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Louisiana Legislature Passes Bill Promoting Student-led Prayer in Schools

The Louisiana State Legislature has given its final approval to a bill that affirms the right of students to hold prayer meetings in the...

Texas Legislature Sends Drone Regulating Bill to Gov. Perry

Late last week the Texas legislature sent a bill to Governor Rick Perry that aims to prevent the use of drones to conduct warrantless...

Same-sex Marriage Bill Fails in Illinois

Marriage is safe in Illinois – for the time being, at least. On May 31, the Illinois House of Representatives adjourned for the summer...

Same-sex Marriage Bill Fails in Illinois

Marriage is safe in Illinois – for the time being, at least. On May 31, the Illinois House of Representatives adjourned for the summer...

Illinois passes bill to allow concealed firearms; last U.S. state to have such a...

foxnews.comJune 4, 2013 The Illinois legislature agreed Friday to allow people to carry concealed guns, which...

Same-sex Marriage Bill Fails in Illinois

Marriage is safe in Illinois – for the time being, at least. On May 31, the Illinois House of Representatives adjourned for the summer...

Illinois Legislature Passes Concealed Carry Bill

If Governor Pat Quinn signs the bill passed last week in the state legislature, Illinois will no longer be the only state in the...

Illinois Legislature Passes Concealed Carry Bill

If Governor Pat Quinn signs the bill passed last week in the state legislature, Illinois will no longer be the only state in the...

'Undocuqueers' at Crossroads Over Immigration, Gay Rights

May 31, 2013  | ...

High School Teacher Disciplined for Reminding Students of Their Rights

An Illinois high school teacher was disciplined for giving his students a real-life lesson in how to apply a subject they had just studied:...

High School Teacher Disciplined for Reminding Students of Their Rights

An Illinois high school teacher was disciplined for giving his students a real-life lesson in how to apply a subject they had just studied: the Bill of Rights.

Bill O’Reilly Smears Alex Jones In “Hate Speech” Rant

Jones portrayed as angry red demon in crude demonization stunt Paul Joseph WatsonInfowars.comMay 30, 2013

Teacher Disciplined For Advising Students of Constitutional Rights

Students forced to take survey about “drug use,” “emotions” Paul Joseph WatsonInfowars.comMay 29, 2013 A high school...

Teacher Disciplined For Advising Students of Constitutional Rights

Students forced to take survey about “drug use,” “emotions” Paul Joseph WatsonInfowars.comMay 29, 2013 A high school...

Texas Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Have Expanded Political Reporting

Texas Governor Rick Perry vetoed SB 436, a bill that would have greatly increased the number of organizations that would have had to make...

Meet Obama's Anti-Labor, Subprime-Lending, Housekeeper-Mistreating Billionaire Nominee for Commerce Secretary

The following was originally published by Democracy Now! View the original transcript on the Democracy Now! website. Billionaire business tycoon and former Obama fundraiser Penny Pritzker...

Texas Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Have Expanded Political Reporting

Texas Governor Rick Perry vetoed SB 436, a bill that would have greatly increased the number of organizations that would have had to make...

Rep. Schiff’s Bill Would Repeal Authorization for Use of Military Force

Jack KennyNew AmericanMay 28, 2013 A California congressman is preparing legislation to repeal the post-9/11 legislation...

Israeli bill would elevate Judaism superior to democracy

An Israeli MP has submitted a controversial proposal to the legislature which could grant Jewish identity priority over democracy in rulings which pertain to...

Guantanamo an ideal recruitment tool for terrorists – UN human rights chief

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has scolded the US for failing to close Guantanamo prison, warning it “has become an ideal recruitment tool...

Guantanamo an ideal recruitment tool for terrorists – UN human rights chief

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has scolded the US for failing to close Guantanamo prison, warning it “has become an ideal recruitment tool...

New York fast-food workers protest Wendy's in latest labor rights demo

Fast-food workers continued demonstrating for better conditions Friday, protesting a Wendy’s shareholder meeting just one week after the New York Attorney General announced an...

On the eve of March against Monsanto Senate shoots down GMO labeling bill

As 200,000 people prepare to march against Monsanto, the Senate has overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would allow states to decide if genetically modified...

Corporations Are Stealing Billions in Tax Breaks, While the Confused, Screwed Citizenry Turn On...

As global capital becomes ever more powerful, giant corporations are holding governments and citizens up for ransom – eliciting subsidies and tax breaks from...

White House Shield Bill Could Actually Make It Easier For the Government to Get...

Trevor TimmPressFreedomFoundation.orgMay 17, 2013 Under fire for the unprecedented Justice Department leak investigation that has engulfed...

Angelina Jolie part of a clever corporate scheme to protect billions in BRCA gene...

Mike AdamsInfowars.comMay 16, 2013 Angelina Jolie’s announcement of undergoing a double mastectomy (surgically removing...

New Phone Tracking System ‘Violates Privacy Rights’

Invasive new technology has allowed retailers to monitor and track the position of shoppers by sniffing out wi-fi signals from smartphones. It has already tracked over 50 million people in at least 4,000 locations.

As Supreme Court Hears Challenge to ALEC Voting Bill, Two More States Introduce It

Click here to support courageous reporting and commentary by making a tax-deductible contribution to Truthout! Within days of the U.S. Supreme Court hearing a challenge to an Arizona voting registration law that had been adopted as a "model" by the Am...

Arkansas Activists Eager to Fight for Reproductive Rights

Thunderstorms may have been looming, but that didn’t dampen the spirits of what was reported to have been hundreds of Arkansas reproductive rights supporters who gathered at the state capitol in Little Rock on Saturday to oppose new unconstitutional abortion restrictions coming out of the state legislature this year. Speakers from the legislature and the local American Civil Liberties Union took to the capitol steps to address a crowd of determined activists angry that their state has become a testing ground for bills meant only to provoke court cases that could overturn Roe v. Wade.Arkansas may be on the verge of having some of the most restrictive reproductive health laws in the country, but the activists fighting those laws are just getting started. (Photo: kaybrockwell/photobucket)

“I asked if we might cancel because of weather,” Arkansas ACLU Executive Director Rita Sklar told RH Reality Check. “They told me people were buying umbrellas for people to write on in waterproof paint and they’d bring signs wrapped in saran wrap. This was an unstoppable crowd.”

Sklar was one of multiple speakers to address the crowd of eager activists, some oh whom came from several hours away, despite the bitter cold and impending rain. Brought together by a shared anger at the overreaching state legislature, the crowd was organized through social media, allowing them to keep up to date on the legislative processes as well as the eventual grassroots efforts to combat them. The group was eager to fight, the participants cheered so loudly when Sklar announced the ACLU’s intention to sue the state over its unconstitutional abortion bans that she had to wait for it to quiet down before she could continue her speech.

Many Arkansas media outlets continue to focus on individuals who support the extreme bills that have been passed this session, even in articles about pro-choice rallies. In one article, from ArkansasMatters.com, an abortion opponent concisely summed up what reproductive rights activists in the state are up against: a legislature in which women are seen as less important than their fetuses. “It’s really not about a woman’s choice to do what she wants with her body. We’re concerned about the baby in her body,” 40 Days for Life supporter Mary Pate told the outlet.

Those are the beliefs that Saturday’s rally attendees are fighting against. “Saturday is not just a flash in the pan, but rather the beginning of showing up in all our numbers to guard our civil liberties,” event organizer Claudia Reynolds-LeBlanc told RH Reality Check recently. “We are law-abiding people, and we intend to hold our legislators to that same standard. Right now our legislature is passing unconstitutional bills one after the other, with blatant disdain for the rights not only of women, but of all the people of Arkansas. People came from all over Arkansas, driving hours in thunderstorms and standing in chilling mist and rain to voice their disdain for these violations of human rights.”

The rally may be done, but for the activists it was a launching pad to winning back their rights. “Our numbers have grown since Saturday in our activism groups, and [our] plans are continuing to keep pressure on this legislature and to overthrow this tyranny with the power of the people,” said Reynolds-LeBlanc. “We are only the beginning of a massive movement seeking freedom. If I were one of those multitudes of legislators that participated in driving this vehicle against the women, children, poor, and seniors of this state, I would get off the road before the 2014 primary elections begin …. We will be fielding candidates that will legislate justice and equality for all Arkansans. This was only one day in the battle, in solidarity, and we will win the war.”

Sklar agreed. “The fact that we have a majority of legislators who support these bills has really woken these people up,” she said. “People have been woken from their complacency in thinking the battle for reproductive freedom was won. They have been galvanized by this backward legislation. There are a majority of Arkansans who believe women should decide these issues for themselves. It’s getting them together and getting them organized that needs to be our focus,” she said.

“People are not going to forget,” Sklar added. “They know how bad this makes the state look. They know what people are saying. They don’t agree with these extreme legislators, and they are not going to give up. They’ve been mobilized.”

>

© 2013 RH Reality Check

Robin Marty

Robin Marty is Senior Political Reporter for RH Reality Check

When Discussing the Voting Rights Act, Race Can’t be Ignored

Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia, left, and Stephen G. Breyer at the Capitol in 2005. (Photo: Carol Powers / The New York Times)Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia, left, and Stephen G. Breyer at the Capitol in 2005. (Photo: Carol Powers / The New York Times)In the oral debate over cutting down the power of the Voting Rights Act – the law designed to assure enforcement of no discrimination against minorities’ right to vote – Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia stated last month, “This is not the kind of a question you can leave to Congress.” He called the bill, “perpetuation of racial entitlement.” He added, “It is very difficult to get out … through the normal political process.” The Court could make a decision as early as June.

The Justice apparently missed that the 15th Amendment to the Constitution states, “The right of citizens to vote shall not be abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

The extremely significant next sentence of the 15th Amendment states, “The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was recently asked if Congress has the power to enact and amend the Voting Rights Act. She responded, “Yes, it’s there in the 14th and 15th Amendments.” To assure she meant the directness of her answer, she was asked if people are just wrong to say Congress does not have the power. She repeated, “It’s in the 14th and 15th Amendments.”

The 14th Amendment specifies that no group’s vote should be “denied” or “in any way abridged” and that if any state does so, the state’s congressional “representation shall be reduced in proportion” to the group’s voter reduction.

We asked former House Speaker Newt Gingrich last week if he still believes the Constitution gives Congress the power, since he had presided over and voted for extensions of the Voting Rights Act, and he said “Yes.” He asked us what we thought was Scalia’s reasoning to question it, and we told him about Justice Scalia’s assertion that Congress was politically pandering. Gingrich, unfazed, responded, “All the Founding Fathers won elections and understood that – they all were elected.” One may often disagree with Gingrich’s policies and politics, but as a congressional and constitutional historian, he is informed.

It’s not as though discrimination is dead and we no longer need the Voting Rights Act. After the Civil War and right through to 1965, many states enacted Jim Crow laws to try to subvert the freedom of former slaves and the right of African Americans to vote. That was what gave birth to the Voting Rights Act and its extensions. But the battle continues. In our time, in the 2012 election, thirty-seven states attempted voter suppression of minorities by targeted ID requirements and reduced hours to vote. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is Congress’s way to stop the undemocratic shenanigans denying minorities the vote.

The Voting Rights Act and its extensions have been among the most bipartisan and overwhelmingly supported votes in American history, including the 25-year renewal in 2006 by 98-0 in the Senate and 390-33 in the House.

Last month, the leaders of the Judiciary Committee that reported out the 2006 bill--Democrat John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) and Republican James Sensenbrenner (R-WI)--issued a unique joint statement and filed a bipartisan “amicus” to the Court saying the Voting Rights Act with its Section Five “protects our most fundamental right—the right to vote. This law has empowered minorities to participate in the election process, but the threat of discrimination is not yet extinct.” The Judiciary Committee had taken 12,000 pages of testimony.

Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) said this month, “I gave blood, others gave blood, so that the rights of people can be protected.” It is unfortunate that Justice Scalia made his statement about “racial entitlements” on the same day, February 27, that Rosa Parks’ statue was unveiled in the U.S. Capitol.

There is a window. Perhaps Scalia’s earlier comment that “this Court doesn’t like to get involved in racial questions such as this one… that can be left to Congress” will be his better side and will be the Court’s attitude. The 15th Amendment says “Congress shall have the power.” However, if the Supreme Court knocks the law down or diminishes it, this should be one of those rare circumstances where the Congress effectively reverses the Supreme Court and reenacts the bill, perhaps changing a word or two so that it can say there is a difference.

Some weeks ago we went out and bought a little pamphlet for a couple of dollars with the text of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The whole thing is about 1/20th a normal paperback novel’s length. You can read and circle phrases in it in an hour or two. There is much talk these days about the Constitution. Some people try to make it seem complicated. That’s just a way of keeping we the people from our power. There is also enormous biased usage of the wording. We want an informed electorate, and everyone should read it and even carry the small pamphlet around.

And that includes the Justices themselves.

US Supreme Court Considers ALEC Voting Bill

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on March 18 to decide whether an Arizona statute that imposes restrictions on voter registration conflicts with federal law. The case could potentially decide the balance between the state and federal governments when it comes to elections and voting rights. After becoming law in Arizona, the bill at issue was adopted as a "model" by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The case, Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, arises in the wake of the state's efforts to narrow access to the ballot box through limits like restrictive voter ID requirements, and could have wider implications for the degree of latitude states have to regulate voting.

In 2004, Arizona voters approved a law requiring election officials to reject voter registration forms that did not include certain forms of documentation proving citizenship. Like many GOP-led efforts that make it harder for Americans to vote, the bill was pushed through the spectre of voter fraud.

There was little evidence of any widespread practice of undocumented workers voting in state or federal elections, and critics said the real intent of the law was to shut down successful community voter registration drives. The law also imposes additional burdens on naturalized citizens by, for example, requiring they bring their naturalization papers to the voter registrar, while native-born citizens use regular mail. Arizona rejected more than 30,000 registration applications, and the law was challenged by a variety of Native American, Latino, and Asian groups, as well as voting rights advocates.

In April 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Arizona law is preempted by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). That decision has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Appeals Court Finds AZ Conflicts with Clinton's Motor Voter Act

The NVRA, also known as the "Motor Voter Act," is a federal law designed to make voter registration simpler and more uniform, perhaps most notably by requiring states to accept registration using a uniform federal mail application (sent on a postcard). Arizona's refusal to accept federal voter registration forms without proof of citizenship, the Ninth Circuit held in April 2012, imposed additional restrictions beyond what was called for under the federal law.

The Ninth Circuit ruled that the requirements under the NVRA and Arizona's law "do not operate harmoniously" and "are seriously out of tune with each other in several ways." The federal law requires states to "accept and use" the federal form which, the court found, is thwarted by Arizona rejecting forms that do not include the additional restrictions on proving citizenship that are imposed under the state law.

The federal court also spelled out a formula for judging when state election laws are preempted by federal law. The Ninth Circuit issued its ruling under the Constitution's Election Clause, which gives Congress the final word over election procedures. According to the U.S. Constitution, states have authority to decide "the time, place and manner" of holding federal elections, but Congress is also authorized to "make or alter such regulations."

The Election Clause is distinct from the Constitution's Supremacy Clause, which is often cited as a basis for federal law preempting state law. The latter, however, generally presumes that a state law is not preempted without clear direction from Congress. Under the Election Clause, the Ninth Circuit found, Congress did not have to provide that it had a clear intention in the NVRA to override state procedures.

In its appeal to the Supreme Court, Arizona is arguing that the Ninth Circuit's formulation of the Election Clause was incorrect and that the state's proof of citizenship requirement should stand.

Arizona's broader argument, though, is that the Election Clause only applies to the "time, place, and manner" of elections, leaving states the exclusive power to determine voter qualifications. Under this theory, if the NVRA were interpreted as telling states which voter qualifications to accept, the NVRA would be an unconstitutional infringement on state's rights.

If the Court were to accept Arizona's argument about the narrow scope of federal power under the Election Clause, such decision could significantly shift the power between states and federal government for regulating elections. Given the recent wave of legislation that makes it harder for many Americans to access the polls, voting rights advocates fear that giving states the exclusive power to determine "voter qualifications" could offer some state legislators with a new legal toehold to defend voter suppression efforts.

Adopted as ALEC Bill

Arizona Proposition 200 became law in 2004 and required election officials to reject voter registration forms that did not include documentation proving citizenship.

The law was another piece of anti-immigrant legislation supported by Arizona state Senator (and then-ALEC member) Russell Pearce. After Proposition 200 became Arizona law, Pearce brought the bill to ALEC, and in 2008 the "private sector" (corporate lobbyists and special interest group representatives) and legislative members of ALEC's Public Safety and Elections Task Force adopted Proposition 200 as a "model" they titled the Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act. (In 2009, that task force also adopted the "model" Voter ID Act, and versions of the legislation were proposed in numerous state legislatures over the following years.)

Pearce was also behind Arizona's controversial SB 1070 law that required local law enforcement enforce federal immigration law. That same ALEC task force -- whose corporate members included representatives of the private prison and private bail industries -- approved the bill that became SB 1070 as an ALEC model in December 2009, before it was introduced in the Arizona legislature, in 2010. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down many parts of that law in June of 2012.

In 2011, Pearce was recalled by his constituents, largely because of his cozy relationships with out-of-state special interests and his controversial stances against immigrants.

Now-former State Senator Pearce nonetheless weighed-in on the Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizonacase before the Supreme Court with an amicus brief, as did his ally, Kansas' anti-immigrant Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, among others.

Third Time AZ Law Goes to the Supreme Court

This is the third time Arizona's law has been considered by the highest court in the country. In 2006, the Justices allowed Arizona to use the ballot measure provisions for elections that year, but without deciding on the validity of the law.

After that, the law was again challenged by civil rights organizations and voting rights advocates, which ultimately led the Ninth Circuit to hold that Arizona's Proposition 200 (the ALEC Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act) was preempted by the NVRA.

In June of 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to stay the Ninth Circuit's decision, which had the effect of allowing the law to remain blocked for the 2012 elections. A full appeal is now before the court.

Oral argument in the case is scheduled for 10am Eastern on Monday.

Senate and House Bills Would Require Police to Obtain Warrant for Location Tracking

WASHINGTON - March 21 - Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced in the Senate and the House today the Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act, which would require a warrant from a judge based on probable cause before police can track someon...

Iraq, The Illegal War, Ten Years On: Curbing the Rights of Antiwar Activists

peace4

It is sad that well-known peace campaigners should drop below the radar, not just of the politicians who hate them, but of the so-called peace campaigners who idolised them when they were still there.  One such man, who dedicated the last 10 years of his life to confronting the UK Parliament with their outrageous decision to invade Iraq, was Brian Haw.

As a committed Christian and a father, and angered by the sanctions the West had imposed on Iraq that resulted in the tragic and avoidable deaths of too many Iraqi children, Brian left his home and arrived in London.  More particularly, he arrived in Parliament Square, where he camped at the side of the road facing the Houses of Parliament.  Always, for those of us who continued to protest about the invasion of Iraq and the awful damage our actions were doing to that nation, Brian was a figurehead, an inspiration.  Few of us could claim his courage, his determination and his perseverance.

For nearly ten years he stayed – night after night of sleeping on the pavement, in all weathers and with little protection.  Nothing the police or Parliament did could break him and make him move.  Brian’s protest caused them no end of problems as he and his anti-war placards and banners were a constant reminder of all the lies that were told in the run up to the attack on Iraq in 2003 and continued to be told to justify the invasion.  Members of Parliament had to pass his huge collection of displays and peace messages every time they went in and out of the Parliament.

In their haste to be rid of this ‘turbulent priest’ of a campaigner, who harangued MPs daily with his megaphone as they went into the august halls of Westminster, reminding them of their ghastly error in backing up Tony Blair and his eagerness to invade Iraq, the then Home Secretary David Blunkett introduced the bill SOCPA (Serious Organized Crime and Police Act 2005) which was aimed at removing Brian by banning protests within 1 km (about half a mile) of Parliament without police permission.  This came into effect on 1 August 2005.  But where else should we protest for peace if not outside the place that had rubber-stamped Blair’s desire to illegally attack Iraq?

Comedian Mark Thomas headed an action to keep protest going within the legal 1 km. He wanted to demonstrate how very ludicrous this ban was.  To quote Mark: “The point is simply that if one person with a banner can be deemed to be a protester by the police and they need to get a licence six days in advance to enter the designated zone, then we have reached a state of absurdity.” And it is true if hardly believable that one woman in Parliament Square was threatened with arrest for having an iced cake with ‘Peace’ written on it.  On certain days individual protestors, who had each registered their very individual protests with the police (including, for instance, the right to jump off Westminster Bridge) held their protests within the designated zone.  It made the new law look very stupid indeed.

But so hasty had Parliament’s action been in creating this law that when it was challenged, they discovered that the one person they had failed to ban was Haw himself!  So he stayed – and stayed.  For some time he was alone, although visited (and supported) by many well-wishers.  He became a tourist attraction.  MPs complained that they could not properly debate in the chamber because of the noise of his megaphone protest in the Square outside – presumably the constant traffic noise complete with police and ambulance sirens is conducive to a good debate!

In May 2006 his much-photographed display of placards and banners was reduced from 40 metres to just 3 metres by a night raid of some 78 police (which cost a staggering £27,000).  Not so oddly, this happened within hours of artist Mark Wallinger showing two curators from the Tate Gallery Brian’s display and announcing he wanted to recreate it for an exhibition.  Never the less, Mark had his way and the exhibition, State Britain, ran at the Tate from January to August 2007.

Brian continued to protest with his truncated display despite numerous arrests and assaults.  He was on crutches for his last years in the Square – the result of the not-so-gentle arrest techniques of the famed London Bobby.  He died of cancer in June 2011 and the world is a poorer place.

Brian was joined in December 2005 by Melbourne-born Barbara Tucker.  While Brian had some legal authority to stay there, Barbara didn’t, which has meant that she has been arrested an astonishing 47 times while in the square, usually on a charge of `unauthorized demonstration`.  When Brian died she nobly carried on.  She has served two short spells in Holloway prison as well as suffering constant harassment from police, heritage wardens and passing rowdies.

Until January 2012 she had a tent but that was confiscated under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act (PRSA).  After that she sat in a chair on the pavement trying to sleep under a large green umbrella wrapped up in multiple layers of clothing.  She has slept in the open for over a year now without a tent and has been treated for exposure.  In the hope of getting her confiscated tent back, Barbara took the decision to go on hunger strike, starting on December 27th 2012.

While Brian managed to achieve some media recognition for his stance, Barbara has had little to none.  The latest reference I can find to her hunger strike dates from January 10th.  She and her colleague Neil Kerslake are no longer in the Square and have not been seen for some weeks – disappeared, tidied away perhaps, so as to make the 10th anniversary of the invasion a little less contentious.

One day maybe, when the world stops fighting needless, illegal and cruel wars, people will finally give these dedicated campaigners they recognition they deserve.  I’d like to see a statue of Brian in Parliament Square, confronting Westminster and challenging its dishonesty and hypocrisy as he did for so many cold hard years.  Until then, those of us who still call ourselves peace campaigners should at least make the effort to remember how much he once meant to us all.  Parliament may not like dissenters – I for one do.

Lesley Docksey (with additional information from Paul O’Hanlan)

Corporate-Approved State Bills Kick Low-Wage Workers While They’re Down

President Obama called for a modest raise in the federal minimum wage to $9 in his State of the Union Address, and several Democratic legislators have upped his bid with a proposed increase to $10.10.Prevailing wage laws, which protect local construction sector workers from private sector undercutting, are the kind of legislation that ALEC-affiliated state legislation would dismantle. (Photo: Rubber Dragon / Flickr / Creative Commons)

But an insidious effort to lower the wage floor is already underway much closer to the ground—in the state legislatures where right-wing lobbyists have been greasing the skids for years for an onslaught of anti-worker policies.

An extensive analysis recently published by labor advocacy organization the National Employment Law Project tracks more than 100 bills introduced in 31 states since January 2011 that “aim to repeal or weaken core wage standards at the state or local level." Each bears the fingerprint of notorious super-lobbying organization the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which acts as a forum for “private sector leaders” to advise public officials. Most of the anti-worker bills were proposed by lawmakers directly linked to ALEC and include language that echoes that of "model legislation" developed by ALEC. Among the proposals are measures to undercut minimum wages for teenage workers, restrict overtime pay and repeal or ban local laws to improve working conditions.

ALEC has been called out by activists for pushing legislation that advances a classic right-wing agenda, from school privatization to rolling back healthcare reform. But the “wage suppression” tactics are a particularly callous attempt by ALEC-affiliated legislators to feed corporate profits by starving workers.

The wage-suppression laws are the latest strike in a war of attrition waged by ALEC and “private sector leaders” (as the organization calls them) against labor and workplace rights, aimed at forcing low-wage workers into even deeper economic insecurity.

While efforts to pass pro-worker policies in Washington have met with resistance, ALEC-sponsored bills seek to outlaw protections for workers at the state and local level, such as living wage ordinances and paid leave mandates. In several states, including Arizona, Connecticut, Maryland and Michigan, lawmakers have introduced ALEC-associated legislation to preempt prevailing wage laws, which ensure workers receive relatively fair wages in government-contracted work, including the public infrastructure projects that fuel local construction sectors.

NELP points out that only a minority of these bills have actually been enacted, but the sheer volume of anti-worker legislative proposals is nonetheless alarming at a time when the labor movement, which has traditionally struggled to beat back pro-corporate legislation, is weaker than ever. 

The ALEC-inspired bills to weaken state minimum wage laws strike directly at state’s efforts to lift workers above the absurdly low federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. Some states have set base wages significantly higher than the federal minimum—like Vermont's minimum hourly wage of $8.60, adjusted automatically to keep pace with the cost of living.

Losing the state minimum wage could leave some workers completely unprotected, because they are excluded from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Home health aides, for example, have long been exempted from federal minimum-wage rules, despite strong grassroots campaigns to include them, but are covered by minimum wage law in some states, including New York and Massachussetts. Their incredibly low wages—typically less than $10 an hour across the industry—could be bumped down further if state wage floors are ripped from under them.
Overtime pay is another labor issue on which states have filled gaps in federal law. While the FLSA guarantees time-and-a-half overtime pay for many sectors, some low-wage workers, including certain federally-exempted domestic service jobs, are entitled to that wage boost only under state law. Legislators in some states—including the “right to work” battlegrounds of Ohio and Michigan, where unions are under siege—have tried to allow certain employers to get around overtime by instead paying workers “comp time,” or time off equal to one regular hour of work, even if they work more than 40 hours a week. One ALEC-affiliated bill proposed in 2011 in Nevada explicitly sought to exclude home care workers from overtime laws.

Noting that conservatives will hold majority control of most state houses this year, NELP analyst Jack Temple says, “Since legislation to raise the federal minimum wage usually depends on momentum from the states, bills like these that weaken or repeal wage standards at the state level serve to undercut the momentum needed to pass national legislation in Congress.”

The measures to prevent local officials from raising the bar for workers betrays ALEC’s underlying agenda. Though the organization purports to champion the “rights” of local authorities to act independently of “big government,” NELP reports, it’s really more about emancipating big business from regulation:

Despite ALEC’s putative support for limited government and local sovereignty, living wage preemption proposals would establish state-wide mandates that severely restrict the freedom that city governments have to set standards for businesses that receive public support.

According to Temple, with so many wage-suppression bills clogging state legislatures, even if many do not pass:

The significance of these bills for advocates at the state level concerns the sheer amount of energy and time that must be spent fighting back bills like these, which drains the time and resources that could otherwise be dedicated to improving wage standards rather than just protecting the laws already on the books.

A bill creeping through the Florida legislature seems poised to undercut emerging efforts to improve workers’ lives. HB 655 would ban towns and cities from taking local initiatives to raise wages and give workers paid leave time, thus blocking key policies that could improve the lives of workers surviving on the state’s threadbare minimum wage of $7.79 (about a third of what a single parent of two would need to earn a decent living). On the heels of a recent campaign, led by local labor groups, to establish paid sick days in Miami-Dade County, the bill would effectively block local officials from granting workers the basic protection of not having to lose wages for calling in sick.

Florida is just one battleground in a nationwide movement to improve protections and wage standards for the working poor, as labor advocates push for raises in state and federal minimum wages in tandem with the White House's proposal. But NELP's report reveals how groups like ALEC have already gotten a head start in our state legislatures. 

Without strong unions or even an adequate social safety net, minimum wage laws are the last line of defense between low-wage workers and abject poverty. So it makes sense that ALEC is now driving to pull the floor from under them; they might as well kick them when they’re down.

UK Prince urged to raise rights issues

Amnesty International has called on heir to the British throne Prince Charles to tell the “truth” about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record during his three-day visit to the Arab country this week.

The rights organization urged the Prince of Wales to raise human rights issues with the Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz while there, The Daily Mirror reported on Monday.

Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, will visit Saudi Arabia as part of a nine-day tour of the Middle East that began on March 11, with stops in Jordan, Qatar and Oman.

“We’re not going to try to fill Prince Charles’ luggage with Amnesty reports. But if he or Camilla were to voice their royal displeasure at reports that a young Saudi jewel thief is facing crucifixion in a matter of days, that surely is their prerogative," said Kate Allen, the UK Director of Amnesty.

Amnesty’s concerns about human rights in Saudi Arabia include, death penalty, freedom of speech and protests, torture, unfair trials and women’s rights.

Saudi Arabia, which is accused of brutal crackdown on peaceful anti-regime protests, is considered as Britain's largest trading partner in the Middle East, with bilateral trade worth more than £15 billion every year.

Since February 2011, protesters have held demonstrations on an almost regular basis in Saudi Arabia, mainly in the Qatif region and the town of Awamiyah in Eastern Province, primarily calling for the release of all political prisoners, freedom of expression and assembly, and an end to widespread discrimination.

However, the demonstrations have turned into protests against the repressive Al Saud regime, especially since November 2011, when Saudi security forces killed five protesters and injured many others in the province.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Saudi regime “routinely represses expression critical of the government.”

SSM/MOS/HE

REINS Bill Would Dismantle America’s Public Health and Consumer Protections

WASHINGTON - March 5 - Statement of Nasima Hossain, U.S. PIRG public health advocate, on today’s Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the REINS Act:

“The REINS Act (H.R. 367) would block enforcement of existing health and safety laws by creating new bureaucratic hurdles and impossibly short timelines for approval of critical rules. This bill poses a grave threat to the health and safety of the American people.

“Our food safety system is an example of a public health program that would be crippled by the REINS Act. Due to numerous high profile food recalls, Congress updated food safety practices by passing the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in 2011. This law has already helped protect public health by identifying and recalling 2.5 million pounds of E. coli-contaminated meat from Canada, as well as Salmonella-contaminated papayas from Mexico. However, if the REINS Act had been in place, the food safety rules created by the FSMA would have be blocked or delayed, leaving the safety of our food supply in jeopardy.

“As a nation, we have made significant progress toward ensuring a safe and healthy marketplace for consumers. Congress should continue in that proud tradition and oppose the REINS Act, to protect the health and safety of the American people.”

U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), stands up to powerful special interests on behalf of the American public, working to win concrete results for our health and our well-being. With a strong network of researchers, advocates, organizers and students in state capitols across the country, we take on the special interests on issues, such as product safety,political corruption, prescription drugs and voting rights,where these interests stand in the way of reform and progress.

“Racial Entitlements?” Long-Term Effort to End Voting Rights Act and Affirmative Action May Finally...

The U.S. Supreme Court may roll back two pillars of the civil rights era this term -- the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and affirmative action -- both of which have long been targeted by the right-wing and whose challenges are backed by the same set of deep-pocketed ideological funders.

Scalia Sees Voting Rights and Affirmative Action as "Racial Entitlements"

Wednesday's oral arguments in Shelby County v. Holder indicated hostility among some justices towards Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA), which requires states with a history of state-sanctioned racial discrimination to get federal pre-approval before implementing changes to their voting laws or procedures. Congress has renewed it four times since 1965 with significant bipartisan support, most recently in 2006, when every U.S. Senator voted for it.

But that support was "very likely attributable to a phenomenon that is called perpetuation of racial entitlement," Justice Antonin Scalia asserted from the bench. "Whenever a society adopts racial entitlements, it is very difficult to get out of them through the normal political processes," he said, a characterization of the landmark civil rights law that was met with gasps in the courtroom.

This is not the first time Scalia has talked about "racial entitlements" -- and his perspective will almost certainly apply to another civil rights case in the Court's docket this term.

"To pursue the concept of racial entitlement -- even for the most admirable and benign of purposes -- is to reinforce and preserve for future mischief the way of thinking that produced race slavery, race privilege and race hatred," he wrote about affirmative action in a concurring opinion in the 1995 case Adarand Constructors v Pena, a decision that enacted a high bar for government affirmative action programs.

Chief Justice John Roberts has expressed similar support for so-called color-blindness under the law. "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race," he wrote in a 2007 case striking down the consideration of a student's race by school districts striving for diversity in schools in Seattle, Washington, and Louisville, Kentucky. Likewise, in a 2009 decision about the VRA, Roberts expressed a view that race matters less today, and therefore Section 5's federal pre-clearance requirement may no longer be justified since "things have changed in the South."

Roberts and Scalia have another bite at the affirmative action apple this term. In October, the Court heard oral arguments in Fisher v University of Texas, which challenges race-conscious university admission policies. Questioning from Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia indicated the Court may have a five-justice majority to reverse parts of a 2003 ruling that allowed consideration of race in college admissions (a decision that came before President George W Bush named two justices to the court).

The statements from these justices on affirmative action and voting rights reflect a view that race plays little role in America today (!), or at least that it should no longer be acknowledged under the law. In fact, "explicit anti-black attitudes" have actually increased over the past four years, particularly among Republicans, according to research by social scientists at Brown and the University of Michigan.

If the Court sides with plaintiffs in Fisher and Shelby County, it would be a victory for the right, which for decades has been laying the groundwork for rolling-back these sorts of progressive gains by adopting the terminology of "color-blindness."

Long-Standing Opposition to Affirmative Action, Section 5

Both the VRA and affirmative action grew out of the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, and have been targeted for reversal ever since by generations of reactionaries.

President Lyndon Johnson's support for the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act led to realignments within America's two major political parties. Southern Democrats like "Dixiecrat" Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina defected to the Republican Party, and over time many voters who had long supported "the Party of Lincoln" shifted their allegiance to Democrats.

Ronald Reagan's opposition to civil rights programs, for example, was a key part of his effort to win the presidency by appealing to the racial views of white Southern voters. He famously kicked-off his successful presidential bid by declaring his support for "state's rights" at a Mississippi event held just a few miles from where three civil rights activists were murdered in 1964. "States rights" had been a rallying call for Southern states opposing Brown v. Board of Education and the end of racial segregation, and provided a facially neutral way to oppose the VRA's Section 5 federal pre-clearance requirements. He called the VRA "humiliating to the South" and described affirmative action as a form of "reverse discrimination" where whites are "victims." As legendary campaign consultant Lee Atwater acknowledged after the campaign, the way Reagan discussed voting rights and affirmative action was part of a careful effort to garner the votes of white Southerners by using "abstract" and coded language to avoid express racism.

Once elected, Reagan stopped enforcing several affirmative action programs, and his Justice Department began filing amicus briefs in support of white men claiming injury from the programs. In 1982, when the Voting Rights Act was up for reauthorization, John Roberts was working for the Reagan Administration andargued for a watered-down version of the law. After Congress rejected the administration's efforts and passed a strengthened VRA with bipartisan support, a hesitant Reagan nonetheless signed the reauthorization -- prompting Roberts to write "we were burned." President Reagan also appointed U.S. Supreme Court Justices who passed the litmus tests of a narrow view of affirmative action and civil rights laws: Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy, who are still on the Court, as well as William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O'Connor.

Right-Wing Institutions Laid Groundwork

Part of the long-term success of modern Republicanism, which grew out of opposition to the civil rights gains of the 1960s, is attributable to the development of a network of right-wing funders and well-funded institutions starting in the mid-1970s. For example, in 1973, legendary right-wing activist Paul Weyrich co-founded both the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Heritage Foundation.

ALEC, as the Center for Media and Democracy has documented, has advanced an array of policy initiatives at the state level to advance a right-wing agenda, for example by privatizing public institutions like education and prisons, and by successfully promoting efforts to restrict voting rights (some of which have been thwarted in the past year by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act). In addition to voter ID legislation, ALEC has adopted model bills like the deceptively named "Civil Rights Act" to end affirmative action programs run by states and universities.

