax documents reveal that it gave at least $2 million to the organization between 2000 and 2010. Previous media reports indicate that the NRA donated $500,000 annually to the organization from 1995 to 2002, which would total more than $5 million.

By funding the LEAA, the NRA has helped purchase ads supporting pro-gun candidates for state supreme courts and state attorneys general. The judges and prosecutors elected with the aid of LEAA funding have carried out their duties in accord with the values of the LEAA and the NRA. Some examples include:

  • Former Republican Virginia Attorney General Jerry Kilgore was elected with the aid of the LEAA, and his campaigns have also received $11,000 directly from the NRA and its employees. Upon taking office in 2002, Kilgore moved to limit the reach of the “Uniform Machine Gun Act,” which prohibits “aggressive” use of a machine gun. Kilgore also issued a ruling that the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation had no power to ban concealed handguns in state parks.
  • Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette of Michigan was elected in 2010 after the LEAA ran ads attacking his opponent. In 2011 he granted gun owners in his state the right to use silencers if licensed by the federal government. The press release from Schuette’s office on the topic quoted an NRA spokesperson describing silencers as “useful safety devices.”
  • Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, also a Republican, was first elected in 2002, after the LEAA ran ads attacking his opponent. In November 2012 he issued an opinion stating that employers could not enact policies that prohibited employees from keeping concealed weapons in their vehicles.
  • The Mississippi Supreme Court—with three judges elected after millions in ads paid for by the LEAA—ruled in September 2012 that a local Wal-Mart store was not liable for knowingly selling ammunition to a “straw purchaser” later used in a murder.

Since the LEAA was launched with NRA funding in 1991, restrictions on political spending by corporations and independent spending groups have been struck down by federal courts in cases such as Citizens United. The NRA has been a vocal opponent of proposed legislation to shed some light on the opaque funding of independent spenders. Without more effective disclosure rules, elections for judicial and prosecutorial offices can expect more attack ads from anonymous donors intent on shaping our state justice systems.

Read the full analysis here.

Related resources:

To speak with CAP experts on this topic, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202.481.8181 or [email protected].

The Center for American Progress is a think tank dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through ideas and action. We combine bold policy ideas with a modern communications platform to help shape the national debate, expose the hollowness of conservative governing philosophy, and challenge the media to cover the issues that truly matter.

Private Debt — Not Government Debt — Will Destroy America

Personal debt.(Photo: SeniroLiving.org)There are two kinds of debt. One that’s relatively harmless. And one that can destroy us all.  

There’s public sector debt – or government debt – which is over $16 trillion. This is the sort of debt that politicians scream and holler about when they demand austerity.

And then there’s private sector debt – the debt owned by you and me and millions of Americans across the nation in the form of credit cards, home and auto loans, along with America's corporate debt. This sort of debt doesn’t seem to bother politicians at all, even though total private sector debt is $38 trillion, more than double government debt.

Now here’s what you need to know. Public sector debt is not a problem at all. Our national debt, despite the big number, is not a threat to the nation.

Currently, our national debt is roughly 100% of GDP. After World War 2, it was much higher – over 120% of GDP.  But, rather than freaking out in the 1950’s and demanding austerity spending cuts, both Republican and Democratic Presidents and lawmakers grew our nation out of this so-called debt problem with government spending.

There were massive government investments to build the Interstate Highway System, send returning GIs to college, and to grow the social safety net.

And it worked. With more government investments, more Americans were put to work, which meant they had more money to spend, which meant more businesses hired more people to keep up with the higher demand, which meant Americans all around were earning more money and paying more revenue into the government through taxes. Our debt-to-GDP ratio plummeted from its peak of over 120% in the 1950’s to around 20% in the 1970’s.  

Then Reagan came in, gave billionaires a massive tax cut, increased defense spending, and our national debt exploded again. But, two Presidents later, Bill Clinton had the budget balanced and the nation on track to completely eliminate the national debt within ten years.

George W. Bush blew up that plan with his tax cuts, wars, corporate giveaways, and his economic crash, so now we have a pretty massive debt, although not as big as the one Truman and Eisenhower faced and beat.

Our nation has a long history, from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War to World War II of dealing with our national debt, and reducing debt levels that are much higher than we see today. That’s why government debt is not a problem right now. With just a small amount of political will, it can be solved pretty easily: more government investments to put people to work and more taxes on the rich so that they pay their fair share again have always solved it in the past.

On the other hand, private sector debt is a huge problem. Not only is it devastating the livelihoods of millions of Americans around the nation, but it’s also pushing our economy toward collapse.   

After World War 2, total private debt was below 50% of GDP. Today, it’s more than 250% of GDP, which is even higher than it was during the Great Depression.

There are several reasons for this.

The first is that when Reagan stopped enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, businesses started merging and acquiring each other like crazy. Because of changes in the rules on how that could be done, Private Equity or LBO firms came into existence, driving the monopolistic merger process with trillions in debt. Today virtually every corporate merger involves the company taking on huge debt, while the executives and the Pirate Equity boys take home billions. The result is that most of this private sector debt is corporate debt, and it's dangerously high, a teetering, towering house of cards. 

And then there's household debt.  

Since Reagan, Americans have not been paid more for their increased productivity, so wages have failed to keep up with the rising costs of housing, energy, education, and healthcare. To make ends meet, Americans had to extend their credit lines and home mortgages, thus sinking further into debt.

Also, there was the housing bubble, which was caused by banksters pushing mortgages – or debt – on millions of Americans, knowing that those same Americans were unlikely to be able to pay down those mortgages and debt.

But the banks made a ton of money selling off that bad debt to other investors before the market went bust, and skimming fees off the top of every single transaction.

And, of course, all of the losses that the banksters did incur during the crisis were promptly repaid by our government thanks to the bailout.

But nobody seemed to care about the debt that everyone else who wasn’t a bankster still had. Nobody except the banks, which are still trying to suck more and more money out of their indebted customers, and are now bringing back debtor’s prisons to help in this effort.

In Arkansas, a breast cancer survivor, Lisa Lindsay, was thrown in jail because she didn’t pay a $280 medical bill, which was charged to her by mistake.

Debtors’ prisons haven’t officially been used in America since before the Civil War. But today, a third of the states in the country allow debt collectors to use the public court system to go after people who owe them money. So, rather than being thrown in jail for specifically owing money, Americans are thrown in jail for not showing up to court hearings or not paying legal fines stemming from their debts.  

There’s even a law in Arkansas that allows landlords to throw tenants in jail if they're late on their rent. According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, hundreds of tenants in Arkansas who’ve fallen on hard times and can’t pay their rent are taken to court and sometimes jailed.

So, in a roundabout way, the debtors prisons have returned to America.

This is a huge problem because economies depend on consumers – people like you and me – spending money. But, if we’re in debt up to our eye-balls, and being thrown in prison for that debt, then we can’t spend money to stimulate the economy.

As economist Steve Keen told me, “That’s why we’re in a crisis.”

He added that it wasn't the government deficit we have to worry about.  Instead, he said, “It’s the dynamics of private debt that have determined the crunch we’re in now.”

While debt can be useful and free up more spending in the economy, we’ve reached a point where businesses and individual Americans can no longer afford to go deeper into debt. 

And a major reason why the economy continues to stagnate after the collapse is because Americans are paying down their debt rather than spending money in the economy. And the more Americans continue to pay down their debt instead of spending, the worse the economy will get.

When this happens, Keen told me, “You plunge off the cliff.” 

Even government stimulus can’t help at this point. Whether it was Bush’s stimulus at the end of 2008 that gave everyone a couple hundred bucks, or Obama’s stimulus in 2009, any extra money Americans get from the government is diverted away from the economy and put instead toward paying down their huge individual debts, which has no stimulative effect on the economy at all.  

If private debt was 50% of GDP like in the 1950’s, then Americans could afford to both buy things and pay down their own debt.  And ditto for businesses. But at 250% of GDP, that private sector debt strangles the economy and sets the stage for a looming economic collapse.

So then, what’s to be done?

We should wipe the worst and most destructive of the private sector debt, the debt that prevents people from spending.

Keen calls for a debt jubilee. That means using the government to simply pay off much of the individual debt across America, from mortgages to student loans to credit cards.

This is also the approach Occupy Wall Street is taking with its “Strike Debt” campaign, though the organization is also relying on private donations to help buy people’s overdue debt at a cheap price and then completely wipe it out.   

A debt jubilee isn’t a radical idea. In fact, it’s promoted in the Bible in the Book of Leviticus, which calls for a debt jubilee every 49 years.  As Leviticus 25:10 reads, "This fiftieth year is sacred—it is a time of freedom and of celebration when everyone will receive back their original property, and slaves will return home to their families."

Debt cancellation is supported in the Koran, too. And it was used in Ancient Athens and many Native American societies.

Wiping out private debt would unleash enormous spending in our economy in ways we haven’t seen since the boom years of the 1950’s and 1960’s. The only reason it’s not seriously being considered by our lawmakers today is because a debt jubilee would diminish the profits of the banksters who thrive – and prey – on an indebted nation.

But, in the not-to-distant future, as our economy continues to collapse under the weight of tens of trillions of dollars in private sector debt, our nation will be faced with an ultimate choice: Strike Debt or watch our economy completely collapse in a way that will make 1929 look like a picnic.

Let’s make the right choice now!     

‘Twilight’ erotic fan fiction gets movie deal

Cover of the 'Beautiful Bastard' book

Cover of the 'Beautiful Bastard' book

Another erotic novel inspired by the 'Twilight' vampire saga has snagged a movie deal, following in the footsteps of the best selling Fifty Shades of Grey.

Constantin Film together with ‘Resident Evil’ producer Jeremy Bolt has purchased the film rights to ‘Beautiful Bastard’, a popular piece of Twilight fan fiction, The Hollywood Reporter says.

The value of the deal has not been disclosed but The Hollywood Reporter says it is around $500,000.

The novel’s story evolves around an MBA student Chloe Mills and her difficult but hot and passionate affair with her boss, Bennett Ryan.

The book written by Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings, was originally published online by Hobbs. Initially it was called ‘The Office’ and was a much shorter piece of Twilight fan fiction. The writer didn’t even change the names of the main characters, leaving them as Bella Swan and Edward Cullen from the Twilight saga. 

Later the author hired writer Lauren Billings to create the book after the online version proved successful. The story was downloaded over two million times before Hobbs decided to remove it. 'The Office' was reworked and released in print under the combined pen name Christina Lauren.

The authors are currently working on a sequel to the book, titled 'Beautiful Stranger', which is due to be published in May this year.

The print novel ‘Beautiful Bastard’ has been released just recently, so it is expected to take a while before the film production begins.

Army ‘Gifts’ £450,000 Of Kit To Uzbekistan

Britain is to give Uzbekistan £450,000 of military kit after it agreed to help with the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the equipment, which includes £100,000 of Land Rover spare parts and 50 Leyland DAF trucks worth £7,000 each, would be "gifted" to the country.

In return, the UK will be allowed to use Uzbekistan to repatriate equipment as operations in Afghanistan wind down.

Responding to concerns over the country's human rights record, which Human Rights Watch describes as "atrocious" , Mr Hammond said he was confident the kit would not be used for "internal repression".

"Uzbekistan has already played a constructive role in helping to secure Afghanistan's stability but will face increased security challenges once Isaf (the International Security Assistance Force) has withdrawn," he said.

"We have therefore been examining options for gifting surplus UK equipment to help meet those challenges."

Around £4bn of kit, including 6,500 storage containers, is due to be brought home before 2015.

Thousands more containers are expected to be abandoned, destroyed or given to Afghan security forces.

According to documents released by the Ministry of Defence, the Land Rover parts are "major assemblies" and are "commercially available".

The UK will fund the transportation of the kit, which is expected to start this year. The bill will be met from the Treasury reserve.

At least 20 CIA black-site prisoners still missing

Amnesty International members protest in front of the White House in Washington, January 11, 2012.(Reuters / Gary Cameron)

Amnesty International members protest in front of the White House in Washington, January 11, 2012.(Reuters / Gary Cameron)

Investigative journalists studying the CIA’s infamous black-site shadow prisons say that at least 20 detainees once held in the secret torture cells are currently unaccounted for.

In the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the US Central Intelligence Agency expanded their operations overseas to track down suspected terrorists by any means possible. Only two weeks after the World Trade Center’s twin towers came crumbling down, in fact, then-Vice President Dick Cheney said America must embrace a mission that would involve working through “the dark side.”

“A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies,” Cheney said at the time.

Over a decade later, Vice President Cheney is still regularly associated with the post-9/11 policies of the George W. Bush administration that current President-Barack Obama has fought to overturn, including the use of torture as an interrogation device. And although Pres. Obama was successful during his first term in office with shutting down the shadow prisons operated overseas by the CIA, a new report suggests that over 20 inmates of those elusive facilities started under Bush and Cheney have disappeared into thin air.

ProPublica, a news organization that bills itself as offering “journalism in the public interest,” has combed through a 216-page report just published by Open Society Foundations on secret CIA detentions, and in doing so has determined that the number of suspected insurgents scooped up during the Bush years who have disappeared is outstanding.

“In 2009, ProPublica’s Dafna Linzer listed more than thirty people who had been held in CIA prisons and were still missing,” their analysis reads. “Some of those prisoners have since resurfaced, but at least twenty are still unaccounted for.”

In the Open Society Foundation’s report, “Globalizing Torture,” the human rights group examines what is known today about those prisons where an unknown number of foreign suspects were stored by CIA officials and kept locked up indefinitely to endure treatment that has been condemned largely as torture in the years since.

Today, more than a decade after September 11, there is no doubt that high-ranking Bush administration officials bear responsibility for authorizing human rights violations associated with secret detention and extraordinary rendition,” reads the report’s executive summary. Despite this claim that is widely accepted, though, the report’s author says, “the full scale and scope of foreign government participation — as well as the number of victims — remains unknown, largely because of the extreme secrecy maintained by the United States and its partner governments.”

On the record, President Bush acknowledged that the CIA detained around 100 prisoners during his administration, of which only 16 are known to have been transferred at one point to the custody of the Pentagon. Of the over 30 detainees who were listed as missing during ProPublica’s 2009 report, today the organization has uncovered a number of interview with inmates who have since been freed and have openly discussed their detainment. At least one of those 30-plus inmates, Ali Abdul-Hamid al-Fakhiri, has died in prison in the three year’s since their last report.

ProPublica says that the CIA did not answer requests for comment.

We Can Fix This? In SOTU, Obama Shoves Voting Reform into ‘Sock Drawer,’ Leaving...

President Obama announced plans for a nonpartisan commission to "improve the Election Day experience" in his State of the Union address, a response to the long lines and heavy burdens that states imposed on voters during the 2012 elections. But his proposal -- which some have called "the policy equivalent of a sock drawer" -- falls short of what many had hoped. 

(Photo: Big Dubya via Flickr)The president certainly got the rhetoric right.

"We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home," Obama said. "That includes our most fundamental right as citizens: the right to vote."

He referred to Desiline Victor, a 102-year-old Haitian immigrant who became a citizen in 2005 and waited three hours to cast her ballot in Miami. She watched the address from the First Lady's viewing box. More than 200,000 people didn't vote in Florida because of long lines, which resulted in wait times as long as seven hours. 

"When any Americans, no matter where they live or what their party, are denied that right simply because they can’t wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals."

But the solution -- an election commission -- left much to be desired. As Charles Pierce notes at Esquire, "A bipartisan commission is the Washington policy equivalent of a sock drawer:" where ideas are shoved away and ignored. A similar-sounding federal agency was formed after the voting problems highlighted in the 2000 elections and Bush v Gore debacle, but all four commissioner spots are vacant and it hasn't had an executive director since 2011, largely because of Republican obstructionism. A bill to kill the agency passed the Republican-controlled House in 2011.

Weak Commission Leaves Much to be Desired

Elections are administered by the states, which has resulted in a patchwork of outdated, paper-based election systems, as well as partisan application of voting registration and early voting procedures (which vary state-to-state), and new laws that make it harder for disfavored populations to access the ballot box, such as strict voter ID restrictions advanced by the American Legislative Exchange Council. Along with partisanship, outdated election administration is rife with malfeasance or incompetence -- like when Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus flipped the results of the Wisconsin Supreme Court race in 2011 after she insisted on keeping vote tallies on a personal laptop and said she forgot to include an entire city in the initial count submitted to the state and press.

Groups like the Brennan Center for Justice have called for federal legislation and national standards to limit some of the problems experienced in recent elections. Its proposal would enact a computerized national voting registration system (which, incidentally, would reduce opportunities for the in-person "fraud" that Republicans espouse), mandatory early voting, and minimum standards for polling places. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) has proposed legislation to require same day legislation across the country and prohibit voter ID laws, and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has introduced a bill that would task the Attorney General with creating minimum national standards to prevent wait times of more than one hour, both of which would advance the ball much farther than a bipartisan commission.

The president's commission is tasked with much more modest goals. According to the Executive Order creating the commission, it will "identify practical, commonsense steps that state and local election officials can take to improve the Election Day experience. The Commission will also identify the practices of voting jurisdictions where voters have the best Election Day experience.”

Identifying best practices is important but it won't change many of the problems with state-run elections. The Pew Charitable Trusts just released an election performance index along these lines, and ranked Wisconsin as one of the highest-performing states in the nation during the 2008 and 2010 election cycles. This is in large part because the state is one of nine that allows voters to register at the polls on election day. But as the Center for Media and Democracy recently outlined in its report Rig the Vote, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos have both voiced support for ending the highly successful election day registration program, despite it being nationally recognized as helping the state achieve the second-highest voter turnout rate in the nation.

Voting rights advocates recognize that an Election Commission is not enough. Although the Brennan Center urged the Commission to think "boldly," it called on "Congress to do its part by enacting minimum national standards to modernize elections.” The League of Women Voters was less conciliatory, stating in a release that "Setting up a commission is not a bold step; it is business as usual.”

Republican Lawyer Co-Chair Is a "Puzzling" Choice 

The makeup of the Commission itself has led others to question its efficacy. It will be chaired by Bob Bauer, the top attorney for Obama's campaign, and Ben Ginsberg, former election lawyer for Mitt Romney's 2012 operation.

But Ari Berman at The Nation explained why Ginsberg is a "puzzling" choice. He writes:

For over two decades, Ginsberg has been a top lawyer for the Republican Party – the same party, you may recall, that has led the effort to restrict voting rights of late. Ginsberg helped lead the 2000 recall effort for George W. Bush. He was forced to resign from the Bush campaign in 2004 after it was revealed that he was also advising the vile Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. In 2006, Ginsberg said, “just like really with the Voting Rights Act, Republicans have some fundamental philosophical difficulties with the whole notion of Equal Protection.” And in 2012, he was counsel to the Romney campaign when it absurdly claimed that the Obama campaign was trying to suppress military voters by pushing for early voting for all Ohioans. Does that sound like the kind of guy you want leading a “non-partisan” voting commission?

With the Voting Rights Act being challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court and a variety of proposals to make it harder to vote (and change how electoral votes are counted) being considered in the states, a bipartisan commission is certainly not enough.

Many are hoping that, beyond this commission idea, Obama will truly follow through on his State of the Union promise that "We can fix this, and we will. The American people demand it. And so does our democracy."

© 2013 Center for Media and Democracy

Brendan Fischer

Brendan M. Fischer is a law fellow with the Center for Media and Democracy and a student at the University of Wisconsin Law School in the class of 2011.

We Can Fix This? In SOTU, Obama Shoves Voting Reform into ‘Sock Drawer,’ Leaving...

President Obama announced plans for a nonpartisan commission to "improve the Election Day experience" in his State of the Union address, a response to the long lines and heavy burdens that states imposed on voters during the 2012 elections. But his proposal -- which some have called "the policy equivalent of a sock drawer" -- falls short of what many had hoped. 

(Photo: Big Dubya via Flickr)The president certainly got the rhetoric right.

"We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home," Obama said. "That includes our most fundamental right as citizens: the right to vote."

He referred to Desiline Victor, a 102-year-old Haitian immigrant who became a citizen in 2005 and waited three hours to cast her ballot in Miami. She watched the address from the First Lady's viewing box. More than 200,000 people didn't vote in Florida because of long lines, which resulted in wait times as long as seven hours. 

"When any Americans, no matter where they live or what their party, are denied that right simply because they can’t wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals."

But the solution -- an election commission -- left much to be desired. As Charles Pierce notes at Esquire, "A bipartisan commission is the Washington policy equivalent of a sock drawer:" where ideas are shoved away and ignored. A similar-sounding federal agency was formed after the voting problems highlighted in the 2000 elections and Bush v Gore debacle, but all four commissioner spots are vacant and it hasn't had an executive director since 2011, largely because of Republican obstructionism. A bill to kill the agency passed the Republican-controlled House in 2011.

Weak Commission Leaves Much to be Desired

Elections are administered by the states, which has resulted in a patchwork of outdated, paper-based election systems, as well as partisan application of voting registration and early voting procedures (which vary state-to-state), and new laws that make it harder for disfavored populations to access the ballot box, such as strict voter ID restrictions advanced by the American Legislative Exchange Council. Along with partisanship, outdated election administration is rife with malfeasance or incompetence -- like when Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus flipped the results of the Wisconsin Supreme Court race in 2011 after she insisted on keeping vote tallies on a personal laptop and said she forgot to include an entire city in the initial count submitted to the state and press.

Groups like the Brennan Center for Justice have called for federal legislation and national standards to limit some of the problems experienced in recent elections. Its proposal would enact a computerized national voting registration system (which, incidentally, would reduce opportunities for the in-person "fraud" that Republicans espouse), mandatory early voting, and minimum standards for polling places. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) has proposed legislation to require same day legislation across the country and prohibit voter ID laws, and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has introduced a bill that would task the Attorney General with creating minimum national standards to prevent wait times of more than one hour, both of which would advance the ball much farther than a bipartisan commission.

The president's commission is tasked with much more modest goals. According to the Executive Order creating the commission, it will "identify practical, commonsense steps that state and local election officials can take to improve the Election Day experience. The Commission will also identify the practices of voting jurisdictions where voters have the best Election Day experience.”

Identifying best practices is important but it won't change many of the problems with state-run elections. The Pew Charitable Trusts just released an election performance index along these lines, and ranked Wisconsin as one of the highest-performing states in the nation during the 2008 and 2010 election cycles. This is in large part because the state is one of nine that allows voters to register at the polls on election day. But as the Center for Media and Democracy recently outlined in its report Rig the Vote, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos have both voiced support for ending the highly successful election day registration program, despite it being nationally recognized as helping the state achieve the second-highest voter turnout rate in the nation.

Voting rights advocates recognize that an Election Commission is not enough. Although the Brennan Center urged the Commission to think "boldly," it called on "Congress to do its part by enacting minimum national standards to modernize elections.” The League of Women Voters was less conciliatory, stating in a release that "Setting up a commission is not a bold step; it is business as usual.”

Republican Lawyer Co-Chair Is a "Puzzling" Choice 

The makeup of the Commission itself has led others to question its efficacy. It will be chaired by Bob Bauer, the top attorney for Obama's campaign, and Ben Ginsberg, former election lawyer for Mitt Romney's 2012 operation.

But Ari Berman at The Nation explained why Ginsberg is a "puzzling" choice. He writes:

For over two decades, Ginsberg has been a top lawyer for the Republican Party – the same party, you may recall, that has led the effort to restrict voting rights of late. Ginsberg helped lead the 2000 recall effort for George W. Bush. He was forced to resign from the Bush campaign in 2004 after it was revealed that he was also advising the vile Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. In 2006, Ginsberg said, “just like really with the Voting Rights Act, Republicans have some fundamental philosophical difficulties with the whole notion of Equal Protection.” And in 2012, he was counsel to the Romney campaign when it absurdly claimed that the Obama campaign was trying to suppress military voters by pushing for early voting for all Ohioans. Does that sound like the kind of guy you want leading a “non-partisan” voting commission?

With the Voting Rights Act being challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court and a variety of proposals to make it harder to vote (and change how electoral votes are counted) being considered in the states, a bipartisan commission is certainly not enough.

Many are hoping that, beyond this commission idea, Obama will truly follow through on his State of the Union promise that "We can fix this, and we will. The American people demand it. And so does our democracy."

© 2013 Center for Media and Democracy

Brendan Fischer

Brendan M. Fischer is a law fellow with the Center for Media and Democracy and a student at the University of Wisconsin Law School in the class of 2011.

On the News With Thom Hartmann: The Senate Finally Reauthorized the Violence Against Women...

In today's On the News segment: Yesterday, the Senate finally reauthorized protections for victims of domestic abuse in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA); the Republican response to the State of the Union made it clear that the GOP's only policy proposal is austerity; a new poll appears to indicate that more Republicans oppose an idea if they know that the President supports it; and more.

TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartmann here – on the news...

You need to know this. Last night, President Obama laid out his agenda for his second term. The State of the Union speech set some ambitious goals to get our nation back on a progressive course. The list included executive action on climate change, a "Fix-it-First" program to invest in infrastructure and job creation, and a legal pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented individuals living in the United States. The President also called for making high-quality early education available to all children, called on Congress to bring gun legislation to a vote, and announced we're finally getting our troops our of a seemingly endless war. But, perhaps the biggest news of the evening was Obama's call for an increase in the federal minimum wage. He surprised everyone during the speech by saying, "Tonight, lets declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour." However, despite Obama's calls to get our nation back on track, the Republicans were apparently not impressed with the speech. Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell said, "I think what most Americans wanted to hear tonight was the President's plan to get government spending under control, rein in the debt, and put the private economy back on a path to real growth and serious job creation." It's not surprising that Republicans also refused to stand and show support for equal pay for women, protecting our democratic process, or streamlining the legal immigration system. In 2012, Americans spoke loudly and clearly about what vision they want for our country. Perhaps it'll take a few more elections for the Republicans to finally hear the nation's calls for progress.

In screwed news ... The Republican response to the State of the Union made it clear that the GOP's only policy proposal is austerity. Florida Senator Marco Rubio called for imposing more spending cuts, saying, "The real cause of our debt is that our government has been spending 1 trillion dollars more than it takes in every year. That's why we need a balanced budget amendment." However, the growth of government spending is at it's lowest rate since Dwight Eisenhower. The federal budget deficit is down as a percentage of GDP. And non-defense government spending is lower than it's been in a half-century. Now it's time to stop the Republican austerity measures from killing jobs, and reversing economic growth. We shouldn't even be focusing on deficits at a time when our economy is struggling. Obama said it himself last night, "Deficit reduction alone is not an economic policy." Now it's time to reinvest in our nation, rebuild our infrastructure, and strengthen our middle-class. We know that the Republicans won't stand with the President on these issues, so it's up to us to support him, and get this country back on a course to progress.

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

Yesterday, the Senate finally reauthorized protections for victims of domestic abuse. Originally passed in 1994, The Violence Against Women Act was not reauthorized by Congress back in 2012. The bill finally cleared the Senate yesterday, with a vote of 78 to 22. All 22 Senators who opposed the vote were Republican men. Among them were Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Marco Rubio. The legislation was delayed in the Senate because of Republican opposition to protections for Native Americans, undocumented immigrants, and LGBT victims of domestic violence. After finally passing yesterday, the bill's co-sponsor, democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said, "A victim is a victim is a victim, and violence is violence is violence." Well said Senator. This is another victory against the Republican war on women, but with the on-going attack on reproductive rights, it looks like we have a long fight ahead.

Perhaps the best way for Obama to get Republicans to support an issue, is for him to oppose it. That's what a new poll from the Washington Post seems to indicate. On issues like immigration and climate change, it appears that more Republicans oppose an idea if they know that the President supports it. According to the poll, 60% of Republicans support a pathway to citizenship if Obama's name is not included in the question. When the same issue is presented with Obama's name in the proposed law, the number drops to 39%. That's a 21% drop in support, on the exact same issue, simply because Obama is associated with it. This study may explain why a previous Reuters' poll showed that many Republicans support key provisions in the Affordable Care Act, yet claim to hate Obamacare as a whole. As the Think Progress Blog reminds us, a pathway to citizenship was not simply Obama's idea. Neither was instituting a healthcare mandate, closing tax loopholes, or increasing gun regulations. All of these ideas were supported, or even introduced, by Republicans. So, if Obama really wants to get some work done this term, maybe he should just oppose himself – perhaps then Republicans would suddenly become Obama supporters.

And finally... Does Sarah Palin have a new gig? Well, that depends on who you ask. Today, the Washington Post is "refutiating" its own report, that the former vice-presidential candidate and Fox News contributor signed on with Al Jazeera America. The paper fell hook-line-and-sinker for a fake "interview" posted by The Daily Currant – an outlet that describes itself as "the global satirical newspaper of record." The Post's Suzi Parker cited the story, saying, "Fox News and their once-upon-a-time darling Palin recently parted ways after three years. But it appears that Palin is still trying to find ways to stay relevant, while her 15 minutes fades into the political history books." It looks like The Washington Post now needs to issue another correction... for falsely implying Sarah Palin was ever actually relevant in the first place.

And that's the way it is today – Wednesday, February 13, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.

Thom Hartmann here – on the news…

 

You need to know this. Last night, President Obama laid out his agenda for his second term. The State of the Union speech set some ambitious goals to get our nation back on a progressive course. The list included executive action on climate change, a “Fix-it-First” program to invest in infrastructure and job creation, and a legal pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented individuals living in the United States. The President also called for making high-quality early education available to all children, called on Congress to bring gun legislation to a vote, and announced we're finally getting our troops our of a seemingly endless war. But, perhaps the biggest news of the evening was Obama's call for an increase in the federal minimum wage. He surprised everyone during the speech by saying, “Tonight, lets declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour.” However, despite Obama's calls to get our nation back on track, the Republicans were apparently not impressed with the speech. Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell said, “I think what most Americans wanted to hear tonight was the President's plan to get government spending under control, rein in the debt, and put the private economy back on a path to real growth and serious job creation.” It's not surprising that Republicans also refused to stand and show support for equal pay for women, protecting our democratic process, or streamlining the legal immigration system. In 2012, Americans spoke loudly and clearly about what vision they want for our country. Perhaps it'll take a few more elections for the Republicans to finally hear the nation's calls for progress.

 

 

In screwed news... The Republican response to the State of the Union made it clear that the GOP's only policy proposal is austerity. Florida Senator Marco Rubio called for imposing more spending cuts, saying, “The real cause of our debt is that our government has been spending 1 trillion dollars more than it takes in every year. That's why we need a balanced budget amendment.” However, the growth of government spending is at it's lowest rate since Dwight Eisenhower. The federal budget deficit is down as a percentage of GDP. And non-defense government spending is lower than it's been in a half-century. Now it's time to stop the Republican austerity measures from killing jobs, and reversing economic growth. We shouldn't even be focusing on deficits at a time when our economy is struggling. Obama said it himself last night, “Deficit reduction alone is not an economic policy.” Now it's time to reinvest in our nation, rebuild our infrastructure, and strengthen our middle-class. We know that the Republicans won't stand with the President on these issues, so it's up to us to support him, and get this country back on a course to progress.

 

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

 

Yesterday, the Senate finally reauthorized protections for victims of domestic abuse. Originally passed in 1994, The Violence Against Women Act was not reauthorized by Congress back in 2012. The bill finally cleared the Senate yesterday, with a vote of 78 to 22. All 22 Senators who opposed the vote were Republican men. Among them were Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Marco Rubio. The legislation was delayed in the Senate because of Republican opposition to protections for Native Americans, undocumented immigrants, and LGBT victims of domestic violence. After finally passing yesterday, the bill's co-sponsor, democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said, “A victim is a victim is a victim, and violence is violence is violence.” Well said Senator. This is another victory against the Republican war on women, but with the on-going attack on reproductive rights, it looks like we have a long fight ahead.

 

Perhaps the best way for Obama to get Republicans to support an issue, is for him to oppose it. That's what a new poll from the Washington Post seems to indicate. On issues like immigration and climate change, it appears that more Republicans oppose an idea if they know that the President supports it. According to the poll, 60% of Republicans support a pathway to citizenship if Obama's name is not included in the question. When the same issue is presented with Obama's name in the proposed law, the number drops to 39%. That's a 21% drop in support, on the exact same issue, simply because Obama is associated with it. This study may explain why a previous Reuters' poll showed that many Republicans support key provisions in the Affordable Care Act, yet claim to hate Obamacare as a whole. As the Think Progress Blog reminds us, a pathway to citizenship was not simply Obama's idea. Neither was instituting a healthcare mandate, closing tax loopholes, or increasing gun regulations. All of these ideas were supported, or even introduced, by Republicans. So, if Obama really wants to get some work done this term, maybe he should just oppose himself – perhaps then Republicans would suddenly become Obama supporters.

 

And finally… Does Sarah Palin have a new gig? Well, that depends on who you ask. Today, the Washington Post is “refutiating” its own report, that the former vice-presidential candidate and Fox News contributor signed on with Al Jazeera America. The paper fell hook-line-and-sinker for a fake “interview” posted by The Daily Currant – an outlet that describes itself as “the global satirical newspaper of record.” The Post's Suzi Parker cited the story, saying, “Fox News and their once-upon-a-time darling Palin recently parted ways after three years. But it appears that Palin is still trying to find ways to stay relevant, while her 15 minutes fades into the political history books.” It looks like The Washington Post now needs to issue another correction... for falsely implying Sarah Palin was ever actually relevant in the first place.

 

And that’s the way it is today – Wednesday, February 13, 2013. I’m Thom Hartmann – on the news. 

Obama: The Audacity of Freedom

Obama: The Audacity of Freedom

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Posted on Feb 13, 2013
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By E.J. Dionne, Jr.

WASHINGTON—President Obama is a freer man than he has been at any point in his presidency. He is free from the need to save an economy close to collapse, from illusions that Republicans in Congress would work with him readily, from the threat of a rising tea party movement, and from the need to win re-election.

This sense of freedom gave his State of the Union address an energy, an ease and a specificity that were lacking in earlier speeches written with an eye toward immediate political needs. It was his most Democratic State of the Union, unapologetic in channeling the love Bill Clinton and Lyndon Johnson had for placing long lists of initiatives on the nation’s agenda. Obama sees his second term not as a time of consolidation but as an occasion for decisively changing the direction of our politics.

Here was an Obama unafraid to lay out a compelling argument for the urgency of acting on global warming. He was undaunted in challenging the obsession with the federal budget—and in scolding Congress for going from “one manufactured crisis to the next.” By insisting that “we can’t just cut our way to prosperity” and that “deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan,” he brought to mind the great liberal economist John Maynard Keynes. He sought to add another big achievement to near universal health care coverage, announcing a new goal of making “high-quality preschool available to every single child in America.”

And Obama made clear his determination to shift the center of gravity in the nation’s political conversation away from anti-government conservatism, offering a vision that is the antithesis of the supply-side economics that has dominated conservative thought since the Reagan era.

If supply-siders claim that prosperity depends upon showering financial benefits on wealthy “job creators” at the economy’s commanding heights, Obama argued that economic well-being emanates from the middle and bottom, with help from a government that “works on behalf of the many, and not just the few.”

The “true engine of America’s economic growth,” he said, is a “rising, thriving middle class.” He continued: “It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country, the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, no matter what you look like or who you love.” With that last phrase, he linked gay rights to an older liberalism’s devotion to class solidarity and racial equality.

An Obama no longer worried about re-election was the worst nightmare of conservatives who feared he would veer far to the left if given the chance. In the GOP’s response, Sen. Marco Rubio conjured that liberal bogeyman, declaring that the president’s “solution to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more, and spend more.”

But Rubio’s rhetoric felt stale, disconnected from the Obama who spoke before him. Obama did speak for liberalism, yes, but it is a tempered liberalism. His preschool proposal, after all, is modeled in part on the success of a program in Oklahoma, one of the nation’s reddest states. Most of the president’s initiatives involve modest new spending and many, including his infrastructure and manufacturing plans, are built on partnerships with private industry.

Even the president’s welcomed call to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour and to index it to inflation was cautious by his own standards. In 2008, Obama had urged a $9.50 minimum wage, and it rightly ought to be set at $10 or above.

Moreover, the president’s words were carefully calibrated to the issue in question. On immigration reform—in deference to cross-party work in which Rubio himself is engaged—Obama kept the rhetorical temperature low, praising “bipartisan groups in both chambers.” But he invoked all of his rhetorical skills on the matter of gun safety, a more complex legislative sell. His gospel-preacher’s variations on the phrase “they deserve a vote” will long echo in the House chamber.

No, the liberated Obama is not some new, leftist tribune. He’s the moderately progressive Obama who started running for president before there was a financial crisis or a tea party. In his 2006 book “The Audacity of Hope,” he proposed to end polarization by organizing a “broad majority of Americans” who would be “re-engaged in the project of national renewal” and would “see their own self-interest as inextricably linked to the interests of others.” On Tuesday night, creating this majority was what he still had in mind.

E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)washpost.com.
   
© 2013, Washington Post Writers Group

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Obama’s SOTU Was No Game-Changer

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama deftly nudged the national debate further away from the dominant austerity framework that brought us the misguided budget deal on New Year’s Day.(Image from WhiteHouse.gov)

He also brought much-needed attention to the critical jobs shortage by eloquently calling the need for more good middle class jobs the “North Star that guides our efforts.”

But, did Obama offer a convincing vision for how to do this? Not quite.

First, he missed a beautiful opportunity to connect the jobs and inequality crises with the climate crisis, all of which can be solved with the same solution: a bold transformative “new jobs” agenda. This approach would move government incentives and resources away from fossil fuels and poorly paid jobs to a vibrant, caring, green economy with quality jobs.

Imagine the stir he’d make if he declared it was time to move from an economy dominated by Wall Street, Lockheed Martin, and Walmart to a Main Street economy. Or if he promised to block the Keystone XL pipeline and crack down on the dangerous practice of natural gas fracking as part of an effort to wean our country off fossil fuels.

Main Street embraces everything from clean energy to high speed rail, from energy-efficient buildings to composting and recycling. And, it means making sure that fast-growing sectors like elder care jobs are upgraded from Walmart poverty jobs to ones that pay a living wage.

Yes, Obama highlighted the challenge of climate change and he mentioned clean energy. He called for a higher minimum wage and stronger education opportunities for all. But he failed to make a powerful call for a transformative economic agenda to replace our Wall Street and Walmart economy with a fundamentally new one rooted in ecology, equity, and democratic forms of ownership.

Obama could also have reminded Americans that there’d be abundant resources to invest in pressing needs if the wealthy, corporations, Wall Street, and polluters paid their fair share of taxes and if we cut fossil fuel subsidies and the wasteful Pentagon budget.

Obama knows full well that he’s working with a gridlocked and largely dysfunctional Congress. But he did make a compelling appeal to lawmakers to take two major actions that could win in 2013: comprehensive immigration reform, and real gun control. Both are long overdue and would make this country a better place. His salute to Desilene Victor, the 102-year-old Florida woman who became famous after a lengthy wait to vote last year, underscored concerns about the outrages of Republican efforts to suppress voting rights.

And I also applaud him for urging the renewal of a strengthened Violence Against Women Act, acknowledging the excesses of CEO pay, and calling for a $15 billion construction jobs program.

But in the face of a Congress too beholden to corporate interests, Obama could have made a better case for vital actions that his administration can take on their own. These include ending drone attacks, shuttering coal plants, using the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, ensuring basic labor rights for domestic workers, and pardoning prisoners who were unjustly sentenced. Of these, Obama only indicated that he was ready to order the EPA to take steps to counter climate change.

Obama’s also clinging to a failed free trade policy. And he’s addicted to oil and gas even as he embraces alternatives. His foreign policy vision is overly focused on fighting terrorism as opposed to fostering diplomacy.

Between his more powerful inauguration speech and this address, he’s begun to shift the national conversation toward things that matter to most people. But he’s got a long way to go before he embraces a game-changing agenda.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

John Cavanagh

John Cavanagh is the director of the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank celebrating its 50th year.

Obama’s SOTU Was No Game-Changer

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama deftly nudged the national debate further away from the dominant austerity framework that brought us the misguided budget deal on New Year’s Day.(Image from WhiteHouse.gov)

He also brought much-needed attention to the critical jobs shortage by eloquently calling the need for more good middle class jobs the “North Star that guides our efforts.”

But, did Obama offer a convincing vision for how to do this? Not quite.

First, he missed a beautiful opportunity to connect the jobs and inequality crises with the climate crisis, all of which can be solved with the same solution: a bold transformative “new jobs” agenda. This approach would move government incentives and resources away from fossil fuels and poorly paid jobs to a vibrant, caring, green economy with quality jobs.

Imagine the stir he’d make if he declared it was time to move from an economy dominated by Wall Street, Lockheed Martin, and Walmart to a Main Street economy. Or if he promised to block the Keystone XL pipeline and crack down on the dangerous practice of natural gas fracking as part of an effort to wean our country off fossil fuels.

Main Street embraces everything from clean energy to high speed rail, from energy-efficient buildings to composting and recycling. And, it means making sure that fast-growing sectors like elder care jobs are upgraded from Walmart poverty jobs to ones that pay a living wage.

Yes, Obama highlighted the challenge of climate change and he mentioned clean energy. He called for a higher minimum wage and stronger education opportunities for all. But he failed to make a powerful call for a transformative economic agenda to replace our Wall Street and Walmart economy with a fundamentally new one rooted in ecology, equity, and democratic forms of ownership.

Obama could also have reminded Americans that there’d be abundant resources to invest in pressing needs if the wealthy, corporations, Wall Street, and polluters paid their fair share of taxes and if we cut fossil fuel subsidies and the wasteful Pentagon budget.

Obama knows full well that he’s working with a gridlocked and largely dysfunctional Congress. But he did make a compelling appeal to lawmakers to take two major actions that could win in 2013: comprehensive immigration reform, and real gun control. Both are long overdue and would make this country a better place. His salute to Desilene Victor, the 102-year-old Florida woman who became famous after a lengthy wait to vote last year, underscored concerns about the outrages of Republican efforts to suppress voting rights.

And I also applaud him for urging the renewal of a strengthened Violence Against Women Act, acknowledging the excesses of CEO pay, and calling for a $15 billion construction jobs program.

But in the face of a Congress too beholden to corporate interests, Obama could have made a better case for vital actions that his administration can take on their own. These include ending drone attacks, shuttering coal plants, using the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, ensuring basic labor rights for domestic workers, and pardoning prisoners who were unjustly sentenced. Of these, Obama only indicated that he was ready to order the EPA to take steps to counter climate change.

Obama’s also clinging to a failed free trade policy. And he’s addicted to oil and gas even as he embraces alternatives. His foreign policy vision is overly focused on fighting terrorism as opposed to fostering diplomacy.

Between his more powerful inauguration speech and this address, he’s begun to shift the national conversation toward things that matter to most people. But he’s got a long way to go before he embraces a game-changing agenda.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

John Cavanagh

John Cavanagh is the director of the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank celebrating its 50th year.

Why Organized Labor Must Stand Against the Keystone XL Pipeline

Spurred by real urgency over the corporate driven ruin of the environment, a growing social movement is taking shape that will be on display this Sunday, February 17, when tens of thousands descend on the streets of Washington, D.C. in a show of power titled "Forward On Climate."

What is the target galvanizing these forces? The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, to be built by TransCanada, which would carry crude oil extracted from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, some 2,000 miles south to the Gulf of Mexico for export.

What is the outcome hoped for by those who will attend? That President Obama reject the project, finally and definitively, when it comes up for his approval this winter.

Protests, blockades, arrests and disruptions of the pipeline's construction have been ongoing by activists and landowners in East Texas since last summer. Now, the "Forward On Climate" rally marks a huge step forward to enlarge the movement. This is not your typical environmental protest in defense of a limited ecosystem.

Rather, the potential consequences of the XL Pipeline's operations are global and catastrophic because of climate change. And that's why organized labor needs to stand up now in an alliance that has the power to defeat it.

Getting Perspective

To get some perspective on what is happening to the climate let's looks at some data:

  • According to scientists, the average temperature of the planet has already risen just under 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1880.
  • The last two decades of the 20th century were the hottest in 400 years and, according to a number of climate studies, possibly in several millennia.
  • The 10 warmest years on record have happened in the last 15 years.
  • According to the Global and Environment Institute at Tufts University, extreme heat waves have been steadily rising over the last 50 to 100 years. They are now happening at a rate two to four times stronger, and are projected to escalate to vast extremes over the next 40 years.
  • The annual number of hurricanes has been escalating. There was an average of 3.5 hurricanes a year between 1905 and 1930. Between 1995 and 2005 this number increased to an average of 8.4.
  • Globally the atmosphere over the oceans is 5 percent wetter, setting the stage for massive floods. Rapidly melting Arctic ice and glaciers will lead to the submerging of coastal cities and islands due to rising sea levels.
  • According to Fatih Birol of the International Energy Agency, after examining the rise of carbon emissions: "When I look at this data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of about six degrees (11 degrees Fahrenheit)" by 2100.

Considering the consequences we are already experiencing with a 1.4 degree rise in average temperature, an increase of 11 degrees could transform the planet to such a degree that it would put the survival of most species, including humanity, in peril.

How will the operations of the Keystone XL Pipeline affect this trend?

  • The Alberta tar sands contain enough carbon to raise carbon emissions in the atmosphere by more than half of their current level.
  • In the words of NASA leading climatologist, James Hansen: "If the tar sands are thrown into the mix, it is essentially game over for the climate. There is no practical way to capture co2 while burning oil."

To call the course we are on suicidal vastly understates the matter. There is a wide consensus among scientists that our climate is teetering on the edge of extreme and irreversible change. This danger is being propelled by our addiction to carbon-based fossil fuels -- and more specifically, to the mechanisms of corporate greed.

The world's top five oil companies have made more than $1 trillion in profits since the turn of the century. This money buys influence, steering national policies and international relations towards the goal of their further enrichment.

This influence runs into sharp conflict with what is needed to prevent a global catastrophe. With all the oil, coal and gas that is available, 80 percent would have to be left in the ground to keep the temperature from rising above an extra two degrees Celsius, the limit recognized by the Copenhagen Accord. That translates into $20 trillion in big energy’s assets.

Collecting and increasing these assets is the entire purpose of the energy companies’ existence. Corporate profit rather than human need is the impersonal motor force of this system. All the scientific data in the world along with appeals to the big energy owners' consciousness will not stop the machine from seeking to maximize profit regardless of the devastation.

If this force is to be stopped, it will take a social movement of those who are the primary victims, that is, the majority of humanity. And it will take a movement led by working people who can issue the challenge: that if those in charge of the economy don't find a way to reverse course, it will be us who take control and get the job done.

Where Does Labor Stand?

In the U.S., unions are the primary organizations to defend and promote the interests of workers. Consequently, the role of Labor in opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline is an issue of paramount importance towards developing the popular strength to make a decisive impact.

Where do the unions stand now? AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka stated at the UN Investor Summit on Climate Risk, "The AFL-CIO has not taken a position on the Keystone pipeline — unions don't agree among ourselves."

It is extremely rare for someone in Trumka's position to comment on such a division. As disappointing as this situation might be for many, it is evidence of a needed dialogue taking place within Labor's leading bodies, and of equal importance, among the working members and labor’s allies.

Significantly, the Transport Workers Union (TWU), the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and National Nurses United have come out in support of the February 17 demonstration against the XL pipeline. The Communication Workers of America (CWA), the United Auto Workers (UAW) and others also favor stopping the pipeline.

On the other hand, the Laborers Union and the Building Trades Council have come out in strong support of the pipeline's construction. These union bodies have been especially hard hit by unemployment. As a result, they have been quick to take the bait of several thousand jobs that the XL Pipeline's proponents are dangling.

Laborer's President Terry O'Sullivan defiantly stated, "I am repulsed by our supposed brothers and sisters lining up with job killers like the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council to destroy the lives of working men and women."

In a letter to Hillary Clinton, union leaders supporting the XL Pipeline stated it will "spur the creation of 118,000 jobs." However, as Bloomberg Businessweek reported in an article, "The Questionable Economics of the Keystone XL Pipeline":

"Clearly, the construction of the pipe, most of it below ground, will be a huge undertaking. The estimated numbers of people it will employ in the process, however, fluctuate wildly, with TransCanada raising the number from 3,500, to 4,200, to 20,000 temporary positions and suggesting the line will employ several hundred in an on-going basis. The U.S. State Department, which made its own assessment because the pipeline crosses the U.S. - Canada border, estimates the line will create just 20 permanent jobs. One advantage of a pipeline, after all, is that it's automated."

None of these sources would have any reason to underestimate the number of jobs the pipeline would create, regardless of how widely they diverge from the 118,000 figure cited in the letter to Clinton. It would appear that the leaders of the unions supporting the XL Pipeline are being sold a questionable bill of goods in order to get them behind the project.

Isolating Themselves

The problem with the approach of these unions, however, is not simply that they have the facts wrong in regards to how many jobs the XL Pipeline will create. Clearly the effects of climate change and the XL Pipeline's contribution to it should be of tremendous concern to all workers, including the members of these unions.

By prioritizing their memberships' short-term interests above the interests of all others, the XL Pipeline union supporters are putting themselves at odds with the health of working class communities in general, popular consciousness, and scientific consensus. They are isolating themselves.

If they continue to hold this line, it will likely result in diminishing public support for their contract fights and, therefore, less leverage to use against their employers. They are not only acting against their membership's long term interests in countering climate change, they are weakening their union's ability to fight against their employers' greed and win.

A False Choice

These union leaders are caught in a false choice between supporting job creation or promoting environmental health. However, this is just not the case. A report by Blue Green Canada, an alliance of labor, environmental and civil rights group, found that "if the $1.3 billion in government subsidies now given to the oil and gas sector were instead invested in renewable energy and energy efficiency, Canada would create more jobs: 18,000 more."

The same is true in the U.S. Energy efficiency retrofitting of buildings and the development of renewable energy are "shovel ready jobs" that, if pursued on the necessary scale, could provide full employment.

The main obstacle standing in the way of such a program is the argument that it cannot be done by the private sector because there's not enough profit in it. A publicly funded program would be required, like a modern day Work Projects Administration (WPA) of the 1930s New Deal era, only on a grander scale with the aim of reversing climate change as well as providing jobs.

Yet no politician would touch this plan out of fear of big business's opposition to being taxed to pay for it. And therefore it will take the power of an independent social movement which unites Labor, environmentalists and working people in general to make them do it.

One way of funding such an ambitious but necessary program would be with a carbon tax. This could act as a fee on the production, distribution and industrial use of fossil fuels based on how much carbon their combustion emits. It should be aimed exclusively at big business. If this is combined with scientifically based regulation and community oversight, as well as the subsidizing of green energy alternatives, it could go a long way towards transforming our current energy systems into a more sustainable model.

If the social muscle can be built up to compel the passage of such legislation, it will still not be enough to guarantee compliance because you cannot control what you don't own. Attempts to circumvent and sabotage such restrictions to their profit-making can be expected by Big Energy and their owners' partners in the 1%.

As their efforts continue to result in the endangerment of the climate, it will then become necessary for the social movement to further organize itself and force these corporations to be operated as publicly owned utilities. Only in this way could they be transformed to run according to social and environmental need rather than the 1%'s profit.

February 17 may be remembered as a significant point in the evolution of such a powerful force. If President Obama rejects the XL Pipeline, that would be a significant victory for those who have hit the streets in the interests of humanity. Regardless of the potential outcome, those organizing around the issue of climate change can only rely on their own collective efforts in building the largest movement possible independent of corporate-funded politicians.

At best, the two main political parties in the U.S. can only deliver too little too late because of their dependence on financial contributions from big business. Consequently, the "Forward on Climate" movement needs to build its power broadly by connecting and highlighting the dual issues: stopping climate change and providing full employment with a Green New Deal.

Civil Disobedience Today at White House to Stop Tar Sands, Keystone XL pipeline

WASHINGTON - February 13 - Fifty American leaders–including Michael Brune (Sierra Club), Bill McKibben (350.org), Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr. (Hip Hop Caucus), civil rights legend Julian Bond, actress Daryl Hannah, Nebraska rancher Randy Thompson and others on the frontlines of climate change–will risk arrest in front of the White House to demonstrate the depth of their support for decisive action against climate change. For the first time in its 120-year history, the Sierra Club will participate in this civil disobedience action to convey the severity and urgency of action on climate.

Where and when:
10:30AM Media availability in Lafayette park for those risking arrest.

11:00AM Activists and supporters will gather in Lafayette park for photos and speeches.

11:30AM The civil disobedience will take place around at the East Gate of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, just east of the picture-postcard zone.

Why: 2012 was the hottest year on record, half the country is in severe drought, and Superstorm Sandy just flooded the greatest city in the world–New York. A global crisis unfolds before our eyes and immediate action is required. President Obama has the executive authority to make a significant and immediate impact on carbon pollution, and he can begin by saying no to Big Oil by rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

Civil disobedience is the response of ordinary people to extraordinary injustices. Americans have righted the wrongs of our society – slavery, child labor, suffrage, segregation, and inequality for gays and immigrant workers – with creative nonviolent resistance. Climate change threatens the health and security of all Americans, and action proportional to the problem is required–now.

The full list of participants, along with photos and bios, is available at tarsandsaction.org.

The participants risking arrest have released the following letter to explain their collective action.

“We’re here today to show the depth of our resolve that President Obama take immediate, decisive action against climate change—to show that if the president leads, the vast majority of Americans will rally behind him. We’re not here today to protest the president, we are here to encourage and support him. We lived through horrors of Superstorm Sandy, the Midwest drought, wildfires, and the hottest year on record: we know in our bones that the time has come to do more than we have, and all that we can.

“The president can’t work miracles by himself. An obstructionist Congress stands in the way of progress and innovation. But President Obama has the executive authority and the mandate from the American people to stand up to the fossil fuel industry, and to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline right now.

“And we’re here to show something else—that the movement for a clean energy revolution is a broad and powerful one. In 2011 we were moved by the 1,253 Americans who went jail to protest Keystone in the biggest civil disobedience action in many years in this country. Today we are 50 people at the White House representing millions of Americans in every state, in every community. Today we risk arrest because a global crisis unfolds before our eyes. We have the solutions to this climate crisis. We have a moral obligation to stand stand for immediate, bold action to solve climate disruption. We can do it, and we will.”

Activists Plan White House Civil Disobedience to Pressure Obama on Climate

Opponents of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline demonstrate in front of the White House in August, 2011. On Wednesday, activists vow to continue and escalate their opposition to the pipeline with new direct actions. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)Saying they're not attacking or protesting against the Obama administration but rather applying the necessary pressure the president himself has asked for, climate activists and environmental groups will descend on the White House today to demand an end to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

For the first time in its 120-year history, the Sierra Club will participate in this civil disobedience action to convey the severity and urgency of action on climate. Joining them will be representatives from other groups including 350.org, Tar Sands Blockade and the Hip Hop Caucus, and individual activists like civil rights activist Julian Bond, actress Daryl Hannah, Nebraska rancher Randy Thompson and others on the frontlines of the climate justice movement.

Those involved released a group statement which said their purpose was "to show the depth of our resolve that President Obama take immediate, decisive action against climate change."

"If the president leads," they continued, "the vast majority of Americans will rally behind him. We’re not here today to protest the president, we are here to encourage and support him. We lived through horrors of Superstorm Sandy, the Midwest drought, wildfires, and the hottest year on record: we know in our bones that the time has come to do more than we have, and all that we can."

350.org, which has staged protest rallies and civil resistance actions outside the White House before, says Wednesday's events are both a continuation of their previous efforts and an escalation they plan to sustain as Obama begins his second term in earnest following his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

As Bill McKibben, co-founder and chief spokesperson for the group, tweeted Wednesday morning:

And:

Those participating will gather in Lafayette in the mid-morning for a small rally and press conference before heading across the street for what they term "civil disobedience" at the East Gate of the White House just before noon.

"Civil disobedience is the response of ordinary people to extraordinary injustices," they said. "Americans have righted the wrongs of our society – slavery, child labor, suffrage, segregation, and inequality for gays and immigrant workers – with creative nonviolent resistance. Climate change threatens the health and security of all Americans, and action proportional to the problem is required--now."