The Heritage Foundation has become one of the largest think tanks in the country, and has long opposedaffirmative action and Section 5. In recent years, Heritage Foundation legal fellow Hans Von Spakovsky (who was recently profiled by New Yorker author Jane Mayer in a piece crediting research from CMD) has promoted the myth of rampant voter fraud to justify restrictive state voting laws. He argues that Section 5 is an outdated statute that allows the feds to trample on state liberty and has also opposed affirmative action.

The last three or four decades have also seen the development of an array of legal institutions attempting to achieve right-wing political victories through the courts. The best known is the Federalist Society, which has contributed to the development of legal theories to advance preferred policy outcomes through the judicial system, and has cultivated a network of like-minded lawyers and judges, including Justice Scalia and Chief Justice Roberts.

And these groups have been funded by a shared set of wealthy donors. In the 1970s and 1980s, foundations created by the Coors and Scaife family fortunes provided the seed money for groups like ALEC and the Heritage Foundation. The Bradley Foundation and Koch family foundations also provide tens of millions to an array of right-wing organizations.

Likewise, the current Supreme Court challenges to both the Voting Rights Act and university affirmative action programs are backed by top funders of the movement and were organized by the same right-wing activist -- and are carrying forward this long-term project to roll-back the gains of the civil rights era.

Same Group and Donors Behind Fisher and Shelby County Cases

The Project on Fair Representation is a "legal defense fund" dedicated to reversing race-based legal protections, and its director, Ed Blum, coordinated the challenges in both the Fisher and Shelby County cases. Blum has likened his role in high-profile litigation to "Yenta the matchmaker."

"I find the plaintiff, I find the lawyer, and I put them together, and then I worry about it for four years," he said.

Blum urged Shelby County, Alabama, to bring its Section 5 challenge after the Department of Justice blocked its effort to dilute the voting power of the growing African-American population. He also connected with Abigail Fisher, a white student who was denied admission to the University of Texas at Austin and claimed it was because of her race. Blum was also behind the last Voting Rights Act challenge to make it to the Supreme Court, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder.

The Project on Fair Representation's legal fees are entirely funded by the secretive Donors Trust, which has been described as a "Dark Money ATM." Donors Trust funnels money from the Kochs and other funders to organizations in the right-wing network, but keeps the original donors secret.

Blum's known contributors include the Bradley Foundation, which also bankrolls groups promoting voter suppression, writes Ari Berman of The Nation:

Blum's group does not have to disclose which funders of Donors Trust are giving him money, but he has identified two of them: the Bradley Foundation and the Searle Freedom Trust. The Wisconsin-based Bradley Foundation paid for billboards in minority communities in Milwaukee during the 2010 election with the ominous message "Voter Fraud Is a Felony!", which voting rights groups denounced as voter suppression. Both Bradley and Searle have given six-figure donations to ALEC in recent years, and Bradley funded a think tank in Wisconsin, the MacIver Institute, that hyped discredited claims of voter fraud to justify the state's voter ID law, currently blocked in state court.

The Bradley Foundation has also been a major funder of attacks on affirmative action. It has given millions to Ward Connerly's anti-affirmative action "American Civil Rights Institute," and it has given over one million dollars to a group that calls itself the "Center for Equal Opportunity," whose activities include traveling the country urging Republican legislators to crack down on affirmative action programs, which it claims constitute "reverse discrimination." In 2011, a Center for Equal Opportunity representative claimed the University of Wisconsin was guilty of "severe racial discrimination." This is a difficult claim to believe given that 2.6 percent of the university's 42,180 students are African-American and 3.8 percent are Hispanic, much lower percentages than the general population.

Institutions of higher education -- and many employers -- indicate that taking race into account remains an important tool for promoting diversity in classrooms and the workplace, particularly to help compensate for the institutional forms of racism that contribute to ongoing inequity.

And civil rights groups strongly contend that Section 5 remains a vital part of the VRA's goal of protecting access to the ballot box. The Act was designed to end decades of racist Jim Crow voting restrictions, like literacy tests, which might have been facially neutral but had a racially discriminatory impact. And in the past year, Section 5 has been applied to block the wave of voter ID restrictions passed in states like South Carolinaand Texas, as well as to stop discriminatory redistricting in Texas and to keep Florida from reducing early voting hours in certain areas. Like the Jim Crow-era restrictions, the ALEC-inspired voter ID laws and limits on early voting would disproportionately impact voters of color.

The problems of the 1960s and 1970s remain concentrated in the areas covered by Section 5: six of the nine states fully covered by the provision have passed new voting restrictions since 2010, but only one-third of the rest of the country passed similar restrictions during the same period. Justice Elena Kagan noted during Wednesday's oral argument that while covered jurisdictions hold less than 25% of the U.S. population, they account for 56% of successful voting-rights lawsuits.

Although each case currently before the court asks a separate constitutional question -- for Fisher, whether considering race in university admissions violates the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection guarantees, and forShelby County, whether requiring federal approval for changes in state voting procedures violates the 10th Amendment's protections for "state's rights" -- if the Court sides with the plaintiffs, the cases will represent major victories for the right-wing movement's effort to roll-back civil rights gains.

But, as today's Republican Party tries to lose its image as the party of white people, these potential legal wins may instead be pyrrhic victories that reinforce it.

Land Grab Cheats North Dakota Tribe Out of $1 Billion, Suits Allege

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Native Americans on an oil-rich North Dakota reservation have been cheated out of more than $1 billion by schemes to buy drilling rights for lowball prices, a flurry of recent lawsuits assert. And, the suits claim, the federal government facilitated the alleged swindle by failing in its legal obligation to ensure the tribes got a fair deal.

This is a story as old as America itself, given a new twist by fracking and the boom that technology has sparked in North Dakota oil country. Since the late 1800s, the U.S. government has appropriated much of the original tribal lands associated with the Fort Berthold reservation in North Dakota for railroads and white homesteaders. A devastating blow was delivered when the Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Missouri River in 1953, flooding more than 150,000 acres at the heart of the remaining reservation. Members of the Three Affiliated Tribes — the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara — were forced out of the fertile valley and up into the arid and barren surrounding hills, where they live now.

But that last-resort land turns out to hold a wealth of oil, because it sits on the Bakken Shale, widely believed to be one of the world's largest deposits of crude. Until recently, that oil was difficult to extract, but hydraulic fracturing, combined with the ability to drill a well sideways underground, can tap it. The result, according to several senior tribal members and lawsuits filed last November and early this year in federal and state courts, has been a land grab involving everyone from tribal leaders accused of enriching themselves at the expense of their people, to oil speculators, to a New York hedge fund, to the federal government's Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The rush to get access to oil on tribal lands is part of the oil industry's larger push to secure drilling rights across the United States. Recent estimates show that the U.S. contains vast quantities of oil and gas. As fracking has opened new fields to drilling, and the U.S. has striven to get more of its energy from within its borders, leases from Louisiana to Pennsylvania have been gobbled up. Now the pressure is increasing on one of the last sizeable holdouts — lands owned by Native Americans.

A review of tribal and federal records as well as lawsuit documents reveals a dizzying array of lowball, non-competitive deals brokered by numerous companies, often entwined with the tribal council and with individual landholders on the reservation. But at heart the alleged practices are simple: Tribal leaders and outsiders set up companies to buy drilling rights cheap and flip them later for spectacular profits — in one case earning as much as a 200-fold return in just four years.

"Hundreds of millions of dollars were lost," said Tex Hall, the current chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, in an interview. "It's just a huge loss and we'll never get it back."

At the center of that particular alleged scheme, according to one of the suits, was Spencer Wilkinson, Jr., longtime manager of 4 Bears Casino, a time-worn warehouse of slot machines, swirling cigarette smoke and stained carpets that serves as the reservation's entertainment nexus and its financial hub. Wilkinson also sat on the board of the tribe's development corporation, where he was charged with finding new opportunities to enhance the economy of the reservation.

According to interviews with tribal members, former employees of the Three Affiliated Tribes, and a class action lawsuit filed in federal district court in Bismarck, ND against Wilkinson and others, Wilkinson used his access to casino funds — and to the development corporation — to gain influence and craft an oil deal that would leave him one of the richest men on the reservation.

In 2006 he became an owner of a company, Dakota-3, with Richard Woodward, a white consultant who, records show, was receiving more than $20,000 a month from tribal funds for his work at the development corporation. Together, the suit and other legal filings allege, Wilkinson and Woodward planned to raise money and buy up rights to much of the remaining land not yet slated for drilling, all the while maintaining their work with the tribes and employing Wilkinson's relationship with the council to help get the oil leases approved.

Leases for oil rights generally work like this: A company purchases the right to drill for oil underneath an acre of land by paying a one-time upfront payment, called a bonus, and a percentage of the profits earned on the well, known as a royalty. On Indian lands additional laws also apply, dictating who can negotiate for whom and how the government has to oversee the agreements.

Wilkinson declined to comment and Woodward could not be reached. Wilkinson has filed a motion to dismiss the case. The suit alleges that Wilkinson and others aided and abetted the U.S. government in failing to fulfill its fiduciary responsibility to the tribes; Wilkinson's motion argues, among other things, that the government had no such responsibility. Woodward has not yet filed a response to the suit in court.

Many details of Dakota-3's deals remain murky. There is limited transparency into tribal government affairs, no public access to documents, no annual reporting on accounts, and limited communication about what tribal council members discuss in their meetings.

But, according to separate lawsuits and records filed with the North Dakota Secretary of State, Dakota-3 partnered with an Oklahoma-based oil speculator named Robert Zinke and his company Zenergy to buy leases and form additional joint venture companies. Documents from two law suits mention the involvement of the New York based hedge fund Och-Ziff Capital Management Group but do not specify the firm's role. The hedge fund is publicly traded and, according to its web site, has more than $33 billion under management.

A spokesman for Och-Ziff declined to comment, and Zinke did not return a telephone message.

The interlinked companies, the documents show, purchased drilling rights to some 42,500 acres of lands owned by individuals and families through dozens of separate small deals. Those rights were ultimately controlled by Dakota-3, which also purchased from the tribal council drilling rights to another 44,000 acres of lands managed by the council. Altogether, Dakota-3 accumulated rights to about a fifth of the 420,000-odd acres of leasable land on the reservation, having bought much of those rights for as little as $50 per acre and royalties of around 18 percent. At about the same time, records and interviews show, other companies were purchasing drilling rights to land on and near the reservation for $300 to $1,000 per acre plus royalties as high as 22.5 percent.

One of the lawsuits alleges that the difference in the one-time bonus payments, plus the difference in royalty payments, "could mean billions of dollars" over the life of the oil field.

In late 2010, an Oklahoma-based oil production company, Williams, bought Dakota-3 for $925 million. At the time of the purchase, Dakota-3 was pumping a small amount of oil, but the bulk of its assets were the drilling rights. Two lawsuits allege that by buying Dakota-3, Williams effectively paid more than $10,000 per acre for those rights — as much as 200 times what Dakota-3 had paid for the leases.

At issue is not just the question of how Dakota-3 managed to win the tribal council's approval for the deal, but whether the federal government should have stepped in to ensure that the tribes were paid higher rates.

Reservation lands are still held in trust by the U.S. government. As a trustee, the Department of the Interior has responsibility for overseeing the development of oil and gas on tribal lands, and for ensuring that any leases or sales of that land are made in "the best interest" of the Native Americans. When it comes to leases to drill for oil — even those negotiated directly between the tribal council and the oil industry — the Bureau of Indian Affairs is required to make sure the leases meet this standard.

The bureau did not respond to a list of written questions, but according to interviews and documents obtained by ProPublica, the bureau approved the leases even though some Interior Department staffers expressed misgivings. Other documents show that tribal members appealed to high-level Interior Department officials and others to reject the leases and step in on their behalf.

"Mr. Secretary, this company, Dakota-3, like the other companies in the oil business will turn around and sell the lease," wrote Russell Mason Sr., a tribal elder, to the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in a December, 2007 letter. "We are making a plea to you that you exercise your trust responsibilities."

"The United States has uniformly failed in its duties to the Indian landowners," states one lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C. that was brought by tribal landowners seeking restitution for the Dakota-3 leases sold to Williams.

The Dakota-3 deals are not the only controversial ones. For example, a company called Black Rock Resources purchased drilling rights to about 12,800 acres of land for $35 per acre and a 16.7 percent royalty. It later sold those rights to Marathon Oil for about $42 million, according to financial documents that describe the deal.

Messages left for multiple Black Rock Resources officials were not returned, and Marathon Oil did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the Black Rock deal, and documents obtained by ProPublica reveal the sometimes-contradictory advice the Bureau of Indian Affairs received from its own staff and other federal officials.

When Black Rock first offered to buy up reservation leases for $35 per acre beginning in 2005, some bureau staff justified the rates saying the cumbersome regulations and past problems with leasing on the reservation had driven down demand. "Unfortunately," wrote one staffer in a department letter, $35 per acre "is what the market will bear."

But in a review dated November, 2005, an expert at the Bureau of Land Management wrote that the offered price "appears to look low compared to those offered recently at both BLM and North Dakota State competitive oil and gas lease sales in the area." He cited other sales that same month for as much as $370 an acre. An Interior Department lawyer in Washington sent a letter to North Dakota BIA officials expressing similar concerns.

Even at the time, the tribe received higher offers. Jerry Nagel is a tribe member, businessman and former program analyst for the tribe who has been outspoken against leases he thought were being sold for too little. In an interview, he said that he financed a venture in 2006 that offered the tribe $140 per acre plus a royalty rate more than twice as high as the tribal council was offered for the big leases it ultimately signed. It's unclear why the tribal council didn't take that offer, but Nagel claims it's evidence that the council gave preferential treatment to certain suitors.

The tribal council's office did not immediately respond to questions about why the council passed over Nagel's offer.

Kyle Baker is a tribe member, geologist and former environment official for minerals and energy for the tribe. He said that his family struck deals to lease its acreage on and near the reservation for as much as $700 per acre around the same time as the Black Rock deal.

"Companies will come and find your weaknesses and then drive themselves in," Baker said on a recent wintery morning in his living room overlooking Lake Sakakawea. "Our laws, our setup wasn't ready for it."

Companies and the U.S. government have long known that the Ft. Berthold reservation lay in the heart of the oil-rich Williston Basin, a reserve thought by some to contain as much as 20 billion barrels of oil. But previous efforts to lease and drill on the Indian lands stalled in the 1970s, and again in the late 1990s, thwarted by a dense bureaucracy and a tangle of laws governing leasing on reservations.

Only after the advent of modern fracking — and after Congress passed a handful of laws to ease corporate access to the Ft Berthold reservation — did companies begin to invest seriously in drilling there.

Today it's estimated that the three tribes and individual Native American landholders are receiving some $50 to $80 million a year from the drilling leases and royalties, compared with revenues of about $5 million a year before the boom began in about 2006.

But that money has brought allegations of sweetheart arrangements that have left a few tribal members with disproportionate profits from oil development.

In 2011 a team of elders audited the tribal council's activities. They found widespread financial inconsistencies that they said indicated systemic misconduct. "We saw millions of dollars going out and hardly anything coming back" to the Three Affiliated Tribes, said Tony Foote a forensic auditor who chaired the team. "We're not just talking about cash. It's rooms, food, travel, donations, and there's only a handful of people that can get all this stuff."

Hall, the tribes' current chairman, had previously held that post from 1998 until 2006. He didn't deny that there had been corruption, but he said that since he came back into office in 2010 he has focused on reform and on making sure that the oil revenues benefit the broader tribal community. He said he has formed tribal entities to directly control a pipeline and refinery project, set up a $100 million trust fund for the tribes, and begun to sign lease agreements that are more favorable to the Native Americans on the reservation. He also demoted Wilkinson, who is now an administrative officer at the casino, not its CEO.

"I was called back because people were concerned about sweetheart deals, so we have totally changed the dynamic," he said.

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

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


TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartmann here – on the news...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CISPA, the Privacy-Invading Cybersecurity Spying Bill, is Back in Congress

It's official: The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act was reintroduced in the House of Representatives yesterday. CISPA is the contentious bill civil liberties advocates fought last year, which would provide a poorly-defined "cybersecurity" exception to existing privacy law. CISPA offers broad immunities to companies who choose to share data with government agencies (including the private communications of users) in the name of cybersecurity. It also creates avenues for companies to share data with any (Photo: Kai-Huei Yau/ Tri-City Herald)federal agencies, including military intelligence agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA).

EFF is adamantly opposed to CISPA. Will you join us in calling on Congress to stop this and any other privacy-invasive cybersecurity legislation?

As others have noted, “CISPA is deeply flawed. Under a broad cybersecurity umbrella, it permits companies to share user communications directly with the super secret NSA and permits the NSA to use that information for non-cybersecurity reasons. This risks turning the cybersecurity program into a back door intelligence surveillance program run by a military entity with little transparency or public accountability.”  

Last year, CISPA passed the House with a few handful of amendments that tried to fix some of its vague language. But the amendments didn't address many of the significant civil liberties concerns. Those remaining problems were reintroduced in today's version of CISPA. Here's a brief overview of the issues:

Companies have new rights to monitor user actions and share data—including potentially sensitive user data—with the government without a warrant.

First, CISPA would still give businesses the power to use "cybersecurity systems" to obtain any "cybersecurity threat information" (CTI)—which could include personal communications—about a perceived threat to their networks or systems.  The only limitation is that the company must act for a "cybersecurity purpose," which is vaguely defined to include such things as "safeguarding" networks.

CISPA overrides existing privacy law, and grants broad immunities to participating companies.

At the same time, CISPA would also create a broad immunity from legal liability for monitoring, acquiring, or sharing CTI, so long as the entity acted “in good faith.”  Our concern from day one has been that these combined power and immunity provisions would override existing privacy laws like the Wiretap Act and the Stored Communications Act. 

Worse, the law provides immunity “for decisions made based on” CTI. A rogue or misguided company could easily make bad "decisions" that would do a lot more harm than good, and should not be immunized.  

CISPA also raises major transparency and accountability issues.

Information provided to the federal government under CISPA would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other state laws that could otherwise require disclosure (unless some law other than CISPA already requires its provision to the government).  

Users probably won't know if their private data is compromised under CISPA, and will have little recourse. 

CISPA's authors argue that the bill contains limitations on how the federal government can use and disclose information by permitting lawsuits against the government. But if a company sends information about a user that is not cyberthreat information, the government agency does not notify the user, only the company. 

CISPA is a dangerous bill

These are just a couple of reasons of why CISPA is a dangerous bill and why President Obama threatened to veto the bill last year. CISPA essentially equates greater cybersecurity with greater surveillance and  information sharing. But many of our cybersecurity problems arise from software vulnerabilities and human failings, issues CISPA fails to address. For instance, the recent series of hackssuffered by New York Timeswere suspected to be from spearphishing and victims downloading malicious software masked as email attachments—the types of issues that CISPA doesn't deal with.

We were heartened to hear that President Obama's new Executive Order on cybersecurity will encourage government agencies to more readily share cybersecurity information with companies, and may even reduce unnecessary secrecy around cybersecurity information. Let's use the momentum from the Executive Order to turn a new leaf in the cybersecurity debate, beginning a broader public dialogue about cybersecurity that doesn’t assume that surveillance is the right solution.

Please join EFF in opposing CISPA by contacting Congress today.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

Mark M. Jaycox

Mark M. Jaycox is a Policy Analyst and Legislative Assistant for EFF.

Around the World, A ‘Billion Rise’ to Fight Violence Against Women and Girls

Around 2,000 Filipino women and human rights activists parade the streets of Manila as part of a global campaign to end violence against women on Thursday. One Billion Rising was initiated by Vagina Monologues playwright Eve Ensler to end violence against women by raising awareness through creative action and dance. (Image: One Billion Rising)Across the globe today women are dancing, striking, and in other ways "rising" to call attention to the plight of violence against women and girls across the many cultures of the planet.

Long celebrated as Valentine's Day in many cultures and leveraged for the last fifteen years by women's rights activists in the "V-Day movement," today's actions are a culmination of the "One Billion Rising" campaign spearheaded by author, playwright and activist Eve Ensler and champions equal rights and an end to violence against women and young girls.

“February 14, 2013 will change the world not because it is a day of magic, although there are indeed mystical elements surrounding this campaign. It will change the world because the preparation for it and organizing for it has already created an energetic wind or wave igniting existing efforts to end violence against women and create new ones,” said Ensler in a statement.

Ensler says the campaign has brought together broad and unexpected coalitions of groups and individuals that have never worked together before, including young people and men previously unaware of how deep the problem of violence against women has been.

"We are rising together because it is in our connectedness, in our stomping feet and uncontrollable hips that the path and energy will be created to bring in a new world," Ensler said, referring to the campaign's focus on dance and public protest. "We will galvanize the will and the passion of everyone rising around the world to create change.”

According to the group, planned actions for the day include:

In Paris, the Women’s Coalition of the French Parliament is rising. The Minister of Women’s rights and hundreds of groups in India, students, teachers, and thousands of people are speaking out, and new laws and prevention education are being introduced.  Over 100 events are taking place in Italy.  In Germany, more than 100 events are planned around the country including a flash mob at the Brandenburg Gate. In Bosnia, a network of organizations and individuals in Sarajevo plan a dancing parade along the riverside, public squares and busy places.  From the north of Europe to the south, thousands of activists have planned events large and small. In Bangladesh, over 25 million are expected to rise and will form human dancing chains across the country.  The One Billion Rising anthem "Break the Chain" has been translated into Spanish, Farsi, Hindu, and many more languages.  In Cape Town, Soweto, and Johannesburg, teen girls are touring schools and teaching the flash mob dance, and all over Africa local TV stations are showing the "Break the Chain" video leading up to the rising.

The Guardian is also offering live and ongoing coverage of actions here.

The 'Break the Chain' anthem, which is has been learned by millions and will be performed at many of the events today can be viewed here:

The breadth and diversity of actions happening is being tracked on Twitter using the #1billionrising hashtag:

Actions have been organized in cities large and small across the many continents and the 'One Billion Rising Campaign' has launched live streams and archived videos of earlier and ongoing actions. Below are a sample of those, but others can be seen on the group's website.

From New Delhi, India:

From City of Joy, Democratic Republic of Congo:

From Tainan, Taiwan:

Live streams from New York, San Francisco and other cities will be added later in the day.

What’s Next for the Voting Rights Movement?

Desmond Meade stood with his wife on the National Mall on that sunny Inauguration Day, listening to a speech delivered by a president he did not vote for. But he followed attentively, hoping to hear just a few words that might address a man like himself: African-American, one-time homeless, recovered from substance abuse, and formerly incarcerated. His felony status kept him from voting for Obama, because as a Florida citizen he is not eligible to vote at all. He would leave D.C. disappointed, not only because he heard nothing about felony disenfranchisement, but he also heard nothing from Obama about the unique problems impacting black men.

“If you’re going to go out there on a limb and talk about gay rights and gun control issues, then why can’t you make mention of the plight of African-American men who are not graduating, who are dying at very young ages and being disenfranchised?” asks Meade. “As an African-American president who doesn’t have to worry about being elected again, he should have at least said something.”

Since Obama didn’t, Meade is saying something, organizing in Florida on behalf of the 1.5 million people in the state who can’t vote due to felony convictions. He’s the president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, comprising more than seventy organizations, most grassroots and community-based. Florida's disenfranchised voters total more than the combined population of both North and South Dakota. Their problems long preceded Obama and are far from resolved now that he has been re-elected. At the root is Florida’s state constitution, which prevents those with felony convictions from voting, holding office and in certain instances, even obtaining housing.

In addition, Gov. Rick Scott, the Tea Party’s golden neck charm, has rolled back reforms implemented by his predecessor Charlie Crist—reforms that restored voting rights for hundreds of thousands of former felons.

Felony disenfranchisement was far from the only voter problem suffered in Florida. The state’s electoral maladies in the last year read like a primer on how to best frustrate voters. They began with the passing of House Bill 1355, which among other things made voter registration drives prohibitively toilsome and which performed unnecessary surgery on the early voting period, including excising the “Souls to the Polls Sunday” that attracted legions of black voters in 2008. Come election day, long lines left elderly and disabled voters waiting up to five hours to vote in oven-like temperatures while overzealous poll watchers tried to block volunteers from giving them water.

But just as voter suppression schemes backfired on conservatives by provoking voters of color to turn out en masse, the totally avoidable problems caused by bad voter laws gifted voting rights activists with more momentum, more political capital and even a mandate to continue organizing in 2013. Today, Florida advocates are drawing up legislation that would establish a new bill of rights around voting for the state, mostly in response to the suppression.

“There have been so many shenanigans in Florida forever,” says Gihan Perera, executive director of Florida New Majority. “But now there is a real appetite for getting rid of the bad election policies and making permanent structural changes, looking at how the structure of voter suppression was racial, and then shifting the paradigm from conversations around voter fraud to establishing the right to vote as a fundamental right.”

Challenging Florida for the title of “Most Failed Elections State” is Virginia, which also suffered chaotically long lines, except there it was the freezer to Florida's oven. To make matters worse, there is no regular early voting process. It’s also one of only four states, among them Florida, that permanently disenfranchises those with felony convictions.

Organizers have had a tough time getting state legislators to focus on election improvements, says Tram Nguyen, associate director for Virginia New Majority, though a glance at the state’s legislation activist might suggest otherwise. After the 2008 election, Virginia legislators introduced bills aimed at election reform, including a voter ID bill that became law last year. This year, lawmakers have introduced over one hundred election reform bills. But while some are to make voting easier—by allowing early voting, for example, or providing more polling site resources—they also include “a slew of voter suppression bills,” says Nguyen.

“The bills we find most egregious ask for proof of citizenship for registration, call for stricter voter ID and gives the state access to the SAVE database.” The latter is a Department of Homeland Security database that conservative election officials want to use to purge people thought to be undocumented.

Virginia voting rights advocates at least have an ally in Congress. House Represe Gerry Connolly is reintroducing the FAST Voting Act, which among other things would allocate federal resources to states that can produce best practices and results for reducing long lines. The optics alone of voter lines winding for blocks—a reality for far too many—has led people to claim it is a form of voter suppression. At a voting rights forum in January hosted by Connolly, an attorney with the Advancement Project told the story of a working mother who came to her polling location four times, because the lines during each visit were too long for her to wait through during work breaks.

A major cause of long lines is Virginia’s sketchy voter registration system, which too often prevents people from signing in to vote because their names aren’t in the poll books. The ensuing hassles with poll workers holds up lines. To solve this problem, voting rights advocates are pushing for modernized voter registration, including portable or “universal” voter registration and Election Day registration. This would alleviate jams by allowing people to register once, perhaps online, and then ensuring that their information is updated automatically if they move, get married, or make other life changes. It also allows voters to register or correct mistakes in their file on Election Day rather than being blindsided with a provisional ballot.

But universal voter registration is almost universally panned by Republicans. In late January, Republican attorney Hans von Spakovsky and the Heritage Foundation rounded up a few conservative state secretaries—among them Kris Kobach of Kansas and Scott Gessler of Colorado, both notorious for trampling on voting rights—for a panel titled “The Threat to Election Integrity of ‘Universal’ Registration.” There, Gessler railed off a myth claiming that Oregon got rid of same-day registration after a cult used it to “take over a town.”

He could only have been referring to a 1984 case in which followers of the charismatic spiritual speaker Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh brought homeless people to Oregon in a plot to rig an election by abusing the state’s Election Day registration provision. The attempt was unsuccessful, but it did spook Oregon legislators into rescinding same-day registration. Of course, that was almost 30 years ago, and many improvements have been made to the system since.

Coincidentally, on the same day of Heritage’s panel, the Brennan Center for Justice held a panel on voter registration modernization, featuring none other than Oregon’s state secretary Kate Brown. There, Brown boasted that Oregon is currently the only state that is completely vote by mail—what they call “universal ballot delivery”—and one of a few states that offers online voter registration. “I don’t believe that registration should be a barrier to participation,” she said. This was a sharp contrast to Gessler at the Heritage Foundation, who cast universal voter registration as a threat to states’ rights. “This is not a homogenous nation,” he said, insisting that those “who celebrate diversity” (apparently not him) “should respect it in other areas, including geographical diversity.”

There’s not much diversity among those who bear the brunt of registration mishaps and long-line waits. Back in Florida, a study recently found that at least 201,000 people failed to vote last November due to long lines, and that the worst areas were found in Latino communities.

This is why a Florida coalition that includes Advancement Project, Mi Familia Vota, Florida New Majority, the Florida Consumer Action Network and the Florida Immigrant Coalition is working to amend the Florida state constitution so that it guarantees voting accessibility for all citizens—a state-level voting rights act.

“We’re focusing on legislation that grants an explicit right to vote in Florida,” says Katherine Culliton-González, the director of the Advancement Project’s voter protection program. “It would aim at big picture issues and make voting a fundamental right so no election law changes could happen that would take us back in time.”

Could Florida learn from Virginia activists fighting felon disenfranchisement? Edgardo Cortés, director of the Advancement Project's Voting Rights Restoration Campaign in Virginia, has been working on this issue with dozens of organizations around the state, including the NAACP and the ACLU. The groups have successfully pushed Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell to streamline the tedious application process for ex-offenders to have their rights restored. As of January 10, Governor McDonnell has restored the voting rights of more people than any governor preceding him, 4,423.

Of course, that’s nothing compared to the 350,000 Virginians disenfranchised due to felony convictions. Governor McDonnell made a surprising move this year when he announced his support for the automatic restoration of voting rights for non-violent felony offenders, but fellow Republicans in the general assembly have not honored his request. Even the state’s far-right attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, has come out in favor of automatic restoration for ex-offenders, saying the state has engaged in a foul practice of “felony creep,” where low-level, nonviolent crimes are inflated from misdemeanors to felonies, leading to more disenfranchisement. Right now you can be charged with a felony for bouncing a check.

“I think really the only thing that will cause change there is the governor and the higher-ups and state leadership within the parties saying, ‘Yes, we want to push this and we want to get this law passed,” says Cortés. That, and an executive order from Governor McDonnell which would give blanket restoration to the 350,000 without the right to vote.

The same could be done in Florida, except neither the governor nor the state legislators are poised to move on felony disenfranchisement. Which is why Desmond Meade and his coalition are pushing for a ballot initiative to restore voting rights for ex-offenders. Their mobilizing strategy includes trying to locate most or all of the 1.5 million disenfranchised ex-offenders in the state and ask them to find ten friends or family members who will vote for the ballot referendum on their behalf.

“Part of the reason there has been low turnout in black communities is that the issues and candidates that [political parties] try to turn African-Americans out for have been abstract,” says Meade. “These are not individuals or issues the black community can wrap their arms around or sink their teeth into. We’re not talking about issues that would directly impact them and they can see the results. Even when they elected Obama the first time we ran into a lot of African-Americans who said, ‘We got a black president but it looks like our situation got worse. Our conclusion is that with this ballot initiative, this is something that is up close and personal to the black community.”

In other words, rather than asking people to come out and vote for Candidate X, they’re asking people to vote for their brother, sister, father, cousin or friend. There’s nothing that sounds more fundamentally right than that.

Victory for Fair Trade and Food Workers’ Rights

FINLAND, Minn. - February 12 - United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI), the nation's largest wholesale distributor of organic, natural and specialty foods, will reinstate striking workers who had been permanently replaced at its Auburn, Wash., distribution warehouse, under an agreement reached Feb. 7 with members of Teamsters Local 117. According toSustainable Food News, UNFI agreed to a contract that calls for a 17.75-percent wage increase over five years.

“This is a victory for unions, for food workers everywhere, and for domestic fair trade,” said Ronnie Cummins, National Director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). “We simply cannot and will not allow labor exploitation and union-busing practices in the $35 billion organic sector. We’re proud of the organic consumers who responded to our boycott of UNFI’s private-label brands during the strike, and of the Washington State food co-ops who supported the strike and threatened to find alternative distributors unless UNFI agreed to treat workers fairly. We hope this will demonstrate to the Teamsters and other unions that U.S organic consumers are passionate about justice, as well as health and sustainability, and inspire the tens of thousands of non-union workers for industry giants such as UNFI, WFM and Trader Joe’s to organize themselves into trade unions for collective bargaining.”

According to a spokesperson for Teamsters Local 117, the campaign against UNFI, which included the boycott, 24-hour a day picket lines around the UNFI warehouse in Auburn, Wash., leafleting outside Whole Foods Market (UNFI’s biggest customer) retail stores, backlash from area food co-ops and bad press, including a widely-circulated article by Cummins and Dave Murphy, founder of FoodDemocracyNOW!, exposing the fact that UNFI was under investigation for 45 violations of federal labor law, struck fear in the hearts of UNFI management and brought them to the bargaining table.

The bitter strike began Dec. 10, seven months after the Teamsters contract had expired. UNFI promptly and permanently replaced 72 of the 168 workers and drivers who walked off the job.

A number of food co-ops, including Seattle-based PCC Natural Markets (PCC), the nation's largest consumer-owned retail grocer, and Central Food Co-op, also in Seattle, threatened to pull their business if UNFI didn’t return to the bargaining table. Olympia Food Co-op, in a show of solidarity with workers, suspended business with UNFI for one week, which cost the multi-billion company an estimated $100,000.

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) is an online and grassroots non-profit 501(c)3 public interest organization campaigning for health, justice, and sustainability. The OCA deals with crucial issues of food safety, industrial agriculture, genetic engineering, children's health, corporate accountability, Fair Trade, environmental sustainability and other key topics. We are the only organization in the US focused exclusively on promoting the views and interests of the nation's estimated 50 million organic and socially responsible consumers.

Victory for Fair Trade and Food Workers’ Rights

FINLAND, Minn. - February 12 - United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI), the nation's largest wholesale distributor of organic, natural and specialty foods, will reinstate striking workers who had been permanently replaced at its Auburn, Wash., distribution warehouse, under an agreement reached Feb. 7 with members of Teamsters Local 117. According toSustainable Food News, UNFI agreed to a contract that calls for a 17.75-percent wage increase over five years.

“This is a victory for unions, for food workers everywhere, and for domestic fair trade,” said Ronnie Cummins, National Director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA). “We simply cannot and will not allow labor exploitation and union-busing practices in the $35 billion organic sector. We’re proud of the organic consumers who responded to our boycott of UNFI’s private-label brands during the strike, and of the Washington State food co-ops who supported the strike and threatened to find alternative distributors unless UNFI agreed to treat workers fairly. We hope this will demonstrate to the Teamsters and other unions that U.S organic consumers are passionate about justice, as well as health and sustainability, and inspire the tens of thousands of non-union workers for industry giants such as UNFI, WFM and Trader Joe’s to organize themselves into trade unions for collective bargaining.”

According to a spokesperson for Teamsters Local 117, the campaign against UNFI, which included the boycott, 24-hour a day picket lines around the UNFI warehouse in Auburn, Wash., leafleting outside Whole Foods Market (UNFI’s biggest customer) retail stores, backlash from area food co-ops and bad press, including a widely-circulated article by Cummins and Dave Murphy, founder of FoodDemocracyNOW!, exposing the fact that UNFI was under investigation for 45 violations of federal labor law, struck fear in the hearts of UNFI management and brought them to the bargaining table.

The bitter strike began Dec. 10, seven months after the Teamsters contract had expired. UNFI promptly and permanently replaced 72 of the 168 workers and drivers who walked off the job.

A number of food co-ops, including Seattle-based PCC Natural Markets (PCC), the nation's largest consumer-owned retail grocer, and Central Food Co-op, also in Seattle, threatened to pull their business if UNFI didn’t return to the bargaining table. Olympia Food Co-op, in a show of solidarity with workers, suspended business with UNFI for one week, which cost the multi-billion company an estimated $100,000.

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) is an online and grassroots non-profit 501(c)3 public interest organization campaigning for health, justice, and sustainability. The OCA deals with crucial issues of food safety, industrial agriculture, genetic engineering, children's health, corporate accountability, Fair Trade, environmental sustainability and other key topics. We are the only organization in the US focused exclusively on promoting the views and interests of the nation's estimated 50 million organic and socially responsible consumers.

The Scams and Sexism Hidden in Your Cable Bill

Sports channels are increasingly costly to consumers, especially women.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

February 11, 2013  |  

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I have come to realize that there are actually three things in life that are inevitable. Death, taxes and professional sports. The second two items go hand in hand.

I care not a fig for glitzy, large-scale, athletic competitions, and yet I am bombarded with news of grown men getting paid to tackle and throw balls at each other almost daily. Through my newspaper subscription, I support entire sections devoted to games and scores that don’t concern me. I subsidize professional sports teams through my taxes. According to a recent report in Bloomberg, U.S. taxpayers have kissed goodbye $4 billion through tax exemptions and other schemes to build fancy sports structures with retractable roofs and whatnot since 1986. Structures I will likely never visit. Franchise owners make out like bandits, and I receive little in return.

Travis Waldron and Pat Garofalo at ThinkProgress have devoted several articles to explaining why these kinds of subsidies are poor investments for economic growth. Stadiums don’t pay for themselves, as promoters claim, and they divert resources from vital services, like roads and bridges, firefighters and public pensions.

David Sirota has just added a new layer of insult to my injuries. In a recent column, “ The Sports Tax,” he outlines the various ways I’m getting hustled, including one I hadn’t thought about much, because I only recently caved and got cable TV (I used to be able to get basic channels in my NYC apartment using deftly positioned rabbit ears, but no more). My Time Warner Cable bill, which combines phone and Internet -- and doesn’t even buy me HBO -- is nearly $200 per month. Flipping around the channels, I have a hard time comprehending what justifies this price. As Sirota explains, a large chunk of what I pay goes toward expensive sports channels like ESPN and Sports Net:

“The third Sports Tax is embedded in your cable television bill. Though this levy is not itemized on your bill, the Los Angeles Times reports that up to half of your total cable payment is ‘for the sports channels packaged into most services.’ That's because the sports stations tend to charge significantly higher rates than other outlets, and yet are automatically included in most basic cable packages, thereby preventing ratepayers from opting out. The result is a tax obligating those who do not watch sports to subsidize those who do.”

Have you noticed your cable bill going up lately? Perhaps by as much as 40 percent? That’s because TV deals with big-name sports franchises are pushing them up, says the LA Times:

"’We've got runaway sports rights, runaway sports salaries and what is essentially a high tax on a lot of households that don't have a lot of interest in sports,’ said John Malone, the cable industry pioneer and chairman of Liberty Media. ‘The consumer is really getting squeezed, as is the cable operator.’" Those who actually watch sports—and I don’t fault them for it – are not getting a better product for those higher prices, but “smaller slices at higher prices.”

While the LA Times puts the percentage of your cable bill that goes to sports channels at 50 percent, Derek Thompson at the Atlantic counters that it’s really only 15 percent. In any case, I’m getting bupkis for that cost. Thompson notes that while ESPN gets $5 a month from every household, MTV only gets 39 cents. Why is that?

On top of that, sports makes TV look like crap. I recently watched Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in high definition and it looked absolutely horrible. I could see the stage makeup on Steve Martin. The lighting was garish. The whole experience made it seem that I was watching an acting class, rather than a film. This is known as the “ soap opera effect" because it makes things look like the kind of cheap video used for soap operas. I am told it’s possible to fiddle with a labyrinth of settings and connections in order to mitigate this, but what a pain in the ass. And why does TV look like this? High definition is primarily exciting to sports viewers who want to see the minutia of every play. It’s absolutely awful for dramatic presentations where mood and nuanced lighting is critical. And it is particularly cruel to older actors and media figures who must struggle to conceal every wrinkle and often end up Botoxed out of recognition.

Voting Rights Under Attack

In an incendiary new report, "Rig the Vote: How a National Effort to Attack Voting Rights Landed in Wisconsin", the Center for Media and Democracy and Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund show how Republicans and rightwing groups across the country are working to undermine elections and ensure a Republican lock on electoral college votes in states that have historically voted Democratic.

A 2011 voting rights protest led by the NAACP. (Photo: Michael Fleshman via Flickr)Among the nefarious vote-rigging efforts explored in the report: Republicans hope to take their gerrymandered redistricting plans nationwide--changing the rules so that electoral votes in swing states are awarded based on Congressional districts, not popular vote totals.

This could guarantee that Republican candidates like Mitt Romney, even as they lose the popular vote, get enough electoral votes to become President against the will of the majority of American voters.

In 2010, Republican legislatures were able to redraw Congressional districts to heavily favor Republican candidates in states where the popular vote historically goes to Democrats.

Now, in Wisconsin, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and Florida, all of which went for Obama in 2012, Republican-controlled state legislatures are pushing forward plans to change the system to award electoral votes by Congressional district.

Had those plans been in place in 2012, the report finds, "Mitt Romney would have won the Presidency."

In case there is any doubt about why Republicans are pursuing this scheme, the report quotes Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, who "stated explicitly that the plan is only intended for 'states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red.'"

In red states like Texas, where the same strategy might yield a few electoral votes for Democrats, the legislature is not pursuing it.

The report focuses specifically on Wisconsin--but the vote-rigging schemes it outlines are the same across the country.

That's because they are the product of a coordinated strategy by national rightwing groups--not homegrown politics.

Most of the bills discussed in the report were written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which pushes rightwing and corporate interests in all the states.

ALEC drafted voter I.D. legislation, which has come up in state after state, "shortly after the highest general election turnout in nearly 60 years swept America's first black president into office with strong support from college students and people of color."

In the guise of preventing election fraud, voter I.D.bills, along with bills to end same-day registration, aim to suppress the vote by these same groups.

The state of Wisconsin had both the second-highest voter turnout in the nation in 2008, and some of the best election practices in the United States for 2008 and 2010, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts which praised Wisconsin for the integrity, accuracy, and accessibility of its elections systems.

Yet Republican state officials are currently busy trying to change all that.

Governor Scott Walker has announced his intention to end same-day registration in the state, justifying it on the grounds that it would make life easier for elections clerks.

But, the report notes, municipal clerks throughout the state as well as the state's chief elections officer have made clear that ending same-day registration would create a "bureaucratic morass."

Voters would have to go to the DMV and social service agencies for provisional ballots, and return for a second visit with proof of eligibility.

This system, in addition to burdening voters and elections officials, would make Wisconsin more like the states that scored the lowest in the Pew measure of best election practices--with tens of thousands of provisional ballots delaying results, unresolved elections, and poor turnout.

The same issues arise with the new voter I.D. laws.

In-person voter fraud is practically nil. Yet voter I.D. laws continue to be a priority for state legislatures.

Two Wisconsin judges struck down voter I.D. in the state as an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote since, as the report notes "disenfranchising 300,000 people would not be outweighed by the 'benefits' of stopping a problem that is statistically insignificant."

"The people's fundamental right of suffrage preceded and gave birth to our Constitution," Dane County District Judge Richard Niess wrote in his March decision striking down Wisconsin's voter ID law. "Not the other way around."

The same principle could be applied to all of the Republicans' nefarious vote rigging schemes.

© 2013 The Progressive Magazine

Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff covers national politics for The Progressive and is a voice of The Progressive on many TV and radio programs. Conniff was a regular on CNN’s Sunday Capital Gang and is now a regular on PBS’s To the Contrary. She also has appeared frequently on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal and on NPR and Pacifica.

Voting Rights Under Attack

In an incendiary new report, "Rig the Vote: How a National Effort to Attack Voting Rights Landed in Wisconsin", the Center for Media and Democracy and Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund show how Republicans and rightwing groups across the country are working to undermine elections and ensure a Republican lock on electoral college votes in states that have historically voted Democratic.

A 2011 voting rights protest led by the NAACP. (Photo: Michael Fleshman via Flickr)Among the nefarious vote-rigging efforts explored in the report: Republicans hope to take their gerrymandered redistricting plans nationwide--changing the rules so that electoral votes in swing states are awarded based on Congressional districts, not popular vote totals.

This could guarantee that Republican candidates like Mitt Romney, even as they lose the popular vote, get enough electoral votes to become President against the will of the majority of American voters.

In 2010, Republican legislatures were able to redraw Congressional districts to heavily favor Republican candidates in states where the popular vote historically goes to Democrats.

Now, in Wisconsin, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and Florida, all of which went for Obama in 2012, Republican-controlled state legislatures are pushing forward plans to change the system to award electoral votes by Congressional district.

Had those plans been in place in 2012, the report finds, "Mitt Romney would have won the Presidency."

In case there is any doubt about why Republicans are pursuing this scheme, the report quotes Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, who "stated explicitly that the plan is only intended for 'states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red.'"

In red states like Texas, where the same strategy might yield a few electoral votes for Democrats, the legislature is not pursuing it.

The report focuses specifically on Wisconsin--but the vote-rigging schemes it outlines are the same across the country.

That's because they are the product of a coordinated strategy by national rightwing groups--not homegrown politics.

Most of the bills discussed in the report were written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which pushes rightwing and corporate interests in all the states.

ALEC drafted voter I.D. legislation, which has come up in state after state, "shortly after the highest general election turnout in nearly 60 years swept America's first black president into office with strong support from college students and people of color."

In the guise of preventing election fraud, voter I.D.bills, along with bills to end same-day registration, aim to suppress the vote by these same groups.

The state of Wisconsin had both the second-highest voter turnout in the nation in 2008, and some of the best election practices in the United States for 2008 and 2010, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts which praised Wisconsin for the integrity, accuracy, and accessibility of its elections systems.

Yet Republican state officials are currently busy trying to change all that.

Governor Scott Walker has announced his intention to end same-day registration in the state, justifying it on the grounds that it would make life easier for elections clerks.

But, the report notes, municipal clerks throughout the state as well as the state's chief elections officer have made clear that ending same-day registration would create a "bureaucratic morass."

Voters would have to go to the DMV and social service agencies for provisional ballots, and return for a second visit with proof of eligibility.

This system, in addition to burdening voters and elections officials, would make Wisconsin more like the states that scored the lowest in the Pew measure of best election practices--with tens of thousands of provisional ballots delaying results, unresolved elections, and poor turnout.

The same issues arise with the new voter I.D. laws.

In-person voter fraud is practically nil. Yet voter I.D. laws continue to be a priority for state legislatures.

Two Wisconsin judges struck down voter I.D. in the state as an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote since, as the report notes "disenfranchising 300,000 people would not be outweighed by the 'benefits' of stopping a problem that is statistically insignificant."

"The people's fundamental right of suffrage preceded and gave birth to our Constitution," Dane County District Judge Richard Niess wrote in his March decision striking down Wisconsin's voter ID law. "Not the other way around."

The same principle could be applied to all of the Republicans' nefarious vote rigging schemes.

© 2013 The Progressive Magazine

Ruth Conniff

Ruth Conniff covers national politics for The Progressive and is a voice of The Progressive on many TV and radio programs. Conniff was a regular on CNN’s Sunday Capital Gang and is now a regular on PBS’s To the Contrary. She also has appeared frequently on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal and on NPR and Pacifica.

Lucas puts $2.02 billion worth of Disney shares up for possible sale

George Lucas (Valerie Macon / Getty Images / AFP)

George Lucas (Valerie Macon / Getty Images / AFP)

Filmmaker George Lucas' trust has registered its 2% stake in Walt Disney worth $2.02 billion for possible sale in a filing with US regulators. However, that does not mean a sale is imminent.

­The document allows for the potential sale of the 37.1 million Disney shares owned by the Lucas trust.

The company has not indicated how many shares it is planning to sell, and the document said it could decide against selling any at all, AFP reported.

"The selling security holder has not informed us, and we do not know, when or in what amounts the selling security holder may offer for sale the shares of common stock pursuant to this offering," the trust added.

The Star Wars creator received the shares when Disney took over his LucasFilms company last year for $4.05 billion. The deal included the high-tech production companies, Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound, as well as rights to the "Indiana Jones'' franchise. Lucasfilm joins animated film producer Pixar, Marvel Studios, ESPN and ABC, all purchased by Disney in recent years.

The seventh part of the Star Wars saga, with a working title of “Episode 7,” is due to hit screens in 2015. It will be followed by Episodes 8 and 9. The trilogy will continue the story of Luke Skywalker, Hans Solo and Princess Leia beyond “Return of the Jedi”. George Lucas will serve as a creative consultant on the new movies. “I’m doing this so that the films will have a longer life,” Lucas said in an interview posted on YouTube. “I get to be a fan now … I sort of look forward to it. It's a lot more fun actually, than actually having to go out into the mud and snow.”

What a Progressive Immigration Reform Bill Looks Like

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

Bio

Isabel Garcia is the co-chair of the human rights organization Derechos Humanos in Tucson, Arizona. She's a criminal defense and immigration lawyer, and she is on the board of the National Network For Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Transcript

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

This is part two of our interview with Isabel Garcia on immigration reform. And she now joins us again from Tucson. Isabel is cochair of the human rights organization Derechos Humanos in Tucson. She's a criminal defense and immigration lawyer. She's on the board of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. Thanks for joining us again.ISABEL GARCIA, COCHAIR, DERECHOS HUMANOS: Thank you very much.JAY: So my main question to you is: what would immigration reform look like if you wrote it? But just before you go there, let me just ask you one basic question of principle. Does a country, does the United States have a right to say how many people can migrate to it each year, put some numbers and limits on it, and control its borders so not more than that can get in?GARCIA: Absolutely. A government has total rights. I mean, I guess the issue becomes is: is the government making the right decisions? And we've not been making the right decisions. But do we have a right? Absolutely. JAY: And then there's something specific which we discussed in part one. We don't have to go over it again, but there's a specific issue with immigrants that have come from Mexico because for decades they were encouraged to come, even though there was no real legal status and way to come. Hundreds of thousands, millions of people were essentially asked to come to work in agriculture and other parts of the American economy, and that's why there's something specific about the people that are already here and undocumented. So that's—if you haven't watched part one, we talked about more of that in part one.Now let's go to the question. If you were writing immigration reform, what would it look like?GARCIA: Well, I think that immigration reform is, like, an urgency. I would divide it in three broad aspects. And I will begin with the first one. And I think that we must deal with the root cause of migration, period. We should have done that 20 years ago, last year, yesterday, tomorrow, next year. We need to address the issue of mass migration, why people are coming. And then we have to address the role that the United States policy has been in those countries that have caused people to migrate unlawfully into the United States. I've already talked about the free trade agreement. NAFTA has propelled 6 million undocumented farm workers here. Our war in El Salvador, for instance, propelled hundreds of thousands of political refugees. Our drug war in Mexico is causing refugees. And you can see that other policies across the world with those countries result in migration here. So it's essential that we deal with root cause. I mean, this is not—JAY: Okay. Let me just ask you a question about that.GARCIA: —a national security issue. I'm sorry?JAY: Let me ask you about that, because—you know, you won't get, obviously, an argument from me about that, but that's a pretty long-term issue. You're asking for a fundamental change in U.S. foreign policy, a fundamental change in U.S. commercial relations with these countries, and that ain't happening soon.GARCIA: I think it can be quicker. But we must deal with it. We must deal with it. And I believe that there are quick measures that instead of investing $18 billion on the border last year, that we could have engaged in employment activity that could have been much more beneficial to Mexcians or any other of—you know, even our residents along the border. I think it's just time we do it. This argument that, oh, that's long-term, well, you know, ten years ago, 15 years ago, whenever we engaged in NAFTA, we've been saying ever since then, when are you going to stop? Candidate Obama understood it. Candidate Obama in 2008, 2007 said, I would reform these free trade agreements because they displace. So he didn't, and we have more workers. So it's got to be done now.JAY: Okay. What's point two?GARCIA: And especially to acknowledge it. Why not at least acknowledge that migration has to do with economics, that we should encourage people to be with your families? That's the social part of it, because human beings form families. We should have that as our cornerstone of our reform. So that's number one, changing policy.Number two, I would say reform our current immigration laws to reflect the reality. The reality is that we've invited 11 million undocumented people here. I mean, you can say here or there, you know, there's—we're all human beings, so you can say, oh, there's a murderer here and a rapist here, that sort of thing. But by and large, the vast majority of immigrants are here because we've invited them to build our country. We should give meaningful and widespread amnesty without creating this incredible costly process to determine who's the good immigrant versus the bad immigrant. I think we need to have as meaningful, as broad of a legalization program as possible. That would take care of everybody here. And thirdly, and very dear to my heart, is we need to begin the demilitarization of our border and our communities, because now you're being militarized, it doesn't matter if it's in the state of Washington or in Iowa. We are giving way to—you know, we've created Arizona as the laboratory to do everything that's anti-immigrant, and we're using everywhere. We're going to add more border patrol agents—imagine that, when migration is at an all-time low. So who exactly are they going after? It goes to show you that [crosstalk] going after all of us.JAY: Okay. Now, let me ask you—so, such a broad amnesty—and this is part of what President Obama's proposal is supposed to try to deal with—is that in fact there are a lot of people who have committed, you know, violent crimes or other kinds of crimes or involved in narcotrafficking and such. I mean, it's—I know it's a tiny minority of the people we're talking about, a sliver, but there are such people. Does it not need to be if—there's a process of amnesty that does deal with that?GARCIA: Well, very limited, because let me tell you, there is an awful lot of information on everybody, you and I, and especially the immigrant population. And yes, there can be arguments. It's not going to come from me, because I'm telling you, I'm a criminal defense attorney. I know many people who've made mistakes in their lives, and they pay dearly. They pay a ten-year period of sentence or 20 years. We have a criminal justice system that deals with that. I don't believe that families should be divided.Okay. So you want violent people out of there. Do you know that we have created an $18 billion apparatus? For what? For a few people? We continue to criminalize people for illegal entry. Did you know that? Here in Tucson we will have hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people who will not be eligible, because they've been deported before. So they're not going to get eligibility. And those that came back to be with their families, they've been found guilty of a felony. Did you know it was a felony to be found in the United States after having been formally deported? We criminalize these by the thousands here in Tucson. President Obama, as well as the senators, want to increase this costly program that does nothing for the good of this country. And so to look at more details, I invite you to look at our framework. Derechos Humanos' framework is at www.derechoshumanosaz.net (AZ for Arizona), www.derechoshumanosaz.net, and you will find our response, our framework that we issued on international [crosstalk]JAY: Well, I invite our viewers to do that. Go take a look. Underneath the video there's a comments section here. So you make your comments on those proposals and President Obama's proposals, and we'll invite Isabel back and some other experts on this issue and can respond to some of your questions and comments about all of this.GARCIA: Thank you.JAY: So we will pursue this further. Thanks very much for joining us, Isabel.GARCIA: Thank all of you so much. Bye-bye.JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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Teachers Forced To Tell Parents If Their Kids Are Gay? 5 Utterly Horrifying Right-Wing...

These bills are shocking in their wing-nuttery.

February 4, 2013  |  

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1. Tennessee bill would prohibit discussion of "non-heterosexual" sexuality in schools and force teachers to warn parents if their kids identify as LGBT.

SB 234, colloquially known as the “ Don’t Say Gay” bill, bars elementary and middle-school teachers from discussing “non-heterosexual” sexuality with their students. Even more shocking, a new version of the bill would require counselors and teachers to warn parents if they think their child is gay. 

By way of justification the bill’s sponsor, Republican senator Stacey Campbell, said, “ The act of homosexuality is very dangerous to someone's health and safety." 

Campbell’s hateful bill is the real threat to health and safety. As Think Progress’ Annie-Rose Strasser notes, “Kids who are LGBT often face alienation, if not outright abandonment, because they come out.  Forty percent of homeless youth are LGBT, and many of them report that the reason they left home was to escape an environment hostile to their sexual orientation.”

It seems that this is the strategy of cultural conservatives: restrict open discussion that could pave the way for a more tolerant generation, and harm children while doing so.

2. Missouri bill would require first-graders to study gun safety with the NRA.

A Missouri Republican is sponsoring a bill that would  require all first-grade students to endure something called the “National Rifle Association's Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Program.”

The program would send instructors to every public school in Missouri to teach first-graders what to do if they encounter an unsecured firearm. Also, the bill would require all teachers to attend eight hours of intruder response classes. But the NRA won’t pay for substitute teachers during training time, which is projected to cost school districts $16 million.

State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed of St. Louis believes that money would be better allocated toward math and science tutoring programs. Nasheed seems to be on the right track, considering that Missouri’s public education system ranks  47th in the nation. "I think we should be teaching kids to read, write and do math," she  told the Associated Press.

3. Arkansas bill would ban abortions as early as five weeks into pregnancy.

In a blow to women’s rights, the Arkansas state senate  approved a bill that would ban abortions when doctors detect a fetal heartbeat. If passed by the House into law, women would be denied abortions as early as five weeks into pregnancy. Arkansas would become  the most anti-choice state in the country.

Not only do Arkansas lawmakers want to strip away a woman’s right to choose—they also want to invade women's privacy in the process. The bill, sponsored by the  openly racist Republican state senator Jason Rapert, would require doctors administer vaginal probes to detect whether women pass the cut-off of fetal heartbeat.

It gets worse: doctors who perform abortions after the cut-off would face up to six years in prison and $10,000 in fines. Essentially, the bill would jail doctors who adhere to  40 years of federal law.

In a speech to her colleagues, Democratic state senator Linda Chesterfield captured the cruelty of the proposed legislation: "I don't want to go back to when women used kerosene and clotheshangers because they didn't have a choice.”

4. Mississippi bill aims to exempt state from certain federal laws.

In response to Obama’s Affordable Care Act and gun control proposals, Republican state representatives Gary Chism and Jeff Smith  introduced a bill aiming to neutralize federal laws conservatives disagree with.

Chism says his bill will “stand up for the 10th Amendment.” But Mississippi College law professor Matt Steffey points out the stupidity of his assessment—noting that federal law trumps state law whenever there is conflict.

Morsi Slams New Lid on Labor Rights

Cairo - Workers played a pivotal role in the mass uprising that led to former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s downfall. Now, two years on, the same labor movement that helped topple the Arab dictator is locked in a stalemate with the government and employers over long-denied labor rights and untenable working conditions.

In recent months, thousands of disenfranchised workers across Egypt have taken collective action to secure better wages and working conditions, paralysing sectors of an economy still recovering from the 2011 uprising. The country’s new Islamist-led government has promised to resolve labor disputes quickly and equitably, but faces formidable challenges as it grapples with restive workers, unyielding employers, and depleted state coffers.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the conservative Islamic movement that dominated last year’s parliamentary and presidential polls, ran on a platform that emphasised social justice. Yet the once-outlawed group has a poor track record on worker rights, and a history of anti-union activities.

“We had a revolution but the only change is from (Mubarak’s) National Democratic Party to the Muslim Brotherhood,” says labor activist Kareem El-Beheiry. “The Brotherhood has never done anything for the labour movement, and never supported workers or independent unions.”

President Mohamed Morsi, a former Brotherhood leader, has faced a number of tests since taking office last June. There were over 2,000 labor protests in 2012, with the rate of protests more than doubling during the second half of the year, according to a new study by the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR).

“We cannot but notice the clear failure of Morsi’s administration to resolve these protests or even set a clear plan for dealing with their demands. Rather, the administration has continued to adopt the same old policies, which only aggravates the matter,” the ECESR report said.

Labour Minister Khaled El-Azhary, a prominent Brotherhood member, has repeatedly urged striking workers to return to work while the government considers their demands. He says Egypt’s fragile economy cannot afford any more loss of production and must be given a chance to recover from the 2011 revolution.

Egypt is struggling to plug deficits in the state budget and balance of payments as it burns through its last remaining foreign reserves. Tourism, a key foreign revenue earner, plummeted after the uprising and is still off by 20 percent. Foreign investment has retreated, and many projects remain on hold due to ongoing political and economic uncertainty.

While the government has generally tried to avoid confrontations with striking workers, it has taken a tough stand on those who “obstruct the wheels of production.” In the months following Morsi’s appointment, riot police broke up labor protests and arrested local strike organisers, while public sector employees found engaging in collective actions were fired, transferred or referred to disciplinary hearings.

“More than 200 employees and workers were individually sacked during the first three months of Morsi’s term, and more than 100 others were subjected to investigation after they were arrested while peacefully protesting…In addition, many employees and workers were physically assaulted during their sit-ins by thugs hired by (their) employers and businessmen,” the ECESR report said.

Morsi’s government has also borrowed the old regime’s tactic of using state media outlets to smear labor movements and intimidate their leaders, says Hadeer Hassan, a local labor journalist.

“The Muslim Brotherhood views strikes as undermining the economy and Morsi’s rule,” she says. “Rather than addressing workers’ demands, it has tried to turn public opinion against striking workers by using the press to portray them as traitors and thugs.”

And where that fails, she adds, the same “lies and false accusations of worker sabotage” are fed to sympathetic courts.

At least a dozen workers have been convicted under legislation passed by Egypt’s military-run transitional government in March 2011 that criminalises “economically disruptive” strikes. President Morsi has yet to strike down the controversial law or overturn the sentences, though he has the power to do so.

Meanwhile, the government is formulating new legislation that labor activists fear will restrict freedom of association and re-establish the state’s dominance over syndical activities. An early draft of the Trade Union Liberties Law, intended to replace antiquated and restrictive legislation on union organisation, would have enshrined the right to strike and legally recognised the hundreds of independent unions that have sprung up since Mubarak’s fall.

The draft law was scrapped, however, in favour of a new bill drawn up by labour minister Khaled El-Azhary and other prominent Brotherhood figures. Their version proposes stiff penalties for striking workers who disrupt production. It also curtails union pluralism by requiring each enterprise to select just one trade union to represent its workers.

The bill would complement “anti-union” articles in Egypt’s new constitution, which was passed last month in a highly divisive referendum. Article 52 affirms the right of workers to form syndicates, but another article stipulates that each profession can have only one trade union.

The new legal framework threatens to eliminate many of the more than 1,000 independent trade unions that exist alongside their larger and more established state-controlled counterparts.

That’s the point, says Hassan. “The Muslim Brotherhood only wants unions it can control.”

Immigration Reform Must Include Workers’ Rights

At this moment, various plans to reform America's broken immigration system are working their way through Congressional debate. On Monday, a bipartisan group of eight lawmakers unveiled a plan that includes what they call a "tough but fair" path to ci...

‘Your Body Is Not A Crime Scene’: Rape Crisis Charity Blasts US Bill That...

A UK rape charity has blasted a US bill that would legally require victims of rape to carry their pregnancies to term as “horrendous”.

The bill, introduced by New Mexico Republican lawmaker Cathrynn Brown, would potentially charge a rape victim who ended her pregnancy with a third-degree felony for “tampering with evidence.”

Speaking on behalf of Rape Crisis, Jo Wood told Huffington Post UK the proposals were "horrendous" and akin to “re-victimisation”.

cathrynn brown

New Mexico lawmaker Cathrynn Brown has introduced a bill that would charge a rape victim who ended her pregnancy

She said: “Your body is not a crime scene. There are all sorts of forensics that can be carried out after a rape without the need to carry a baby to full term.

“The suggestion that we are legally obliged to put crime scene tape around a rape survivor for nine months is absurd. Words fail me, really.

“If such a thing were suggested in Britain, I am sure there would be a total outcry.”

Brown’s House Bill 206 currently states: “Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime.”

Third degree felonies in New Mexico can carry a sentence of up to three years in prison.

Think Progress points out that under the bill if a woman ended her pregnancy after being raped, both she and her doctor could charged. It adds the bill would “add the forced choice between prison or an unwanted pregnancy “ to sexual assault trial proceedings.

SEE ALSO:

The bill has been branded "blatantly unconstitutional" by Pat Davis of progressive non-profit group ProgressNow New Mexico.

He added: “In addition to being blatantly unconstitutional, the bill turns victims of rape and incest, who have just been through a horrible sexual assault, into felons and forces them to become incubators of evidence for the state.

“According to Republican philosophy, victims who are ‘legitimately raped’ will now have to carry the fetus to term in order to prove their case."

The bill is unlikely to pass, as Democrats have a majority in both chambers of New Mexico's state legislature.

Following the outcry over her proposals on Wednesday, Brown issued a statement on Thursday insisting the bill’s goal is to punish the person who commits the incest or rape and then procures or facilitates an abortion to destroy evidence of the crime.

She said: “New Mexico needs to strengthen its laws to deter sex offenders. By adding this law in New Mexico, we can help to protect women across our state.”

Salon points out Brown's damage control campaign is ongoing - with her contact information being removed from her legislature page.

Additionally, Brown tells the Carlsbad Current-Argus the "poorly written" bill is currently being reworked for clarity.

The paper reports Brown missed the "language problems that led to misinterpretation of her bill" and that a "drafting error occurred".

She said: "I started getting real nasty phone calls from people around the country. Some national publications and TV stations published stories that I was against the victim. That's far from the truth. I want to protect the victim."

Rape Crisis is a registered charity and the national umbrella organisation for Rape Crisis Centres across England and Wales. It campaigns to raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual violence and highlights the importance and need for high quality, specialised support.

Gay Marriage Bill Published Ahead Of Divisive Commons Vote

A bill to legalise gay marriage was published by the government today, amid deep splits in the Conservative Party on the issue.

The legislation is likely to provoke ferocious debate in the Commons, where a significant number of Tory MPs are set to vote against the plans.

But Culture Secretary Maria Miller insisted today it would ensure "equal and fair" treatment of gay couples, while providing adequate protection for religious institutions which do not want same-sex weddings to take place on their premises.

Miller told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We feel that marriage is a good thing and we should be supporting more couples to marry and that is exactly what the proposals being brought forward today do.

"But it is about making sure that not only do we recognise the rights of same-sex couples in civil life, but we also recognise that some churches won't want to participate in same-sex marriages.

"We are trying to make sure that there are the protections there for churches who feel that this isn't appropriate for their particular beliefs. We know that there are churches who do want to take part in same-sex marriages, so we have made sure that there are provisions there so they can."

Stonewall Chief Executive Ben Summerskill said: "Sadly the minority of people who oppose equal marriage consistently use mistruths and smears to argue against it. Supporters of this modest measure mustn’t let a vocal minority block equality. People must write to, tweet, email or call their MPs to ask them for their support before the Bill’s Second Reading debate on 5 February.

"We need straight people with lesbian or gay friends or relatives to stand up for their rights too. Equality benefits everyone, which is why we need every supporter to press MPs to vote for it. Our message is simple. Speak now, or forever hold your peace."

SEE ALSO: Read The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

The legislation sparked controversy after it emerged that a "quadruple lock" designed to protect religious institutions from being forced to conduct gay marriages against their wishes will make it illegal for such ceremonies to be conducted by the Church of England and Church in Wales.

Miller said: "At the end of the process, there will be the same freedoms there for the Church of England and Church in Wales, but they have to be achieved differently, because the Church of England and Church in Wales have a common-law duty to marry people, and that is quite different from any other religious institution in the country.

"Therefore you would expect there would have to be slightly different provisions there."

She added: "I don't think it is for any government to tell the Church of England what they do when it comes to something which is so central to religious belief."

Miller rejected claims that teachers could face disciplinary action if they refuse to "promote" gay marriage in schools.

"Teachers are able to, and entitled to, express their views about same-sex marriage and there is no requirement at all for them to promote it," she said. "But obviously we wouldn't expect teachers to be offensive or discriminate in any way about anything."

Miller added: "Of absolutely paramount importance to me is that when it comes to civil society, we should be treating people equally and fairly and the measures we are putting forward today are doing that."

Related on HuffPost:

Five Days Before Latest College Shooting, TX Legislator Introduced ALEC/NRA Bill to Allow Guns...

Just days before three people were shot in an altercation on a college campus in Texas, fourteen Texas state Senators co-sponsored a National Rifle Association-backed bill to prohibit colleges from restricting concealed handguns on campuses. The legislation closely resembles a "model" adopted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Students gathered Tuesday after the shooting at the North Harris campus of Lone Star College, on the outskirts of Houston. (Jason Fochtman/The Courier of Montgomery County, via Associated Press) On January 22, an altercation at the Lone Star College campus in Houston led to gunfire. According to initial reports, one man involved in the fight was shot, and two bystanders were caught in the crossfire. Both suspects have been apprehended; one of the men had a student identification card.

On January 17, five days before the shooting, Texas State Senator Brian Birdwell (R) introduced  SB 182, the "Campus Personal Protection Act," to require all colleges and technical schools to allow concealed handguns on campus for permit holders. The NRA promptly issued a release applauding Birdwell and the bill's thirteen co-sponsors, and urging Texans to contact their legislators in support of the bill.

ALEC-NRA Campus Personal ProtectionSB 182 closely resembles the ALEC "model" Campus Personal Protection Act. See CMD's side-by-side comparison of the bills here.

In 2008, the ALEC Criminal Justice Task Force unanimously approved the Campus Personal Protection Act as a model for introduction in other states. The NRA pushed the legislation after the Virginia Tech massacre. 

"This Act will officially become ALEC 'Model Legislation' in 30 days if there is no objection from ALEC's Board of Directors," the NRA noted in its press release. Koch Industries was on the ALEC Board of Directors in 2008 (and remains on the board today); despite this, the company has publicly declared it "has had no role in any ALEC-sponsored legislation concerning gun laws." 

ALEC claims only the public sector board members give the final approval to model bills, but board documents indicate the public and private sector are treated as members of a single board; all board members see the bills ALEC adopts and promotes. CMD has documented how the NRA's agenda has thrived while Koch has sat on the ALEC board, with ALEC approving "Stand Your Ground" legislation and bills to thwart gun buyback programs, among other "model" bills.

The ALEC board officially adopted the Campus Personal Protection Act as a template for state law 30 days later.

Versions of the legislation were introduced in Texas in 2009 and 2011 but failed to pass.

When Sen. Birdwell again introduced the Campus Personal Protection Act last Thursday, he said the bill "isn't just about the firearm. It’s about trusting citizens with their God-given, constitutional rights.” 

"We've seen the tragedies that occur when law-abiding citizens are forced to disarm while violent offenders break the law," said Sen. Donna Campbell, another sponsor of the bill.

© 2012 Center for Media & Democracy

VA Senate GOPers Save Their Vaginal Rape Bill For Jesus


Yes, this is the same infuriating bill from last year.

I suppose this is that "new" moderate Republican party I keep reading about. They say it's all the rage, but apparently hasn't made its way into the heart of old Virginny. Instead, we get small government -- small enough to fit into a pregnant woman's vagina!

RICHMOND — Senate Republicans on Thursday thwarted an effort by Democrats to repeal a law to require women to undergo an ultrasound before getting an abortion.

Republicans also rejected legislation that would have rolled back new regulations requiring abortion clinics to meet hospital-style building standards.

Overregulation! Killing small business!

As originally proposed last year, the bill would have required most women to undergo a vaginal ultrasound before an abortion. The legislation had not specifically mandated the type of ultrasound; it required that an ultrasound be performed and that the patient be offered a view of the image. But vaginal ultrasounds are typically used in the early stages of pregnancy, when most abortions are performed, because the fetus is so small that the external ultrasound does not yield a good image.

After an uproar over the invasive nature of the vaginal ultrasound, the 2012 bill was amended to specify that the ultrasound be external.

The change was meant to soften the legislation, but critics complained that as amended, it mandates a test that serves no medical purpose. Doctors routinely call for vaginal ultrasounds before performing abortions, people on both sides of the issue say. Now they must also order an external ultrasound to comply with the law.

Sens. Ralph S. Northam (D-Norfolk) and Barbara A. Favola (D-Arlington) proposed two bills meant to change that situation. One would have would have removed the requirement that a woman undergo a “transabdominal ultrasound” before an abortion. The other would have prohibited the commonwealth from mandating ultrasounds for “nonmedical reasons.”

Both failed in 8 to 7 votes after supporters of the 2012 law, including the Family Foundation of Virginia and representatives of Catholic and Baptist groups, said that the ultrasound helps women make an informed decision about whether to continue their pregnancies.

Because, you know, pregnant women are just so flighty about these things! Hmm. If I have a baby, I won't be able to fit into that new bikini this summer! Thank God the Catholic Church, which has done such a great job with guiding their clergy toward moral purity, has offered their help. And the Baptists? Pretty much the same kind of high moral standards. These are the people I always turn to for spiritual guidance.

The committee also shot down two bills, proposed by Sen. Mark Herring (D-Loudoun), aimed at lifting strict building standards on abortion clinics. The rules, approved by the General Assembly two years ago but still being implemented, will require clinics to meet the same building standards as outpatient surgical centers. They call for costly physical renovations, such as widening hallways and doorways, that some clinic officials said could put them out of business. Antiabortion activists said the regulations will make clinics safer for women.