"Today we risk arrest because a global crisis unfolds before our eyes. We have the solutions to this climate crisis. We have a moral obligation to stand stand for immediate, bold action to solve climate disruption. We can do it, and we will.”

Wednesday's action is seen as a small but dramatic preface for a rally scheduled for Sunday that organizers say will bring many thousands of activists from all over the country to the White House gates to ask Obama to move "forward on climate".

_______________________

#SOTU – The Summary: Minimum Wage, Maximum Genomes, Macs, And Moar Cyber-Security

5% fewer words, slightly shorter than last year but just as hope-full. From a hike (and inflation-indexed) in the minimum wage to a 140x multiplier of genome sciences investment (now that is Keynesian awesomeness); from extending homeownership (and refinancing plans) even more to energy independence; from Apple, Ford, and CAT's US Manufacturing to Bridge-Building and infrastructure spending; and from Trans-Pacific and -Atlantic Trade to cyber-security; it's all gonna be great - because as President Obama reminded us at the start... "Our housing market is healing, our stock market is rebounding," and this won't add a dime to the deficit... oh and that Student loan bubble - no worries, there's a college scorecard so now you know where you can get the biggest bang for your credit-based buck. Summing it all up:

  • Guns 9 : 3 Freedom
  • Jobs 31 : 17 Tax
  • Congress 17 : 40 Work
  • Recovery 2 : 0 Unicorns
  • Spending 3 : 2 Cutting

Fed heads chimed in early:

  • *PLOSSER: `BRIGHTER LINE' NEEDED BETWEEN FISCAL, MONETARY POLICY
  • *PLOSSER EXPECTS FED TO REDUCE BOND BUYING BY END OF THIS YEAR

That won't help fund all of this wonderfulness...

But we started on an awkward note with Reince Priebus:

and David Axelrod...

Oh well...

The word cloud: Jobs - Years - America (and... people education like)

Full Speech:

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, fellow citizens:

     Fifty-one years ago, John F. Kennedy declared to this Chamber that “the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress…It is my task,” he said, “to report the State of the Union – to improve it is the task of us all.”

     Tonight, thanks to the grit and determination of the American people, there is much progress to report. After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home. After years of grueling recession, our businesses have created over six million new jobs. We buy more American cars than we have in five years, and less foreign oil than we have in twenty. Our housing market is healing, our stock market is rebounding, and consumers, patients, and homeowners enjoy stronger protections than ever before.

     Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger.

     But we gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded. Our economy is adding jobs – but too many people still can’t find full-time employment. Corporate profits have rocketed to all-time highs – but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged.

     It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class.

     It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.

     It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation.

     The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem. They don’t expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation’s interests before party. They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can. For they know that America moves forward only when we do so together; and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.

     Our work must begin by making some basic decisions about our budget – decisions that will have a huge impact on the strength of our recovery.

     Over the last few years, both parties have worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion – mostly through spending cuts, but also by raising tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. As a result, we are more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances.

     Now we need to finish the job. And the question is, how?

     In 2011, Congress passed a law saying that if both parties couldn’t agree on a plan to reach our deficit goal, about a trillion dollars’ worth of budget cuts would automatically go into effect this year. These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness. They’d devastate priorities like education, energy, and medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs. That’s why Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, and economists have already said that these cuts, known here in Washington as “the sequester,” are a really bad idea.

     Now, some in this Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training; Medicare and Social Security benefits.

     That idea is even worse. Yes, the biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population. And those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms – otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children, and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations.

     But we can’t ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful. We won’t grow the middle class simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are already struggling, or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers, cops, and firefighters. Most Americans – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents – understand that we can’t just cut our way to prosperity. They know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share. And that’s the approach I offer tonight.

     On Medicare, I’m prepared to enact reforms that will achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission. Already, the Affordable Care Act is helping to slow the growth of health care costs. The reforms I’m proposing go even further. We’ll reduce taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies and ask more from the wealthiest seniors. We’ll bring down costs by changing the way our government pays for Medicare, because our medical bills shouldn’t be based on the number of tests ordered or days spent in the hospital – they should be based on the quality of care that our seniors receive. And I am open to additional reforms from both parties, so long as they don’t violate the guarantee of a secure retirement. Our government shouldn’t make promises we cannot keep – but we must keep the promises we’ve already made.

     To hit the rest of our deficit reduction target, we should do what leaders in both parties have already suggested, and save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and well-connected. After all, why would we choose to make deeper cuts to education and Medicare just to protect special interest tax breaks? How is that fair? How does that promote growth?

     Now is our best chance for bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit. The American people deserve a tax code that helps small businesses spend less time filling out complicated forms, and more time expanding and hiring; a tax code that ensures billionaires with high-powered accountants can’t pay a lower rate than their hard-working secretaries; a tax code that lowers incentives to move jobs overseas, and lowers tax rates for businesses and manufacturers that create jobs right here in America. That’s what tax reform can deliver. That’s what we can do together.

     I realize that tax reform and entitlement reform won’t be easy. The politics will be hard for both sides. None of us will get 100 percent of what we want. But the alternative will cost us jobs, hurt our economy, and visit hardship on millions of hardworking Americans. So let’s set party interests aside, and work to pass a budget that replaces reckless cuts with smart savings and wise investments in our future. And let’s do it without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors. The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next. Let’s agree, right here, right now, to keep the people’s government open, pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America. The American people have worked too hard, for too long, rebuilding from one crisis to see their elected officials cause another.

     Now, most of us agree that a plan to reduce the deficit must be part of our agenda. But let’s be clear: deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan. A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs – that must be the North Star that guides our efforts. Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?

     A year and a half ago, I put forward an American Jobs Act that independent economists said would create more than one million new jobs. I thank the last Congress for passing some of that agenda, and I urge this Congress to pass the rest. Tonight, I’ll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago. Let me repeat – nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime. It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.

     Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing.

     After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three. Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan. Ford is bringing jobs back from Mexico. After locating plants in other countries like China, Intel is opening its most advanced plant right here at home. And this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again.

     There are things we can do, right now, to accelerate this trend. Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio. A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything. There’s no reason this can’t happen in other towns. So tonight, I’m announcing the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs. And I ask this Congress to help create a network of fifteen of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is Made in America.

     If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas. Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy. Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s; developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs; devising new material to make batteries ten times more powerful. Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race. And today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy.

     After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years. We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar – with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it. We produce more natural gas than ever before – and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it. And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.

     But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.

     The good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

     Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it. We’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year – so let’s drive costs down even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

     In the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. That’s why my Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and water.

     Indeed, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together. So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. If a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we. Let’s take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we’ve put up with for far too long. I’m also issuing a new goal for America: let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years. The states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make it happen.

     America’s energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair. Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire: a country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and internet; high-tech schools and self-healing power grids. The CEO of Siemens America – a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina – has said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they’ll bring even more jobs. And I know that you want these job-creating projects in your districts. I’ve seen you all at the ribbon-cuttings.

     Tonight, I propose a “Fix-It-First” program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country. And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children. Let’s prove that there is no better place to do business than the United States of America. And let’s start right away.

     Part of our rebuilding effort must also involve our housing sector. Today, our housing market is finally healing from the collapse of 2007. Home prices are rising at the fastest pace in six years, home purchases are up nearly 50 percent, and construction is expanding again.

     But even with mortgage rates near a 50-year low, too many families with solid credit who want to buy a home are being rejected. Too many families who have never missed a payment and want to refinance are being told no. That’s holding our entire economy back, and we need to fix it. Right now, there’s a bill in this Congress that would give every responsible homeowner in America the chance to save $3,000 a year by refinancing at today’s rates. Democrats and Republicans have supported it before. What are we waiting for? Take a vote, and send me that bill. Right now, overlapping regulations keep responsible young families from buying their first home. What’s holding us back? Let’s streamline the process, and help our economy grow.

     These initiatives in manufacturing, energy, infrastructure, and housing will help entrepreneurs and small business owners expand and create new jobs. But none of it will matter unless we also equip our citizens with the skills and training to fill those jobs. And that has to start at the earliest possible age.

     Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.

     Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own. So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.

     Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job. Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job. At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.

     We need to give every American student opportunities like this. Four years ago, we started Race to the Top – a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year. Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.

     Now, even with better high schools, most young people will need some higher education. It’s a simple fact: the more education you have, the more likely you are to have a job and work your way into the middle class. But today, skyrocketing costs price way too many young people out of a higher education, or saddle them with unsustainable debt.

     Through tax credits, grants, and better loans, we have made college more affordable for millions of students and families over the last few years. But taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the soaring cost of higher education. Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it’s our job to make sure they do. Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid. And tomorrow, my Administration will release a new “College Scorecard” that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.

     To grow our middle class, our citizens must have access to the education and training that today’s jobs require. But we also have to make sure that America remains a place where everyone who’s willing to work hard has the chance to get ahead.

     Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants. And right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, and faith communities all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

     Real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my Administration has already made – putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history, and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years.

     Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship – a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.

     And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.

     In other words, we know what needs to be done. As we speak, bipartisan groups in both chambers are working diligently to draft a bill, and I applaud their efforts. Now let’s get this done. Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away.

     But we can’t stop there. We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence. Today, the Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act that Joe Biden originally wrote almost 20 years ago. I urge the House to do the same. And I ask this Congress to declare that women should earn a living equal to their efforts, and finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year.

     We know our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages. But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong. That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, nineteen states have chosen to bump theirs even higher.

      Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets. In fact, working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher. So here’s an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year: let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.

     Tonight, let’s also recognize that there are communities in this country where no matter how hard you work, it’s virtually impossible to get ahead. Factory towns decimated from years of plants packing up. Inescapable pockets of poverty, urban and rural, where young adults are still fighting for their first job. America is not a place where chance of birth or circumstance should decide our destiny. And that is why we need to build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class for all who are willing to climb them.

     Let’s offer incentives to companies that hire Americans who’ve got what it takes to fill that job opening, but have been out of work so long that no one will give them a chance. Let’s put people back to work rebuilding vacant homes in run-down neighborhoods. And this year, my Administration will begin to partner with 20 of the hardest-hit towns in America to get these communities back on their feet. We’ll work with local leaders to target resources at public safety, education, and housing. We’ll give new tax credits to businesses that hire and invest. And we’ll work to strengthen families by removing the financial deterrents to marriage for low-income couples, and doing more to encourage fatherhood – because what makes you a man isn’t the ability to conceive a child; it’s having the courage to raise one.

     Stronger families. Stronger communities. A stronger America. It is this kind of prosperity – broad, shared, and built on a thriving middle class – that has always been the source of our progress at home. It is also the foundation of our power and influence throughout the world.

     Tonight, we stand united in saluting the troops and civilians who sacrifice every day to protect us. Because of them, we can say with confidence that America will complete its mission in Afghanistan, and achieve our objective of defeating the core of al Qaeda. Already, we have brought home 33,000 of our brave servicemen and women. This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead. Tonight, I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.

     Beyond 2014, America’s commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change. We are negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions: training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counter-terrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates.

     Today, the organization that attacked us on 9/11 is a shadow of its former self. Different al Qaeda affiliates and extremist groups have emerged – from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa. The threat these groups pose is evolving. But to meet this threat, we don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations. Instead, we will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya, and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali. And, where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.

     As we do, we must enlist our values in the fight. That is why my Administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.

     Of course, our challenges don’t end with al Qaeda. America will continue to lead the effort to prevent the spread of the world’s most dangerous weapons. The regime in North Korea must know that they will only achieve security and prosperity by meeting their international obligations. Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further, as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense, and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats.

     Likewise, the leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon. At the same time, we will engage Russia to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals, and continue leading the global effort to secure nuclear materials that could fall into the wrong hands – because our ability to influence others depends on our willingness to lead.

     America must also face the rapidly growing threat from cyber-attacks. We know hackers steal people’s identities and infiltrate private e-mail. We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.

     That’s why, earlier today, I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy. Now, Congress must act as well, by passing legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks.

     Even as we protect our people, we should remember that today’s world presents not only dangers, but opportunities. To boost American exports, support American jobs, and level the playing field in the growing markets of Asia, we intend to complete negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership. And tonight, I am announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union – because trade that is free and fair across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs.

     We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all. In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day. So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades: by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve and helping communities to feed, power, and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation.

     Above all, America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom during this period of historic change. I saw the power of hope last year in Rangoon – when Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed an American President into the home where she had been imprisoned for years; when thousands of Burmese lined the streets, waving American flags, including a man who said, “There is justice and law in the United States. I want our country to be like that.”

     In defense of freedom, we will remain the anchor of strong alliances from the Americas to Africa; from Europe to Asia. In the Middle East, we will stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights, and support stable transitions to democracy. The process will be messy, and we cannot presume to dictate the course of change in countries like Egypt; but we can – and will – insist on respect for the fundamental rights of all people. We will keep the pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people, and support opposition leaders that respect the rights of every Syrian. And we will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace. These are the messages I will deliver when I travel to the Middle East next month.

     All this work depends on the courage and sacrifice of those who serve in dangerous places at great personal risk – our diplomats, our intelligence officers, and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. As long as I’m Commander-in-Chief, we will do whatever we must to protect those who serve their country abroad, and we will maintain the best military in the world. We will invest in new capabilities, even as we reduce waste and wartime spending. We will ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal benefits for their families – gay and straight. We will draw upon the courage and skills of our sisters and daughters, because women have proven under fire that they are ready for combat. We will keep faith with our veterans – investing in world-class care, including mental health care, for our wounded warriors; supporting our military families; and giving our veterans the benefits, education, and job opportunities they have earned. And I want to thank my wife Michelle and Dr. Jill Biden for their continued dedication to serving our military families as well as they serve us.

     But defending our freedom is not the job of our military alone. We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home. That includes our most fundamental right as citizens: the right to vote. When any Americans – no matter where they live or what their party – are denied that right simply because they can’t wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals. That’s why, tonight, I’m announcing a non-partisan commission to improve the voting experience in America. And I’m asking two long-time experts in the field, who’ve recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Governor Romney’s campaign, to lead it. We can fix this, and we will. The American people demand it. And so does our democracy.

     Of course, what I’ve said tonight matters little if we don’t come together to protect our most precious resource – our children.

     It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans – Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment – have come together around commonsense reform – like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned.

     Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.

     One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.

     Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote.

     Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.

     The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

     The families of Aurora deserve a vote.

     The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.

     Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight. But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity, and uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government.      We were sent here to look out for our fellow Americans the same way they look out for one another, every single day, usually without fanfare, all across this country. We should follow their example.

     We should follow the example of a New York City nurse named Menchu Sanchez. When Hurricane Sandy plunged her hospital into darkness, her thoughts were not with how her own home was faring – they were with the twenty precious newborns in her care and the rescue plan she devised that kept them all safe.

     We should follow the example of a North Miami woman named Desiline Victor. When she arrived at her polling place, she was told the wait to vote might be six hours. And as time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say. Hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line in support of her. Because Desiline is 102 years old. And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read “I Voted.”

     We should follow the example of a police officer named Brian Murphy. When a gunman opened fire on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and Brian was the first to arrive, he did not consider his own safety. He fought back until help arrived, and ordered his fellow officers to protect the safety of the Americans worshiping inside – even as he lay bleeding from twelve bullet wounds.

     When asked how he did that, Brian said, “That’s just the way we’re made.”

     That’s just the way we’re made.

      We may do different jobs, and wear different uniforms, and hold different views than the person beside us. But as Americans, we all share the same proud title:

     We are citizens. It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.

     Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

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#SOTU – The Summary: Minimum Wage, Maximum Genomes, Macs, And Moar Cyber-Security

5% fewer words, slightly shorter than last year but just as hope-full. From a hike (and inflation-indexed) in the minimum wage to a 140x multiplier of genome sciences investment (now that is Keynesian awesomeness); from extending homeownership (and refinancing plans) even more to energy independence; from Apple, Ford, and CAT's US Manufacturing to Bridge-Building and infrastructure spending; and from Trans-Pacific and -Atlantic Trade to cyber-security; it's all gonna be great - because as President Obama reminded us at the start... "Our housing market is healing, our stock market is rebounding," and this won't add a dime to the deficit... oh and that Student loan bubble - no worries, there's a college scorecard so now you know where you can get the biggest bang for your credit-based buck. Summing it all up:

  • Guns 9 : 3 Freedom
  • Jobs 31 : 17 Tax
  • Congress 17 : 40 Work
  • Recovery 2 : 0 Unicorns
  • Spending 3 : 2 Cutting

Fed heads chimed in early:

  • *PLOSSER: `BRIGHTER LINE' NEEDED BETWEEN FISCAL, MONETARY POLICY
  • *PLOSSER EXPECTS FED TO REDUCE BOND BUYING BY END OF THIS YEAR

That won't help fund all of this wonderfulness...

But we started on an awkward note with Reince Priebus:

and David Axelrod...

Oh well...

The word cloud: Jobs - Years - America (and... people education like)

Full Speech:

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, fellow citizens:

     Fifty-one years ago, John F. Kennedy declared to this Chamber that “the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress…It is my task,” he said, “to report the State of the Union – to improve it is the task of us all.”

     Tonight, thanks to the grit and determination of the American people, there is much progress to report. After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home. After years of grueling recession, our businesses have created over six million new jobs. We buy more American cars than we have in five years, and less foreign oil than we have in twenty. Our housing market is healing, our stock market is rebounding, and consumers, patients, and homeowners enjoy stronger protections than ever before.

     Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger.

     But we gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded. Our economy is adding jobs – but too many people still can’t find full-time employment. Corporate profits have rocketed to all-time highs – but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged.

     It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class.

     It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.

     It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation.

     The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem. They don’t expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation’s interests before party. They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can. For they know that America moves forward only when we do so together; and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.

     Our work must begin by making some basic decisions about our budget – decisions that will have a huge impact on the strength of our recovery.

     Over the last few years, both parties have worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion – mostly through spending cuts, but also by raising tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. As a result, we are more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances.

     Now we need to finish the job. And the question is, how?

     In 2011, Congress passed a law saying that if both parties couldn’t agree on a plan to reach our deficit goal, about a trillion dollars’ worth of budget cuts would automatically go into effect this year. These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness. They’d devastate priorities like education, energy, and medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs. That’s why Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, and economists have already said that these cuts, known here in Washington as “the sequester,” are a really bad idea.

     Now, some in this Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training; Medicare and Social Security benefits.

     That idea is even worse. Yes, the biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population. And those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms – otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children, and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations.

     But we can’t ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful. We won’t grow the middle class simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are already struggling, or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers, cops, and firefighters. Most Americans – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents – understand that we can’t just cut our way to prosperity. They know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share. And that’s the approach I offer tonight.

     On Medicare, I’m prepared to enact reforms that will achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission. Already, the Affordable Care Act is helping to slow the growth of health care costs. The reforms I’m proposing go even further. We’ll reduce taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies and ask more from the wealthiest seniors. We’ll bring down costs by changing the way our government pays for Medicare, because our medical bills shouldn’t be based on the number of tests ordered or days spent in the hospital – they should be based on the quality of care that our seniors receive. And I am open to additional reforms from both parties, so long as they don’t violate the guarantee of a secure retirement. Our government shouldn’t make promises we cannot keep – but we must keep the promises we’ve already made.

     To hit the rest of our deficit reduction target, we should do what leaders in both parties have already suggested, and save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and well-connected. After all, why would we choose to make deeper cuts to education and Medicare just to protect special interest tax breaks? How is that fair? How does that promote growth?

     Now is our best chance for bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit. The American people deserve a tax code that helps small businesses spend less time filling out complicated forms, and more time expanding and hiring; a tax code that ensures billionaires with high-powered accountants can’t pay a lower rate than their hard-working secretaries; a tax code that lowers incentives to move jobs overseas, and lowers tax rates for businesses and manufacturers that create jobs right here in America. That’s what tax reform can deliver. That’s what we can do together.

     I realize that tax reform and entitlement reform won’t be easy. The politics will be hard for both sides. None of us will get 100 percent of what we want. But the alternative will cost us jobs, hurt our economy, and visit hardship on millions of hardworking Americans. So let’s set party interests aside, and work to pass a budget that replaces reckless cuts with smart savings and wise investments in our future. And let’s do it without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors. The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next. Let’s agree, right here, right now, to keep the people’s government open, pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America. The American people have worked too hard, for too long, rebuilding from one crisis to see their elected officials cause another.

     Now, most of us agree that a plan to reduce the deficit must be part of our agenda. But let’s be clear: deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan. A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs – that must be the North Star that guides our efforts. Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?

     A year and a half ago, I put forward an American Jobs Act that independent economists said would create more than one million new jobs. I thank the last Congress for passing some of that agenda, and I urge this Congress to pass the rest. Tonight, I’ll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago. Let me repeat – nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime. It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.

     Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing.

     After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three. Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan. Ford is bringing jobs back from Mexico. After locating plants in other countries like China, Intel is opening its most advanced plant right here at home. And this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again.

     There are things we can do, right now, to accelerate this trend. Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio. A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything. There’s no reason this can’t happen in other towns. So tonight, I’m announcing the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs. And I ask this Congress to help create a network of fifteen of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is Made in America.

     If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas. Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy. Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s; developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs; devising new material to make batteries ten times more powerful. Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race. And today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy.

     After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years. We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar – with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it. We produce more natural gas than ever before – and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it. And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.

     But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.

     The good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

     Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it. We’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year – so let’s drive costs down even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

     In the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. That’s why my Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and water.

     Indeed, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together. So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. If a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we. Let’s take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we’ve put up with for far too long. I’m also issuing a new goal for America: let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years. The states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make it happen.

     America’s energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair. Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire: a country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and internet; high-tech schools and self-healing power grids. The CEO of Siemens America – a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina – has said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they’ll bring even more jobs. And I know that you want these job-creating projects in your districts. I’ve seen you all at the ribbon-cuttings.

     Tonight, I propose a “Fix-It-First” program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country. And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children. Let’s prove that there is no better place to do business than the United States of America. And let’s start right away.

     Part of our rebuilding effort must also involve our housing sector. Today, our housing market is finally healing from the collapse of 2007. Home prices are rising at the fastest pace in six years, home purchases are up nearly 50 percent, and construction is expanding again.

     But even with mortgage rates near a 50-year low, too many families with solid credit who want to buy a home are being rejected. Too many families who have never missed a payment and want to refinance are being told no. That’s holding our entire economy back, and we need to fix it. Right now, there’s a bill in this Congress that would give every responsible homeowner in America the chance to save $3,000 a year by refinancing at today’s rates. Democrats and Republicans have supported it before. What are we waiting for? Take a vote, and send me that bill. Right now, overlapping regulations keep responsible young families from buying their first home. What’s holding us back? Let’s streamline the process, and help our economy grow.

     These initiatives in manufacturing, energy, infrastructure, and housing will help entrepreneurs and small business owners expand and create new jobs. But none of it will matter unless we also equip our citizens with the skills and training to fill those jobs. And that has to start at the earliest possible age.

     Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.

     Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own. So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.

     Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job. Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job. At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.

     We need to give every American student opportunities like this. Four years ago, we started Race to the Top – a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year. Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.

     Now, even with better high schools, most young people will need some higher education. It’s a simple fact: the more education you have, the more likely you are to have a job and work your way into the middle class. But today, skyrocketing costs price way too many young people out of a higher education, or saddle them with unsustainable debt.

     Through tax credits, grants, and better loans, we have made college more affordable for millions of students and families over the last few years. But taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the soaring cost of higher education. Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it’s our job to make sure they do. Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid. And tomorrow, my Administration will release a new “College Scorecard” that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck.

     To grow our middle class, our citizens must have access to the education and training that today’s jobs require. But we also have to make sure that America remains a place where everyone who’s willing to work hard has the chance to get ahead.

     Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants. And right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, and faith communities all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

     Real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my Administration has already made – putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history, and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years.

     Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship – a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.

     And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.

     In other words, we know what needs to be done. As we speak, bipartisan groups in both chambers are working diligently to draft a bill, and I applaud their efforts. Now let’s get this done. Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away.

     But we can’t stop there. We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence. Today, the Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act that Joe Biden originally wrote almost 20 years ago. I urge the House to do the same. And I ask this Congress to declare that women should earn a living equal to their efforts, and finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year.

     We know our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages. But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong. That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, nineteen states have chosen to bump theirs even higher.

      Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets. In fact, working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher. So here’s an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year: let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.

     Tonight, let’s also recognize that there are communities in this country where no matter how hard you work, it’s virtually impossible to get ahead. Factory towns decimated from years of plants packing up. Inescapable pockets of poverty, urban and rural, where young adults are still fighting for their first job. America is not a place where chance of birth or circumstance should decide our destiny. And that is why we need to build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class for all who are willing to climb them.

     Let’s offer incentives to companies that hire Americans who’ve got what it takes to fill that job opening, but have been out of work so long that no one will give them a chance. Let’s put people back to work rebuilding vacant homes in run-down neighborhoods. And this year, my Administration will begin to partner with 20 of the hardest-hit towns in America to get these communities back on their feet. We’ll work with local leaders to target resources at public safety, education, and housing. We’ll give new tax credits to businesses that hire and invest. And we’ll work to strengthen families by removing the financial deterrents to marriage for low-income couples, and doing more to encourage fatherhood – because what makes you a man isn’t the ability to conceive a child; it’s having the courage to raise one.

     Stronger families. Stronger communities. A stronger America. It is this kind of prosperity – broad, shared, and built on a thriving middle class – that has always been the source of our progress at home. It is also the foundation of our power and influence throughout the world.

     Tonight, we stand united in saluting the troops and civilians who sacrifice every day to protect us. Because of them, we can say with confidence that America will complete its mission in Afghanistan, and achieve our objective of defeating the core of al Qaeda. Already, we have brought home 33,000 of our brave servicemen and women. This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead. Tonight, I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.

     Beyond 2014, America’s commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change. We are negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions: training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counter-terrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates.

     Today, the organization that attacked us on 9/11 is a shadow of its former self. Different al Qaeda affiliates and extremist groups have emerged – from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa. The threat these groups pose is evolving. But to meet this threat, we don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations. Instead, we will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya, and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali. And, where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.

     As we do, we must enlist our values in the fight. That is why my Administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.

     Of course, our challenges don’t end with al Qaeda. America will continue to lead the effort to prevent the spread of the world’s most dangerous weapons. The regime in North Korea must know that they will only achieve security and prosperity by meeting their international obligations. Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further, as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense, and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats.

     Likewise, the leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon. At the same time, we will engage Russia to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals, and continue leading the global effort to secure nuclear materials that could fall into the wrong hands – because our ability to influence others depends on our willingness to lead.

     America must also face the rapidly growing threat from cyber-attacks. We know hackers steal people’s identities and infiltrate private e-mail. We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.

     That’s why, earlier today, I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy. Now, Congress must act as well, by passing legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks.

     Even as we protect our people, we should remember that today’s world presents not only dangers, but opportunities. To boost American exports, support American jobs, and level the playing field in the growing markets of Asia, we intend to complete negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership. And tonight, I am announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union – because trade that is free and fair across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs.

     We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all. In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day. So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades: by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve and helping communities to feed, power, and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation.

     Above all, America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom during this period of historic change. I saw the power of hope last year in Rangoon – when Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed an American President into the home where she had been imprisoned for years; when thousands of Burmese lined the streets, waving American flags, including a man who said, “There is justice and law in the United States. I want our country to be like that.”

     In defense of freedom, we will remain the anchor of strong alliances from the Americas to Africa; from Europe to Asia. In the Middle East, we will stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights, and support stable transitions to democracy. The process will be messy, and we cannot presume to dictate the course of change in countries like Egypt; but we can – and will – insist on respect for the fundamental rights of all people. We will keep the pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people, and support opposition leaders that respect the rights of every Syrian. And we will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace. These are the messages I will deliver when I travel to the Middle East next month.

     All this work depends on the courage and sacrifice of those who serve in dangerous places at great personal risk – our diplomats, our intelligence officers, and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. As long as I’m Commander-in-Chief, we will do whatever we must to protect those who serve their country abroad, and we will maintain the best military in the world. We will invest in new capabilities, even as we reduce waste and wartime spending. We will ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal benefits for their families – gay and straight. We will draw upon the courage and skills of our sisters and daughters, because women have proven under fire that they are ready for combat. We will keep faith with our veterans – investing in world-class care, including mental health care, for our wounded warriors; supporting our military families; and giving our veterans the benefits, education, and job opportunities they have earned. And I want to thank my wife Michelle and Dr. Jill Biden for their continued dedication to serving our military families as well as they serve us.

     But defending our freedom is not the job of our military alone. We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home. That includes our most fundamental right as citizens: the right to vote. When any Americans – no matter where they live or what their party – are denied that right simply because they can’t wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals. That’s why, tonight, I’m announcing a non-partisan commission to improve the voting experience in America. And I’m asking two long-time experts in the field, who’ve recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Governor Romney’s campaign, to lead it. We can fix this, and we will. The American people demand it. And so does our democracy.

     Of course, what I’ve said tonight matters little if we don’t come together to protect our most precious resource – our children.

     It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans – Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment – have come together around commonsense reform – like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned.

     Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.

     One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.

     Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote.

     Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.

     The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

     The families of Aurora deserve a vote.

     The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.

     Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight. But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity, and uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government.      We were sent here to look out for our fellow Americans the same way they look out for one another, every single day, usually without fanfare, all across this country. We should follow their example.

     We should follow the example of a New York City nurse named Menchu Sanchez. When Hurricane Sandy plunged her hospital into darkness, her thoughts were not with how her own home was faring – they were with the twenty precious newborns in her care and the rescue plan she devised that kept them all safe.

     We should follow the example of a North Miami woman named Desiline Victor. When she arrived at her polling place, she was told the wait to vote might be six hours. And as time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say. Hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line in support of her. Because Desiline is 102 years old. And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read “I Voted.”

     We should follow the example of a police officer named Brian Murphy. When a gunman opened fire on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and Brian was the first to arrive, he did not consider his own safety. He fought back until help arrived, and ordered his fellow officers to protect the safety of the Americans worshiping inside – even as he lay bleeding from twelve bullet wounds.

     When asked how he did that, Brian said, “That’s just the way we’re made.”

     That’s just the way we’re made.

      We may do different jobs, and wear different uniforms, and hold different views than the person beside us. But as Americans, we all share the same proud title:

     We are citizens. It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.

     Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

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Live streaming The State of the Union: Full Transcript Open Thread

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It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class.

It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.

It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation.

The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem. They don’t expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation’s interests before party. They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can. For they know that America moves forward only when we do so together; and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.

Our work must begin by making some basic decisions about our budget – decisions that will have a huge impact on the strength of our recovery.

Over the last few years, both parties have worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion – mostly through spending cuts, but also by raising tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. As a result, we are more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances. Now we need to finish the job. And the question is, how?

In 2011, Congress passed a law saying that if both parties couldn’t agree on a plan to reach our deficit goal, about a trillion dollars’ worth of budget cuts would automatically go into effect this year. These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness. They’d devastate priorities like education, energy, and medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs. That’s why Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, and economists have already said that these cuts, known here in Washington as “the sequester,” are a really bad idea.

Now, some in this Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training; Medicare and Social Security benefits.

That idea is even worse. Yes, the biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population. And those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms – otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children, and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations.

But we can’t ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful. We won’t grow the middle class simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are already struggling, or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers, cops, and firefighters. Most Americans – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents – understand that we can’t just cut our way to prosperity. They know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share. And that’s the approach I offer tonight.

On Medicare, I’m prepared to enact reforms that will achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission. Already, the Affordable Care Act is helping to slow the growth of health care costs. The reforms I’m proposing go even further. We’ll reduce taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies and ask more from the wealthiest seniors. We’ll bring down costs by changing the way our government pays for Medicare, because our medical bills shouldn’t be based on the number of tests ordered or days spent in the hospital – they should be based on the quality of care that our seniors receive. And I am open to additional reforms from both parties, so long as they don’t violate the guarantee of a secure retirement. Our government shouldn’t make promises we cannot keep – but we must keep the promises we’ve already made.

To hit the rest of our deficit reduction target, we should do what leaders in both parties have already suggested, and save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and well-connected. After all, why would we choose to make deeper cuts to education and Medicare just to protect special interest tax breaks? How is that fair? How does that promote growth?

Now is our best chance for bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit. The American people deserve a tax code that helps small businesses spend less time filling out complicated forms, and more time expanding and hiring; a tax code that ensures billionaires with high-powered accountants can’t pay a lower rate than their hard-working secretaries; a tax code that lowers incentives to move jobs overseas, and lowers tax rates for businesses and manufacturers that create jobs right here in America. That’s what tax reform can deliver. That’s what we can do together.

I realize that tax reform and entitlement reform won’t be easy. The politics will be hard for both sides. None of us will get 100 percent of what we want. But the alternative will cost us jobs, hurt our economy, and visit hardship on millions of hardworking Americans. So let’s set party interests aside, and work to pass a budget that replaces reckless cuts with smart savings and wise investments in our future. And let’s do it without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors. The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next. Let’s agree, right here, right now, to keep the people’s government open, pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America. The American people have worked too hard, for too long, rebuilding from one crisis to see their elected officials cause another.

Now, most of us agree that a plan to reduce the deficit must be part of our agenda. But let’s be clear: deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan. A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs – that must be the North Star that guides our efforts. Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?

A year and a half ago, I put forward an American Jobs Act that independent economists said would create more than one million new jobs. I thank the last Congress for passing some of that agenda, and I urge this Congress to pass the rest. Tonight, I’ll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago. Let me repeat – nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime. It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.
Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing.
After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three. Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan. Ford is bringing jobs back from Mexico. After locating plants in other countries like China, Intel is opening its most advanced plant right here at home. And this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again.

There are things we can do, right now, to accelerate this trend. Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio. A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything. There’s no reason this can’t happen in other towns. So tonight, I’m announcing the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs. And I ask this Congress to help create a network of fifteen of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is Made in America.

If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas. Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy. Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s; developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs; devising new material to make batteries ten times more powerful. Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race. And today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy.

After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years. We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar – with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it. We produce more natural gas than ever before – and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it. And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.

The good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it. We’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year – so let’s drive costs down even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

In the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. That’s why my Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and water.

Indeed, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together. So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. If a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we. Let’s take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we’ve put up with for far too long. I’m also issuing a new goal for America: let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years. The states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make it happen.

America’s energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair. Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire: a country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and internet; high-tech schools and self-healing power grids. The CEO of Siemens America – a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina – has said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they’ll bring even more jobs. And I know that you want these job-creating projects in your districts. I’ve seen you all at the ribbon-cuttings.

Tonight, I propose a “Fix-It-First” program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country. And to make sure taxpayers don’t shoulder the whole burden, I’m also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children. Let’s prove that there is no better place to do business than the United States of America. And let’s start right away.

Part of our rebuilding effort must also involve our housing sector. Today, our housing market is finally healing from the collapse of 2007. Home prices are rising at the fastest pace in six years, home purchases are up nearly 50 percent, and construction is expanding again.

But even with mortgage rates near a 50-year low, too many families with solid credit who want to buy a home are being rejected. Too many families who have never missed a payment and want to refinance are being told no. That’s holding our entire economy back, and we need to fix it. Right now, there’s a bill in this Congress that would give every responsible homeowner in America the chance to save $3,000 a year by refinancing at today’s rates. Democrats and Republicans have supported it before. What are we waiting for? Take a vote, and send me that bill. Right now, overlapping regulations keep responsible young families from buying their first home. What’s holding us back? Let’s streamline the process, and help our economy grow.

These initiatives in manufacturing, energy, infrastructure, and housing will help entrepreneurs and small business owners expand and create new jobs. But none of it will matter unless we also equip our citizens with the skills and training to fill those jobs. And that has to start at the earliest possible age.

Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. But today, fewer than 3 in 10 four year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives.

Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own. So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind. Let’s give our kids that chance.

Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job. Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job. At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.

We need to give every American student opportunities like this. Four years ago, we started Race to the Top – a competition that convinced almost every state to develop smarter curricula and higher standards, for about 1 percent of what we spend on education each year. Tonight, I’m announcing a new challenge to redesign America’s high schools so they better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math – the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future. Now, even with better high schools, most young people will need some higher education. It’s a simple fact: the more education you have, the more likely you are to have a job and work your way into the middle class. But today, skyrocketing costs price way too many young people out of a higher education, or saddle them with unsustainable debt.

Through tax credits, grants, and better loans, we have made college more affordable for millions of students and families over the last few years. But taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the soaring cost of higher education. Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it’s our job to make sure they do. Tonight, I ask Congress to change the Higher Education Act, so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid. And tomorrow, my Administration will release a new “College Scorecard” that parents and students can use to compare schools based on a simple criteria: where you can get the most bang for your educational buck. To grow our middle class, our citizens must have access to the education and training that today’s jobs require. But we also have to make sure that America remains a place where everyone who’s willing to work hard has the chance to get ahead.

Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants. And right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, and faith communities all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my Administration has already made – putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history, and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years.

Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship – a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally. And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.

In other words, we know what needs to be done. As we speak, bipartisan groups in both chambers are working diligently to draft a bill, and I applaud their efforts. Now let’s get this done. Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away.

But we can’t stop there. We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence. Today, the Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act that Joe Biden originally wrote almost 20 years ago. I urge the House to do the same. And I ask this Congress to declare that women should earn a living equal to their efforts, and finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year.

We know our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages. But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong. That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, nineteen states have chosen to bump theirs even higher.

Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets. In fact, working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher. So here’s an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year: let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.

Tonight, let’s also recognize that there are communities in this country where no matter how hard you work, it’s virtually impossible to get ahead. Factory towns decimated from years of plants packing up. Inescapable pockets of poverty, urban and rural, where young adults are still fighting for their first job. America is not a place where chance of birth or circumstance should decide our destiny. And that is why we need to build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class for all who are willing to climb them.

Let’s offer incentives to companies that hire Americans who’ve got what it takes to fill that job opening, but have been out of work so long that no one will give them a chance. Let’s put people back to work rebuilding vacant homes in run-down neighborhoods. And this year, my Administration will begin to partner with 20 of the hardest-hit towns in America to get these communities back on their feet. We’ll work with local leaders to target resources at public safety, education, and housing. We’ll give new tax credits to businesses that hire and invest. And we’ll work to strengthen families by removing the financial deterrents to marriage for low-income couples, and doing more to encourage fatherhood – because what makes you a man isn’t the ability to conceive a child; it’s having the courage to raise one. Stronger families. Stronger communities. A stronger America. It is this kind of prosperity – broad, shared, and built on a thriving middle class – that has always been the source of our progress at home. It is also the foundation of our power and influence throughout the world.

Tonight, we stand united in saluting the troops and civilians who sacrifice every day to protect us. Because of them, we can say with confidence that America will complete its mission in Afghanistan, and achieve our objective of defeating the core of al Qaeda. Already, we have brought home 33,000 of our brave servicemen and women. This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead. Tonight, I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.

Beyond 2014, America’s commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change. We are negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions: training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counter-terrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates.

Today, the organization that attacked us on 9/11 is a shadow of its former self. Different al Qaeda affiliates and extremist groups have emerged – from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa. The threat these groups pose is evolving. But to meet this threat, we don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations. Instead, we will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya, and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali. And, where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.

As we do, we must enlist our values in the fight. That is why my Administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.

Of course, our challenges don’t end with al Qaeda. America will continue to lead the effort to prevent the spread of the world’s most dangerous weapons. The regime in North Korea must know that they will only achieve security and prosperity by meeting their international obligations. Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further, as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense, and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats.

Likewise, the leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon. At the same time, we will engage Russia to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals, and continue leading the global effort to secure nuclear materials that could fall into the wrong hands – because our ability to influence others depends on our willingness to lead.

America must also face the rapidly growing threat from cyber-attacks. We know hackers steal people’s identities and infiltrate private e-mail. We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets. Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.

That’s why, earlier today, I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy. Now, Congress must act as well, by passing legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks.

Even as we protect our people, we should remember that today’s world presents not only dangers, but opportunities. To boost American exports, support American jobs, and level the playing field in the growing markets of Asia, we intend to complete negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership. And tonight, I am announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union – because trade that is free and fair across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs.

We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all. In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day. So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades: by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve and helping communities to feed, power, and educate themselves; by saving the world’s children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation.
Above all, America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom during this period of historic change. I saw the power of hope last year in Rangoon – when Aung San Suu Kyi welcomed an American President into the home where she had been imprisoned for years; when thousands of Burmese lined the streets, waving American flags, including a man who said, “There is justice and law in the United States. I want our country to be like that.”

In defense of freedom, we will remain the anchor of strong alliances from the Americas to Africa; from Europe to Asia. In the Middle East, we will stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights, and support stable transitions to democracy. The process will be messy, and we cannot presume to dictate the course of change in countries like Egypt; but we can – and will – insist on respect for the fundamental rights of all people. We will keep the pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people, and support opposition leaders that respect the rights of every Syrian. And we will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace. These are the messages I will deliver when I travel to the Middle East next month.

All this work depends on the courage and sacrifice of those who serve in dangerous places at great personal risk – our diplomats, our intelligence officers, and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. As long as I’m Commander-in-Chief, we will do whatever we must to protect those who serve their country abroad, and we will maintain the best military in the world. We will invest in new capabilities, even as we reduce waste and wartime spending. We will ensure equal treatment for all service members, and equal benefits for their families – gay and straight. We will draw upon the courage and skills of our sisters and daughters, because women have proven under fire that they are ready for combat. We will keep faith with our veterans – investing in world-class care, including mental health care, for our wounded warriors; supporting our military families; and giving our veterans the benefits, education, and job opportunities they have earned. And I want to thank my wife Michelle and Dr. Jill Biden for their continued dedication to serving our military families as well as they serve us.

But defending our freedom is not the job of our military alone. We must all do our part to make sure our God-given rights are protected here at home. That includes our most fundamental right as citizens: the right to vote. When any Americans – no matter where they live or what their party – are denied that right simply because they can’t wait for five, six, seven hours just to cast their ballot, we are betraying our ideals. That’s why, tonight, I’m announcing a non-partisan commission to improve the voting experience in America. And I’m asking two long-time experts in the field, who’ve recently served as the top attorneys for my campaign and for Governor Romney’s campaign, to lead it. We can fix this, and we will. The American people demand it. And so does our democracy. Of course, what I’ve said tonight matters little if we don’t come together to protect our most precious resource – our children.

It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence. But this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans – Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment – have come together around commonsense reform – like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because they are tired of being outgunned.
Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.

One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton. She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.

Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote. Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.

Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight. But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity, and uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government.

We were sent here to look out for our fellow Americans the same way they look out for one another, every single day, usually without fanfare, all across this country. We should follow their example.

We should follow the example of a New York City nurse named Menchu Sanchez. When Hurricane Sandy plunged her hospital into darkness, her thoughts were not with how her own home was faring – they were with the twenty precious newborns in her care and the rescue plan she devised that kept them all safe.

We should follow the example of a North Miami woman named Desiline Victor. When she arrived at her polling place, she was told the wait to vote might be six hours. And as time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say. Hour after hour, a throng of people stayed in line in support of her. Because Desiline is 102 years old. And they erupted in cheers when she finally put on a sticker that read “I Voted.”

We should follow the example of a police officer named Brian Murphy. When a gunman opened fire on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and Brian was the first to arrive, he did not consider his own safety. He fought back until help arrived, and ordered his fellow officers to protect the safety of the Americans worshiping inside – even as he lay bleeding from twelve bullet wounds.

When asked how he did that, Brian said, “That’s just the way we’re made.”
That’s just the way we’re made.

We may do different jobs, and wear different uniforms, and hold different views than the person beside us. But as Americans, we all share the same proud title:

We are citizens. It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

Anonymous promises to disrupt Obama’s State of the Union

Eyes and ears will be on US President Barack Obama Tuesday evening as he presents the State of the Union address from Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Hacktivists aligned with the Anonymous movement have other plans, however.

A call to arms has been issued by Anonymous, the shadowy underground collective of hackers and activists, and the group says they hope to disrupt select online broadcasts of the annual address in protest of President Obama and his administration’s assaults on the civil liberties and constitutional rights of Americans, as well as the world’s Internet.

“Operation SOTU,” or “OpSOTU,” is latest mission from Anonymous, and members involved in the initiative say it will serve as a decisive factor in the “battle royale for the future of the Internet.”

In a statement drafted by members of Anonymous and circulated on the Web early Tuesday, the group recalls a series of recent victories for Internet activists who waged battles and won against proposed legislation that would have drastically changed the modern landscape of computer and technology law.

“Last year we faced our greatest threat from lawmakers. We faced down SOPA, PIPA, CISPA and ACTA,” the message begins. “But that victory did not come easily. Nor did it come without a price.”

While the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act were killed in Congress before they could come to fruition, opponents of those bills argue that Washington’s assault on computer users has only escalated in the year since. In January, 26-year-old anti-SOPA advocate Aaron Swartz was found dead of an apparent suicide in the midst of a heated legal battle with the US Justice Department over his allegedly unauthorized downloading of academic and journal files from the website JSTOR. Other young technologists, including those accused of hacking the Stratfor intelligence firm as members of Anonymous, are facing life in prison for nonviolent computer crimes.

But despite calls for the White House and Washington to relinquish their mission to censor the Internet and strip online freedoms away from Americans, a war against overzealous cybersecurity legislation remains rampant. In lieu of reform — reform even advocated by some members of Congress — both the Executive and Legislative branches alike are preparing to push for new rules that some say will only ruin the Internet.

Pres. Obama is believed to have already signed a cybersecurity executive order this week that, when unveiled, is expected to include privacy-damning provisions that will put in place a direct plan of action for the private sector to share consumer information with the government. According to some reports, the order could be made public as soon as during Tuesday evening’s address. On Wednesday, however, the architects of last year’s Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, plan to reintroduce their bill during a seminar in Washington, rekindling a mission Anonymous says would turn “private companies into government informants.” Regardless of if either is discussed during Tuesday night’s address, however, hacktivists are preemptively asking for a world-wide attack on the State of the Union to be led by a legion of Anons.

“We reject the State of the Union. We reject the authority of the President to sign arbitrary orders and bring irresponsible and damaging controls to the Internet,” Anonymous writes. “The President of the United States of America, and the Joint Session of Congress will face an Army tonight.”

“There will be no State of the Union Address on the web tonight.”

Anonymous is asking for people around the globe to prepare for an online battle Tuesday evening that will take a multi-prong approach in hopes of rendering some Internet streams of the president’s address unavailable and educating the world’s about his administration’s ruthless interpretation of both computer law and the US Constitution alike. In addition to waging a distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS) against websites carrying the SOTU stream, Anons also plan to spam Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and other social media sites with information about the president’s cybersecurity order, CISPA and other items likely to be left out of Tuesday’s speech.

“He will not be covering the NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act], an act of outright tyrannical legislation allowing for indefinite detention of citizens completely outside due process and the rule of law,” reads the press release in part. “He will not be covering the extra-judicial and unregulated justifications for targeted killings of citizens by military drones within the borders of America, or the fact that Orwellian newspeak had to be used to make words like ‘imminent’ mean their opposite.”

Elsewhere, Anonymous attacks the president’s hesitance to publically discuss Private first class Bradley Manning, the 25-year-old accused whistleblower who has been imprisoned without trial for nearly 1,000 days for allegedly leaking information about the United States’ own war crimes. Nor will he discuss, claims Anonymous, “the secret interpretations of law that allow for warrant-less wiretapping and surveillance of any US citizen without probably cause of criminal acts.”

Indeed, the matters of Pfc Manning and the recent renewal of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and other Fourth Amendment-eroding legislation have been by-and-large removed from talking points touched on by the president during his first term in office. Next, Anonymous fears, a tightening grip on the Internet could mean even more infringement, authorized by an administration that aims to gain control of the world’s main method of communication.

“We will form a virtual blockade between Capitol Hill and the Internet,” warns Anonymous. In a separate statement issued by the AnonRelations sect, one member writes, “President Obama and the State of the Union Address will be BANISHED from the Internet for the duration of live delivery.”

“This action is being taken to underline a fact that appears to be sorely unrecognized by the Obama Administration — that the Internet is a sovereign territory, and does not fall under the jurisdiction of any nation state.”

In a public discussion held for planning purposes online, one Anon writes, “Anyone and everyone on the Internet who opposes the current efforts by the US government to control the Internet and their actions against liberty at home and abroad will be DIRECTLY ENGAGED in LULZ WARFARE.” The group has since collected a number of news links relating to relevant White House policies and the URLs for websites that might be momentarily brought down by a coordinated DDoS attack, including the official White House stream for the president’s address. FBI.gov, House.gov and the website for C-SPAN have all been listed as potential targets as well.

“Armed with nothing more than Lulz, Nyancat and PEW-PEW-PEW! Lazers, we will face down the largest superpower on Earth,” the AnonRelations bulletin reads.

OpLastResort, the Anonymous-led mission launched in retribution for the death of Aaron Swartz that is largely attributed to alleged prosecutorial overreach by the Obama administration, has endorsed the planned assault on the State of the Union. On the website OpLastResort.com, the administrator insists there will be no State of the Union broadcast on the Web “for freedom, for Aaron Swartz, for the Internet, and of course, for the lulz.” A member of AnonRelations calls the latest action a continuation of OpLastResort, but also “a direct response to intelligence gathered about upcoming executive order.”

Since Mr. Swartz’ passing in December, Anonymous has hacked into a database of Federal Reserve emergency numbers, defaced the website of the US Sentencing Commission and posted the log-in credentials for over 4,000 US banking executives on a hacked frontpage for the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center. When asked whether he thought these maneuvers were making a difference, former Anonymous member Gregg Housh tells RT that the operations are not going unrecognized.

“I think the ops are having an interesting effect,” Housh says in an online chat hours before Tuesday’s State of the Union Address. “It has their attention . . . in a way I haven’t seen before.”

“I think something is happening,” adds Housh, “it is just happening at the pace at which Washington is used to going, and the Internet is used to ‘Internet time,’ which is much faster.”

President Obama — Get Tough on Corporate Welfare

Ask anti-government ideologues about "welfare" and they are likely to tell you all about an increasingly large group of Americans who are dependent on government handouts. They might refer to the portion of the population who Mitt Romney famously call...

Syrian refugees suffering in Lebanon

Makeshift tents for Syrian refugees are seen in the Lebanese Beqaa valley, December 12, 2012.

The Syrian refugees who have left their home country to take shelter in camps inside neighboring Lebanon are living in dire conditions, Press TV reports.

The refugees are suffering from the lack of basic needs in the refugee camps in Lebanon, including the lack of proper medical treatment and assistance.

“You can see how our living conditions are like. Rain goes through the tents. The children are sick. My son has difficulty with breathing and we can’t take them to hospitals, unless it is an emergency,” said a refugee.

Among all Syria’s neighboring countries, Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees with at least 260,000 people, which is equal to 6.5 percent of Lebanon’s total population.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has warned of the influx of the refugees from Syria to Lebanon, saying the increase in the number of the refugees requires four more camps.


UN refugee officials have appealed for more assistance, saying they have also drawn up contingency plans, which may have to be implemented as the number of the refugees continues to rise.

“If there is a sudden influx then we have to be prepared and this is why the camp component is included in our contingency planning,” a UNHCR spokeswoman, Dana Suleiman, said.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese government says it will spare no efforts to fulfill the needs of the refugees, including coordination with UN officials and regional countries.

“Upon the request of Lebanon, an extra ordinary Arab League meeting was held to discuss the refugees’ crisis. That meeting was followed by the summit in Kuwait, whereby 1.5 billion dollars of assistance was pledged. This assistance is now in the process of being distributed through various channels to provide aid for refugees,” Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said.

Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March 2011. Many people, including large numbers of security personnel, have been killed in the violence.

Several international human rights organizations say the foreign-sponsored militants have committed war crimes.

AO/HN/HJL

Syrian refugees suffering in Lebanon

Makeshift tents for Syrian refugees are seen in the Lebanese Beqaa valley, December 12, 2012.

The Syrian refugees who have left their home country to take shelter in camps inside neighboring Lebanon are living in dire conditions, Press TV reports.

The refugees are suffering from the lack of basic needs in the refugee camps in Lebanon, including the lack of proper medical treatment and assistance.

“You can see how our living conditions are like. Rain goes through the tents. The children are sick. My son has difficulty with breathing and we can’t take them to hospitals, unless it is an emergency,” said a refugee.

Among all Syria’s neighboring countries, Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees with at least 260,000 people, which is equal to 6.5 percent of Lebanon’s total population.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has warned of the influx of the refugees from Syria to Lebanon, saying the increase in the number of the refugees requires four more camps.


UN refugee officials have appealed for more assistance, saying they have also drawn up contingency plans, which may have to be implemented as the number of the refugees continues to rise.

“If there is a sudden influx then we have to be prepared and this is why the camp component is included in our contingency planning,” a UNHCR spokeswoman, Dana Suleiman, said.

Meanwhile, the Lebanese government says it will spare no efforts to fulfill the needs of the refugees, including coordination with UN officials and regional countries.

“Upon the request of Lebanon, an extra ordinary Arab League meeting was held to discuss the refugees’ crisis. That meeting was followed by the summit in Kuwait, whereby 1.5 billion dollars of assistance was pledged. This assistance is now in the process of being distributed through various channels to provide aid for refugees,” Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said.

Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March 2011. Many people, including large numbers of security personnel, have been killed in the violence.

Several international human rights organizations say the foreign-sponsored militants have committed war crimes.

AO/HN/HJL

23 Policies That Would Make It Easier To Save The World

It's been said that the wealthy win because they can always hire half the poor to shoot the other half. Rarely is there a sadder case of this than when it comes to trying to protect the planet that feeds us, clothes us, and generates the only pocket of breathable atmosphere in our solar system.

Baby Weddell seal, by Samuel BlancBecause look, say you're a committed environmentalist, your beloved spouse has treatable cancer, and the only way to save his or her life is to take a job clubbing the last baby seal on the beach. That seal is toast. And so is anything or anyone else that stands between your partner and their chemo.

Don't think the greedy jerks who own everything don't know it; they downright count on it to get their way.

Driving down wages, increasing animosity among the lower classes by scapegoating various segments of also-poor people, decreasing the health and safety of working conditions -- these aren't unfortunate side effects of our current economic incentive structures. They are the point, fueling a vicious cycle where more profits flow to the top while workers are too desperate to do anything about it. The effect, as it was recently said, is this:

The great problem we have today in improving our society, in fixing our economy, is that so many people don't want to give up what they have. . . . [W]hat the past 40 years have proven is this: if you lose your job, you're on your own. If you're in your 40s and 50s and you lose a good job, you'll probably never, ever, have a good job ever again. . . .

People know, they know and they are right, that economic change, in our society, could cost them everything. Their job and any prospect of a good job. Their house. Their marriage. Their health care and even their life.

So they grasp tightly to what they have, and everyone fights to make sure that nothing really changes. Each person, with their little or big piece of the pie, fights viciously to keep it whether it's good for society or not. They are right to do so.

The biggest enemy of our environment, therefore, is mass desperation wielded like a billy club in the hands of the extremely wealthy. The following are some ideas on how to both disarm them and take the next steps towards creating a more awesome society to live in.

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1. Increase the minimum wage. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage is lower than it was in the 1970s. It's not a family wage, even though it's all some families can get. Yet the whole time it's been declining, productivity and profits have gone up, but a fair share of the increase hasn't been passed on to workers. Raising the minimum wage would put upward pressure on the share of business profits that go to workers, making life less precarious for millions of people.

2. Shorten the work week and increase paid time off. It's hard to have an engaged citizenry when work demands so much of people's time that they can barely unwind, let alone follow the news. A full-time work week barely leaves time to be a good parent, a good friend, or even a good housekeeper; forget hitting the mark on all three. The idea that a 40 hour work week, plus the 10-20 hours of preparation and commute time involved, is a reasonable base amount of time to demand of someone is premised on the social expectations of a bygone era where a full-time worker had a full-time caregiver at home. Lowering the full-time work week to even 35 hours would not only create more job openings, it would likely boost per hour productivity, as it has done in some European nations.