The committee sided with abortion rights groups on one bill, which would have prohibited Medicaid funds from being used to pay for abortions for women carrying fetuses with severe disabilities. The state paid for abortions in seven of those cases last year, according to Northam, a pediatric neurologist.

Sen. Thomas A. Garrett, Jr. (R-Louisa), said his bill would not prohibit anyone from terminating such a pregnancy, but simply prevent taxpayer money from being used to do so. Parents who had adopted children with severe disabilities testified in favor of the bill, including one who helped his daughter, born without arms or legs, up to the podium in a wheelchair.

“Doctors can be wrong. Children can beat odds,” said Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia.

Remember just a few short days ago, when we heard much outrage about using children for political purposes? Of course you do. And this kind of photo op is exactly why I pay those extremists no mind.

Can National Grassroots Push Depose the ‘Billion Dollar Democracy’?

A new report released Thursday puts an exclamation point on the outlandish and outweighed influence that wealthy individuals and corporations have in a post-Citizens United world by showing that a mere 32 wealthy donors—with an average gift of almost $10 million each—gave as much money to largely unregulated Super PACs in 2012 than all the country's individual small donors gave to the Obama and Romney campaigns combined.

And though the 2012 election is behind us, many activists—now equipped with the experience of what a modern democracy controlled by millionaires and billionaires looks like—are hoping that fundamental changes can be made to correct the corrosive impact of shadow money and undue influence.

As the new report by U.S. PIRG and Demos, “Billion-Dollar Democracy,” shows, those 32 multi-million dollar gifts, in essence, outweighed the collective voice of 3.7 million individuals who gave individual and transparent campaign contributions to the candidate of their choice. Moreover, most did so under a veil of secrecy using shadow non-profit groups and shell corporations created specifically to launder political giving by masking the identities of financial sources.

“Americans who are wondering why it seems tougher to get ahead or even get a fair shake in today’s economy should look to big money politics for answers,” said Adam Lioz, report co-author and Counsel for Demos. “When a tiny group of wealthy donors fuels political campaigns, they get to set the agenda in Washington, and the rest of us are left to argue over that agenda.”

And U.S. PIRG's Blair Bowie, the report's other co-author adds: “The first post-Citizens United presidential election confirmed our fears that the new unlimited-money regime allows well-heeled special interests and secret spenders to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.”

Thanks in large part to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v FEC, the 2012 election was the most expensive in the history of the world.

But now, the reality of this new world of campaign giving, coupled with nationwide attempts in 2012 making it hard for many poor and vulnerable people to vote, has prompted many to demand an end to such preferential treatment of the wealthiest in a democracy engulfed in cash and renewed calls for broader and more equitable poll access.

“At the same time we’ve seen record amounts of unaccountable corporate money spent on elections, we’ve also seen a deliberate attack on the rights of voters to participate in our democracy,” said Aquene Freechild, senior organizer for Public Citizen, which is hosting nationwide events this weekend for its ongoing Democracy Is For People campaign.

According to the group, concerned citizens and voters will gather across the country in the coming week to demand an end to the combined threat of unlimited corporate spending and resurgent voter suppression tactics found in many states.

To voice their outrage and demand fundamental change, progressive groups—including Public Citizen, NAACP, U.S. PIRG, Common Cause, MoveOn, Organic Consumers Association, League of United Latin American Citizens, Hip Hop Caucus and others—have planned nationwide days of action called Money Out/Voters In taking place this coming weekend.

As Public Citizen's president Robert Weissman, along with advocate Mark Green, wrote regarding the events that will bring "public interest, labor, voting rights and faith groups" together under one banner and cause:

Generations of traditional campaign finance groups have worked against a democracy-for-sale. And heroic voting rights groups have long sought to fulfill Dr. King’s plea at the Washington Monument in 1957: “Give us the ballot! Give us the ballot!” But rarely have these two communities worked together to stop the rigging of the political system. Until we ensure that popular majorities become public law, it will be hard to accomplish so much of what is urgent—a more progressive tax code, immigration reform, climate change legislation, a living wage, labor reform and gun violence reduction.

So on January 19, scores of groups and thousands of people around the country will organize around a three-part Democracy-for-All program: a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United; public funding of public elections, in Washington and state capitols; and guaranteed voting rights so potentially 50 million more Americans can vote [in the next election].

Such events seem prove what the authors of the 'Billion Dollar Democracy' concluded as well.

In an op-ed published alongside their new report, Lioz and Bowie write: "The outsized role of money in our elections is a dark cloud over our democracy—but there is a silver lining. Not since Watergate has there been so much energy behind finally building a democracy in which the strength of a citizen’s voice does not depend upon the size of her wallet."

Behind the NRA’s Money: Gun Lobby Deepens Financial Ties to $12 Billion Firearms Industry

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We conclude today’s show with a look at the connection between the firearms industry and the National Rifle Association. Throughout its history, the NRA has portrayed itself as an advocate for individual gun owners’ Second Amendment rights. But a new investigation finds the group has come to rely on the support of the $12-billion-a-year gun industry, made up of firearms and ammunition manufacturers and sellers.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Washington, D.C. We’re joined by investigative reporter Peter Stone, who has covered money and politics and lobbying for 20 years for the National Journal , the Center for Public Integrity. His latest piece is for The Huffington Post; it’s called "NRA Gun Control Crusade Reflects Firearms Industry Financial Ties."

Peter, welcome to Democracy Now! Just what are those ties?

PETER STONE: Well, the ties have become extensive in recent years. They date back principally to 2005, when the gun industry was facing a major crisis. It had been hit by dozens of suits from cities in recent years prior to that, and they were facing significant financial costs from this litigation. Litigation was aimed at recouping healthcare and other costs from gun violence in major cities. And the gun industry turned to the NRA for its lobbying muscle, which is legendary in Congress. They needed help. And they came up with a plan to obtain a liability shield for gun manufacturers and distributors. It’s the only industry in the country that was able to secure such a shield from most litigation. The NRA pushed it very hard for a few years, and it passed Congress in 2005, providing unique protection to gun manufacturers.

At the same time, that very same year, the NRA launched a new fundraising program aimed at corporate donors, most of whom have been firearms companies, ammunitions makers. And that program has boomed since it started in 2005. There are no precise numbers, but the NRA posts data about the range of contributions from firearms industry firms. And according to a report in 2011 from the Violence Policy Center, between $14 million and $39 million came into NRA coffers in that period. This is probably a conservative estimate. Most of the NRA’s money is still from other sources, the bulk of the money, but the firearms industry has formed a kind of symbiotic relationship with the NRA in recent years—it benefits both.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Peter Stone, can you say a little about who the executives are who serve on the board of the NRA?

PETER STONE: Well, the NRA has a very large board, about 76 members, many of whom are prominent conservatives, including Grover Norquist, Ollie North, film star Chuck Norris and many others. They have a small number of industry executives, as well, who are on the board. And at least a few of these are from fairly large donors; Brownells, Barrett Firearms, their top executives are on the NRA board. Interestingly, both of these companies are distributors or makers of these high-capacity magazines, which are now facing significant criticism and legislative threats because of concerns that they have been linked to many of the mass shootings in the last couple of years. So it probably gives them a little more input and influence at the NRA as they fight these bans.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about how the NRA’s positions increased gun sales for the NRA’s patrons, the weapons manufacturers?

PETER STONE: Well, it’s anecdotal, but there’s obviously evidence in recent years that one of the major pushes of the NRA over the last decade has been to pass laws in states called "concealed carry laws," which are now existing in almost every state. The president of one of the big companies, Sturm, Ruger, in Connecticut, in a conference call with analysts back in 2011, said that they were looking for a nice uptick in sales in Wisconsin after the—that state passed a concealed carry law. These are ones that, you know, the NRA has pushed in Second Amendment grounds, self-defense grounds, but they obviously have been good for the firearms industry, too.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Peter Stone, could you say what you think the NRA’s influence will be on the gun control legislation or discussion that’s now going on?

PETER STONE: Well, the NRA still has, you know, huge influence in Congress. It tried to defeat President Obama in 2012. It spent over $10 million in that effort. It didn’t succeed. But it also has upped its contributions significantly in recent years and tilted toward the Republican Party. And in the House, it’s going to be very tough to get enough Republican votes to support some of the legislation which the administration seems likely to push: the assault weapons ban and the limits on high-capacity magazines. I think the latter may have a little more possibility. There have been some statements from—isolated statements in recent days from Republicans indicating that they seem to be—there’s some openness, in a handful of Republicans, to such a ban. It will be very interesting to see if the NRA can twist those arms and block the legislation. I think that’s more likely at this stage than the assault weapons ban. But obviously, popular sentiment and support for gun control has increased. It’s a period of great flux. More momentum seems to exist now than has existed in a long time for increased gun control measures, tougher gun laws. And I think this is a volatile situation where the NRA is facing, you know, new challenges. It may find that it can’t, you know, rely on all the members it’s relied on in the past. But it’s going to be—

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Stone, we’re going to have to leave it there, but I thank you for being with us, longtime investigative reporter. We’ll link to your piece at The Huffington Post called "NRA Gun Control Crusade Reflects Firearms Industry Financial Ties."

And I want to encourage people to tune into our inauguration special Monday from 8:00 in the morning 'til 1:00 in the afternoon. And Tuesday to Friday, we'll be at Sundance.

New Report: “Billion-Dollar Democracy” Shows Unprecedented Impact of Big Money in 2012 Elections

WASHINGTON - January 17 - It took just 32 billionaires and corporations giving Super PACs an average of $9.9 million apiece to match every single dollar given by small donors to Romney and Obama in the 2012 election cycle, according to “Billion-Dollar Democracy,” a new report by U.S. PIRG and Demos. Those small donations amounted to over $313 million from more than 3.7 million individuals.

“Americans who are wondering why it seems tougher to get ahead or even get a fair shake in today’s economy should look to big money politics for answers,” said Adam Lioz, report co-author and Counsel for Demos. “When a tiny group of wealthy donors fuels political campaigns, they get to set the agenda in Washington, and the rest of us are left to argue over that agenda.”

The report provides a full and detailed analysis of all 2012 federal election spending and fundraising by campaigns and Super PACs. The data shows the undue influence of large donors, business interests and secret spenders in 2012:

  • Nearly 60% of Super PAC funding came from just 159 donors contributing at least $1 million.
  • Candidates for both House and Senate raised the majority of their funds from gifts of $1,000 or more; and 40 percent of all contributions to Senate candidates came from donors gave at least $2,500. (Those donors are just 0.02 percent of the American population.)
  • Corporate donations accounted for a large portion of the funds of two of top ten most active Super PACs, including 18 percent of Restore Our Future’s total contributions and 52.6 percent of those of FreedomWorks for America.

“The first post-Citizens United presidential election confirmed our fears that the new unlimited-money regime allows well-heeled special interests and secret spenders to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens,” said Blair Bowie, U.S. PIRG Democracy Advocate and report co-author.

“Billion-Dollar Democracy” also found that groups that do not disclose the source of their funds paid for well more than half of television advertising in the 2012 presidential race not sponsored by candidates or parties.

”These dark money groups hide key information about where they get their money from voters,” added Bowie. “Furthermore, because there’s no one to hold responsible for the content of their advertising, studies show they are far more likely to be misleading or just downright lying.”

Data in “Billion Dollar Democracy” also demonstrates to extent to which our big money system determines winners and losers, distorting our democratic process. Incumbents, for example, are big winners—outraising major challengers by 443% in the House and 316% in the Senate.

The report documents how vastly disproportionate influence by the “donor class” skews public policy, and concludes with specific solutions for every level of government to ensure that ordinary Americans can make their voices heard in financing electoral campaigns. These recommendations including amending the constitution, matching small political contributions with public funds, and requiring corporations to disclose political giving, among others.

READ “BILLION-DOLLAR DEMOCRACY” HERE: http://bit.ly/Wah17c

U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), stands up to powerful special interests on behalf of the American public, working to win concrete results for our health and our well-being. With a strong network of researchers, advocates, organizers and students in state capitols across the country, we take on the special interests on issues, such as product safety,political corruption, prescription drugs and voting rights,where these interests stand in the way of reform and progress.

Obama Signs NDAA Bill Allowing Indefinite Detention; Obama Orders Assassinations with No Oversight

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Bio

Michael Ratner is President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York and Chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He is currently a legal adviser to Wikileaks and Julian Assange. He and CCR brought the first case challenging the Guantanamo detentions and continue in their efforts to close Guantanamo. He taught at Yale Law School, and Columbia Law School, and was President of the National Lawyers Guild. His current books include "Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in the Twenty-First Century America," and “ Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away With Murder.” NOTE: Mr. Ratner speaks on his own behalf and not for any organization with which he is affiliated.

Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to this week's edition of The Ratner Report with Michael Ratner, who now joins us from New York City.

Michael is the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. He's chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. And he's a board member of The Real News.Thanks for joining us again, Michael.MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: It's always good to be with you. And happy new year to you and all your viewers.JAY: Thank you. And what are you following now?RATNER: You know, it's—unfortunately, it's more of the same, which is the war-on-terror excesses, first of the Bush administration, and now the Obama administration. We're going into, really, the middle of the 11th year of what I consider to be a lawless way of carrying out the so-called war on terror. The model that has been used is essentially presidential fiat, congressional fiat, no due process, no trials, indefinite detention. And just this week the president signed—and it's into law—the National Defense Authorization Act, which comes up every year. It's a 620-page bill. It funds all our military adventures all over the world. But for my purposes, on the so-called war on terror what it does is continue what I call the Bush–Obama policies.The first of those policies is indefinite detention, that you can pick up people anywhere in the world—and what's interesting: including American citizens—and hold them indefinitely without trial, and even hold them offshore. We expected this last Congress to try and put in legislation that would at least prohibit the holding of U.S. citizens. They didn't, so it's still authorized by the law. And, of course, that's the lawsuit that Chris Hedges and Daniel Ellsberg had gone to court to try and declare that section of the old law, now of the new law, unconstitutional. So you have an NDAA that first allows indefinite detention of anyone in the world, including U.S. citizens. Secondly, it really destroys any chance of closing Guantanamo.JAY: Before you get into that, Michael, wasn't there some amendment that came out of the Senate that ensures or at least is supposed to ensure habeas rights for U.S. citizens?RATNER: Well, they have a habeas right, but they can still be held indefinitely in detention.JAY: So explain what that means, a habeas right.RATNER: Okay. Everyone can now, because of the cases we won at the Center over the last ten years, has a right to go to court and say to the court, which will say to the jailor, the United States, are you holding me legally. The problem with it is is legally is now defined by the NDAA as holding someone in indefinite detention for their, quote, associational interests, or association with al-Qaeda or related forces. And so all that the government has to come into court and prove is that somehow this person has some relationship to al-Qaeda or whatever related forces means, which could be almost anything. And that's the way it's been used. So the U.S. picks up people, whether it's in Afghanistan or Pakistan, or Yemen,—JAY: Or Pittsburgh.RATNER: —Pittsburgh, or Somalia, or anywhere, or England, or anywhere, and says, well, that person's associated with al-Qaeda or associated forces. And then you have a right, yes, to go to court and challenge that.But the court has been completely unwilling to hear those challenges. The lowest court has heard them, and in some cases even said, well, the government's not holding with a good reason; it goes to the court of appeals, and they have never actually let anyone out of Guantanamo or any other type of this indefinite detention. My problem, of course, is not that they give habeas rights. Sure, that's good. But the problem is they use a indefinite detention model and not a law enforcement model. My view is no one should be held in indefinite detention. Every human being who's picked up anywhere in the world should be charged with a crime if they're going to be kept, and tried for the crime. Instead, you have these masses of people being held without being charged. And if we look at Guantanamo, it's the perfect example. And that gets to the second part of the NDAA legislation. There's 166 people left in Guantanamo. Eighty-six of those people have been cleared for release. That means they shouldn't be there at all. The rest of them—whatever, 80 or so—have not been charged, with exceptions of a few, such as the so-called, you know, people who were allegedly involved in the conspiracy of the World Trade Center, which is a half a dozen people or so. So most of those people have never been charged. And, in fact, more than half have been cleared for release. So what does the NDAA do to those people? It says two things, which it said consistently year after year, that the president can't transfer anybody to the United States, even those cleared for release. So that means: how do you get those people out of Guantanamo? And secondly, it puts very heavy restrictions on transferring any of those people to foreign countries. They have to notify the Senate, they have to approve it in certain ways. And, in fact, because of those restrictions, no one's been transferred to a foreign country, or to the United States, obviously, in the last two years.Now, so that's what you have. You have heavy restrictions. So that means you're going to have trouble closing Guantanamo altogether. Now, Obama made all kinds of noises last year, and he made all kinds of noises this year, that he was going to veto the NDAA because of what he considers these restrictions on his presidential power to, one, transfer people out of Guantanamo to the United States, or transfer them to foreign countries. But last year he didn't veto it, and this year he didn't veto it. So what he does is he does a bunch of saber-rattling. But what he did was do a signing statement. Now, signing statements, I want to explain, have no legal efficacy. In the United States, you either have to approve legislation as the president or veto it. Obama, by approving it, basically says this is the law. He then signs something that says, well, I don't like this law, I don't think it's constitutional, I don't think this, I don't think that, but that it has no legal efficacy. The law is the law, and he's not about to necessarily disobey the law—he didn't last year, and he didn't this year.Now, what's interesting about Obama's signing statements is two things. One, he criticized them when Bush used them, saying, Bush shouldn't be doing these signing statements; he should either veto the law or approve the law, but not say, I approve it, but—you can't do that. And secondly, last year when he made a signing statement on the NDAA, he said, I will challenge this law as unconstitutional in these respects, etc., etc. This time, because it's past the election, he didn't even say that. And so we now have an NDAA that ostensibly allows the indefinite detention of American citizens, makes it impossible to close Guantanamo, and a president who is unwilling to challenge Congress about the law.JAY: And what's the status of that lawsuit that Chris Hedges and his colleagues launched?RATNER: Well, Judge Forrest, who is a very good judge in the District of Columbia, actually ruled in favor of Hedges and Ellsberg that the law was unconstitutional because Ellsberg, Hedges, and others who challenge the law could actually be held in indefinite detention for the words that they spoke or what they wrote. And the government refused to say initially that they couldn't be held like that. And so Judge Forrest, who is the judge, said, well, I'm ruling it's unconstitutional. The government then, in the most aggressive way they could, Obama appealed that to the circuit court. The circuit court stayed the decision, which means they said, we're not going to hold this unconstitutional; we're going to stay it until we hear the entire argument again. So right now the NDAA is still good law, because the circuit court went against the district court, the lower court, and basically said, we're going to allow the law to continue. So it's still being heavily, heavily litigated. Now, it seems to me that two things are apparent to me. One is, of course, I don't think it's good to hold anyone in indefinite detention, citizens or not. Of course, Hedges attacked the most pernicious aspect and the most constitutionally protected aspect, which is holding an American citizen. And secondly, we're still left with Guantanamo. Now, it brings me to—so we have an NDAA out there. Now, it brings me to a second issue that I want to get to in this short piece, which is Obama's drone policy. Again, it comes up in the context of the murder of, killing of American citizens Anwar al-Aulaqi, his son, Rahman al-Aulaqi, and another American citizen, all in Yemen. The Center for Constitutional Rights challenged those killings initially. We lost. They were killed by drones after our lawsuit.We now have another challenge, challenging them in terms of trying to get damages for them. But an extraordinary decision was written this week by a judge about targeted assassinations by Obama and his administration. It was a case in which the ACLU and The New York Times went to court to try and get the legal basis under which Obama said he could designate people for death, American citizens and otherwise. And the judge said that they weren't entitled, in the end, to the document that was written by the Department of Justice laying out the legal reasoning about why you could kill American citizens or others utterly outside a war zone, whether in Yemen or in Somalia or in the United Kingdom or here in the United States. The judge said—because it was classified, while the judge didn't like giving the decision she did, she'd said, I can't do anything about it, my hands are tied, I'm in a catch-22. And what she said about it was extraordinary. She said, look it, when we had torture in the United States, it was critical to get out the memos regarding the legal reasoning about why the U.S. could torture people, so that it could be fully, fully debated. Here my hands are tied. And what we should have is, like torture, we should get out the legal memos about why the president should be able to assassinate people outside a war zone so we can have a serious debate about it.JAY: Well, does the president have to show these memos to anybody?RATNER: Not really, no.JAY: There's no congressional oversight? Not given the history of whatever oversight there's been would mean that much, but is there? I mean, I don't understand. The—then I don't understand. The president could create any memo he wants and—?RATNER: Well, the Justice Department creates the memo, they give it to the president. He could technically withhold it from Congress. I don't know whether Congress has asked him for it or whether he has withheld it, or whether Congress is entitled to find out much about the policy, because while the Congress is entitled to find out about, particularly, CIA covert operations, whether this falls within that is hard to say. And secondly, this isn't only done by the CIA, but targeted assassination is done by Joint Special Operation Command, or JSOC, the military. Congress has no ability to really—or no law that requires the president to report to Congress on the murders or assassinations by JSOC. So you have this policy of the president on his own deciding who can be murdered or assassinated, even if they're American citizens. And what was incredible about the judges' decision, the judge said or implied that the president could actually be criminally prosecuted for killing of a U.S. citizen overseas and said the president is not exempt from the law that prohibits people or citizens in the United States or people anywhere in the world from killing U.S. citizens overseas. So she made an implication that it may be that the president could actually be prosecuted for these targeted assassinations around the world. So while she denied, ultimately, the memo, it's just this opinion, which is some 75 pages long, just drips with anger and really, I think, what you would have to say is deep unease at the president saying on his own, without providing the American people with a legal basis, for assassinating American citizens anywhere in the world.Taken together, what you have here, you have the NDAA law which allows the indefinite detention of American citizens, you have the al-Aluaqi decisions, and this recent one which allows the targeted assassination of American citizens, both detention and killing, at the behest of one man. And what the judge says: this is supposed to be—supposed to be a democracy, a constitutional democracy based on the rule of law and not on the rule of men. And I guess she's questioning whether that's what we have any longer.JAY: Thanks for joining us, Michael.RATNER: Thanks for having me, Paul.JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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Activist Professor Denis Rancourt’s Judicial Lynching

Activist Professor Denis Rancourt's Judicial Lynching

by Stephen Lendman

Rancourt reflects academia's best, most competent, most responsible and bravest. He has two blog sites. Visit them for updated information.

Activist Teacher and U of O Watch provide updates. They explain what most people can't imagine. 

What happened to Rancourt can happen to anyone responsibly challenging what's too deplorable to accept.

Injustice defines Western societies. Canada marches in lockstep with Washington. 

Rogue state ruthlessness defines both countries. Imperial priorities matter most. Inviolable laws don't matter. Nor judicial fairness. 

Rancourt is a distinguished University of Ottawa (U of O) professor. He's tenured. He's a recognized physics and environmental science expert.

Students loved him. He's a "phenomenal teacher," they said. He didn't teach to the test like in America.

He prioritized learning. He inspired academic achievement. He supports fundamental human and civil rights.

Political activism caused his dismissal. University of Ottawa's campus isn't safe. President Allan Rock is a former Canadian politician. 

He runs U of O like his private fiefdom. Like a police state. He's unprincipledly hard right. He ignores fundamental Canadian law doing so.

Academic freedom doesn't matter. Or free thought, opinion or expression. U of O is a hotbed of fascist extremism. It's inhospitable to learning.

U of O Law Professor Joanne St. Lewis colluded with Rock. She did so against Rancourt. 

She sued him unjustifiably. She wants $1 million. She irresponsibly charged racism.

It related to his legitimate blog site comments. He called St. Lewis a "house negro." He cited Malcolm X. He first used the term.

A 2011 Statement of Claim (SOC) against Rancourt said:

"The Defendant's conduct and actions are reprehensible insulting, high-handed, spiteful, and outrageous." 

"Such conduct warrants condemnation by this Court by means of an award of punitive damages." 

It spuriously claimed "(t)he Defendant defamed Professor St. Lewis in furtherance of his personal animosity towards President Allan Rock and the University of Ottawa which terminated him as a Professor."

U of O pays all St. Lewis legal fees. Doing so smacks of collusion. It violates Rancourt's Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

For over three years, he's battled for justice so far denied. One-on-one against St. Lewis is one thing.

Against U of O maliciousness another. Against courts piling on something else entirely. Against systemic injustice matters most.

Cynthia McKinney is special. She's extraordinary. She's an exception that proves the rule. She's a true profile in courage. 

She supports right over wrong. She does it courageously. She's a committed human/civil rights champion.

She was Georgia's House of Representatives first African American member.

She represented Georgia's 11th district. She did so from January 1993 - January 2003. 

She was 2008 Green Party presidential candidate. She's close to receiving her doctorate.

She supports judicial fairness. She wants Rancourt given no less. She's involved helping him get what he's so far denied.

He was fired for doing the right thing. Over three years of battling judicially followed. It's not east challenging systemic injustice.

McKinney circulated a petition. It protests Ontario Superior Court Judge Michel Z. Charbonneau's judicial lynching.

Rancourt is his own legal defense. He taught himself law to do so. During his opening jury statement, Charbonneau silenced him. 

He did so reprehensibly. He acted extrajudicially. He took the law into his own hands. He twisted it irresponsibly.

He prohibited Rancourt's fundamental right to speak. He violated Section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It's a constitutional bill of rights. It states:

"Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(a) freedom of conscience and religion;

(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

(d) freedom of association."

Article 7 assures "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person and the right not to be deprived thereof in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice."

Academic and speech freedoms are inviolable. So is the right to a fair and just legal defense. America denies them. So does Canada.

Doing so reflects police state injustice. Charbonneau is more hanging than real judge. He shames the office he holds.

He has no legitimacy whatever. Rancourt walked out of court in disgust. He explained why, saying:

"On May 16, 2014, at 10:00 AM, in courtroom #36 of the Ottawa Courthouse of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, I walked out from the trial in which I am being sued, and in which I was representing myself without a lawyer." 

"The trial is continuing in my absence, before a Jury of my peers." He continued, adding:

"Your Honour, the law foresees that I must be free to advance the very serious charge of “reasonable apprehension of bias."

"It is very difficult for me to make this intervention. Give me five minutes because I must present the new evidence."

"During my motion of May 7, 2014, asking that Your Honour recuse himself, Your Honour's decision was silent on the central point that I had made that Your Honour's decisions in this action could affect the reputation of the University of Ottawa and affect the monetary value of its scholarships, to which Your Honour donates money regularly and annually." 

"Then, on the first day of trial, Monday May 12 of this week, we did a motion in the afternoon, a so-called 'Voir Dire,' with detailed facta." 

"Mr. Dearden (plaintiff's lawyer) brought the motion with a factum of 32 pages served on May 9 and accompanied by a book of authorities of 347 pages." 

"His motion was to eliminate my defence called 'Litigation by proxy contrary to the Charter.' "

"I answered with a factum of May 9 containing 14 pages and accompanied by a book of authorities of 342 pages." 

"I argued in detail that, in fact, my defense was a defence of abuse of process having three branches, with one branch being the 'Jameel' defence based on a 2005 decision of the England and Wales Court of Appeal: Dow Jones Inc. v. Jameel, and I pointed to paragraphs 68 to 71 of my 'Statement of Defence' as pleading this Jameel defence." 

"The decision of this Court (of Your Honour) was pronounced on May 14 regarding the said motion or Voir Dire: The paragraphs 61 to 67 of the Statement of Defence were struck." 

"Paragraphs 68 to 71 remained intact, as did my Jameel defence."

"Then, on May 15, yesterday, during my Opening Statement, the Court allowed Mr. Dearden to interrupt me when I was explaining my Jameel defence to the Jury." 

"And Your Honour, off the cuff, struck and forbade my Jameel defence despite my protest, and despite the fact of not having done so when Your Honour should have done so if you had had that intension."

"It has been more than three years that I have been fighting for procedural justice in this action - and my 'Statement of Claim' is struck, cut into pieces, before my eyes during my Opening Statement, in contradiction with the considered decision of May 14 of Your Honour."

"This would give nightmares to Kafka himself."

"To my eyes, we are no longer in Canada - and we can no longer claim to have a system of justice in this action before you Your Honour."

"I am outraged by this gag order imposed in a manner that is apparently arbitrary, which does not allow me to be heard and to 'have my day in court.' "

"I have pleaded 'abuse of process' at every step and now, at trial itself, I don't even have the right to say that the University of Ottawa is entirely financing the plaintiff or the right to use the Jameel defense that applies to situations where the defendant advances a lack of actual damage to reputation, that’s 'actual' damage, and to 'reputation,' not some other kind of damage."

"I was very disturbed by these incomprehensible events, and I have been deeply perturbed all day yesterday; confused also, as a self-represented litigant." 

"This morning I inform the Court that I can no longer participate in such a process." 

"Therefore, I'm leaving this unjust process. You will take the decisions in my absence. It's over for me: I’m leaving."

McKinney represents Rancourt's fight for justice. He deserves universal support. He's battling Canadian injustice singlehandedly. 

He's doing it on a shoestring. He performed courageously. He accomplished what few others would dare.

He's a true justice champion. He's a modern-day Don Quixote. He's battling an entire judicial system. He's entitled to fair proceedings. 

A "judge cannot be or appear to be biased," said McKinney. Each side deserves due process. Fairness requires defendants knowing charges against them.

Defenses available must be be permitted. "(A)fter more than three years of legal procedures," said McKinney, "Charbonneau summarily denied Rancourt's opening jury statement."

His main defense. Without justification. Without legal basis. With unconscionable bias. One-sidedly supporting his opponent.

Perhaps unprecedented or close to it. Doing so was outrageously egregious. It reflected hanging court injustice. It has no legal standing.

Under Canadian law, Rancourt's trial continues without him.

Prior to trial, he asked formerly involved Regional Senior Judge Charles Hackland to appoint a case judge with no U of O connection.

Charbonneau is an alumnus. He's an endowment fund contributor. His university connection disqualifies him. 

He's unfit to serve. He's judge, jury and executioner.

Rancourt formally petitioned him to recuse himself. He refused to do so. He acted irresponsibly.

"Help defend justice," Mckinney urged. Sign the attached petition. It tells national, provincial and regional Canadian chief justices to halt trial proceedings.

Start over. Under a new judge. With no U of O ties. Under scrupulously free, fair and open proceedings. 

With both sides treated justly. With due process respected. With jurors given all relevant information. 

With them able to decide responsibly. With justice prevailing. With assuring it above all else.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at [email protected] 

His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III."


Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

It airs three times weekly: live on Sundays at 1PM Central time plus two prerecorded archived programs. 


http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour 

Sacking NYT Executive Editor Jill Abramson

Sacking NYT Executive Editor Jill Abramson

by Stephen Lendman

In September 2011, she succeeded Bill Keller. On May 14, The Times headlined "Times Ousts Jill Abramson as Executive Editor, Elevating Dean Baquet."

It reflects "an abrupt change of leadership." Times chairman/publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. claimed "an issue with management in the newsroom."

Times staff familiar with her relationship with Sulzberger suggested she was "polarizing and mercurial." She "clash(ed) with (managing editor) Baquet.

He was "angered" over Abramson's "job offer" to senior London Guardian editor Janine Gibson. She wanted her as "co-managing editor."

"Conflict between them arose." Sulzberger got involved. He decided earlier to sack her. On May 15, he appointed Baquet executive editor.

"(N)either side (explained) detail(s) about Abramson's firing," said The Times. She was its first female executive editor in its 160-year history.

In 1997, she joined the broadsheet. She served as Washington bureau chief. As managing editor. 

Earlier she was a Wall Street Journal correspondent/reporter/deputy bureau chief. The American Lawyer staff reporter. 

The same capacity at Time magazine. As Legal Times editor-in-chief. She taught at Princeton. She's an American Academy of Arts and Sciences fellow.

As an undergraduate, she was arts editor of the Harvard Independent.

In 2012, Forbes named her its fifth most powerful woman. She ranked after German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, and Melinda Gates.

Michelle Obama ranked seventh. IMF chief Christine Lagarde was eighth.

Baquet is The Times first African-American executive editor. He promised staff he'd "listen hard…be hands on…be engaged…walk the room. That's the only way I know how to edit," he said.

David Bromwich is Yale University Professor of Literature. On May 15, he headlined "After 9/11: The Stories We Tell and the Stories We Don't."

He writes on civil liberty issues. About "America's wars of choice." About its "continuous engagement in multiple wars."

"And if not wars, then widely distributed black-op killings, in faraway places where (America claims having an) interest."

Officially it's called counterterrorism. Their alleged terrorism, not ours.

Bromwich called civil liberty wars "poisonous." Fundamental freedoms are destroyed. "(T)hings come up every day," he said.

He addressed Abramson's sacking. He cited Sulzberger's claimed reasons. They "seem credible enough," he said.

"(A)nd yet, the same qualities were compatible with (lots) of her predecessors." It begs the question. Why was Abramson sacked and not them?

It's unlikely for her management style. She learned former executive editor Bill Keller earned more than she did. She asked for a raise. Likely comparable pay and benefits.

It sounds credible, said Brownwich. Hardly reason to sack her. Or wanting a co-managing editor. As executive editor, it was her call.

Nothing suggested she was wrong. Executives make important decisions. It's their job. They get fired for serious bad ones. Ones adversely affecting profits. 

Abramson likely thought added managing editor strength would boost Times readership. It was her call to make. No reason to sack her.

Something else led Sulzberger to do so. Other than what he said. 

In January, Abramson called Julian Assange and Edward Snowden heroes.

"I view (Snowden), as I did Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, as a very good source of extremely newsworthy information," she said.

The Times didn't cover his revelations straightaway. At the same time, Abramson didn't avoid controversy.

Months earlier, she called the Obama administration "the most secretive" in her experience.

"I dealt directly with the Bush White House," she said. "(W)hen they had concerns (about) stories (relating) to national security…"

"The Obama administration had seven criminal leak investigations. That is more than twice the number of any previous administration in our history."

"It's on a scale never seen before. This is the most secretive White House that, at least as a journalist, I have ever dealt with."

It reflects direct orders from Obama, she added. In June 2013, she expressed concern over Justice Department officials surveilling reporters.

She said "the process of news gathering is being criminalized." Perhaps her views came home to roost.  

Perhaps the real reason for her sacking. Publicly criticizing US policy Times correspondents, commentators and editors defend in print appears cause for dismissal.

It reflects gross hypocrisy. Publishing one thing. Saying something entirely different at times. Bashing the White House The Times deplorably defends in print.

Baquet avoided doing it. As Times managing editor or elsewhere. He was a New Orleans-based Times-Picayune journalist. Then the Chicago Tribune.

In 1990, he became The Times' metropolitan editor. Then a business desk special projects one.

In 2000, he became LA Times managing editor. Then editor-in-chief. In 2007, he returned to the NYT. His positions included Washington bureau chief, national editor, assistant managing editor, managing editor, and now executive editor.

In 2006, he killed an LA Times story about NSA spying on Americans. About wiretapping them. About operating illegally.

About unconstitutional data-mining. About troubling civil liberty violations. About authorizing searches on millions of Americans without court-authorized warrants. 

Mark Klein worked for AT&T for 22 years. In 2004, he retired. After doing so, he turned whistleblower. 

He revealed blueprints and photographs of NSA's secret room. It's inside the company's San Francisco facility.

Three other whistleblowers submitted affidavits. They explained post-9/11 lawless NSA spying on millions of Americans. 

The FBI, CIA, Pentagon, state and local agencies operate the same way.

Spies "R" us defines US policy. America is a total surveillance state. It's unsafe to live in. Everyone is suspect unless proved otherwise.

The 2012 FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act renewed warrantless spying. It passed with little debate. 

On December 30, 2012, Obama signed it into law. Doing so largely went unnoticed. 

Warrantless spying remains law for another five years. Phone calls, emails, and other communications may be monitored secretly without court authorization. 

Probable cause isn't needed. So-called "foreign intelligence information" is sought. Virtually anything qualifies. Vague language is all-embracing.

Constitutional protections don't matter. All major US telecommunications companies are involved. 

So are online ones. They have been since 9/11. Things now are worse than then.

One expert said what's ongoing "isn't a wiretap. It's a country-tap." It's lawless. 

Congress has no authority to subvert constitutional provisions. Legislation passed has no legitimacy. Constitutional changes require amendments. 

The Patriot Act trampled on Bill of Rights protections. Doing so for alleged security doesn't wash. Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment due process rights were compromised. 

So were First Amendment freedom of association ones. Fourth Amendment protections from unreasonable searches and seizures were violated. Unchecked sweeping surveillance followed.

So-called "sneak and peak" searches are conducted through "delayed notice" warrants, roving wiretaps, email tracking, as well as Internet and phone use.

Section 215 pertains to alleged suspects, real or contrived. It authorizes government access to "any tangible item." 

Included are financial records and transactions, education and medical records, phone conversations, emails, other Internet use, and whatever else Washington wants to monitor.

Individuals and organizations may be surveilled whether or not evidence links them to terrorism or complicity to commit it. In other words, everyone is fair game for any reason or none at all.

Post-9/11, sweeping surveillance became policy. What Bush began, Obama escalated. 

Privacy rights are systematically violated. Good journalism requires telling people what they most need to know. 

Media scoundrels suppress it. They bury truth. They substitute misinformation rubbish. They lie, distort, mislead, conceal and twist reporting to fit official US policy.

They mock legitimate journalism. They betray its core ethical standards. They shame themselves in the process.

Expect Baquet to continue The Times ignoble tradition. It supports wealth, power and privilege. 

It does so at the expense of popular interests. Burying truth and full disclosure. Expect more of the same going forward.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at [email protected] 

His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III."

http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html

Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

It airs three times weekly: live on Sundays at 1PM Central time plus two prerecorded archived programs. 


http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour 

Olympic Capitalism: Bread and Circuses Without the Bread

The author of Brazil's Dance With the Devil, Dave Zirin, must love sports, as I do, as billions of us do, or he wouldn't keep writing about where sports have gone wrong.  But, wow, have they gone wrong!

Brazil is set to host the World Cup this year and the Olympics in 2016.  In preparation Brazil is evicting 200,000 people from their homes, eliminating poor neighborhoods, defunding public services, investing in a militarized police and surveillance state, using slave and prison labor to build outrageous stadiums unlikely to be filled more than once, and "improving" a famous old stadium (the world's largest for 50 years) by removing over half the capacity in favor of luxury seats.  Meanwhile, popular protests and graffiti carry the message: "We want 'FIFA standard' hospitals and schools!" not to mention this one:

(FIFA = Fédération Internationale de Football Association, aka Soccer Profiteers International)

Brazil is just the latest in a string of nations that have chosen the glory of hosting mega sports events like the Olympics and World Cup despite the drawbacks.  And Zirin makes a case that nations' governments don't see the drawbacks as drawbacks at all, that in fact they are the actual motivation.  "Countries don't want these mega-events in spite of the threats to public welfare, addled construction projects, and repression they bring, but because of them."  Just as a storm or a war can be used as an excuse to strip away rights and concentrate wealth, so can the storm of sporting events that, coincidentally or not, have their origins in the preparation of nations for warmaking.

Zirin notes that the modern Olympics were launched by a group of European aristocrats and generals who favored nationalism and war -- led by Pierre de Coubertin who believed sport was "an indirect preparation for war." "In sports," he said, "all the same qualities flourish which serve for warfare: indifference toward one's well being, courage, readiness for the unforeseen."  The trappings of the Olympic celebration as we know it, however -- the opening ceremonies, marching athletes, Olympic torch run, etc., -- were created by the Nazis' propaganda office for the 1936 games.  The World Cup, on the other hand, began in 1934 in Mussolini's Italy with a tournament rigged to guarantee an Italian win.

More worrisome than what sports prepare athletes for is what they may prepare fans for.  There are great similarities between rooting for a sports team, especially a national sports team, and rooting for a national military.  "As soon as the question of prestige arises," wrote George Orwell, whom Zirin quotes, "as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused."  And there is prestige not just in "your" team winning, but in "your" nation hosting the grand event.  Zirin spoke with people in Brazil who were of mixed minds, opposing the injustices the Olympics bring but still glad the Olympics was coming to Brazil.  Zirin also quotes Brazilian politicians who seem to share the goal of national prestige.

At some point the prestige and the profits and the corruption and the commercialism seem to take over the athletics.  "[T]he Olympics aren't about  sport any more than the Iraq war was about democracy," Zirin writes. "The Olympics are not about athletes.  And they're definitely not about bringing together the 'community of nations.' They are a neoliberal Trojan horse aimed at bringing in business and rolling back the most basic civil liberties."

And yet ... And yet ... the damn thing still is about sports, no matter what else it's about, no matter what alternative venues for sports are possible or imaginable.  The fact remains that there are great athletes engaged in great sporting activities in the Olympics and the World Cup.  The attraction of the circus is still real, even when we know it's at the expense of bread, rather than accompanying bread.  And dangerous as the circus may be for the patriotic and militarist minded -- just as a sip of beer might be dangerous to an alcoholic -- one has the darndest time trying to find anything wrong with one's own appreciation for sports; at least I do.

The Olympics are also decidedly less militaristic -- or at least overtly militaristic -- than U.S. sports like football, baseball, and basketball, with their endless glorification of the U.S. military.  "Thank you to our service men and women watching in 175 countries and keeping us safe." The Olympics is also one of the few times that people in the U.S. see people from other countries on their televisions without wars being involved. 

Zirin's portrait of Brazil leaves me with similarly mixed sentiments. His research is impressive. He describes a rich and complex history.  Despite all the corruption and cruelty, I can't help being attracted to a nation that won its independence without a war, abolished slavery without a war, reduces poverty by giving poor people money, denounces U.S. drone murders at the U.N., joins with Turkey to propose an agreement between the United States and Iran, joins with Russia, India, and China to resist U.S. imperialism; and on the same day this year that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission proposed ending the open internet, Brazil created the world's first internet bill of rights. For a deeply flawed place, there's a lot to like.

It's also hard to resist a group of people that pushes back against the outrages being imposed on it.  When a bunch of houses in a poor Brazilian neighborhood were slated for demolition, an artist took photos of the residents, blew them up, and pasted them on the walls of the houses, finally shaming the government into letting the houses stand.  That approach to injustice, much like the Pakistani artists' recent placement of an enormous photo of a drone victim in a field for U.S. drone pilots to see, has huge potential. 

Now, the question is how to display the Olympics' victims to enough Olympics fans around the world so that no new nation will be able to accept this monster on the terms it has been imposing.

read more

Reviewing James Petras’ The Politics of Empire: The US, Israel and the Middle East...

Reviewing James Petras' The Politics of Empire: The US, Israel and the Middle East (Part II)

Presidential Rule by Deception: Obama, the Master Con-Man

Petras pulled no punches saying "(i)n an electoral system, run by and for a corporate oligarchy, deception and demagoguery are essential elements - entertaining the people while working for the wealthy."

Every US president does it. All congressional leaders. It's "de rigueur" to pretend to be "everyman." It persists while committing "war crimes worthy of prosecution."

It's play-acting. It's duplicity. Obama is the "master of deceit." He lacks an honest bone in his body.

He condemns torture while practicing it. He denounces Wall Street excess while supporting it. He wages one war after another while promising peace.

He backs Palestinian rights while trashing them. He supports the worst of Zionist militancy. He ignores institutionalized Israeli racism.

His word isn't his bond. He broke every major promise made. He's "hands down" the "greatest con-man president in American history," Petras explains.

His predecessors pale by comparison. "(T)he enormous gap between style and substance, promise and performance, peace and war, capital and labor, has never been greater," he added.

He continually promises one thing and does another. He's a scoundrel in the worst sense of the term.

He betrayed loyal constituents who supported him. He did so without a second thought. He's more racist than most white Americans.

He reflects the worst of demagogic duplicity. He defends the indefensible. He's a weapon of mass destruction. It bears repeating. He made America unfit to live in.

The Two Faces of a Police State: Sheltering Tax Evaders, Financial Swindlers and Money Launderers While Policing the Citizens

Petras cuts to the chase saying "(n)ever in the history of the United States have we witnessed crimes committed on the scale and scope of the present day by both private and state elites."

Never has so much harm been done to so many to benefit an elite few.

Never was extreme wealth been accumulated more easily at the expense of countless millions harmed.

Never have so-called civilized societies so egregiously trashed longstanding cherished values.

Never was grand theft more institutionalized. Never were amounts involved as great as now.

Never did pillage more greatly become the national pastime. Never did so-called democratic governance more swindle its own people.

Never before did so many mega-crooks go unpunished. Never was high-crime more common practice.

Never was government in bed with business for stakes this great. Never were more people harmed in the process.

Guiding US doctrine endorses "too rich for jail, too big to fail," said Petras. Ordinary people alone suffer.

Steal a billion, two or three and stay free. Steal a loaf of bread for hungry children and face prison time. Doing it three times perhaps means for life.

Law and order don't exist. Judicial unfairness is official policy. Ordinary people haven't a chance. Monied interests control things.

The Power of Israel in the United States

Israel Buys the US Congress: Sabotaging the US-Iran Peace Negotiations.

War or peace hangs in the balance. Thirty-five years of anti-Iranian hostility persists. Zionist power wants the Islamic Republic destroyed.

It wants all Israeli regional powers removed. It wants unchallenged military dominance.

It wants Israel given the right to steal Palestinian land freely. It wants it permitted to wage aggressive wars with impunity.

Attacking Iran risks regional or global war. Since WW II, "Israel has bombed, invaded and occupied more countries in the Middle East and Africa than any previous colonial power, except the US," says Petras.

Its victims include "Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Sudan and Yemen." Its terror attacks and targeted assassinations include numerous other countries.

Israel operates lawlessly with impunity. America partners in its crimes. It provides billion of dollars in annual support.

Red lines, timelines, deadlines, sanctions, sabotage, subversion, cyber attacks, assassinations, saber rattling, warmongering, spurious accusations, manipulated to fail P5+1 talks, and inflammatory headlines up the stakes for war.

Pretexts are easy to invent. False flags precipitate them. Zionist power in America buys political support. It owns Congress. It gets most everything it wants.

Media scoundrels march in lockstep. Truth is systematically buried. Unflinching Israeli backing substitutes. Fifty-two major US Zionist organizations exert enormous influence. Political Washington bows to their will.

Obama with Israel Against the World

America is a dictatorship, says Petras. Constitutional law is null and void. It's "presidential toilet paper!" 

"Legal hacks and whores scratch their backsides and regurgitate the previous illegal executive orders in order to 'legitimize' new arbitrary powers to declare war" and destroy fundamental freedoms.

Abuse of power demands impeachment. It's a national imperative. America's Declaration of Independence states:

"(W)hen a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, (it's the right of the people, it's) their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

Straightaway as president, Obama violated his sacred trust. He betrayed his constituents. He trashed rule of law principles.

He's guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. He spurns fundamental civil and human rights. He mocks democratic values. 

He threatens humanity. He's heading America for WW III. Removing him is top priority. The alternative is potentially grim.

Fifteen Minutes An American President

Obama's 2009 inaugural address promised "a new approach with a new emphasis on respect and a new willingness to talk."

Ravaging one country after another followed. So did overthrowing democratically elected leaders. Numerous other high crimes define his tenure.

He's a wolf in wolf's clothing. Neocons infest his administration. Peace is a four-letter word. Rule of law principles don't matter.

Diktat power runs things. Humanity is more than ever threatened. It may not survive on his watch. America is the real evil empire. No nation ever matched its ruthlessness. Perhaps none ever will.

Israel's Willing Executioners: AIPAC Invades Washington

"When a country, like the United States, is in decline, it is not because of external competition: declining competitiveness is only a symptom," says Petras. 

"It is because of internal rot. Decline results when a nation is betrayed by craven leaders, who crawl and humiliate themselves before a minority of thuggish mediocrities pledged to a foreign state without scruples or moral integrity."

AIPAC is the most prominent face of US Zionist power. It fronts for Israel. It's an unregistered foreign agent. It calls itself "America's Pro-Israel Lobby."

Virtually no one in Congress confronts it. Doing so is a career-ender. 

It has virtual veto power over war and peace, trade and investment, multi-billion dollar arms sales, enormous handouts to Israel, and all Middle East policies affecting the Jewish state under Democrat and Republican administrations alike.

It's a weapon of mass destruction. It supports Israel's worst crimes. Its annual meetings are "the most outrageous public display of Zionist-Jewish power as it shapes US foreign policy," says Petras. 

"The sole purpose of AIPAC is to ensure Israel's unchallenged military and political power over a huge region from North Africa to the Persian Gulf."

Presidents, top administration officials, and congressional leaders pay homage to its power. 

They march to the same drummer. They collaborate in high crimes. They support what demands condemnation. 

They disgrace themselves in the process. They betray their constituents at the same time.

Fifty-two Major American Zionist Organizations control them. They serve a foreign government. 

They do so against the interests of ordinary Americans. They do it "without scruples or moral integrity," says Petras.

The Great Transformation of Jewish American Charities

Charity no longer defines them. Over time, they shifted disgracefully. They did so, Petras said, from: 

  • "social aid for working Jews, poor immigrants and elderly Holocaust victims to political influence peddling at the service of the highly militarized state of Israel; 

  • from engaging in social welfare for American Jews to political lobbying for military transfers to Israel; 

  • from grassroots leaders sharing life styles and struggles with their rank and file donors to millionaire CEOs entertaining Zionist billionaires and banging tables for Israel at the White House while paying off the Congressional influential; and 

  • from reaching out and aligning with Americans working for peace with justice in the Middle East to embracing every tin horn monarch and dictator who signs off on Israeli annexation of Palestinian land."

In the process, they lost their popular mass base. Members resigned in protest. Others were forced out. 

They're no longer Jewish community representatives. They front for lawless Israeli power. They do so without ethics or integrity.

Imperial and Zionist Wars and Terror in the Middle East: Palestine, Iran, Syria and Yemen

Israeli Terror: The "Final Solution" to the Palestine Question (page 130/31)

Longstanding ethnic cleansing reflects official Israeli policy. Palestinians are systematically dispossessed. 

For decades, Israel "confiscat(ed) their lands, destroy(ed) (their) homes, bulldoz(ed) (their) orchards and (established) 'Jews-only' colonial settlements serviced by highways, electrical systems and water works for the exclusive use of the settlers and occupying soldiers," said Petras.

Israel is the only nation without declared borders. Its Greater Israel objective explains why. It wants them expanded.

In 1982, Oded Yinon prepared "The Zionist Plan for the Middle East." The Association of Arab-American University Graduates called it "the most explicit, detailed and unambiguous statement to date of the Zionist strategy in the Middle East."

"Its importance...lies not in its historical value but in the nightmare which it represents."

It states for Israel to survive, it must dominate the region. It must become a world power.

Doing so requires balkanizing Arab nations along ethnic and sectarian lines. It involves making them Israeli satellites.

Israel wants all historical Palestinian land, said Petras. It wants non-Jews "expel(led)." It wants Jews alone granted rights. It denies Palestinians entirely.

It commits high crimes too grave to ignore. It does so daily. It literally gets away with murder with impunity. So-called peace talks mock legitimate ones.

Palestinians are largely on their own to survive. Besieged Gazans suffer most of all. Israel keeps them isolated illegally.

Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas is a longtime Israeli collaborator. So are other PA officials. They're Israeli enforcers. 

They betray their own people for generous benefits derived. They're complicit in causing enormous human suffering.

Obama at the General Assembly: Sacrificing Palestine for Zionist Campaign Funds

Petras discussed his September 21, 2011 address. He "overt(ly) pander(ed) to Israel," he said. He's done it at AIPAC conferences.

He supports lawless Israeli policy. He spurns fundamental Palestinian rights. He's indifferent to their vital needs.

"From the angle of satisfying the US Zionist power configuration (ZPC) and securing a massive flow of re-election financing, Obama's (2011) UN speech was a smashing success," Petras explained.

He grovels before Zionist interests. He supports hugely destructive ones. He turns a blind eye to Israel's settlement project. 

He finances its wars of aggression. He vetoes all justifiable anti-Israeli Security Council resolutions

He supports wrong over right. He's a war criminal multiple times over. He disgraces the office he holds.

Israeli Bombers: Al Qaeda's Air Force

Israeli history reflects multiple crimes of war, against humanity and slow-motion genocide.

Generations of leaders deplored peace. They thrive on war. "Its foreign policy depends on perpetual regional wars and political instability," said Petras.

Fifty-two Major American Zionist Organizations endorse its lawlessness. Israel is partnered with Obama's war on Syria. 

It wants another regional rival removed. Iran's turn awaits. In 2014, Israel budgeted nearly $3 billion dollars for war on the Islamic Republic.

Waging it would be madness. It remains to be seen what follows. It doesn't matter what Israel does most often.

"The entire Zionist power configuration in Washington has lined up to support the Jewish state," said Petras. 

"When Israel commits an act of war against its neighbor, no matter how unjust and brutal the act, Zionists from the most religious to the most secular, the 'peacenik' and neo-cons, all form a united chorus in praise of the righteous and moral 'Jewish Bombs' even as they fall on the besieged people of Syria today and Iran tomorrow."

Peace remains elusive. It's nowhere in sight so far nor benefits accrued if it arrives.

The Bloody Road to Damascus: The Triple Alliance's War on a Sovereign State

Syria is Obama's war. Proxy death squad invaders are used. So far they lack an air force. Obama likely plans Libya 2.0.

Plans to initiate it last summer were postponed. They weren't cancelled. Full-scale war on Assad may be one major false flag incident away.

It remains to be seen what Obama plans. He wants another imperial trophy. Plans to oust Assad are firm.

The road to Tehran runs through Damascus. It's "paved with lies," Petras explains. It bears repeating. Iran's turn awaits. Perhaps regional war will follow.

Saudi Arabia: A Retrograde Rentier Dictatorship and Global Terrorism

Saudi Arabian governance mocks legitimacy. It "has all the vices and none of the virtues of an oil rich state like Venezuela," said Petras. 

It's "governed by a family dictatorship which tolerates no opposition and severely punishes human rights advocates and political dissidents."

It "finances the most fanatical, retrograde, misogynist version of Islam, the 'Wahhabi' sect of Sunni Islam."

It's a valued US ally. America supports some of the world's most ruthless despots. It targets independent governments for regime change.

It want subservient pro-Western puppet leadership replacing them. It spurns democracy at home and abroad.

It's waging terror wars on humanity. It's spending trillions of dollars doing so. It lets vital homeland needs go begging. It wants unchallenged global dominance.

Iran-US Interim Agreement: Historic Breakthrough of Historic Sellout?

American agreements aren't worth the paper they're written on. US history reflects it. Native Americans suffered through centuries of heroic lost struggles. From 1492 to today, they experienced promises made and broken.

Winning the West involved betraying them. One US treaty after another was violated. Imperialism works this way. Things haven't changed. Today they're worse than ever.

Earlier US policy makers sought sea to shinning sea dominance. Today they want it globally. They want it unchallenged. They'll stop at nothing to get it.

Obama is America's latest rogue leader. He's a moral coward. He's a serial liar. His word isn't his bond. Petras asked if the so-called "historic (Geneva) breakthrough" was real or a mirage.

Does it end 34 years of Iran bashing? Or is it the latest US betrayal dressed up in diplomatic mumbo jumbo?

The Big Lie about an Iranian nuclear threat persists. It's fake. It's a red herring. US intelligence reports say so. 

It's common knowledge in Washington. It doesn't matter. Congressional Iran bashing continues. So do punitive administration actions. 

Petras said Geneva ostensibly "is directed toward undermining Iran's potential 'capacity' to have a nuclear program: there are no weapons to destroy, no weapons plans exist, no war plans exist and there are no strategic offensive military operations on the Iranian 'drawing board.' "

"We know this because repeated US intelligence reports" say so.

"So the entire current negotiations are over weakening Iran's ongoing peaceful, legal nuclear program..."

They aim to "undermin(e) any future advance in nuclear technology that might protect Iran from an Israeli or US attack..."

Longstanding US/Israeli policy prioritizes destroying Iranian independence. It's replacing it with pro-Western puppet governance. 

It's advancing US/Israeli imperialism. It's eliminating all rival states. It's establishing unchallenged control. It's going all out by whatever means necessary.

Iran sought normalized relations with Washington and other Western countries for decades. It offered major concessions.

Its sincere efforts were spurned. Is this time different? Has Washington turned a page? Obama has all the proving to do. If past is prologue, don't expect it.

The Assassination of Anwar Al-Awlaki by Fiat

Obama ordered death by drone missile. He murdered a US citizen abroad. He did so without justification. 

He committed cold-blooded murder. For sure not for the first time. Or the last. He governs by diktat authority. He ignores fundamental rule of law principles.

Bill of Rights protections are gone. International law doesn't matter. Washington rules alone apply. Hegemons operate that way. 

So do rogue leaders like Obama. It bears repeating. He exceeds the worst of his predecessors.

Oligarchs, Demagogues and Mass Revolts…Against Democracy

US democracy exists in name only. Most other European ones operate the same way. Monied interests alone matter. Ordinary people have no say.

So-called "color-coded 'mass revolts' in Eastern Europe (including former Soviet republics) featured (duplicitous) popular leaders who exhorted the masses in the name of 'independence and democracy…," said Petras.

They were "pro-NATO, pro(Western) (imperial stooges) liked to neoliberal elites."

Modern-day "oligarchs privatized and sold off the most lucrative sectors of the economy, throwing millions out of work." 

"They dismantled the welfare state and handed over their military bases to NATO for the stationing of foreign troops and the placement of missiles aimed at Russia."

They betrayed their own people in the process. Things are worse now than ever.

Washington's history reflects backing governments spurning the needs of their own people. Western monied interests alone matter.

Hard times inflict enormous punishment. Wars compound the worst of conditions. Things continue going from bad to worse. A race to the bottom harms countless millions.

Petras concludes saying "understanding imperial politics requires: 

  • analyzing its changing structure and operational code; 

  • identifying its ideology and technological innovations;

  • analyzing the domestic foundations of empire and the interplay between overseas expansion and internal decay; and 

  • locating idiosyncratic domestic political configurations which influence and direct the particular policies and strategies of empire builders."

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He 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. 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

It airs three times weekly: live on Sundays at 1PM Central time plus two prerecorded archived programs. 


http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour

Cheerleading Potential Disaster

Cheerleading Potential Disaster

by Stephen Lendman

Consider the times. Daily events should scare everyone. Washington rules alone matter. Unfettered power reflects things.

Rule of law principles are ignored. Core Bill of Rights protections are gone. Freedom hangs by a thread.

Democracy is a convenient illusion. Obama presides over a police state apparatus. Bipartisan complicity shares responsibility. Full-blown tyranny is a hair's breadth away.

Fundamental rights don't matter. Big Brother watches everyone. De facto one-party rule runs things.

Monied interests created a multi-headed monster. Super-wealth and privilege rule. Popular needs go begging. 

Social justice is disappearing in plain sight. Money power in private hands is used to make more of it at the public's expense.

Imperial madness defines official policy. Sovereign independence is criminalized. It's considered justification for war. 

Unchallenged global dominance is prioritized. Wars rage without end. New ones are planned. Humanity's fate hangs in the balance.

Warmakers win peace prizes. Peacemakers are scorned. War is considered peace. Criminality is rewarded. Doing the right thing is punished.

Today is the most perilous time in world history. Ukraine's crisis is the gravest since WW II. A potential clash of civilizations looms. 

Media propagandists masquerade as journalists. Presstitution substitutes for real news, information and analysis. 

Defending the indefensible persists. Doing so makes the unthinkable possible. Humanity survived two global wars. 

Another one perhaps means armageddon. Avoiding it should be top priority. Russia bashing takes precedence. 

It rages out-of-control daily. It's malicious. It's merciless. It's outrageous. It doesn't matter. It continues. More on this below.

Obama exceeds the worst of his predecessors. Recklessness defines his agenda. He imposed two rounds of sanctions on Russia. He threatened much tougher ones ahead.

Sergei Lavrov is a consummate diplomat.  He responded, saying:

"Unilateral sanctions have never done any good. They are not legal. And they do not have international legal grounds."

"The UN Security Council is the only body entitled to decide on coercive measures towards sovereign states, but it has not made such decisions in regards to the Russian Federation and the Ukrainian administration of President Yanukovych."

"Even if we speak about the Ukrainian constitution, the people who grabbed power in Kiev in an anti-constitutional revolt did that with at least moral support and, I believe, that support was not just moral, by their actions."

"The trampling upon laws, which aimed to bring their stooges to power, who relied on blatant ultra-nationalists and who were unable to control even Kiev without them, and accusations of us and Crimeans of breaching Ukrainian laws are totally void from the legal point of view and, I believe, totally unacceptable from the point of view of morals and ethics."

A Foreign Ministry statement added:

"Lavrov stressed that the decision on Crimea's reunification with Russia reflected the expression of will of the absolute majority of its people, that it may not be reviewed and must be respected."

"Lavrov drew particular attention to the ongoing violence by ultranationalist and extremist forces targeting businessmen and journalists, dissenters, the Russian-speaking population and our compatriots."

"It is time to put an end to the condoning of the Right Sector militants and Svoboda party" extremists.

NATO Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen is a convenient US stooge. He endorses US policies. He supports Kiev neo-Nazi putschists.

On March 20, he lied saying "Russia will go beyond Crimea, and the next goal will be the eastern provinces of Ukraine."

Relations between NATO and Russia can no longer remain "just business," he added. Things are different than weeks earlier, he said. 

He blamed Russia for Western imperial crimes. Perhaps he has war plans in mind. Perhaps planned US-led NATO military exercises in Ukraine suggest trouble.

Rapid Trident is scheduled for this summer. Similar exercises are conducted annually. 

US forces in Europe web site says they're designed to "promote regional stability and security, strengthen partnership capacity, and foster trust while improving interoperability between the land forces of Ukraine, and NATO and partner nations."

Perhaps something more sinister is planned. Perhaps possible confrontation with Russia looms.

On Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden commented irresponsibility. Washington could invoke NATO's Article 5 for war on Russia, he said. 

Perhaps he knows more than he's admitting. Reckless comments heighten tensions. So do irresponsible sanctions. 

EU leaders targeted 12 additional Russian officials. Business ones were excluded. June EU-Russia summit plans were cancelled.

European leaders intend "targeted economic measures" if Russia "continues to destabilize Ukraine," they said. According to European Council president Herman Van Rompuy:

"We will assess each action, each incident in itself. We will not put all our cards on the table…But the preparations are ongoing."

Angela Merkel said: "As long as there is no political environment for such an important political format as the G-8, the G-8 doesn't exist anymore."

Vladimir Putin responded, saying:

"Are they hoping to put us in a worsening social and economic situation so as to provoke public discontent?"

"We consider such statements irresponsible and clearly aggressive in tone, and we will respond to them accordingly."

Columnist Roger Cohen is one of many New York Times imperial apologists. He never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. 

Instead of choosing the right side of history, he's polar opposite every time. Especially when it matters most. Setting the record straight isn't his long suit.

He's been bashing Russia for weeks. On March 20, he headlined "Cold Man in the Kremlin," saying:

"Putin’s push for a revived Soviet-like space reached its apotheosis (with) the annexation of Crimea." He called it "a watershed moment for Europe, where such an event had not happened since World War II." 

He ignored Yugoslavia's systematic destruction. He turned a blind eye to US-led NATO's full responsibility. 

He said nothing about Washington transforming most former Soviet republics and Warsaw Pact countries into subservient pro-Western puppet states. He paid no attention to accompanying human misery.

"The Continent is once again combustible," he said. "The United States faces a foe in Moscow who laces his comments about America with contempt."

Cohen wrongfully compared Crimean/Russian reunification to Hitler's Austrian Anschluss. Both events were polar opposites.

Washington bears full responsibility for heightened continental tensions. Rogue EU partners share it. Putin's straight talk is derided. Don't expect Cohen to explain. 

Defending the indefensible takes precedence. So does suppressing truth. "The language Putin understands is force and power," he claimed.

"If further Russian designs on Ukraine are to be stopped, President Obama has to respond to the Russian president in the idiom he understands," he added.

He lied accusing Putin of "proposing an alternative civilization of brutality, force, imperial expansion, systemic corruption, a cowed press, conspiracy theories and homophobia."

His characterization describes Washington. For sure not Putin. It bears repeating. Don't expect Cohen to explain.

Neocon Washington Post editors wage daily war on Russia. They repeated the Big Lie about Russian "aggression."

WaPo editors don't recognize the real thing. They call lawless US imperial wars humanitarian interventions. 

They consider ravaging and destroying one country after another liberation. Unrestrained plunder is called economic development. Despots running things are labeled democrats.

Hit 'em again harder, they urge. Pile on tougher sanctions.

Punish Putin "while minimizing the collateral damage to the US, European and global economies that could come from a broader economic war."

Credit Obama "for leading the Western response…" US sanctions "still fall far short of what is needed to inflict the 'massive' damage to the Russian economy…"

WaPo editors repeated the Big Lie. Russia invaded Crimea, they screamed. They outrageously accused Putin of "steady escalation since Russian troops fanned out in Crimea nearly three weeks ago."

Putin "appears bent on bringing about the (Kiev government's) downfall," they claim.

Moscow justifiably rejects putschist illegitimacy. WaPo editors embrace it and then some.

"…Putin and his political elite appear drunk with euphoria over their successful seizure of Crimea and skeptical about the West's will to push back," they claim. 

"If the latest sanctions do not quickly sober them up," WaPo editors wants tougher policies instituted. Again, they barely stopped short of urging war. Neocons prioritize it.

Garry Kasparov is a convenient US stooge. He's a former world chess champion turned hard right politician. 

He's a dubious character and then some. He gets generous National Endowment for Democracy funding.

He's a former Center for Security Policy board member. Neocon Frank Gaffney heads it. Its board, staff and members include likeminded hardliners.

Kasparov is linked to former Yukos oil vice president Leonid Nevzlin. It's no longer operating. 

Nevzlin was Russian oligarch Michael Khodorokvsky's partner. He fled to Israel to avoid charges of involvement with contract killers hired to eliminate "objectionable people."

In 2009, Kasparov met personally with Obama in Washington. At the time, they discussed internal Russian elements opposed to Putin.

Kasparov allied with a 2010 "Putin must go" initiative. WaPo editors gave him featured op-ed space. He headlined "It's time to stop Putin." 

He repeated the same Big Lie. He "invad(ed) Crimea," he said. He called legitimate reunification "defiance." 

He wants Putin confronted more forcefully. He wants tough pressure applied. He wants policies "target(ing) his hold on power."

He claims it's "all (he) cares about…" He berated Obama for saying he won't send US forces to defend Ukraine. He ludicrously called it "a gesture of peaceful intent."

He claimed there's "no dealing with Putin, no mutually beneficial business as usual." He turned truth on its head saying he "feels no obligation to operate by the rule of law or human rights in or outside of Russia."

"Putin is a lost cause," he hyperventilated. Russia "will be until he is gone. The West has been in denial about this for far too long."

"It has always been an error to treat (him) like any other leader; now, there are no more excuses."

You can't make this stuff up. Imagine featuring this type rubbish. Kasparov is no democrat. He's no populist. He's connected to some of the most extremist neocon ideologues. 

They deplore peace. They endorse war. They want one country  after another ravaged. They want them plundered. They want monied interests alone benefitting. 

They want ordinary people exploited. They want despots they control replacing democrats. Their agenda risks global war.

Not according to Kasparov. "Obama and Europe's leaders keep trying to play by the rules even though Putin has ripped up the rule book and thrown the shreds in their faces," he claimed.

He wants him targeted ruthlessly. He wants him ousted. Maybe he has war in mind to do it. He's part of the problem. For sure not the solution.

Wall Street Journal editors continued their daily anti-Russia barrage. On March 20, they headlined "The Russo-Sanctions War," saying:

Putin "keeps ignoring Mr. Obama's pleas to stop carving up Ukraine…" On Thursday, "economic war" began.

Obama targeted Russian business figures. He included Bank Rossiya. It's Putin's bank. It handles financial transactions for other Russian officials.

Obama's Executive Order authorizes targeting key sectors of Russia's economy. Make it scream, Journal editors urge.

"(T)his is an economic war the US should be able to win," they said. If carried to extremes, not without a potential significant global cost.

Conditions worldwide are weak. They're unstable. China's economy is slowing markedly. Slowdown affects India, Brazil, and other emerging economies.

Eurozone countries are troubled. Italy faces major problems. Economic stagnation harms France. Spain, Portugal and Greece remain basket cases.

Problems experienced by one country affects others. US/Russia economic war could ripple globally. Crisis conditions could follow.

Journal editors should know better. They endorse what should be avoided at all costs. They want tougher measures taken.

They lied claiming Russia's "military is poised to move into Ukraine's south and east on the Kremlin's orders."

They urge countering Putin by "impos(ing) enough immediate and substantial pain on (him), his friends and the Russian economy…"

They want world banks forced "to choose between doing business with" America or Russia. They want Moscow's "dominance in European energy" confronted.

They want Ukraine given military aid. The want NATO forces deployed close to Russia's borders. It bears repeating. Perhaps they want WW III.

Media scoundrels lack legitimacy. They support wrong over right. They march in lockstep with lawless US policy. 

They blame victims for crimes Washington commits. They lie to readers and viewers consistently. They endorse policies risking global conflict. Don't ask them to explain.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He 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. 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

It airs three times weekly: live on Sundays at 1PM Central time plus two prerecorded archived programs. 


http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/the-progressive-news-hour 

Obama’s MyRA Proposal: Hold the Cheers

Obama's MyRA Proposal: Hold the Cheers

by Stephen Lendman

Americans don't need another phony retirement scheme. They need employer-provider defined benefits they once enjoyed. 

They need guaranteed pensions. They need safe and secure ones. They need Social Security protected. They need it strengthened.

It's not an entitlement. It's not welfare. It's a contractual federal obligation. It's for eligible recipients who qualify. 

It's funded by worker-employer payroll tax deductions. Insurance premiums work the same way.

It's America's most important retirement program. It's not going bankrupt. When properly administered, it's sound and secure.

Bipartisan complicity weakened it over time. It needs strengthening. Its original incarnation needs to be restored and improved.

Today it's not what it was created to be. Franklin Roosevelt's vision needs to be reestablished.

On August 14, 1935, he said in part:

"This social security measure gives at least some protection to thirty millions of our citizens who will reap direct benefits through unemployment compensation, through old-age pensions and through increased services for the protection of children and the prevention of ill health."

The law "give(s) some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty - ridden old age."

It "represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means complete."

Its purpose is to "take care of human needs and at the same time provide for the United States an economic structure of vastly greater soundness."

On January 11, 1944, Roosevelt's last State of the Union address proposed an economic bill of rights.

He didn't live long enough to implement it. He wanted the following guaranteed for all Americans:

  • employment with a living (not a minimum) wage;

  • freedom from unfair competition and monopolies;

  • decent housing;

  • proper healthcare;

  • education; and

  • strengthened social security.

He wanted all Americans freed from the ravages of poverty. Obama is no Roosevelt. He's ideologically opposite.

Obamanomics did more to wreck the American dream than any of his predecessors.

He presided over the greatest wealth transfer in history. He's beholden to powerful monied interests. They own him.

His rhetoric belies his policies. He's pro-business, pro-privilege, pro-war, anti-populist, and against all fundamental values real democracies cherish.

He's waged war on ordinary Americans. He wrecked the lives of millions. His entire agenda is opposite of what's needed. His new MyRA (retirement account) proposal is more scam than solution.

"Today, most workers don't have a pension," said Obama. He stopped short of explaining efforts to eliminate public and private pensions altogether.

"Social Security...often isn't enough on its own," he added. It could be much more than today. It should be. Proper strengthening would improve it greatly.

It's been weakened over time. Bipartisan complicity wants it privatized. Doing so assures wrecking it altogether. Obama's MyRA proposal ignores a problem needing fixing.

On January 28, he said he'll "direct the Treasury to create a new way for working Americans to start their own retirement savings: MyRA. It's a new savings bond that encourages folks to build a nest  egg."

On January 29, a White House press release headlined "FACT SHEET: Opportunity for All: Securing a Dignified Retirement for All Americans."

It calls MyRAs "simple, safe and affordable 'starter' retirement savings accounts." Workers earning up to $191,000 are eligible.

Employers willing to participate will make automatic payroll deductions. No employer contribution is required.