3. Cut higher education and worker retraining costs to students. In the era of the GI Bill, not only was it free for returning veterans to go to college, it was affordable for almost anyone who could spring a part-time summer job. But federal funding cuts have piled on top of state funding cuts, and tuition is now ridiculous at most public colleges. It's patently ridiculous to saddle new college graduates with a mortgage-worth of debt when they graduate and set out on their own. Particularly when the value of a college education has decreased for so many, but is nonetheless necessary because it's barely possible anymore to find family-wage blue collar employment. And when people lose their jobs, they should be able to retrain, if possible, if they can't find work in their original field.

4. Restore federal funding for university research programs. Research departments have had to increasingly rely on industry funding, a type of ballyhooed public-private partnership, which has reduced the independence and objectivity of the nation's research institutions to everyone's detriment. There are many cases, but you have to look no further than the way the fossil fuel industry has corrupted university research on fracking, such that very little information at all is available about the risks of hydraulic fracturing recovery of natural gas, and the public must mainly rely on anecdotes and independent filmmakers to hear anything negative about its consequences.

5. Expand unemployment insurance. Want workers not to fear the loss of outdated, polluting industries? Make sure they know they won't be out on the street if they have to look for work for a while, and that they don't have to take the first crappy job that comes their way. It would go a long way towards preventing rank-and-file workers from fighting to the death to defend industries that are long past their sell-by date.

6. Break up the big banks. The financial sector has grown significantly in terms of their share of GDP and has been the biggest accelerant of income inequality in the country. Add to that the longstanding investment policies of these very large banks to either refuse loan capital to, or downgrade the ratings of, businesses who refuse to move production overseas, bust unions, liquidate pensions or drive down wages, and they have overweening power to make life miserable for the average worker. They can no longer be trusted in any respect to be good stewards of the capital they've extracted from the rest of us and their power must be dismantled.

7. Financial transaction tax. Rapid-fire speculation, computerized trading, reckless short-term investing, all add to financial insecurity and promote a casino atmosphere in stock exchanges. It doesn't create a good economy for the average person, though, and these tax-free transactions privilege investors over every other sector of society that has to pay taxes when money changes hands. And there's no one it's more fair to ask to pony up for the public good than the people who've been busily dismantling democracy all these years.

8. Tax capital gains as income. Since capital gains are taxed at very low rates, the wealthy have been incentivized to collect more and more of their household income as some form of investment payout, and disincentivized to reinvest in the productive economy. It's just another way to encourage the wealthy to uselessly hoard cash and is grossly unjust. Tax it fairly and spend it on building a better world.

9. Crack down on overseas tax evasion. With feeling, the wealthy must stop unproductively hoarding cash and starving the public of the funds to run a civil society. This must become unacceptable in every country.

10. Move your money. While large, unaccountable international financial institutions have an incentive to starve their native economies and follow the global race to the bottom wherever it may lead, they're not the only banks. The prosperity of independent credit unions and community banks is much more directly tied to the prosperity of their local economies and the well-being of their customers. These institutions can't afford to recklessly gamble with their financial reserves and are among the most responsible actors in the financial sector. If you can take your business to one of them, please do.

11. Uncap Social Security taxes. If FICA taxes were collected on all income, not just that below the inflation-adjusted, currently ~$110,000 threshold, it would make the program solvent for the foreseeable future. Taking Social Security's solvency off the table for the next few decades would remove a significant wedge issue used by the financial elite to distract the public by leaving us terrified that we're going to wind up homeless when we're too old to work anymore.

12. Lower the retirement age. Increases in the retirement age in the last few years have been a significant cause in the higher rates of disability claims. I mean, duh. When people get older, we tend to get sicker and less able to work. You don't need a PhD to know it. And recent life expectancy gains have mostly gone to the wealthy, not the sort of folks who'd be lucky to find a diner or a paper route to work at when they're 67. Our current national retirement programs have decreased elder poverty by ridiculous amounts. We should look at ways to decrease it further.

13. Open Medicare to everyone. Small businesses would on better footing when competing for talent if they didn't have to worry about covering insurance, and would-be entrepreneurs wouldn't have to be afraid to strike out on their own. Medicare's program costs would go down because of the large influx of healthier people and there'd be a much larger constituency for improving the quality of coverage. Baby seal; saved.

14. End crop exclusions. Currently, if a farmer wants to participate in the federal farm subsidy program, which comes with a host of benefits such as ready access to crop insurance and disaster aid, they can only grow what are known as program commodity crops. A program crop is one of a set number of cereal grains (wheat, corn, etc.), oilseeds (like canola) and legumes (usually soy.) A requirement for participation is that no other type of crop be grown on the land, no fruit, vegetables, etc. This severely limits the ability of farmers to use beneficial intercropping and crop rotation techniques. It would bar a farmer from using, for example, the venerable Native Central and North American Three Sisters intercrop, of corn, beans and squash, because squash isn't a program crop. This restricts farmers' freedom to try new techniques, pursue emerging market opportunities and diversify their businesses. And don't get me started on what a disaster it is for soil carbon sequestration.

15. Break up slaughterhouse consolidation. The biggest obstacle to getting rid of CAFOs is that the slaughterhouse industry has been consolidated under the ownership of the meat packing and distribution industry, with independent slaughterhouses closed down and small, on-farm operations mostly regulated out of existence at the behest of industry lobbyists. In a given geographic area, there's often only one slaughterhouse within a reasonable distance, and you can't use it unless you're contracted with the packer who owns it, for a price they can arbitrarily set and change at whim. There is no other single factor more responsible for the fact that animal production is dangerously concentrated on relatively small, virulently unhealthy feedlots, and why it rarely makes economic sense to farm animals any other way. It's also hard to emphasize enough what an incredible disaster this has been for small livestock producers, who've gone out of business in droves, driving up unemployment in rural communities. In addition to making farming a more economically stable enterprise, reversing livestock consolidation shifts animal waste from being an expensive environmental toxin and back towards being a useful, cost-saving soil supplement.

16. Immigration reform. When you have a large, very desperate population of workers who are afraid to go to the police if they're abused or witness a crime, report wage theft, or organize for safer workplaces, it drags down wages, community safety and working standards for everyone. Give immigrant workers a pathway to citizenship and the security to bargain for better working conditions, it raises the bar for everyone, instead.

17. Marriage equality. It's a joke in liberal circles when fundamentalist preachers blame natural disasters on the gays and other hapless scapegoats, but for a lot of desperate people looking for comfort and perhaps not knowing anyone who's out, it redirects their anger away from the rich jerks who are really fleecing them. Functionally, it's a use of religion to preserve the economic power structure. If marriage equality is a reality everywhere though, everyone will eventually get over it and we can do more productive things with our time than argue about who we let in the clubhouse.

18. Gender equality. When women do better, families do better, children are healthier and intimate violence starts trending downwards. The public health and workforce productivity benefits are immense. Women who are in control of their reproductive options, which is to say that they have access and means to prevent pregnancy or freely choose to carry to term and care for a child, make good decisions about how large a family they can reasonably support. But when they're expected to provide vast amounts of free labor, when they're scapegoated for all of society's ills, and when their sociopolitical capital is tied to some impossible standard of virtue, they too often end up in desperate circumstances. A necessitous woman is not a free woman. A society that can put women's considerable talents towards solving more interesting problems than surviving on the raggedy edge, that's a society that can solve a lot more problems.

19. Paid family leave. There need to be government supports for new parents of both genders to take time off work for the birth or adoption of a new child, or for the acute care of sick family members. It's inherently unfair for women to do all of this type of work at significant economic penalty, or to throw up barriers to men who want to be more involved with their families but feel that they have no choice but to put their shoulder to the grindstone at work. The strain on a family's time and resources that result from having no paid leave to care for the very young or the unwell leaves many people in dire straits, and contributes to the birth of a child being a leading cause of a fall into poverty.

20. Expand public sector employment. There are jobs that need to be done that will never be profitable if done well, but that society needs done and can well afford. Teaching young children is a prime example, as the direct recipients of the service have no purchasing power and society as a whole is poorer if children are only taught on the premise that their parents can afford to pay for it. Having a literate workforce is a pearl beyond price, as it were. There are many more cases to be made for expansive public safety and sanitation services, for public transportation, roads and infrastructure maintenance. A society that provides these services is more attractive to commerce, has more good paying public sector jobs, and inherently reduces desperation.

21. Incentivize local production of everything. I don't know the precise policy mechanism that would be best, but one way or another, cheap, long-distance transportation is going to become more scarce and it's already imposing significant costs in terms of environmental devastation. Further, the trend for ever fewer businesses to consolidate supply chains across the globe starves many local economies of employment opportunities, and many individuals of work they'd find meaningful and enjoyable. It might be more 'inefficient' in terms of consolidation of profit, but the consolidation of profit is a big problem in its own right, as discussed.

22. Make it easier to form a union. If it was as easy to call an election for a union as getting a majority of employees to sign a card saying they wanted one, unionization rates would go way up. This would drive up the share of profits that go to workers, boost workplace safety, decrease economic gender and ethnic discrimination, and generally push working conditions upwards for everyone as non-unions workplaces had to compete for workers with more desirable places of employment.

23. Protect the right to vote. A great deal of progress has been made in terms of dismantling the formal structures of white privilege in America and conferring the full benefits of citizenship on communities of color. We're by no means there yet, but current efforts to restrict voting rights and make our electoral system even less representative of a one-person, one-vote ideal, have the potential to significantly delay progress by putting in power reactionaries who'll continue acting to divide working families against each other and further the desperation of historically disadvantaged populations. And people struggling to have their basic rights, dignity and humanity recognized are often a bit hard pressed to lend a hand to save the oceans. Further, the politicians working to preserve as much racial inequality as possible are usually the same politicians working hardest to burn the world to a cinder for cash. Save democracy, save the planet, I say.

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Humanity has been mired for so long in fighting over whether or not there's enough to eat that we almost didn't notice that we'd finally achieved a world in which there's enough for everyone … and we're catching up with the plot of the story just in time to watch that world get wrecked before we can figure out how to share amongst ourselves a little better. But it doesn't have to get wrecked.

Even better, we're wealthy enough that if we'd stop trying to starve each other, we could move on to more interesting questions, like, why can't we mine the asteroids? How healthy *could* everyone be? Would it be possible to achieve a 95 percent global literacy rate? When can we get fusion power? Can we halt species extinction? Where's my goddam flying car? You know, fun stuff. We have the technology, we just need the will.

I should admit that I'm not actually aiming to save the world. I'm hoping we can make it awesome. But I'm pretty sure than can only happen if we also commit to saving each other.

Image credit: Samuel Blanc

Besieged, Abused, Ignored: Ethiopian Annihilation Of The Ogaden People

ethiopia

In the harsh Ogaden region of Ethiopia, impoverished ethnic Somali people are being murdered and tortured, raped, persecuted and displaced by government paramilitary forces. Illegal actions carried out with the knowledge and tacit support of donor countries, seemingly content to turn a blind eye to war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by their brutal, repressive ally in the region; and a deaf ear to the pain and suffering of the Ogaden Somali people.

Around five million traditionally nomadic pastoralists – live in what is one of the least developed corners of the world besieged by military oppression, drought and famine.

Democracy denied

When the British, with due colonial duplicity, arrogantly handed the Ogaden region over to Ethiopia in 1954, the ethnic Somali people found themselves under occupation by, what they regard as a foreign power. The centuries old struggle for self-determination, has since 1984 been taken up by the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), predictably regarded as ‘terrorists’ by the Ethiopian government; which hunts them down and, with impunity, tortures, imprisons and rapes its members and suspected supporters while carrying out widespread extrajudicial killings.

In 1992 as part of the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front’s (EPRDF) much trumpeted, never realized policy of Ethnic Federalism, that promised autonomy and cultural respect to the many tribal groups in the country; ethnic Somalis in the Ogaden were officially acknowledged and inaugural regional elections held. The ONLF, a secular group in a largely Muslim region, “won 60% of seats… and formed the new (regional) government” Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported. Two years later, and in response to the will of the people, the ONLF called for a referendum on self-determination. The government’s reaction to such democratic gall was to kill 81 unarmed civilians in the town of Wardheer, disband the regional parliament, arrest and imprison the vice-president and several other members of the parliament, instigate mass arrests and indiscriminate killings; this brutal act ignited the current struggle and drove the ONLF into the shadows and its current guerilla war.

Resource rich

The region, rich in oil and gas reserves, is potentially the wealthiest area of Ethiopia. Resources that the indigenous people are understandably keen to benefit from, that the EPRDF sees as another party asset to add to its burgeoning portfolio. Genocide Watch (GW) tell us that, “immediately after oil and gas were discovered in the Ogaden, Ethiopian government forces evicted large numbers of [Ogaden Somalis] from their ancestral grazing lands and herded them into Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, causing a humanitarian disaster”. If the ONLF are correct and their view sounds more than plausible, the Ethiopian military intends to secure the resources for the government and exclude the local people. The Africa Faith and Justice Network confirms such suspicions, saying: “With the discovery of petroleum leading to exploration missions by foreign companies, the government’s motives are questionable.”

Upfront fees for exploration rights are reputed to have been sold to foreign corporations for between $50 – $100 million, paid by under-informed, overexcited multinationals, who subsequently pull out, having underestimated the logistical problems of working in the region. China Petroleum was one such; they were subjected to an unprecedented ill-judged attack by the ONLF in 2007 that caused the deaths of nine Chinese workmen and, according to China Daily , “65 Ethiopian employees”. The Ethiopian government, itching to intensify the conflict that had been simmering for over three decades, retaliated with excessive brutality, by HRW reports, “launching a brutal counter-insurgency campaign in the five zones of [the] Somali Region primarily affected by the conflict… [Where] the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) has deliberately and repeatedly attacked civilian populations,” killing hundreds of men women and children.

Displaced & destitute

Thousands of terrified Ogaden Somalis have since fled the affected areas. They seek refuge “in neighbouring Somalia and Kenya from widespread Ethiopian military attacks on civilians and villages that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,“(ibid). Large numbers have been made homeless and destitute, accurate numbers are difficult to collate due to restricted access, however human rights groups estimate the number, to be greater than one hundred thousand.

The Ogaden, GW states “has been transformed into a vast military occupied area, with thousands in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.” Most displaced persons, the International Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) reports, “sought shelter with relatives or safety in the bush, rather than gathering in organized camps,” where widespread abuse is known to take place, including starvation that GW describes as “genocide by attrition”. These desperate, frightened people are not regarded as refugees and so receive no humanitarian aid support from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). And the EPRDF, consistent with their duplicitous approach to governance, fails to meet dutiful obligations under the historic Kampala Convention which “reaffirms that national authorities have the primary responsibility to provide assistance to IDPs…. (And) … to address the plight of people uprooted within their borders”. The ruling party ignores these requirements, acting not in accordance with international law, the federal constitution or indeed their moral duty.

Especially violent

In 2009, after widespread condemnation of the Ethiopian army’s conduct in the region, the regime formed the highly suspect Liyu (Special) Police. Somaliland Press (26/9/12) states, the government “deliberately recruited unemployed youths from the streets”. This shadowy paramilitary force of 10,000 – 14,000, fits, HRW says, “into the context of impunity where security forces can more or less do what they want.” Not a group, then, that the British government should be supporting. In a baffling move however, according to The Guardian (10/1/13) , the Department for International Development (DFID) has submitted, a “tender to train security forces in the Somali region of Ogaden”, Amnesty International’s Claire Beston said: “It was highly concerning that the UK was planning to engage with the Special Police..…. There is no doubt that the Special Police have become a significant source of fear in the region.”(Ibid) The DFID in denying the report ambiguously states that, “reforming the Special Police is critical for achieving a safe and secure Somali Region”, failing to recognize that the Liyu force needs not reforming but disbanding and, along with all Ethiopian military personnel, marched out of the region immediately.

State-sanctioned terrorism and genocide

In addition to murder and rape, appalling levels of torture and extrajudicial execution are reported. Thousands, according to GW, “have been arrested without any charges and held in desolate desert prisons”. Mass detention “without any judicial oversight are routine. Hundreds—and possibly thousands—of individuals have been arrested and held in military barracks, sometimes multiple times, where they have been tortured, raped, and assaulted”, HRW report.

Children and women being the most vulnerable suffer acutely, the rape of Ogaden Somali women is a favored weapon of the Ethiopian paramilitary; held in military barracks women are imprisoned as sex slaves, where they are subjected to multiple gang rape and torture. African Rights Monitor (ARM) recount one woman’s story that mirrors many and shocks us all. She claims to have been, “raped by fifty soldiers for a period of twelve hours and hung upside down over a pit of fire that had chili powder in…. to suffocate her lungs”.

Statistics of abuse are impossible to state, the numbers are perhaps of less importance than the crimes and the suffering caused, survivors bear the physical scars and mental trauma of their ordeals, from which many may never recover.

A scorched-earth policy involving burning of crops and homes and killing cattle is part of the campaign of state terror, as HRW record, “Confiscation of livestock [the main asset], restrictions on access to water, food, and other essential commodities” have “been used as weapons in an economic war”. As has the destruction of villages, confirmed by evidence from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, proving, “that the Ethiopian military has attacked civilians and burned towns and villages in eight locations across the remote Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia.” Such inhumane methods are employed by the EPRDF to instill fear in the Ogaden Somali people and suppress their legitimate demands for autonomy. It is shocking criminal abuse which staggeringly, “GW considers to have already reached stage 7 [of 8], genocidal massacres against many [Ogadeni, Anuk, Oromo and Omo] of its people”. International donors however, who provide a third of Ethiopia’s total federal budget – around $4 billion a year, to their utter shame say and do nothing; neglect constituting complicity.

Village executions

With the region virtually shut off, video evidence smuggled out of Ethiopia by Abdullahi Hussein, a former Ethiopian civil servant is rare. Revealing Somaliland Press (26/9/12) say that, “whole villages have been emptied of inhabitants through executions and mass flight from terror… you can hear members of the Liyu Police desecrate a civilian they have just killed. They stomp on his head and poke his face with a stick.” Such attacks on settlements are routine: Demanding our attention is Qurille village in the Wardeer district attacked in September 2012: Ogaden Online recounts how troops: “Shoot each resident of the town in their custody at point blank range” including women and children. Bodies are hung from trees in a public display of state terrorism, to engender lasting fear. This type of brutality is widespread. HRW records how in Raqda village in the Gashaamo district during March 2012, “the Liyu police force summarily executed at least 10 men – in their custody, killed at least nine residents… [and] abducted at least 24 men.”

The killing continued two days later on 17th March, when “Liyu police took another four men from their homes and summarily executed them. A woman whose brother was a veterinarian told HRW: “They caught my brother and took him outside. They shot him in the head and then slit his throat.” Defenseless villages are easy prey for the Liyu and their brutal methodology, as HRW state, “troops have forcibly displaced entire rural communities, ordering villagers to leave their homes within a few days or witness their houses being burnt down and possessions destroyed—and risk death”. Page upon page could be filled with such violent disturbing accounts.

Exclusion of foreign media and aid workers

Contrary to constitutional and human rights law, the EPRDF has imposed a widespread blockade on the Ogaden region, seeking to control the flow of information outside the country as it does within its borders, where it allows no freedom of the media; of expression, of assembly or of political dissent. Add to this the outlawing of trade unions and the partisan distribution of aid and a picture of a brutal totalitarian regime emerges from the duplicitous mist of politically correct, democratic rhetoric.

Attempts to work in the region by international media and humanitarian groups are seen as criminal acts, punishable under the widely condemned anti-terrorist proclamation.
Two Swedish journalists investigating human rights abuses in the Ogaden, made headlines in July 2011 when they were attacked and arrested by the Liyu police and subjected to a terrifying ‘mock’ execution. Charged and sentenced in Ethiopia’s kangaroo court to 11 years imprisonment, they were later released having served 400 days in appalling conditions. Reporters from the New York Times, The Telegraph and Voice of America have also been imprisoned and expelled, so too United Nations (UN) workers and staff from Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) who were arrested and accused of being spies! Wrapped in paranoia, the EPRDF suspended 42 NGOs in 2009 for reporting government human rights abuses in the region and, in 2007 in what must be the EPRDF’s Pièce de résistance, the International Committee of the Red Cross were expelled.

In addition to the information embargo, the region is subject to what HRW describe as “severe restrictions on movement and commercial trade, minimal access to independent relief assistance,” and the “politicized manipulation of humanitarian operations, particularly food distribution”; meaning food supplied by donor countries is stolen to feed the Ethiopian army and the Liyu force. This in one of the worst areas for drought and famine in the country, where, In-Depth Africa reports, “1,539,279 people (30% of the population) in the region lack food, water and health services”.

Peace and justice for the people

The little known conflict in the Ogaden is a cause of intense tension between Ethiopia and Somalia and a destabilizing issue in an unstable region. It is a fight that has been distorted by the former Government of Somalia, which sought to misrepresent the issue and transform it into a boundary dispute; a misconception that suits the Ethiopian regime keen to avoid the substantive point of regional autonomy.

All efforts to facilitate a lasting peaceful resolution to what is an age-old struggle should be urgently made, Ethiopia’s donors and facilitators, principally America, along with the European Union and Britain must act with due responsibility. Action should be taken to: Close down IDP camps and the people allowed to return to their communities; aid provided for rebuilding villages (not to train the Liyu) destroyed by the military; regional elections organised and a referendum on self-determination held.

The appalling atrocities committed daily by the Ethiopian paramilitary constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity that should immediately be referred to the International Criminal Court for prosecution. They are, though, just the deepest wounds within a scarred body of human rights abuses, violating federal and international law, being perpetrated by the EPRDF regime throughout the country and with utter impunity. This must end and the Ogaden Somali people, allowed to determine their own destiny and to live in peace.

Graham Peebles is an artist, writer and director of The Create Trust, which he founded in 2006. He has run education projects & teacher training programs in Palestine, India and Ethiopia, where he spent two years working with local groups in Addis Ababa. Contact: [email protected]

Notes

[i] http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2007-04/24/content_858956.htm

[ii] http://www.hrw.org/node/62175/section/4

[iii] http://www.genocidewatch.org/ethiopia.html

[iv] http://www.genocidewatch.org/ethiopia.html

[v] http://www.internal-displacement.org/countries/ethiopia

[vi] http://www.internal-displacement.org/kampala-convention

[vii] http://somalilandpress.com/ethiopia-a-wave-of-atrocities-against-villages-in-ogaden-35429

[viii] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/09/201291795840290803.html

[ix] http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2008/0612ethiopia_intro.shtml

[x] http://ogaden.com/hornnews/ogaden/1495-ethiopian-mass-murder-in-miirdanbas-qoriile.html– By Mohamud A. Dubet

[xi] http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/05/28/ethiopia-special-police-execute-10

[xii] http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/features/ethiopia/index.html

[xiii] http://indepthafrica.com/in-ethiopia-a-war-on-humanitarian-agencies-and-staff/#.UPBCpVRl8Xw In Ethiopia: A War on Humanitarian Agencies and Staff

On the News With Thom Hartmann: Arkansas Law Signals Revival of Debtors’ Prisons in...

In today's On the News segment: Vermont leads the fight to protect unions, and more.

Thom Hartmann here – on the news...

You need to know this. The man-hunt for cop-turned-killer Christopher Dorner continues in California. As of today, the Navy veteran and former LAPD officer has eluded police for over a week after the killing three people on February 3rd. The LAPD have even offered a $1 million reward for information leading to his arrest. Most of the discussion in the media has focused on a multi-page manifesto, which Mr. Dorner posted to his Facebook page, describing the alleged reason behind the killings. Mr. Dorner claims that the LAPD unjustly fired him for leveling allegations of police brutality. Despite an investigation at the time finding Dorner's brutality accusations false, the LAPD has agreed to reopen the investigation. The media, and the public, have taken a variety of views about the cop-turned-killer – with some labeling the man as a homicidal maniac and others supporting him for taking on a system he believes is tyrannical. Many questions surround the firing, and the on-going man-hunt. We'll have to see what answers materialize in the coming days, and hope that no additional lives are lost in the process.

In screwed news...There are less than 20 days until the March 1st Sequester deadline. And Washington is gearing up for a major fight. If politicians can't come to a compromise, the looming $85 billion of Republican austerity is set to make devastating cuts to programs many Americans depend on. Despite non-defense spending being 14% lower than it has been in a half-century, deficit hawks in the Republican party want more austerity imposed on the working poor in our nation. Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee estimate that additional cuts will have a devastating impact on food safety, aviation safety, early education, disaster relief, and law enforcement. And vital programs like WIC, which helps low-income women provide food for their infants and toddlers, may be forced to tell 600,000 women and children to go hungry. In his weekly YouTube address over the weekend, President Obama again called on Congress to act now in order to avoid "deep, indiscriminate" cuts. He called out the Republicans directly saying, "they would rather ask more from the vast majority of Americans and put our recovery at risk, than close even a single tax loophole that benefits the wealthy." Rather than working to avert the impending crisis, House Republicans like Speaker John Boehner are simply using it to attack our President...coining the ridiculous term "Obama-quester." No country, in the history of the world, has ever cut it's way to prosperity. We can only hope that Congress starts considering a smarter approach – like the Sanders-Schakowsky Corporate Tax Fairness Act – and prevent devastating austerity. Stay tuned.

In the best of the rest of the news.

Vermont is leading the fight to protect unions! "Right-to-work-FOR-LESS" legislation was recently rammed through in Michigan, and has even been purposed as national legislation by Sen. Rand Paul. But now, Vermont is setting the opposite example with the introduction of the "Fair Share Bill." The state's Senate Committee on Economic Development voted 5-0, to ensure that people who reap the benefits of union representation pay their share into the bargaining process. In an interview with Vermont Public Radio regarding the so-called "Anti-Right-to-Work" law, State Senator Philip Baruth said, "If you enjoy the benefits of your union and collective bargaining, you will have to pay a percentage of what a fully paid up member of the union would pay." From increased wages - to safer working conditions - to the 5 day workweek, unions are responsible for many aspects of employment that people today take for granted. And we've seen unions virtually destroyed in states where "Right-to-Work-FOR-LESS" has been enacted. Those states consistently have lower wages, more dangerous working conditions, and a lower likelihood of sharing in the economic growth created by employee production. Kudos to Vermont for standing up for the rights of unionized employees in their state. Let's follow their lead and push for a national "Fair Share Bill."

Don't be late on your rent in Arkansas! Because if you are, you could wind up behind bars. According to a new report by Human Rights Watch, landlords and corrupt public officials abused an Arkansas "failure-to-vacate" law to bring charges against more than 1,200 tenants in 2012 alone. And the number of people who've actually been effected by this law, which charges people as criminals simply on a landlord's say-so, could be much higher. While most states handle late rent payments and evictions as civil matters, Arkansas' new use of the "failure-to-vacate" law could put you in jail for being as little as 10 days behind on rent. One woman interviewed by Human Rights Watch said she was only three days behind when her landlord ordered her to move out, and threatened to have her arrested. This law is clearly a revival of debtors' prisons in America – something that we outlawed in this country in 1833! More Americans than ever are finding themselves behind on bills. If more states adopt this policy, who knows how many more of us will wind up in jail. Perhaps someone needs to start researching the private prison industry's role in all this.

And finally...It's always sunny in Germany. At least, that's what some on Fox so-called News would have you believe. Last week, a trio of want-to-be journalists on Fox & Friends used that ridiculous reasoning to explain why Germany's solar industry is so far ahead of our own. So, instead of considering the obvious reasons – like the fact that Germany's government has long supported the solar industry – Fox would rather ridicule Obama's "failed" solar subsidies. In fact, every single state in our nation except for Alaska gets more annual sunshine then Germany. In addition to that, Obama's solar subsidies have vastly improved solar output, and expanded the industry's reach throughout our nation. Perhaps it's time we shine a little more light on Fox news.... maybe it'll eventually stop them from trying to push us back into the dark ages.

And that's the way it is today – Monday, February 11, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.

Haiti: Did the U.S. Provide a “Green-Light” for Duvalier’s Return in 2011?

HAITI'S "DEMOCRATIC DICTATORSHIP": Bill Clinton is comfortable shaking hands with "Baby Doc" Duvalier - Why?

Feb. 7, 2013 promises to be a hot day in Haiti.

Thousands of Haitians plan to march through Port-au-Prince to protest President Michel Martelly’s patent corruption and drift toward a repressive neo-Duvalierist dictatorship.

At the same time, former President-for-Life Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier will be personally appearing in the capital’s Appeals Court to answer a challenge by his regime’s victims.

One year ago, Investigating Judge Carves Jean ruled that Duvalier should not be prosecuted for the many crimes against humanity committed under his 15-year rule from 1971 to 1986, including extrajudicial executions and jailings. Human rights groups like Amnesty International and its Haitian counterparts cried foul, as did over a dozen of people who had filed human rights complaints against Duvalier following his return to Haiti in January 2011. They appealed the decision.  Ironically, Judge Jean Joseph Lebrun, the head of the Appeals Court, set the hearing for final arguments against Judge Carves Jean’s ruling for the 27th anniversary of the Duvalier regime’s fall.

Feb. 7, 1986 was the day when, after a three-month nationwide uprising against his regime, the playboy dictator and his haughty bourgeois wife, Michelle, drove their Mercedes-Benz through a cordon of journalists at the airport to board a U.S.-provided C-130 cargo jet that flew them, with her furs and his cars, into a golden exile in France.

The Duvaliers divorced but lived the good life off the some $800 million (according to best estimates) that they and their cronies embezzled from the Haitian treasury. In fact, Judge Carves Jean did charge Duvalier for his “economic crimes,” but the maximum sentence if he were ever found guilty (an unlikely event under Martelly’s regime) would be only five years.

Duvalier returned to Haiti on Jan. 16, 2011 thanks to a Haitian diplomatic passport furnished to him five years earlier by one of his former Haitian Army generals, Hérard Abraham. The former general, whom President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fired in 1991, had been resurrected 13 years later as the Foreign Affairs Minister under the de facto regime of Prime Minister Gérard Latortue, installed by Washington following the Feb. 29, 2004 coup d’état against Aristide.

U.S. State Department cables provided to Haïti Liberté by the media organization WikiLeaks in 2011 reveal that the U.S. Embassy was very “concerned” about Duvalier’s return to Haiti in early 2006, when the de facto regime was about to hold presidential elections on Feb. 7, 2006.

In Santiago, Chile, for example, U.S. Ambassador Craig Kelly “expressed [U.S.] concerns about the Interim Government of Haiti’s (IGOH) decision to approve the issuance of a diplomatic passport for former president and dictator Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier,” Kelly wrote in a Jan. 11, 2006 Confidential cable. He asked the Chilean government “to approach the IGOH to make clear that Duvalier’s return would undermine efforts to assist Haiti in its transition to a stable, democratic society.”

The U.S. also talked to France, which “understood and shared our ‘political’ concern that Jean-Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier might use a diplomatic passport to return to Haiti,” reported a Jan. 12, 2006 cable from Paris.

In a meeting with then Dominican President Leonel Fernandez, the U.S. Ambassador “urged Fernandez not to allow Duvalier to obtain a visa for the Dominican Republic so as to pass through en route to Haiti,” a Jan. 17, 2006 cablemarked “Secret” reports.

Meanwhile, the cables detail several meetings that U.S. Embassy officials held with Latortue and his officials about Duvalier. What becomes clear in the diplomatic record is that the U.S. Embassy was primarily concerned about appearances, and the bad press Duvalier’s return would generate. “The visuals are bad,” argued U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Timothy Carney in a Jan. 17, 2006 cable from Port-au-Prince, and “Baby Doc is a risky, potentially divisive, presence.” Carney was reporting on a meeting he’d had the day before with Abraham, who “concluded by refusing to revoke the passport already issued to Duvalier, but confirming that he would do everything in his power to transmit the message to Duvalier that he should not to return to Haiti at this time.”

The most telling bit of the cable is where Carney quotes Abraham as saying that Duvalier “lacks appropriate guarantees, security and otherwise, to secure his reentry into the country.”

Fast forward exactly five years to Jan. 16, 2011. When Duvalier arrived in Haiti on that day, the U.S. acted as surprised as everybody else and divulged nothing about its opposition to the diplomatic passport provided to Duvalier five years earlier by the very coup regime it had installed in power.

Michel Martelly and Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier

The Haiti cables that WikiLeaks obtained only covered a period from April 2003 to February 2010, so we don’t know what the Embassy was saying in the days just before Duvalier’s “surprise” return, which it surely knew was in the offing. But, judging from the 2006 cables, one can reasonably assume that Duvalier would only have returned to Haiti if he’d received the “appropriate guarantees, security and otherwise, to secure his reentry into the country.”

Those “guarantees” could only have come from Washington. Then President René Préval, a former anti-Duvalierist militant, surely didn’t give them. He launched a “serious effort to put together a case against Duvalier” during the four months that he remained in office, according to human rights lawyer Mario Joseph, whose International Lawyers’ Bureau (BAI) helped build the prosecution’s dossier. But Préval was replaced on May 14, 2011 by Martelly, and at that point the prosecution against Duvalier “ground to a halt,” Joseph said.

The new neo-Duvalierist president was installed through an illegal election in which the U.S. brazenly intervened to bump out the candidate of Préval’s party, Jude Celestin, who came in second-place in the first round, and replace him with Martelly, who came in third.

Did the U.S. (and France) feel that the time was right for Duvalier to come back to Haiti, as they were engineering the election of Martelly? Did they offer Duvalier “guarantees” ?

One thing is for sure: the U.S. and its allies did not fight to block Duvalier’s return from France in 2011 the way they fought like hell to block Aristide’s return from South Africa two months later, as Haïti Liberté revealed when dissecting WikiLeaked cables in 2011.

“The cables show how Washington actively colluded with the United Nations leadership, France, and Canada to discourage or physically prevent Aristide’s return to Haiti,” we wrote in our Jul. 28, 2011 edition. “The Vatican was a reliable partner, blessing the coup and assisting in prolonging Aristide’s exile.”

The history of the U.S. Embassy showing Duvalier the door in 1986 and then likely opening it for him in 2011 makes one wonder what the U.S. will be doing behind the scenes on Feb. 7, 2013. Whatever it is, the Embassy will be trying to avoid one outcome: that “the visuals are bad.” 

From Afghanistan: My Voice Is Not Political, It Is Human

It’s hard for me, an ordinary citizen of Singapore, a medical doctor engaged in social enterprise work in Afghanistan and a human being wishing for a better world, to write this from Kabul.Raz, Abdulhai and the author in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Photo: Voices for Creative Nonviolence)

But people are dying.

And children and women are feeling hopeless.

 “What’s the point in telling you our stories?” asked Freba, one of the seamstresses working with the Afghan Peace Volunteers to set up a tailoring co-operative for Afghan women. “Does anyone hear? Does anyone believe us?”

Silently within, I answered Freba with shame,” You’re right. No one is listening.”

So, I write this in protest against my government’s presence in the humanitarian and war tragedy of Afghanistan, as a way to lend my voice to Freba and all my Afghan friends.

I do so in dissent, against the global security of imprisoned minds.

I thought, “If no one listens as humans should, we should at least speak like free men and women.”

Singapore’s complicity in the humanitarian and war tragedy of Afghanistan

It is clear that the Taliban, the many Afghan and regional warlords, militia groups and the Afghan government are responsible for the current humanitarian and war tragedy of Afghanistan.

But Singapore is also responsible because it is one of the fifty U.S. /NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) coalition countries working with the corrupt Afghan government (rated the most corrupt country in 2012).

While the Singapore government would never support any corrupt Singaporean leader even for a day, they have sent troops to support the most corrupt leaders on earth! If accountability is at all important, we cannot say, ‘Oh…never mind!”

Moreover, Singapore has inadvertently become a minor accomplice of the self-interests of the U.S. government in Afghanistan ; The U.S. Vice President , Joe Biden, spoke at the Munich Security Conference recently, "The United States is a Pacific power. And the world's greatest military alliance ( NATO ) helps make us an Atlantic power as well. As our new defense strategy makes clear, we will remain both a Pacific power and an Atlantic power." 

American power and economic interests naturally do not include the best interests of ordinary Singaporeans or Afghans.

The Afghan humanitarian tragedy

In the normal, logical world, it should inspire the doubt and curiosity of Singaporeans that while the U.S. /NATO coalition was spending billions of dollars every week on the Afghan war ( the U.S. alone was spending two billion dollars every week ), Afghans have been perishing under one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the world. At least 36% live below the poverty line and 35% of Afghan men do not have work . The UN calls the acute malnutrition of nearly one million children in the Afghan south ‘shocking’ . Almost three quarters of all Afghans do not have access to safe drinking water .

On several occasions in the past few years, Afghanistan was declared the worst country for children and women, and yet, many of us still hold this warped presumption, “Afghanistan is the worst country for children and women but whatever we are doing over there MUST somehow be right!”

The Afghan war tragedy

In the normal, logical world, it should at least matter to ‘result-orientated’ Singaporeans that the very expensive Afghan/U.S. coalition’s ‘war against terrorism’ has increased rather than decreased ‘terrorism’, with the Global Terrorism Index reporting that terrorist strikes in the region have increased four times since the start of the Iraq war in 2003.

Even President Karzai said in the UK recently that the security situation in southern Helmand province of Afghanistan was better before British troops were deployed.

Adding to this cynical mess of increased ‘terrorism’ at the hands of global superpowers, the U.S. has established an epicenter of drone warfare in Afghanistan, with Afghans and Pakistanis and other ‘insurgents’ as their ‘targets’, and Singapore as one of their many allies. Singapore has had teams helping in drone reconnaissance operations, reconnaissance that may have eventually ended up with a U.S. /NATO decision to kill someone without trial.

I had raised this personal concern once in a meeting room at Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs ; I was appreciative of the attentiveness given to this issue, but sensed that there was no great interest in ‘investigating’ how Singapore’s co-operation in the drone operations in Afghanistan may be violating international law, as was suggested by the ex-UN Special Rapporteur on Extra Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Killings, Mr Philip Alston.

A recent New York Times article highlights these ‘fears  for U.S. allies’, reporting on a lawsuit in the British courts that ‘accuses British officials of becoming “secondary parties to murder” by passing intelligence to American officials that was later used in drone strikes.’ My life has been changed by listening to Afghan friends like Raz Mohammad tell how ‘drones bury beautiful lives’.

The U.N. is finally living up to its charter to ‘remove the scourge of war’ by duly investigating drone warfare. Major U.S. newspapers are also asking for more transparency over Obama’s weekly, premeditated ‘kill lists’. There has been concern over unchecked Powers getting even more out of all jurisdictions with the appointment of ‘drone justifier’ John Brennan as Obama’s CIA Director nominee.

Even the UN Committee on the Rights of a Child has been "alarmed" at reports of the deaths of hundreds of children from US attacks and air strikes in Afghanistan since the committee last reviewed U.S. practices in 2008.

Singapore should be alarmed too.

Singapore’s own identity as a militarized, authoritarian country

Deep within, like most human beings, Freba yearns for a decent livelihood without war. Abdulhai and the Afghan Peace Volunteers wish for friends from all 195 countries of the world, a better world without borders!

What kind of identity do Singaporeans wish for their country, a peaceful and friendly country or otherwise?

Again, I’m concerned. We like pictures of be-medaled soldiers more than unsung ‘Mother Teresa’ heroines. Our government has a significant number of ex-military commanders.

According to the Global Militarisation Index released by the Bonn International Centre for Conversion (BICC), Singapore has been the second most militarized nation in the world for years. The latest ranking puts Singapore just second to Israel and one brutal position more militarized than Syria.

The world is awakening, the human race is revolutionizing, and so is Singapore’s electorate. Most ordinary folk in the world don’t want to send missiles or guns to kill strangers in other places! Human beings have always preferred otherwise.

What also worries me is that this militarized mindset may be behind Singapore’s enthusiasm in the drone show-business, and in ‘unintentionally’ being part of the U.S.’ ‘Asia pivot’ by hosting four U.S. littoral combat ships.

Even on the economic front, while Singapore has one of the higher Gini coefficients of income inequality in the world, not many people in Singapore are aware of or debating Singapore’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, again a partnership that corporate America is pushing for.

What Singapore has aligned herself with in Afghanistan is militarized authoritarianism that concentrates profit and power in the hands of a few. While this follows global norms, such a system works mainly for the wealth and power of the 1% in the short term, but not for the daily needs of the 99% in either the short or long term.

I personally think that both the democratic and socialist practices of today are ‘non-progressive’ vehicles for the rule of the few ‘Kings, Emperors, Presidents, and Prime Ministers’ over the many presumably ‘ignorant, helpless and sometimes lazy’ subjects. These elitist systems tend to maintain control by ‘pacifying the masses’ through formal education, mainstream media and force.

I hope Singapore can steer itself away from this ‘norm’, an ugly ‘norm’ in which war becomes fun, like when Prince Harry described his combat pilot job in Afghanistan as "a joy … because I'm one of those people who loves playing PlayStation and Xbox, so with my thumbs I like to think I'm probably quite useful."

I believe that for effective defense and genuine security, we ought to be friends with neighbours and all peoples of other lands rather than militarists with superior weapons.

Perhaps these are differences in opinions which can be included in Our Singapore Conversation.

It’s hard for me to write this, but I am sincerely ashamed to be a citizen of the 2nd most militarized nation on earth, a country that has participated in the legally-questionable drone warfare in Afghanistan.

Thankfully, I have hope in Singaporeans like I have hope in humanity. There are alternatives. The world is awakening, the human race is revolutionizing, and so is Singapore’s electorate. Most ordinary folk in the world don’t want to send missiles or guns to kill strangers in other places! Human beings have always preferred otherwise.

My voice is not political. My voice is human.

Afghans are hurting very badly.

And I am hurting too.

Hakim

Hakim ([email protected]) is a mentor for the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul. www.ourjourneytosmile.com

Generalissima Clinton Expanding the Empire

hilary

Hillary Clinton has completed her four-year tenure as Secretary of State to the accolades of both Democratic and Republican Congressional champions of the budget-busting “military-industrial complex,” that President Eisenhower warned about in his farewell address. Behind the public relations sheen, the photo-opportunities with groups of poor people in the developing world, an ever more militarized State Department operated under Clinton’s leadership.

A militarized State Department is more than a repudiation of the Department’s basic charter of 1789, for the then-named Department of Foreign Affairs, which envisioned diplomacy as its mission. Secretary Clinton reveled in tough, belligerent talk and action on her many trips to more than a hundred countries. She would warn or threaten “consequences” on a regular basis. She supported soldiers in Afghanistan, the use of secret Special Forces in other places and “force projection” in East Asia to contain China. She aggressively supported or attacked resistance movements in dictatorships, depending on whether a regime played to Washington’s tune.

Because Defense Secretary Robert Gates was openly cool to the drum beats for war on Libya, Clinton took over and choreographed the NATO ouster of the dictator, Muammar al-Gaddafi, long after he had given up his mass destruction weaponry and was working to re-kindle relations with the U.S. government and global energy corporations. Libya is now in a disastrous warlord state-of-chaos. Many fleeing fighters have moved into Mali, making that vast country into another battlefield drawing U.S. involvement. Blowback!

Time and again, Hillary Clinton’s belligerence exceeded that of Obama’s Secretaries of Defense. From her seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee to her tenure at the State Department, Hillary Clinton sought to prove that she could be just as tough as the militaristic civilian men whose circle she entered. Throughout her four years it was Generalissima Clinton, expanding the American Empire at large.

Here is some of what the candid camera of history will show about her record:

1. A Yale Law School graduate, she shared with President Obama, a former Harvard Law Review President, a shocking disregard for the law and separation of powers be it the Constitution, federal statues or international treaties. Her legal advisor, former Yale Law Dean Harold Koh, provided cover for her and Obama’s “drone ranger” (to use Bill Moyer’s words), John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism advisor. Brennan gave the president weekly opportunities (White House aides called decision day “Terror Tuesdays”) to become secret prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner. Imagine thousands of push-button deaths and injuries of internal resisters and civilian bystanders in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere who presented no threat to the U.S.

The war on Libya, which Clinton spearheaded for Obama, was conducted without a Congressional Declaration of War, without even a War Resolution or a Congressional authorization or appropriation. She and her boss outdid Cheney and Bush on that score.

2. Although touting “diplomacy” as a priority, Clinton made little attempt to bring the United States into the community of nations by signing or ratifying international treaties already having as signatories over a hundred nations. As a former senator with bi-partisan support, Clinton didn’t use much of her capital on climate change agreements.

Human Rights Watch reports that chief among the unratified treaties are “international conventions relating to children, women, persons with disabilities, torture, enforced disappearance, and the use of anti-personal landmines and cluster munitions.” The last two treaties are designed to save thousands of lives and limbs of the children and their parents who are major victims of these concealed, atrocious weapons. Clinton has not gone to bat against the advocates for those “blowback” explosives that the Pentagon still uses.

When the Senate recently failed to ratify the treaty on disabilities, Clinton, with former senator and injured veteran, Robert Dole on her side, still didn’t make the maximum effort of which she is capable.

3. Secretary Clinton had problems heralding accurate whistleblowers. A 24-year-Foreign Service Officer, Peter Van Buren spent a year in Iraq running two State Department Reconstruction Teams. He exposed State Department waste and mismanagement along with the Pentagon’s “reconstruction” efforts using corporate contractors. Unlistened to, Van Buren, true to his civil service oath of office, went public. Clinton fired him. (wemeantwell.com.)

4. Possibly the most revealing of Clinton’s character was ordering U.S. officials to spy on top UN diplomats, including those from our ally, the United Kingdom. Shockingly, she even ordered her emissaries to obtain DNA data, iris scans (known as biometric data) and fingerprints along with credit card and frequent flier numbers.

The disclosure of secret State Department cables proved this to be a clear violation of the 1946 UN convention. Clinton included in this crude boomeranging personal espionage, the Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon and his top officials all around the world. As befits these lawless times, there were no Congressional hearings, no accountabilities, and no resignation by the self-styled civil libertarian Secretary of State, not even a public apology.

5. Clinton led a dangerous expansion of the Department’s mission in Iraq. As reported in the Wall Street Journal on December 10, 2011, “In place of the military, the State Department will assume a new role of unprecedented scale, overseeing a massive diplomatic mission through a network of fortified, self-sufficient installations.”

To call this a diplomatic mission is a stretch. The State Department has hired thousands of private security contractors for armed details and transportation of personnel. Simply guarding the huge U.S. embassy in Iraq and its personnel costs more than $650 million a year – larger than the entire budget of the Occupational Health and Safety Agency (OSHA), which is responsible for reducing the yearly loss of about 58,000 lives in workplace-related traumas and sickness.

Another State Department undertaking is to improve the training and capability of Iraq’s police and armed forces. Countless active and retired Foreign Service officers believe expanded militarization of the State Department both sidelines them, their experience and knowledge, in favor of contractors and military people, and endangers them overseas.

Blurring the distinction between the Pentagon and the State Department in words and deeds seriously compromises Americans engaged in development and diplomatic endeavors. When people in the developing countries see Americans working to advance public health or clean drinking water systems within their countries, they now wonder if these are front activities for spying or undercover penetrations. Violent actions, fueled by this suspicion, are already jeopardizing public health efforts on the border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Clinton’s successor, former Senator and war veteran, John Kerry, says he wants to emphasize peace, human rights, and anti-poverty endeavors. He doesn’t have to prove his machismo should he strive to de-militarize the State Department and promote peaceful, deliberative missions in the world, from which true security flows.

You Should Be Outraged by What Is Being Done to Our Postal Service

Patrick Donahoe, Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer, at U.S. Postal Service headquarters in Washington, Feb. 6, 2013. (Photo: Christopher Gregory / The New York Times)Patrick Donahoe, Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer, at U.S. Postal Service headquarters in Washington, February 6, 2013. (Photo: Christopher Gregory / The New York Times)You are probably hearing that the Post Office is “in crisis” and is cutting back Saturday delivery, laying people off, closing offices, etc. Like so many other “crises” imposed on us lately, there is a lot to the story that you are not hearing from the “mainstream” media. (Please click that link.) The story of the intentional destruction of the U.S. Postal Service is one more piece of the story of crisis-after-crisis, all manufactured to advance the strategic dismantling of our government and handing over the pieces to billionaires.

Here are a few things you need to know about the Postal Service “crisis”:

  • The Postal Service is the second largest employer in the United States after Walmart. But unlike Walmart, which gets away with paying so little that employees qualify for government assistance, the Postal Services is unionized, pays reasonable wages and benefits and receives no government subsidies. (Good for them!)
  • Republicans have been pushing schemes to privatize the Postal Service since at least 1996. In 2006 Republicans in the Congress pushed through a requirement that the Postal Service pre-fund 75 years of retiree costs. The Postal Service has to pay now for employees who are not even born yet. No other government agency – and certainly no company – has to do this.
  • Unlike other government agencies (like the military) since 1970 the Postal Service is required to break even. Once more: the Department of Defense is not required to break even.
  • While required to break even the Postal Service has to deliver mail to areas that are unprofitable for private companies to operate in. A letter sent from a small town in Alaska is picked up and transported across the country to a farm in Maine for 46 cents. While the Internet and recession have eaten into some of the Postal Services letter business, magazines, books, newsletters, prescriptions, advertising, DVD services like Netflix and many other services still depend on the Postal Service for delivery. And many people for one reason or another still send letters. In a democracy these people are supposed to count, too.
  • But along with requiring the Postal Service to break even, Congress has restricted the Service’s ability to raise rates, enter new lines of business or take other steps to help it raise revenue. In fact, while detractors complain that the Postal Service is antiquated, inefficient and burdened by bureaucracy, the rules blocking the Postal Service from entering new lines of business do so because the Postal Service would have advantages over private companies.For example, Republicans in Congress forced the Postal Service to remove public-use copiers from Post Offices and even blocked the Postal Service from setting up a secure online system that allowed Americans to make monthly bill payments.

The Postal Service is a public service for We, the People, not a business. The Service is hamstrung by people who pretend it is supposed to compete and then won’t let it. They won’t help with taxpayer dollars and say it has to compete in the marketplace (again: the Department of Defense is not required to break even.) Then they give it rules that no private company could survive. Then when it gets into trouble, say that government doesn’t work, start laying people off, selling off the public assets, and saying it has to be “privatized” (so all the gains will go to a few already-wealthy people instead of to the public).

Manufacturing A Crisis

So Republicans have hamstrung the Postal Service, forcing it into “crisis” and are now “solving” the crisis by working towards dismantling and privatizing it. Here is how it works:

  1. Require the Postal Service to “break even.” (Again: the Department of Defense is not required to break even.)
  2. Require them to serve all areas of the country. (Which is a service to democracy and should continue.)
  3. Keep them from raising or lowering rates as needed.
  4. Keep them from using their competitive advantages to compete with private businesses.
  5. Require them to pre-fund 75 years of health benefits.
  6. When the Postal Service has the inevitable resulting financial “crisis” complain about government and unions and demand their buildings be sold, employees laid off and the service be dismantled and given to private companies.

If you don’t see the pattern yet, try this:

  1. Cut taxes,
  2. Double military spending,
  3. Obstruct all efforts to fix things,
  4. Wait a few years, then scream loudly about a “deficit crisis” and say we have to severely cut back on government — the things we do to make our lives better.

This is not the way an informed democracy is supposed to operate.

Part Of Bigger Assault On Government

The postal service “crisis” is just one more instance of the ongoing pattern of government by lies, hostage-taking and manufactured crises. This is one more assault on a government service.

The “fiscal cliff” was a manufactured crisis, engineered to force cutbacks in the things We, the People do to make our lives better. The “debt ceiling” was a manufactured crisis, engineered to force cutbacks in the things We, the People do to make our lives better. The 2010 “tax deal” was a manufactured crisis, engineered to force cutbacks in the things We, the People do to make our lives better. Etc., etc., on and on…

And the Postal Service “crisis” is one more manufactured crisis.

Not Governing, But Destroying Government

Republicans don’t talk about governing, they talk about killing government, and when they get power they don’t govern, they destroy government. They appoint industry lobbyists to agencies that are supposed to oversee their own industries – and they don’t oversee their industries. They appoint polluters to the agencies that are supposed to protect us from pollution – and they let the companies pollute. And they appoint people who have called for getting government out of areas like education, medical care, etc. to head up and dismantle those departments for the benefit of the companies they came from.

This is not the way our government is supposed to operate. This does not serve We, the People and does not help us make our lives better.

The Push To Privatize Public Assets

Privatization means dismantling government and public assets and turning them over to private companies. It involves “contracting out” or even ending the services that were performed by We, the People (government) to make our lives better. Instead these services are operated for profit, which the citizens (and certainly not the employees) share none of the gains.

To be clear about this: contracting out government services “saves money” by laying off people who have good wages with benefits, and rehiring them at minimum wage with no benefits, while removing the accountability that goes along with a government service. For example, when a city “contracts out” its garbage collection, what happens is all the city employees who had government jobs doing this work are laid off. The private company that contracts to do the service “saves money” by hiring employees at a much lower wage with no benefits. It doesn’t have to meet the standards of government agencies, doesn’t have to be transparent, doesn’t have to use well-maintained equipment, etc. Obviously the city employees and the places they used to shop are worse off, but their lower wages mean everyone else’s wages come under pressure, too. So the “money saved” comes at a great cost to the public.

This same process occurs in all instances of privatizing or “downsizing” government. The public receives less service, wages generally are lowered, but a few people make a bundle at the expense of the rest of us.

Cato Institute Push To Privatize The Postal Service

The Koch brothers’ Cato Institute has been pushing to privatize the Postal Service (and the rest of government) for many years. (Note: Frederick W. Smith, Chairman & CEO, FedEx Corporation was on the Board of Directors of Cato Institute. FedEx is also a funder of the Cato Institute.) In 1996, for example, Cato’s Edward L. Hudgins testified before Congress on Postal Service privatization.

Today Cato employees write about “freeing the mail from the government’s grip” and ” getting the government out of the mail business.” (from Cato’s “Stamp Out the Postal Service.”)

While part of Cato’s motivation for privatizing the Postal Service is their efforts to transfer all public assets to private hands, Their website, Privatizing the U.S. Postal Service, explains their reasoning,

The USPS is in deep financial trouble as a result of declining mail volume, bloated operating expenses, a costly and inflexible unionized workforce, and constant congressional meddling. At the same time, electronic communications and other technological advances are making physical mail delivery less relevant.

America’s postal system needs a radical overhaul. This essay … concludes that taxpayers, consumers, and the broader economy would stand to gain with reforms to privatize the USPS and open U.S. mail delivery up to competition.

Cato’s funders also oppose unions because they enable working people to bargain for a larger share of the pie, and the Postal Service is unionized — the largest remaining union. In “The Postal Service Can’t Afford Unions,” Cato’s Tad DeHaven writes, “A big drag on the USPS’s bottom line is the pesky postal unions.” DeHaven continues,

The USPS has been able to eliminate thousands of positions through attrition, but it still possesses the second-largest civilian workforce in the country, behind only Wal-Mart. With 85 percent of that workforce protected by collective bargaining agreement, the unions have become a giant anchor on an already sinking ship.

The Postal Service is a PUBLIC service, serving We, the People and our democracy. It is our second-largest employer. Like Social Security it demonstrates that government can and does serve We, the People. You should be outraged by what is being done to our Postal Service! It is time to step up and defend all of our democratic institutions.

Other Voices

Here are a few other voices on this issue:

John Nichols writes in The Nation, “Postal Cuts Are Austerity on Steroids“:

The austerity agenda that would cut services for working Americans in order to maintain tax breaks for the wealthy—and promote the privatization of public services—has many faces.

Most Americans recognize the threats to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as pieces of the austerity plan advanced by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), and the rest of the Ayn Rand–reading wrecking crew that has taken over the Republican Party. But it is important to recognize that the austerity agenda extends in every direction: from threats to Food Stamps and Pell Grants, to education cuts, to the squeezing of transportation funding.