Worker contributions are voluntary. An initial $25 is required. Subsequent ones can be as little as $5. 

They'll be used to purchase US Treasuries. Yields fluctuate over time. They're rock bottom now. 

Treasury bills earn practically nothing. Five year Treasury notes yield about 1.50%. Ten year notes around 2.70%. Inflation is multiples higher. Money invested today ends up worth less.

Savers can keep the same account if they change jobs. They can roll over the balance into a private IRA any time.

Once accounts accumulate $15,000 (or are held 30 years), they automatically roll over into a privately run Roth IRA with no tax loss.

According to Economic Policy Institute economist Monique Morrissey, doing so is bad news.

"The president's plan may serve to channel more savings into a high-risk, high-fee system without first addressing its failings," she said.

His plan is "nothing to get exited about." Savers "already have convenient access to low or no-risk investment options."

They can do it through retirement accounts. They can buy Treasuries or other financial instruments on their own.

Morrissey urges "holding out for a better retirement option." Obama's plan may seem "harmless," she said.

It "distracts from real reform efforts." They're more than ever needed. Obama and Congress ignore them. Obama's MyRA scheme is more smoke and mirrors than needed change.

According to the White House press release, accounts are "offered through an initial pilot program to employees of employers (that) choose to participate by the end of 2014."

Obama claims he's "committed to working with Congress to help secure a dignified retirement for all Americans."

Throughout five years in office, his policies have been polar opposite. Don't expect his MyRA scheme to change things.

According to Social Security Works co-director Eric Kingson:

"Instead of putting forward the MyRA proposal and making some noises about auto-IRAs, I wish (Obama) simply focused on the facts about the impending retirement income crisis, or acknowledged, along with his MyRA and the auto-IRA rhetoric, that these proposals can, at best, only make a small dent in a larger problem."

Crisis looms for millions approaching retirement. Most people haven't saved enough. Many accumulated nothing. They're more indebted than secure.

Obama's so-called "good start" is more sham than solution. It does practically nothing to resolve a festering crisis.

Longtime Chicago financial adviser, Terry Savage, reports the "Savage Truth." She discussed Obama's MyRA proposal.

"What a creative idea," she said. "It sounds so familiar. Wait. We already have that account. It's called SOCIAL SECURITY."

It's how it "was promoted when...enacted in 1935." In the 1980s, "growing surpluses (became) a tempting target…"

They were looted to fund government. Wall Street crooks benefitted. So did war profiteers and other corporate favorites. Super-rich elites got wealthier. The trust fund became their piggy bank. 

Then Reagan National Commission on Social Security Reform head Alan Greenspan recommended it.

He lied claiming a Social Security "financing crisis." He wrongfully claimed the trust fund could run out of money "as early as 1983."

Congress acted irresponsibly. In April 1983, Reagan signed the Social Security Amendments of 1983 into law.

Doing so claimed to "resolve short-term financing problem(s) and (make) many other significant changes in Social Security law."

The public was scammed. Payroll taxes were raised. Rich Americans were exempted beyond a woefully low maximum limit.

Low-income earners today pay more in payroll than income taxes. Greenspan's commission was supposed to make Social Security fiscally sound for the next 75 years.

People were lied to. They weren't told no problem existed. Changes made transferred wealth to rich elites. Multiple income tax cuts benefitted them more. At the same time, the bottom 11% rate rose to 15%.

It was America's first ever tax cut making low-wage earners pay more. Their income and payroll taxes rose. Transferring wealth to corporations and super-rich elites continues. Inequality today is unprecedented.

"...Social Security was (meant) to be a tax-free return on your contributions," said Savage. It was so until "1983 reforms."

"(W)e've seen this movie before...In offering his new 'MyRa' proposal, the President said: 'MyRA guarantees a decent return, with no risk of losing what you put in.' "

...(A)nd you can keep your doctor, too," remember?

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on the voters! That's the Savage Truth!"

Social Security Works co-director Nancy Altman says "(s)trengthen Social Security." It didn't cause the federal deficit. It shouldn't be used to reduce it.

It didn't become law to fund government. It shouldn't be privatized. it shouldn't be means tested. High-income earners should pay the same percentage payroll tax as others.

Benefits should be increased, not reduced. Annual inflation adjustments should be real, not based on phony numbers. Low income Americans should be helped most.

In 2010, Professor James W. Russell discussed America's retirement crisis," saying:

"The great 30-year experiment in 401(k)s and similar retirement financing schemes that depend on stock market investments has failed." 

"Even before" 2008 crisis conditions erupted, it was clear. "(V)ery few workers...accumulate enough wealth through these accounts to insure" secure retirement futures.

Until the 1980s, each generation since the 19th century was better off financially than earlier ones.

No longer. Inflation adjusted wages are worth less than decades earlier. Benefits steadily eroded. Inequality is the new normal. 

Secure retirements are more myth than reality. Untampered with Social Security works as intended. 

Strengthening it makes it work better. Russell calls it "the federal government's most successful and popular domestic program."

The 1978 Revenue Act changed things. Its sections 401(k), 403(b), and 457 let retirement plan contributions be made with pretax dollars.

Employer defined benefit plans became defined contribution ones. They offer no assurance of retirement income. Marketplace uncertainty becomes costly in crisis times.

Financial services industry predators profit hugely through large commissions and fees. They benefit. IRA holders lose out. They're scammed.

Privatized plans often don't deliver on promises. Secure retirements require strengthened Social Security, employer-provided benefits and personal savings.

Russell commented on Obama's MyRA proposal. He called it a "token response" at best to today's festering retirement crisis.

It "perpetuates the very myths and fallacies that caused the crisis." Its roots go back to when defined contribution plans replaced defined benefit ones.

IRAs guarantee nothing. They return "dramatically less retirement incomes than the pensions they replaced," said Russell.

Obama said "most workers don't have a pension." He failed to say they deserve one. Instead of recognizing a failed IRA experiment, he "implied that" crisis conditions only affect non-IRA holders.

He lied claiming they're much better off. MyRA's are another gift to financial predators. "The program will do little to benefit retirees," said Russell.

"No one ever obtained retirement security with savings bonds. Once more," Wall Street crooks stand to benefit most.

"The need remains urgent for a comprehensive public program to address the retirement crisis." Throughout five years in office, Obama proposed nothing to do it.

His MyRA scheme falls woefully short. It bears repeating. It's more scam than solution.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He 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. 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

It airs Fridays 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

Reactions to Obama’s NSA Address

Reactions to Obama's NSA Address

by Stephen Lendman

Hundreds of Stop Watching Us activists protested outside the Justice Department. They did so before he spoke.

They wore STOP SPYING glasses. They held signs saying "Stop Spying on Us." "Big Brother In Chief." "Obama = Tyranny." 

CODEPINK members were there. On Thursday, co-founder Medea Benjamin said:

"Though President Obama is scheduled to lay out reforms for the NSA spying program, we have little reason to believe they will be sufficient of implemented."

"The intelligence agencies in the US are totally out of control - from mass dragnet spying, to killing by remote control…" and it's time for transparency and accountability."

Bill of Rights Defense Committee executive director Shahid Buttar said:

"Despite pledging to stop Bush era abuses, President Obama has repeatedly chosen to leave the NSA free to monitor the American people en masse." 

"More than any other issue, his administration's complicity in mass surveillance will come to define its legacy."

It's certain unless he "chooses to finally support reforms like the USA FREEDOM Act, which would end bulk collection, and start a longer process needed to remove the officials caught lying to Congress, and fix the broken secret FISA court process."

Clearly, he has no intention of doing it. A same day article said the worst of business as usual will continue.

Skepticism and then some followed Obama's address. Center for Constitutional Rights President Emeritus Michael Ratner said:

"I didn't expect a lot, but I think we got almost nothing in terms of actually reining in what I call this national surveillance state."

"We have a right to privacy." Not according to Obama. "So you have this vast surveillance apparatus."

"And then you have a speech that basically lauds the people who are spies, talks about them really as, oh, they're your neighbor. They don't want to do anything wrong to you. They're only out to protect you."

His address was a shameless PR stunt. It was smoke and mirrors. It was long on rhetoric. It was short on substance. It delivered empty promises. 

It was filled "with a lot of BS about oversight (and) transparency," said Ratner. It was "completely meaningless."

Obama wants us to trust the government "which we've shown can't (be) trust(ed)."

Former Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson called Obama's address "disappointing, but not surprising."

"It is simply not realistic to expect the federal government to voluntarily relinquish powers it has granted itself, even when (they're) unconstitutional."

"And when the government has convinced itself that it is OK to sweep up the phone calls, texts and emails of hundreds of millions of Americans, it is no surprise that the President is not really proposing to change anything."

TechFreedom president Berin Szoka said Obama's "speech will probably be remembered most for the much-needed reforms it didn't announce."

Law Professor Jonathan Turley called Obama's address "a nothing burger served hot and with a sympathetic smile."

"It was much of the same. Another review board composed of government officials. Another promise for the Executive Branch to review itself."

"I was underwhelmed. It seemed like another attempt to reinvent privacy in a new surveillance friendly image."

Mass surveillance "will continued and the intelligence community will retain its authority with little outside independent limits."

Obama's reform is "basically 'trust us, we're your government' (including a reminder that NSA people are your neighbors)."

His speech was "more spin than substance." It was typical Obama.

The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) said Obama's "proposed reforms (far) short of what is needed, particularly in terms of actionable solutions."

CDT director Greg Nojeim said:

"(W)e were disappointed in (Obama's) failure to offer a clear path forward on (vital) reforms."

His "proposed changes do not fully address the fundamental problem of bulk collection of personal metadata and fail to adequately protect the rights of people around the world."

Partnership for Civil Justice Fund co-founders Carl Messineo and Mara Verheyden-Hilliard said:

"Rather than dismantling the NSA's unconstitutional mass surveillance programs, or even substantially restraining them, President Obama today has issued his endorsement of them."

"The speech today was 'historic' in the worst sense. It represents a historic failure by a president to rein in mass government illegality and violations of fundamental rights."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said Obama's so-called reforms have "have a long way to go. Now it's up to Congress and courts" to act.

EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn said:

"Mass non-targeted surveillance violates international human rights law." 

"It is disproportionate because it sweeps up the communications and communications records of million of innocent people first and only sorts out second what is actually needed."

"(T)he NSA must be forbidden from engaging in mass, untargeted surveillance in the US or abroad." 

ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said:

Obama's "decision not to end bulk collection and retention of all Americans' data remains highly troubling."

Glushko-Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic staff lawyer Tamir Israel said:

"Protecting foreigners' privacy rights" is essential. Recognizing it "in principle is unhelpful, as (Obama's) Directive leaves the US foreign intelligence apparatus' capacity to indiscriminately spy on all the activities of all foreigners all the time largely untouched."

Privacy International Legal Director Carly Nyst said:

"The reforms proposed by President Obama fundamentally ignore those who are spied on simply because they don't have an American passport." 

"We need genuine, effective changes that account for the way the world now communicates. Secret international intelligence-sharing arrangements must come to an end and human rights must be properly guaranteed to humans, not just American citizens."

Amnesty International executive director Steven Hawkins said:

"The big picture takeaway from today's speech is that the right of privacy remains under grave threat both here at home and around the world."

Access executive director Brett Solomon said:

"The human right to privacy is universal. The rights of persons outside of the United States are as fundamental as the rights of U.S. citizens." 

"However, the President’s defense of ongoing overseas intelligence collection programs ensures that the citizens of the world will continue to be subject to mass surveillance."

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange called Obama's speech "embarrassing." He spoke "for almost 45 minutes and sa(id) almost nothing."

"He's been very reluctant to make any concrete reforms, and unfortunately, today we see very few" presented.

On January 17, London's Guardian headlined Obama NSA reforms receive mixed response in Europe and Brazil," saying:

"Europeans were largely underwhelmed by Barack Obama's speech on limited reform of US espionage practices, saying the measures did not go far enough to address concerns over American snooping on its European allies."

NSA supporters loved Obama's speech. House and Senate intelligence committee chairpersons Rep. Mike Rogers (R. MI) and Diane Feinstein (D. CA) issued a joint statement, saying:

"Today President Obama gave a strong speech in defense of the need to collect and use intelligence in order to protect the nation and to prevent terrorist attacks around the world." 

"We strongly agree with his comments in support and praise of the professionals in our intelligence community who do this work while upholding the civil liberties and privacy rights of all Americans."

Democrats largely supported Obama's speech. Republicans offered mixed reactions. Speaker John Boehner said:

"I look forward to learning more about how the new procedure for accessing data will not put Americans at greater risk." 

"And the House will review any legislative reforms proposed by the administration." It "will not erode the operational integrity of critical programs that have helped keep America safe."

Senator Rand Paul dissented strongly, saying:

"The Fourth Amendment requires an individualized warrant based on probable cause before the government can search phone records and e-mails." 

"I intend to continue the fight to restore Americans' rights through my Fourth Amendment Restoration Act and my legal challenge against the NSA. The American people should not expect the fox to guard the hen house."

The Financial Times called Obama "defiant on US surveillance activities."

Wall Street Journal editors said he delivered "a conflicted address…His new anti-terror proposals will do little to secure American privacy but they might make the country less safe."

New York Times editors support the worst of Obama's policies. They praised his speech. It "was in large part an admission that he had been wrong," they said.

He "announced important new restrictions on the collection of information about ordinary Americans…He called for greater oversight of the intelligence community..."

He "acknowledged that intrusive forms of technology posed a growing threat to civil liberties." At the same time, "his reforms (lacked) specifics..."

Calling "on Congress to create a panel of independent advocates (is) a huge improvement" over current practice.

Times editors largely defended the worst of lawless mass surveillance. They left rule of law principles unaddressed. They ignored America's fast track toward tyranny. They betrayed their readers in the process.

The Chicago Tribune defended Obama saying:

His "proposals outlined Friday are modest enough to give Americans some confidence that their privacy will be better protected without creating a greater risk to their security."

Los Angeles Times editors called Obama's "NSA reforms a significant step."

His "overarching theme...was that, with the best of intentions, the government over which (he) presides has gone too far in taking advantage of advanced technology."

He must "restore the proper balance between security and privacy."

Since mid-2013, the Washington Post discussed Snowden documents in detail. Numerous articles explained how NSA violates personal privacy.

Unless Obama acts to change current policy, intrusive "programs will carry on unabated," said WaPo.

Obama tried putting lipstick on a pig. Expect nothing substantive ahead to change. Washington is a cesspool of lawlessness. Things are worse than ever now.

Congress and federal courts are in lockstep with the worst  administration policies. Rule of law principles don't matter. 

Government by diktats threatens everyone. Freedom is fast disappearing. It's happening in plain sight. 

Obama did more to destroy it than any previous president. It takes a giant leap of faith to think he'll reverse things.

He waged war on democratic values. He did so from day one in office. He's a duplicitous con man. He broke every major promise made. 

He wants Americans to trust him. He gives chutzpah new meaning. He intends business as usual. 

Sustained in-his-face public outrage is the only chance to stop him. Inertia so far keeps it contained.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He 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. 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

It airs Fridays 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

Hunger in America

Hunger in America

by Stephen Lendman

It's hard giving thanks when you're hungry. It's harder living in the world's richest country. It's harder still knowing government officials don't care. It's hardest of all wondering how you'll get by. 

More below on growing hunger and deprivation. It's increasing in America at a time trillions of dollars go for warmaking, corporate handouts, and other benefits for rich elites.

Giving thanks predated the republic. In 1621, Plymouth Pilgrims did so. They had nothing to do with originating the idea.

Native Americans did. They gave thanks for annual fall harvests. They did it centuries before settlers arrived.

On November 26, 1789, George Washington proclaimed the first national thanksgiving day.

He called it "a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God."

In 1863, Lincoln used the occasion to boost Union Army morale and patriotic fervor.

He "invite(d) (his) fellow citizens to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens."

He "fervently implore(d) the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of he nation and to restore it to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union."

He didn't live long enough to see it. Government officials today exploit Thanksgiving. They promote the illusion of US exceptionalism, moral and cultural superiority.

Social inequality, moral degeneration, and police state lawlessness reflect today's reality. Constitutional rights don't matter. 

War on humanity persists. Corporate crooks go unpunished. Democracy is a convenient illusion. Powerful monied interests run things. 

Ordinary people are hugely deprived. Growing needs go unaddressed. Government officials able to make a difference don't care.

Thanksgiving has many disturbing ironies. Presidents annually issue a "pardon." It spares a preselected turkey's life. It does so by proclamation. This year two were spared. 

It's unclear precisely when the tradition began. Lincoln did so. Thanksgiving day 1963 was November 28. Kennedy was assassinated six days earlier. Before his death, he let one turkey live. "We'll just let this one grow," he said.

Nixon began sending turkeys to a petting farm near Washington. He did so after a White House photo-op ceremony. No formal pardon was given.

GHW Bush was the first president to do it. On November 14, 1989, he said a preselected turkey was "granted a presidential pardon as of right now."

Obama issued annual presidential pardons. On Wednesday, he spared two turkeys. 

"The office of the presidency, the most powerful position in the world, brings with it many awesome and solemn responsibilities," he said. "This is not one of them."

"Tomorrow, as we gather with our own friends and family, we'll count ourselves lucky that there's more to be thankful for than we can ever say and more to be hopeful for than we can ever imagine."

A November 27 White House press release said in part:

"On Wednesday, November 27, 2013, President Obama will pardon the National Thanksgiving Turkey in a ceremony on the North Portico."  

"The President will celebrate the 66th anniversary of the National Thanksgiving Turkey presentation, reflect upon the time-honored traditions of Thanksgiving, and wish American families a warm, safe, and healthy holiday."

"After the pardoning, the turkeys will be driven to George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens."  

"The National Thanksgiving Turkey will be on display for visitors during 'Christmas at Mount Vernon,' a traditional program through January 6."  

"The turkeys will then travel to their permanent home at Morven Park’s Turkey Hill, the historic turkey farm located at the home of former Virginia Governor Westmoreland Davis (1918-1922) in Leesburg, Virginia."

Jaindl's Turkey Farm in Orefield, Pennsylvania, gave President Obama's family two dressed turkeys that will be donated to a local area food bank."

They need much more than that nationwide. Hunger in America is real. Millions are affected. 

Official numbers understate a growing crisis. Congress ignores it. Food stamps were cut when they're most needed. Further cuts are planned.

On December 31, millions will lose extended unemployment benefits unless Congress renews them. Both parties show little inclination to do so. Bipartisan complicity reflects indifference.

On July 28, AP headlined "Exclusive: Signs of Declining Economic Security," saying:

"Four out of 5 US adults struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives."

It's a disturbing "sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream."

"Survey data exclusive to The Associated Press points to an increasingly globalized US economy, the widening gap between rich and poor, and loss of good-paying manufacturing jobs as reasons for the trend."

Government data fall short of explaining things. Conditions are much worse than official reports. 

Most Americans struggle to get by. Impoverishment or close to it affect them. So do millions experiencing hunger.

Franklin Roosevelt instituted the first Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It began in May 1939. In 1941, he pledged freedom from want.

On January 11, 1944, he delivered his last State of the Union address. He proposed a second bill of rights.

"This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights," he said.

"They were our rights to life and liberty."

"As our nation has grown in size and stature, however - as our industrial economy expanded - these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness."

His solution was "economic bill of rights." He wanted one guaranteeing:

  • employment with a living wage;

  • freedom from unfair competition and monopolies;

  • housing;

  • medical care;

  • education; and

  • social security. 

Imagine if he'd lived long enough to implement it. Imagine this type America today. Hunger, homelessness, unemployment and poverty wouldn't be major problems.

State-sponsored class war exacerbates them. Growing millions need help. They face increasing hardships. 

Force-fed austerity harms America's most disadvantaged. Their numbers are far greater than most people think. 

Half of US households are impoverished or bordering it. Growing millions struggle to get by. They haven't enough to live on.

Most households with one or more workers live from paycheck to paycheck. They have little or no savings. 

They're one missed pay day away from being unable to handle daily expenses. They risk hunger, homelessness and deep poverty.

They live in the world's richest country. It spurns its most disadvantaged. Doing so swells their numbers. They suffer out of sight and mind.

Banks, other corporate favorites and super-rich elites are disproportionately favored. America was never beautiful. It's less so than ever today. It's dark side reflects reality.

Obama is no Roosevelt. He's polar opposite. Anti-populism defines his agenda. Transferring America's wealth to its most well-off is official policy. 

He wants vital New Deal/Great Society programs eliminated. He wants them privatized en route to doing so.

Throughout his tenure, he instituted numerous social benefit cuts. He's got more in mind. He's heading America toward third world status. He lies claiming otherwise.

Hungry Americans don't matter. Half or more are children. Many attending schools with hot breakfasts or lunches may get their only decent daily meal.

Most households receiving food stamps have at least one employed member. According to the Food Journal, they "typically include a child, elderly person or a disable person, and a gross income of $744 a month."

Average rents nationwide exceed $1,200 monthly. A tiny upscale Kansas City, MO 800 square-foot one bedroom apartment costs about $1,000 a month.

Median rents in America's least expensive cities range from $623 to $730 on average. It's a far cry from much cheaper earlier times.

Households earning $700+ a month struggle from day to day to get by. They need help doing so. Washington provides increasingly less during hard times. 

Republicans and Democrats don't give a damn. Today's America is a let 'em eat cake society. 

Growing millions are on their own sink or swim. Protracted Main Street Depression era conditions persist. Things are getting worse, not better.

Thanksgiving is no time for celebration. Not when hunger reflects daily reality for millions. It's been this way for years. Major media editors largely ignore it.

On November 25, 2009, a New York Times editorial headlined, "A Thanksgiving Toast," saying:

"Sitting down with friends and family today, there will be thanks for the steady currents, flowing out of the past, that have brought us to this table....And there will be prayerful thanks for the future."

In November 2010, dismissive Washington Post editors headlined "Thanksgiving's unchanging appeal," saying:

We're "fortunate to be alive and fed and sheltered, and the proper response to our good fortune is not self-satisfaction but gratitude."

Fact check

Poverty, homelessness and hunger are at Depression era levels. Feeding America (FA) is Chicago-based. It calls itself the nation's "leading domestic hunger-relief charity."

It serves the needy "through a nationwide network of member food banks."

In February 2010, it issued a report titled "Hunger in America 2010." In 2014, it plans updating it. Conditions now are much worse. 

They were bad enough then. About 5.7 million Americans needed emergency food aid. It was over one-fourth more than in 2005.

It said one in eight Americans are food insecure. Around 14 million children were affected. It's about 16 million now. They don't get enough food to eat.

FA calls food insecurity "a complex, multifaceted phenomenon that varies along a continuum of successive stages as it becomes more severe." 

Food secure households lets them "access...enough food for an active, health life."

"(T)he existence of so many people without secure access to adequate nutritious food represents a serious national concern."

"More than one in three client households are experiencing very low food security - or hunger - a 54 percent increase" compared to data FA compiled in a 2006 report.

At the time, former FA CEO Vicki Escarra said:

"Clearly, the economic recession, resulting in dramatically increasing unemployment nationwide, has driven unprecedented, sharp increases in the need for emergency food assistance and enrollment in federal nutrition programs." 

"Hunger in America 2010 exposes the absolutely tragic reality of just how many people in our nation don't have enough to eat." 

"Millions of our clients are families with children finding themselves in need of food assistance for the very first time." 

"It's morally reprehensible that we live in the wealthiest nation in the world where one in six people are struggling to make choices between food and other basic services."

On November 27, FA's CEO Bob Aiken said in part:

"With the holiday season here and with many of us sitting down to a table full of food this Thanksgiving, it's hard not to reflect on the 49 million people in our country who struggle with hunger."  

"And it's especially hard not to think of those families who earlier this month saw their SNAP benefits cut, further straining their food budgets."

"We've seen throughout our network of food banks the impact that these cuts are already beginning to have - with longer lines and an anticipated growth in need." 

"Our food banks are stretched and charity alone can't make up for this cut to federal assistance." 

"And with the possibility of further cuts to the program via the farm bill, there is real concern that the need for food will not be met."

"(W)e know hunger isn't seasonal - it's a year-round problem. It's our job to make sure that we shine a light on this issue all year, not just around the holidays."

In 2012, FA said 49 million Americans were food insecure. It affected 17.6 million households.

About seven million households experienced "very low food security." Households with children reported "a significantly higher rate than those without children, 20 percent compared to 11.0 percent."

Food insecurity persists across America. It's in every county. It ranges from 2.4% in Slope County, ND to 35.2% in Holmes County, MS.

America's national average is 14.7%. Ten states are significantly higher:

Mississippi: 20.9%

Arkansas: 19.7%

Texas: 18.4%

Alabama: 17.9%

North Carolina: 17%

Georgia: 16.9%

Missouri: 16.7%

Nevada: 16.6%

Ohio: 16.1%

California: 15.6%

Hunger in the world's richest country is intolerable. It's unconscionable. It persists. It's worsening. It's the shame of an uncaring nation.

Families without enough to eat aren't celebrating. They're struggling to find enough food to survive. Bipartisan complicity ignores them.

Anti-populism is official policy. Harder than ever hard times persist. Failure to address it reflects America's dark side. 

Equity and justice aren't in its vocabulary. It bears repeating. Today's America is a let 'em eat cake society. Hard times keep getting harder.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He 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. 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

It airs Fridays 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/hunger-america/

Thom Hartmann’s War on Your Mind

By James F. Tracy

In October a debate ensued on Memory Hole and at Project Censored regarding Alex Jones and Infowars’ legitimacy and trustworthiness as news sources. The exchange began when Nolan Higdon presented various predictions made by Jones that were not borne out by subsequent events.

Yet it looks as if the gloom and doom-style Jones has been taken to task for is being appropriated and given a “liberal” spin by Thom Hartmann–also a longtime proponent anthropogenic global warming theory. The progressive-left author and talk show host has begun touting his new conspiracy-flavored book, The Great Crash of 2016: The Plot to Destroy America–and What We Can Do to Stop It.

Hartmann and Jones are well-acquainted, having on occasion simulcast their weekday radio programs where they once expressed mutual appreciation of each others’ views and work. For example, on April 15, 2009 the two personalities co-hosted a remarkable hour-length segment in which they generally found common ground on numerous issues–civil liberties, the financial industry’s gigantic influence over federal governance, the growing militarized police state, and even local militias.

Indeed, at one point during the above referenced broadcast Hartmann remarked, “I think that actually as Americans, Alex, who believe in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, there’s more that unites [libertarians and progressives] than divides us” (Alex Jones and Thom Hartmann 3/4 at 8:55).

Yet in subsequent years, the two personalities drifted apart. As the reality of Obama’s presidency and shifting political winds set in Hartmann went on to host a program at RT where he increasingly disparaged Jones and the Truth movement, and from this perch even seemed to vie for a post at MSNBC.

Unlike Jones’ hillbilly-meets-DARPA-whistleblower rants, Hartmann consciously plays the bespectacled scholarly-type, appealing to his self-styled dispassionate and rational progressive audience. Appearing on Democracy Now! this week, the liberal talker’s sturm und drang economic forecast at first glance resembles not only Jones, but also Texas Congressman Ron Paul, libertarian talk show host Peter Schiff and “Father of Reaganomics” Paul Craig Roberts. Among others, these economic analysts argue that the private Federal Reserve bank’s incessant and fervent money printing will inevitably lead to and intensify the coming economic cataclysm.

Hartmann appears to “borrow” from these observers by arguing that such a crash is indeed unavoidable. Yet in a clear sleight of hand the pedantic doomsayer completely evades the problem of monetary profligacy by suggesting how the Obama administration and Fed are earnestly staving off the final reckoning. Is this White House-inspired (or perhaps sponsored) propaganda? Here are some outtakes and reinterpretations from the recent interview below (beginning at about 2:05).

“Obama was successful in the first few months of his administration by putting enough of a band aid on it that they’re holding this back with bailing wire and bubble gum.”

[Translation: The Federal Reserve (US Taxpayer) shoveled untold trillions to the bankers and corporatists to temporarily prop up the economy with another gigantic stock market bubble, yet the Fed can't print forever.]

Hartmann: “But, Bush had hoped—he saw this coming, the Bush administration—had hoped [sic] that he could wait until November 2008 so that it would be after the election so that it wouldn’t hurt the Republican candidate. He was unsuccessful.”

[Translation: The two party system is continuously at odds and competing to represent the popular will. There’s absolutely no chance that such a crash was engineered by Wall Street financiers to ensure an Obama-Biden victory. Or, “free markets capitalism” inevitably leads to dire crises.]

Hartmann: “The Obama administration is now—because they’re not doing the real structural changes necessary—they’re hoping they can push it off until 2016 and that’s why we chose that date [in the book’s title]. Now there’s an enormous amount of effort in our government and in the Fed to try to hold this off ‘til after the election of 2016. Whether they’re successful or not I don’t know [sic]. This literally could happen overnight.”

[Translation: We are doomed! Again, any conflict worthy of public attention takes place directly on the political stage. The good guys—you know, the Democratic Party, the Federal Reserve, and the prevailing economic scheme controlled by central banking--aren't fleecing taxpayers and the economic system but rather saving them.]

Some representatives of the “fanatical right wing” that progressives so readily point to in arguments about the deficit and economy argue that such a crash is in fact being intensified by the careless monetary policies of the Fed, which continue and intensify with the tacit approval of the US Congress and Obama administration. In fact, the federal debt has grown seventy percent under Obama–from $10 to $17 trillion. Such a reckless monetary policy is tailor-made for politicians who cannot resist a money-printing press that allows them to “kick the can down the road,” while leaving Americans with the ever-expanding tab.

Hartmann attempts to commandeer the economic thesis long-articulated by libertarians and their advocacy for “sound money,” while tempering it for those who hang on every word uttered by Paul Krugman. The upshot of Hartmann’s (and the overall Keynesian) version, however, is that profligate monetary policy is not the cause of the present problem, but remains to a large degree its solution. Nevermind the fact that America’s industrial base has been thoroughly gutted.

For example, Hartmann argues how the buildup to the next disaster is a replay of the prelude to the 1929 crash and, moreover, how both are rooted in “conspiracies” and “plots” developed by “economic royalists,” “banksters,” and “globalism,” against which the federal bureaucracy (FDR and his postwar successors) wages a valiant struggle.

Yet Hartmann’s sensationalism doesn’t end there. He goes on to reference his previous anthropogenic  climate change propaganda, describing the deathly carbon-based greenhouse gases destined to do us all in should they be allowed to increase even minutely over the next several decades. But wait! The scenario is even more dire. According to Hartmann (at around 12:35 in the DN! interview video above), such apocalyptic climate change could take place almost overnight, and is something the (some would argue fraudulant) United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “is not talking about.”

“It’s a very significant stressor,” Hartmann somberly informs Goodman in the November 12 interview. “Scientists [and] people are hysterical or very concerned” about the imminent release of

trillions of tons of methane hydrate–methane frozen up in ice, in the arctic and around continental shelves. If that melts, then there will be a sudden global warming. And when you look at the five past extinctions on planet earth every single one was triggered by one of these methane releases.

This will come to pass unless, of course, we can drastically reform our behavior and energy consumption … and assuming the forthcoming economic crash doesn’t get us first, or both don’t hit simultaneously.

But, hey, whoever said that a talk show host should be held accountable for making extravagant claims and suggesting that the modern situation is almost completely hopeless? Further, is the promotion of unfounded conspiracy theories and historical revisionism really all that bad? If you’re championing the “correct” political stances then negativity appears to become prophetic, shadowy plots constitute accurate economic and historical analysis and projections, and UN-distilled interpretations of climate science and “green” advocacy literature are embraced as genuine climatological research. Taken as a whole, Thom Hartmann delivers the entire package in an absolute war on your mind that is without parallel.

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CETA is more than a trade deal and not in a good way

Since announcing the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) three weeks ago, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have repeatedly labelled those questioning the deal as “anti-trade.” But this Canada-European Union accord is one part trade and four parts corporate bill of rights. … Continue reading

Global Drone Warfare, Targeted Assassinations Supported by NSA Surveillance

The Post’s report, “Documents reveal NSA’s extensive involvement in targeted killing program,” testifies to the integration of the surveillance apparatus exposed in recent months into US imperialism’s global military operations. Officials cited by the Post said that the NSA has deployed analysts to work along side Central Intelligence Agency personnel at the CIA Counterterrorism Center and at “every major US embassy or military base overseas.”

The report further documents the NSA’s systematic attempts to overcome encryption, including the extraction of PGP encryption keys from targets. The agency reportedly was able to capture 16 keys from a single electronic raid on a suspected Al Qaeda computer.

According to the report, the NSA’s “Tailored Access Operations,” a cyber-warfare and intelligence gathering program, conducts surveillance of targets in Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Iran, and throughout Africa. TAO runs programs such as UNITEDRAKE and VALIDATOR, which launch cyber attacks using “software implants” to grab sensitive data such as keystroke logs and audio files.

ArsTechnica reported in August that advanced software used by TAO enables operatives to tap directly into hardware such as “routers, switches and firewalls,” and that TAO’s activities are integrated into data systems such as XKeyscore.

Information gathered by the NSA has been used in particular in the course of the CIA’s drone war in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan. As summarized by the Post, the NSA has “draped a surveillance blanket over dozens of square miles of northwest Pakistan.” One US intelligence official told the Post, “NSA threw the kitchen sink at the FATA.” To date, at least 3,000 people have been killed as a result of US drone operations in Pakistan, including hundreds of civilians.

Both the NSA surveillance and the policy of drone war that it facilitates are criminal operations, carried out in violation of international law. The Obama administration asserts the right to kill anyone in the world without due process, including US citizens, in violation of the Bill of Rights. Among those killed have been US citizens including Anwar al-Awlaki and his teenage son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, in Yemen.

A full accounting of the Pakistanis murdered by US drones may never be completed. However, a study published by Stanford University and New York University earlier this year showed that large sections of the population living in the FATA suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the buzzing of drones overhead and the never-ending barrage of ordnance raining down on the area.

UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights Ben Emmerson wrote in March of this year, “As a matter of international law, the US drone campaign is therefore being conducted without the consent of the elected representatives of the people, or the legitimate government of the state. It involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent, and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.”

The Post described the leaked NSA documents as “self-congratulatory in tone” and “drafted to tout the NSA’s counterterrorism capabilities.” According to Fox News, the Post withheld substantial information about the drone strikes “at the request of US intelligence officials.”

The Post report highlights the case of Hassan Ghul, who was killed as a direct result of intelligence acquired through electronic surveillance operations run by the NSA. After his capture in 2004, Ghul was held at a secret CIA prison in Eastern Europe until 2006, where he was subject to “enhanced interrogation techniques” (i.e., torture), including slapping, sleep deprivation, and stress positions.

In 2006, Ghul was transferred to Pakistan, where he was released and rejoined Al Qaeda militants in Waziristan. Ghul worked to set up logistical networks for Al Qaeda after being freed, according to a Treasury Department document from 2011. No explanation has been offered by US or Pakistani authorities for Ghul’s release.

Ghul was then killed in 2012 by a drone strike in Mir Ali, after having been monitored for a year prior to his death by a secret NSA unit called the Counter-Terrorism Mission Aligned Cell (CT MAC), which specializes in finding high priority targets in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Ghul’s location was discovered through analysis of an email sent to him by his wife. His death was never officially acknowledged by the US government, despite the fact that his interrogation supposedly provided intelligence about an Al Qaeda courier named al-Kuwaiti, which supposedly led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The scope of the integration of the NSA, CIA, military and police agencies extends far beyond what is taking place in Pakistan. The entire world is the subject both of the intelligence-gathering operations of the NSA and the drone strikes of the CIA.

Under the Obama administration, the NSA’s surveillance operations gather the communications of every telephone and Internet user on the planet, US citizens and non-citizens alike. This week has already seen new evidence emerge that the NSA is stealing address books—which often contain large amounts of personal information—from various web platforms and storing them in its archives. (See “ NSA ‘harvesting’ electronic address books and contact lists”)

The possibility of strikes being launched against American targets has been raised by top officials, and drones are already deployed on non-strike missions over the US. In a letter of March 4, 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote that the president “has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a US citizen on US soil, and without trial,” saying that in certain cases such action would be “necessary and appropriate.”

If and when such operations are initiated, the state will have no shortage of data with which to target Americans, whose communications are subject to constant scrutiny by the surveillance apparatus.