But the current frontline of the austerity agenda is the assault on the US Postal Service, a vital public service that is older than the country. And it is advancing rapidly.

Dean Baker at CEPR, “Killing the Messenger: The Downsizing and Death of the Postal Service”:

Congress also has to be prepared to allow the Postal Service to win. About a decade ago, the Postal Service had an extremely effective ad campaign highlighting the fact that its express mail service was just a fraction of the price charged for overnight delivery by UPS and FedEx.

The two companies actually went to court to try to stop the ad campaign. When the court told them to get lost, they went to Congress. Their friends in Congress then leaned on the Postal Service and got it to end the ads.

Sen. Tom Carper of Deleware has a good information page: “Postal Reform Myths vs. Facts” (click through for the details):

With all the information floating around about the U.S. Postal Service’s financial crisis and the possible Postal Service default at the end of September, it can be difficult to wade through what is fact and what is fiction. Below are 8 Myths about the current crisis and 8 facts explaining what can and must be done to reform this vital American institution and ensure its services remain for generations to come.

MYTH #1: The U.S. Postal Service is bankrolled by taxpayers.
MYTH #2: The U.S. Postal Service will inevitably see a total financial collapse in the coming months.
MYTH #3: Congressional action to save the U.S. Postal Service amounts to yet another government bailout of a failing industry.
MYTH #4: Allowing the U.S. Postal Service to default will simply force much-needed restructuring and reform.
MYTH #5: A new government control board could better take the dramatic steps necessary to fix the U.S. Postal Service.
MYTH #6: A new government commission – similar to the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission – could help the U.S. Postal Service close or consolidate unnecessary processing and retail facilities free from political pressure.
MYTH #7: The U.S. Postal Service must raise rates on certain postal products to help cover its losses.
MYTH #8: Sen. Carper’s bill – the POST Act – wants to end Saturday mail delivery.

Think Progress, “Thanks To Congressional Incompetence, Saturday Mail Delivery Is History“:

Postal access is, ultimately, a rights issue for rural Americans; since they live in areas where internet coverage is inconsistent, post office closures and slowed-down delivery can mean big limitations on communication. A lack of access to postal services can lead to a growth in economic inequality. The new rules for Saturday delivery, set to take effect on August 1, 2013, will continue delivery of packages, but discontinue basic first-class mail.

From September 2011, Brigid OFarrell, writing at the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog, “Ten Reasons That the U.S. Postal Service is Not a Failure — and is Vital to Our Country”:

There is a crisis, but it is not because the Postal Service is inefficient and its workers overpaid. It is because the Postal Service:

1. Receives no taxpayer dollars

2. Is funded by the products and services it sells

3. Working with its unions, has already reduced its workforce by 110,000 employees, improved efficiency, and introduced new products and services

4. Handles more than 40 percent of the world’s mail more efficiently and at lower cost than other services

5. Despite the growth of the digital world, continues to support a $1 trillion mailing industry with more than 8 million jobs

6. Has a workforce that is made up of 40 percent women, 40 percent minorities, and 22 percent veterans, many disabled

There is a crisis, but it is not because the Postal Service is inefficient and its workers overpaid. It is because the Postal Service:

7. Is the only federal agency or private company required to pre-fund retiree health benefits for 75 years
8. Is therefore required to pay $5.5 billion annually to the Treasury, an amount not required of any other agency or company

Without these unique requirements, it would have earned a surplus of over $600 million during the last four years. In addition, the USPS:

9. Has over-paid its obligations to the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) by an estimated $50 billion (and this money should be returned)
10. Has overfunded the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) by approximately $6.9 billion (and would be profitable if these funds were returned)

David Morris at AlterNet takes a good look at the history of the Postal Service and the current problems, in “Why We Must Rescue the U.S. Postal Service From the Brink of Death,” and concludes:

The Postal Service can still be saved. But the grave has been dug. The coffin has been built. And funeral music is in the air. Only the most aggressive effort by AARP, the NAACP, Consumers Union and other affected constituencies can save this most public of all public institutions.

Romanian And Bulgarian ‘Surge’ Must Be Stopped, Say MPs

The government has insisted the UK will not be a "soft touch" on immigration after Conservative MPs raised concerns there will be a sharp jump in migration from Romania and Bulgaria. Next year transitional controls placed on immigration from the two n...

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: ‘International Criminal Conspiracy’

The ten things you need to know on Monday 11 February 2013...

1) 'INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL CONSPIRACY'

Could the scandal over horsemeat in our food end up being as big as the BSE controversy? From the Sun:

"Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said intensive tests are urgently being carried out on horsemeat found in supermarket ready meals.

"He warned: 'We may find out as the week progresses, and the tests begin to come in, there is a substance which is injurious to human health.'

"But Mr Paterson, who will make a Commons statement today, admitted EU rules mean Britain CANNOT ban meat from other European countries — unless there is clear proof of a health risk.

"Mr Paterson said the scandal was the result of 'an international criminal conspiracy'."

2) SOCIAL CARE

The social care funding story is the splash in the Times ("Families to 'foot bill for cost of care for elderly'") and the Telegraph ("Cameron abandons inheritance tax pledge").

The Telegraph reports:

"George Osborne, the Chancellor, will announce that the level at which inheritance tax becomes payable will be frozen at £325,000 until at least 2019 to fund reform of the social care system.

"The decision will mean that the owners of an average home across much of southern Britain and large areas elsewhere will be liable for inheritance tax. Critics said it was effectively a 'double tax' as it was a levy on assets already raided by the taxman and accused the Treasury of 'picking people’s pockets'."

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports on a warning from the opposition:

"The average person in social care will not benefit from raising the cap on care home costs to £75,000, Labour has warned.

"As the government pledged to end the 'scandal', in which people have to sell their home to pay for social care, the shadow social care minister, Liz Kendall, said most people would die before they could benefit from the new cap.

"Jeremy Hunt will announce on Monday that the government will introduce a £75,000 cap on the costs of social care – excluding the costs of accommodation and food – in April 2017. The health secretary will also raise the threshold on assets below which patients are eligible for state help, from £23,000 to £123,000. The cap is to be funded by freezing the threshold for inheritance tax."

3) VOTE YES, SIGN 14,000 TREATIES

Some bad news for Alex Salmond and co - from the Independent:

"A breakaway Scotland would be a 'new state' under international law and have to renegotiate membership of the European Union and the United Nations, according to legal advice obtained by the Government.

"The monumental challenges facing a newly independent Scotland are disclosed in a 57-page dossier published today that represents London's opening shot against separation.

"The paper claims that Scottish ministers would need to wade through 14,000 separate treaties that have been signed by the United Kingdom, and apply afresh to join international bodies.

"... The new legal advice was drawn up by Professor James Crawford, of Cambridge University, and Professor Alan Boyle, of Edinburgh University, who are experts on international law.

"'If Scotland became independent, only the remainder of the UK would automatically continue to exercise the same rights, obligations and powers under international law as the UK currently does,' they say."

The SNP's response? "This is an act of breath-taking arrogance by this Tory-led UK Government, which completely shatters their claim that Scotland is an equal partner within the existing UK – it will only serve to boost support for an independent Scotland," said Scotland's Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

Bring on the referendum campaign, eh?

4) SLEEPY MIKE VS TORIES' SARAH PALIN

The Eastleigh by-election campaign is heating up - from the Daily Mail:

"Within hours of Liberal Democrat Mike Thornton being chosen to fight disgraced ex-Cabinet minister Chris Huhne's Eastleigh constituency, a photograph emerged of him apparently asleep on the job.

"The picture which seems to show Mr Thornton nodding off, was taken at a council meeting in 2011. As that photograph was gleefully circulated by opponents, the local Lib Dems moved quickly to delete from their website pictures they deemed far more damaging - showing the councillor with Mr Huhne, who quit Parliament after admitting he lied to police to escape a driving ban."

The paper adds:

"Mr Thornton, married with a 19-year-old daughter, faces a challenge from a Tory described as her party's 'answer to Sarah Palin'.

"Maria Hutchings has been likened to the controversial US Republican politician because of her robust views on issues such as gay marriage and immigration, which potentially put her at odds with Conservative leadership."

Deputy prime minister and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg will be visiting Eastleigh today and has conceded that, due to a diary clash, he could, at some stage soon, end up campaigning in the constituency on the same day as the prime minister.

5) 'APPALLING WASTE OF PRECIOUS MONEY'

Yet another report from the Public Accounts Committee - where do its members find the time? From the Sun:

"Millions of pounds in foreign aid is being squandered on fat cat consultants and wasteful bodies, a report by MPs warns.

The Department for International Development is blasted for shelling out £37million to advisory firm Adam Smith International.

"The company paid a £1MILLION dividend to managing director William Morrison — along with pay and perks of more than £250,000.

"Commons Public Accounts Committee chairman Margaret Hodge said: 'That feels like an absolutely outrageous and appalling waste of this very precious money.'"

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a disabled 4lb piglet who, because he has no use of his back legs, now gets around on a dog style wheelchair. Bizarre.

6) MIGRANT WARS

The Times (under the headline: "Influx of Romanian migrants 'threatens to cause social unrest'") says:

"As Britain prepares for an influx of Romanians and Bulgarians next year, schools in poorer parts of Germany are already struggling to cope with arrivals from the two states.

"Germans warn that 'social peace' is being endangered and British ministers are looking at ways to deter migrants heading to the UK."

Meanwhile, the Independent (under the headline: "Not coming here. Not stealing our jobs") reports:

"Right-wing politicians and media are stoking fears that Romanian Gypsies plan to flock to Britain. But the reality is very different..."

7) GIVE ME YOUR RICH, YOUR WEALTHY, YOUR CHINESE MASSES...

Forget Romanians and Bulgarians. It's the Chinese that we really want to come over here. Why do you think that is?

From the Telegraph front page:

"Britain can and must do more to attract educated and wealthy immigrants, and 'inflexible' visa rules are threatening to undermine the economy, the Business Secretary warned today.

"In an article for The Daily Telegraph, Vince Cable said 'Britain simply can’t afford to miss out' on wealthy Chinese immigrants and tourists deterred by red tape.

"His intervention makes public an increasingly acrimonious Cabinet row over the immigration system – particularly as it is applied to Chinese applicants."

8) LIB-LAB FOOTSIE UNDER THE TABLE

Cable is going all out to impress his Tory colleagues, it seems. From the Sun:

"Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have admitted they have a 'sensible businesslike relationship' with Ed Miliband and his Shadow Cabinet.

"In a move that will anger Tory MPs, Mr Cable said senior Lib Dems had discussed long-term policies, including pensions and industrial strategy, with their Labour counterparts. Asked if Mr Clegg and he spoke to Labour's hierarchy, Mr Cable said: 'Well, I think both of us do. I think the public would find this very narrow, tribal way of looking at politics very unhelpful — of course you've got to talk to opposition people.'"

9) 'GOOGLE FOR SPIES'

That's the headline to a rather disturbing story on the Guardian front page:

"A multinational security firm has secretly developed software capable of tracking people's movements and predicting future behaviour by mining data from social networking websites.

"A video obtained by the Guardian reveals how an "extreme-scale analytics" system created by Raytheon, the world's fifth largest defence contractor, can gather vast amounts of information about people from websites including Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.

"Raytheon says it has not sold the software - named Riot, or Rapid Information Overlay Technology - to any clients. But the Massachusetts-based company has acknowledged the technology was shared with US government and industry as part of a joint research and development effort, in 2010, to help build a national security system capable of analysing "trillions of entities" from cyberspace."

10) DAVE'S INSPIRATION?

Remember when David Cameron announced, at the October 2011 Conservative Party conference: "I don't support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I'm a Conservative"?

Writing in the Daily Mail, Andrew Pierce says:

"The words bear an uncanny resemblance to the writings of Peter Tatchell... In his blog at the beginning of October 2011, Tatchell wrote: 'If marriage is a Conservative value, then same-sex marriage is consistent with this value. Far from undermining marriage, gay marriage strengthens it. Conservatives believe in marriage. They should therefore support same-sex marriage precisely because they are Conservatives.' The Prime Minister spoke only days later. Tatchell is convinced he is the source. 'That line about "I believe in gay marriage because I'm a Conservative" came directly from what I wrote,' he says.

"Downing Street will deny it, of course. But who would have thought that Peter Tatchell, who left the Labour Party because it was not Left-wing enough, and is now a member of the Greens, could be the muse for a Conservative Prime Minister?"

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 96.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@oflynnexpress Today prog should arrange radio debate between London mayor who wants a fox cull and Telegraph columnist who says don't blame foxes...

@NicolaSturgeon UK gov legal expert says on Radio 4 that Scot Gov's timescale for independence is realistic and that treaty accession wouldn't be problem.

@iankatz1000 Former food boss Lord Haskins says on @BBCr4today Findus was under pressure to cut costs because of private equity ownership

900 WORDS OR MORE

Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Times, says: "Tories must keep talking about family values."

Gary Younge, writing in the Guardian, says: "Barack Obama is pushing gun control at home, but he's a killer abroad."

Daniel Trilling, writing in the Mirror, says: "The rebranding of fascism: We need to be vigilant against the far right racists."


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

Police State USA. Glimmer of Hope: Citizens Force Seattle To Scrap Police Drones

drone

It’s one of those stories that you had to listen twice when you heard the report on the radio, and then, still in a state of suspended disbelief, I rushed to the internet to check and see if indeed it was the case. With the good news, I could just about hear a faint pulse of the American heart beating again.

It’s safe to assume that after this week’s developments, corporate lobbyists, politicians, bureaucrats at the DHS, county sheriffs, city police – and maybe The President perhaps… should at least know by now – that Americans  do not want drones flying over their cities and towns. A wave of resistance is currently building…

In Seattle, where residents laid seige to the Seattle Police Department’s plans to use surveillance drones, it appears that following Wednesday night’s Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology Committee hearing  - the program has been scrapped.

Washington residents take away expensive new police toys.

This news comes on the back of a week of controversy surrounding Obama’s CIA Director nominee, John O. Brennan, seen by many as a pioneer of sorts in the field of US military secret drone assassinations. This has presented an ethical dilemma for President Obama, who ascended to power on a liberal PR wave which is fundamentally at odds with this level of anti-constitutional and illegal policy.

Obama himself signed the bill in early 2012 that enabled some 30,000 drones in the domestic US, to be operated by the Department of Homeland Security and local police departments, Seattle being one such city scheduled for adoption of a junior ‘Skynet’ beta program.

Make no mistake about it – there is an Washington DC-based agenda to roll out drones all over the country. Seattle’s Police Department had obtained these two small drones through a federal grant. 

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn explained:

Today I spoke with Seattle Police Chief John Diaz and we agreed that it was time to end the unmanned aerial vehicle program so that SPD can focus its resources on public safety and the community building work that is the department’s priority. (They) will be returned to the vendor.

Public protesters gathered in for the October public meeting on the city’s new drone program, which prompted police to quickly retreat on the issue:

The testimony opposing drones has been overwhelmingly clear that the 11 people who testified this afternoon, all of whom testified against the use of drones, was symbolic of the general reaction we are getting,” said Chairman Bruce Harrell.

Compared to other direct actions, this was a relatively modest effort, which should encourage other citizen groups keeping the encroaching police state at bay – for now at least. Mia Jacobson who represents the citizen group StandUP explains, “If 11 voices can protect the people from flying government robots watching their every move – what can 20 voices do? What can your voice accomplish?”.

In addition to Seattle, the city of Charlottesville, Va., also rejected drones by ordering a two-year moratorium on their use thanks to The Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties group.

According to FOX news: the U.S. Department of Homeland Security drones do enter Washington State airspace occasionally, patrolling the Canadian border east of the Cascade mountains. The two 10,000-pound Predator-B unmanned aircraft are based in North Dakota.

Back on Pennsylvania Ave, Sen. Diane Feinstein who was chairing Obama’s CIA directorate confirmation hearings for drone-master John Brennan, came under some similar pressure from crowds of protesters, some of whom were ‘Code Pink’ anti-war demonstrators who were able to ‘gatecrash’ the DC venue. Brennan defended US state-sponsored murders by unmanned drones abroad by claiming that drone strikes are used only against targets ‘planning to carry out attacks against the United States’, completely missing out on the extrajudicial nature of the killings (including an estimated 100 children) which is actually causing the whole controversy. Back to square one…

John Brennan’s Tenet-Like Testimony

CIA Director-designate John Brennan’s assertion to the Senate Intelligence Committee that Iran is “bent on pursuing nuclear weapons” is precisely the kind of dangerous “mistake” made by his mentor, former CIA Director George Tenet, who made many such “mistakes” a decade ago in greasing the skids for war on Iraq.

Of course, the appropriate word is not “mistake” but “fraud.” And perhaps what should disqualify Brennan as much as anything is his intimate connection to the lies and abuses perpetrated by the thoroughly discredited Tenet. As one of Tenet’s former protégés, Brennan could not even bring himself to admit on Thursday that waterboarding was torture.

Brennan also engaged in other Tenet-like hairsplitting as he displayed the worst of his Jesuit education. Brennan, like me a Fordham graduate, seems to have absorbed the style of “jesuitical” argument that is defined as “practicing casuistry or equivocation, using subtle or over-subtle reasoning; crafty; sly; intriguing.”

Brennan’s misleading statement on Iran was both “sly” and “intriguing.” It also did not come as an off-the-cuff answer to a question, but rather was embedded in the written text of his “Opening Statement for the Record” for his confirmation hearing. His disingenuousness on this neuralgic issue is another reason to reject his nomination to be CIA director.

Brennan’s assertion about Iran’s nuclear ambitions stands on its head the unanimous intelligence community judgment in a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) – revalidated every year since – that Iran stopped working on nuclear weaponization at the end of 2003 and has not resumed that work.

One might have thought that an indication from the next CIA director-to-be that he was predisposed to overturn the considered judgment of the intelligence community’s top analysts – and take the politically preferred “tough-guy” position toward Iran – would have set off alarm bells with the Senate Intelligence Committee, which (commendably though belatedly) excoriated the politicization of intelligence that led to the Iraq War.

But committee members instead had their prepared posturing to do, and thus let the statement on Iran slide by without noticing – much less challenging – it. And, luckily for Brennan, by that point in his prepared testimony, committee chair Dianne Feinstein had removed from the hearing room the many Code Pink-led protesters, who would have been the only ones knowledgeable and courageous enough to call loud attention to Brennan’s dishonesty.

Anatomy of a ‘Mistake’

In that part of his testimony, Brennan warned the senators that the “regimes in Tehran and Pyongyang remain bent on pursuing nuclear weapons…”  (Emphasis added)

When “practicing casuistry,” half-truths and conflating two very different situations often work better than straight-out lies. They are, as the Jesuits might attest, very old rhetorical tricks. Is North Korea “bent on pursuing nuclear weapons?” A definitive “Yes” has been the answer to that question for several years. Indeed, the North Koreans apparently already have a few.

But the case is different for Iran, as the U.S. intelligence community has asserted since 2007. For instance, let’s compare Brennan’s phrasing to the most recent congressional testimony of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Jan. 31, 2012:

“We judge North Korea has tested two nuclear devices. Its October 2006 nuclear test is consistent with our longstanding assessment that it produced a nuclear device, although we judge the test itself was a partial failure. The North’s probable nuclear test in May 2009 had a yield of roughly two kilotons TNT equivalent and was apparently more successful than the 2006 test. These tests strengthen our assessment that North Korea has produced nuclear weapons.”

But what about Iran? Are the Iranians, too, “bent on pursuing nuclear weapons?” Clapper’s words were much more conditional in that part of his testimony: “We assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.

“Iran nevertheless is expanding its uranium enrichment capabilities, which can be used for either civil or weapons purposes.  … [We judge] that Iran is technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon, if it so chooses. … We judge Iran’s nuclear decision-making is guided by a cost-benefit approach, which offers the international community opportunities to influence Tehran.”

It is likely that Clapper, like Brennan a political appointee, is going as far as he can in presenting a frightening case regarding Iran, yet – unlike Brennan – is staying within the parameters of the less alarming assessment of professional intelligence analysts.

Brennan instead edged past that line with his rhetorical sleight-of-hand – lumping Iran in with North Korea – the sort of trickery that he witnessed up close as a Tenet favorite during the early excesses of the “war on terror” and the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

After all, Iran has been a front-burner issue for the past several years. It beggars belief that Brennan has forgotten the key judgment of the National Intelligence Estimate of 2007 in which all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies concurred, “with high confidence,” that Tehran had halted its nuclear weapon design and weaponization work in 2003 – a judgment reaffirmed every year since by the Director of National Intelligence in sworn testimony to Congress.

Careful Distinctions

Brennan also can hardly claim memory lapse. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reiterated that judgment as recently as Feb. 3 on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Panetta, who also served as President Obama’s first CIA director, stuck to the NIE’s judgment despite goading from Chuck Todd:

TODD: “You have said a couple of times that you did not believe the Iranians were pursuing a nuclear weapon, that they have been pursuing the capabilities on — on nuclear energy …  not pursuing nuclear weapons. Are … you still confident they’re not pursuing a nuclear weapon?”

PANETTA: “Right. What I’ve said, and I will say today, is that the intelligence we have is they have not made the decision to proceed with the development of a nuclear weapon. They’re developing and enriching uranium. …”

TODD: “Why do you believe they’re doing that?”

PANETTA: “I think — I think the — it’s a clear indication they say they’re doing it in order to develop their own energy source. I think it is suspect that they continue to — to enrich uranium because that is dangerous, and that violates international laws…”

TODD: “And you do believe they’re probably pursuing a weapon, but you don’t — the intelligence doesn’t know what…”

(Cross talk with JCS Chairman Martin Dempsey, who was also on the program.)

PANETTA: “I– no, I can’t tell you because– I can’t tell you they’re in fact pursuing a weapon because that’s not what intelligence says we– we– we’re– they’re doing right now. …” (emphasis added)

The contrast between Panetta’s careful distinction and Brennan’s careless distortion is no small matter. The difference suggests that Brennan, like his mentor Tenet, cares more about positioning himself within the favored contours of Washington’s group think than in standing up to those pressures and standing behind independent-minded analysts of the intelligence community.

Professional Analysts

Former Director of the National Intelligence Council Thomas Fingar, who supervised preparation of the landmark NIE saying Iran had stopped working on nuclear weaponization, was given the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence last month at a ceremony in Oxford, where he is now teaching in Stanford University’s overseas study program.

Fingar, who had been Director of Intelligence at the State Department, recruited analysts who had as much integrity as they had expertise. They jettisoned the “if-the-White House-says-two-plus-two-is-five-we-need-to-conjure-up-the-evidence-to-prove-that-it’s-true” behavior of Tenet and his deputy at CIA, John McLaughlin.

Fingar and his co-workers made a substantial contribution in restoring integrity to the challenging discipline of intelligence analysis after the debacle on Iraq. Acting with all deliberate speed (accent on the deliberate), they drafted an empirical, bottom-up assessment of all prior evidence about Iran’s nuclear program and, fortuitously, benefited from fresh intelligence acquired and analyzed in 2007.

The result was a tell-it-like-it-is conclusion that played a huge role in thwarting plans by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to attack Iran in 2008, their last year in office.

Since the Estimate marked such a sharp departure from earlier assessments of Iran’s nuclear program it was considered a sure bet to leak, so, on White House orders, the authors prepared an unclassified version of the key judgments for publication. Once that hit the streets, with the understandable public reaction at home and abroad, the effect was to fortify the longstanding opposition of the most senior military officers to war on Iran.

It became politically impossible for Cheney and Bush to have their war with Iran. Bush admits as much in his memoir, Decision Points, in which he laments that the “eye-popping” findings of the 2007 NIE stayed his hand: “How could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?” Indeed.

What does all this have to do with John Brennan? Brennan’s career path must be understood in its relation to Tenet, who served as President Bill Clinton’s last CIA director and was kept on in that job by President George W. Bush. Tenet made Brennan his chief of staff in 1999 and then elevated Brennan to be the CIA’s deputy executive director in March 2001. In 2003 and 2004, Brennan also served as director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, which was criticized for distributing politicized threat assessments, such an infamous “Orange Terror Alert” over Christmas 2003.

Not long after Tenet left the U.S. government in 2004, Brennan followed in 2005, moving on to high-paying intelligence-related jobs in the private sector. He supported Barack Obama in Campaign 2008 and was considered a top choice to become CIA director after Obama’s victory. But the nomination was scrapped because of questions about Brennan’s work for Tenet. Instead, Brennan filled a White House post as President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser.

Former colleagues of mine who were at the CIA during the lead-up to war on Iraq assure me that, given his protégé-mentor relationship with then-CIA Director Tenet and also Brennan’s very senior position as deputy executive director, it is almost certain that Brennan was aware of what Sen. Jay Rockefeller later called the “uncorroborated, contradicted, or even non-existent” nature of the intelligence conjured up to “justify” war with Iraq. Rockefeller made this public comment on June 5, 2008, when, as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he announced the bipartisan findings of a five-year committee investigation.

Rockefeller all but said it outright. Not just “mistakes” – as Bush, Tenet and much of the mainstream news media insist – but outright intelligence fraud and a conspiracy to launch an aggressive war, what the post-World War II Nuremberg Tribunal called “the supreme international crime, differing from other war crimes only in that it contains the accumulated evil of the whole,” i.e. unleashing abuses like torture and other human rights violations.

The Iraq War conspiracy peaked ten years ago when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell told a pack of lies to the UN Security Council. Were Brennan to have been asked about this at Thursday’s hearing, he probably would have disclaimed responsibility, saying (as he did on the torture issue) that, although he had “awareness” and “some visibility” into what was afoot, he was not in the “chain of command” and, thus, chose to do nothing.

But the reality is that John Brennan owed his major career advancements to Tenet, who personally gave Powell’s deceptive speech the CIA’s stamp of approval by physically sitting behind the Secretary of State as he delivered lies and distortions to the Security Council. If Brennan had spoken out against this fraud at that time, he would have surely seen his spectacular career grind to a halt.

VIPS’ Maiden Effort

When our fledgling Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (which was established in January 2003 to protest the obvious perversion of the intelligence on Iraq) learned that Powell would address the UN, we decided to do a same-day analytic assessment – the kind we used to do when someone like Khrushchev, or Gorbachev, or Gromyko, or Mao, or Castro gave a major address.

We were well accustomed to the imperative to beat the media with our commentary. Coordinating our Powell effort via e-mail, we put VIPS’ first Memorandum for the President on the wire at 5:15 p.m. – “Subject: Today’s Speech by Secretary Powell at the UN.”

Our understanding at that time was far from perfect. It was not yet completely clear to us, for example, that Saddam Hussein had for the most part been abiding by, rather than flouting, UN resolutions. We stressed, though, that the key question was whether any of this justified war: “This is the question the world is asking. Secretary Powell’s presentation does not come close to answering it.”

And we warned President Bush: “Intelligence community analysts are finding it hard to make themselves heard above the drumbeat for war.” And we voiced our distress at “the politicization of intelligence,” as well as the deep flaws: “Your Pentagon advisers draw a connection between war with Iraq and terrorism, but for the wrong reasons. The connection takes on much more reality in a post-US invasion scenario.” [bold in original]

“Indeed, it is our view that an invasion of Iraq would ensure overflowing recruitment centers for terrorists into the indefinite future. Far from eliminating the threat it would enhance it exponentially.”

Dissociating VIPS from Powell’s bravado rhetoric claiming that the evidence he presented was “irrefutable,” we noted, “No one has a corner on the truth,” and warned the President: “But after watching Secretary Powell today, we are convinced you would be well served if you widened the discussion beyond violations of Resolution 1441, and beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.”

It’s clear today that nothing would have dissuaded President Bush and Vice President Cheney from plunging ahead with their “war of choice.” But that is no excuse for intelligence officials, like Brennan, or America’s leading newspapers abnegating their duty to ask tough questions and to speak truth to power whatever the consequences.

We also know today that the chief co-conspirators in the Iraqi intelligence fraud – like the torturers in the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program – have escaped accountability for their malfeasance. But that doesn’t mean now that their obedient subordinates, who kept quiet in the face of these crimes, should be rewarded with top jobs.

When officials are not held accountable – for crimes of both commission and omission – it is an invitation for others to follow in their footsteps. It remains to be seen how closely Brennan will retrace the path marked by his mentor Tenet – one of cooking the intelligence to the tastes of the White House – this time to facilitate war with Iran.

The Senate Intelligence Committee got a sampling of how Brennan might add some jesuitical spices to such recipes when he proffered a crafty explanation of why it was fine for President Obama to release the legal opinion on Bush-era “enhanced interrogations” but not the legal justification for the lethal drone program.

The former activity, Brennan noted, was over, while the latter one was ongoing. Yet, why the American people should be denied the constitutional arguments for such executive powers until they are no longer in use was never explained. It would seem the opposite logic should prevail, that it is more important to know the justification when something is occurring than when it is over, especially since the drone killings along with the “war on terror” may go on indefinitely.

But — as Brennan seems headed toward Senate confirmation — his deceptive comments on legal transparency as well as on Iran’s nuclear program are not a good sign.

Below is the full text of the first VIPS issuance, a Memorandum for the President, Feb. 5, 2003.  (Links to this and the other 21 VIPS memoranda to date can be found at warisacrime.org/vips.)

SUBJECT: Today’s Speech by Secretary Powell at the UN

Secretary Powell’s presentation at the UN today requires context. We give him an “A” for assembling and listing the charges against Iraq, but only a “C–” in providing context and perspective.

What seems clear to us is that you need an intelligence briefi ng, not grand jury testimony. Secretary Powell effectively showed that Iraq is guilty beyond reasonable doubt for not cooperating fully with UN Security Council Resolution 1441. That had already been demonstrated by the chief UN inspectors. For Powell, it was what the
Pentagon calls a “cakewalk.”

The narrow focus on Resolution 1441 has diverted attention from the wider picture. It is crucial that we not lose sight of that. Intelligence community analysts are finding it hard to make themselves heard above the drumbeat for war. Speaking both for ourselves, as veteran intelligence officers on the VIPS Steering Group with over a hundred years of professional experience, and for colleagues within the community who are increasingly distressed at the politicization of intelligence, we feel a responsibility to help you frame the issues. For they are far more far-reaching—and complicated—than “UN v. Saddam Hussein.” And they need to be discussed dispassionately, in a setting
in which sobriquets like “sinister nexus,” “evil genius,” and “web of lies” can be more hindrance than help.

Flouting UN Resolutions

The key question is whether Iraq’s flouting of a UN resolution justifies war. This is the question the world is asking. Secretary Powell’s presentation does not come close to answering it.

One might well come away from his briefing thinking that the Iraqis are the only ones in flagrant violation of UN resolutions. Or one might argue that there is more urgency to the need to punish the violator of Resolution 1441 than, say, of Resolution 242 of 1967 requiring Israel to withdraw from Arab territories it occupied that year. More urgency? You will not find many Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims who would agree.

It is widely known that you have a uniquely close relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. This presents a strong disincentive to those who might otherwise warn you that Israel’s continuing encroachment on Arab territories, its oppression of the Palestinian people, and its pre-emptive attack on Iraq in 1981 are among the root causes not only of terrorism, but of Saddam Hussein’s felt need to develop the means to deter further Israeli attacks. Secretary Powell dismisses this factor far too lightly with his summary judgment that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction are “not for self-defense.”

Containment

You have dismissed containment as being irrelevant in a post 9/11 world. You should know that no one was particularly fond of containment, but that it has been effective for the last 55 years. And the concept of “material breach” is hardly anything new.

Material Breach

In the summer of 1983 we detected a huge early warning radar installation at Krasnoyarsk in Siberia. In 1984 President Reagan declared it an outright violation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. At an ABM Treaty review in 1988, the US spoke of this continuing violation as a “material breach” of the treaty. In the fall of 1989, the Soviet Union agreed to eliminate the radar at Krasnoyarsk without preconditions.

We adduce this example simply to show that, with patient, persistent diplomacy, the worst situations can change over time.

You have said that Iraq is a “grave threat to the United States,” and many Americans think you believe it to be an imminent threat. Otherwise why would you be sending hundreds of thousands of troops to the Gulf area? In your major speech in Cincinnati on October 7, 2002, you warned that “the risk is simply too great that Saddam Hussein will use instruments of mass death and destruction, or provide them to a terror network.”

Terrorism

Your intelligence agencies see it differently. On the same day you spoke in Cincinnati, a letter from the CIA to the Senate Intelligence Committee asserted that the probability is low that Iraq would initiate an attack with such weapons or give them to terrorists—UNLESS: “Should Saddam conclude that a US-led attack could no longer be deterred, he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions.”

For now, continued the CIA letter, “Baghdad appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or chemical/biological warfare against the United States.” With his back against the wall, however, “Saddam might decide that the extreme step of assisting Islamist terrorists in conducting a weapons-of-mass-destruction attack against the United States would be his last chance to exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him.”

Your Pentagon advisers draw a connection between war with Iraq and terrorism, but for the wrong reasons. The connection takes on much more reality in a post-US invasion scenario.

Indeed, it is our view that an invasion of Iraq would ensure overflowing recruitment centers for terrorists into the indefinite future. Far from eliminating the threat it would enhance it exponentially.

As recent events around the world attest, terrorism is like malaria. You don’t eliminate malaria by shooting mosquitoes. Rather you must drain the swamp. With an invasion of Iraq, the world can expect to be inundated with swamps breeding terrorists. In human terms, your daughters are unlikely to be able to travel abroad in future years without a large phalanx of security personnel.

We recommend you re-read the CIA assessment of last fall that pointed out that “the forces fueling hatred of the US and fueling al Qaeda recruiting are not being addressed,” and that “the underlying causes that drive terrorists will persist.” That CIA report cited a Gallup poll last year of almost 10,000 Muslims in nine countries in which respondents described the United States as “ruthless, aggressive, conceited, arrogant, easily provoked and biased.”

Chemical Weapons

With respect to possible Iraqi use of chemical weapons, it has been the judgment of the US intelligence community for over 12 years that the likelihood of such use would greatly increase during an offensive aimed at getting rid of Saddam Hussein.

Listing the indictment particulars, Secretary Powell said, in an oh-by-the-way tone, that sources had reported that Saddam Hussein recently authorized his field commanders to use such weapons. We find this truly alarming. We do not share the Defense Department’s optimism that radio broadcasts and leaflets would induce Iraqi commanders not to obey orders to use such weapons, or that Iraqi generals would remove Saddam Hussein as soon as the first US soldier sets foot in Iraq. Clearly, an invasion would be no cakewalk for American troops, ill equipped as they are to operate in a chemical environment.

Casualties

Reminder: The last time we sent troops to the Gulf, over 600,000 of them, one out of three came back ill—many with unexplained disorders of the nervous system. Your Secretary of Veterans Affairs recently closed the VA healthcare system to nearly 200,000 eligible veterans by administrative fiat. Thus, casualties of further war will inevitably displace other veterans who need VA services.

In his second inaugural, Abraham Lincoln appealed to his fellow citizens to care for those who “have borne the battle.” Years before you took office, our country was doing a very poor job of that for the over 200,000 servicemen and women stricken with various Gulf War illnesses. Today’s battlefield is likely to be even more sodden with chemicals and is altogether likely to yield tens of thousands more casualties. On October 1, 2002, Congress’ General Accounting Office reported “seriousproblems still persist” with the Pentagon’s efforts to protect servicemen and women, including shortfalls in clothing, equipment, and training. Our troops deserve more effective support than broadcasts, leaflets, and faulty equipment for protection against chemical and biological agents.

No one has a corner on the truth; nor do we harbor illusions that our analysis is irrefutable or undeniable. But after watching Secretary Powell today, we are convinced that you would be well served if you widened the discussion beyond violations of Resolution 1441, and beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.

Richard Beske, San Diego
Kathleen McGrath Christison, Santa Fe
William Christison, Santa Fe
Patrick Eddington, Alexandria
Raymond McGovern, Arlington
STEERING GROUP/VETERAN INTELLIGENCE PROFESSIONALS FOR SANITY

Guest Post: China Surpasses U.S. As Number One Global Trading Power

Submitted by Brandon Smith from Alt-Market


China Surpasses U.S. As Number One Global Trading Power

Back in 2008, at the onset of the derivatives and credit collapse, I wrote several economic editorials discussing what I saw as the single most vital trend in the global fiscal system, and how it would cause a disastrous upheaval that would leave the U.S. and the dollar financially sunk.  This trend, which seemed to take serious root in 2005, was the massive shift by China from an export dependent source of cheap manufacturing and labor, into a moderate exporter, and consumer hub, and currency powerhouse.  In my view at the time, the evidence suggested that China was positioning itself to decouple from its dependence on U.S. markets and the dollar.  I was, of course, attacked as a “doom monger” and “conspiracy theorist”.  Five years later, the critics have changed their tune…

For the past decade, China has been slowly but surely issuing Yuan denominated bonds and securities around the globe, while simultaneously forming bilateral trade agreements with multiple nations and cutting out the U.S. dollar as the world reserve currency.  This process has gone mostly ignored by the mainstream financial media.  However, I and many other independent analysts could not overlook the red flags.  I tried to summarize as much of the situation and facts as I could in my article ‘How The U.S. Dollar Will Be Replaced’, which was published in May of last year:

http://www.alt-market.com/articles/784-how-the-us-dollar-will-be-replaced

The biggest question for me was, if China is one of the largest holders of Forex reserves on the planet, and had the largest savings of any nation, WHY did they feel the need or desire in 2005 to begin issuing Yuan denominated debt?  Why begin borrowing capital from foreign creditors?  They certainly didn’t need the money.  Why were they moving away from export dependency and building a consumer base?  And why attempt to proliferate their currency?  Wouldn’t the pursuit of global Yuan circulation lead to an eventual increase in valuation?  Didn’t the Chinese want their currency cheap so that they could maintain export superiority?  What did the Chinese know in 2005 that we didn’t?

Well, apparently they were either psychic, or SOMEONE gave them advanced warning.  They knew that there would be a crisis in American consumption and that this would lead to severe reduction in imports, which is why they began building trade deals within the ASEAN trading bloc to insulate themselves.  They knew that there would be considerable devaluation in the dollar, which is why they converted much of their long term treasury holdings to short term treasury bonds that they could dump with far more ease, and they knew that the IMF would be promoting Special Drawing Rights as a new reserve replacing the dollar, which is why they have been spreading the Yuan everywhere, earning them favor with the global banksters and inclusion in the basket currency.  In fact, China has been pumping Yuan into global markets even faster than the Federal Reserve has been printing the dollar:

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-02-08/china-accounts-nearly-half-worlds-new-money-supply

China is flooding the system with Yuan!  This means only one thing; China is no longer seeking to maintain the traditional trade relationship it has had with the U.S.

To make my case even more clear, I would point out that China has not only become the world’s largest gold producer, but also its largest BUYER, recently surpassing India.  Official estimates place Chinese gold purchases in 2012 at around 800 tons; an astonishing increase in their stockpile. 

The U.S. and the Federal Reserve can’t even deliver gold it is supposed to be holding for others, including Germany.

China has also recently quadrupled imports of rice and tripled wheat and corn imports in only one year.  Why?  Again, I ask, what do they know that we are not being told?

http://ajw.asahi.com/article/economy/business/AJ201302020056

As I have stated for many years, China is being groomed as an alternative economic engine in opposition to the U.S., and that this will lead to an eventual dump by them of the Greenback.  This scenario is not only based on my opinion, it has also been spoken of openly by elitist financiers, including George Soros:

This past month, the same plan has been reiterated by Zhu Min, the deputy managing director of the IMF.  In his statement, he proclaimed that the shift by China into a more consumer based system had been successful, and that the Yuan or RMB, was on the way to becoming a world reserve currency:

http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?id=20130118000075&cid=1102

I believe that the moment for the epic changeover, and all the political and financial conflict that comes with it, has begun…

It has been announced this week that China surpassed the U.S. for the first time ever as the number one trading power in the world:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-09/china-passes-u-s-to-become-the-world-s-biggest-trading-nation.html

U.S. exports and imports last year totaled $3.82 trillion, the U.S. Commerce Department said last week. China’s customs administration reported last month that the country’s total trade in 2012 amounted to $3.87 trillion. China had a $231.1 billion annual trade surplus while the U.S. had a trade deficit of $727.9 billion:

“It is remarkable that an economy that is only a fraction of the size of the U.S. economy has a larger trading volume,” Nicholas Lardy, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said in an e-mail. “The surpassing of the U.S. is not because of a substantially undervalued currency that has led to an export boom,” said Lardy, noting that Chinese imports have grown more rapidly than exports since 2007.”

“According to O’Neill (Goldman Sachs Jim O’Neill), the trade figures underscore the need to draw China further into the global financial and trading architecture that the U.S. helped create.

“One way or another we have to get China more involved in the global organizations of today and the future despite some of their own reluctance,” O’Neill said, mentioning China’s inclusion in the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights currency basket. “To not have China more symbolically and more importantly actually central to all these things is just increasingly silly.”

For those who are still not aware of why this is such a big deal, it is essentially a turning point moment in global trade.  There is no doubt that China will now be inducted into the SDR, and that their importance as a trade and consumption center will quickly lead to a move away from the dollar.  To put it simply, the dollar is going to lose its world reserve status VERY soon.  Many will cheer this change as necessary progress towards a more “globally conscious” economic system.  However, it’s not that simple.  Total centralization is first and foremost the dream of idiots, and in any mutation (or amputation) there is always considerable pain involved.  The proponents of this “New World Order” (their words, not mine) seem to have placed the U.S. squarely in their crosshairs as the primary recipient of this fiscal pain.

In my early analysis, I felt it possible that Japan would be inducted willingly into the new ASEAN trading bloc and that they would swiftly fall in line with a dump of the dollar, mainly because their export markets were suffering greatly due to the decline in American purchases.  Now it appears that Japan has not been as pliable as the globalists wanted, and so, a war may be on the table in the Pacific.

Rhetoric in Chinese newspapers has been very heated and provocative, and the tensions surrounding the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands is reaching a boiling point.  The two countries have done everything so far EXCEPT shoot at each other, and that will be happening in due course now that China is allegedly locking offensive radar onto Japanese ships.  Even Chinese films released in the past two years have been soaked with anti-Japan propaganda, most of them usually set during WWII around the brutal invasion and subjugation by the Japanese in Chinese provinces.

The recipe is one of inevitable disaster, with the U.S. at the center of a boiling pot.  As I pointed in my last economic piece, we must now look to events rather than numbers to gain insight into where we are headed.  The time has come.  China is nearly ready for IMF inclusion.  Volatility around the world is high.  Our government has a final decision to make on the Fiscal Cliff in March, not to mention the sudden push for possible gun registration and confiscation.  My instincts tell me that so many explosive aspects coalescing together at the same tenuous moment is not a coincidence.  The next few months call for hyper-vigilance and every ounce of energy we can muster to educate as many people as possible in as short a time as possible.

I say again, China has surpassed the U.S. in global trade.  A drop of the dollar is the obvious next step…

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Fuzzy Math: The Chicago Public Schools Budget Crisis

As citywide opposition to Mayor Emanuel’s massive school closing program comes into sharper focus every day, the rationale for the plan gets fuzzier and fuzzier.

Take the question of money.

When CPS chief Barbara Byrd Bennett accepted her utilization commission’s call for taking high school closings off the table, the potential savings from school closings was significantly reduced, says Dwayne Truss, organizer of the Save Our Neighborhood Schools coalition on the West Side.

That’s because high schools are a lot bigger and costlier to operate than elementary schools.  Closing elementary schools saves you less.

Publicly, CPS has projected annual savings of $500,000 to $800,000 for each school closed.  Privately, their estimates are lower – as low as $140,000 per school.  And they estimate that upfront closing costs, including severance pay, security, and moving costs, could be as high as $4.5 million per school, potentially wiping out any savings for many years.

With only elementary school closings, we’d be smart to expect the savings to come in on the lower end — if at all.

Truss points to an additional cost that he insists must be taken into account – the loss of hundreds, maybe thousands of good jobs for African American teachers, principals, lunchroom workers and engineers.

Under a city administration hellbent on eliminating public service jobs that form the backbone of the black middle class – where black unemployment rates are more than double the rate for whites — and in a district facing civil rights compliants for targeting black teachers, he sees layoffs resulting from school closings as another drag on the economic vitality of the neighborhoods.

The sky is falling!

Then there’s the billion-dollar deficit, which we’re told time and again means we have to close schools.

Last week CTU blew the whistle on CPS’s budget manipulations, showing that instead of a deficit requiring the district to drain its reserve fund and deny teachers compensation for the longer day, the final audited budget showed a surplus of $344 million.

“Perhaps it’s time to have an honest budget discussion, before any schools are closed,” union president Karen Lewis said.

CPS responded that the additional $344 million came from early payments from the county and state, the Sun Times reported.

There’s more to it than that, according to union budget analyst Kurt Hilgendorf, a high school teacher on leave.  In addition to underestimating revenue in its official budget, CPS also ended up spending $221 million less than it had budgeted.

Did that reduced spending result from “efficiencies”?  The two biggest items where actual spending was below budget were teachers salaries and, after that, textbook purchases.

Perhaps cutting teaching positions to save $70 million is an “efficiency.”  Perhaps budgeting $86 million for textbooks and then spending only $49 million is an “efficiency.” Hilgendorf suggests it might better be understood as “lying with math.”

The boy who cried wolf

The practice of “overestimating expenses by a huge amount, and underestimating revenues by a huge amount” is a longstanding pattern, he said.

The previous year, CPS projected a $245 million deficit and ended up with a $316 surplus.   That’s a half-billion-dollar difference.

In the four years between FY 2005 and FY 2008, CPS’s total deficit projections totaled more than $1 billion.  The reality in those four years was a total surplus of $920 million.

To get the full effect of this “Chicken Little” approach to budgeting, Hilgendorf has compiled the numbers that CPS officials issued in press statements in the months before the annual budgets were presented and approved.

In 2005, CPS was discussing a $200 million deficit; the approved budget had a $29 million deficit, and at the end of the year there was an $83 million surplus.

In 2006 and 2007, press statements foretold deficits of $175 million and $328 million; approved budgets had deficits of $45 million and $105 million; at the end of the year, there were surpluses of $104 million and $138 million.

In 2009 and 2010, actual deficits were slightly smaller than the approved budget.  Earlier statements to the media, however, predicted deficits that were two to four times the actual shortfalls.

In the early discussions of last year’s budget, CPS claimed they faced a $700 million deficit.  That turned into a $316 million surplus.

Now they’re headed for a $1 billion deficit.  Or so they say.

At the huge CPS hearing on the West Side last week, Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance pointed out that the district took a hit to its bond rating when it drained its reserves to fill its supposed budget gap last year.

But release of the audited numbers– which normally happens in December – was postponed, and for some reason the surplus wasn’t even reported in the course of last December’s bond issue, she said.

Lost and found

“This crisis was manufactured, and decisions are being made based on incorrect and incomplete financial, enrollment, and utilization data,” Leonard said, pointing to the newly disclosed budget surplus – and the revelation that CPS enrollment actually increased by 1,000 students this year.

She pointed out that CPS spends over $400 million on outside lawyers and other professional services, and that while the state cut its education spending by $200 million, CPS stood silent as UNO sought a $35 million earmark for new schools.

Leonard called – as many sensible people have – for a moratorium on school closings until CPS completes a facilities master plan.

Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization puts it succinctly: “CPS doesn’t have a budget crisis, it has a priorities crisis.”

He singles out $350 million budgeted last year for the Office of New Schools, dedicated to developing new charter and contract schools.

This year there’s $71 million in the budget specifically dedicated to developing new charter schools.

As long as CPS is spending $71 million to open new charters, it’s going to have a hard time arguing that it has no choice but to close 100 neighborhood schools, in order to save $50 million, or $25 million, or whatever.

Indeed, as long as CPS is committed to opening charters, it’s going to have a hard time arguing that utilization issues are what’s driving school closings.

Which may not matter.  The real bottom line may be that this is Mayor Emanuel’s agenda, the facts don’t matter, and we have very little say in the decision.

That’s not keeping people away from the hearings, by any means.  But it does seem to be making a lot of people angry.

‘Future of Food at Stake’ as Indiana Farmer Takes Monsanto to Top Court

75 year old Indiana soybean farmer, Vernon Hugh Bowman, is taking agriculture giant Monsanto to the supreme court over one of the most "systemic crisis" in modern farming: who controls the rights to the seeds planted in the ground.

Farmer Hugh Bowman on his Sandborn, Ind. farm. (Photo: AJ MastWashington Post) "I really don't consider it as David and Goliath. I don't think of it in those terms. I think of it in terms of right and wrong," said the farmer in a recent interview. 

Filed on Bowman's behalf by sustainable food and farming organizations, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Save Our Seeds (SOS), the appeal challenges the multi-billion dollar corporation over their restrictive seed saving policies and the "agressive protection" of their soybean, known as Roundup Ready, which has been genetically engineered to resist certain herbicides.

“Mr. Bowman’s case represents a systemic crisis in U.S. agriculture,” said CFS Executive Director, Andrew Kimbrell.  “Through a patenting system that favors the rights of corporations over the rights of farmers and citizens, our food and farming system is being held hostage by a handful of companies.  Nothing less than the future of food is at stake.”

Farmers using Monsanto products are legally obligated to harvest only the resulting crop and not take-part in the prudent and age-old tradition of seed-saving, forcing them to purchase new Monsanto seeds each year.

The Guardian reports:

Bowman, who has farmed the same stretch of land for most of the past four decades and grew up on a farm, ended up on Monsanto's radar for using [excess soybeans purchased from local grain elevators, some of which happened to contain Roundup Ready genes, rather than purchasing from Monsanto directly]– for year after year and replanting part of each crop. He did not do so for his main crop of soybeans, but rather for a smaller 'second late season planting' usually planted on a field that had just been harvested for wheat. 'We have always had the right to go to an elevator, buy some 'junk grain' and use it for seed if you desire,' Bowman said.

Monsanto consequently sued Bowman for "infringing the firm's patent rights" eventually winning a legal settlement of some $84,456.

Bowman, already bankrupt from a previous land deal, said he had little to lose in the case. "I made up my mind to fight it until I could not fight it anymore. I thought: I am not going to play dead."

“Monsanto should not be able, just because they’ve got millions and millions of dollars to spend on legal fees, to try to terrify farmers into making them obey their agreements by massive force and threats,” he adds.

The brief, filed by CFS and SOS, asks the court to end the practice of allowing corporations to place conditions on the sale of its seed and to reject an “end-run around patent exhaustion” for regeneration. It continues:  

The current intellectual property environment of transgenic crops has spurred the privatization and concentration of the world’s seed supply. Market concentration has resulted in 10 multinational corporations holding approximately two-thirds (65%) of commercial seed for major crops, reducing choice and innovation, and increasing prices for the American farmer. 

The Supreme court is scheduled to hear oral arguments later this month.

‘Future of Food at Stake’ as Indiana Farmer Takes Monsanto to Top Court

75 year-old Indiana soybean farmer, Vernon Hugh Bowman, is taking agriculture giant Monsanto to the US Supreme Court over one of the most "systemic crisis" in modern farming: who controls the rights to the seeds planted in the ground.

Farmer Hugh Bowman on his Sandborn, Ind. farm. (Photo: AJ MastWashington Post) "I really don't consider it as David and Goliath. I don't think of it in those terms. I think of it in terms of right and wrong," said the farmer in a recent interview. 

Filed on Bowman's behalf by sustainable food and farming organizations, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Save Our Seeds (SOS), the appeal challenges the multi-billion dollar corporation over their restrictive seed saving policies and the "agressive protection" of their soybean, known as Roundup Ready, which has been genetically engineered to resist certain herbicides.

“Mr. Bowman’s case represents a systemic crisis in U.S. agriculture,” said CFS Executive Director, Andrew Kimbrell.  “Through a patenting system that favors the rights of corporations over the rights of farmers and citizens, our food and farming system is being held hostage by a handful of companies.  Nothing less than the future of food is at stake.”

Farmers using Monsanto products are legally obligated to harvest only the resulting crop and not take-part in the prudent and age-old tradition of seed-saving, forcing them to purchase new Monsanto seeds each year.

The Guardian reports:

Bowman, who has farmed the same stretch of land for most of the past four decades and grew up on a farm, ended up on Monsanto's radar for using [excess soybeans purchased from local grain elevators, some of which happened to contain Roundup Ready genes, rather than purchasing from Monsanto directly]– for year after year and replanting part of each crop. He did not do so for his main crop of soybeans, but rather for a smaller 'second late season planting' usually planted on a field that had just been harvested for wheat. 'We have always had the right to go to an elevator, buy some 'junk grain' and use it for seed if you desire,' Bowman said.

Monsanto consequently sued Bowman for "infringing the firm's patent rights" eventually winning a legal settlement of some $84,456.

Bowman, already bankrupt from a previous land deal, said he had little to lose in the case. "I made up my mind to fight it until I could not fight it anymore. I thought: I am not going to play dead."

“Monsanto should not be able, just because they’ve got millions and millions of dollars to spend on legal fees, to try to terrify farmers into making them obey their agreements by massive force and threats,” he adds.

The brief, filed by CFS and SOS, asks the court to end the practice of allowing corporations to place conditions on the sale of its seed and to reject an “end-run around patent exhaustion” for regeneration. It continues:

The current intellectual property environment of transgenic crops has spurred the privatization and concentration of the world’s seed supply. Market concentration has resulted in 10 multinational corporations holding approximately two-thirds (65%) of commercial seed for major crops, reducing choice and innovation, and increasing prices for the American farmer.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments later this month.

John Brennan’s Tenet-Like Testimony

CIA Director-designate John Brennan’s assertion to the Senate Intelligence Committee that Iran is “bent on pursuing nuclear weapons” is precisely the kind of dangerous “mistake” made by his mentor, former CIA Director George Tenet, who made many such “mistakes” a decade ago in greasing the skids for war on Iraq.

Former CIA Director George TenetOf course, the appropriate word is not “mistake” but “fraud.” And perhaps what should disqualify Brennan as much as anything is his intimate connection to the lies and abuses perpetrated by the thoroughly discredited Tenet. As one of Tenet’s former protégés, Brennan could not even bring himself to admit on Thursday that waterboarding was torture.

Brennan also engaged in other Tenet-like hairsplitting as he displayed the worst of his Jesuit education. Brennan, like me a Fordham graduate, seems to have absorbed the style of “jesuitical” argument that is defined as “practicing casuistry or equivocation, using subtle or over-subtle reasoning; crafty; sly; intriguing.”

Brennan’s misleading statement on Iran was both “sly” and “intriguing.” It also did not come as an off-the-cuff answer to a question, but rather was embedded in the written text of his “Opening Statement for the Record” for his confirmation hearing. His disingenuousness on this neuralgic issue is another reason to reject his nomination to be CIA director.

Brennan’s assertion about Iran’s nuclear ambitions stands on its head the unanimous intelligence community judgment in a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) – revalidated every year since – that Iran stopped working on nuclear weaponization at the end of 2003 and has not resumed that work.

One might have thought that an indication from the next CIA director-to-be that he was predisposed to overturn the considered judgment of the intelligence community’s top analysts – and take the politically preferred “tough-guy” position toward Iran – would have set off alarm bells with the Senate Intelligence Committee, which (commendably though belatedly) excoriated the politicization of intelligence that led to the Iraq War.

But committee members instead had their prepared posturing to do, and thus let the statement on Iran slide by without noticing – much less challenging – it. And, luckily for Brennan, by that point in his prepared testimony, committee chair Dianne Feinstein had removed from the hearing room the many Code Pink-led protesters, who would have been the only ones knowledgeable and courageous enough to call loud attention to Brennan’s dishonesty.

Anatomy of a ‘Mistake’

In that part of his testimony, Brennan warned the senators that the “regimes in Tehran and Pyongyang remain bent on pursuing nuclear weapons…”  (Emphasis added)

When “practicing casuistry,” half-truths and conflating two very different situations often work better than straight-out lies. They are, as the Jesuits might attest, very old rhetorical tricks. Is North Korea “bent on pursuing nuclear weapons?” A definitive “Yes” has been the answer to that question for several years. Indeed, the North Koreans apparently already have a few.