NSA surveillance programs facilitate global drone war

 

By Thomas Gaist
18 October 2013

Documents leaked by Edward Snowden and published in the Washington Post Wednesday show that NSA surveillance operations play a key role in the global campaign of assassinations being waged by the Obama administration.

The Post’s report, “Documents reveal NSA’s extensive involvement in targeted killing program,” testifies to the integration of the surveillance apparatus exposed in recent months into US imperialism’s global military operations. Officials cited by the Post said that the NSA has deployed analysts to work along side Central Intelligence Agency personnel at the CIA Counterterrorism Center and at “every major US embassy or military base overseas.”

The report further documents the NSA’s systematic attempts to overcome encryption, including the extraction of PGP encryption keys from targets. The agency reportedly was able to capture 16 keys from a single electronic raid on a suspected Al Qaeda computer.

According to the report, the NSA’s “Tailored Access Operations,” a cyber-warfare and intelligence gathering program, conducts surveillance of targets in Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Iran, and throughout Africa. TAO runs programs such as UNITEDRAKE and VALIDATOR, which launch cyber attacks using “software implants” to grab sensitive data such as keystroke logs and audio files.

ArsTechnica reported in August that advanced software used by TAO enables operatives to tap directly into hardware such as “routers, switches and firewalls,” and that TAO’s activities are integrated into data systems such as XKeyscore.

Information gathered by the NSA has been used in particular in the course of the CIA’s drone war in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan. As summarized by the Post, the NSA has “draped a surveillance blanket over dozens of square miles of northwest Pakistan.” One US intelligence official told the Post, “NSA threw the kitchen sink at the FATA.” To date, at least 3,000 people have been killed as a result of US drone operations in Pakistan, including hundreds of civilians.

Both the NSA surveillance and the policy of drone war that it facilitates are criminal operations, carried out in violation of international law. The Obama administration asserts the right to kill anyone in the world without due process, including US citizens, in violation of the Bill of Rights. Among those killed have been US citizens including Anwar al-Awlaki and his teenage son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, in Yemen.

A full accounting of the Pakistanis murdered by US drones may never be completed. However, a study published by Stanford University and New York University earlier this year showed that large sections of the population living in the FATA suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the buzzing of drones overhead and the never-ending barrage of ordnance raining down on the area.

UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights Ben Emmerson wrote in March of this year, “As a matter of international law, the US drone campaign is therefore being conducted without the consent of the elected representatives of the people, or the legitimate government of the state. It involves the use of force on the territory of another state without its consent, and is therefore a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.”

The Post described the leaked NSA documents as “self-congratulatory in tone” and “drafted to tout the NSA’s counterterrorism capabilities.” According to Fox News, the Post withheld substantial information about the drone strikes “at the request of US intelligence officials.”

The Post report highlights the case of Hassan Ghul, who was killed as a direct result of intelligence acquired through electronic surveillance operations run by the NSA. After his capture in 2004, Ghul was held at a secret CIA prison in Eastern Europe until 2006, where he was subject to “enhanced interrogation techniques” (i.e., torture), including slapping, sleep deprivation, and stress positions.

In 2006, Ghul was transferred to Pakistan, where he was released and rejoined Al Qaeda militants in Waziristan. Ghul worked to set up logistical networks for Al Qaeda after being freed, according to a Treasury Department document from 2011. No explanation has been offered by US or Pakistani authorities for Ghul’s release.

Ghul was then killed in 2012 by a drone strike in Mir Ali, after having been monitored for a year prior to his death by a secret NSA unit called the Counter-Terrorism Mission Aligned Cell (CT MAC), which specializes in finding high priority targets in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Ghul’s location was discovered through analysis of an email sent to him by his wife. His death was never officially acknowledged by the US government, despite the fact that his interrogation supposedly provided intelligence about an Al Qaeda courier named al-Kuwaiti, which supposedly led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The scope of the integration of the NSA, CIA, military and police agencies extends far beyond what is taking place in Pakistan. The entire world is the subject both of the intelligence-gathering operations of the NSA and the drone strikes of the CIA.

Under the Obama administration, the NSA’s surveillance operations gather the communications of every telephone and Internet user on the planet, US citizens and non-citizens alike. This week has already seen new evidence emerge that the NSA is stealing address books—which often contain large amounts of personal information—from various web platforms and storing them in its archives. (See “ NSA ‘harvesting’ electronic address books and contact lists”)

The possibility of strikes being launched against American targets has been raised by top officials, and drones are already deployed on non-strike missions over the US. In a letter of March 4, 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote that the president “has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a US citizen on US soil, and without trial,” saying that in certain cases such action would be “necessary and appropriate.”

If and when such operations are initiated, the state will have no shortage of data with which to target Americans, whose communications are subject to constant scrutiny by the surveillance apparatus.

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Extreme Political Correctness Is Making Public School Education Pure Hell For America’s Children

Political Correctness

Political correctness is taking over America, and this is especially true when it comes to our public schools.  In the United States today, our public schools are being transformed into “Big Brother” training centers where virtually everything that our children do inside and even outside of school is being monitored, tracked, scrutinized and put into permanent records.  As you will read about below, some U.S. public schools are now even monitoring the social media accounts of their students and are ready to pounce on any perceived violation.  “Zero tolerance” policies have been implemented at public schools nationwide, and if a student does break “the rules”, it can result in immediate arrest and it can end up haunting them for the rest of their lives.  Meanwhile, the content of the “educational instruction” that our children are receiving continues to decline.  At this point, public schools in American have become little more than government indoctrination centers, and a steady stream of politically correct propaganda is being endlessly pumped into their heads.  Our children may not know how to read, write or do math very well, but they sure do know how to let others do their thinking for them.  As a result, most of our public school students are dumb as a rock, and as you will see below a new study has found that U.S. adults “are dumber than the average human”.

Political correctness in our schools has become so pervasive that it has even crept into the playgrounds.  For example, footballs and baseballs have been deemed “dangerous” at one middle school in Long Island and have been permanently banned…

As CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported Monday, officials at Weber Middle School in Port Washington are worried that students are getting hurt during recess. Thus, they have instituted a ban on footballs, baseballs, lacrosse balls, or anything that might hurt someone on school grounds.

But if that was the worst our kids had to put up with, they could certainly survive it.

Unfortunately, these days a single politically incorrect mistake by your kid could result in an arrest and being hauled out of school in handcuffs.  Just consider the following examples from a recent article by John Whitehead

These days, it is far too easy to rattle off the outrageous examples of zero tolerance policy run amok in our nation’s schools. A 14-year-old student arrested for texting in class. Three middle school aged boys in Florida thrown to the ground by police officers wielding rifles, who then arrested them for goofing off on the roof of the school. A 9-year-old boy suspended for allegedly pointing a toy at a classmate and saying “bang, bang.” Two 6-year-old students in Maryland suspended for using their fingers as imaginary guns in a schoolyard game of cops and robbers. A 12-year-old New York student hauled out of school in handcuffs for doodling on her desk with an erasable marker. An 8-year-old boy suspended for making his hand into the shape of a gun, in violation of the school district’s policy prohibiting “playing with invisible guns.” A 17-year-old charged with a felony for keeping his tackle box in his car parked on school property, potentially derailing his chances of entering the Air Force. Two seventh graders in Virginia suspended for the rest of the school year for playing with airsoft guns in their own yard before school.

This is the constant danger that is looming over the heads of our public school students today.  And what makes this even worse are the “zero tolerance” policies that have been put in place all over the country.  It does not matter if your kid is a straight A student that has never done a single thing wrong.  If your kid breaks the politically correct rules, the hammer will be brought down on your kid very hard.  And according to Whitehead, many schools are now continually monitoring the social media accounts of their students for any “violations”…

Despite a general consensus that zero tolerance policies have failed to have any appreciable impact on student safety, schools have doubled down on these policies to the detriment of children all across the nation. Indeed, the zero tolerance mindset is so entrenched among school administrators all over America that we are now seeing school officials reaching into the personal lives of students to police their behavior at all times. For example, 13,000 students in the Glendale Unified School District in California are now being subjected to constant social media monitoring by school officials. Superintendent Richard Sheehan has hired private firm Geo Listening to analyze the public social media posts of students both off and on campus. Whether on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or any other social media platform, students will have their posts and comments analyzed for evidence of “bullying, cyber-bullying, hate and shaming activities, depression, harm and self harm, self hate and suicide, crime, vandalism, substance abuse and truancy.”

Unfortunately, the Glendale program is simply one component of a larger framework in which all student activity is treated as an open book by school administrators. What we are witnessing is a paradigm shift in American society, in which no personal activity is safe from the prying eyes of government agents and their corporate allies. Every decision and action, no matter how innocent, is scrutinized, analyzed, filed, stored, and eventually held against you when those in power feel like it.

You can read the remainder of Whitehead’s outstanding article right here.

So does it make you feel safer knowing that school authorities are “monitoring” your kids at all times?

And while they are sitting in the classroom, the goal is to “shape young minds” to accept the politically correct agenda of the progressives.

If parents only knew what was going on in these classrooms they would be absolutely shocked.  For example, one sixth grade class in Arkansas was recently given an assignment to “revise” the Bill of Rights because it has become “outdated”

Sixth graders at the Bryant School District in Arkansas were given an assignment to “revise” the “outdated” Bill of Rights by deleting and replacing two amendments, using the “War on Terror” and the Patriot Act as a guide.

The worksheet, which is the first Constitutional assignment of the school year, tells students that they will be on a “National Revised Bill of Rights Task Force” who will “prioritize, prune, and add amendments” for a “Revised Bill of Rights.”

“The government of the United States is currently revisiting the Bill of Rights,” the assignment states. “They have determined that it is outdated and may not remain in its current form any longer.”

Is that the kind of stuff that you want your kid to be taught?

Meanwhile, the reading, writing and math skills of U.S. students continue to decline.  The following is an excerpt from a recent article by Dave Hodges

For the most part, the end product our schools are producing is grossly substandard. SAT reading scores have declined to 40 year lows and there is no sign of a rebound. Since reading is the key to all knowledge, we are sending our children to a gunfight with a butter knife. Before the defenders of the public school system raise their voices in opposition, everyone needs to realize that our school children have been under attack for decades. Even the best educators have referred to our public education system as “the deliberate dumbing down of America.”

The results of our foolish national experiment with progressive education are predictable.  A brand new international study just released by the U.S. Department of Education revealed that “U.S. adults are dumber than the average human“.  The following is how USA Today described the findings of the study…

Americans have been hearing for years that their kids are lagging behind the rest of the developed world in skills. Now it’s the adults’ turn for a reality check.

A first-ever international comparison of the labor force in 23 industrialized nations shows that Americans ages 16 to 65 fall below international averages in basic problem-solving, reading and math skills, with gaps between the more- and less-educated in the USA larger than those of many other countries.

What is the solution?

Well, it would be nice if our public schools would stop doing all of the politically correct garbage and would start focusing on reading, writing and math again.

But we all know that is not going to happen.

So it is up to individual parents to make the choices that are going to be right for their own children.  Our kids are not going to be getting a high quality education in the public schools, but they are not going to be able to be successful in life without one.

About the author: Michael T. Snyder is a former Washington D.C. attorney who now publishes The Truth. His new thriller entitled “The Beginning Of The End” is now available on Amazon.com.

Michael T. Snyder's Shocking New Novel About The Future Of America

Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement: A Corporate Power Grab

Countercurrents and Global Research 4/10/2013

The Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) between the US and EU intends to create the world's largest free trade area, 'protect' investment and remove ‘unnecessary regulatory barriers’. Corporate interests are driving the agenda, with the public having been sidelined. Unaccountable, pro-free-trade bureaucrats from both sides of the Atlantic are facilitating the strategy (1) 

In addition to the biotech sector and Big Pharma, groups lobbying for the deal have included Toyota, General Motors, IBM and the powerful lobby group the Chamber of Commerce of the US. Business Europe, the main organisation representing employers in Europe, launched its own strategy on an EU-US economic and trade partnership in early 2012. Its suggestions were widely included in the draft EU mandate.


An increasing number of politicians and citizens groups have criticised the secretive negotiations and are demanding that they be conducted in an open way. This is growing concern that the negotiations could result in the opening of the floodgates for GMOs and shale gas (fracking) in Europe, the threatening of digital and labour rights or the empowering of corporations to legally challenge a wide range of regulations which they dislike.


One of the key aspects of the negotiations is that both the EU and US should recognise their respective rules and regulations, which in practice could reduce regulation to the lowest common denominator. The official language talks of ‘mutual recognition’ of standards or so-called reduction of non-tariff barriers. For the EU, that could mean accepting US standards in many areas, including food and agriculture, which are lower than the EU's.


The US wants all so-called barriers to trade, including controversial regulations such as those protecting agriculture, food or data privacy, to be removed. Even the leaders of the Senate Finance Committee, in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, made it clear that any agreement must reduce EU restrictions on genetically modified crops, chlorinated chickens and hormone-treated beef.


The public in Europe does not want such things. People want powerful corporations to be held to account and their pratices regulated by elected representatives who they trust to protect their interests, the public good. However, the TAFTA seems an ideal opportunity for corporations to force wholly unpopular and dangerous policies through via secretive, undemocratic means. They have been unable to do this in a democratic and transparent manner, so secret back room deals represent a different option.


Corporate demands include an “ambitious liberalisation of agricultural trade barriers with as few exceptions as possible.” Food lobby group Food and Drink Europe, representing the largest food companies (Unilever, Kraft, Nestlé, etc.), has welcomed the negotiations, with one of their key demands being the facilitation of the low level presence of unapproved genetically modified crops. This is a long-standing industry agenda also supported by feed and grain trading giants, including Cargill, Bunge, ADM and the big farmers' lobby COPA-COGECA. Meanwhile, the biotech industry on both sides of the Atlantic is offering its “support and assistance as the EU and the US government look to enhance their trade relationship.”


New Report


If the pro-free-market bureaucrats and corporations get their way and successfully bar the public from any kind of meaningful information input into the world’s biggest trade deal ever to be negotiated, Europeans could end up becoming the victims of one of the biggest corporate stitch ups ever. Left unchallenged, it will allow huge private interests to dig their profiteering snouts into the trough of corporate greed at the expense of ordinary people.


And that’s not hyperbole. Such a view is confirmed by the release of a new report on the eve of the second round of negotiations that are due to begin in Brussels next week.


The report, published by the Seattle to Brussels Network (S2B) (2), reveals the true human and environmental costs of the proposed TAFTA. ‘A Brave New Transatlantic Partnership highlights how the European Commission’s promises of up to 1% GDP growth and massive job creation through the EU-US trade deal are not supported even by its own studies, which predict a growth rate of just 0.01% GDP over the next ten years and the potential loss of jobs in several economic sectors, including agriculture.


The report also explains how corporations are lobbying EU-US trade negotiators to use the deal to weaken food safety, labour, health and environmental standards as well as undermine digital rights. Attempts to strengthen banking regulation in the face of the financial crisis could also be jeopardised as the financial lobby uses the secretive trade negotiations to undo financial reforms, such as restrictions on the total value of financial transactions or the legal form of its operations.


Kim Bizzarri, the author of the report:

“Big business lobbies on both sides of the Atlantic view the secretive trade negotiations as a weapon for getting rid of policies aimed at protecting European and US consumers, workers and our planet. If their corporate wish-list is implemented, it will concentrate even more economic and political power within the hands of a small elite, leaving all of us without protection from corporate wrongdoings.”

The report also warns that the agreement could open the floodgate to multi-million Euro lawsuits from corporations who can challenge democratic policies at international tribunals if they interfere with their profits.

Pia Eberhardt, trade campaigner with Corporate Europe Observatory and author of ‘A transatlantic corporate bill of rights’:

“The proposed investor rights in the transatlantic trade deal show what it is really about: It’s a power grab from corporations to rein in democracy and handcuff governments that seek to regulate in the public interest. It’s only a matter of time before European citizens start paying the price in higher taxes and diminished social protection.”

Consumer watchdogs, digital rights and trade activists, environmentalists and trade unions are preparing to fight the corporate dystopia put forward in the EU-US trade deal.


Luis Rico of Ecologistas en Acción, a member of the Seattle to Brussels network:

“We hope that the disturbing evidence we provide will show why all concerned citizens and parliamentarians on both sides of the Atlantic need to urgently mobilise against the proposed EU-US trade deal. We have to derail this corporate power grab that threatens to worsen the livelihood of the millions of people already seriously affected by the financial crisis and by the crippling consequences of Europe's austerity reforms.”


Do we want increasingly bad and unhealthy food, our rights at work being further eroded, the environment being damaged in the chase for profit, ever greater reckless gambling in the financial sector or our elected representatives being by-passed via international tribunals? Of course we don’t. 


Where is the democracy surrounding this proposed TAFTA? Where is ordinary people’s  protection from the ‘free’ market corporate-financial cabals that ultimately drive global economic policy and geo-political strategies? By translating corporate power into political influence at the G8, G20, WTO, NATO or elsewhere, whether it is by war, threats, debts or coercion, secretive and undemocratic free trade agreements are but one tool that very powerful corporations use in an attempt to cast the world in their own image (3,4).


The TAFTA is little more than an attempt at a corporate power grab masquerading as something that promotes growth, freedom, harmony and job creation. Those claims are bogus. It must be stopped



Notes



2)  The Seattle to Brussels Network (S2B) includes development, environmental, human rights, women and farmers organisations, trade unions and social movements working together for a truly sustainable, just and democratic trade policy in Europe. Corporate Europe Observatory is one of its members.




This Really Is Big Brother: The Leak Nobody’s Noticed

When the free press, explicitly protected in the bill of rights becomes equivalent to an "enemy of the United States" something very, very bad is happening.

“A Historic Moment”: California Couple on Decades-Long Legal Struggle for Marriage Equality

Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis have been deeply involved in the struggle to legalize same-sex marriage. They were two of the plaintiffs in the historic 2008 lawsuit that held California’s ban on same-sex marriage violated the state constitution. They have been together for 26 years and married in 2008 before Prop 8 passed. Both work at Marriage Equality USA: Gaffney is the media director, and Lewis is the legal director. In addition, Gaffney reflects on the legal challenges surrounding his parents’ marriage — his mother is Chinese American, and his father is white. In 1948, the California Supreme Court legalized interracial marriage, but other states did not recognize their marriage.

Transcript

Amy Goodman: For more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we're joined by Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis, a married couple from California deeply involved in the struggle to legalize same-sex marriage. They've been together for 26 years. They married in 2008 before Prop 8 passed. Both work at Marriage Equality USA. Stuart is the media director, and John, the legal director.

Stuart and John, we welcome you both to Democracy Now! First, as you sat in the Supreme Court yesterday, watching the arguments, can you talk about how you felt, as a married couple, also as two people deeply involved in the effort to overturn this proposition that the Supreme Court justices were considering yesterday? John, let's begin with you.

John Lewis: Yes, well, these cases are extremely emotional and extremely personal to us, because in the courtroom you hear abstract, somewhat appearing abstract legal theories being discussed, but these cases are truly about the lives of loving, committed same-sex couples and their children and their families. And so, it was a very, very emotional day, because so much is at stake for our lives.

Amy Goodman: Stuart, your response to what you sat through yesterday? Did you think you would be sitting there when you met 26 years ago?

Stuart Gaffney: You know, the sense of the historic moment hanging over these cases is incredible, and the atmosphere is really electric. We were plaintiffs in the California state case for equal marriage rights decided in 2008 by the California Supreme Court, so we were proud to be at the Supreme Court standing with the plaintiffs in these historic cases and with the legal teams, but really with the community, because, like our case in California, these are really the community's lawsuits. As my husband said, it really feels like our very lives are before the court. But there's no mistaking this historic moment. The momentum leading up to these hearings is incredible. Every day, when we turn to the headlines, there's some new poll showing increasing majority support nationwide for equal marriage rights.

We've come to Washington at several other historic junctures to protest the Bowers v. Hardwick decision in 1986 upholding sodomy laws, to celebrate the Lawrence v. Texas decision in 2003, which overturned sodomy laws. And we came back in 2004 after we exchanged vows in San Francisco City Hall. We came here on a bus tour across the country with other same-sex couples married in city hall and our friends and loved ones and allies and supporters to rally in Washington. And at that point, we really thought this is going to happen in our lifetimes. But now we're here, and we know it's happening in our lifetimes. In fact, it's happening as we speak. And these justices really need to decide what side of history they want to be on.

Amy Goodman: Attorney Charles Cooper represented ProtectMarriage.com and defended Prop 8 before the Supreme Court. He and Justice Anthony Kennedy sparred over the welfare of children of same-sex couples.

Justice Anthony Kennedy: I think that there's substantial—that there's substance to the point that sociological information is new. We have five years of information to weigh against 2,000 years of history, or more. On the other hand, there is an immediate legal injury, or legal—what could be a legal injury, and that's the voice of these children. There are some 40,000 children in California, according to the red brief, that live with same-sex parents, and they want their parents to have full recognition and full status. The voice of those children is important in this case, don't you think?

Charles Cooper: Your Honor, I certainly would not dispute the importance of that consideration. That consideration, especially in the political process, where this issue is being debated and will continue to be debated, certainly in California, is being debated elsewhere. But—but on that specific question, Your Honor, there simply is no data. In fact, their expert agreed there is no data, no study even, that would examine whether or not there is any incremental beneficial effect from marriage over and above the domestic partnership laws that were enacted by the state of California to recognize, support and honor same-sex relationships and their families. There's simply no data at all that would—that would permit one to draw—draw that conclusion.

Amy Goodman: That was attorney Charles Cooper. And before that, you heard Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was raising the issue of the 40,000 children of same-sex couples in California. Stuart Gaffney—or rather, John Lewis, as the legal director of Marriage Equality, can you talk about the legal argument here and what is suggested by what Justice Kennedy says about where he might vote, the key swing voter here?

John Lewis: Well, I was very impressed and encouraged by the way he talked about the real lives of those 40,000 children of same-sex couples. I think that the evidence is actually quite clear that lesbian and gay people are doing wonderful jobs raising kids. There's actually a tremendous amount of study having been devoted to the issue. There's decades of experience. Last week, the American Academy of Pediatricians came out in favor of marriage equality, and that's a very, very strong endorsement of how having the freedom to marry for a family is actually very beneficial to those children.

I think, in looking at the broadest context of the case, when we heard questions from the justices over all sorts of issues, from the procedural standing issues to questions about the particular circumstances in California and Proposition 8, to some of the broader questions about the freedom to marry as a right of every American, it's very difficult to predict where any of the justices are actually going to come out in the end. I'm very hopeful that when it's all said and done, that through one route or another Proposition 8 will no longer be enforceable after this case is decided.

Amy Goodman: Justice Scalia asked the plaintiffs' attorney, Theodore Olson, when it became unconstitutional to exclude homosexual couples from marriage.

Justice Antonin Scalia: You've led me right into a question I was going to ask. The California Supreme Court decides what the law is. That's what we decide, right? We don't prescribe law for the future. We decide what the law is. I'm curious: When did—when did it become unconstitutional to exclude homosexual couples from marriage? 1791? 1868, when the 14th Amendment was adopted? Sometimes—sometime after Baker, where we said it didn't even raise a substantial federal question? When—

Theodore Olson: When—

Justice Antonin Scalia: When did the law become this?

Theodore Olson: May I answer this in the form of a rhetorical question? When did it become unconstitutional to prohibit interracial marriages? When did it become unconstitutional to assign children to separate schools?

Justice Antonin Scalia: Easy questions. Was it always unconstitutional?

Theodore Olson: It was constitutional when we, as a culture, determined that sexual orientation is a characteristic of individuals that they cannot control, and that that—

Justice Antonin Scalia: I see. When did that happen? When did that happen?

Theodore Olson: There's no specific date in time. This is an [inaudible]—

Justice Antonin Scalia: Well, how am I supposed to know how to decide a case—

Theodore Olson: Because the case that's before you—

Justice Antonin Scalia: —if you can't give me a date when the Constitution changes?

Theodore Olson: The case that's before you today, California decided at—the citizens of California decided, after the California Supreme Court decided that individuals had a right to get married irrespective of their sexual orientation in California. And then the Californians decided in Proposition 8: "Wait a minute, we don't want those people to be able to get married."

Amy Goodman: You've been listening to Justice Antonin Scalia questioning Theodore Olson, who, you might remember, was the solicitor general under George [W.] Bush, lost his wife on the plane that flew into Washington, D.C., on September 11th. John Lewis, your response?

John Lewis: Well, Justice Scalia represents the minority view on the court. And in fact, Justice Kennedy wrote the majority view, which is the law of the land with respect to this issue, and quite eloquently, at the conclusion of Lawrence v. Texas. Justice Kennedy articulated how the basic guarantees of freedom and equality contained in our Constitution are stated as general propositions by the founders, by those who wrote the amendments to the Bill of Rights, because they recognized that as our nation evolves, that later generations that come after the 14th and the Fifth Amendment were drafted—that later generations will see that laws once thought necessary and appropriate only serve to oppress, and that later generations will invoke these basic, time-honored principles of the Constitution of liberty and equality for their generation in what is an ever-increasing notion of liberty and equality.

And I think that's exactly what is at issue with the freedom to marry. Lesbian and gay people have been having loving, committed relationships for centuries. It's just the truth. But we've had to have those relationships in hiding because of the real threat to our lives, our very safety. And it's only in the last, you know, 50 years that brave men and women started coming out and we started living our lives openly and proudly. And now, through the marriage equality movement, we are coming out fully about the truth of our loving, committed relationships and our families. So, those basic guarantees of liberty and equality have always been there. And what we're seeing now is those laws, that maybe were once thought appropriate, actually just serve to oppress people.

Amy Goodman: John, I want to ask your husband, Stuart Gaffney, a question about history, since we were just listening to this discussion of Justice Scalia asking Ted Olson—who, by the way, was the solicitor general under George W. Bush—when it became unconstitutional to exclude homosexual couples from marriage, about your own interesting family history, Stuart, when it comes to issues of marriage and the law.

Stuart Gaffney: Yeah, I was moved by Theodore Olson's response there in talking about the rights of interracial couples, because—thinking of another married couple. That's my own mom and dad, who were an interracial couple facing barriers just like John and I face today. My mom is Chinese American; my dad is English and Irish American. They were only able to marry legally in California because our state Supreme Court led the way in overturning a law banning interracial marriage as unconstitutional. But after they married, they moved around the country, and our family had different legal status in every state they lived in. They moved to Missouri and were told that they had an illegal marriage. And that is something that I never wanted to have in common with them. But unfortunately, same-sex couples now face that same patchwork—legal in some states, illegal in others, and unrecognized federally. My parents were only legal in all 50 states when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia that all remaining state bans for interracial couples were unconstitutional. And they fulfilled the promise that's written on the front of the U.S. Supreme Court: equal justice under law. Our family is now waiting for that promise to be fulfilled for the next generation. And for my mom and dad, they want nothing more than for me and John to be able to be legally married in all 50 states, just as they were.

Amy Goodman: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. We're going to continue on this issue in the next break. Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis have been our first guests today, married for—well, together for 26 years, married in 2008 before Prop 8 passed. Both work at Marriage Equality USA, Stuart the media director, John is the legal director. When we come back, we'll be joined by the widower of the late Congressmember Gerry Studds, openly gay congressmember. His widower is not able to get the normal pensions that other widows or widowers of congressmembers get. And we'll talk to him about today's Supreme Court arguments. Stay with us.

The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West

paulcroberts

Author’s  Note

I receive numerous questions from readers about our economic situation and the condition of civil liberty.

There is no way I can answer so many inquiries, and no need. I have written two books that provide the answers, and they are inexpensive. I have done my job. It is up to you to inform yourself. Kindle Reader software is available as a free online download that permits you to read ebooks in your own web browser.

My latest, The Failure Of Laissez Faire Capitalism And Economic Dissolution of the West , is available as an ebook in English as of March 2013 from Amazon.com and from Barnes&Noble.

My book is endorsed by Michael Hudson and Nomi Prims and has a 5 star rating from Amazon reviewers (as of March 23, 2013). Pam Martens’ review at Wall Street On Parade is available here

Libertarians who have not read the book have had an ideological knee-jerk reaction to the title. They demand to know how can I call the present system of crony capitalism laissez faire. I don’t. The current system of government supported crony capitalism is the end result of a 25-year process of deregulation.

Deregulation did not produce libertarian nirvana. It produced economic concentration and crony capitalism.

Amazon provides as a free read the introduction by Johannes Maruschzik to the German edition. Below is my Introduction to my book.

Paul Craig Roberts, March 27, 2012

Not only has your economy been stolen from you but also your civil liberties. My coauthor Lawrence Stratton and I provide the scary details of the entire story in The Tyranny of Good Intentions [5]. In the US law is no longer a shield of the people against arbitrary government. Instead, law has been transformed into a weapon in the hands of the government.

Josie Appleton documents that in England also law has been turned into a weapon against the people. http://www.spiked-online.com/site/printable/13420/ [6] Anglo-American law, the foundation of liberty and one of the greatest human achievements, lies in ruins.

Libertarians think that liberty is a natural right, and some Christians think that it is a God-given right. In fact, liberty is a human achievement, fought for by Englishmen over the centuries. In the late 17th century, the achievement of the Glorious Revolution was to hold the British government accountable to law. William Blackstone heralded the achievement in his famous Commentaries On The Laws Of England, a bestseller in pre-revolutionary America and the foundation of the US Constitution.

In the late 20th century and early 21st century, governments in the US and Great Britain chafed under the requirement that government, like the people, is ruled by law and took steps to free government from accountability to law.

Appleton says that the result is a “tectonic shift in the relationship between the state and the citizen.” Citizens of the US and UK are once again without the protection of law and subject to arbitrary arrests and indictments or to indefinite detention in the absence of indictments.

In the US, citizens can be detained indefinitely and even executed without due process of law. There is no basis in the US Constitution for these asserted powers. The unconstitutional powers exist only because Congress, the judiciary and the American people have accepted the lie that the loss of civil liberty is the price paid for protection against terrorists.

In a very short time the raw power of the state has been resurrected. Most Americans are oblivious to this outcome. As long as government is imprisoning and killing without trials demonized individuals whom Americans have been propagandized to fear, Americans approve. Americans do not understand that a point is reached when demonization becomes unnecessary and that precedents have been established that revoke the Bill of Rights.

If you are educated by these two books, you will be better able to understand what is happening and, thus, you will be in a better position to survive what is coming.

Introduction to The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic
Dissolution of the West: Towards a New Economics for a Full World

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the rise of the high speed Internet have proved to be the economic and political undoing of the West. “The End Of History” caused socialist India and communist China to join the winning side and to open their economies and underutilized labor forces to Western capital and technology. Pushed by Wall Street and large retailers, such as Wal-Mart, American corporations began offshoring the production of goods and services for their domestic markets. Americans ceased to be employed in the manufacture of goods that they consume as corporate executives maximized shareholder earnings and their performance bonuses by substituting cheaper foreign labor for American labor. Many American professional occupations, such as software engineering and Information Technology, also declined as corporations moved this work abroad and brought in foreigners at lower renumeration for many of the jobs that remained domestically. Design and research jobs followed manufacturing abroad, and employment in middle class professional occupations ceased to grow. By taking the lead in offshoring production for domestic markets, US corporations force the same practice on Europe. The demise of First World employment and of Third World agricultural communities, which are supplanted by large scale monoculture, is known as Globalism.

For most Americans income has stagnated and declined for the past two decades. Much of what Americans lost in wages and salaries as their jobs were moved offshore came back to shareholders and executives in the form of capital gains and performance bonuses from the higher profits that flowed from lower foreign labor costs. The distribution of income worsened dramatically with the mega-rich capturing the gains, while the middle class ladders of upward mobility were dismantled. University graduates unable to find employment returned to live with their parents.

The absence of growth in real consumer incomes resulted in the Federal Reserve expanding credit in order to keep consumer demand growing. The growth of consumer debt was substituted for the missing growth in consumer income. The Federal Reserve’s policy of extremely low interest rates fueled a real estate boom. Housing prices rose dramatically, permitting homeowners to monetize the rising equity in their homes by refinancing their mortgages.

Consumers kept the economy alive by assuming larger mortgages and spending the equity in their homes and by accumulating large credit card balances. The explosion of debt was securitized, given fraudulent investment grade ratings, and sold to unsuspecting investors at home and abroad.

Financial deregulation, which began in the Clinton years and leaped forward in the George W. Bush regime, unleashed greed and debt leverage. Brooksley Born, head of the federal Commodity Futures Trading Commission, was prevented from regulating over-the-counter derivatives by the chairman of the Federal Reserve, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The financial stability of the world was sacrificed to the ideology of these three stooges that “markets are self-regulating.” Insurance companies sold credit default swaps against junk financial instruments without establishing reserves, and financial institutions leveraged every dollar of equity with $30 dollars of debt.

When the bubble burst, the former bankers running the US Treasury provided massive bailouts at taxpayer expense for the irresponsible gambles made by banks that they formerly headed. The Federal Reserve joined the rescue operation. An audit of the Federal Reserve released in July, 2011, revealed that the Federal Reserve had provided $16 trillion–a sum larger than US GDP or the US public debt–in secret loans to bail out American and foreign banks, while doing nothing to aid the millions of American families being foreclosed out of their homes. Political accountability disappeared as all public assistance was directed to the mega-rich, whose greed had produced the financial crisis.

The financial crisis and plight of the banksters took center stage and prevented recognition that the crisis sprang not only from the financial deregulation but also from the expansion of debt that was used to substitute for the lack of growth in consumer income. As more and more jobs were offshored, Americans were deprived of incomes from employment. To maintain their consumption, Americans went deeper into debt.

The fact that millions of jobs have been moved offshore is the reason why the most expansionary monetary and fiscal policies in US history have had no success in reducing the unemployment rate. In post-World War II 20th century recessions, laid-off workers were called back to work as expansionary monetary and fiscal policies stimulated consumer demand. However, 21st century unemployment is different. The jobs have been moved abroad and no longer exist. Therefore, workers cannot be called back to factories and to professional service jobs that have been moved abroad.

Economists have failed to recognize the threat that jobs offshoring poses to economies and to economic theory itself, because economists confuse offshoring with free trade, which they believe is mutually beneficial. I will show that offshoring is the antithesis of free trade and that the doctrine of free trade itself is found to be incorrect by the latest work in trade theory. Indeed, as we reach toward a new economics, cherished assumptions and comforting theoretical conclusions will be shown to be erroneous.

This book is organized into three sections. The first section explains successes and failures of economic theory and the erosion of the efficacy of economic policy by globalism. Globalism and financial concentration have destroyed the justifications of market capitalism. Corporations that have become “too big to fail” are sustained by public subsidies, thus destroying capitalism’s claim to be an efficient allocator of resources. Profits no longer are a measure of social welfare when they are obtained by creating unemployment and declining living standards in the home country.

The second section documents how jobs offshoring or globalism and financial deregulation wrecked the US economy, producing high rates of unemployment, poverty and a distribution of income and wealth extremely skewed toward a tiny minority at the top. These severe problems cannot be corrected within a system of globalism.

The third section addresses the European debt crisis and how it is being used both to subvert national sovereignty and to protect bankers from losses by imposing austerity and bailout costs on citizens of the member countries of the European Union.

I will suggest that it is in Germany’s interest to leave the EU, revive the mark, and enter into an economic partnership with Russia. German industry, technology, and economic and financial rectitude, combined with Russian energy and raw materials, would pull all of Eastern Europe into a new economic union, with each country retaining its own currency and budgetary and tax authority. This would break up NATO, which has become an instrument for world oppression and is forcing Europeans to assume burdens of the American Empire.

Sixty-seven years after the end of World War II, twenty-two years after the reunification of Germany, and twenty-one years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Germany is still occupied by US troops. Do Europeans desire a future as puppet states of a collapsing empire, or do they desire a more promising future of their own?

“NATO 3” Oral Argument Unfolds on Illinois Terrorism Statute’s Constitutionality

On the ten-year anniversary of the launch of the Iraq War, another tentacle of the ever-burgeoning post-9/11 national security state unfolded in a lively courtroom in Chicago in the form of a domestic terrorism case.