But the case is different for Iran, as the U.S. intelligence community has asserted since 2007. For instance, let’s compare Brennan’s phrasing to the most recent congressional testimony of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Jan. 31, 2012:

“We judge North Korea has tested two nuclear devices. Its October 2006 nuclear test is consistent with our longstanding assessment that it produced a nuclear device, although we judge the test itself was a partial failure. The North’s probable nuclear test in May 2009 had a yield of roughly two kilotons TNT equivalent and was apparently more successful than the 2006 test. These tests strengthen our assessment that North Korea has produced nuclear weapons.”

But what about Iran? Are the Iranians, too, “bent on pursuing nuclear weapons?” Clapper’s words were much more conditional in that part of his testimony: “We assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons, in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.

“Iran nevertheless is expanding its uranium enrichment capabilities, which can be used for either civil or weapons purposes.  … [We judge] that Iran is technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon, if it so chooses. … We judge Iran’s nuclear decision-making is guided by a cost-benefit approach, which offers the international community opportunities to influence Tehran.”

It is likely that Clapper, like Brennan a political appointee, is going as far as he can in presenting a frightening case regarding Iran, yet – unlike Brennan – is staying within the parameters of the less alarming assessment of professional intelligence analysts.

Brennan instead edged past that line with his rhetorical sleight-of-hand – lumping Iran in with North Korea – the sort of trickery that he witnessed up close as a Tenet favorite during the early excesses of the “war on terror” and the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

After all, Iran has been a front-burner issue for the past several years. It beggars belief that Brennan has forgotten the key judgment of the National Intelligence Estimate of 2007 in which all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies concurred, “with high confidence,” that Tehran had halted its nuclear weapon design and weaponization work in 2003 – a judgment reaffirmed every year since by the Director of National Intelligence in sworn testimony to Congress?

Careful Distinctions

Brennan also can hardly claim memory lapse. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reiterated that judgment as recently as Feb. 3 on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Panetta, who also served as President Obama’s first CIA director, stuck to the NIE’s judgment despite goading from Chuck Todd:

TODD: “You have said a couple of times that you did not believe the Iranians were pursuing a nuclear weapon, that they have been pursuing the capabilities on — on nuclear energy …  not pursuing nuclear weapons. Are … you still confident they’re not pursuing a nuclear weapon?”

PANETTA: “Right. What I’ve said, and I will say today, is that the intelligence we have is they have not made the decision to proceed with the development of a nuclear weapon. They’re developing and enriching uranium. …”

TODD: “Why do you believe they’re doing that?”

PANETTA: “I think — I think the — it’s a clear indication they say they’re doing it in order to develop their own energy source. I think it is suspect that they continue to — to enrich uranium because that is dangerous, and that violates international laws…”

TODD: “And you do believe they’re probably pursuing a weapon, but you don’t — the intelligence doesn’t know what…”

(Cross talk with JCS Chairman Martin Dempsey, who was also on the program.)

PANETTA: “I– no, I can’t tell you because– I can’t tell you they’re in fact pursuing a weapon because that’s not what intelligence says we– we– we’re– they’re doing right now. …” (emphasis added)

The contrast between Panetta’s careful distinction and Brennan’s careless distortion is no small matter. The difference suggests that Brennan, like his mentor Tenet, cares more about positioning himself within the favored contours of Washington’s group think than in standing up to those pressures and standing behind independent-minded analysts of the intelligence community.

Professional Analysts

Former Director of the National Intelligence Council Thomas Fingar, who supervised preparation of the landmark NIE saying Iran had stopped working on nuclear weaponization, was given the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence last month at a ceremony in Oxford, where he is now teaching in Stanford University’s overseas study program.

Fingar, who had been Director of Intelligence at the State Department, recruited analysts who had as much integrity as they had expertise. They jettisoned the “if-the-White House-says-two-plus-two-is-five-we-need-to-conjure-up-the-evidence-to-prove-that-it’s-true” behavior of Tenet and his deputy at CIA, John McLaughlin.

Fingar and his co-workers made a substantial contribution in restoring integrity to the challenging discipline of intelligence analysis after the debacle on Iraq. Acting with all deliberate speed (accent on the deliberate), they drafted an empirical, bottom-up assessment of all prior evidence about Iran’s nuclear program and, fortuitously, benefited from fresh intelligence acquired and analyzed in 2007.

The result was a tell-it-like-it-is conclusion that played a huge role in thwarting plans by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to attack Iran in 2008, their last year in office.

Since the Estimate marked such a sharp departure from earlier assessments of Iran’s nuclear program it was considered a sure bet to leak, so, on White House orders, the authors prepared an unclassified version of the key judgments for publication. Once that hit the streets, with the understandable public reaction at home and abroad, the effect was to fortify the longstanding opposition of the most senior military officers to war on Iran.

It became politically impossible for Cheney and Bush to have their war with Iran. Bush admits as much in his memoir, Decision Points, in which he laments that the “eye-popping” findings of the 2007 NIE stayed his hand: “How could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?” Indeed.

What does all this have to do with John Brennan? Brennan’s career path must be understood in its relation to Tenet, who served as President Bill Clinton’s last CIA director and was kept on in that job by President George W. Bush. Tenet made Brennan his chief of staff in 1999 and then elevated Brennan to be the CIA’s deputy executive director in March 2001. In 2003 and 2004, Brennan also served as director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, which was criticized for distributing politicized threat assessments, such an infamous “Orange Terror Alert” over Christmas 2003.

Not long after Tenet left the U.S. government in 2004, Brennan followed in 2005, moving on to high-paying intelligence-related jobs in the private sector. He supported Barack Obama in Campaign 2008 and was considered a top choice to become CIA director after Obama’s victory. But the nomination was scrapped because of questions about Brennan’s work for Tenet. Instead, Brennan filled a White House post as President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser.

Former colleagues of mine who were at the CIA during the lead-up to war on Iraq assure me that, given his protégé-mentor relationship with then-CIA Director Tenet and also Brennan’s very senior position as deputy executive director, it is almost certain that Brennan was aware of what Sen. Jay Rockefeller later called the “uncorroborated, contradicted, or even non-existent” nature of the intelligence conjured up to “justify” war with Iraq. Rockefeller made this public comment on June 5, 2008, when, as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he announced the bipartisan findings of a five-year committee investigation.

Rockefeller all but said it outright. Not just “mistakes” – as Bush, Tenet and much of the mainstream news media insist – but outright intelligence fraud and a conspiracy to launch an aggressive war, what the post-World War II Nuremberg Tribunal called “the supreme international crime, differing from other war crimes only in that it contains the accumulated evil of the whole,” i.e. unleashing abuses like torture and other human rights violations.

The Iraq War conspiracy peaked ten years ago when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell told a pack of lies to the UN Security Council. Were Brennan to have been asked about this at Thursday’s hearing, he probably would have disclaimed responsibility, saying (as he did on the torture issue) that, although he had “awareness” and “some visibility” into what was afoot, he was not in the “chain of command” and, thus, chose to do nothing.

But the reality is that John Brennan owed his major career advancements to Tenet, who personally gave Powell’s deceptive speech the CIA’s stamp of approval by physically sitting behind the Secretary of State as he delivered lies and distortions to the Security Council. If Brennan had spoken out against this fraud at that time, he would have surely seen his spectacular career grind to a halt.

VIPS’ Maiden Effort

When our fledgling Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (which was established in January 2003 to protest the obvious perversion of the intelligence on Iraq) learned that Powell would address the UN, we decided to do a same-day analytic assessment – the kind we used to do when someone like Khrushchev, or Gorbachev, or Gromyko, or Mao, or Castro gave a major address.

We were well accustomed to the imperative to beat the media with our commentary. Coordinating our Powell effort via e-mail, we put VIPS’ first Memorandum for the President on the wire at 5:15 p.m. – “Subject: Today’s Speech by Secretary Powell at the UN.”

Our understanding at that time was far from perfect. It was not yet completely clear to us, for example, that Saddam Hussein had for the most part been abiding by, rather than flouting, UN resolutions. We stressed, though, that the key question was whether any of this justified war: “This is the question the world is asking. Secretary Powell’s presentation does not come close to answering it.”

And we warned President Bush: “Intelligence community analysts are finding it hard to make themselves heard above the drumbeat for war.” And we voiced our distress at “the politicization of intelligence,” as well as the deep flaws: “Your Pentagon advisers draw a connection between war with Iraq and terrorism, but for the wrong reasons. The connection takes on much more reality in a post-US invasion scenario.” [bold in original]

“Indeed, it is our view that an invasion of Iraq would ensure overflowing recruitment centers for terrorists into the indefinite future. Far from eliminating the threat it would enhance it exponentially.”

Dissociating VIPS from Powell’s bravado rhetoric claiming that the evidence he presented was “irrefutable,” we noted, “No one has a corner on the truth,” and warned the President: “But after watching Secretary Powell today, we are convinced you would be well served if you widened the discussion beyond violations of Resolution 1441, and beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.”

It’s clear today that nothing would have dissuaded President Bush and Vice President Cheney from plunging ahead with their “war of choice.” But that is no excuse for intelligence officials, like Brennan, or America’s leading newspapers abnegating their duty to ask tough questions and to speak truth to power whatever the consequences.

We also know today that the chief co-conspirators in the Iraqi intelligence fraud – like the torturers in the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program – have escaped accountability for their malfeasance. But that doesn’t mean now that their obedient subordinates, who kept quiet in the face of these crimes, should be rewarded with top jobs.

When officials are not held accountable – for crimes of both commission and omission – it is an invitation for others to follow in their footsteps. It remains to be seen how closely Brennan will retrace the path marked by his mentor Tenet – one of cooking the intelligence to the tastes of the White House – this time to facilitate war with Iran.

The Senate Intelligence Committee got a sampling of how Brennan might add some jesuitical spices to such recipes when he proffered a crafty explanation of why it was fine for President Obama to release the legal opinion on Bush-era “enhanced interrogations” but not the legal justification for the lethal drone program.

The former activity, Brennan noted, was over, while the latter one was ongoing. Yet, why the American people should be denied the constitutional arguments for such executive powers until they are no longer in use was never explained. It would seem the opposite logic should prevail, that it is more important to know the justification when something is occurring than when it is over, especially since the drone killings along with the “war on terror” may go on indefinitely.

But — as Brennan seems headed toward Senate confirmation — his deceptive comments on legal transparency as well as on Iran’s nuclear program are not a good sign.

A version of this essay first appeared at Consortium News.

Ray McGovern

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst, he prepared and briefed the President's Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: When’s The Banker Bashing Going To Start?

The ten things you need to know on Sunday 10 February 2013...

1) WHEN'S THE BANKER BASHING GOING TO START?

Supposedly, we've been beastly to bankers for the past five years - that is, since they crashed the global economy through a combination of greed, avarice and rank incompetence. But the banker-bashing hasn't stopped the former 'masters of the universe' dusting themselves off with taxpayers' cash and carrying on with business (and bonuses) as usual.

Check out the splash in today's Sunday Times:

"The boss of Royal Bank of Scotland will be handed a £780,000 bonus just weeks after the bailed-out lender was fined £390m for its role in the global interest rate rigging scandal.

"... The bonanza comes at a sensitive time for the Edinburgh-based lender, which was rescued from collapse in 2008. Last week RBS agreed to pay out £390m, including £87.5m to the British financial watchdog, after admitting staff had manipulated Libor, a key benchmark interest rate. In an apparent attempt to boost their bonuses some 21 RBS traders had been involved in the manipulation."

The paper quotes the ever-quotable Lord Oakeshott, Lib Dem peer and mate of Vince Cable, as saying:

“It is wholly unacceptable that Hester should receive a bonus for 2010 when these scandals were still going on. He had been captain of the ship for two years, but the crew was still robbing the passengers.”

2) STEALTH TAX?

From the front of the Observer:

"Thousands more people will pay inheritance tax to fund a watered-down version of the Dilnot plan for universal state funding for elderly and social care, the government is expected to announce on Monday.

"Pensioners and disabled adults will have to pay up to £75,000 of any care bills they incur before the state steps in under the new arrangement. There will also be an increase in the means-test threshold, so that anyone with assets under £123,000 will automatically receive free care.

The Sunday Times reports, on its front page, under the headline "Stealth tax on inheritance':

"The decision comes just eight weeks after George Osborne, the chancellor, promised to increase the amount in two years’ time.

"Now he has decided it will not go up until at least 2019, leaving thousands of families £95,000 worse off than if the tax free allowance had risen."

Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, dodged the question about inheritance tax and funding of social care on the Marr show this morning: "Let's wait until tomorrow's announcement..."

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, deputy PM Nick Clegg says: “We will make sure no-one is forced to sell their home to pay for care in their lifetime, and no-one sees their life savings disappear just because they developed the wrong kind of illness.”

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times reports: "The bosses of some of the companies that provide home care for the elderly are receiving millions of pounds in pay, share options and dividends despite 'scandalous' failings in care."

Everyone, say it with me: "We're all in this together."

3) DIVIDED WE STAND

What will the coalition look like in the wake of the Eastleigh by-election? Will it be a re-run of the fallout from the AV referendum? This time, though, it could be the Lib Dems who have the upper hand.

From the Sunday Times:

"The Conservatives have admitted they face a 'big challenge' to win the Eastleigh by-election triggered by Chris Huhne's resignation.

"Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, who visited the Hampshire constituency yesterday as the party launched its campaign, has acknowledged that the Tories will have to 'battle' to wrest the seat from the Liberal Democrats, who held it with a majority of 3,864 in the 2010 general election.

"The Lib Dem candidate is 60-year-old financial adviser Mike Thornton, who sits on the borough council. The announcement of his candidacy last night made no mention of Huhne, claiming the party's campaign would focus on bringing jobs and investment to the area."

Grayling is right to be worried - a new Survation poll in the constituency for the Mail on Sunday has put the Lib Dems three points ahead: Lib Dems, 36%; Tories, 33%; Ukip, 16%; Labour, 13%.

4) TOBY HELM VS MICHAEL GOVE, ROUND 2

Last Sunday, this Memo noted how the Observer's Toby Helm had gone to war with Michael Gove after being smeared as a Labour stooge on Twitter by the @toryeducation account.

This Sunday, Helm's back for more - from the front page of the Observer:

"Michael Gove faces accusations that he may have misled parliament over claims of bullying and intimidation by key advisers at the Department for Education.

"The Observer can reveal that a senior civil servant in the education secretary's department has received a secret payoff of about £25,000 out of public funds, after a lengthy grievance procedure involving members of Gove's team, including his special adviser, Dominic Cummings, and the department's former head of communications, James Frayne.

"... On 23 January, however, Gove – who under the ministerial and special advisers' codes is responsible for the behaviour of his advisers (known as Spads) – denied knowledge of any allegations of misconduct during an appearance before the education select committee."

Uh-oh.

5) 'GOVE'S PLOT'

More Gove news - from the front page of the Independent on Sunday:

"The full extent of Michael Gove's plans to revolutionise education are revealed today in a secret memo showing he is considering outright privatisation of academies and free schools. All academies and free schools in England, which are the Education Secretary's personal obsession, would be free to become profit-making for the first time, and be entirely decoupled from Whitehall control.

"Leaked documents of the minutes of a meeting of top Department for Education officials on the future of funding the academies programme have alarmed teaching unions and the Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg last year ruled out any expansion of the private sector in state schools."

So, can Clegg score a hat-trick against Gove, having so far succeeded in stopping the education secretary's plans to create a two-tier exam system and bring in the 'Ebacc'?

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a cat getting its face stuck in a yogurt cup.

6) 'ALL IN THE SAME BOAT'

The PM has been making the case against Scottish independence on the Downing Street website - from the Huffington Post UK:

"The implications of the referendum next Autumn will affect not just Scotland, but England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Conservative leader said.

"He drew on Britain's Olympic glory to evoke an image of a united Britain, saying: 'Those glorious Olympics last summer reminded us just what we were capable of when we pull together: Scottish, English, Welsh, Northern Irish, all in the same boat - sometimes literally.

"'If you told many people watching those Olympics around the world that we were going to erect barriers between our people, they'd probably be baffled. Put simply: Britain works. Britain works well. Why break it?'"

7) ADAM AND TREV VS DAVE

You may have assumed that the multimillionaire Tory backbencher Adam Afriyie, who most people outside of the Westminster village had never heard of a few weeks ago, might want to cool all the Sunday-newspaper talk of leadership bids, plots and coups. You'd be wrong.

According to the Sunday Times, he's been "secretly consulting" with equalities expert, New Labour supporter and Mandelson ally, Trevor Phillips, on how to win the black vote:

"The MP has won the support of the former head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who believes he has been wrongly overlooked by the current leadership.

“'I like Adam and he is a friend. I was extremely surprised that he did not get ministerial office,' Phillips said.

"The support of Phillips, a key new Labour figure, is a coup for Afriyie and suggests he is widening his campaign to position himself as a future leadership candidate beyond Westminster."

And so it goes on...

8) AID

From the Observer:

"Justine Greening's decision to end British aid to India was based on placating Tory backbenchers, instead of combating poverty, according to a damning report from the Institute for Public Policy Research thinktank.

"Will Straw, the associate director of the IPPR, said that the coalition's announcement in November that aid to India would be halted in 2015, was 'a tactic for winning votes at home rather than tackling poverty abroad'."

The paper quotes Max Lawson, the head of policy at Oxfam, saying that there was "no development case to be made for stopping aid to India".

"Three hundred thousand women a year die in childbirth," he said. "It's completely inexcusable that the rich in India allow that to happen – but that's just as true in Nigeria or in Angola, and no one says we shouldn't help poor people in those places."

The problem for foreign aid supporters such as myself is that India is one of the world's biggest economies and, as the right-wing press constantly reminds us, even has its own space programme. It's very, very difficult to make the case for giving foreign aid to a country able to afford rocket ships...

9) TAXING TIMES

More tax avoidance stuff in the papers - this time, concerning a UK multinational and allegations of tax dodging abroad - from the Observer's splash:

"One of Britain's biggest multinationals, whose brands include Silver Spoon sugar, Twinings Tea and Kingsmill bread, is avoiding paying millions of pounds of tax in an African state blighted by malnutrition, a year-long investigation revealed on Sunday.

"The Zambian sugar-producing subsidiary of Associated British Foods, a FTSE100 company, contributed virtually no corporation tax to the state's exchequer between 2007 and 2012, and none at all for two of those years."

10) ALASTAIR CAMPBELL DEFECTS?

From James Forsyth's Mail on Sunday column:

"Alastair Campbell is working in the Downing Street press office. This news caused more than one No10 aide to spill his coffee last week. They couldn't believe that Tony Blair's intensely tribal communications supremo was now spinning with the Coalition. Order was restored when it was established that although the name was correct, it wasn't that Alastair Campbell. His namesake is helping out with ethnic minority media, I'm told."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 96.

From the Opinium/Observer fortnightly poll:

Labour 39
Conservatives 29
Ukip 14
Lib Dems 8

That would give Labour a majority of 112.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@jocarr Interesting. Michael Portillo argues Lords would be "out of its constitutional depth" if they reject gay marriage after Commons vote. #bh

‏@ianbirrell India didn't want our aid - but IPPR says we should have forced it on them. The arrogance of aid apostles...

‏@RanaKabbani54 Instead of privatizing government schools, #Gove might like to nationalize private ones. Educational equality not educational apartheid.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Janet Daley, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "The Prime Minister did the impossible on unifying the Conservative Party on Europe, then chucked the gay marriage grenade."

John Rentoul, writing in the Independent on Sunday, asks: "Is Mr Cameron out of touch, cowardly, lazy...?"

James Forsyth, writing in the Mail on Sunday, asks: "Can Nick Clegg rise from the dead in Chris Huhne's old haunt?"


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

Transvaginal Ultrasound: Rape Is Not A Medical Procedure

There are a lot of very good reasons for women of any age to need a transvaginal ultrasound: abnormal cells in a PAP smear, pelvic pain, irregular bleeding that could indicate cysts, fibroid tumors, polyps, twisted ovaries, infections, endometriosis, endometrial hyperplasia, ectopic pregnancies, and even outright cancer.

It can even be a useful diagnostic instrument in testing for urinary and kidney disease as well, transvaginal ultrasounds being the best way to obtain the clearest and most detailed internal images possible outside a MRI or CT scan. I’ve had one myself recently, for good medical reasons, and have reason to be grateful such amazing and wonderful technology exists. So it is appalling when something that was designed to promote women’s health and welfare is being abused by politicians to hurt the very people it was meant to help.

If you are pregnant, ultrasounds are quite common and sensible early on to determine the presence of more than one fetus, and to calculate your due date. Later, an ultrasound helps to check the health of the baby, the location of the placenta, the amount of amniotic fluid around the baby, the baby’s position and to calculate its expected weight at birth. But all these can be determined with a simple topical ultrasound – transvaginal ultrasounds are not a common prenatal procedure and are not used unless there is some additional medical problem that needs closer examination by a doctor.

While being pregnant, in and of itself, doesn’t medically require a transvaginal ultrasound, any woman who intends to have an abortion certainly doesn't need one, either topical or transvaginal. There is no medical reason for forcing a woman to look at clear anatomical images of a fetus she and her doctor intend to abort, other than to traumatize women, make it often prohibitively expensive to obtain abortions, and more difficult for doctors to perform them. It’s the so-called “pro-life” mindset that wants to push their self-righteous moral agenda down your throat – or in this case, up your vagina.

Last year, US officials expanded the legal definition of rape to include men as well as women, any victim who is unable to consent to sex, and – this is the relevant bit – anyone who is violated with an object, any object, not just a penis – be it a beer bottle or hairbrush or rolling pins or scissors or mop handles or radio antennae or any myriad of foreign objects that have been recorded used against abuse victims. Rape is all about power – of completely dominating another person against their will.

All women are not the same, not cookie cutter patients who can easily be treated all the same. So if a doctor tells me she needs to do a transvaginal ultrasound for medical reasons, and I as a reasonable, informed, intelligent person consent, it’s not rape. I can tell you from personal experience that a transvaginal ultrasound is neither humiliating nor all that painful, but it is deeply and intimately personal. The radiologist who did mine was kind, gentle and very professional - and outraged when I told her about women in the States being forced to have transvaginal ultrasounds before any abortion, not just as a woman but because her medical expertise should never be used for political purposes, ever. But the procedure not being painful isn't the point - even when it's not humiliating and painful, it's still rape if it's unnecessary and against your will. A breast exam in itself isn't humiliating or painful - but if someone were squeezing your breasts and pinching your nipples when it was unnecessary and against your will, that would still be sexual assault.

So when rightwing Republican legislators introduce a bill that would require women to submit to a mandatory transvaginal ultrasound before an abortion, against her will and regardless of medical necessity, they are reaching for power they are not entitled to, and attempting to legalize rape.

They are also doing the medical community a vast disservice, since this is not only becomes sanctioned rape where such laws are in force, the media attention surrounding the issue causes distrust and reticence in women who might have a genuine reason to need a transvaginal ultrasound.

Twenty one states have a range of ultrasound laws for pregnant women and those seeking abortion; Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah all require that ultrasounds be offered to pregnant women, something to which I have little objection. Women should be offered decent medical care, and ultrasounds are part of that care. It's when politics become more important than health where it goes off the rails.

Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia require that if an ultrasound is conducted before an abortion, the woman must be shown the images. Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana and Mississippi all require an ultrasound before abortion, and the images must be offered to the woman. Texas is the most draconian: an ultrasound is mandatory for any abortion, and the woman must not only be shown the images, but have them described in minute detail.

Republicans have been working hard to push similar bills in Kansas and Nebraska and Ohio. Mississippi Republicans passed a law last year that went an amazing step further than simply requiring transvaginal ultrasounds on women seeking an abortion, they included victims of rape or incest – in effect, damning women to being raped twice.

Interestingly, an amendment banning men from having vasectomies failed to pass – making it clear this isn’t so much about the ethics of preserving unborn life as it is protecting a man’s right to literally do whatever the fuck he wants to a woman.

Virginia State Delegate C. Todd Gilbert exhibited his lack of compassion and respect for women while on the floor speaking in favor of an ultrasound abortion bill by belittling a woman’s decision to have an abortion as being a “matter of lifestyle convenience.” Apparently, his colleagues in the House agreed with him; the bill passed, 63 to 36.

As for exactly who benefits from any such “lifestyle convenience”, Tennessee Republican State Senator Jim Tracy, running as a candidate in the 4th Congressional District next year, has proposed a bill requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before any abortion. He’s quite adamant his stand is one of moral conscience – not at all capitalizing on the scandal where his opponent, Republican Representative and anti-choice doctor Scott DesJarlais cheated on his wife, smoked pot, prescribed recreational drugs for lady patients he fancied, and pressured his mistress into an abortion, then blamed his behavior on the women while claiming God had forgiven him.

Seems both men found abortion quite the lifestyle convenience, y’betcha.

Rightwing pro-life advocates have repeatedly shown an abysmal lack of medical knowledge as well, from Missouri Republican Todd Akin’s ludicrous claim that women couldn’t become pregnant from a “legitimate” rape, to the self-educated rightwing pastor, radio host Kevin Swanson who claimed doctors and scientists have shown that embryos or remain in the uterus if a woman is taking birth control pills.

Studies by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have shown that anywhere from 10-25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage, the most common type of pregnancy loss, most as a result of an unhealthy developing fetus that has no chance of surviving to the end of pregnancy. Chemical pregnancies, when a fertilized egg does not attach itself to the uterine wall, account for 50-75% of all miscarriages, resulting in bleeding that occurs around the time of an expected period; a woman may not even realize she’s been pregnant.

But according to Iowa Republican State Representatives Tom Shaw and Rob Bacon, co-authors of House File 138, backed by seven other Republicans, single-celled zygotes are entitled to full human rights, and they intend to jail both women who have an abortion, and those doctors who perform the operation, for murder, even in the case of rape and incest.

If single cell zygotes smaller than your average paramecium are accorded full legal human rights, how long will it take before some Republican decides any woman who miscarries must be guilty of involuntary manslaughter? Will even women who are trying to become pregnant decide to forgo pregnancy tests or to seek pre-natal care when any pregnancy that fails is less a personal tragedy and more a potential jail sentence?

If rightwing Republican understanding of science, biology or even common sense is questionable at best, their grasp on theology is equally bizarre; from Indiana’s Richard Mourdock’s insistence that even if women did get pregnant from rape, they shouldn’t be allowed an abortion because it was “something that God intended to happen” to Alabama Senator Shadrack McGill, who wants to outlaw abortion because he fears aborted fetuses might go to Hell.

Republicans failed in massive numbers to attract women’s votes this past election – and quite probably a good number of men equally appalled at how their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters were being treated. Yet despite criticism on all sides, despite the objections of doctors themselves, despite condemnation by women’s groups, despite their losses at the polls, they’re still trying. The latest assault on women came from Michigan, but while the Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger professed he had “no interest in forcing a woman to have a transvaginal ultrasound”, the bill still mandates women seeking abortions must have a topical ultrasound before the procedure. Except there’s a loophole no one is mentioning; as women in Texas have found, if the pregnancy is too early for a normal topical ultrasound to show any distinct imaging, then the only alternative is transvaginal. Either way, Republicans are increasingly attempting to intrude – quite literally – into women’s bodies.

“This is an unnecessary and unwarranted intrusion into the health decisions of women,” said Michigan’s House Democratic Leader Tim Greime. “This is yet another example of the Republican obsession with over-regulating people’s private lives.” Actually, he understates it; this bill would go far beyond being an unwarranted intrusion into women’s medical rights, or interfering with a doctor’s care.

Allowing a woman to close her eyes, just lie back and think of England, if she doesn’t want to see the pictures doesn’t make it any less criminal. Being forced to sign a consent form before being forced to submit to having a long plastic rigid wand shoved up your vagina against your will and for no good medical reason doesn’t make this “consensual.” It’s unnecessary, sadistic, illegal, immoral and reprehensible.

It's more than that - it’s rape.

Soybean Farmer Takes Monsanto to Supreme Court

Soybean Farmer Takes Monsanto to Supreme Court

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Posted on Feb 9, 2013
jster91 (CC BY 2.0)

Soybean crops.

A single 75-year-old Indiana soybean farmer in rural southwestern Indiana is taking on the multibillion dollar agricultural giant Monsanto over the issue of who controls the rights to seeds planted in the ground.

When confronted with the David vs. Goliath nature of his battle, Vernon Hugh Bowman told The Guardian: “I really don’t consider it as David and Goliath. I don’t think of it in those terms. I think of it in terms of right and wrong.”

In the next few weeks, legal teams representing Bowman and Monsanto will face off in front of the U.S. supreme court. The dispute pertains to Monsanto’s “aggressive protection” of a proprietary soybean it calls Roundup Ready. The bean has been genetically engineered to resist its Roundup herbicide and the product’s generic equivalents.

The company maintains that when farmers like Bowman plant Monsanto’s seeds, they are obligated to harvest only the resulting crop and not use any of it for planting the following year. The arrangement means that farmers have to buy new Monsanto seeds each year.

“[D]espite the vast sums of money involved in modern farming, it is ironically Bowman’s own lack of cash that has seen the case end up at the supreme court,” Paul Harris reports at The Guardian. “Monsanto has a long record of reaching settlements with commercially pressured farmers it targets for patent infringements. But when the firm sued Bowman, he was already bankrupt after an unrelated land deal went wrong. Thus, he had little to lose. ‘I made up my mind to fight it until I could not fight it anymore,’ he said. ‘I thought: I am not going to play dead.’”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

The Guardian:

[F]armers are able to buy excess soybeans from local grain elevators, many of which are likely to be Roundup Ready due to the huge dominance Monsanto has in the market. Indeed in Indiana it is believed more than 90% of soybeans for sale as “commodity seeds” could be such beans, each containing the genes Monsanto developed.

Bowman, who has farmed the same stretch of land for most of the past four decades and grew up on a farm, ended up on Monsanto’s radar for using such seeds – bought from a local grain elevator, rather than Monsanto – for year after year and replanting part of each crop. He did not do so for his main crop of soybeans, but rather for a smaller “second late season planting” usually planted on a field that had just been harvested for wheat. “We have always had the right to go to an elevator, buy some ‘junk grain’ and use it for seed if you desire,” Bowman said.

To put it mildly, Monsanto disagrees. The firm insists that it maintains patent rights on its genetically modified seeds even if sold by a third party with no restrictions put on its use – even if the seeds are actually only descendants of the original Monsanto seeds. To that end it sued Bowman, eventually winning a legal settlement of some $84,456 (£53,500) against him for infringing the firm’s patent rights. Monsanto says that if it allowed Bowman to keep replanting his seeds it would undermine its business model, endangering the expensive research that it uses to produce advanced agricultural products.

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Campus Fightbacks in the Age of Austerity: Learning from Quebec Students

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by Xavier Lafrance and Alan Sears

The 2012 Quebec student strikes delivered one of the few victories we have seen in anti-austerity struggles in the Canadian state. The mobilization, which at its high point saw over 300,000 students on limited or unlimited strike, and demonstrations of hundreds of thousands, was a crucial highpoint that has a great deal to teach radicals. The attempted clampdown by the Jean Charest government through Bill 78 that attempted to outlaw the movement, unleashed a new and innovative round of resistance including the casseroles night marches.

The newly elected Parti Québécois (PQ) government of Premier Pauline Marois immediately cancelled the 75 per cent tuition hike implemented by the previous Charest government and rescinded the oppressive “back to work” legislation in Bill 78. This is a real victory, though the struggle in Quebec must continue. The PQ government has already made cuts to university budgets and is committed to smaller incremental tuition increases, indexing tuition to cost of living increases. Further, the PQ is organizing a series of roundtable discussions on the future of post-secondary education with a very clear agenda for technocratic restructuring that impedes rather than increases democracy, access and quality.

Trying to Spread the Victory

This is a partial victory, but a real one. At a time when the austerity agenda is rolling on relatively unchallenged, the Quebec student strike offers a crucial lesson in resistance. Yet the knock-on effect of that strike has been relatively limited to date. The Quebec student movement has done serious work to reach out to the rest of Canada and elsewhere to share the learning from this incredible mobilization, but at this point the impact has been limited.

This is unfortunate given the desperate need for effective mobilization to halt the austerity agenda in general, and in particular its application to the post-secondary field. The Ontario government is currently implementing a major restructuring of post-secondary education at a quite rapid pace, aiming to shift university mandates toward a market orientation, shift teaching toward on-line courses, continue tuition increases toward the goal of full user-pay, and implement cost-cutting ‘productivity’ increases. It would take a mobilization at the scale of the Quebec student strike to really reverse this agenda, but at this point there are not even many ripples of discontent.

A Mobilizing Perspective

In this article, we will try to discuss some of the ways that we imagine applying lessons from the Quebec student strike in coming battles around education, and particularly post-secondary education. At its core, the Quebec student strike modelled a mobilizing perspective grounded in democracy, militancy and audacity.

Over the last three decades, Quebec’s student movement has been divided between organizations gravitating around two models: a lobbyist model seeking collaboration with governments in place, on the one hand; and a democratic, activist student unionism, on the other. Since the early 1990s, the former model has been adopted by the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) and the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ), while the latter model has informed the activities of the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ) du Québec (which regroups 30 local student unions representing some 70,000 CEGEP and university students). We will focus on ASSÉ’s organizing model, which is explicitly ‘unionist’ (syndicale).

The core goal of this unionist model is to defend members’ concrete interests (understood in a non-corporatist way) through their own mobilization. This organizing model is based on democratic decision-making through general assemblies at which a large portion of student body debates action and decides collectively how to proceed. This democracy can only function in a meaningful way when combined with a constant effort at informing and mobilizing the student population beyond layers of activists, in order to develop a membership which can make change with their own hands rather than engaging in periodic ritualistic and symbolic protest. Democracy of this sort is linked to militancy in that the goal of protest is not to appeal to the conscience of those in power, but to build a counter-power in the streets, schools and workplaces that can push back.

In the era of austerity, many unions and social movements have lowered their horizons and tried not to rock the boat too much. For example, Toronto municipal unions met privatization demands with a campaign that focussed more on public relations advertisements than mobilizing their own members, ultimately resulting in concessions. In contrast, the Quebec students mobilized around ASSÉ (who formed the Coalition large de l’ASSÉ (CLASSE) to launch and coordinate the 2012 strike) dared to challenge the core of the government’s post-secondary agenda and boldly campaigned over a two-year period to win a strike mandate.

The challenge to the government’s agenda combined the immediate demand to halt the government’s 75 per cent tuition hike with a broader call to abolish tuition fees and democratize public college and university education. Many students lined up to fight tuition increases, rallying around a demand that seemed winnable (“Stop the hike!”). Yet the mass movement raised many bigger questions about democratic governance and the character of post-secondary education that pointed toward a broader, transformative agenda.

This combination of audacity, democracy and militancy in many ways echoes the crucial battles that won trade union rights for workers in the first place, such as those waged by Windsor auto workers in the 1940s or by postal workers in the 1960s. The challenge outside Quebec is to figure out how to apply these methods in situations where there isn’t the same level of organization and activism or tradition of student mobilization

A Longer-Term Perspective

This was the ninth general strike waged by Quebec students since 1968, and the 11th year since the founding of ASSÉ as a radical and democratic student union consciously committed to learning from that history of struggle. ASSÉ built for the 2012 strike through a two-year campaign, which used petitions, demonstrations and days of action to mobilize students through leaflets, informal networks and structured organization including assemblies.

All of this seems daunting if you are sitting in a place where that long-term work has not been done, and where it is hard to even imagine a way to begin the building process. There is certainly no magic formula, nor any simple overall technique that will automatically elevate campaigns elsewhere. But there is a crucial orientation that others mobilizing against austerity can learn from – that of militant, democratic unionism. The implementation of this orientation requires a longer-term strategy that is difficult to balance with the immediate needs of the anti-austerity struggle.

ASSÉ was founded on the principles of democratic, militant student unionism in 2001. The people who founded the new organization sought to deliberately learn from the prior history of the Quebec student movement, both from the impressive victories and the grinding defeats. Indeed, the need to refound the radical wing of the student movement was an indication of the difficult struggles of the 1990s and the decision to ultimately disband the MDE (the previous radical democratic student union). Before ASSÉ, three student unions based broadly on democracy and militancy (UGEQ, ANEEQ and MDE) had developed and ultimately disbanded since the early 1960s.

At the core of these organizations was the principle of democratic, militant student unionism drawn from the student movement in France and expressed in the Charte de Grenoble from 1946. Article One of this document stipulates: “The student is a young intellectual worker.” Historically, within the Quebec student movement, this has meant that students, like workers, are engaged in collective activities, share common interests and can organize collectively – form unions – to promote these interests. Students have immense potential power through collective organization to withdraw their labour (in strikes) and ultimately take collective and democratic control over the process of education.

The power of student strikes comes from the disruption of an education system that the government as well as campus administrations have a responsibility to administer. For example, university students will have to graduate in order to make room for incoming high school students. Semesters simply cannot be cancelled on a large scale without creating an enormous administrative mess that would also have significant economic consequences. Though governments and administrators will use this cancellation as a threat in effort to force striking students back into class, they are in fact worried by this prospect. This is why semesters have never been cancelled in the history of Quebec student strikes, and why these strikes have forced governments to back down on several occasions.

The best way to make this potential power real is to organize along the lines of democratic, militant unionism, which aims to mobilize the mass of the student body and to win majority mandates for genuine collective action. The general assemblies that are so crucial to the success of the Quebec student movement are grounded in, and indeed cannot function properly outside of, this democratic and activist student unionist perspective. This perspective orients the militant minority toward their fellow students with the goal of discussing and debating in order to win genuine mandates for effective action. This requires constant mobilizing activities, such as printing flyers, publishing newspapers, going from class to class to present updates on campaigns and important issues, and engaging with students in cafeterias and in public spaces. In Quebec, this has generally been organized by mobilization committees in collaboration with student union executive committees.

Trying to adopt the assembly model without this commitment to democratic, militant unionism can lead to the separation of the core activists from most other students. A self-proclaimed assembly of radicals can give themselves a mandate to act in the name of the student body but without the genuine participation of larger layers of students they will remain isolated and they will not be able to build the power necessary to support this mandate. Indeed, one of the problems that lead to the downfall of the earliest Quebec-wide student union (UGEC) was the commitment of radicals to going it alone, without the patience and strategic orientation to win larger mandates.

Democracy and a Mobilized Membership

Democratic, militant unionism means orienting outward to win mandates for mobilization from the student body. Those mandates will only be meaningful if they are won through democratic and participatory forms of organization. The general assemblies of the Quebec student movement have been foundational in winning mandates through forms of decision-making that involve active participation, open exchange and direct democracy. Militant students must engage with those who disagree with them in such assemblies, trying to persuade fellow students that action is possible and necessary. These assemblies can be tense, and the outcome is very hard to predict as people respond to the flow of debate and the exchange of ideas. This puts a real premium on serious preparation to consider in advance the likely flow of debates, the main arguments of critics, and the motions that are likely to be able to sway sufficient support.

The general assemblies of the Quebec student movement have been foundational in winning mandates through forms of decision-making that involve active participation, open exchange and direct democracy. Militant students must engage with those who disagree with them in such assemblies. ”

These assemblies only happen after a great deal of work to mobilize the student body. Indeed, the Quebec student movement’s ability to build on the direct democracy of assemblies should not be romanticized or idealized. To build these democratic structures, and to maintain them over time, requires constant mobilizing efforts. Even if such structures are already embedded in bylaws (which is the case for most Quebec student associations), continuous militant activity remains crucial to breathe life into them. In between periods of mass mobilization (mostly before and during actual strikes), general assemblies tend to be small. Still it is crucial to organize them on a regular basis, as it democratizes and enlarges decision processes beyond executive committees and reminds the broader student population of the existence of the assemblies and their potential collective power. These meetings can become really important formative spaces where new activists have the chance to familiarize themselves with formal assembly rules and with the practice of direct democracy. General assemblies derive from mobilizing practices, but they are also crucial spaces to develop a network of activists that will engage into these practices.

Solidaristic Campus Unionism

Many of us who are active outside Quebec and find this model inspiring face important challenges figuring out where to get stuck in to start building the kind of movement that we have seen in Quebec. The Ontario student movement, for example, has an important and valuable progressive record in many places. Yet it has not been organized on the basis of student unionism that aims to use the strike or occupation as a crucial tool for building student power on campus. There is virtually no prior experience of student strikes in Ontario beyond limited days of action, and even these have seldom ground institutions to a halt.

One of the elements which will be important in building new mobilizing capacities in Ontario and elsewhere will be to develop a militant and democratic unionist orientation among a layer of activists. ASSÉ has quite consciously worked to develop activist capacities among layers of students who operate autonomously but with strong collaboration on different campuses, through activist education and skills-building camps, congresses and ongoing informal discussion and debate. The development of such an orientation will require lots of discussion and debate about such things as developing strategies for relating to student union structures and determining which issues will have traction in the immediate term. We argue that activists seriously oriented to winning democratic mandates from student bodies must seriously engage with existing forms of organization, attempting to transform them into democratic, mobilizing unions if possible. There will, of course, be vibrant debates about this.

One possible way to start would be to build a network of activists oriented toward democratic, activist unionism on the various campuses where they’re based. The network would provide opportunities for shared analysis, evaluation of activities, and joint strategies where feasible. Labor Notes in the United States provides an example: it’s a project whose publications, workshops and conferences link up activists in many unions and workers’ rights groups who share a commitment to democracy, militancy and solidarity. A multi-campus network might provide the opportunity to build a base of activists with shared commitments to militant, democratic campus unionism. •

Xavier Lafrance is a member of the Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly and was active in the Quebec student movement for several years.

Alan Sears is a member of the Toronto New Socialists, the Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly and Faculty for Palestine. He teaches at Ryerson University. This article first appeared on the newsocialist.org website.

The Global Water Grab: Meet the “New Water Barons”

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Writing in National Geographic in December 2012 about “small-scale irrigation techniques with simple buckets, affordable pumps, drip lines, and other equipment” that “are enabling farm families to weather dry seasons, raise yields, diversify their crops, and lift themselves out of poverty” water expert Sandra Postel of the Global Water Policy Project cautioned against reckless land and water-related investments in Africa. “[U]nless African governments and foreign interests lend support to these farmer-driven initiatives, rather than undermine them through land and water deals that benefit large-scale, commercial schemes, the best opportunity in decades for societal advancement in the region will be squandered.”

That same month, the online publication Market Oracle reported that “[t]he new ‘water barons’—the Wall Street banks and elitist multibillionaires—are buying up water all over the world at unprecedented pace.” The report reveals two phenomena that have been gathering speed, and that could potentially lead to profit accumulation at the cost of communities and commons —the expansion of market instruments beyond the water supply and sanitation to other areas of water governance, and the increasingly prominent role of financial institutions.

In several instances this has meant that the government itself has set up public corporations that run like a business, contracting out water supply and sanitation operations to those with expertise, or entering into public–private–partnerships, often with water multinationals. This happened recently in Nagpur and New Delhi, India. In most rural areas, ensuring a clean drinking water supply and sanitation continues to be a challenge. For-profit companies such as Sarvajal have begun setting up pre-paid water kiosks (or water ATMs) that would dispense units of water upon the insertion of a pre-paid card. It is no surprise that these are popular among people who otherwise have no access to clean drinking water.

With climate change, however, the water crisis is no longer perceived as confined to developing countries or even primarily a concern related to water supply and sanitation. Fresh water commons are becoming degraded and depleted in both developed and developing countries. In the United States, diversion of water for expanded commodity crop production, biofuels and gas hydro-fracking is compounding the crisis in rural areas. In areas ranging from the Ogallala aquifer to the Great Lakes in North America, water has been referred to as liquid gold. Billionaires such as T. Boone Pickens have been buying up land overlying the Ogallala aquifer, acquiring water rights; companies such as Dow Chemicals, with a long history of water pollution, are investing in the business of water purification, making pollution itself a cash-cow.

But chemical companies are not alone: GE and its competitor Siemens have extensive portfolios that include an array of water technologies to serve the needs of industrial customers, municipal water suppliers or governments. (In the last year and a half two Minnesota based companies have become large players in this business—Ecolab, by acquiring Nalco and Pentair by merging with Tyco‘s Flow Control unit—both now belonging to S&P’s 500.)

The financial industry has also zeroed in on water. In the summer of 2011, Citigroup issued a report on water investments. The much quoted statement by Willem Buiter (chief economist at Citigroup) gives an inkling of Citigroup’s conclusion: “Water as an asset class will, in my view, become eventually the single most important physical-commodity based asset class, dwarfing oil, copper, agricultural commodities and precious metals.” Once again, several others had already seen water as an important investment opportunity, including GE’s Energy Financial ServicesGoldman Sachs and several asset management firms that are involved investing in farmland in Asia, Africa, South America and Eastern Europe.

Given these recent trends, initiatives that track the water use of companies or map information regarding water related risks could be double edged. Some examples include the ‘water disclosure project’ and the ‘water-mapping project’. Both are initiated by non-profits/ think-tanks, the former by UK-based Carbon Disclosure Project and the latter by the US-based World Resources Institute. While distinct, they are linked by their shared constituency: global investors concerned about water-related risks. These initiatives could help companies identify and reduce their water footprint, or could lead to company investments that follow water and grab it.

The Carbon Disclosure Project’s water disclosure project seeks to help businesses and institutional investors understand the risks and opportunities associated with water scarcity and other water-related issues. According to its most recent report, issued on behalf of 470 investors with assets of $50 trillion USD, over half the respondents to their survey have experienced water-related challenges in the preceding five years, translating into disruptions in operations, increases in expenses and other detrimental impacts.

Aqueduct Alliance and its water mapping project, which aims to provide companies with an unprecedented level of detail on global water risks, seems at one level a direct response to the findings of the global water disclosure reports by CDP. General Electric, Goldman Sachs and the Washington-based think tank World Resources Institute are the founding members of the Aqueduct Alliance. All of them identify water-related risks as detrimental to profitability, continued economic growth and environmental sustainability. The water maps, with their unprecedented level of detail and resolution, seek to combine advanced hydrological data with geographically specific indicators that capture social, economic, and governance factors. But this initiative has given rise to concerns that such information gives companies and investors unprecedented details of water-related information in some of the world’s largest river basins.

Many of these investors, described as the “new water barons” in Jo-Shing Yang’s article ”Profiting from Your Thirst as Global Elite Rush to Control Water Worldwide,” are the same ones who have profited from speculating on agricultural contracts and contributing to the food crisis of the past few years. The food crisis and recent droughts have confirmed that controlling the source of food—the land and the water that flows under or by it—are equally or even more important.

closer look at the land-related investments in Africa, for example, show that land grabbing is not simply an investment, but also an attempt to capture the water underneath. At the recent annual Global AgInvesting Conference (with well over 370 participants), the asset management groups and global farm businesses showcased their plans, including purchases of vast tracts of lands in varying locations around the globe. With tools such as water maps, such investors are further advantaged. The global rush for land grabbing, as well as the resistance to it, shows that all stake-holders—pension funds, Wall Street or nation-states on the one hand or the people who currently use these lands and waters, and their advocates on the other—are well aware of the life-and-death nature of land (and water) grabbing, especially in the case of developing countries.

National and international regulatory mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that basic resources such as land, water and the means for accessing fresh water do not become merely the means for profit accumulation for the wealthy, but are governed in a way that ensures the basic livelihood of those most dependent on it. The last session of the Committee on World Food Security  (a United Nations mechanism set up to address the food crisis) was a good starting point, and has set in motion a series of consultations on principles for agricultural investments. Civil Society Organizations are tracking the various ways in which regulations may develop in national contexts: simply facilitate land grabbing, mitigate negative impacts and maximize opportunities or block (or roll-back) land grabbing altogether. Ultimately, any policy approaches must prioritize local communities’ access to food and water: Any water-related investments needs to be about allaying their livelihood risks and enhancing their ability to realize their rights, whether it is in developing countries or developed countries.

American Foreign Policy — Have our War Lovers Learned Anything?

Over the past four decades, of all the reasons people over a certain age have given for their becoming radicalized against US foreign policy, the Vietnam War has easily been the one most often cited. And I myself am the best example of this that you could find. I sometimes think that if the war lovers who run the United States had known of this in advance they might have had serious second thoughts about starting that great historical folly and war crime.

At other times, however, I have the thought that our dear war lovers have had 40 years to take this lesson to heart, and during this time what did they do? They did Salvador and Nicaragua, and Angola and Grenada. They did Panama and Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan and Iraq. And in 2012 American President Barack Obama saw fit to declare that the Vietnam War was “one of the most extraordinary stories of bravery and integrity in the annals of military history”. 1

So, have they learned nothing? When it comes to following international law, is the United States like a failed state? The Somalia of international law? Well, if they were perfectly frank, the war lovers would insist that the purpose of all these interventions, and many others like them, was to keep the atheists out of power – the non-believers in America’s god-given right to rule the world – or to at least make life as difficult as possible for them. And thus the interventions were successful; nothing to apologize for; even the Vietnam War achieved its purpose of preventing that country from becoming a good development option for Asia, a socialist alternative to the capitalist model; precisely the same reason for Washington’s endless hostility toward Cuba in Latin America; and Cuba has indeed inspired numerous atheists and their alternatives for a better world.

If they were even more honest, the war lovers might quote George Kennan, the legendary State Department strategist, who wrote prophetically during the Cold War: “Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military-industrial establishment would have to go on, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy.” 2

But after all these years, after decades of American militarism – though not a day passes without some government official or media acolyte expressing his admiration and gratitude for “our brave boys” – cracks in the American edifice can be seen. Some of the war lovers, and their TV groupies would have us believe that they have actually learned something. One of the first was Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in February 2011: “In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined.”

And here’s former Secretary of State George Shultz speaking before the prestigious Council of Foreign Relations last month (January 29): “Iraq and Afghanistan cannot be the template for how we go about” dealing with threats of terrorism.

A few days earlier the very establishment and conservative Economist magazine declared: “The best-intentioned foreign intervention is bound to bog its armies down in endless wars fighting invisible enemies to help ungrateful locals.”

However, none of these people are in power. And does history offer any example of a highly militaristic power – without extreme coercion – seeing the error of its ways? One of my readers, who prefers to remain anonymous, wrote to me recently:

It is my opinion that the German and Japanese people only relinquished their imperial culture and mindset when they were bombed back to the stone age at the end of WWII. Something similar is the only cure for the same pathology that now is embedded into the very social fabric of the USA. The USA is a full-blown pathological society now. There is no other cure. No amount of articles on the Internet pointing out the hypocrisies or war crimes will do it.

So, while the United States is busy building bases and anti-missile sites in Europe, Asia and Africa, deploying space-based and other hi-tech weapons systems, trying to surround Russia, China, Iran and any other atheist that threatens American world hegemony, and firing drone missiles all over the Middle East I’m busy playing games on the Internet. What can I say? In theory at least, there is another force besides the terrible bombing mentioned above that can stop the American empire, and that is the American people. I’ll continue trying to educate them. Too bad I won’t live long enough to see the glorious transformation.

Afghanistan: Manufacturing the American Legacy

“A decade ago, playing music could get you maimed in Afghanistan. Today, a youth ensemble is traveling to the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. And it even includes girls.”

Thus reads the sub-heading of a Washington Post story of February 3 about an orchestra of 48 Afghan young people who attended music school in a country where the Taliban have tried to silence both women and music. “The Afghan Youth Orchestra is more than a development project,” the article informs us. For “the school’s many international donors, it serves as a powerful symbol of successful reconstruction in Afghanistan. And by performing in Washington and New York, the seats of U.S. political and financial power, the orchestra hopes to showcase what a decade of investment has achieved.”

“The U.S. State Department, the World Bank, the Carnegie Corporation and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education have invested heavily in the tour. The U.S. Embassy in Kabul awarded nearly $350,000 footing most of the estimated $500,000 cost. For international donors, the tour symbolizes progress in a country crippled by war.”

The State Department’s director of communications and public diplomacy for Afghanistan and Pakistan declares: “We wanted Americans to understand the difference their tax dollars have made in building a better future for young people, which translates into reduced threats from extremists in the region.”

“There’s a lot of weariness in the U.S. and cynicism about Afghanistan,” said William Harvey, an American violinist who teaches at the school, where 35 of 141 students are girls. “What are we doing there? What can be achieved? These concerts answer those questions in the strongest way possible: Cooperation between Afghanistan and the international community has made it safe for young girls and boys to learn music.”

There can be no question that for the sad country of Afghanistan all this is welcome news. There can also be little doubt that a beleaguered and defensive US foreign policy establishment will seek to squeeze out as much favorable publicity as possible from these events. On the issue of the severe oppression of women and girls in Afghanistan, defenders of the US occupation of that desperate land would have you believe that the United States is the last great hope of those poor females. However, you will not be reminded that in the 1980s the United States played an indispensable role in the overthrow of a secular and relatively progressive Afghan government, one which endeavored to grant women much more freedom than they’ll ever have under the current Karzai-US government, more probably than ever again. Here are some excerpts from a 1986 US Army manual on Afghanistan discussing the policies of this government concerning women:

“provisions of complete freedom of choice of marriage partner, and fixation of the minimum age at marriage at 16 for women and 18 for men”
“abolished forced marriages”
“bring [women] out of seclusion, and initiate social programs”
“extensive literacy programs, especially for women”
“putting girls and boys in the same classroom”;
“concerned with changing gender roles and giving women a more active role in politics”. 3

The US-led overthrow of this government paved the way for the coming to power of Islamic fundamentalist forces, which led directly to the awful Taliban. And why did the United States in its infinite wisdom choose to do such a thing? Because the Afghan government was allied with the Soviet Union and Washington wanted to draw the Russians into a hopeless military quagmire – “We now have the opportunity of giving to the Soviet Union its Vietnam War”, said Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Adviser. 4

The women of Afghanistan will never know how the campaign to raise them to the status of full human beings would have turned out, but this, some might argue, is but a small price to pay for a marvelous Cold War victory.
Guantánamo Bay

People on the left never tire of calling for the closing of the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The fact that President Obama made the closing a promise of his 2008 campaign and repeated it again in the White House, while the prison still remains in operation, is seen as a serious betrayal. But each time I read about this I’m struck by the same thought: The horror of Guantánamo is not its being open, not its mere existence. Its horror lies in its being the site of more than 10 years of terrible abuse of human beings. If the prison is closed and all its inmates are moved to another prison, and the abuses continue, what would have been accomplished? How would the cause of human rights be benefitted? I think that activists should focus on the abuses, regardless of the location.
The War on Terror – They’re really getting serious about it now

For disseminating classified materials that exposed war crimes, Julian Assange is now honored as an official terrorist as only America can honor. We Shall Never Forget 9/11, Vol. II: The True Faces of Evil – Terror, a graphic coloring novel for children, which comes with several pages of perforated, detachable “terrorist trading cards”. Published by Really Big Coloring Books Inc. in St. Louis, the cards include Assange, Timothy McVeigh, Jared Lee Loughner, Ted Kaczynski, Maj. Nidal Hasan, Bill Ayers, and others. 5
Superpower – the film

Starring Noam Chomsky, Chalmers Johnson, Michel Chossudovksy, Karen Kwiatowski (Pentagon “defector”), William Blum, Sergei Khrushchev (son of Nikita), Kathy Kelly, and many others: https://vimeo.com/55141496 (enter password when prompted: barbarasteegmuller) – 2 hours long.
New Book and talk

The eagerly awaited (I can name at least three people) new book by William Blum is here at last. “America’s Deadliest Export – Democracy: The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else” is made up of essays which are a combination of new and old; combined, updated, expanded; many first appeared in one form or another in the Anti-Empire Report, or on my website, at various times during the past ten years or so.

As mentioned in the book, activists like myself are sometimes scoffed at for saying the same old things to the same old people; just spinning our wheels, we’re told, “preaching to the choir” or “preaching to the converted”. But long experience as speaker, writer and activist in the area of foreign policy tells me it just ain’t so. From the questions and comments I regularly get from my audiences, via email and in person, I can plainly see that there are numerous significant information gaps and misconceptions in the choir’s thinking, often leaving them unable to see through the newest government lie or propaganda trick; they’re unknowing or forgetful of what happened in the past that illuminates the present; or knowing the facts but unable to apply them at the appropriate moment; vulnerable to being led astray by the next person who offers a specious argument that opposes what they currently believe, or think they believe; and, perhaps worst of all, many of them suffer pathetically from an over-abundance of conspiracy thinking, often carrying a justified suspicion or idea to a ridiculous level; virtually nothing is taken at face value.

The choir needs to be frequently reminded and enlightened to be better able to influence others, to be better activists.

To order a signed copy directly from me you can go to my website: http://killinghope.org.

I’ll be speaking about the new book at Politics and Prose bookstore, 5015 Connecticut Ave., NW, in Washington, DC, Saturday, March 2 at 1 pm.
26

Notes

May 28, 2012, speaking at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington ↩
George Kennan, Wikipedia entry ↩
US Department of the Army, Afghanistan, A Country Study (1986), pp.121, 128, 130, 223, 232 (Library of Congress Call Number DS351.5 .A34 1986) ↩
Zbigniew Brzezinski, Wikipedia entry ↩
View the press release; see the cards ↩

Stop Big Corporations from Shipping Jobs and Profits Overseas

WASHINGTON - February 7 - Today, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) introduced a powerful piece of legislation to address the use of overseas tax havens by corporations to avoid paying taxes. The Corporate Tax Fairness Act would end the system that gives corporations tax breaks for shifting operations and profits overseas.

At a press conference with Sen. Sanders earlier today, members of the Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency coalition, including the AFL-CIO and Citizens for Tax Justice, as well as a Vermont-based small business owner lent their support to the legislation.

The Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency coalition also sent a letter to lawmakers today urging them to support the Corporate Tax Fairness Act. An excerpt reads:

Policy solutions such as those in the Corporate Tax Fairness Act would not only raise nearly $600 billion in revenues, but also would level the playing field for domestic businesses, both large and small, and keep jobs right here in the U.S. Additionally, by closing these corporate tax loopholes we send a message around the globe that corporate tax avoidance is unacceptable whether it be in the developing or developed world.

Dan Smith, Tax and Budget Advocate with U.S. PIRG and member of FACT stated, "America's largest companies use accounting gimmicks to make their U.S. profits magically appear on the books of bogus shell companies in tax havens like the Cayman Islands. Everyday taxpayers foot the bill for corporate tax dodging in the form of cuts to public programs, more debt, or higher taxes. This legislation tackles the heart of the problem by ending incentives to shift profits offshore.”

It is also clear that there is broad support among American voters for closing offshore tax loopholes to deal with budget problems.

In a December 2012 national poll conducted by the Mellman Group and commissioned by Friends of the Earth U.S., American voters said that they overwhelmingly favor closing offshore tax havens as a way of addressing our national budget problems. Support for this proposal was high across party and ideological lines, as well as gender, race, educational background and region.

Respondents were asked: “To help solve our budget problems, do you favor or oppose closing loopholes that allow corporations to declare profits in foreign countries that have a lower tax rate?” Fully three-quarters of voters favored the proposal with nearly two-thirds favoring it strongly.

Karen Orenstein, international policy analyst at Friends of the Earth U.S. said, “Extreme weather events rooted in climate change -- including flood, drought, fire and superstorms like Sandy -- are destroying the lives and livelihoods of millions of people around the world, and taking an untold economic toll. Cracking down on corporate tax dodgers would make billions of dollars available for essential public services, including a fair U.S. contribution to help developing countries deal with climate change.”

The FACT coalition has made several reports, resources and survey results available that make the case that corporate loopholes are raiding the U.S. Treasury, hurting small businesses and are kept in place by hefty campaign contributions and lobbying.

A copy of the Friends of the Earth poll on offshore tax havens can be found here.

Read the FACT sheet on tax haven abuse by the numbers.
Read Corporate Tax Dodgers -- 2008 – 2010 -- Citizens for Tax Justice.
Read the Small Business Survey Results on Tax Reform --  American Sustainable Business Council, Main Street Alliance and Small Business Majority.
Read Loopholes For Sale -- U.S. PIRG and CTJ Report.

The FACT Coalition includes a broad range of organizations with an interest in seeing tax loopholes closed due to their impact on jobs, critical programs, small businesses, human rights, corruption and national security. The FACT coalition seeks to achieve greater financial accountability and transparency within financial institutions, corporations and government.

Can the Military Detain US Citizens? Appeals Court Hears Arguments in NDAA Lawsuit

Plaintiffs arguing that a provision in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) allows for military detention of US citizens, squared off with Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyers Wednesday morning in a Manhattan appeals court. The plaintiffs...

Imagining a ‘Just Recovery’ from Superstorm Sandy

Three months have passed since Hurricane Sandy battered New York and trashed the New Jersey coastline, and she hasn’t left. She’s still stalking the landscape strafed with mold and broken homes, and local activists worry that the government’s promises of tens of billions of dollars in federal funding will flood the storm-battered regions with further political turmoil.Occupiers and other activists say city officials aren't doing enough to aid Hurricane Sandy survivors. Michael Fleshman / Flickr / Creative Commons

Beyond the initial trauma of power outages and waterlogged houses, longer-term struggles still loom over communities like the Rockaways and the Staten Island coast. With recovery funding finally trickling down from Capitol Hill after weeks of gridlock, activists hope the resources won’t be exploited by predatory businesses and politicians, but rather channeled toward creating more inclusive, healthy communities.

In some ways, the grassroots recovery advocates have gotten a head start. Many of the early relief efforts have been radically volunteer-driven, and the Occupy Wall Street offshoot Occupy Sandy has often proven more effective and efficient than the bumbling “official” response by FEMA and other authorities. But how will the Occupiers fare in the impending scramble for contracts, grants and loans while businesses, organizations and government agencies all try to impose corporate visions for reconstruction on the storm-ravaged landscape?

Last weekend, the People’s Recovery Summit brought together a group of organizers and community members to discuss their ideas for a just recovery at the Church of St. Luke & St. Matthew in Brooklynthe organizational hub of Occupy Sandy relief projects. Small committees drafted lists of concerns and goals: People wanted to see resources prioritized for poor communities, immigrants, people of color and other vulnerable populations. Wary of the lessons of Hurricane Katrina (which became notorious for corruption and wholesale displacement of poor and black residents), some called for maximum transparency in the planning and financing process. Some wanted assurances that contracts would go to local businesses, or perhaps promote grassroots worker-run cooperatives. Generally they wanted power to be distributed “horizontally”avoiding the top-down hierarchies controlled by large charities and corporations.

But one young Brooklynite and Occupy activist interjected with a mix of eagerness and frustration, “When are we really going to talk about things that are more concrete,” instead of just “vision?” He noted that the authorities have benefited indirectly from the labor donated by volunteers, but would the volunteerism lead to more local hiring as recovery projects get serious? “If you’re to make us work, at least pay us,” he said.

But what kind of jobs are we talking about? With the media’s attention already dissipating, can Sandy still spur a sea change in the dynamics of public investment and labor in an über-capitalist city?

One thing that's clear is that conventional disaster responses have been insufficient and sometimes even counter-productive, especially for residents struggling to clear the scourge of mold from their homes and businesses. Residents have reported inconsistencies in the city’s “Rapid Repairs” program, which is supposed to fast-track the rebuilding.

Cynthia Scarcella, an activist with Make the Road New York and resident of Oakwood Beach, Staten Island, said at a rally at City Hall:

I have not been able to return home to Oakwood Beach, Staten Island, since Hurricane Sandy because my house is infested with mold and completely uninhabitable... Contractors can be expensive. I’ve tried calling Rapid Repairs and have relied on the help of volunteers to help me clean, but the mold keeps coming back.

Deep-rooted inequities surface in the recovery work as well. According to Eli Kent, director of organizing for Laborers International Union of North America Local 78, which represents mold remediation workers, respect for basic labor standards might vary widely from worksite to worksite:

We've seen that in one building, our members are working and their safety is protected, and they're getting at least a living wage and they're getting health care for their families. And in the next building over, there are workers doing the same jobs, the same exact work, and are getting paid $10 an hour with no benefits at all, and often being paid off the books, which means that their employers are not paying payroll taxes, not paying into unemployment insurance or workers comp insurance, which cheats all New Yorkers.

Though Mayor Michael Bloomberg just rolled out a $15 million mold assistance program, community advocates say it’s far too little to help all the homes in need. This week, the mayor announced a general plan for the first $1.8 billion tranche of federal relief funds through Community Development Block Grants, but details on how the loans and grants will be allocated to homes and businesses are not yet clear.

A coalition of community-based groups has mapped out a model for a “just recovery” with the Back Home Back to Work program for mold remediation. Described as “a systematic and cost-effective way that goes block-by-block rather than one house or one business at a time,” the program would provide for assessment and remediation coordinated with “qualified contractors.” Unions would put professionals to work while also hiring and training non-union workers (such as immigrant day laborers) and “prioritizing the hiring and placement of local workers from Sandy-impacted communities and other vulnerable local groups.” Safety training would be systematized to help both residents and workers avoid environmental hazards related to mold contamination. 

Matt Ryan, executive director of Alliance for a Greater New York, says the initiative represents a holistic effort to envision ways “to chart long-term priorities around the rebuild, and also how we influence, hopefully, the state's commitment to dealing with long-term climate change issues, in a way that's equitable and fair for working people."

No one knows exactly what the right balance is. Economic interestsnamely rebuilding quickly and expansivelymay clash with environmental concerns about climate justice, or chafe against communities worried that they’ll be shut out of the promised job or housing opportunities, or that they won’t have a say in the planning. The need to address such tensions through dialogue, Ryan says, is “why having an alliance across community, labor and faith is so critical.”

For now, Occupy Sandy continues its mutual aid projects, delivering basic supplies and providing rebuilding assistance to stricken neighborhoods in Staten Island, the Rockaways and other struggling areas. But if the ethos of mutual aid is, as activist Damien Crisp recently blogged, to demonstrate that “horizontal organization is an alternative to top-down power structures,” the Occupiers now face the challenge of bringing that system to scale and absorbing the influx of recovery funds before they’re hijacked by the establishment. Sandy dealt a cruel blow to New York, but for already-embattled communities, the flood left in its wake a chance to correct the political course, on their own terms.

© 2012 In These Times

Michelle Chen

Michelle Chen is a contributing editor at In These Times. She is a regular contributor to the labor rights blog Working In These Times, Colorlines.com, and Pacifica's WBAI. Her work has also appeared in Common Dreams, Alternet, Ms. Magazine, Newsday, and her old zine, cain.

US Media Yet Again Conceals Newsworthy Government Secrets

The US media, over the last decade (at least), has repeatedly acted to conceal newsworthy information it obtains about the actions of the US government. In each instance, the self-proclaimed adversarial press corps conceals these facts at the behest of the US government, based on patently absurd claims that reporting them will harm US national security. In each instance, what this media concealment actually accomplishes is enabling the dissemination of significant government falsehoods without challenge, and permitting the continuation of government deceit and even illegality.The Washington Post this week admitted it was part of an "informal arrangement" to conceal from its readers a US drone base in Saudi Arabia. Photograph: Alamy

One of the most notorious examples was in mid-2004 when the New York Times discovered - thanks to a courageous DOJ whistleblower - that the Bush administration was eavesdropping on the electronic communications of Americans without the warrants required by the criminal law. But after George Bush summoned to the Oval Office the paper's publisher (Arthur Sulzberger) and executive editor (Bill Keller) and directed them to conceal what they had learned, the NYT complied by sitting on the story for a-year-and-a-half: until late December, 2005, long after Bush had been safely re-elected. The "national security" excuse for this concealment was patently ludicrous from the start: everyone knew the US government was trying to eavesdrop on al-Qaida communications and this story merely revealed that they were doing so illegally (without warrants) rather than legally (with warrants). By concealing the story for so long, the New York Times helped the Bush administration illegally spy on Americans.

The Washington Post's Dana Priest, in a superb act of journalism, reported in 2005 that the CIA was maintaining a network of secret "black sites" where detainees were interrogated and abused beyond the monitoring scrutiny of human rights groups and even Congress. But the Post purposely concealed the identity of the countries serving as the locale of those secret prisons in order to enable the plainly illegal program to continue without bothersome disruptions: "the Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior US officials."

In 2011, the New York Times along with numerous other US media outlets learned that the American arrested in Pakistan for having shot and killed two Pakistanis, Raymond Davis, was not - as President Obama falsely claimed - "our diplomat", but was a CIA agent and former Blackwater contractor. Not only did the NYT conceal this fact, but it repeatedly and uncritically printed claims from Obama and other officials about Davis' status which it knew to be false. It was only once the Guardian published the facts about Davis - that he was a CIA agent - did the Times tell the truth to its readers, admitting that the disclosure "pulled back the curtain on a web of covert American operations inside Pakistan, part of a secret war run by the CIA".

The NYT, as usual, justified its concealment of this obviously newsworthy information as coming "at the request of the Obama administration, which argued that disclosure of his specific job would put his life at risk". But as the Guardian's Deputy Editor Ian Katz noted, "Davis [was] already widely assumed in Pakistan to have links to US intelligence" and "disclosing his CIA role would [therefore not] expose him to increased risk".

And now, yet again, the US media has been caught working together to conceal obviously newsworthy government secrets. On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that two years ago, the Obama administration established a base in Saudi Arabia from which it deploys drones to kill numerous people in Yemen. including US citizen Anwar Awlaki and, two weeks, later his 16-year-old American son Abdulrahman. The US base was built after the US launched a December, 2009 cruise missile/cluster-bomb attack that slaughtered dozens of Yemeni women and children.

But the Post admitted that it - along with multiple other US media outlets - had long known about the Saudi Arabia drone base but had acted in unison to conceal it from the US public:

"The Washington Post had refrained from disclosing the specific location at the request of the administration, which cited concern that exposing the facility would undermine operations against an al-Qaeda affiliate regarded as the network's most potent threat to the United States, as well as potentially damage counterterrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia.

"The Post learned Tuesday night that another news organization was planning to reveal the location of the base, effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year."

The "other news organization" which the Post references is the New York Times. The NYT - in a very good article yesterday on the role played by CIA nominee John Brennan in US drones strikes in Yemen - reported that Brennan "work[ed] closely with neighboring Saudi Arabia to gain approval for a secret CIA drone base there that is used for American strikes". As the paper's Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, explained, the NYT was one of the papers which "had withheld the location of that base at the request of the CIA", but had decided now to report it. That was why the Post did so.

The existence of this drone base in Saudi Arabia is significantly newsworthy in multiple ways. The US drone program is drenched with extreme secrecy. The assassination of Awlaki is one of the most radical acts the US government has undertaken in the last decade at least. The intense cooperation between the US and the incomparably despotic Saudi regime is of vital significance. As Sullivan, the NYT's Public Editor, put it in defending the NYT's disclosure (and implicitly questioning the prior media conspiracy of silence):

"Given the government's undue secrecy about the drone program, which it has never officially acknowledged the existence of, and that program's great significance to America's foreign policy, its national security, and its influence on the tumultuous Middle East, The Times ought to be reporting as much and as aggressively as possible on it."

As usual, the excuses for concealing this information are frivolous. Indeed, as the Guardian's Roy Greenslade noted, "the location of several drone bases was published as long ago as September last year on at least one news website, as this item on the North America Inter Press Service illustrates." Gawker's Adrian Chen documents numerous other instances where the base had been publicly disclosed and writes:


"In the case of the Saudi drone base, the Times and the Post weren't protecting a state secret: They were helping the CIA bury an inconvenient story. . . . The fact that the drone base was already reported renders the rationale behind the months-long blackout a farce."

In an article on the controversy over this self-censorship, the Guardian this morning quotes Dr Jack Lule, a professor of journalism and communication at Lehigh University:


"The decision not to publish is a shameful one. The national security standard has to be very high, perhaps imminent danger. The fact that we are even having a conversation about whether it was a national security issue should have sent alarm bells off to the editors. I think the real reason was that the administration did not want to embarrass the Saudis – and for the US news media to be complicit in that is craven."

The same dynamic drives most of these acts of US media self-censorship. It has nothing to do with legitimate claims of national security. Indeed, none of these facts - once they were finally reported - ultimately resulted in any harm. Instead, it has everything to do with obeying government dictates; shielding high-level government officials from embarrassing revelations; protecting even the most extreme government deceit and illegality; and keeping the domestic population of the US (their readers) ignorant of the vital acts in which their own government is engaged.

There are, of course, instances where newspapers can validly opt to conceal facts that they learn. That's when the harm that comes from disclosure plainly outweighs the public interest in learning of them (the classic case is when, in a war, a newspaper learns of imminent troop movements: there is no value in reporting that but ample harm from doing so). But none of these instances comes close to meeting that test. Instead, media outlets overwhelmingly abide by government dictates as to what they should conceal. As Greensdale wrote: "most often, they oblige governments by acceding to requests not to publish sensitive information that might jeopardise operations."

As all of these examples demonstrate, extreme levels of subservience to US government authority is embedded in the ethos of the establishment American media. They see themselves not as watchdogs over the state but as loyal agents of it.

Recall the extraordinary 2009 BBC debate over WikiLeaks in which former NYT executive editor Bill Keller proudly praised himself for concealing information the Obama administration told him to conceal, prompting this incredulous reply from the BBC host: "Just to be clear, Bill Keller, are you saying that you sort of go to the government in advance and say: 'What about this, that and the other, is it all right to do this and all right to do that,' and you get clearance, then?" Keller's admission also prompted this response from former British diplomat Carne Ross, who was also on the program: "It's extraordinary that the New York Times is clearing what it says about this with the US Government."

After the Guardian published the truth about Raymond Davis, former Bush DOJ laywer Jack Goldsmith, in 2011, defended the New York Times' concealment of it by hailing what he called "the patriotism of the American press". He quoted former Bush CIA and NSA chief Gen. Michael Hayden as saying that "American journalists display 'a willingness to work with us' . . . but with the foreign press 'it's very, very difficult'". Goldsmith said that while foreign media outlets will more readily report on secret US government acts (he named The Guardian, Al Jazeera and WikiLeaks), US national security journalists with whom he spoke justified their eagerness to cooperate with the US government by "expressly ascrib[ing] this attitude to 'patriotism' or 'jingoism' or to being American citizens or working for American publications."

That is the key truth. The entity that is designed to be, and endlessly praises itself for being, a check on US government power is, in fact, its most loyal servant. There are significant exceptions: Dana Priest did disclose the CIA black sites network over the agency's vehement objections, while the NYT is now suing the government to compel the release of classified documents relating to Obama's assassination program. But time and again, one finds the US media acting to help suppress the newsworthy secrets of the US government rather than report on them. Its collaborative "informal" agreement to hide the US drone base in Saudi Arabia is just the latest in a long line of such behavior.

© 2013 the Guardian

Glenn Greenwald

Georgian parliament indefinitely postpones Saakashvili address

Mikhail Saakashvili (AFP Photo / Vano Shlamov)

Mikhail Saakashvili (AFP Photo / Vano Shlamov)

The Georgian parliament has postponed President Mikhail Saakashvili’s annual address, scheduled for February 8, after his minority party refused to cooperate on new amendments that would limit the presidential powers.

According to Parliamentary Speaker David Usupashvili, Saakashvili’s minority United National Movement has refused to cooperate in the creation of amendments to the country’s constitution that would limit the presidential powers to dissolve the parliament and approve the new government without the legislature’s approval.

The majority Georgian Dream party holds 85 of the in the parliament’s 150 seats and needs support from some of its opponents to get the constitutional majority. President Saakashvili, whose party lost at the parliamentary poll in October 2012, will remain in office until the next presidential elections, due in late October this year.

As Saakashvili cannot run for another presidential term, he changed the law to give broader powers to the parliament and PM, in hopes of winning last year’s parliamentary poll and continuing to run the country.

However, this did not happen. Georgian Dream, founded by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, won the election despite numerous legal curbs and political pressure from Saakashvili’s regime. Ivanishvili became prime minister and appointed the new government, but Saakashvili remains president and most of the regional administrations are still headed by his people from the United National Movement.

The parliamentary majority holds that the presidential address should be delivered after we pass a decision on constitutional changes or after an open statement from the president and his team on their position concerning the powers of the parliament,” Usupashvili told reporters. “We respect the Georgian constitution and the rights of the president, but at the same time we respect ourselves,” he said, adding that his party was interested in an end to the crisis.

PM Bidzina Ivanishvili said earlier that he did not intend to attend Saakashvili’s address to the parliament as he was tired of his opponent’s lies.

Russian and Georgian political experts hold that the current developments in the country are logical, as one of Ivanishvili’s major electoral promises was to complicate life for Saakashvili and his allies.

Aleksandr Karavayev of Moscow State University has been quoted as saying by the Newsgeorgia portal that Ivanishvili’s new austerity course had hit Saakashvili’s people in the presidential administration, the military and law enforcement structures.

Deputy Director of the Institute of Commonwealth of Independent States Vladimir Zharikhin agreed that Ivanishvili’s actions remained within the general strategy that he outlined in his electoral campaign.

“He does as he says. He promised to normalize the relations with Russia and that is what he is doing now. He promised to sort out Saakashvili’s system of power, with arbitrariness, and that is what he is doing,” Zharikhin observed.

No Stalingrad on Russian map – official

Fireworks exploding over the giant Mother Motherland statue, at the Stalingrad Battle memorial, in Volgograd, Russia (AFP Photo / Mikhail Mordasov)

Fireworks exploding over the giant Mother Motherland statue, at the Stalingrad Battle memorial, in Volgograd, Russia (AFP Photo / Mikhail Mordasov)

Kremlin officials have never considered renaming the city of Volgograd as Stalingrad and do not plan to put this issue on the agenda in the future, President Putin’s press secretary has said.

The statement, made by Dmitry Peskov in an interview with the popular daily Izvestia, is likely to put an end to the heated discussion that took place in the mass media, politicians’ offices and social networks as Russia celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad.

Peskov added that the president and his administration disapprove of any changes in geographical names as such moves are usually far from economically feasible. Additionally, once commenced, the renaming can become a mass event that would overshadow the real problems of citizens, the official noted.

According to recent polls, the majority of Russians (about 60 per cent) also do not support the renaming of the city and the return of Stalin’s name to the map.

The renaming was suggested recently by leader of the Russian Communist Party Gennady Zyuganov, but even before that the communists had collected signatures in favor of the move. As the initiative was submitted to the lower house, Chairman Sergey Naryshkin said that though he personally understood the feelings of veterans, such issues as renaming a city must be decided by the local population, possibly through referenda.

The Volgograd Legislature has passed a bill that ordered the city renamed as Stalingrad for just a few days each year – on the dates of major holidays and commemorative dates. The days listed in the bill are May 9 (Victory Day), June 22 (Day of the Memory of those who died in WWII), and the day of the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad, February 2.

However, local deputies told the press that they had never even considered the permanent change of the city’s name.

The idea received the support of some politicians who are far from being leftist – for example, the deputy prime minister in charge of the defense industry, Dmitry Rogozin. He tweeted that he had never concealed his positive attitude towards the initiative which, according to him, is also beneficial for the economy and investment.

However, the idea of renaming also has a lot of opponents from all sides of the political spectrum. The head of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, said that Stalin’s purges should not be forgotten and the name of the former Soviet leader should no longer be glorified. Another opposition figure – head of the leftist party Fair Russia Sergey Mironov – also said he was against the renaming.

The head of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, Mikhail Fedotov, told reporters that not only he was against putting Stalingrad back on the map, but all names of people who were involved in political repressions of the Soviet Era should never be glorified.

The city was founded in the late 16th century and originally named Tsaritsyn. Although the name was derived from a Tatar phrase meaning ‘yellow island’ or ‘yellow hill’, in Russian it sounded too close to the word Tsar and in 1925 the Bolshevik government renamed the city as Stalingrad (City of Stalin), after the party leader Joseph Stalin.

After Stalin died, the Soviet leadership launched a major campaign against the personality cult of the dictator, and in 1961 Stalingrad was renamed Volgograd – the city on the Volga.

Prison for parodies? Arizona moves to outlaw online impersonators

Critics of an Internet censorship bill introduced in the Arizona House fear that proposed legislation could chill First Amendment-protected rights.

­If HB 2004 passes, it’ll be a crime punishable by prison to lie on the Internet. Administrators of Twitter parody accounts and other online impersonators will be forced to throw in the towel, or else face as much as one-and-a-half years in prison for violating a law expected to soon go up for debate.

Rep. Michelle Ugenti, a Republican lawmaker that represents the state’s District 8, proposed her parody ban bill back in December, citing complaints from a constituent that claimed to have been harassed on the Web. Her bill is among the latest that attempt to thwart cyberbullying, and she says it won’t be last. It might, though, be the most extreme.

"It's an issue that's only going to get bigger," Ugenti told the Arizona Republic last month. "The Internet has gone from a novelty to having a position of credibility, and it's appropriate to have statutes that address it specifically."

Rep. Ugenti thinks she can help achieve that in Arizona, and strives to do as much through HB 2004, an amendment to the state’s impersonation law. HB 2004 would add verbiage to the law that's aimed at making sure no one has to worry about any online imposters making fake posts in an attempt to wreak havoc. For the conservative lawmaker, it’s legislation that will limit just how far computer users can go with certain conduct online. Others, though, say it could be the start of much larger censorship problems.

"The bill has a high standard," Rep. Ugenti told the Republic. "It's the impersonation without the individual's consent and with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate and threaten."

Indeed, Rep. Ugenti’s proposal would make it illegal to, without permission, create a webpage or social media account using another’s likeness with any of those intents. To what degree those desires exist is a question that isn’t touched yet in her bill, though, and that has some skeptics worried over what HB 2004 could do for free speech.

“The concern is whether overzealous prosecutors would use this language to intimidate somebody,” Kurt Opsahl, a senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the Los Angeles Times last month. “The concern is that this would have a chilling effect.”

Touching on the topic of what exactly constitutes a degree of intent, Opsahl said certain prosecutors and judges might interpret an approved HB 2004 to their unique specifications. Even if the bill’s author insists it will only more responsibility to the Web, Opsahl fears it would make illegal even innocent mocking. And with a joke gone awry carrying an 18-month prison sentence, some people may become too scared to even see what fake Twitter accounts are available.

“The key is the ‘intent to harm,’” he said. “You can imagine someone saying, ‘Well, if you are making a parody of someone else and you are trying to make fun of them and hold them up to ridicule, that would be an attempt to harm them and thus would be within the coverage of the bill. That is the concern.”

Marie-Andree Weiss, an intellectual property, privacy, and social media attorney from New York, writes in her own commentary that HB 2004 really could be taken either of two ways.

“If the law is interpreted in an overbroad manner there is a risk that it may chill free expression,” Weiss writes in a recent post on Citizen Media Law Project. “As the Supreme Court stated in Gooding v. Wilson, ‘persons whose expression is constitutionally protected may well refrain from exercising their rights for fear of criminal sanctions provided by a statute susceptible of application to protected expression.’”

“There is a particular concern with HB 2004 that it would be applied to constitutionally protected parodies or caricatures of public officials and figures. Protection for parody, even crude parody that causes emotional injury, is clearly within the protection of the First Amendment,” she adds.

Since drafting the bill, Rep. Ugenti may have more reason than ever to worry about crude jokes blasted from computerchair quarterbacks. After introducing HB 2004, a Twitter account was registered under the username @RepMUgenti.

“I hate the internet, it always wants to make fun of me, oh and I'm a politician,” the bio of the account reads, along with a disclaimer: *This is a Parody*

Registered on January 3, 2013, the parody account has only dispatched a handful of tweets, most of which commentary that could easily be considered by many to be obscene.

“Legislative sessions are so fun, especially if you have a water bottle full of vodka,” reads one post. “I'd fuck #JamesHolmes #Aurora,” reads another. At least two other Rep. Ugenti parody accounts exist on Twitter as of this writing.

In her legal critique, Ms. Weiss writes that it doesn’t appear that HB 2004 could constitutionally apply to the parody account.

“It would be much simpler to amend HB 2004 before its passage rather than hope that the courts solve any constitutional issues,” she adds. “If it appears that the statute is actually intended to reach parodies and other protected speech, a court, bound to follow the intent of the legislature, is likely to strike the statute entirely as unconstitutionally overbroad rather than impose a judicial construction that is inconsistent with legislative intent.”

According to the most recent info on the Arizona Legiscan page, HB 2004 was referred to the State House Judiciary Committee on January 15. Meanwhile, this week Rep. Ugenti weighed in another matter in Legislature. On Tuesday, she voted in favor of advancing a bill that will forbid state agencies from publishing anything in a language other than English. Critics of HB 2283 have already warned that an approval in the full House could lead to a Civil Rights Act lawsuit, but Rep. Ugenti told the Republic this week that she was confident it would prevail.

“There’s already a precedent for it, so I don’t think we’ll have another lawsuit,” she told the paper. That law, passed in 2006, made English the official language of Arizona.

Kill List Exposed: Leaked Obama Memo Shows Assassination of US Citizens “Has No Geographic...

The Obama administration’s internal legal justification for assassinating U.S. citizens without charge has been revealed for the first time. In a secret Justice Department memo, the administration claims it has legal authority to assassinate U.S. citizens overseas even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the United States. We’re joined by Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "If you look at the memo ... there’s no geographic line," says Jaffer. "The Obama administration is making, in some ways, a greater claim of authority [than President Bush]. They’re arguing that the authority to kill American citizens has no geographic limit."

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The Obama administration’s internal legal justification for assassinating U.S. citizens without charge has been revealed for the first time. According to a secret Justice Department document obtained by NBC News, the Obama administration claims it has the legal authority to target citizens who are, quote, "senior operational leaders," of al-Qaeda or "an associated force" — even if there’s no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S.

In September 2011, a U.S. drone strike in Yemen killed two American citizens: Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. The following month, another U.S. drone strike killed al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was born in Denver.

AMY GOODMAN: The document obtained by NBC News is described as a "white memo" that was provided to members of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees as a summary of a classified memo prepared by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Last month, a federal judge denied a request by the American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times for the Justice Department to disclose its legal justification for the targeted killing of Americans.

The Obama administration’s secrecy around the drone program is expected to be a top issue at this week’s confirmation hearing of White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to be director of the CIA. Brennan has been dubbed by critics to be Obama’s "assassination czar."

Joining us now is Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU and director of the ACLU’s Center for Democracy.

You’ve looked at the white memo. This is something you’ve been asking for for quite some time, Jameel. Talk about its significance. Go through it with us point by point.

JAMEEL JAFFER: Sure. Well, it’s a very significant document, and it’s a remarkable document, and it’s something that everybody really ought to read, in the same way that everybody ought to read the torture memos from the last administration. It sets out, or professes to set out, the power that the government has to carry out the targeted killing of American citizens who are located far away from any battlefield, even when they have not been charged with a crime, even when they do not present any imminent threat in any ordinary meaning of that word. So it’s a pretty sweeping power that’s been set out. And the memo purports to provide a legal justification for that power and explain why the limits on that power can’t be enforced in any court.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The confidential Justice Department white paper that you’re talking about, Jameel Jaffer, introduces a more expansive definition of "self-defense" or "imminent attack" than any articulated by the U.S. government before. It reads, quote: "The condition that an operational leader present an 'imminent' threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future." Can you talk about the significance of that and how exactly "imminent" is defined in this document—

JAMEEL JAFFER: Sure.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: —or not defined?

JAMEEL JAFFER: Yeah, well, I mean, I think you—you know, you have to start with the acknowledgment that there are circumstances in which the government has the authority, and maybe even the responsibility, to use lethal force. Even if you think about it domestically—somebody is running down the street, waving a gun around, threatening civilians—the government doesn’t have to go to a judge beforehand to seek a warrant to carry out that use of lethal force. But that’s a situation in which the threat is imminent, in the ordinary meaning of the term: There’s not time to go to a judge; there’s not time for deliberation.

But the kind of imminence that the government is defining here, or the way that the government has defined the term here, is much, much broader. They’re talking about situations in which the person presents no immediate threat, there’s no known plot. These people are located far away from any actual battlefield, so you’re not talking about a situation in which there are battlefield exigencies that the government has to worry about. You’re really talking about something that looks a lot more like a law enforcement context. And in that context, the traditional rule is the government has the authority to use lethal force only in very narrow circumstances. And this memo really redefines those circumstances entirely.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to Attorney General Eric Holder, a comment he made last March when he outlined what the White House billed as the legal rationale for its claimed right to kill U.S. citizens who belong to al-Qaeda or associated forces.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: It is an unfortunate but undeniable fact that some of the threats that we face come from a small number of United States citizens who have decided to commit violent attacks against their own country from abroad. Based on generations-old legal principles and Supreme Court decisions handed down during World War II, as well as during this current conflict, it’s clear that United States citizenship alone does not make—does not make such individuals immune from being targeted.

AMY GOODMAN: Jameel Jaffer, respond to Attorney General Eric Holder.

JAMEEL JAFFER: Well, it’s not a question of immunity. This is kind of a straw man. Nobody is arguing that Americans are entirely immune from the government’s use of lethal force. The question is: Under what circumstances can the government use lethal force? And again, for a very good reason, those circumstances have traditionally been defined very narrowly. Now what the government is doing is creating an extremely broad category of people who can be targeted without judicial review before the fact, without judicial assessment of the evidence after the fact. It’s a very dangerous thing that the government is doing.

And I think that at some level, I think the people who have written this memo and the people who are exercising this authority in the Obama administration must be convinced of their own trustworthiness. But even if you accept that the people who are now in office are trustworthy in this sense, this power is going to be available to the next administration and the one after that, and it’s going to be available in every future conflict, not just the conflict against al-Qaeda. And according to the administration, the power is available all over the world, not just on geographically cabined battlefields. So it really is a sweeping proposition.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: But what does it mean, though, that it’s not an official legal memo, it’s a white paper? Does that have any legal significance or implications?

JAMEEL JAFFER: Well, you know, some people have been saying that this is a kind of transparency that the administration, through these kinds of leaks, is giving the public the ability to assess the strength of the administration’s legal arguments. And the truth is that this is really just a briefing document, it’s not a legal memo. It does tell us a little bit about the authority that the government is claiming, but the actual legal memos are still secret. We’ve been litigating for those memos now for 18 months or two years. The administration has refused to release them. We have just appealed one case to the 2nd Circuit here in New York, to the appeals court here in New York.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Can you explain the case? What is the case that your organization, the ACLU, is—

JAMEEL JAFFER: So, there are two—there are two Freedom of Information Act cases that we’re litigating right now. One is—one is here in New York, and the other one is in D.C. One of them is an effort to get the legal memos. We’re litigating that case with The New York Times; they have a parallel request. The other case, which is in D.C., is about, principally, civilian casualties, the question of who has been killed in these—in these drone strikes, because the administration has not released numbers. And we’re reliant on the work of very good organizations outside the administration to do that kind of work. We think that the administration should release its own numbers. So—

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And "who has been killed," you mean U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizen who have been killed.

JAMEEL JAFFER: Right, absolutely. So, most of the people who are being killed in these drone strikes aren’t U.S. citizens, right? There have only been four U.S. citizens—three in 2011, one in 2002. The rest have been noncitizens killed, some of them in Pakistan, some of them in Yemen, some of them in Somalia. According to the figures of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in the U.K., we’re now talking about somewhere on the order of 4,000 people who have been killed with these drones.

And the administration still hasn’t released the legal memos that purport to justify that program. So, one of the cases that we’re litigating, the one here in New York, is the effort to get that justification. This memo, this briefing paper, provides us a little more information about that justification, but it’s not the justification itself. For the same reasons that the government was right in 2009 to release the torture memos, we think the government should release the targeted killing memo.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s get specific. I saw you in Sundance at one of the premieres of Jeremy Scahill and Rick Rowley’s film called Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. And it tells the story, among others, of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, 16-year-old kid born in Denver, killed in a drone strike two weeks after his father was killed in a drone strike in Yemen. Talk about his case and how this relates.

JAMEEL JAFFER: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: When does the U.S. stop? What is the justification for killing this 16-year-old boy?

JAMEEL JAFFER: Well, so two things about that. First, I think one of the most chilling aspects of the power that the government is claiming here is that they’re claiming the authority to do all of this in secret, not just keep it secret from the courts or keep their justification secret from the courts, but keep the exercise of this power secret, so they can carry out these killings of American citizens, among many others, without even acknowledging to the public or to any court that they have exercised that authority. And that really is a chilling proposition. But that’s one thing, and that’s one of the things that they’ve done in the Abdulrahman case: They have failed to acknowledge that they actually carried out this killing, although everybody knows it to be true.

But we have other litigation which we’re doing with the Center for Constitutional Rights. It’s a constitutional case on behalf of the three U.S. citizens who were killed in 2011, including Abdulrahman, the 16-year-old. And that’s a case in which we are raising claims under the Fourth Amendment and the Fifth Amendment, the due process clause, arguing that the government does not have the right, again, except in these extremely narrow circumstances, to carry out targeted killings without judicial review. And the government’s response to that lawsuit has not been to defend their authority on the merits. They’re not actually saying, "We have the right to do this." They haven’t actually filed any of those arguments in court. Instead what they’re arguing is: This question of whether the government acted lawfully or not is a political question committed to the political branches, and the judges have no role to play, no role whatsoever to play, in assessing whether the killing of an American citizen was lawful or not.

AMY GOODMAN: How does it stop? Where does it stop? You kill them in Yemen, American citizens and others—no trial, no charge. What about in the United States?

JAMEEL JAFFER: There’s no line. You know, if you look at the memo, the briefing paper that was released yesterday, there’s no geographic line. And you can remember how most of the country reacted when President Bush declared the authority to hold American citizens detained in the United States: Most of the country said, "You can’t be serious. You’re going to treat the United States as part of the battlefield. You’re going to detain American citizens inside the United States as enemy combatants." And now, the Obama administration—you know, if you accept the memo on its face, you accept the briefing paper on its face, the Obama administration is making, in some ways, a greater claim of authority. They’re arguing that the authority to kill American citizens has no geographic limit.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to turn to comments made by John Brennan, John Brennan who is Obama’s counterterrorism adviser and now his pick for CIA director. He made these comments last May and publicly confirmed that the United States has used drones to conduct targeted killings overseas.

JOHN BRENNAN: President Obama believes that, done carefully, deliberately and responsibly, we can be more transparent and still ensure our nation’s security. So let me say it as simply as I can: Yes, in full accordance with the law, and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives, the United States government conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qaeda terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft often referred to publicly as "drones." And I’m here today because President Obama has instructed us to be more open with the American people about these efforts.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Obama’s nominee for CIA director, John Brennan, speaking last May. Jameel Jaffer, your comments on what he said about drone attacks?

JAMEEL JAFFER: Well, this is—this is, I think, you know, in some ways, good timing for the release of this briefing paper, because, you know, as you mentioned, John Brennan has been nominated to head the CIA. There’s going to be a vote on his nomination later this week. And some senators have said that the nomination should not go forward unless the administration is more forthcoming with its legal analysis, unless they release the OLC memo. And I think that’s exactly right. The administration should release that memo. There are also open questions about the role that Brennan played in the torture program, and those questions, too, ought to be answered before the vote goes forward. So, you know, I think it’s good timing. There are some very serious questions that ought to be asked by—

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the Democrats will be asking these questions of a Democratic administration?

JAMEEL JAFFER: Well, you know, there were a group of senators yesterday that wrote to the administration asking for the release of the legal memo and seeming to connect the release of the legal memo to—to these votes, to the Hagel vote and to the Brennan vote. And I think that that’s an important thing. And it was a group led by Senator Wyden. So I think that there—you know, there are definitely senators who think this is important. And if people can make it known to their senators that they think it’s important, I think that would be a very good thing.

AMY GOODMAN: And your thoughts on John Brennan being the CIA pick? Already, four years ago, when President Obama wanted to do it the first time around, he was forced to withdraw his name because there was such outcry.

JAMEEL JAFFER: Well, right. I mean, I definitely have reservations about it. I think that there are these questions, these important questions about his role in the torture program. And also, you know, people have said that John Brennan is an advocate for transparency about the drone program. If that’s true, now is the right time to release the OLC memo, the legal counsel memo. And I think that the debate about his nomination should be informed by whatever’s in that memo.

AMY GOODMAN: We had a report in headlines about Open Society Justice Initiative—and you’re a fellow at the Open Society right now, on leave from the ACLU—putting out a new report that’s revealed a detailed look at global involvement in the CIA’s secret program of prisons, rendition and torture since 9/11. The initiative says 54 countries aided the CIA until President Obama stopped the program in 2009. It’s called "Globalizing Torture," also reveals at least 136 people were held by the CIA during those years—the largest tally to date. How significant is this?

JAMEEL JAFFER: I think it’s a hugely significant report. I think it’s the most comprehensive report thus far about the people who are held by the CIA and what happened to them, and also the complicity of other countries in the CIA’s program. Some of those other countries have begun to grapple with the question of accountability for their role in that program. As you know, the United States has not. The Obama administration has interfered with civil suits that seek to hold officials accountable for their role in that program, and it has failed to bring criminal charges against senior officials who supervised the program. But I think it’s a very important thing, what the Open Society Justice Initiative has done here, and I think that it will create pressure not just on other countries to begin to grapple with that question of accountability, but on the United States, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Final question on this issue of targeted killings: Is this President Obama’s answer to attempting to close Guantánamo? You don’t need prisons if you kill people before they go to prison.

JAMEEL JAFFER: I hope not. You know, without more information about who it is that the administration is killing and on what basis, it’s difficult to make—to draw a conclusion on that question. But I think when you see the kinds of authority that the government is claiming in briefing papers like this, it certainly raises the question about to what extent this program, the drone program, is in fact a substitute for detention.

AMY GOODMAN: And as you said, don’t they say—don’t the documents say that they will kill someone if it puts U.S. personnel at risk?

JAMEEL JAFFER: That’s right. I mean, I think that one of the—you know, one of the really troubling things about the document is the way that it defines this phrase, "Capture is infeasible," because once you see that phrase in the first paragraph, "Capture is infeasible," it sounds like a real restriction on the government’s authority to use lethal force. But halfway through the memo, they redefine the phrase, "Capture is infeasible," to mean something more like: "Capture is inconvenient." And once you redefine the phrase in that way, then you’ve opened up the possibility of the use of lethal force much more broadly. And again, it does raise the question of whether they are using the use of lethal force as a substitute for detention, and even if they’re not, whether that possibility is open for another administration in the future.

AMY GOODMAN: Jameel Jaffer, I want to thank you for being with us, deputy legal director of the ACLU, director of the ACLU’s Center for Democracy. Coming up later in the broadcast, we’ll speak with Dan Ellsberg, famous whistleblower for the Pentagon Papers. We’ll also speak with Jacob Appelbaum, who just lost a case. He does not have the right, says a federal court, to know when the government is taking his Twitter information or email information. But next up, the controversy in the Boy Scouts. Will the Boy Scouts of America allow gay leaders, gay members? Stay with us.

The Real Debate Over American Citizenship

The Real Debate Over American Citizenship

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Posted on Feb 6, 2013
Flickr/From Sovereign to Serf - Roger Sayles

By Robert Reich

This post originally ran on Robert Reich’s Web page.

Sometimes we have a national conversation without realizing it. We talk about different aspects of the same larger issue without connecting the dots.

That’s what’s happening now with regard to the meaning of American citizenship and the basic rights that come with it.

On one side are those who think of citizenship as a matter of exclusion and privilege — of protecting the nation by keeping out those who are undesirable, and putting strict limits on who is allowed to exercise the full rights of citizenship.

On the other are those who think of citizenship inclusively — as an ongoing process of helping people become full participants in America.

One part of this conversation involves immigration. I’m not just referring the question of whether or how people living in the United States illegally can become citizens. (Courtesy of our fast-growing Latino population, 70 percent of whom voted for President Obama last November, we’re far closer to resolving that one than we were a year ago.)

It’s also a question of who we want to join us. Engraved on a bronze plaque mounted inside the lower level of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty are Emma Lazarus’ immortal words, written in 1883: “Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/ The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./ Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me.”

By contrast, a bipartisan group of lawmakers last week introduced a bill giving priority to the highly skilled. “Our immigration system needs to be … more welcoming of highly skilled immigrants and the enormous contributions they can make to our economy,” said one of its sponsors, Florida Senator Marco Rubio

So is the priority to be those who need us, or those whom we need?

Another part of the same larger conversation concerns voting rights — the means by which citizens participate in our democracy.

Long waiting lines depressed voter turnout last November, especially in cities where Democrats outnumber Republicans. One study showed blacks and Hispanics on average had to wait nearly twice as long to vote as whites. Some gave up trying.

Voter registration is part of that issue, along with what sorts of proof of citizenship states may require. Dozens of legal challenges and lower-court decisions were made in the months leading up to the November election. Some are heading to appellate courts.

This post originally ran on Robert Reich’s Web page, www.robertreich.org

Congressional Democrats are pushing legislation to require states to ease voting requirements — allowing more early voting, online voting, and quicker means of registering. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is preparing to hear a major challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 potentially giving states more leeway to tighten voting standards.

A different aspect of the citizenship conversation concerns the rights of corporations to influence elections. The Court’s bizarre 2010 decision in “Citizens United versus Federal Election Commission” — deeming corporations people under the First Amendment, with unlimited rights to spend money on elections — didn’t consider the question of corporate citizenship as such.

But it’s likely to become a big issue in the future as large American companies that pour lots of money into our elections morph into global corporations without any particular national identity.

Most of Chrysler is owned by Fiat, and most of Fiat is owned by non-Americans. Both IBM and GE have more non-American employees and customers than American, and foreign ownership of both continues to increase. At what point do these global entities forfeit their right to influence U.S. elections?

And then there’s the growing debate about whether American citizens have the right to a trial by an impartial judge and jury before the government executes them.

You might think so. The Constitution guarantees American citizens “due process” of law. But a “white paper” from the Justice Department, recently obtained by NBC News, argues that an “informed, high-level” government official can unilaterally decide to put an American citizen to death without any judicial oversight if that official decides the citizen in question is an operational leader of Al Qaeda or one of its allies.

Even if you trust high-level officials in the current administration, their argument should give you pause. The relative ease by which targeted drones can now kill particular individuals far from recognized battlefields (as did the drone attack on American-born Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in September, 2011) raises uncomfortable questions about the protections accorded American citizens, as well as the potential for arbitrary decision making about who lives or dies.

They may seem unrelated, but all these issues — who gets to be an American citizen, how easily American citizens can vote, whether global corporations are American citizens entitled to influence our elections, and whether American citizens are entitled to a judge and jury before being executed — are pieces of the same larger debate: Are we more fearful of “them” out there, or more confident about “us”? Is our goal to constrain and limit citizenship, or to enlarge and fulfill its promise?

It’s an old debate in America. The greatness of our nation lies in our overriding tendency to choose the latter.


Robert B. Reich, chancellor’s professor of public policy at UC Berkeley, was secretary of labor in the Clinton administration. Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective Cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including the best-sellers “Aftershock” and “The Work of Nations.” His latest, “Beyond Outrage,” is now out in paperback. He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.


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Spy Agencies Plan ‘Black Box’ Style Web Surveillance

British intelligence services are planning to significantly increase the level of web surveillance on UK citizens. Agencies would use 'black box' style snooping devices to monitor nearly all web activity including Facebook, Twitter and Skype.

The Real Debate Over American Citizenship

Sometimes we have a national conversation without realizing it. We talk about different aspects of the same larger issue without connecting the dots.

That’s what’s happening now with regard to the meaning of American citizenship and the basic rights that come with it. 

On one side are those who think of citizenship as a matter of exclusion and privilege — of protecting the nation by keeping out those who are undesirable, and putting strict limits on who is allowed to exercise the full rights of citizenship. 

On the other are those who think of citizenship inclusively — as an ongoing process of helping people become full participants in America. 

One part of this conversation involves immigration. I’m not just referring the question of whether or how people living in the United States illegally can become citizens. (Courtesy of our fast-growing Latino population, 70 percent of whom voted for President Obama last November, we’re far closer to resolving that one than we were a year ago.) 

It’s also a question of who we want to join us. Engraved on a bronze plaque mounted inside the lower level of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty are Emma Lazarus’ immortal words, written in 1883: “Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/ The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./ Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me.”

By contrast, a bipartisan group of lawmakers last week introduced a bill giving priority to the highly skilled. “Our immigration system needs to be … more welcoming of highly skilled immigrants and the enormous contributions they can make to our economy,” said one of its sponsors, Florida Senator Marco Rubio.  

So is the priority to be those who need us, or those whom we need? 

Another part of the same larger conversation concerns voting rights — the means by which citizens participate in our democracy. 

Long waiting lines depressed voter turnout last November, especially in cities where Democrats outnumber Republicans. One study showed blacks and Hispanics on average had to wait nearly twice as long to vote as whites. Some gave up trying. 

Voter registration is part of that issue, along with what sorts of proof of citizenship states may require. Dozens of legal challenges and lower-court decisions were made in the months leading up to the November election. Some are heading to appellate courts. 

Congressional Democrats are pushing legislation to require states to ease voting requirements — allowing more early voting, online voting, and quicker means of registering. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is preparing to hear a major challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 potentially giving states more leeway to tighten voting standards.

A different aspect of the citizenship conversation concerns the rights of corporations to influence elections. The Court’s bizarre 2010 decision in “Citizens United versus Federal Election Commission” — deeming corporations people under the First Amendment, with unlimited rights to spend money on elections — didn’t consider the question of corporate citizenship as such. 

But it’s likely to become a big issue in the future as large American companies that pour lots of money into our elections morph into global corporations without any particular national identity. 

Most of Chrysler is owned by Fiat, and most of Fiat is owned by non-Americans. Both IBM and GE have more non-American employees and customers than American, and foreign ownership of both continues to increase. At what point do these global entities forfeit their right to influence U.S. elections?

And then there’s the growing debate about whether American citizens have the right to a trial by an impartial judge and jury before the government executes them. 

You might think so. The Constitution guarantees American citizens “due process” of law. But a “white paper” from the Justice Department, recently obtained by NBC News, argues that an “informed, high-level” government official can unilaterally decide to put an American citizen to death without any judicial oversight if that official decides the citizen in question is an operational leader of Al Qaeda or one of its allies. 

Even if you trust high-level officials in the current administration, their argument should give you pause. The relative ease by which targeted drones can now kill particular individuals far from recognized battlefields (as did the drone attack on American-born Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in September, 2011) raises uncomfortable questions about the protections accorded American citizens, as well as the potential for arbitrary decision making about who lives or dies. 

They may seem unrelated, but all these issues — who gets to be an American citizen, how easily American citizens can vote, whether global corporations are American citizens entitled to influence our elections, and whether American citizens are entitled to a judge and jury before being executed — are pieces of the same larger debate: Are we more fearful of “them” out there, or more confident about “us”? Is our goal to constrain and limit citizenship, or to enlarge and fulfill its promise? 

It’s an old debate in America. The greatness of our nation lies in our overriding tendency to choose the latter.

© 2012 Robert Reich

Robert Reich

Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including his latest best-seller, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future; The Work of Nations; Locked in the Cabinet; Supercapitalism; and his newest, Beyond Outrage. His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.

The Real Debate Over American Citizenship

Sometimes we have a national conversation without realizing it. We talk about different aspects of the same larger issue without connecting the dots.

That’s what’s happening now with regard to the meaning of American citizenship and the basic rights that come with it. 

On one side are those who think of citizenship as a matter of exclusion and privilege — of protecting the nation by keeping out those who are undesirable, and putting strict limits on who is allowed to exercise the full rights of citizenship. 

On the other are those who think of citizenship inclusively — as an ongoing process of helping people become full participants in America. 

One part of this conversation involves immigration. I’m not just referring the question of whether or how people living in the United States illegally can become citizens. (Courtesy of our fast-growing Latino population, 70 percent of whom voted for President Obama last November, we’re far closer to resolving that one than we were a year ago.) 

It’s also a question of who we want to join us. Engraved on a bronze plaque mounted inside the lower level of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty are Emma Lazarus’ immortal words, written in 1883: “Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/ The wretched refuse of your teeming shore./ Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me.”

By contrast, a bipartisan group of lawmakers last week introduced a bill giving priority to the highly skilled. “Our immigration system needs to be … more welcoming of highly skilled immigrants and the enormous contributions they can make to our economy,” said one of its sponsors, Florida Senator Marco Rubio.  

So is the priority to be those who need us, or those whom we need? 

Another part of the same larger conversation concerns voting rights — the means by which citizens participate in our democracy. 

Long waiting lines depressed voter turnout last November, especially in cities where Democrats outnumber Republicans. One study showed blacks and Hispanics on average had to wait nearly twice as long to vote as whites. Some gave up trying. 

Voter registration is part of that issue, along with what sorts of proof of citizenship states may require. Dozens of legal challenges and lower-court decisions were made in the months leading up to the November election. Some are heading to appellate courts. 

Congressional Democrats are pushing legislation to require states to ease voting requirements — allowing more early voting, online voting, and quicker means of registering. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is preparing to hear a major challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 potentially giving states more leeway to tighten voting standards.

A different aspect of the citizenship conversation concerns the rights of corporations to influence elections. The Court’s bizarre 2010 decision in “Citizens United versus Federal Election Commission” — deeming corporations people under the First Amendment, with unlimited rights to spend money on elections — didn’t consider the question of corporate citizenship as such. 

But it’s likely to become a big issue in the future as large American companies that pour lots of money into our elections morph into global corporations without any particular national identity. 

Most of Chrysler is owned by Fiat, and most of Fiat is owned by non-Americans. Both IBM and GE have more non-American employees and customers than American, and foreign ownership of both continues to increase. At what point do these global entities forfeit their right to influence U.S. elections?

And then there’s the growing debate about whether American citizens have the right to a trial by an impartial judge and jury before the government executes them. 

You might think so. The Constitution guarantees American citizens “due process” of law. But a “white paper” from the Justice Department, recently obtained by NBC News, argues that an “informed, high-level” government official can unilaterally decide to put an American citizen to death without any judicial oversight if that official decides the citizen in question is an operational leader of Al Qaeda or one of its allies. 

Even if you trust high-level officials in the current administration, their argument should give you pause. The relative ease by which targeted drones can now kill particular individuals far from recognized battlefields (as did the drone attack on American-born Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in September, 2011) raises uncomfortable questions about the protections accorded American citizens, as well as the potential for arbitrary decision making about who lives or dies. 

They may seem unrelated, but all these issues — who gets to be an American citizen, how easily American citizens can vote, whether global corporations are American citizens entitled to influence our elections, and whether American citizens are entitled to a judge and jury before being executed — are pieces of the same larger debate: Are we more fearful of “them” out there, or more confident about “us”? Is our goal to constrain and limit citizenship, or to enlarge and fulfill its promise? 

It’s an old debate in America. The greatness of our nation lies in our overriding tendency to choose the latter.

© 2012 Robert Reich

Robert Reich

Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including his latest best-seller, Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future; The Work of Nations; Locked in the Cabinet; Supercapitalism; and his newest, Beyond Outrage. His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.

Frontrunning: February 6

  • Tunisian opposition politician shot dead, protests erupt (Reuters)
  • China says extremely concerned after latest North Korea threats (Reuters)
  • Postal Service to cut Saturday mail to trim costs (AP)
  • Debt Rise Colors Budget Talks (WSJ)
  • Obama proposes short-term budget fix, Republicans swiftly object (Reuters)
  • S&P Analyst Joked of Bringing Down the House Before Crash (BBG)
  • Dell’s Bigger Challenge Ahead in Turnaround After Buyout (BBG)
  • Some of the Mark Carney Gloss Is Coming Off (WSJ)
  • Japan Official Says BOJ Tools Sufficient as Shake-Up Looms (BBG)
  • S&P Lawsuit Undermined by SEC Rules That Impede Competition (BBG)
  • Heavy Clashes Erupt in Syrian Capital (WSJ)
  • Carmakers Use Aluminum Over Steel in Boost for Rio (BBG)
  • Beijing vows to raise minimum wages (FT)
  • China Port Operators Step Up Overseas Investment (WSJ)

Overnight Media Digest

WSJ

* A slowly improving U.S. economy and recently enacted tax increases will help bring down the federal deficit for the next few years, the Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday, but it will take another $2 trillion in belt-tightening over the next decade to begin to move the federal debt closer to historic levels.

* The U.S. government wants Standard & Poor's Ratings Services to pay more than $5 billion - roughly what its parent company has earned in the past seven years - for giving its seal of approval to bundles of subprime mortgages that eventually crumbled, costing investors billions and helping sink the economy.

* Nasdaq OMX Group's missteps during last year's debut of Facebook Inc shares cost Wall Street an estimated $500 million. In the end, U.S. securities regulators may end up fining the exchange group 1 percent of that.

* Pinterest is in talks to raise a new round of financing that would value the online scrapbooking site at $2 billion to $2.5 billion.

* Regulators leading the world-wide probe into rate-rigging allegations are expected to announce Wednesday a settlement of around 400 million pounds ($626.72 million) with Royal Bank of Scotland, according to people close to the investigation.

* John Malone's international cable business Liberty Global Inc has agreed to acquire U.K. cable-television and Internet provider Virgin Media Inc for $16 billion, in a deal that may create a stronger rival to market leader British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc.

* Walt Disney Co's net income weakened in the latest quarter, even as revenue grew, reflecting slimmer profits at the movie studio, where home-video titles were less lucrative than those released in the final months of 2011.

* Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc and Panera Bread Co have posted solid results even as traditional fast-food chains like McDonald's Corp and Yum Brands Inc are struggling with waning consumer confidence.

FT

John Malone's Liberty Global Inc struck a deal to buy British cable group Virgin Media for $23.3 billion in a cash and stock deal, a move that would put the U.S. billionaire up against old rival Rupert Murdoch.

Michael Dell struck a deal to take Dell Inc private for $24.4 billion in the biggest leveraged buyout since the financial crisis, partnering with the Silver Lake private equity firm and Microsoft Corp to try to turn around the struggling computer company without Wall Street scrutiny.

Business secretary Vince Cable is expected to revive a radical plan to return state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland to private sector hands by distributing free shares to the public.

BP Plc is facing demands of more than $34 billion in damages from states and local government in the United States over its 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. The claims could significantly increase its potential bill for the Gulf of Mexico spill.

Swiss bank UBS said it was cutting bonus payments to its staff in a move to appease regulators and investors and recoup a large part of its $1.5 billion Libor fine.

Boeing said it sought permission from U.S. aviation authorities to start test flights of its 787 Dreamliner jet as part of its effort to identify the cause of battery failures that forced the plane to be grounded.

European aerospace and defence company EADS plans to bring an American on its board for the first time as the company plans to boost its credentials in the lucrative US market. The Airbus parent has nominated Ralph Crosby, a former executive at Northrop Grumman, to join its board.

Jim O'Neill, chairman of Goldman Sachs' asset-management division and the man who coined the acronym 'BRIC', will retire from the bank later this year.

NYT

* Court documents offer a look at the inner workings of Standard and Poor's, which the U.S. government says inflated credit ratings with dire consequences for the entire economy.

* Dell Inc, seeking to revive itself after years of decline, said on Tuesday it had agreed to go private in a deal led by its founder and the investment firm Silver Lake.

* U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday called on Congress to quickly pass a new package of limited spending cuts and tax increases to head off substantial across-the-board reductions to domestic and military spending set to begin on March 1, but his appeal for more revenue was dismissed by Republicans.

* Liberty Global Inc, the international cable company owned by American billionaire John Malone, agreed on Tuesday to buy the British cable company Virgin Media Inc for about $16 billion.

* Law firm Debevoise & Plimpton's move to get out of the estate-planning business comes as the legal industry continues to emphasize more profitable practices.

* Twitter confirmed on Tuesday that it was acquiring Bluefin Labs, a company that analyzes online chatter about TV shows and companies and sells its findings.

* Jim O'Neill, the economist who a decade ago coined the term "BRICs" - the acronym for the emerging growth economies in Brazil, Russia, India and China - plans to retire from Goldman Sachs Group Inc later this year, the firm announced on Tuesday.

Canada

THE GLOBE AND MAIL

* The Canadian government is prepared to knock holes in the hefty tariff walls shielding dairy producers from foreign competition and admit more European cheese into the country in return for greater access to EU markets for Canada's beef and pork.

* The Conservative government is preparing to commit long-term cash for infrastructure in its 2013 budget in an effort to squeeze more projects - including partnerships with the private sector - out of limited public funds.

Reports in the business section:

* Suncor Energy Inc has taken a writedown of nearly C$1.5 billion on its Voyageur project, a massive oil sands plant that is now at serious risk of cancellation.

* Kathleen Taylor spent years preparing for the top job at Four Seasons Hotels Ltd, but the company said on Tuesday that she will be replaced only three years after she finally sat down in the corner office.

NATIONAL POST

* Prime Minister Stephen Harper would seek a constitutional amendment to give the House of Commons primacy over any future elected Senate, said Harper's point-person on reform in the Senate.

FINANCIAL POST

* Car loans drove Canadians to record debt in the fourth quarter of 2012 as the pace of consumer borrowing began to pick up after a brief lull, according to a survey released on Tuesday.

China

CHINA SECURITIES JOURNAL

-- Top Chinese steel maker Baoshan Iron & Steel Co said it had so far bought back 424 million shares in response to a regulatory call last year for listed companies to buy back their own shares to support the stock market.

CHINA DAILY (www.chinadaily.com.cn)

-- Chinese health authorities have launched a campaign to address abusive practices in the country's growing assisted reproductive technology industry.

-- Beijing weather authorities have launched a "fireworks index" to inform residents celebrating the upcoming Spring Festival holiday whether conditions are appropriate for setting off fireworks.

SHANGHAI DAILY

-- Ten people who illegally detained citizens trying to take complaints to the central government have been jailed. The defendants allegedly intercepted people coming to Beijing to complain about land seizures. The practice is believed to be common in China, the report said.

-- Clothing retailer H&M has been fined by the Shanghai city market watchdog for selling substandard shoes.

PEOPLE'S DAILY

-- China will announce the names of the 10 most polluted cities in the country every month, said Wu Xiaoqing, vice minister of environmental protection.

Fly On The Wall 7:00 AM Market Snapshot

ANALYST RESEARCH

Upgrades

Allergan (AGN) upgraded to Outperform from Market Perform at JMP Securities
Carlyle Group (CG) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Citigroup
Dell (DELL) upgraded to Neutral from Sell at Citigroup
Express (EXPR) upgraded to Overweight from Neutral at JPMorgan
Gannett (GCI) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Citigroup
Marsh & McLennan (MMC) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Goldman

Downgrades

Arch Coal (ACI) downgraded to Neutral from Overweight at JPMorgan
Ashford Hospitality (AHT) downgraded to Neutral from Outperform at RW Baird
C.H. Robinson (CHRW) downgraded to Underperform from Buy at BofA/Merrill
Centene (CNC) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Citigroup
Charter (CHTR) downgraded to Market Perform from Outperform at Raymond James
Expedia (EXPE) downgraded to Sector Perform from Outperform at RBC Capital
Hologic (HOLX) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at BofA/Merrill
Intercontinental Hotels (IHG) downgraded to Neutral from Outperform at RW Baird
Marcus (MCS) downgraded to Neutral from Outperform at RW Baird
McClatchy (MNI) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Citigroup
Minerals Technologies (MTX) downgraded to Neutral from Overweight at JPMorgan
Pebblebrook Hotel (PEB) downgraded to Neutral from Outperform at RW Baird
SandRidge Permian Trust (PER) downgraded to Sector Perform at RBC Capital
Silgan Holdings (SLGN) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Citigroup
Sirius XM (SIRI) downgraded to Neutral from Outperform at Macquarie
Sohu.com (SOHU) downgraded to Neutral from Outperform at Macquarie
Trimble Navigation (TRMB) downgraded to Neutral from Overweight at JPMorgan
Validus (VR) downgraded to Neutral from Conviction Buy at Goldman
Vascular Solutions (VASC) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Benchmark Co.

Initiations

Advanced Energy (AEIS) initiated with a Buy at Citigroup
Finish Line (FINL) initiated with a Neutral at RW Baird
First Solar (FSLR) initiated with a Buy at Citigroup
Foot Locker (FL) initiated with an Outperform at RW Baird
Global Eagle (ENT) initiated with an Overweight at Piper Jaffray
MEMC Electronic (WFR) initiated with a Buy at Citigroup
SunPower (SPWR) initiated with a Buy, added to Top Picks Live at Citigroup
Suntech (STP) initiated with a Sell at Citigroup
Tesaro (TSRO) initiated with a Buy at Deutsche Bank
Thor Industries (THO) initiated with an Outperform at BMO Capital
Trina Solar (TSL) initiated with a Neutral at Citigroup
Yingli Green (YGE) initiated with a Neutral at Citigroup

HOT STOCKS

Liberty Global (LBTYA) to acquire Virgin Media (VMED) for $23.3B
Silver Wheaton (SLW) acquired some gold production from two Vale (VALE) mines for $1.9B
Biogen (BIIB) to acquire full rights and control of Tysabri from Elan (ELN)
Disney (DIS) said confident about FY13, ability to create long-term growth
Ford (F) announced 900 dealers to be certified to sell plug-in EVs by spring
Home Depot (HD) to hire 80,000 associates for spring season
Chipotle (CMG): Confident in continued ability to drive sales growth in 2013
Sees 2013 comparable restaurant sales flat to low single digits
3M Company (MMM) authorized $7.5B share repurchase program
Moody's affirmed MetLife's (MET) ratings, long-term ratings' outlook to negative
Fitch: Yum! Brands (YUM) ratings not immediately impacted by China weakness
Equity Residential (EQR) sees Q1 FFO 62c-66c, consensus 66c
Zynga (ZNGA) sees FY13 EBITDA margin 0%-10%
Said no full year 2013 year guidance, cites platform transition
Netflix (NFLX), Queen Latifah's Flavor Unit Entertainment announced multi-year deal

EARNINGS

Companies that beat consensus earnings expectations last night and today include:
Elan (ELN), W.R. Grace (GRA), KKR Financial (KFN), Horace Mann (HMN), Genworth (GNW), Jive Software (JIVE), Take-Two (TTWO), Hanesbrands (HBI), Panera Bread (PNRA), Hain Celestial (HAIN), Zynga (ZNGA)

Companies that missed consensus earnings expectations include:
AU Optronics (AUO), C.H. Robinson (CHRW), Stanley Furniture (STLY), Chipotle (CMG), Expedia (EXPE)

Companies that matched consensus earnings expectations include:
Myriad Genetics (MYGN), Aflac (AFL), Fiserv (FISV), CME Group (CME), Thoratec (THOR)

NEWSPAPERS/WEBSITES

U.S. stock exchanges, banks, trading firms and mutual funds want the SEC to study the effect of pricing some small stocks in nickels and dimes, rather than in pennies, the Wall Street Journal reports
Microsoft’s (MSFT) contribution to the Dell (DELL) buyout is a $2B gamble that the software firm can boost up one of its major customers without upsetting all the others, the Wall Street Journal reports
The Federal Reserve said that one of its internal websites had been briefly breached by hackers, though no critical functions of the U.S. central bank were affected by the intrusion, Reuters reports
Softbank (SFTBF) will issue $3.2B in corporate bonds, the biggest ever by a non-financial Japanese firm to retail investors, to convert part of the $17.7B in short-term loans used to purchase Sprint Nextel (S) to longer term debt, sources say, Reuters reports
With Michael Dell’s (DELL) deal to take his company private, he now faces the larger challenge of turning a business falling behind in personal computers into a provider of high-margin cloud-computing tools and services, Bloomberg reports
Automakers from Ford (F) to Audi (VLKAY) and Jaguar Land Rover (TTM) are using record amounts of aluminum to replace heavier steel, providing relief to producers of the metal facing excess supplies and depressed prices, Bloomberg reports

SYNDICATE

Boise Cascade (BCC) 11.765M share IPO priced at $21.00
Celldex (CLDX) 12M share Secondary priced at $7.50
MagnaChip (MX) 5M share Secondary priced at $14.50
NCI Building Systems (NCS) files to sell 54.14M shares of common stock for holders
Rose Rock Midstream (RRMS) files to sell 2M common units for holders
Silver Bull (SVBL) proposes public offering of units
TICC Capital (TICC) files to sell 3M shares of common stock
WNS Holdings (WNS) files to sell 12.6M ADSs for Warburg Pincus

Your rating: None

Radical NHS Overhaul Due After Care Scandal

The much-anticipated report from the public inquiry into serious failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust is set to be published, kickstarted by a grief-stricken woman after her mother died.

The landmark report is expected to propose wide-ranging reforms of the NHS.

It has been suggested that chair of the inquiry Robert Francis QC will recommend that hospitals should face tough new scrutiny by teams of inspectors which include doctors and nurses.

cure the nhs

Julie Bailey, of campaign group Cure the NHS, who lost her mother Bella, aged 86 whilst she was a patient at Stafford General Hospital

The move will form part of an overhaul of the array of regulatory bodies that failed to detect failings in patient care at the trust, it has been reported.

It is also expected that Francis, a specialist in medical legal issues, will recommend a "duty of candour" that would see fines or threat of closure used against hospitals that fail to tell their patients if their treatment went wrong.

The public inquiry was ordered after it was revealed that between 400 and 1,200 people more people died than expected at Stafford Hospital between 2005 and 2009 amid "appalling" standards of care.

Julie Bailey set up the campaign group Cure The NHS after her mother, Bella Bailey, 86, died at the scandal-hit hospital in 2007.

Patients were left for hours sitting in their own faeces, food and drink was left out of reach and hygiene was so poor that relatives had to clean toilets themselves.

Gillian Peacham, whose husband Arthur died in the hospital in 2006, said that without the campaign people still would not know what happened at the hospital.

"I really truly believe that if it hadn't been for Cure The NHS this would all have been brushed under the carpet," Peacham said.

In addition to basic care errors there was a string of clinical blunders including botched operations, misdiagnoses and drugs were not given or given late.

Francis's first report, drawn from the independent inquiry he chaired between 2009 and 2010, concluded that patients were "routinely neglected" while the trust was preoccupied with cost-cutting and targets.


nhs inquiry

Members of Cure the NHS demonstrate outside Stafford Hospital, during an inquiry into standards of care at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust

Concerns have been raised that other organisations may suffer the same fate amid the NHS £20 billion efficiency drive.

Indeed cases of poor care standards at the trust are still surfacing.

Last week the trust confirmed that an employee at Stafford Hospital was suspended after taking photographs of patients.

And the week before it emerged that police were investigating after a baby was found with a dummy taped into its mouth.

Human rights lawyer Emma Jones said her firm Leigh Day is investigating claims of abuse at 10 other hospitals.

Jones, who represented 120 victims of abuse at the trust, said: "Every day abuse against patients takes place, and it is usually the most vulnerable who suffer and without widespread reform it will continue.

"People who are admitted to hospital are vulnerable. They are often frightened and have not been told what is wrong with them, or what treatment they will receive.

"These issues need to be addressed and reforms put into place as a matter of urgency to ensure such a situation does not arise again."

The Patients Association said that the Government must urgently address the "care deficit" in the NHS.

stafford hospital

The high number of unexpected deaths at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust could have been prevented

Chief executive Katherine Murphy said: "Whilst our first thoughts must be for those families and friends who lost loved ones so tragically in Mid Staffs, every possible action must be taken to avoid such an appalling scandal ever happening again.

"Our Helpline hears from patients, relatives and carers every day who raise concerns about basic standards of care and safety, from not receiving adequate pain relief to a lack of assistance to go to the toilet, not being met.

"There are a number of urgent issues the Government and the NHS must confront to address this care deficit and provide the highest quality services possible.

"Whatever the specific recommendations are from the Francis Inquiry, a fundamental shift in the culture of NHS organisations so that both appalling and good care are viewed as learning opportunities is crucial."

The report was due to be published in October but Mr Francis announced that it was to be delayed.

The inquiry, which sat for 139 days, heard from heard from victims, their family members, patients' groups, charities, medics, politicians, unions and representatives of some of the royal colleges.

So far, the bill for the Inquiry has exceeded £13 million.

Jeremy Taylor, chief executive of National Voices, said he hoped the report would act as a spur for strengthening of patient and public voice in the health service.

He said: "No matter how good, regulators and inspectors cannot be everywhere at once. Patients, families and staff are the eyes and ears of the health service. We must ensure that they are in a position to speak out and be listened to."

Sarah Teather Among Four Lib Dems To Vote Against Gay Marriage

The House of Commons overwhelmingly backed gay marriage on Tuesday evening, however much attention has understandably focused on David Cameron's failure to convince a majority of Tory MPs to endorse the move.

However it was not just Conservative MPs who opposed the legislation. Perhaps surprisingly four of the 56 Liberal Democrat MPs also opposed the same-sex marriage bill at second reading - including former coalition minister Sarah Teather.

In a statement, Teather said she was concerned that the definition of marriage was being changed, and that could make family life more unstable.

"I have found this a difficult decision because of my work previously on gay rights issues, and my judgment is finely balanced," she said.

"I recognise that others may reflect deeply on these issues and come to a different view, in good faith.

"But it is my view that where the extra protections offered to same-sex couples are marginal, and where the potential negatives to society over a period of time may be more considerable, I am unable to support the Bill."

The other three Lib Dems to vote against the Bill were Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed), Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley) and John Pugh (Southport).

Birtwistle has made no secret of his opposition to the plans, previously telling his local newspaper: “I will vote against gay marriage. Civil partnerships are fine. Gay marriage is just not on.”

And prior to the vote Pugh said the law change "weakens the link between marriage and the family."

A further seven Lib Dem MPs did not vote: Norman Baker (Lewes), Martin Horwood (Cheltenham), Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye & Lochaber), Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West), John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross), David Ward (Bradford East), Jenny Willott (Cardiff Central).

Deputy leader Simon Hughes and party president Tim Farron supported the Bill, but defied the whip to vote against the programme motion. Posting on Twitter, Farron said there were issues he wanted to "iron out".

Related on HuffPost:

Howard Zinn: Lincoln and Emancipation

Historian Howard Zinn on Abraham Lincoln and the eventual abolition of slavery in the US. Which shows that Spielberg's new film, Lincoln, is far from historically accurate.

John Brown was executed by the state of Virginia with the approval of the national government. It was the national government which, while weakly enforcing the law ending the slave trade, sternly enforced the laws providing for the return of fugitives to slavery. It was the national government that, in Andrew Jackson's administration, collaborated with the South to keep abolitionist literature out of the mails in the southern states. It was the Supreme Court of the United States that declared in 1857 that the slave Dred Scott could not sue for his freedom because he was not a person, but property.

Such a national government would never accept an end to slavery by rebellion. It would end slavery only under conditions controlled by whites, and only when required by the political and economic needs of the business elite of the North. It was Abraham Lincoln who combined perfectly the needs of business, the political ambition of the new Republican party, and the rhetoric of humanitarianism. He would keep the abolition of slavery not at the top of his list of priorities, but close enough to the top so it could be pushed there temporarily by abolitionist pressures and by practical political advantage.

Lincoln could skillfully blend the interests of the very rich and the interests of the black at a moment in history when these interests met. And he could link these two with a growing section of Americans, the white, up-and-coming, economically ambitious, politically active middle class. As Richard Hofstadter puts it:

Thoroughly middle class in his ideas, he spoke for those millions of Americans who had begun their lives as hired workers-as farm hands, clerks, teachers, mechanics, flatboat men, and rail- splitters-and had passed into the ranks of landed farmers, prosperous grocers, lawyers, merchants, physicians and politicians.

Lincoln could argue with lucidity and passion against slavery on moral grounds, while acting cautiously in practical politics. He believed "that the institution of slavery is founded on injustice and bad policy, but that the promulgation of abolition doctrines tends to increase rather than abate its evils." (Put against this Frederick Douglass's statement on struggle, or Garrison's "Sir, slavery will not be overthrown without excitement, a most tremendous excitement") Lincoln read the Constitution strictly, to mean that Congress, because of the Tenth Amendment (reserving to the states powers not specifically given to the national government), could not constitutionally bar slavery in the states.

When it was proposed to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, which did not have the rights of a state that was directly under the jurisdiction of Congress, Lincoln said this would be Constitutional, but it should not be done unless the people in the District wanted it. Since most there were white, this killed the idea. As Hofstadter said of Lincoln's statement, it "breathes the fire of an uncompromising insistence on moderation."

Lincoln refused to denounce the Fugitive Slave Law publicly. He wrote to a friend: "I confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down . .. but I bite my lips and keep quiet." And when he did propose, in 1849, as a Congressman, a resolution to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, he accompanied this with a section requiring local authorities to arrest and return fugitive slaves coming into Washington. (This led Wendell Phillips, the Boston abolitionist, to refer to him years later as "that slavehound from Illinois.") He opposed slavery, but could not see blacks as equals, so a constant theme in his approach was to free the slaves and to send them back to Africa.

In his 1858 campaign in Illinois for the Senate against Stephen Douglas, Lincoln spoke differently depending on the views of his listeners (and also perhaps depending on how close it was to the election). Speaking in northern Illinois in July (in Chicago), he said:

Let us discard all this quibbling about this man and the other man, this race and that race and the other race being inferior, and therefore they must be placed in an inferior position. Let us discard all these things, and unite as one people throughout this land, until we shall once more stand up declaring that all men are created equal.

Two months later in Charleston, in southern Illinois, Lincoln told his audience:

I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races (applause); that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people.. . .

And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.

Behind the secession of the South from the Union, after Lincoln was elected President in the fall of 1860 as candidate of the new Republican party, was a long series of policy clashes between South and North. The clash was not over slavery as a moral institution-most northerners did not care enough about slavery to make sacrifices for it, certainly not the sacrifice of war. It was not a clash of peoples (most northern whites were not economically favored, not politically powerful; most southern whites were poor farmers, not decisionmakers) but of elites. The northern elite wanted economic expansion-free land, free labor, a free market, a high protective tariff for manufacturers, a bank of the United States. The slave interests opposed all that; they saw Lincoln and the Republicans as making continuation of their pleasant and prosperous way of life impossible in the future.

So, when Lincoln was elected, seven southern states seceded from the Union. Lincoln initiated hostilities by trying to repossess the federal base at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, and four more states seceded. The Confederacy was formed; the Civil War was on.

Lincoln's first Inaugural Address, in March 1861, was conciliatory toward the South and the seceded states: "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." And with the war four months on, when General John C. Fremont in Missouri declared martial law and said slaves of owners resisting the United States were to be free, Lincoln countermanded this order. He was anxious to hold in the Union the slave states of Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and Delaware.

It was only as the war grew more bitter, the casualties mounted, desperation to win heightened, and the criticism of the abolitionists threatened to unravel the tattered coalition behind Lincoln that he began to act against slavery. Hofstadter puts it this way: "Like a delicate barometer, he recorded the trend of pressures, and as the Radical pressure increased he moved toward the left." Wendell Phillips said that if Lincoln was able to grow "it is because we have watered him."

Racism in the North was as entrenched as slavery in the South, and it would take the war to shake both. New York blacks could not vote unless they owned $250 in property (a qualification not applied to whites). A proposal to abolish this, put on the ballot in 1860, was defeated two to one (although Lincoln carried New York by 50,000 votes). Frederick Douglass commented: "The black baby of Negro suffrage was thought too ugly to exhibit on so grand an occasion. The Negro was stowed away like some people put out of sight their deformed children when company comes."

Wendell Phillips, with all his criticism of Lincoln, recognized the possibilities in his election. Speaking at the Tremont Temple in Boston the day after the election, Phillips said:

If the telegraph speaks truth, for the first time in our history the slave has chosen a President of the United States. . . . Not an Abolitionist, hardly an antislavery man, Mr. Lincoln consents to represent an antislavery idea. A pawn on the political chessboard, his value is in his position; with fair effort, we may soon change him for knight, bishop or queen, and sweep the board. (Applause)

Conservatives in the Boston upper classes wanted reconciliation with the South. At one point they stormed an abolitionist meeting at that same Tremont Temple, shortly after Lincoln's election, and asked that concessions be made to the South "in the interests of commerce, manufactures, agriculture."

The spirit of Congress, even after the war began, was shown in a resolution it passed in the summer of 1861, with only a few dissenting votes: "... this war is not waged . . . for any purpose of... overthrowing or interfering with the rights of established institutions of those states, but... to preserve the Union."

The abolitionists stepped up their campaign. Emancipation petitions poured into Congress in 1861 and 1862. In May of that year, Wendell Phillips said: "Abraham Lincoln may not wish it; he cannot prevent it; the nation may not will it, but the nation cannot prevent it. I do not care what men want or wish; the negro is the pebble in the cog-wheel, and the machine cannot go on until you get him out."

In July Congress passed a Confiscation Act, which enabled the freeing of slaves of those fighting the Union. But this was not enforced by the Union generals, and Lincoln ignored the nonenforcement. Garrison called Lincoln's policy "stumbling, halting, prevaricating, irresolute, weak, besotted," and Phillips said Lincoln was "a first-rate second-rate man."

An exchange of letters between Lincoln and Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, in August of 1862, gave Lincoln a chance to express his views. Greeley wrote:

Dear Sir. I do not intrude to tell you-for you must know already-that a great proportion of those who triumphed in your election ... are sorely disappointed and deeply pained by the policy you seem to be pursuing with regard to the slaves of rebels,... We require of you, as the first servant of the Republic, charged especially and preeminently with this duty, that you EXECUTE THE LAWS. ... We think you are strangely and disastrously remiss . .. with regard to the emancipating provisions of the new Confiscation Act....

We think you are unduly influenced by the councils ... of certain politicians hailing from the Border Slave States.

Greeley appealed to the practical need of winning the war. "We must have scouts, guides, spies, cooks, teamsters, diggers and choppers from the blacks of the South, whether we allow them to fight for us or not.... I entreat you to render a hearty and unequivocal obedience to the law of the land."

Lincoln had already shown his attitude by his failure to countermand an order of one of his commanders, General Henry Halleck, who forbade fugitive Negroes to enter his army's lines. Now he replied to Greeley:

Dear Sir: ... I have not meant to leave any one in doubt. .. . My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy Slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about Slavery and the colored race, I do because it helps to save this Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. . .. I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty, and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men, everywhere, could be free. Yours. A. Lincoln.

So Lincoln distinguished between his "personal wish" and his "official duty."

When in September 1862, Lincoln issued his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, it was a military move, giving the South four months to stop rebelling, threatening to emancipate their slaves if they continued to fight, promising to leave slavery untouched in states that came over to the North:

That on the 1st day of January, AD 1863, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward and forever free. . . .

Thus, when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued January 1, 1863, it declared slaves free in those areas still fighting against the Union (which it listed very carefully), and said nothing about slaves behind Union lines. As Hofstadter put it, the Emancipation Proclamation "had all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading." The London Spectator wrote concisely: "The principle is not that a human being cannot justly own another, but that he cannot own him unless he is loyal to the United States."

Limited as it was, the Emancipation Proclamation spurred antislavery forces. By the summer of 1864, 400,000 signatures asking legislation to end slavery had been gathered and sent to Congress, something unprecedented in the history of the country. That April, the Senate had adopted the Thirteenth Amendment, declaring an end to slavery, and in January 1865, the House of Representatives followed.

With the Proclamation, the Union army was open to blacks. And the more blacks entered the war, the more it appeared a war for their liberation. The more whites had to sacrifice, the more resentment there was, particularly among poor whites in the North, who were drafted by a law that allowed the rich to buy their way out of the draft for $300. And so the draft riots of 1863 took place, uprisings of angry whites in northern cities, their targets not the rich, far away, but the blacks, near at hand. It was an orgy of death and violence. A black man in Detroit described what he saw: a mob, with kegs of beer on wagons, armed with clubs and bricks, marching through the city, attacking black men, women, children. He heard one man say: "If we are got to be killed up for Negroes then we will kill every one in this town."

The Civil War was one of the bloodiest in human history up to that time: 600,000 dead on both sides, in a population of 30 million-the equivalent, in the United States of 1978, with a population of 250 million, of 5 million dead. As the battles became more intense, as the bodies piled up, as war fatigue grew, the existence of blacks in the South, 4 million of them, became more and more a hindrance to the South, and more and more an opportunity for the North. Du Bois, in Black Reconstruction, pointed this out:

.. . these slaves had enormous power in their hands. Simply by stopping work, they could threaten the Confederacy with starvation. By walking into the Federal camps, they showed to doubting Northerners the easy possibility of using them thus, but by the same gesture, depriving their enemies of their use in just these fields....

It was this plain alternative that brought Lee's sudden surrender. Either the South must make terms with its slaves, free them, use them to fight the North, and thereafter no longer treat them as bondsmen; or they could surrender to the North with the assumption that the North after the war must help them to defend slavery, as it had before.

George Rawick, a sociologist and anthropologist, describes the development of blacks up to and into the Civil War:

The slaves went from being frightened human beings, thrown among strange men, including fellow slaves who were not their kinsmen and who did not speak their language or understand their customs and habits, to what W. E. B. DuBois once described as the general strike whereby hundreds of thousands of slaves deserted the plantations, destroying the Smith's ability to supply its army.

Black women played an important part in the war, especially toward the end. Sojourner Truth, the legendary ex-slave who had been active in the women's rights movement, became recruiter of black troops for the Union army, as did Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin of Boston. Harriet Tubman raided plantations, leading black and white troops, and in one expedition freed 750 slaves. Women moved with the colored regiments that grew as the Union army marched through the South, helping their husbands, enduring terrible hardships on the long military treks, in which many children died. They suffered the fate of soldiers, as in April 1864, when Confederate troops at Fort Pillow, Kentucky, massacred Union soldiers who had surrendered-black and white, along with women and children in an adjoining camp.

It has been said that black acceptance of slavery is proved by the fact that during the Civil War, when there were opportunities for escape, most slaves stayed on the plantation. In fact, half a million ran away- about one in five, a high proportion when one considers that there was great difficulty in knowing where to go and how to live.

The owner of a large plantation in South Carolina and Georgia wrote in 1862: "This war has taught us the perfect impossibility of placing the least confidence in the negro. In too numerous instances those we esteemed the most have been the first to desert us." That same year, a lieutenant in the Confederate army and once mayor of Savannah, Georgia, wrote: "I deeply regret to learn that the Negroes still continue to desert to the enemy."

A minister in Mississippi wrote in the fall of 1862: "On my arrival was surprised to hear that our negroes stampeded to the Yankees last night or rather a portion of them.... I think every one, but with one or two exceptions will go to the Yankees. Eliza and her family are certain to go. She does not conceal her thoughts but plainly manifests her opinions by her conduct-insolent and insulting." And a woman's plantation journal of January 1865:

The people are all idle on the plantations, most of them seeking their own pleasure. Many servants have proven faithful, others false and rebellious against all authority and restraint. .. . Their condition is one of perfect anarchy and rebellion. They have placed themselves in perfect antagonism to their owners and to all government and control.. . . Nearly all the house servants have left their homes; and from most of the plantations they have gone in a body.

Also in 1865, a South Carolina planter wrote to the New York Tribune that

the conduct of the Negro in the late crisis of our affairs has convinced me that we were all laboring under a delusion.... I believed that these people were content, happy, and attached to their masters. But events and reflection have caused me to change these positions.. .. If they were content, happy and attached to their masters, why did they desert him in the moment of his need and flock to an enemy, whom they did not know; and thus left their perhaps really good masters whom they did know from infancy?

Genovese notes that the war produced no general rising of slaves, but: "In Lafayette County, Mississippi, slaves responded to the Emancipation Proclamation by driving off their overseers and dividing the land and implements among themselves." Aptheker reports a conspiracy of Negroes in Arkansas in 1861 to kill their enslavers. In Kentucky that year, houses and barns were burned by Negroes, and in the city of New Castle slaves paraded through the city "singing political songs, and shouting for Lincoln," according to newspaper accounts. After the Emancipation Proclamation, a Negro waiter in Richmond, Virginia, was arrested for leading "a servile plot," while in Yazoo City, Mississippi, slaves burned the courthouse and fourteen homes.

There were special moments: Robert Smalls (later a South Carolina Congressman) and other blacks took over a steamship, The Planter, and sailed it past the Confederate guns to deliver it to the Union navy.

Most slaves neither submitted nor rebelled. They continued to work, waiting to see what happened. When opportunity came, they left, often joining the Union army. Two hundred thousand blacks were in the army and navy, and 38,000 were killed. Historian James McPherson says: "Without their help, the North could not have won the war as soon as it did, and perhaps it could not have won at all."

What happened to blacks in the Union army and in the northern cities during the war gave some hint of how limited the emancipation would be, even with full victory over the Confederacy. Off- duty black soldiers were attacked in northern cities, as in Zanesville, Ohio, in February 1864, where cries were heard to "kill the nigger." Black soldiers were used for the heaviest and dirtiest work, digging trenches, hauling logs and camion, loading ammunition, digging wells for white regiments. White privates received $13 a month; Negro privates received $10 a month.

Late in the war, a black sergeant of the Third South Carolina Volunteers, William Walker, marched his company to his captain's tent and ordered them to stack arms and resign from the army as a protest against what he considered a breach of contract, because of unequal pay. He was court-martialed and shot for mutiny. Finally, in June 1864, Congress passed a law granting equal pay to Negro soldiers.

The Confederacy was desperate in the latter part of the war, and some of its leaders suggested the slaves, more and more an obstacle to their cause, be enlisted, used, and freed. After a number of military defeats, the Confederate secretary of war, Judah Benjamin, wrote in late 1864 to a newspaper editor in Charleston: ". . . It is well known that General Lee, who commands so largely the confidence of the people, is strongly in favor of our using the negroes for defense, and emancipating them, if necessary, for that purpose. . . ." One general, indignant, wrote: "If slaves will make good soldiers, our whole theory of slavery is wrong."

By early 1865, the pressure had mounted, and in March President Davis of the Confederacy signed a "Negro Soldier Law" authorizing the enlistment of slaves as soldiers, to be freed by consent of their owners and their state governments. But before it had any significant effect, the war was over.

Former slaves, interviewed by the Federal Writers' Project in the thirties, recalled the war's end. Susie Melton:

I was a young gal, about ten years old, and we done heard that Lincoln gonna turn the niggers free. Ol' missus say there wasn't nothin' to it. Then a Yankee soldier told someone in Williamsburg that Lincoln done signed the 'mancipation. Was wintertime and mighty cold that night, but everybody commenced getting ready to leave. Didn't care nothin' about missus - was going to the Union lines. And all that night the niggers danced and sang right out in the cold. Next morning at day break we all started out with blankets and clothes and pots and pans and chickens piled on our backs, 'cause missus said we couldn't take no horses or carts. And as the sun come up over the trees, the niggers started to singing: Sun, you be here and I'll be gone
Sun, you be here and I'll be gone
Sun, you be here and I'll be gone
Bye, bye, don't grieve after me
Won't give you my place, not for yours
Bye, bye, don't grieve after me
Cause you be here and I'll be gone.
 

Anna Woods:

We wasn't there in Texas long when the soldiers marched in to tell us that we were free. ... I remembers one woman. She jumped on a barrel and she shouted. She jumped off and she shouted. She jumped hack on again and shouted some more. She kept that up for a long time, just jumping on a barrel and back off again.

Annie Mae Weathers said:

I remember hearing my pa say that when somebody came and hollered, "You niggers is free at last," say he just dropped his hoc and said in a queer voice, "Thank God for that."

The Federal Writers' Project recorded an ex-slave named Fannie Berry:

Niggers shoutin' and clappin' hands and singin'! Chillun runnin' all over the place beatin' time and yellin'! Everybody happy. Sho' did some celebratin'. Run to the kitchen and shout in the window:

"Mammy, don't you cook no more.

You's free! You's free!"

Many Negroes understood that their status after the war, whatever their situation legally, would depend on whether they owned the land they worked on or would be forced to be semislaves for others. In 1863, a North Carolina Negro wrote that "if the strict law of right and justice is to be observed, the country around me is the entailed inheritance of the Americans of African descent, purchased by the invaluable labor of our ancestors, through a life of tears and groans, under the lash and yoke of tyranny."

Abandoned plantations, however, were leased to former planters, and to white men of the North. As one colored newspaper said: "The slaves were made serfs and chained to the soil. . . . Such was the boasted freedom acquired by the colored man at the hands of the Yankee."

Under congressional policy approved by Lincoln, the property confiscated during the war under the Confiscation Act of July 1862 would revert to the heirs of the Confederate owners. Dr. John Rock, a black physician in Boston, spoke at a meeting: "Why talk about compensating masters? Compensate them for what? What do you owe them? What does the slave owe them? What does society owe them? Compensate the master? . . . It is the slave who ought to be compensated. The property of the South is by right the property of the slave. . . ."

Some land was expropriated on grounds the taxes were delinquent, and sold at auction. But only a few blacks could afford to buy this. In the South Carolina Sea Islands, out of 16,000 acres up for sale in March of 1863, freedmen who pooled their money were able to buy 2,000 acres, the rest being bought by northern investors and speculators. A freedman on the Islands dictated a letter to a former teacher now in Philadelphia:

My Dear Young Missus: Do, my missus, tell Linkum dat we wants land - dis bery land dat is rich wid de sweat ob de face and de blood ob we back. . . . We could a bin buy all we want, but dey make de lots too big, and cut we out.

De word cum from Mass Linkum's self, dat we take out claims and hold on ter um, an' plant um, and he will see dat we get um, every man ten or twenty acre. We too glad. We stake out an' list, but fore de time for plant, dese commissionaries sells to white folks all de best land. Where Linkum?

In early 1865, General William T. Sherman held a conference in Savannah, Georgia, with twenty Negro ministers and church officials, mostly former slaves, at which one of them expressed their need: "The way we can best take care of ourselves is to have land, and till it by our labor. . . ." Four days later Sherman issued "Special Field Order No. 15," designating the entire southern coastline 30 miles inland for exclusive Negro settlement. Freedmen could settle there, taking no more than 40 acres per family. By June 1865, forty thousand freedmen had moved onto new farms in this area. But President Andrew Johnson, in August of 1865, restored this land to the Confederate owners, and the freedmen were forced off, some at bayonet point.

Ex-slave Thomas Hall told the Federal Writers' Project:

Lincoln got the praise for freeing us, but did he do it? He gave us freedom without giving us any chance to live to ourselves and we still had to depend on the southern white man for work, food, and clothing, and he held us out of necessity and want in a state of servitude but little better than slavery.

The American government had set out to fight the slave states in 1861, not to end slavery, but to retain the enormous national territory and market and resources. Yet, victory required a crusade, and the momentum of that crusade brought new forces into national politics: more blacks determined to make their freedom mean something; more whites-whether Freedman's Bureau officials, or teachers in the Sea Islands, or "carpetbaggers" with various mixtures of humanitarianism and personal ambition-concerned with racial equality. There was also the powerful interest of the Republican party in maintaining control over the national government, with the prospect of southern black votes to accomplish this. Northern businessmen, seeing Republican policies as beneficial to them, went along for a while.

The result was that brief period after the Civil War in which southern Negroes voted, elected blacks to state legislatures and to Congress, introduced free and racially mixed public education to the South. A legal framework was constructed. The Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." The Fourteenth Amendment repudiated the prewar Dred Scott decision by declaring that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States" were citizens. It also seemed to make a powerful statement for racial equality, severely limiting "states' rights."

Excerpted from A People's history of the United States.

Rainforest Action Network Responds to Asia Pulp and Paper’s New Forest Commitments

SAN FRANCISCO - February 5 - Controversial Singapore-based paper giant, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), today announced a new “Forest Conservation Policy” to undertake environmental and social reforms to its business practices. This comes on the heels of almost 100 international corporate customers cutting contracts or stepping away from APP paper products, most notably Disney, Staples, and Mattel, after responding to criticism about the paper company's role in harming Indonesia’s endangered rainforests and communities. APP is the largest paper company in Indonesia and one of the largest in the world.

"Though we welcome APP's new rainforest commitments as a milestone, the hidden story here is the controversial paper giant’s long history of broken promises, land conflicts and human rights violations across its operations,” said Lafcadio Cortesi, Asia Director for Rainforest Action Network. “APP will not be seen as a responsible company in the marketplace until its new commitments are implemented and resolve the devastating rainforest and human rights crises it has caused in Indonesia.” 

APP’s new forest commitment, which went into effect February 1, extends beyond lands controlled directly by the company to cover its entire supply base – about half of APP’s paper fiber comes from ‘independent’ suppliers. The company says it will also defer clearing and conversion of natural forests and carbon-rich peatlands while conservation and carbon values are assessed. In addition, the commitment acknowledges the company’s problems associated with land conflict, and recognizes indigenous and local community rights to land. 

“Since building its pulp mills in Sumatra, APP has deforested an area of rainforest the size of Massachusetts,” continued Cortesi. “APP has a long history of making and breaking environmental and social commitments. The real proof of APP’s new commitment will be in how it proceeds with current plans to build what could be the largest pulp mill in the world in South Sumatra.”

In 2004, APP promised to protect High Conservation Value Forests (HCVFs) and reach “full sustainability” as part of a legally binding US$6 billion debt “Master Restructuring Agreement” with Western financial institutions and Export Credit Agencies. As of March 2012, APP still remained in gross violation of this agreement.

Rainforest Action Network and its Indonesian partners are currently tracking dozens of cases of ongoing conflict between Asia Pulp and Paper, its wood suppliers and local communities across the Sumatran provinces of Jambi and Riau alone. (Raw data and background information on these cases are available on request.)

In one example, which is representative of countless others, members of the Senyerang village in the Jambi Province of Sumatra have been embroiled in high-tension conflict with APP affiliate PT. WKS for many years. PT WKS cleared community gardens and forcibly displaced dozens of families. When the community took action to block log barges from reaching its pulp mill in November of 2010, police were called in and a community leader was shot dead. The land conflict and human rights violations in Senyerang remain unresolved and the community released a press release with an update on the conflict just last week. (View an English-translated version here, and a listing of grievances against PT WKS here.)

Rainforest Action Network has campaigned since 2009 to pressure APP to reform its destructive practices, including working with ten of the top publishing companies in the US to cancel contracts with APP until the company ends its central role in Indonesia’s deforestation crisis.

Indonesia is home to some of the most biologically diverse forests in the world but it also has dangerously high rates of deforestation. Logging for pulp, along with the expansion of palm oil plantations, is a leading driver of this destruction. Indonesia is now listed as the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, after the US and China. An estimated eighty per cent of its emissions come from the conversion of peatlands and other natural forests.

APP’s new commitment comes at a critical moment for Indonesia’s forests. The two-year moratorium on deforestation decreed by President Yudhoyono in 2011 expires in May this year.

For more information on APP, please visit: http://understory.ran.org/2012/12/15/app-the-most-destructive-company-in-the-world/

Common Cause and Allies Applaud Re-Launch of `Declaration for Democracy’ Campaign to Overturn Citizens...

WASHINGTON - February 5 - This week, Common Cause and ally organizations applauded the re-launch of the “Declaration For Democracy” campaign. Public officials signing the declaration are proclaiming  their support for amending the  Constitution  to limit the influence of money in our democracy and to restore the rights of the American people in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC.  Representatives Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Ted Deutch (D-FL) circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter on Monday urging their colleagues to sign the declaration. 

By the end of the 112thCongress, 2,000 public officials had expressed their support for a constitutional amendment. The list includes President Obama, 98 Members of the House, and 29 senators (list visible at http://united4thepeople.org). 

The Declaration For Democracy reads:  “I, ____________, declare my support for amending the Constitution of the United States to restore the rights of the American people, undermined by Citizens United and related cases, to protect the integrity of our elections and limit the corrosive influence of money in our democratic process.” The declaration can be found here

“Voters across the country have demonstrated overwhelming support for a constitutional amendment that clarifies that unlimited campaign spending has never been free speech,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “Congress must respond to that.”

 “The Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United and related cases put our political system on the auction block to be sold to the highest bidder,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way.  “Americans don’t want an auction, they want a working democracy. We are thrilled that Representatives Edwards and Deutch are inviting their colleagues to join the growing chorus of voices calling for change.  We look forward to getting even more public officials on board this year.” 

“The greatest political reform of our time will be to abolish the legal concept of ‘corporate personhood’ and the inherently anti-democratic equation of money with political speech,” said Bill Moyer, Executive Director of the Backbone Campaign.

“Companies ought to be competing in the marketplace with the best products and services, not in our elections for unfair influence of the decisions that will impact our economy by those with the deepest pockets,” said David Levine, CEO of the American Sustainable Business Council. “This money is better spent by investing in growing our businesses, creating jobs and building a stronger economy.”

“Our electoral process should be about the rights of individuals to participate in our nation's politics,” said Larry Cohen, President of Communications Workers of America.  “That's what democracy looks like. The Communications Workers of America commends elected officials at every level of government who are fighting to restore fairness to our political process. The role of money in politics must be completely overhauled. Today it dwarfs everything else and is distorting our democracy. Working with other progressive organizations, CWA is committed to stopping the flow of secret cash to political campaigns and making it clear to all dollars are not speech. This effort will require constitutional changes and other measures to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for secret spending and today enables billionaires to buy our nation’s elections. We also will work for the public financing of elections, because without these very real changes, the one percent will continue to control our politics.”

US Prison Population Seeing ‘Unprecedented Increase’

The research wing of the U.S. Congress is warning that three decades of “historically unprecedented” build-up in the number of prisoners incarcerated in the United States have led to a level of overcrowding that is now “taking a toll on the infrastructure” of the federal prison system.

(Photo: :Dar via Flickr) Over the past 30 years, according to a new report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the federal prison population has jumped from 25,000 to 219,000 inmates, an increase of nearly 790 percent. Swollen by such figures, for years the United States has incarcerated far more people than any other country, today imprisoning some 716 people out of every 100,000. (Although CRS reports are not made public, a copy can be found here.)

“This is one of the major human rights problems within the United States, as many of the people caught up in the criminal justice system are low income, racial and ethnic minorities, often forgotten by society,” Maria McFarland, deputy director for the U.S. program at Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

In recent years, as a consequence of the imposition of very harsh sentencing policies, McFarland’s office has seen new patterns emerging of juveniles and very elderly people being put in prison.

“Last year, some 95,000 juveniles under 18 years of age were put in prison, and that doesn’t count those in juvenile facilities,” she noted.

“And between 2007 and 2011, the population of those over 64 grew by 94 times the rate of the regular population. Prisons clearly aren’t equipped to take care of these aging people, and you have to question what threat they pose to society – and the justification for imprisoning them.”

According to the new CRS report, a growing number of these prisoners are being put away for charges related to immigration violations and weapons possession. But the largest number is for relatively paltry drug offenses – an approach that report author Nathan James, a CRS analyst in crime policy, warns may not be useful in bringing down crime statistics.

“Research suggests that while incarceration did contribute to lower violent crime rates in the 1990s, there are declining marginal returns associated with ever increasing levels of incarceration,” James notes. He suggests that one potential explanation for this could be that people have been increasingly incarcerated for crimes in which there is a “high level of replacement”.

For instance, he says, if a serial rapist is incarcerated, the judicial system has the power to prevent further sexual assaults by that offender, and it is likely that no one will take the offender’s place. “However, if a drug dealer is incarcerated, it is possible that someone will step in to take that person’s place,” James writes. “Therefore, no further crimes may be averted by incarcerating the individual.”

Smarter on crime

Of course, the U.S. prison population’s blooming needs to be traced back to changes within the federal criminal justice system. Recent decades have seen an expanding “get tough” approach on crime here, under which even nonviolent offenders are facing stiff prison sentences.

In turn, overcrowding has become a massive issue, with the federal prison system as a whole operating at 39 percent over capacity in 2011, according to CRS. The result has also been significant price overruns, with the Bureau of Prisons budget doubling to nearly 6.4 billion dollars even while hundreds of millions of dollars worth of unaddressed infrastructure problems continue to mount.

Yet the problems being experienced by the federal prison system actually stand in contrast to certain trends at the state level. While some states have dealt with even more worrisome problems of prison overcrowding – including California, which in 2011 was ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court to take steps to reduce the pressure – recent years have seen movement at the state level to counter over-incarceration.

Some of this action may have come from serious state budget crises. Currently, after all, it costs between 25,000 and 30,000 dollars to house a prisoner in the United States.

According to a new report by the Sentencing Project, a Washington advocacy group working on prison reform, prisoner populations in the United States overall declined by around 1.5 percent in 2011. Furthermore, last year lawmakers in 24 states adopted policies that “may contribute to down-scaling prison populations”.

“There has been a marked change in the amount of activity at the state level to end our addiction to incarceration,” Vineeta Gupta, deputy legal director with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told IPS.

“Some states are currently having many discussions they would not have had 10 years ago – getting smarter on crime rather than tougher on crime. None of these moves are comprehensive enough to address the large scope of the problem, but they’re very important starting points.”

She continued: “Unfortunately, the federal government has been going in the opposite direction.”

Mandatory minimum

Arguably, the single most important element in explaining the record incarceration numbers both at the federal and state levels could be “mandatory minimum” sentencing requirements, under which federal and state law over the past two decades has automatically required certain prison sentences for certain crimes, particularly for drug offenses.

Such polices have eliminated the ability of judges to tailor judicial responses to individual circumstance. Over the years, sitting judges have resigned over mandatory minimum policies, while others have waged high-visibility campaigns for their rollback.

“Particular attention should be given to reforming mandatory minimums and parole release mechanisms as policies that can work to reduce state prison populations,” the Sentencing Project suggests, noting also that “Mandatory minimums do not reduce crime but result in lengthy prison terms that contribute to overcrowding.”

Such analysis echoes parts of the CRS conclusions while also under-girding growing momentum on the issue. According to the Sentencing Project, seven states last year weakened or repealed certain mandatory minimum regulations.

More dramatically, in mid-January, Senator Patrick Leahy, the head of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, told a Washington audience that he would support doing away entirely with federal mandatory minimums, which he called “a great mistake”.

“Senator Leahy’s comments are a very big step towards starting a conversation to address a major driver of the federal growth,” the ACLU’s Gupta says. “The hope is that some of the stuff that’s brewing in the states, where crime in some places is still at an all-time low, can now serve as an example for the federal system.”

Frontrunning: February 5

  • Obama to meet with Goldman's Blankfein, other CEOs Tuesday (Reuters)
  • Chinese Firms Shrug at Rising Debt (WSJ)
  • McGraw-Hill, S&P Sued by U.S. Over Mortgage-Bond Ratings (BBG)... but not Moody's or Fitch
  • Dime a Dozen: Dollar Stores Pinched by Rapid Expansion (WSJ)
  • Dell Board Said to Vote Monday Night on $24 Billion LBO (BBG)
  • BOJ Governor Shirakawa to step down on March 19 (Reuters)
  • Alberta may offer more to smooth way for Keystone (Reuters)
  • Facebook Is Said to Create Mobile Location-Tracking App (BBG)
  • Barclays takes another $1.6 billion hit for mis-selling (Reuters)
  • Apple App Advantage Eroded as Google Narrows IPhone Lead (BBG)
  • Texas School-Finance System Unconstitutional, Judge Rules (BBG)
  • World Risks ‘Perfect Storm’ on Capital Flows, Carstens Says (BBG)

Overnight Media Digest

WSJ

* Michael Dell is close to finishing a risky $23 billion deal to take private the computer company he founded nearly 30 years ago, in an effort to remake Dell Inc for a post-PC era.

* The Justice Department in the United States sued Standard & Poor's Ratings Services late Monday, alleging the firm ignored its own standards to rate mortgage bonds that imploded in the financial crisis and cost investors billions.

* Investigators remain stumped on the cause of burning batteries aboard two Boeing 787 Dreamliners, fueling pessimism about how quickly the grounded aircraft can resume flying.

* British regulators are considering forcing banks to raise billions of pounds in fresh capital to address concerns around a key gauge of their financial health.

* Oracle Corp said it will acquire telecommunications gear maker Acme Packet Inc in a deal valued at $1.7 billion, making its biggest move yet into the market for equipment that transports Internet data.

* Bridgewater Associates told its investors that it will launch a new hedge fund this year, and had sold another minority equity stake in the firm to an unidentified buyer to help ensure its long-term viability.

* The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, expanding a high-profile investigation, is gathering data on a broad number of trades by corporate executives in shares of their own companies, according to people familiar with the probe.

FT

Standard & Poor's is likely to face a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice alleging that the credit rating agency defrauded banks by issuing overly rosy ratings for mortgage-related securities in the lead-up to the financial crisis.

SGX, the Singapore stock exchange, is in talks to buy a stake in clearing house LCH.Clearnet. The Asian exchange may participate in the London Stock Exchange Group's purchase of LCH or buy a separate stake.

Mercuria - one of the world's top five energy traders, has hired Credit Suisse to carry out a strategic stake sale.

The Moscow Exchange is set become Europe's largest exchange by market capitalisation after it set a price range for its initial public offering, that values the company at $4 billion to $4.6 billion.

BP Plc is likely to face a year or more of uncertainty over the cost of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster as any decision on civil penalties and environmental damages is not expected to come until next year.

Former chief executive of Thales - Denis Ranque, has emerged as the front runner to become chairman of European aerospace and defence company EADS, according to two people familiar with the situation. EADS shareholders will meet next month to approve a new board and corporate governance structure at the company.

Dutch telecoms group KPN, is finalising plans to raise as much as 4 billion euros in new capital. The company whose stakeholders include Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, is seeking to raise 2 billion euros to 4 billion euros in the form of a rights issue.

NYT

* The Justice Department in the United Status filed civil fraud charges late Monday against the nation's largest credit-ratings agency, Standard & Poor's, accusing the firm of inflating the ratings of mortgage investments and setting them up for a crash when the financial crisis struck.

* Dell Inc neared an agreement on Monday to sell itself to a group led by its founder and the investment firm Silver Lake for more than $23 billion, people briefed on the matter said, in what would be the biggest buyout since the financial crisis.

* China Petroleum and Chemical Corp , the state-owned oil and refining giant better known as Sinopec, is selling new shares worth up to $3.1 billion, in what ranks as one of Asia's biggest equity deals so far this year.

* Japan Airlines said that the grounding of its Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet would cost it 700 million yen, or $7.5 million, in earnings through March and that it would seek compensation from Boeing Co.

* British regulators will have the power to split up banks that fail to separate risky trading activity from retail banking, George Osborne, the country's chancellor of the Exchequer, said.

* Microsoft Corp, taking aim at the world's fastest-growing smartphone market, said on Monday that it would team up with Huawei of China to sell a low-cost Windows smartphone in Africa.

Canada

THE GLOBE AND MAIL

* Alberta Premier Alison Redford has replaced two of her cabinet ministers, a minor shuffle she says is evidence of her government "leading by example" as it focuses on economic development and looks for savings leading up to next month's budget.

* Amid a standoff between buyers and sellers, the number of homes sold in Greater Vancouver fell 14.3 percent last month. There were 1,351 property sales in the region in January, down from 1,577 in the same month of 2012, the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver said Monday.

Reports in the business section:

* The end of the penny has given the Royal Canadian Mint 20 percent more capacity, and it plans to put it to use producing other countries' coins. The Mint struck its final penny last May after the federal government announced it would kill the coin as a cost-saving measure. Monday marks beginning of the penny's phase-out as the Mint will stop distributing them to retailers and banks.

NATIONAL POST

* The official word on the progress of free trade negotiations between Canada and the European Union is that "no deal is imminent." Unofficially, trade sources suggest a framework deal is sitting on the Prime Minister's desk, waiting for him to decide whether the terms are likely to cause him unacceptable political headaches.

FINANCIAL POST

* Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd's decision to hire away a top Canadian National Railway Co executive came with the hefty price in the form of a deal not to hire about 60 of its rivals' top marketing and operations executives through 2016. Canadian Pacific said Monday it had appointed Canadian National's chief operating officer, Keith Creel, as its new president, chief operating officer, and the likely successor to Hunter Harrison as its chief executive.

China

CHINA SECURITIES JOURNAL

--China could raise crude oil prices after the Chinese Spring Festival holiday (Feb. 9 to 17), due to a rise in global oil prices, the official paper said citing industry sources.

--China may announce plans this year to develop 120 trading posts along its borders to stimulate the country's struggling exports and boost investment.

--China Vanke Co Ltd, the country's largest real estate developer by turnover, said its board had approved a plan to move trading of its foreign currency shares to Hong Kong from Shenzhen.

SHANGHAI SECURITIES NEWS

--The State Council said it plans to implement paid vacation rules to boost domestic tourism. Analysts said this could boost tourism revenues by 50 billion yuan ($8.02 billion) per year.

--China's yuan deposits in Hong Kong could rise to 700 billion yuan this year, from 600 billion yuan last year, analysts told the official paper.

PEOPLE'S DAILY

--China's Ministry of Public Security said it has handled 120 food safety cases and arrested 350 people since it started a crackdown on illegal food and food safety in January.

SHANGHAI DAILY

--Police seized more than 40 tons of fake mutton and beef rolls in China's northeastern Liaoning province. The fake food was made from duck and laced with large amounts of carcinogens.

Fly on the Wall 7:00 AM Market Snapshot

ANALYST RESEARCH

Upgrades

Alon USA Partners (ALDW) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Goldman
Armstrong World (AWI) upgraded to Overweight from Equal Weight at Barclays
Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Citigroup
Cullen/Frost (CFR) upgraded to Outperform from Perform at Oppenheimer
D.R. Horton (DHI) upgraded to Overweight from Equal Weight at Barclays
Harmony Gold (HMY) upgraded to Neutral from Sell at Citigroup
Macy's (M) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Citigroup
Marvell (MRVL) upgraded to Outperform from Sector Perform at RBC Capital
Stillwater Mining (SWC) upgraded to Overweight from Neutral at JPMorgan
Target (TGT) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at Citigroup
UnitedHealth (UNH) upgraded to Conviction Buy from Neutral at Goldman
Zynga (ZNGA) upgraded to Buy from Neutral at BofA/Merrill

Downgrades

Alon USA Energy (ALJ) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Goldman
American Science & Engineering (ASEI) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Benchmark Co.
Associated Banc-Corp (ASBC) downgraded to Perform from Outperform at Oppenheimer
AvalonBay (AVB) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Jefferies
Baidu (BIDU) downgraded to Market Perform from Outperform at Raymond James
Equity Residential (EQR) downgraded to Hold from Buy at Jefferies
Iconix Brand (ICON) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Citigroup
Invesco (IVZ) downgraded to Market Perform from Outperform at BMO Capital
KB Home (KBH) downgraded to Equal Weight from Overweight at Barclays
Kohl's (KSS) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at Citigroup
PulteGroup (PHM) downgraded to Equal Weight from Overweight at Barclays
Realogy (RLGY) downgraded to Equal Weight from Overweight at Barclays
Royal Caribbean (RCL) downgraded to Market Perform from Outperform at Raymond James
Ryland Group (RYL) downgraded to Underweight from Equal Weight at Barclays
Scientific Games (SGMS) downgraded to Sell from Hold at Deutsche Bank
Stryker (SYK) downgraded to Neutral from Buy at UBS
Toll Brothers (TOL) downgraded to Underweight from Equal Weight at Barclays
Yum! Brands (YUM) downgraded to Neutral from Outperform at RW Baird
hhgregg (HGG) downgraded to Underperform from Neutral at Credit Suisse

Initiations

ASML (ASML) initiated with an Outperform at Cowen
Applied Materials (AMAT) initiated with an Outperform at Cowen
Broadcom (BRCM) initiated with an Outperform at Cowen
ChipMOS (IMOS) initiated with an Outperform at Cowen
Health Care REIT (HCN) initiated with an Overweight at Barclays
Intel (INTC) initiated with a Neutral at Cowen
KLA-Tencor (KLAC) initiated with a Neutral at Cowen
Lam Research (LRCX) initiated with a Neutral at Cowen
Neurocrine Biosciences (NBIX) initiated with a Buy at Lazard Capital
Repros Therapeutics (RPRX) initiated with a Buy at Lazard Capital
SanDisk (SNDK) initiated with a Neutral at Cowen
Teradyne (TER) initiated with an Outperform at Cowen
Texas Instruments (TXN) initiated with a Neutral at Cowen
Ulta Salon (ULTA) initiated with an Outperform at Credit Suisse
Vanda Pharmaceuticals (VNDA) initiated with a Buy at Lazard Capital
Vitamin Shoppe (VSI) initiated with an Outperform at Credit Suisse
Workday (WDAY) initiated with a Neutral at Citigroup

HOT STOCKS

Dell (DELL) board said to meet last night to vote on buyout, Bloomberg reports
Yum! Brands (YUM) CEO Novak: We no longer expect to achieve EPS growth in 2013
Sees KFC China SSS improving as the year progresses
Virgin Media (VMED) confirms talks with Liberty Global (LBTYA) over possible transaction
J.C. Penney (JCP) said notice of default from bondholders is invalid, without merit
Arbitron (ARB) and Nielsen (NLSN) voluntarily provided FTC additional time for merger review
Baker Hughes (BHI) to retain process and pipeline services business
Spectra (SE) targets investments of $25B in capital expansion projects through decade
U.S. Bancorp's (USB) Elavon acquired Collective POS, terms not disclosed
A.T. Cross (ATX) to explore strategic alternatives for Cross accessory division
Vitamin Shoppe (VSE) said FTC ended investigation into Super Supplements deal

EARNINGS

Companies that beat consensus earnings expectations last night and today include:
Becton Dickinson (BDX), Diamond Offshore (DO), NYSE Euronext (NYX), BP (BP), Yum! Brands (YUM), Array BioPharma (ARRY), Baidu (BIDU), SolarWinds (SWI), Hartford Financial (HIG), Luminex (LMNX), Anadarko (APC), Gilead (GILD), Edwards Lifesciences (EW)

Companies that missed consensus earnings expectations include:
Centene (CNC), Symetra Financial (SYA), Anadarko (APC)

Companies that matched consensus earnings expectations include:
Santander Chile (BSAC), BCD Semiconductor (BCDS)

NEWSPAPERS/WEBSITES

  • Dollar stores (DG, FDO, DLTR) are finding it harder to make money as sales-growth has slowed and in some cases margins have been shrinking as competition for their target customer—the cash-strapped consumer—has increased, the Wall Street Journal reports.
  • Money-market funds have a high-quality problem: investors are entrusting them with too much cash. The flood of money is prompting the funds to seek higher returns in investments that until recently were seen as too risky. Investors put $149B into U.S.-based money-market funds between the start of November and January 30, bringing total assets under management to $2.695T according to the Investment Company Institute, the Wall Street Journal reports
  • President Obama will meet today with CEOs from 12 companies including Goldman Sachs Group (GS) Lloyd Blankfein and Yahoo's (YHOO) Marissa Mayer to discuss immigration and deficit reduction. Others include Arne Sorenson of Marriott International (MAR), Jeff Smisek of United Continental Holdings (UAL) and Klaus Kleinfeld of Alcoa (AA), Reuters reports
  • The euro zone's economy has turned a corner, according to a business survey that showed businesses are more optimistic about the future but highlighted a growing split between the region's economies. Markit's Eurozone Composite PMI, jumped in January to a 10-month high of 48.6 from 47.2 in December, Reuters reports
  • Facebook (FB) is developing a smartphone application, expected to be released next month, that will track the location of users, sources say, bolstering efforts to benefit from growing use of social media on mobile computers, Bloomberg reports
  • Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), which counts Warren Buffett’s company (BRK.A) as its largest shareholder, is planning to target Persian Gulf sovereign wealth funds to expand its client base in the Middle East, Bloomberg reports

SYNDICATE

Celldex (CLDX) files to sell $75M in common stock
Enterprise Products (EPD) announces offering of 8M common units
Fidus Investment (FDUS) files to sell common stock
KCAP Financial (KCAP) files to sell 4M shares of common stock
MagnaChip (MX) files to sell 5M shares of common stock

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Anti-Kremlin opposition making ‘new, improved’ constitution

RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov

RIA Novosti / Ramil Sitdikov

Russian Opposition’s Coordination Council is drafting a new constitution that would grant the head of state fewer powers and turn the country form a “super-presidential” into a parliamentary republic.

Only that way, they believe, can “real separation of powers” in Russia be provided.

Under the plan, the new supreme law should be adopted through a referendum if Vladimir Putin resigns – a move the opposition activists have been demanding since the protest movement sprung up in December 2011.

According to one of the authors of the bill, political analyst Andrey Piontkovsky, their main task is to deviate from “monarchical grounds” of the current constitution.

“It gives enormous powers to a president,” the Coordination Council member told Izvestia daily.

Under a new version of the law, the president would still remain a symbolic head of the multinational state and the guarantor of citizens’ rights and freedoms, Piontkovsky said. However, key functions – such as the election of the government – would be given to the parliament.

Additionally, the opposition is mulling over a cut of powers of republics within the Russian Federation. That would serve to prevent separatism, Piontkovsky noted, adding that republics would still have a right to a second language as a symbol of their national identity. However, he said, no consensus has so far been reached on the matter.

Instead of re-writing the entire constitution from a scratch, the Coordination Council plans to correct faults in the existing one, says another author of the draft, national-democrat Konstantin Krylov.

The council invited independent experts to work on the project. Among them is Mikhail Krasnov – a former legal advisor to President Boris Yeltsin – who also took part in the development of Russia’s current constitution, adopted on December 12, 1993.

Vyacheslav Lysakov from the State Duma’s Committee on Constitutional Law is confident that Russia’s supreme law has absolutely no gaps: it defines all rights of citizens and state bodies as well as providing for a legal change of power. In his view, the opposition’s project is “a broad hint” at an intention to stage a military coup, which is a crime, Izvestia cites him as saying.

The Opposition Coordination Council (OCC) was created back in October with a goal of bringing together leaders of street protests that followed parliamentary and presidential polls. Over 80,000 people took part in the internet voting to elect the 45-member body.

However, three month on after the start of work, the council members have doubts about its efficiency. Politicians whose views vary from liberal to leftist and nationalist can hardly find a compromise, even regarding internal rules.

“Everyone has noticed that the OCC performs badly,” Boris Nemtsov, a co-chairman of Parnas party, noted at the council’s gathering on January 20. “After three more meetings of the Council work will be paralyzed,” added another opposition activist, Ilya Konstantinov, cited Itar-Tass.

Another member of council, Moscow Municipal Deputy Maxim Katz, is considering quitting the body, he wrote in his internet blog on Tuesday. He said the council’s gathering only make sense ahead of large rallies, while gathering when there is “nothing to coordinate” is pointless. As a result of uncertainty of tasks, activists’ powwows turn into “endless discussions” of ideology, “who’s a true opposition member and who’s not,” and “what epithet should be given today to Putin.”

President Putin has commented on opposition protests on several occasions and said that such people have a right to exist and should be treated with respect.

In his view though, “they have neither a single program, nor clear and comprehensible ways of the achievement of their unclear goal.

There are no people who could do anything specific,” he said right after the first street protests took place in Moscow in 2011.

The majority of Russians do not want revolution, he stressed during a meeting with his trustees in late 2012.

Many ordinary citizens” in Russia believe that in case things go wrong, leaders of the protest movement would jump on an aircraft and flee, while “we will live here,” Putin stated. “No one wants this,” he added.

The Pentagon and Slave Labor in U.S. Prisons

The Pentagon and Slave Labor in U.S. Prisons

Prisoners earning 23 cents an hour in U.S. federal prisons are manufacturing high-tech electronic components for Patriot Advanced Capability 3 missiles, launchers for TOW (Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided) anti-tank missiles, and other guided missile systems. A March article by journalist and financial researcher Justin Rohrlich of World in Review is worth a closer look at the full implications of this ominous development. (minyanville.com)

The expanding use of prison industries, which pay slave wages, as a way to increase profits for giant military corporations, is a frontal attack on the rights of all workers.

Prison labor — with no union protection, overtime pay, vacation days, pensions, benefits, health and safety protection, or Social Security withholding — also makes complex components for McDonnell Douglas/Boeing’s F-15 fighter aircraft, the General Dynamics/Lockheed Martin F-16, and Bell/Textron’s Cobra helicopter. Prison labor produces night-vision goggles, body armor, camouflage uniforms, radio and communication devices, and lighting systems and components for 30-mm to 300-mm battleship anti-aircraft guns, along with land mine sweepers and electro-optical equipment for the BAE Systems Bradley Fighting Vehicle’s laser rangefinder. Prisoners recycle toxic electronic equipment and overhaul military vehicles.

Labor in federal prisons is contracted out by UNICOR, previously known as Federal Prison Industries, a quasi-public, for-profit corporation run by the Bureau of Prisons. In 14 prison factories, more than 3,000 prisoners manufacture electronic equipment for land, sea and airborne communication. UNICOR is now the U.S. government’s 39th largest contractor, with 110 factories at 79 federal penitentiaries.

The majority of UNICOR’s products and services are on contract to orders from the Department of Defense. Giant multinational corporations purchase parts assembled at some of the lowest labor rates in the world, then resell the finished weapons components at the highest rates of profit. For example, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon Corporation subcontract components, then assemble and sell advanced weapons systems to the Pentagon.

Increased profits, unhealthy workplaces

However, the Pentagon is not the only buyer. U.S. corporations are the world’s largest arms dealers, while weapons and aircraft are the largest U.S. export. The U.S. State Department, Department of Defense and diplomats pressure NATO members and dependent countries around the world into multibillion-dollar weapons purchases that generate further corporate profits, often leaving many countries mired in enormous debt.

But the fact that the capitalist state has found yet another way to drastically undercut union workers’ wages and ensure still higher profits to military corporations — whose weapons wreak such havoc around the world — is an ominous development.

According to CNN Money, the U.S. highly skilled and well-paid “aerospace workforce has shrunk by 40 percent in the past 20 years. Like many other industries, the defense sector has been quietly outsourcing production (and jobs) to cheaper labor markets overseas.” (Feb. 24) It seems that with prison labor, these jobs are also being outsourced domestically.

Meanwhile, dividends and options to a handful of top stockholders and CEO compensation packages at top military corporations exceed the total payment of wages to the more than 23,000 imprisoned workers who produce UNICOR parts.

The prison work is often dangerous, toxic and unprotected. At FCC Victorville, a federal prison located at an old U.S. airbase, prisoners clean, overhaul and reassemble tanks and military vehicles returned from combat and coated in toxic spent ammunition, depleted uranium dust and chemicals.

A federal lawsuit by prisoners, food service workers and family members at FCI Marianna, a minimum security women’s prison in Florida, cited that toxic dust containing lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic poisoned those who worked at UNICOR’s computer and electronic recycling factory.

Prisoners there worked covered in dust, without safety equipment, protective gear, air filtration or masks. The suit explained that the toxic dust caused severe damage to nervous and reproductive systems, lung damage, bone disease, kidney failure, blood clots, cancers, anxiety, headaches, fatigue, memory lapses, skin lesions, and circulatory and respiratory problems. This is one of eight federal prison recycling facilities — employing 1,200 prisoners — run by UNICOR.

After years of complaints the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General and the Federal Occupational Health Service concurred in October 2008 that UNICOR has jeopardized the lives and safety of untold numbers of prisoners and staff. (Prison Legal News, Feb. 17, 2009)

Racism & U.S. prisons

The U.S. imprisons more people per capita than any country in the world. With less than 5 percent of the world population, the U.S. imprisons more than 25 percent of all people imprisoned in the world.

There are more than 2.3 million prisoners in federal, state and local prisons in the U.S. Twice as many people are under probation and parole. Many tens of thousands of other prisoners include undocumented immigrants facing deportation, prisoners awaiting sentencing and youthful offenders in categories considered reform or detention.

The racism that pervades every aspect of life in capitalist society — from jobs, income and housing to education and opportunity — is most brutally reflected by who is caught up in the U.S. prison system.

More than 60 percent of U.S. prisoners are people of color. Seventy percent of those being sentenced under the three strikes law in California — which requires mandatory sentences of 25 years to life after three felony convictions — are people of color. Nationally, 39 percent of African-American men in their 20s are in prison, on probation or on parole. The U.S. imprisons more people than South Africa did under apartheid. (Linn Washington, “Incarceration Nation”)

The U.S. prison population is not only the largest in the world — it is relentlessly growing. The U.S. prison population is more than five times what it was 30 years ago.

In 1980, when Ronald Reagan became president, there were 400,000 prisoners in the U.S. Today the number exceeds 2.3 million. In California the prison population soared from 23,264 in 1980 to 170,000 in 2010. The Pennsylvania prison population climbed from 8,243 to 51,487 in those same years. There are now more African-American men in prison, on probation or on parole than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began, according to Law Professor Michelle Alexander in the book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”

Today a staggering 1-in-100 adults in the U.S. are living behind bars. But this crime, which breaks families and destroys lives, is not evenly distributed. In major urban areas one-half of Black men have criminal records. This means life-long, legalized discrimination in student loans, financial assistance, access to public housing, mortgages, the right to vote and, of course, the possibility of being hired for a job.

State Prisons contracting slave labor

It is not only federal prisons that contract out prison labor to top corporations. State prisons that used forced prison labor in plantations, laundries and highway chain gangs increasingly seek to sell prison labor to corporations trolling the globe in search of the cheapest possible labor.

One agency asks: “Are you experiencing high employee turnover? Worried about the costs of employee benefits? Unhappy with out-of-state or offshore suppliers? Getting hit by overseas competition? Having trouble motivating your workforce? Thinking about expansion space? Then Washington State Department of Corrections Private Sector Partnerships is for you.” (educate-yourself.org, July 25, 2005)

Major corporations profiting from the slave labor of prisoners include Motorola, Compaq, Honeywell, Microsoft, Boeing, Revlon, Chevron, TWA, Victoria’s Secret and Eddie Bauer.

IBM, Texas Instruments and Dell get circuit boards made by Texas prisoners. Tennessee inmates sew jeans for Kmart and JCPenney. Tens of thousands of youth flipping hamburgers for minimum wages at McDonald’s wear uniforms sewn by prison workers, who are forced to work for much less.

In California, as in many states, prisoners who refuse to work are moved to disciplinary housing and lose canteen privileges as well as “good time” credit, which slices hard time off their sentences.

Systematic abuse, beatings, prolonged isolation and sensory deprivation, and lack of medical care make U.S. prison conditions among the worst in the world. Ironically, working under grueling conditions for pennies an hour is treated as a “perk” for good behavior.

In December, Georgia inmates went on strike and refused to leave their cells at six prisons for more than a week. In one of the largest prison protests in U.S. history, prisoners spoke of being forced to work seven days a week for no pay. Prisoners were beaten if they refused to work.

Private prisons for profit

In the ruthless search to maximize profits and grab hold of every possible source of income, almost every public agency and social service is being outsourced to private for-profit contractors.

In the U.S. military this means there are now more private contractors and mercenaries in Iraq and Afghanistan than there are U.S. or NATO soldiers.

In cities and states across the U.S., hospitals, medical care facilities, schools, cafeterias, road maintenance, water supply services, sewage departments, sanitation, airports and tens of thousands of social programs that receive public funding are being contracted out to for-profit corporations. Anything publicly owned and paid for by generations of past workers’ taxes — from libraries to concert halls and parks — is being sold or leased at fire sale prices.

All this is motivated and lobbied for by right-wing think tanks like that set up by Koch Industries and their owners, Charles and David Koch, as a way to cut costs, lower wages and pensions, and undercut public service unions.

The most gruesome privatizations are the hundreds of for-profit prisons being established.

The inmate population in private for-profit prisons tripled between 1987 and 2007. By 2007 there were 264 such prison facilities, housing almost 99,000 adult prisoners. (house.leg.state.mn.us, Feb. 24, 2009) Companies operating such facilities include the Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group Inc. and Community Education Centers.

Prison bonds provide a lucrative return for capitalist investors such as Merrill-Lynch, Shearson Lehman, American Express and Allstate. Prisoners are traded from one state to another based on the most profitable arrangements.

Militarism and prisons

Hand in hand with the military-industrial complex, U.S. imperialism has created a massive prison-industrial complex that generates billions of dollars annually for businesses and industries profiting from mass incarceration.

For decades workers in the U.S. have been assured that they also benefit from imperialist looting by the giant multinational corporations. But today more than half the federal budget is absorbed by the costs of maintaining the military machine and the corporations who are guaranteed profits for equipping the Pentagon. That is the only budget category in federal spending that is guaranteed to increase by at least 5 percent a year — at a time when every social program is being cut to the bone.

The sheer economic weight of militarism seeps into the fabric of society at every level. It fuels racism and reaction. The political influence of the Pentagon and the giant military and oil corporations — with their thousands of high-paid lobbyists, media pundits and network of links into every police force in the country — fuels growing repression and an expanding prison population.

The military, oil and banking conglomerates, interlinked with the police and prisons, have a stranglehold on the U.S. capitalist economy and reins of political power, regardless of who is president or what political party is in office. The very survival of these global corporations is based on immediate maximization of profits. They are driven to seize every resource and source of potential profits.

Thoroughly rational solutions are proposed whenever the human and economic cost of militarism and repression is discussed. The billions spent for war and fantastically destructive weapons systems could provide five to seven times more jobs if spent on desperately needed social services, education and rebuilding essential infrastructure. Or it could provide free university education, considering the fact that it costs far more to imprison people than to educate them.

Why aren’t such reasonable solutions ever chosen? Because military contracts generate far larger guaranteed profits to the military and the oil industries, which have a decisive influence on the U.S. economy.

The prison-industrial complex — including the prison system, prison labor, private prisons, police and repressive apparatus, and their continuing expansion — are a greater source of profit and are reinforced by the climate of racism and reaction. Most rational and socially useful solutions are not considered viable options.

Supervisor of Intelligence Estimate Hailed for Preventing War With Iran

Transcript

Hassan Ghani

An award for integrity and honesty, for work that essentially prevented a war.Thomas Fingar, now a Professor at Stanford University, oversaw the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran in 2007, during a period when the Bush administration was beating the drums of war. Its conclusion, that all 16 US intelligence agencies judged with high confidence that Iran had given up its nuclear weapons programme in 2003, placed an insurmountable obstacle on the path to conflict.Critics of the report's conclusions say it was politicised. But speaking to us in Oxford, where he's currently teaching as part of an overseas programme, Thomas Fingar told us that unlike the flawed WMD report on Iraq in 2002, his assessment has withstood scrutiny over the years.Professor Thomas Fingar, Chairman of National Intelligence Council (2005-2008)“The assessment of our estimate has been reviewed many times. Many times before we issued it, many times in the years since, in the years since with additional information. Judging by the public statements, the annual threat testimony and the other statements of the administration, which must be consistent with the classified report, they haven’t changed it. It stood up as good analytic tradecraft. There are people who characterise it as if it was written in order to prevent war – that’s not why it was written, it was written to describe the situation as best we understood it.Hassan GhaniWhen asked what went wrong in 2002, Fingar says those authoring the NIE on Iraq caved in to pressure to produce a rushed report.Professor Thomas Fingar, Chairman of National Intelligence Council (2005-2008)“They produced an estimate in 17 days. That was the congressionally imposed deadline agreed to by George Tenet. So they produced something in 17 days, which had two weekends in there. It’s a classic case of you want something real bad, you get something real bad. Stuff pulled off the shelf not really re-evaluated, no ability to go back and really tear into this stuff. And we were not going to make that mistake again with the Iran estimate. So we took the heat and said ‘you don’t get it until we’re ready’.”Hassan GhaniBut he that ultimately politicians can choose to ignore the intelligence agencies, if they don't get the results they want.Professor Thomas Fingar, Chairman of National Intelligence Council (2005-2008)“The decision to go to war had clearly been made before that estimate was undertaken. Troops were moving, you could not have been in Washington and not known there was going to be war. For I&R we said there’s not evidence of a reconstituted nuclear programme – that was the only one that really mattered – and we said no, evidence isn’t there, the evidences can all be explained in other ways. That’s the third sentence of the estimate. So if you cared about this enough to read to the third sentence, you’d know that there was a dissent on the major justification for the conflict.”Hassan GhaniThe Sam Adams associates present their award each year for integrity in intelligence. Many previous awardees have been intelligence professionals and whistleblowers.2010 Sam Adams awardee, Julian Assange of Wikileaks, was piped into the ceremony by video link. He used the opportunity to tackle an upcoming Hollywood movie, which he says is an attack on Wikileaks, and renews the push for war with Iran.Julian Assange, Wikileaks“We have something here, which is a recent acquisition of Wikileaks. The script to a tens of millions of dollar budget Dreamworks movie. What is it about? It is about us, nominally. It is about Wikileaks the organisation. It is a mass propaganda attack against Wikileaks the organisation and the character of my staff and our activities and so on. But it is not just an attack against us, it fans the flames to start a war with Iran. It’s coming out in November, it’s being filmed now. So that’s the reality of where we’re at. Not merely a war of intelligence agencies, but a war of corrupt media, corrupt culture.”Hassan GhaniSam Adams himself was a CIA analyst in the Vietnam-era, tasked with estimating enemy strength in numbers. His conclusion that the Viet-cong numbered at least half a million, twice the official figure, was swept under the rug at the time, seen as politically unacceptable. He later did go public, but too late to have an impact on the war.Raymond McGovern, Former CIA Analyst“He went to an early death at age 55, with great remorse that he had not gone outside the system, that he had not said what he knew back in 1967, half way through the war. The way he explained it to me is, that Vietnam memorial, made of granite in a V, that whole left section wouldn’t be there, because there would be no names to carve into that granite. If he had spoken out, if I had spoken out, if we had spoken around 1967, when we had that cable from General Abrahams saying ‘we can’t go with the honest figures, because we’ve been projecting a view of progress’.”Hassan GhaniAnd so just as interesting as this year's award winner, are those presenting it to him. Former US Army Colonel Ann Wright resigned as a State department official in protest over the Iraq War. She argues that too many within government are carried along with political tides, often at the expense of what's best for the nation.Ann Wright, Former US State Dep. Official“There were so many people, that were a part of the decision to go ahead and invade and occupy Iraq, that knew better. That knew that the rationale for it was wrong, but they went along with the senior leadership of our country, who for whatever reason it was, whether it was for oil or for whatever it was, wanted to take out the Saddam Hussein regime.”Hassan GhaniLike other Sam Adams associates, she sees whistleblowers as an essential check to keep the system in balance.Ann Wright, Former US State Dep. Official“So many whistleblowers find that the system doesn’t want to hear what they have to say. Because usually it’s something that the government system is doing wrong and whistleblowers are saying ‘wait wait, this is going wrong’ or ‘maybe there’s even criminal acts that are happening that the government’s involved in and we’ve got to stop that and change it’. And we find that many times the government and senior officials in the government don’t want to hear that.”Hassan GhaniPrevious Sam Adams award winner, Coleen Rowley, blew the whistle after 9/11 on major intelligence sharing failures within the FBI in the run up to the attacks. Her 9/11 commission testimony helped re-organise the agency and the way information is shared.Coleen Rowley, Former FBI Agent, Whistleblower“They realised that 9/11 occurred because the agencies blocked information from each other, they blocked it vertically, horizontally, and they blocked it from the public. So the people who are in those environments, when information is blocked and there is lack of sharing, what is their choice? They almost have to either become a whistleblower or then live forever with the consequences of knowing that they could have done something. That’s why Wikileaks, or a method of sharing information, and of course I talked about sharing information between agencies, but it’s also with the public. The 9/11 commission said if the information even had been shared of Moussawi’s arrest, that would have probably prevented 9/11. So it’s an incredible situation, most people think that secrecy is protecting them, and it’s the exact opposite.”Hassan GhaniRowley believes much more information should be made public, whether or not it's politically embarrassing.Coleen Rowley, Former FBI Agent, Whistleblower“We’ve had some good inspector general investigations, for instance of torture in the CIA, to this day though it remains secret. And you see the opposite is Abu Ghraib, that report was made public, and so at least the public learned about it, and there was at the time an outcry about the fact that it was discovered that abuses were occurring in Abu Ghraib. But the CIA torture report, I think it’s probably a good investigation, but the public still doesn’t know, and so what’s happened? There’s a movie out there that’s using a false narrative – the public doesn’t know that it’s false, because how would they know? Because they’ve never seen the truth. It’s a pretty incredible situation, the truth really matters.”Hassan GhaniThe US government says it’s necessary to prosecute whistleblowers to protect national security. And for whistleblowers who do choose to go public, the consequences are increasingly dangerous.Coleen Rowley, Former FBI Agent, Whistleblower“Especially under Obama, there have been prosecutions, I think it’s 7 now, twice as many as all Presidents of all time, under the official espionage act. If you go back to deepthroat, and the FBI who knew that the highest level of President’s men were actually engaging wrongdoing – would that repeat today? I really wonder, especially now with the surveillance and the monitoring.”Hassan GhaniThomas Drake is the only whistleblower so far who's managed to fight espionage charges under Obama and win - there are six other cases. A former senior executive at the NSA, he blew the whistle to the media on a failed billion dollar surveillance programme which he believed violated the constitution.Thomas Drake, Former NSA Executive, Whistleblower“I would I eyewitness to massive fraud, waste and abuse on a multi-billion dollar program, a boondoggle programme called trailblazer, when there was actually a superior alternative, and was also a program that would have completely honoured the fourth amendment and the exclusive statute by which the US government, NSA, was authorised to violate the fourth amendment rights fo Americans. That was under FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. They wilfully broke the law, criminally. But what happened later, as all of this came out and I ended up going to a reporter, decriminalised the reporting of the government wrong doing. They criminalized the reporting of government criminal conduct.”Hassan GhaniDrake says he was careful not to reveal any classified information, and after reviewing laws on disclosure, thought that the worst that could happen is that he would lose his job. Instead, he faced espionage charges amounting to 35 years in prison.Thomas Drake, Former NSA Executive, Whistleblower“I was turned into enemy of the state, I mean I'm charged with the espionage act, I'm being put into the same category as historical spies in US history, the Alder Hiss’, the Robert Hanssens, the Alrdich Ames of the world. That the category of people you become associated with. So it's probably one of the worst things an american can be charged with, under the espionage act, because you are painted into a very dark corner, you have betrayed your country. I was put under investigation by the bush administration, but the Bush administration never actually indicted me, it took the Obama administration to actually indictment me. And when they indicted me, they threw everything they had at me.In 2008, his presidential campaign, he actually lauded whistleblowers, he called them out as patriots. Who better to call the government onto the carpet when they’re up to no good. And yet he’s presided over the most draconian crackdown on truth tellers and whistleblowers of any administration, actually all administrations combined. It truly is unprecedented.Hassan GhaniDespite immense pressure to plead out, Drake maintained his innocence, and on the eve of trial government prosecutors dropped the charges. But Thomas Drake has been left blacklisted, financially bankrupt, and disturbed at the path his country is following.Thomas Drake, Former NSA Executive, Whistleblower“I'm having great difficulty recognising my own country, in terms of the government, the form of government under which I took an oath to support and defend four times in my government career. Any yet I was criminalized, and was painted as an enemy of the state, for simply speaking truth to power, and it was clear they were going to make me an object lesson, and they threw everything they had at me.Hassan GhaniOf course, it's not just US administrations that face accusations of covering up fraud and criminal acts under the guise of national security. Annie Machon was an agent in the British spy agency MI5. She claims Britain is ahead of the US in terms of stifling whistleblowers from within the intelligence community.Annie Machon, Former MI5 Agent, Whistleblower“They a rethink about the official secrets act and launched a new in 1989, the 1989 official secrets act, which obviated, got rid of, the public interest defence. And the only reason that clause was put in was to stifle whistleblowing. There’s already that old law to stop treachery, so this is designed to stifle whistleblowers. And it has been used many times in the UK since, against David Shayler, Richard Tomlinson, Katherine Gun, and it has a very chilling effect on the idea that if you see crimes committed by the spy agencies, what do you do with that information? The only person that you can go to legally under the OSA of 1989 is the head of the agency you wish to make a complaint against. So you can imagine how many of those complaints are upheld.And I think it’s particularly pertinent at the moment, certainly in the last 10 years, where we’ve seen false information fed into the political process, where we’ve seen politicisation of intelligence in the run up to the Iraq war, with the Downing Street memo and the head of MI6 saying the intelligence facts had to be fitted around the policy. And also where we see torture and extraordinary rendition, where our British spies are being used to do that and they are protected under a lot of secrecy laws, and the government in fact wants to make greater protection for them by setting up secret courts, where the accused can’t even see what they’re accused of. It’s Kafkaesque.”Hassan GhaniAllegations against British intelligence services of complicity in torture do still make it through to the media when the alleged victims speak out. But with tight laws around disclosure in the UK, it's impossible to say whether or not what we hear is just a fraction of what's taking place.Annie Machon, Former MI5 Agent, Whistleblower“I worked in MI5 in the mid-1990s for six years. That I would say would be the only marginally ethical decade of its hundred year existence, because up until 1989 it did not officially exist - it could do whatever it wanted - and post 9/11 the gloves came off with the intelligence agencies. So in the 1990s peace was breaking out, they didn’t get involved in torture, they stopped looking at political activists, the whole shebang. So that was actually the more ethical era, and yet in those six years David Shayler and I saw so much going wrong that we felt compelled to blow the whistle. So how much worse is it now? That has to be the question. I think all we’re seeing now with extradition and torture cases is definitely very much the tip of the iceberg.Hassan GhaniIt’s clear that the act of whistleblowing, even in the public interest, is under serious threat. Some may consider this a positive development in terms of national security. Others see it as the end of public accountability for those in positions of power.Thomas Drake, Former NSA Executive, Whistleblower“If the government begins to exercise increasing influence, even if it’s self-censorship where people will not speak up because they’re afraid that they’re going to be noticed by the government, that means that critical information about government activities will never see the light of day. And especially the secret side of government, you would think that’s the part of government you want the most accountability with. Well, if they’re choking off the sources and they’re making it very clear, even though I was able to prevail and hold off the government and remained a free man, the message was still sent.”

Moscow to West: Hands Off Middle East/Africa

Munich's Security Conference is held annually. This year marks the 49th session. Dozens of countries participated. Hundreds of world leaders attended.

Moscow’s Message to America: “Hands Off” the Middle East and Africa

Munich’s Security Conference is held annually. This year marks the 49th session. Dozens of countries participated. Hundreds of world leaders attended.

They included heads of state, foreign affairs and defense ministers, as well as other senior figures. Active engagement was prioritized. Current and future security challenges were discussed.

In 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin took full advantage. He pulled no punches. He sharply criticized US foreign policy. He called it:

“very dangerous (in its) uncontained hyper-use of force – military force – in international relations, force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts.” US imperialism, he stressed, “overstepped its national borders in every way.”

“(U)nilateral illegal actions have not resolved any single problem. They have become a hotbed of further conflicts.”

“We are seeing increasing disregard for the fundamental principles of international law….No one feels safe! Because no one can feel that international law is like a stone wall that will protect them.”

“Of course, such a policy stimulates an arms race. The dominance of force inevitably encourages a number of countries to acquire weapons of mass destruction.”

Putin also addressed a “unipolar world.” He called it one “in which there is one master, one sovereign. And at the end of the day, this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within.”

He added that “We are constantly being taught about democracy. But for some reason those who teach us do not want to learn themselves.”

America deplores democracy at home and abroad. It prioritizes unchallenged dominance. It demands what it says goes. Russia supports peace, not war. It favors diplomatic conflict resolution.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attended this year’s Conference. Itar Tass headlined “Moscow calls on West not to impose outside values on peoples of Middle East, Africa.”

Lavrov told participants:

“We all aspire for stability and conditions for sustainable development in the Middle East and in Africa, we want the peoples of countries there to be able to move towards the democracy and wellbeing, to have guaranteed human rights, smooth supplies of hydrocarbons and other vital resources.”

“If those are our joint objectives, then, we may agree on transparent and clear rules, which should be used by all players in their practical actions.”

“Agree that we all will be supporting the democratic reforms of the changing countries, but not to impose an outside value scale, acknowledging the variety of development models.”

“Should agree that we shall be supporting the peaceful settlement of the inner state conflicts and stopping of violence via conditions for an inclusive dialogue with involvement of all national political groups.”

“Should agree that we shall refrain from outside interference, especially by force, without a clear mandate from the UN Security Council and from any unilateral sanctions. That we should continuously and firmly fight extremism and terrorism in all forms, should demand observation of rights for ethnic and confessional minorities.”

“Approaches of our Western counterparts cause many questions.”

“Does support for change of regimes justify terror methods? Is it possible to be fighting in one situation against those who you support in another one?”

Lavrov said answers to key questions “should be found jointly, especially regarding final objectives for the efforts to settle crises in countries of the Euro-Atlantic region, which have more uniting aspects rather than discrepancies.”

Russia categorically opposes force. It wants Syrians alone to decide who’ll lead them. It wants no external interference. It’s got international law on its side.

Earlier Lavrov expressed concern about Israeli aggression on Syria. He called it “unacceptable.”

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak also addressed Munich participants. He admitted Israel’s involvement.

He said “what happened in Syria several days ago (is) proof that when we said something we mean it….and we say that we don’t think it should be allowed to bring advanced weapons into Lebanon.”

Israel committed naked aggression. It was unrelated to cross-border weapons transfers. Israel’s objectives aren’t clear. It may be to goad Syria to counterattack.

Doing so would risk greater war. It could become regional or global. History proves small conflicts at times become major ones.

Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani warned Israel, saying:

 ”The world is witnessing a vengeance carried out by the West, particularly the US, and some backward elements in the region against resistance.”

He urged regional countries to distance themselves from Israel. He said “the Islamic awakening movement in the region would give a proper response to the Zionist regime.”

On February 3, the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) said “Israeli Aggression Reveals Israel’s Role in Destabilizing Syria.”

Assad responded publicly for the first time. He said Israel acted in “collaboration with hostile external powers.” Syria’s able to confront challenges. It’ll repel aggression. Destabilizing Syria won’t work. Iran offers full support.

On February 2, Voice of Russia contributor Konstantin Garibov headlined “Israel’s air attack against Syria heralds new regional conflicts,” saying:

Doing so entails great risks. Russia’s Foreign Ministry condemned Israel’s attack. It called it “an unprovoked attack against a sovereign state.”

Syria declared the right to respond. International law permits justifiable self-defense. Lebanese political scientist Imad Rizk called the attack’s timing “symptomatic.”

Netanyahu “returned to big politics.” He forming a coalition government. He’s negotiating for strategic advantage. He’ll deal with Washington’s new Secretary of State.

 ”It looks like the attack became the US and Israel’s joint declaration” of war on Syria.

Vladimir Putin said “Israel will keep delivering blows on facilities or forces participating in the Syrian conflict. They would be either Islamist groups of troops loyal to Bashar al-Assad. I can foresee that as the crisis becomes worse, Israel could expand its participation in such attacks.”

Israel allegedly fears Islamic extremists. Supposedly it’s concerned about ties to Hamas and Hezbollah.

Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Oriental Studies analyst Vladimiri Sotnikov believes “It would be a nightmare for Israel.”

It’s likely what Israel prefers. It needs enemies to justify belligerence. Peace, calm and stability defeat its agenda.

As foreign minister in 1982, Yitzhak Shamir explained why Israel attacked Lebanon. A “terrible danger” existed, he said, “not so much a military one as a political one.”

On June 6, 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon. Fighting lasted nearly a year.

An Israeli staged false flag was pretext. Arafat was falsely blamed for Abu Nidal militants’ attempted assassination of Israeli UK ambassador Shlomo Argov.

Israel got the war it wanted. Around 18,000 Palestinians were massacred. Southern Lebanon remained occupied until May 2000. Israel still illegally holds Sheba Farms.

It’s a 14-square mile water-rich area near Syria’s Golan. It’s been lawlessly occupied since 1967 along with Ghajar, a bordering Lebanese village.

Sabra and Shatila remain symbols of Israeli ruthlessness. At the time, Ariel Sharon was defense minister. He ordered the slaughter. He let Phalangist fascists do his dirty work.

Palestinian civilians were massacred in cold blood. Women were raped multiple times before being killed. Children were murdered like adults.

Whole families were shot, stabbed, bludgeoned to death, or buried dead or alive under homes. Some were tortured before dying. Bodies were decapitated.

Corpses were charred and violated. Eyes were gouged out. Faces were unrecognizable.

Israel maliciously planned it. Sharon led it. He called it “ridding the world of the center of international terrorism.” Orwell couldn’t have said it better. No one to this day was punished. Israel massacres with impunity.

Haaretz contributor Gideon Levy said “Israel does as it pleases.” Rogue states operate that way. Criticizing them is called “heresy and treason.”

Israel overflies Lebanon’s airspace with impunity. It’s “taken for granted.” It bombards whatever it calls dangerous. It “invade(s) any place, settle(s) anywhere. It may do (almost) anything.”

It does any damn thing it wishes. Washington offers full support. They’re imperial partners. They jointly plan aggression. They get away with it because who’ll stop them?

“(A)nything allowed (is) shaped (in) Israeli consciousness.” It’s based on largely baseless assumptions. Notions about being surrounded by hostile Arabs don’t wash.

It bears repeating. The only threats Israel faces are ones it invents. It menaces regional neighbors and humanity. It prioritizes Middle East dominance.

It wants regional rivals eliminated. It wages unprovoked naked aggression. Israel alone has weapons of mass destruction. Using them is prioritized if threatened.

“(T)o hell with all the troublesome questions,” said Levy. Only what Israel wants matters. Rule of law principles apply to others. “Israel is allowed to do anything.”

It gets away with mass murder and much more. Its right is divine, it claims. It doesn’t matter what others say. Only Israeli interests count.

Saying so claims Jewish exceptionalism, specialness, and uniqueness. Israeli hardliners say they’re God’s “chosen people.” They have a divine right to commit naked aggression. Spurning human rights comes with the territory.

They can do any damn thing they wish. They debase moral values and ethical principles. They threaten Jews and non-Jews alike. They endanger humanity.

They need to be stopped before they kill again. In response to Israel’s May 2010 Mavi Marama massacre, former Congressman Dennis Kucinich asked colleagues to sign a letter to Obama, stating:

“It is not acceptable to repeatedly violate international law. It is not acceptable to shoot and kill innocent civilians. It is not acceptable to commit an act of aggression against another U.S. ally.”

“It is not acceptable to continue a blockade which denies humanitarian relief. It is not acceptable to heighten tensions in a region while the United States continues to put so much blood and treasure on the line.”

“No one questions the right of Israel to defend its border. (Doing so) does not extend to shooting innocent civilians anywhere in the world, anytime it pleases.”

“Israel must account for our support, for the lives of our soldiers, for the investment of billions from our taxpayers.”

“Israel owes the United States more than reckless, pre-meditated violence waged against innocent people.”

It’s hard imagining anyone in Congress today this forthright. It’s likely why Kucinich lost his March 2012 primary reelection bid. Dark forces targeted him. The Israeli Lobby wanted him ousted.

They went after Cynthia McKinney the same way. Doing the right thing is costly. The Israeli Lobby ran her out of Congress twice. Ruining her political career became policy.

Virtually no one in Congress criticizes Israel. Doing it risks being a career ender. McKinney believes principle matters most. Her soul isn’t for sale. Hopefully, Kucinich feels the same way.

He’s free to keep doing what’s right. Voices for truth and justice are badly needed. The most perilous time in world history demands they speak out. Imperiled humanity depends on it.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at [email protected]

His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”

http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanII.html

Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour

http://www.dailycensored.com/mosow-to-west-hands-of-middle-eastafrica/

Breaking the Chains of Debt Peonage

Paying bills(Image: Paying Bills via Shutterstock)Chris Hedges gave this talk Saturday night in Brooklyn at the People’s Recovery Summit.

The corporate state has made it clear there will be no more Occupy encampments. The corporate state is seeking through the persistent harassment of activists and the passage of draconian laws such as Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act—and we will be in court next Wednesday to fight the Obama administration’s appeal of the Southern District Court of New York’s ruling declaring Section 1021 unconstitutional—to shut down all legitimate dissent. The corporate state is counting, most importantly, on its system of debt peonage to keep citizens—especially the 30 million people who make up the working poor—from joining our revolt.

Workers who are unable to meet their debts, who are victimized by constantly rising interest rates that can climb to as high as 30 percent on credit cards, are far more likely to remain submissive and compliant. Debt peonage is and always has been a form of political control. Native Americans, forced by the U.S. government onto tribal agencies, were required to buy their goods, usually on credit, at agency stores. Coal miners in southern West Virginia and Kentucky were paid in scrip by the coal companies and kept in perpetual debt servitude by the company store. African-Americans in the cotton fields in the South were forced to borrow during the agricultural season from their white landlords for their seed and farm equipment, creating a life of perpetual debt. It soon becomes impossible to escape the mounting interest rates that necessitate new borrowing.

Debt peonage is a familiar form of political control. And today it is used by banks and corporate financiers to enslave not only individuals but also cities, municipalities, states and the federal government. As the economist Michael Hudson points out, the steady rise in interest rates, coupled with declining public revenues, has become a way to extract the last bits of capital from citizens as well as government. Once individuals, or states or federal agencies, cannot pay their bills—and for many Americans this often means medical bills—assets are sold to corporations or seized. Public land, property and infrastructure, along with pension plans, are privatized. Individuals are pushed out of their homes and into financial and personal distress.

Debt peonage is a fundamental tool for control. This debt peonage must be broken if we are going to build a mass movement to paralyze systems of corporate power. And the most effective weapon we have to liberate ourselves as well as the 30 million Americans who make up the working poor is a sustained movement to raise the minimum wage nationally to at least $11 an hour. Most of these 30 million low-wage workers are women and people of color. They and their families struggle at a subsistence level and play one lender off another to survive. By raising their wages we raise not only the quality of their lives but we increase their capacity for personal and political power. We break one of the most important shackles used by the corporate state to prevent organized resistance.

Ralph Nader, whom I spoke with on Thursday, has been pushing activists to mobilize around raising the minimum wage. Nader, who knows more about corporate power and has been fighting it longer than any other American, has singled out, I believe, the key to building a broad-based national movement. There is among these underpaid 30 million workers—and some of them are with us tonight—a mounting despair at being unable to meet even the basic requirements to maintain a family. Nader points out that Walmart’s 1 million workers, like most of the 30 million low-wage workers, are making less per hour, adjusted for inflation, than workers made in 1968, although these Walmart workers do the work required of two Walmart workers 40 years ago.

If the federal minimum wage from 1968 were adjusted for inflation it would be $10.50. Instead, although costs and prices have risen sharply, the federal minimum wage remains stuck at $7.25 an hour. It is the lowest of the major industrial countries. Meanwhile, Mike Duke, the CEO of Walmart, makes $11,000 an hour. And he is not alone. These corporate chiefs make this much money because they have been able to keep in place a system by which workers are effectively disempowered, forced to work for substandard wages and denied the possibility through unions or the formal electoral systems of power to defend workers’ rights. This is why corporations lavish these CEOs with obscene salaries. These CEOs are the masters of plantations. And the moment workers rise up and demand justice is the moment the staggering inequality of wealth begins to be reversed.

Being a member of the working poor, as Barbara Ehrenreich chronicles in her important book “Nickel and Dimed,” is “a state of emergency.” It is “acute distress.” It is a daily and weekly lurching from crisis to crisis. The stress, the suffering, the humiliation and the job insecurity means that workers are reduced to doing little more than eating, sleeping—never enough—and working. And, most importantly, they are kept in a constant state of fear. Ehrenreich writes:

When someone works for less pay than she can live on—when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently—then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The “working poor,” as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.

It is time to halt the sacrifice of the working poor. It is time to empower the 30 million low-wage workers—two-thirds of which are employed by large corporations such as Walmart and McDonald’s—to fight back.

Joe Sacco and I spent the last two years in the poorest pockets of the United States, our nation’s sacrifice zones, for our book “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.” We saw in Pine Ridge, S.D., Camden, N.J.—the poorest and the most dangerous city in the nation—the coalfields of southern West Virginia and the produce fields of Immokalee, Fla., how this brutal system of corporate exploitation works. In these sacrifice zones no one has legal protection. All institutions, from the press to the political class to the judiciary, are wholly owned subsidiaries of the corporate state. And what has been done to those in these sacrifice zones, those places corporations devastated first, is now being done to all of us.

There are no impediments within the electoral process or the formal structures of power to prevent predatory capitalism. We are all being forced to kneel before the dictates of the marketplace. The human cost, the attendant problems of drug and alcohol abuse, the neglect of children, the early deaths—in Pine Ridge the average life expectancy of a male is 48, the lowest in the Western Hemisphere outside of Haiti—is justified by the need to make greater and greater profit. And these costs are now being felt across the nation. The phrase “the consent of the governed” has become a cruel joke. We use a language to describe our systems of governance that no longer correspond to reality. The disconnect between illusion and reality makes us one of the most self-deluded populations on the planet.

The Weimarization of the American working class, and increasingly the middle class, is by design. It is part of a corporate reconfiguration of the national and global economy into a form of neofeudalism. It is about creating a world of masters and serfs, of empowered oligarchic elites and broken disempowered masses. And it is not only our wealth that is taken from us. It is our liberty. The so-called self-regulating market, as the economist Karl Polanyi wrote in “The Great Transformation,” always ends with mafia capitalism and a mafia political system. This system of self-regulation, Polanyi wrote, always leads to “the demolition of society.”

And this is what is happening—the demolition of our society and the demolition of the ecosystem that sustains the human species. In theological terms these corporate forces, driven by the lust for ceaseless expansion and exploitation, are systems of death. They know no limits. They will not stop on their own. And unless we stop them we are as a nation and finally as a species doomed. Polanyi understood the destructive power of unregulated corporate capitalism unleashed upon human society and the ecosystem. He wrote: “In disposing of a man’s labor power the system would, incidentally, dispose of the physical, psychological, and moral entity ‘man’ attached to the tag.”

Polanyi wrote of a society that surrendered to the dictates of the market. “Robbed of the protective covering of cultural institutions, human beings would perish from the effects of social exposure; they would die as victims of acute social dislocation through vice, perversion, crime, and starvation. Nature would be reduced to its elements, neighborhoods and landscapes defiled, rivers polluted, military safety jeopardized, the power to produce food and raw materials destroyed. Finally, the market administration of purchasing power would periodically liquidate business enterprise, for shortages and surfeits of money would prove as disastrous to business as floods and droughts in primitive society. Undoubtedly, labor, land, and money markets are essential to a market economy. But no society could stand the effects of such a system of crude fictions even for the shortest stretch of time unless its human and natural substance as well as its business organizations was protected against the ravages of this satanic mill.

The global and national economy because of this “satanic mill” continues to deteriorate, and yet, curiously, stock market levels are close to their highs in 2007 before the global financial meltdown. This is because these corporations have been able to suppress wages, slash social programs and bilk the government for staggering sums of money. The Federal Reserve purchases about $85 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities and Treasury bills every month. This means that the Fed is printing endless streams of money to buy up government debt and toxic assets from the banks.  The Federal Reserve now owns assets, much of them worthless, of $3.01 trillion. This is triple what it was in 2008.

And while corporations such as Citibank and General Electric loot the Treasury they exact more pounds of flesh in the name of austerity. General Electric, as Nader points out, is a net job exporter. Over the past decade, as Citizens for Tax Justice has documented, GE’s effective federal income tax rate on its $81.2 billion in pretax U.S. profits has been at most 1.8 percent. Because of the way General Electric’s accountants play with tax liabilities the company actually receives money from the Treasury. They have several billion dollars paid to them from the federal government into company bank accounts—and these are not tax refunds. The company, as Nader argues, is a net drain on the Treasury and a net drain on jobs. It violates a host of environmental and criminal laws. And yet Jeffery Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, was appointed to be the chairman of Obama’s Jobs Council. Immelt’s only major contribution to the jobs initiative was to get rid of 37,000 of his employees since 2001. Jim McNerney, president and CEO of Boeing, who also sat on the Jobs Council, has cut over 14,000 jobs since 2008, according to Public Campaign. The only jobs the CEOs on the Jobs Council were concerned with were the ones these CEOs eradicated. The Jobs Council, which Obama disbanded this week, is a microcosm of what is happening within the corridors of power. Corporations increasingly terminate jobs here to hire grossly underpaid workers in India or China while at the same time stealing as much as fast as they can on the way out the door.

As Michael Hudson has pointed out, financialization has created a new kind of class war. The old class warfare took place between workers and bosses. Workers organized to fight for fair wages, better work hours and safety conditions in the workplace as well as adequate pensions and medical benefits. But with a country of debtors and a government that must also borrow to continue operating, Hudson says, we have changed the way class warfare works. Finance, he points out, controls state and federal policy as well as the lives of ordinary workers. It is able to dictate working conditions. The financiers, who insist that cuts be made so governments can repay loans, impose draconian austerity and long-term unemployment to, as Hudson told a Greek newspaper, “drive down wages to a degree that could not occur in the company-by-company clash between industrial employers and their workers.”

The former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, testifying before Congress, was quite open about the role of debt peonage in keeping workers passive. Greenspan pointed out that since 1980 labor productivity has increased by about 83 percent. Yet real wages have stagnated. Greenspan said this was because workers were too burdened with mortgage debts, college loans, auto payments and credit-card debt to risk losing a job. Household debt in the United States is around $13 trillion. This is only $2 trillion less than the country’s total yearly economic output. Greenspan was right. Miss a payment on your credit card and your interest rates jumps to 30 percent. Fail to pay your mortgage and you lose your home. Miss your health insurance payments, which have been spiraling upwards, and if you are seriously ill you go into bankruptcy, as 1 million Americans who get sick do every year. Trash your credit rating and your fragile financial edifice, built on managing debt, collapses. Since most Americans feel, on some level, as Hudson points out, that they are a step or two away from being homeless, they are deeply averse to challenging corporate power. It is not worth the risk. And the corporate state knows it. Absolute power, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote, depends on fear and passivity.

The only way to break this fear and passivity is to organize workers to break the cycle of mounting debt. And the first step to achieving independence from debt—the primary form of political control by the corporate state—is to raise the minimum wage. There are other solutions—forgiving mortgage and student debt, instituting universal health care, establishing a nationwide jobs program to rebuild the country’s Third World infrastructure, and green energy—but none of this will happen until we are able to mount a sustained mass movement that discredits the corporate state. This mass movement will arise, as Nader says, when we mobilize around the minimum wage.

The lowest-grade worker at the General Electric plant that makes high-tech health care devices outside Paterson in Totowa [New Jersey]—a pay grade known as the D 04—was just raised to $14,555 a year. That is under $8 an hour. The plant’s highest-paid hourly employee, known as D 16, earns $22,000. Immelt makes over $11 million a year. This vast disparity in income, and this wage abuse, is played out in every corporation in the country. No one in Washington intends to challenge it.

Only 11.3 percent of workers in this country belong to unions. This is the lowest percentage in 80 years. And nearly all these unions, and especially the AFL-CIO, have been emasculated by corporate power.

Nader is right when he warns that we are not going to be assisted in this effort by established unions. Union leaders are bought off. They are comfortable. They are pulling down at least five times what rank-and-file workers make. Nader says we have to mount protests not only outside the doors of Walmarts and General Electric plants, not only outside congressional offices, but outside the doors of the AFL-CIO. There is no established institution inside or outside government that will help us. They are all broken or complicit. But there are the 30 million working poor who, if we organize to break the system of debt peonage that holds them hostage, may be willing to rise up. We are bound with many chains and shackles. We will have to break them one at a time. But once we rise up, once we are able to threaten the corporate systems that keep us supine through fear, we will unleash a torrent of energy and passion that will confirm the worst nightmares of our corporate overlords.