At the Cook County Courthouse in Chicago, People's Law Office attorney Michael Deutsch argued that Illinois' domestic terrorism statute - applied to three activists who were in Chicago to protest the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Summit in May 2012 - is unconstitutional. Ten months since the charges were first doled out by the State of Illinois, Deutsch and his team of attorneys still await evidence from the prosecutors in the discovery phase of the trial.

Judge Thaddeus Wilson presided over the contentious two-hour-long oral duel between state prosecutors and the defense team representing Brian Jacob Church, Brent Betterly and Jared Chase - collectively known as the "NATO 3."  The three came to the Windy City last year from Florida and New Hampshire to join protesters demonstrating in the streets against NATO's wars.

The argument pertained to the preemptive, military-style apartment raid and eventual arrest of three young men - eventually five - on charges of conspiracy to commit acts of domestic terrorism in the days leading up to the NATO Summit.

The prosecution's argument focuses on comments made by the three to undercover Chicago police officers, including a question Church allegedly posed asking if they had ever seen a "cop on fire." The prosecution used this phrase, without offering any context for the conversation, to attempt to show that the three had intent to actually carry out the crime.

"On the tenth anniversary of a war that's killed over 1 million Iraqi civilians, Attorney General Anita Alvarez has the gall to charge these protesters who were organizing against war 'terrorists,'" Joe Iosbaker, a Chicago activist raided by the FBI in 2010, said at a press conference before the hearing. (Alvarez's actual title is Cook County State's Attorney; Illinois' attorney general is Lisa Madigan.)

Defense Argues Illinois Statute Unconstitutional, Awaits Discovery Documents 

The Illinois terrorism statute, one of dozens of state-level terrorism laws passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, was brought off the shelf to charge the NATO 3 with plotting to throw Molotov cocktails at strategic targets during the summit.

Merely a day after the court proffer detailing the charges was presented on May 19, it was revealed that two Chicago Police Department officers going by the names "Mo" and "Gloves" or "Nadia" worked in an undercover capacity for two months leading up to the summit to obtain the audio-recorded evidence; Deutsch has alleged the NATO 3 are victims of entrapment.

It was not until June 13 that actual indictments were handed out to the three, weeks after the usually mundane offering of a bail bond was transformed into a major public relations event by Chicago Police Department head Garry McCarthy and State Attorney Alvarez which quickly set off sensational mainstream media coverage.

The NATO 3 lawyers argued at the hearing, as they asserted in a prior motion and memorandum, that the Illinois terrorism statute is so vague it could ensnare the innocent and criminalize First Amendment rights. In the case of the NATO 3, they argue, it did both, leading the defense team to challenge the constitutionality of the Illinois statute on its face.

"This issue does not only concern the defendants, but should concern every citizen in Illinois and beyond, [as it] allows politically motivated mayhem to be prosecuted as terrorism," Deutsch stated at the podium facing Judge Wilson.

Unlike other state statutes, Deutsch argued, the Illinois law does not require that a crime be carried out. Rather, it requires that a "significant portion" of the population feel "coerced" or "intimidated" by the words or actions of the person charged with terrorism.

"[The] statute [is so overbroad that it] criminalizes speech that should be legal," said Deutsch, further arguing that if the case is heard by a jury, members would be unable to interpret the law effectively as currently written.

Prosecution Responds

The prosecution's case centered on the necessity of preemptive action against potential threats at high-level national and international gatherings.

"If done during the NATO Summit, when the eyes of the world are upon you, then you have a different situation," said one of the prosecutors, arguing that the Illinois law was made more broad to cover the nature of US Secret Service Special National Security Events like the Summit, when dignitaries from around the world are gathered together in a confined space.

Prosecutors say that Church asked undercover detectives, "Have you ever seen a cop on fire?" which they argue was threatening to a significant portion of the civilian population even though no action was taken.

The prosecution also argued that the law needed to be written in broad-sweeping fashion to keep citizens safe. The state's legal team utilized the "1 percent doctrine," logic espoused in the Bush administration's 2002 National Security Strategy, arguing that the terrorism statute "is intended to stop this kind of grave conduct before it starts."

The same argument was employed to justify the launch of the war in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were never found. An identical "world is a battlefield" doctrine has continued under the Obama administration.

Lastly, prosecutors argued that the rare use of the law since 9/11 serves as Exhibit A that it can be utilized with proper discretion. When the defense took issue with the nature of the law itself, prosecutors said they were only prepared to discuss the threat they argue the NATO 3 posed - not a "hypothetical, but an on-the-ground reality and threat."

Defense Still Awaits Delivery of Discovery Documents

Another issue of contention was fulfillment of the bill of particulars, or particular documents the defense asked for from the State of Illinois during the discovery phase.

"There is still things that we asked for that they haven't given us, and they keep saying they need more time," Deutsch told Truthout. "There is also an issue about documents from the federal government, as we think the FBI was certainly involved in some way in the arrest. We think the FBI was involved during the period of time in which these undercover police were involved with our clients and there might be memorandums portraying their involvement."

In short, though Judge Wilson announced plans to hand out the legal ruling by March 27, the defense has still not received all of the factual material it needs to make a legal case on behalf of the NATO 3.

The Scene From the Inside the Courtroom 

Church, with short red hair, and Betterly, with long blonde hair in a ponytail, wore bright yellow protective-custody-level Department of Corrections (DOC) prison garb. Chase, bearing short dark-brown hair, wore beige DOC clothing.

They were ushered into a sun-dappled courtroom with dark wood benches at 2 PM by over half a dozen Cook County Sheriff officers on one side and their six-strong legal team and about a dozen supporters on the other.

The hearing began with a bang when a dispute broke out when defense attorney Thomas Durkin asked Judge Wilson why the larger-than-normal police presence was necessary. The dispute ended when Wilson abruptly shouted, "You have been heard!" multiple times.

All of the NATO 3 appeared relaxed and attentive throughout the hearing. They are being held in Cook County Jail, which was under federal investigation for its conditions in 2008.

The Criminalization of Dissent 

The NATO 3 story shares a common narrative thread with other post-9/11 domestic terrorism prosecutions: politically motivated legal statutes, the role of undercover law enforcement, and defendants with what civil rights lawyers have called a mixture of bravado and foolishness.

Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, says that demobilizing activism through the threat of jail time or stiff charges isn't anything new.

"At this point, we have committed to describing dissent as terrorism. This goes all the way back to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act even before 9/11," he said.

While the Illinois statute is one of many state-level laws passed after 9/11, Buttar says that it is unique in its ability to criminalize dissent.

"The Illinois one is the only one that criminalizes potentially nonviolent acts and that should disturb anyone," said Buttar. "The fact that an act can be not violent, yet terrorism, should disturb anyone, and that's exactly why we should be concerned, because we see First Amendment speech being labeled as terrorism."

National Disgrace: The Lack of Opposition to Obama’s Kill List Policy

Democrats Shamefully Silent on Obama Administration’s Assertion of Right to Assassinate Americans on U.S. Soil

Rand Paul carried out a historic 13-hour filibuster of dronemaster-in-chief John Brennan’s nomination for CIA chief.

Huffington Post slammed Democrats for being missing in action and progressive news host Cenk Uygur called Senator Paul a “constitutional hero”.

One of the top constitutional law experts in the country – Jonathan Turley, a progressive liberal – writes:

What was most striking about this principled stand is the virtual total absence of Democrats in speaking out against Obama. Just this week, Attorney General Eric Holder admitted that this policy could include killing citizens on U.S. soil with drones. Yet, the Democrats worked to stop not the kill list policy but Paul’s filibuster. Obama apologists have attacked Rand for some of his other positions to avoid dealing with the fact that Obama is claiming the powers of an Imperial President. I do not agree with Paul on many things, but I commend him for this stand and condemn those who remained silent, again, in the face of this authoritarian policy of Obama.

***

The lack of opposition to Obama’s kill list policy is a national disgrace. It shows the triumph of a cult of personality within the Democratic ranks where both members and voters have chosen Obama over long-standing values of civil liberties that once defined their party.

Senator Paul’s office sent us a series of unofficial transcripts of Paul’s filibuster speech.  Below are our favorite excerpts (constitutional experts like Turley have confirmed that Paul’s statements are accurate).

No American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court. That Americans could be killed in a cafe in San Francisco or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in bowling green, Kentucky, is an abomination. It is something that should not and cannot be tolerated in our country.

***

The principle is one that as Americans we have fought long and hard for and to give up on that principle, to give up on the bill of rights, to give up on the Fifth Amendment protection that says that no person shall be held without due process, that no person shall be held for a capital offense without being indicted. This is a precious American tradition and something we should not give up on easily.

***

When I asked the President, can you kill an American on American soil, it should have been an easy answer. It’s an easy question. It should have been a resounding and unequivocal, “no.” The President’s response? He hasn’t killed anyone yet. We’re supposed to be comforted by that.

The President says, I haven’t killed anyone yet. He goes on to say, and I have no intention of killing Americans. But I might. Is that enough? Are we satisfied by that? Are we so complacent with our rights that we would allow a President to say he might kill Americans? But he will judge the circumstances, he will be the sole arbiter, he will be the sole decider, he will be the executioner in chief if he sees fit. Now, some would say he would never do this. Many people give the President the – you know, they give him consideration, they say he’s a good man. I’m not arguing he’s not. What I’m arguing is that the law is there and set in place for the day when angels don’t rule government. Madison said that the restraint on government was because government will not always be run by angels. This has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with whether the President is a Democrat or a Republican. Were this a Republican President, I’d be here saying exactly the same thing. No one person, no one politician should be allowed to judge the guilt, to charge an individual, to judge the guilt of an individual and to execute an individual. It goes against everything that we fundamentally believe in our country.

This isn’t even new to our country. There’s 800 years of English law that we found our tradition upon. We founded it upon the Magna Carta from 1215. We founded it upon Morgan from Glamorgan and 725 A.D. We founded upon the Greeks and Romans who had juries. It is not enough to charge someone to say that they are guilty.

***

If there’s a gentleman or a woman with a grenade launcher attacking our buildings or our Capitol, we use lethal force. You don’t get due process if you’re involved with actively attacking us, our soldiers or our government. You don’t get due process if you’re overseas in a battle shooting at our soldiers. But that’s not what we’re talking about. The Wall Street Journal reported and said that the bulk of the drone attacks are signature attacks. They don’t even know the name of the person. A line or a caravan is going from a place where we think there are bad people to a place where we think they might commit harm and we kill the caravan, not the person. Is that the standard that we will now use in America? Will we use a standard for killing Americans to be that we thought – killing Americans to be that we thought you were bad, we thought you were coming from a meeting of bad people and you were in a line of traffic and so, therefore, you were fine for the killing? That is the standard we’re using overseas. Is that the standard we’re going to use here?

I will speak today until the President responds and says no, we won’t kill Americans in cafes; no, we won’t kill you at home in your bed at night; no, we won’t drop bombs on restaurants. Is that so hard? It’s amazing that the President will not respond. I’ve been asking this question for a month. It’s like pulling teeth to get the President to respond to anything. And I get no answer.

The President says he hasn’t done it yet and I’m to be comforted, you are to be comforted in your home, you are to be comforted in your restaurant, you are to be comforted on-line communicating in your e-mail that the President hasn’t killed an American yet on the homeland. He says he hasn’t done it yet. He says he has no intention to do so. Hayek said that nothing distinguishes arbitrary government from a government that is run by the whims of the people than the rule of law. The law’s an amazingly important thing, an amazingly important protection. And for us to give up on it so easily really doesn’t speak well of what our founding fathers fought for, what generation after generation of American soldiers have fought for, what soldiers are fighting for today when they go overseas to fight wars for us. It doesn’t speak well of what we’re doing here to protect the freedom at home when our soldiers are abroad fighting for us, that we say that our freedom’s not precious enough for one person to come down and say, enough’s enough, Mr. President. Come clean, come forward and say you will not kill Americans on American soil. The oath of office of the President says that he will, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. He raises his hand, his right hand, puts his left hand on the bible, and he says, “i will.” The President doesn’t say, “I intend to if it’s convenient.” “I intend to, unless circumstances dictate otherwise.”

***

If you are sitting in a cafeteria in Dearborn, Mich., if you happen to be an Arab-American who has a relative in the Middle East and you communicate with them by e-mail and somebody says, oh, your relative is someone we suspect of being associated with terrorism, is that enough to kill you? For goodness sakes, wouldn’t we try to arrest and come to the truth by having a jury and a presentation of the facts on both sides of the issue? See, the real problem here, one of the things we did a long time ago is we separated the police power from the judicial power. This was an incredibly important first step. We also prevented the military from acting in our country because we didn’t want to have a police state.

***

I’m not casting any aspersions on the President. I’m not saying he is a bad person at all, but he is not a judge. He’s a politician. He was elected by a majority, but the majority doesn’t get to decide who we execute. We have a process for deciding this. We have courts for deciding this, to allow one man to accuse you in secret, you never get notified you have been accused. Your notification is the buzz of the propellers on the drone as it flies overhead in the seconds before you’re killed. Is that what we really want from our government? Are we so afraid of terrorism, are we so afraid of terrorists that we’re willing to just throw out our rights and our freedoms, things that have been fought for and that we have gotten over the centuries.

***

Madison wrote in the federalist papers, he said that the Constitution states what history demonstrates, that the executive branch is the branch most prone to war, most likely to go to war, and therefore we – we took that power to declare war and we vested it in the legislature. We broke up the powers. Montesquieu wrote about the checks and balances and the separation of powers. He was somebody who Jefferson looked towards. They separated the powers because there was a chance for abuse of power when power resides in one person. Montesquieu said there can be no liberty when you combine the executive and the legislative. I would say something similar. There can be no liberty when you combine the executive and the judiciary. That’s what we’re doing here. We’re allowing the President to be the accuser in secret and we’re allowing him to be the judge and we’re allowing him to be the jury. No man should have that power. We should fear that power. Not because we have to say oh, we fear the current President. It has nothing to do with who the President is. It has nothing to do with whether you’re a Republican or Democrat. It has to do with whether or not you fear the consolidation of power, were you – whether you fear power being given to one person, whether they are a Republican or a Democrat. This is not necessarily a right-left issue.

***

What’s important here is that we’re talking about a war without geographic limitations, but we’re also talking about a war without temporal limitations. There is no limit, no limit in time to this war. When will this war end? It’s a war that has, I think, an infinite timeline. So if you’re going to suspend your rights, if there is going to be no geographic limits to killing, which really means we’re not at war in Afghanistan, we’re at war everywhere and everybody that pops up is called al-Qaida now, whether they have ever heard of al-Qaida or not, whether they have any communication with some kind of network of al-Qaida, everybody is al-Qaida, but there is a new war or an ongoing war everywhere in the world, there is no limitations.

Glenn Greenwald … says there is a theoretical framework being built that posits that the U.S. Government has unlimited power.

***

To think that we were opposed to them listening to your conversations without a warrant but no one’s going to stand up and say they can kill you without a warrant, a judge’s review or a jury, no one’s going to object to that, where is the cacophony that stood up and said how can you tap my phone without going to a judge first? I ask how can you kill someone without going to a judge or a jury?

***

Civil libertarians once expected more from the President. In fact, it was one of the things that I liked about the President. I’m a Republican. I didn’t vote or support the President either time, but I admired him, particularly in 2007 when he ran. I admired his ability to stand up and say we won’t torture people, that’s not what America does. How does the President’s mind work, though? The President that seemed so honorable, seemed so concerned with our rights, seemed so concerned with the right not to have your phone be tapped now says he’s not concerned with whether you can be killed without a trial. The leap of logic is so fantastic as to boggle the mind. Where is the Barack Obama of 2007? Has the presidency so transformed him that he has forgotten his moorings, forgotten what he stood for? Civilian libertarians once expected more from the President. Ask any civil libertarian whether or not the President should have the right to arbitrarily kill Americans on American soil and the answer is easy. Of course, no President should have the right or that power under the Constitution.

***

The President a year ago lined up – signed a law that says that you can be detained indefinitely, that you can be sent from America to Guantanamo Bay without a trial, and he wants us to be comforted, he wants us to remember and think good of him because he says I don’t intend to do so. It’s not enough. I mean, would you tolerate a Republican who stood up and said well, I like the First Amendment, I’m quite fond of the First Amendment, and I don’t intend to break the First Amendment but I might.

***

So my question is if you’re not a civilian, if you’re in proximity to bad people, is that the standard we’re going to use in the United States? So if we’re going to kill Americans on American soil and the standard is going to be signature strikes that you’re close to bad people or that you’re in the same proximity as bad people, would that be enough? Are we happy with that standard? Are we happy that we have no jury, no trial, no charges, nothing done publicly?

***

Many of the drone strikes overseas are done when you’re walking – I don’t know where you are a walking … To church, you’re walking along the road – they’re done when you’re in a car driving, they’re done when you’re in a house eating. They’re done when you’re at a restaurant eating. They’re done when you’re in a house sleeping. I am saying that they’re not actively involved in something that’s an imminent threat and if they were in America, they would be arrested.

***

The Bureau of Justice put out a bulletin within the last year describing people who you need to be worried about. These are [terrorists]. Who are these terrorists that live among you?

People who might be missing fingers on one hand, people who might have stains on their clothing, people who might have changed the color of their hair, people who like to pay in cash, people who own more than one gun, people who own weatherized ammunition, people who have seven days of food in their house. These are people that you should be afraid of and that you should report to your government. So says your government. Are they going to be on the drone strike list? I think we need to get an answer from the President.

If you’re going to kill people in America, we need rules, and we need to know what your rules are. Because I certainly don’t want to have seven days of food in my house if that’s on the list to terrorism. Interestingly, on government websites there are some government websites that advise you to have it in your house. If you live in a hurricane-prone area you’re supposed to keep some area food around. Who is going to decide when it’s okay to have food in your house and when it’s not?

***

The people on the list from the fusion center in Missouri that you need to be worried about, that policemen should stop, are people that have bumper stick theirs might be pro-life, who have bumper stickers that might be for more border security, people who support third-party candidates ….

You believe in the Constitution so much, you might be a terrorist – you believe in the Constitution so much, you might be a terrorist. We need to be concerned about this. Things are not so black and white. If someone is shooting at us, a canon, a missile, a rocket, a plane, it is pretty easy to know what lethal attacks are. We’re talking about people in their homes, at a restaurant, or a cafe that someone is making an accusation. If the accusation is based on how many fingers you have on your hand, I have got a problem with that standard. If the standard to be used for killing Americans is whether you pay in cash, I’ve got a problem with that. If the standard to be used in America is being close to someone who is bad or the government thinks is bad is enough for you to be killed and not even account you as an accidental kill, to count you as combatant because you were near them [I"ve got a problem with that].

***

But here’s the real problem: When the President’s spokesman was asked about al-Awlaki’s son, you know what his response was? This I find particularly callous and particularly troubling. The President’s response to the killing of al-Awlaki’s son, he said he should have chosen more a responsible father.

***

I cannot sit at my desk quietly and let the President say he will kill Americans on American soil who are not actively attacking the country.

***

Should we live in a country where you have to be worried about what you say? Should we live in a country where you have to worry about what you write? What kind of country would that be?

***

Officials said the kill list in Pakistan has slipped to fewer than ten al-Qaida targets, down from as many as two dozen, and yet we’re killing hundreds of people in Pakistan.

***

What if you just happen to live in the neighborhood of somebody who is a suspected terrorist. Is it okay because you were close to them? What if you happened to go to dinner with a guy you didn’t know or a woman you didn’t know and the government says they’re a terrorist? Just because you’re having dinner with them and you are a male between the ages of 16 and 50, does that make you a combatant? We also asked the question do you condone the CIA’s practice of counting civilians killed by U.S. drone strikes as militants simply because they were of the same age? Like every other question, no answer. We asked him whether al-Awlaki’s son was a target. No answer. We asked how many people have been targeted. No answer.

***

As this war has dragged on, they take that authorization of use of force to mean pretty much anything. And so they have now said that the war has no geographic limitations, so it’s really not a war in Afghanistan, it’s a war in Yemen, Somalia, Mali. It’s a war in unlimited places.

***

About a year ago, I tried to end the Iraq war. You may say, well, I thought the Iraq war was already over. It is, but we still have an authorization of use of force that says we can go to war in Iraq any time.

And since they think the use of force in Afghanistan means limitless war anywhere, any time in the whole world, for goodness sakes, wouldn’t we try to take back a declaration of war, an authorization of force if the war is over? But here’s the sad part. I actually got a vote on it and I think I got less than 20 votes. You can’t end a war after it’s over up here. And it has repercussions, because these authorizations to use force are used for many other things. So the authorization of force says you can go after al-Qaida or associated terrorists. The problem is, is that when you allow the Executive Branch to sort of determine what is al-Qaida, you’ve got no idea.

***

Alarm bells should go off when people tell you that the battlefield’s in America. Why? Because when the battlefield’s in America, we don’t have due process.

***

One of them, in fact, said if you – if you – if they ask for a lawyer, you tell them to shut up. Well, if that’s the standard we’re going to have in America, I’m – I’m quite concerned that the battlefield would be here and that the Constitution wouldn’t apply. Because, to tell you the truth, if you are shooting at us in Afghanistan, the Constitution doesn’t apply over there. But I certainly want it to apply here. If you’re engaged in combat overseas, you don’t get due process. But when people say, oh, the battlefield’s come to America and the battlefield’s everywhere, the war is limitless in time and scope, be worried, because your rights will not exist if you call America a battlefield for all time. We’ve asked him whether the strikes are exclusively focused on al-Qaida and what is the definition of being part of al-Qaida.

***

Now, the President has said, don’t worry because he’s not going to kill you with a drone unless it’s infeasible to catch you.

***

Maybe he’s not got enough people to go arrest you …. So maybe he’s going to … kill you.

***

It is not because we think our military are bad people. I’m proud of our soldiers, I’m proud of our army, I’m proud of what they do for our country. But they operate under different rules. And it’s a much more dangerous environment they operate under. And it’s different. It’s still dangerous in America, but policemen have a different rules of engagement than your soldiers have. And there’s – there’s more restrictions and restraint on what we do in our country. So that’s why we say the military can’t operate here. So when we asked the President, can you kill Americans on American soil with your drone strikes, which is part of the military, it should be an easy answer.

***

John Yoo was one of the architects of this, basically just saying hey, if I’m going to protect you, I can do whatever the hell I want. Many on the left objected to that. Some of us on the right also objected to this – this usurpation of power by the Republican President. But the thing is, is it – now the shoe’s on the other foot and we’re not seeing any of that.

***

When we separate out police power from judicial power, it’s an important separation. You know, the police can arrest you, they’re allowed to do certain things, but the policeman that comes to your door and puts handcuffs on you doesn’t decide your guilt.

***

I’m not really disputing his motives or not saying he isn’t a good person. But I’m disputing someone who’s naive enough to think that that’s good enough for our republic, that his good intentions are good enough for our republic. It never would have been accepted, it would have been laughed out of the Constitutional Convention. The Founding Fathers would have objected so strenuously that that person probably would never have been elected to office in our country. Someone who doesn’t believe that the rules have to be in place and that we can’t have our rights guaranteed by the intentions of our politicians. Think about it. Congress has about a 10 percent approval rating. Do you think the American people want to base whether they’re going to be killed by a drone on a politician? I certainly don’t. Doesn’t have anything to do with whether he’s a Republican or a Democrat. I would be here today if this were a Republican President.

Because you can’t give that much power to one person.

***

No one is questioning whether the U.S. can repel an attack. No one is questioning whether your local police can repel an attack. Anybody involved in lethal force, the legal doctrine in our country and has been historically, has always been that the government can repel lethal attacks. The problem is, is that the drone strike program is often not about combatants. It is about people who may or may not be conspiring but they’re not in combat.

***

Is objecting to your government or the policies of your government – the policy of your government sympathizing with the enemy?

***

There is, though, a difference between sympathizing and taking up arms. Most people around here who want to justify no rules, America is a battlefield, no limits to war, they really want to blur it all together. Because it’s easier to say, oh, you don’t want to stop anybody who is shooting at Americans.

***

Certain things rise above partisanship. And I think your right to be secure in your person, the right to be secure in your liberty, the right to be tried by a jury of your peers – these are things that are so important and rise to such a level that we shouldn’t give up on them easily.

***

And really, the great irony of this is that President Obama’s position on this is an extension of George Bush’s opinion. It basically is a continuation and an expansion of George Bush’s opinion. George Bush was a President who believed in a very expansive power. Virtually, some would say, unlimited. He was accused of running an imperial Presidency. The irony is that this President that we have currently was elected in opposition to that. This President was one elected who when he was in this body was often very vocal at saying that the President’s powers were limited.

***

One of the President’s [i.e. Obama's] writings I found very instructive and I was quite proud of him for having said it, the President said that no President shall unilaterally go to war without the authority of Congress unless there is an imminent threat to the country. I guess we should be a little wary of his unless now since we know imminent doesn’t have to be immediate and imminent no longer means what humans once thought imminent meant. But he did say that the President doesn’t go to war by himself. I think it would be fair to say that candidate Obama also felt that the President didn’t have the authority to imprison you indefinitely without a trial. I think it’s also safe to say that Barack Obama of 2007 would be right down here with me arguing against this drone strike program if he were in the Senate.

***

Presidents have been getting more and more powerful for over a hundred years, Republican and Democrat. There was at one point in time in our history a pride among the Senate and a pride among the Congress that said these are our powers and we’re not giving them up. There were people on both sides of the aisle who would stand firm and say this is not a power I’m willing to relinquish. This is not something that is good for the country. And by relinquishing the power of Congress, we relinquish something very fundamental to our Republic, which is the checks and balances that we should have checks and balances to help and try to prevent one body or one part of the three parts of government from obtaining too much power.

***

Guilt or innocence isn’t always apparent, and sometimes an accusation is a false accusation. Sometimes accusations are made because people politically don’t like your point of view. So the question becomes should we have a process where we try to determine innocence or guilt?

***

If inconveniencecy is our standard for going to war without Congress, inconveniency is our standard for killing Americans on American soil with drones – I mean, I think we’ve sunk to a new low. I just can’t imagine as a country that that’s the standard that you want to have.

Obama Administration Claims Right to “Lawfully” Assassinate Citizens within the US

justice

According to the Obama administration, the president has the right to assassinate American citizens within the United States, without charges or any legal process. This claim, contained in a letter from Attorney General Eric Holder, constitutes the most far-reaching abrogation of constitutional rights and is aimed at establishing the pseudo-legal framework for military rule.

Holder’s letter, the first explicit assertion of a power to extrajudicially kill Americans in their homes, was in response to a question delivered to the Obama administration from Republican Senator Rand Paul. In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Holder reiterated and expanded on this position, declaring that the authorization to use military force in the “war on terror” extends to the United States.

In the letter to Paul, Holder responds to a question as to whether “the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a US citizen on US soil, and without trial.”

Holder’s answers are a series of evasions and absurd rationalizations. He repeats the statement made repeatedly by the administration before, that the “US government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention to do so.” He adds that “as a matter of policy”—that is, not as a matter of legality—“we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat.”

In other words, under circumstances where the executive branch and military decide that police action is not the “best means” of responding to an undefined threat, the military will be deployed to kill people at will.

Holder then declares that under undefined “extraordinary circumstances,” the president could “authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.”

As two “examples” of such circumstances, Holder cites the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The comparisons are absurd. Pearl Harbor involved a full-scale attack by the Japanese military on Hawaii. At issue, however, is not a response to a military invasion, but the claim that the administration has the right to assassinate American citizens in the United States who are not engaged in any hostile actions. The administration has already killed at least three US citizens abroad, including Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son.

As for September 11, the circumstances behind these attacks have yet to be explained, but involved a number of individuals who were being followed by US intelligence agencies.

Holder’s letter is a sweeping declaration of the ability to deploy the military in the United States in response to an “emergency” connected to some past or allegedly future attack. Under such conditions, the military would be given unrestricted powers and the Bill of Rights rendered a dead letter.

Holder expanded his remarks in the course of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, in which the bipartisan support for the assault on democratic rights was on display.

In the course of the testimony, senators from both parties largely avoided the issue or praised Holder and the administration. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is also the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, declared that the legal opinions prepared by the administration on assassinating US citizens were “very thoughtful, very impressive” and urged that all of them be made available to the judiciary committee. She added that deploying military force within the United States against US citizens was “something we have to grapple with.”

The greatest praise for Holder came from Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, who is close to the military and intelligence apparatus. Graham lauded the administration’s efforts to “defend the homeland,” singling out the drone assassination program in particular. Then the following exchange took place:

Graham: It is a longstanding proposition in American law that an American citizen who joins forces with our enemies can be considered an enemy combatant, do you agree with that?

Holder: Yes.

Graham: Hypothetically, if there are Patriot missile batteries around this capitol and other key government infrastructure, to protect the capitol from an attack, it would be lawful for those batteries to launch, is that correct?

Holder: Yes…

Graham: When we say that Congress gave every administration the authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda, we didn’t exempt the homeland, did we?

Holder: No, I don’t think we did…

The conclusion: Anyone declared by the president to be an “enemy combatant,” including American citizens in the United States, can be summarily executed without any judicial review.

In referring to American citizens who have “joined forces” with the enemy, Graham cited individuals who supported Germany in the Second World War, with which Holder readily agreed. Again, the historical comparison is absurd. Even so, the traditional response of the state under such conditions is to try individuals for treason, in which their alleged crimes must be proven. Now the government asserts the right to act as judge, jury and executioner.

Graham’s introduction of the hypothetical deployment of Patriot missiles by the military around the capitol and other critical institutions makes clear that what is being contemplated is the full militarization of American society.

There were a number of other significant exchanges. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who like Paul is a right-wing libertarian and Tea Party-backed Republican, asked Holder whether the president had the constitutional authority to assassinate an American citizen in the United States with a drone while that person was “sitting quietly in a cafe.”

On four occasions, Holder said such action would not be “appropriate,” deliberately avoiding a statement that it would not be legal. In response to repeated questioning from Cruz, Holder finally indicated that his reference to such action not being appropriate should be translated as a “no”—apparently suggesting that it would not be constitutional.

This statement, however, was conditioned on the premise that the person involved did not pose an “imminent” threat. The requirement of “imminence” is also included in the administration’s white paper on assassinating US citizens abroad; however, this is essentially meaningless. The document states that imminence “does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, asked Holder, “Do you believe Congress has the constitutional authority to pass a law prohibiting the president from using US drones against US citizens?”

Holder replied that in his view such a law “would not be constitutional” as it would “run contrary to the Article II powers” of the executive branch—that is to say, the section relating to the president’s authority as commander-in-chief of the military.

Politicians of both parties are participating in a conspiracy against the most basic democratic rights. Earlier this week, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted 12 to 3 in favor of the nomination of John Brennan—the individual most closely associated with the assassination program—to head the CIA. All Democrats voted in favor.

Holder’s comments aroused almost no comment from the American media. On the evening news Wednesday, the story was almost entirely buried, with only brief reference to a filibuster stunt carried out by Paul, a right-wing libertarian Republican, against the nomination of Brennan. The abrogation of the Bill of Rights provokes little more than a few raised eyebrows.

The essential target of these measures is the emergence of domestic opposition within the United States to the policies of the financial aristocracy that controls both big-business parties. Under conditions of deepening polarization, and as the ruling class is implementing measures that are overwhelmingly opposed by the vast majority of the population, the government is actively preparing dictatorial forms of rule.

What Obama Said – and What He Meant – About Climate Change, War and...

obamadoublespeak

The words in President Obama’s “State of the Union” speech were often lofty, spinning through the air with the greatest of ease and emitting dog whistles as they flew.

Let’s decode the president’s smooth oratory in the realms of climate change, war and civil liberties.

“For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.”

We’ve done so little to combat climate change — we must do more.

“I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change…”

Climate change is an issue that can be very good for Wall Street. Folks who got the hang of “derivatives” and “credit default swaps” can learn how to handle “cap and trade.” The corporate environmental groups are on board, and maybe we can offer enough goodies to big corporations to make it worth their while to bring enough of Congress along.

“The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that.”

Dual memo. To T. Boone Pickens: “Love ya.” To environmentalists who won’t suck up to me: “Frack you.” (And save your breath about methane.)

“That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.”

Blow off steam with your demonstrations, you 350.org types. I’ll provide the platitudes. XL Keystone, here we come.

“After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home.”

How’s that for an applause line? Don’t pay too much attention to the fine print. I’m planning to have 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan a year from now, and they won’t get out of there before the end of 2014. And did you notice the phrase “in uniform”? We’ve got plenty of out-of-uniform military contractors in Afghanistan now, and you can expect that to continue for a long time.

“And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.”

If you believe that, you’re the kind of sucker I appreciate — unless you think “our war in Afghanistan” doesn’t include killing people with drones and cruise missiles.

“Beyond 2014, America’s commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change. We’re 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 counterterrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates.”

We’re so pleased to help Afghan people kill other Afghan people! Our government’s expertise in such matters includes superb reconnaissance and some thrilling weaponry, which we’ll keep providing to the Kabul regime. And don’t you love the word “counterterrorism”? It sounds so much better than: “using the latest high-tech weapons to go after people on our ‘kill lists’ and unfortunately take the lives of a lot of other people who happen to be around, including children, thus violating international law, traumatizing large portions of the population and inflicting horrors on people in ways we would never tolerate ourselves.”

“We don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations. Instead, we’ll 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.”

We don’t need flag-draped coffins coming home. We’re so civilized that we’re the planetary leaders at killing people with remote control from halfway around the world.

We must enlist our values in the fight. That’s why my administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism efforts. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. And I recognize that, in our democracy, no one should just take my word for it that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage 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.”

I’m sick of taking flak just because I pick and choose which civil liberties I want to respect. If I need to give a bit more information to a few other pliant members of Congress, I will. The ones who get huffy about the Bill of Rights aren’t going to get the time of day from this White House. I recognize that some of my base is getting a bit upset about this civil-liberties thing, so I’ll ramp up the soothing words and make use of some prominent Democratic members of Congress who are of course afraid to polarize with me. Don’t underestimate this president; I know how to talk reverentially about our great nation’s “checks and balances” as I undermine them.

“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.”

Maybe it’s just about time for another encore of “preemptive war.”

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

What Obama Said (and What He Meant) About Climate Change, War and Civil Liberties

The words in President Obama’s “State of the Union” speech were often lofty, spinning through the air with the greatest of ease and emitting dog whistles as they flew.

Let’s decode the president’s smooth oratory in the realms of climate change, war and civil liberties.

“For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.”

We’ve done so little to combat climate change -- we must do more.

“I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change…”

Climate change is an issue that can be very good for Wall Street. Folks who got the hang of “derivatives” and “credit default swaps” can learn how to handle “cap and trade.” The corporate environmental groups are on board, and maybe we can offer enough goodies to big corporations to make it worth their while to bring enough of Congress along.

“The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that.”

Dual memo. To T. Boone Pickens: “Love ya.” To environmentalists who won’t suck up to me: “Frack you.” (And save your breath about methane.)

“That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.”

Blow off steam with your demonstrations, you 350.org types. I’ll provide the platitudes. XL Keystone, here we come.

“After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home.”

How’s that for an applause line? Don’t pay too much attention to the fine print. I’m planning to have 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan a year from now, and they won’t get out of there before the end of 2014. And did you notice the phrase “in uniform”? We’ve got plenty of out-of-uniform military contractors in Afghanistan now, and you can expect that to continue for a long time.

“And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.”

If you believe that, you’re the kind of sucker I appreciate -- unless you think “our war in Afghanistan” doesn’t include killing people with drones and cruise missiles.

“Beyond 2014, America’s commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change. We’re 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 counterterrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates.”

We’re so pleased to help Afghan people kill other Afghan people! Our government’s expertise in such matters includes superb reconnaissance and some thrilling weaponry, which we’ll keep providing to the Kabul regime. And don’t you love the word “counterterrorism”? It sounds so much better than: “using the latest high-tech weapons to go after people on our ‘kill lists’ and unfortunately take the lives of a lot of other people who happen to be around, including children, thus violating international law, traumatizing large portions of the population and inflicting horrors on people in ways we would never tolerate ourselves.”

“We don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations. Instead, we’ll 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.”

We don’t need flag-draped coffins coming home. We’re so civilized that we’re the planetary leaders at killing people with remote control from halfway around the world.

We must enlist our values in the fight. That’s why my administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism efforts. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. And I recognize that, in our democracy, no one should just take my word for it that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage 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.”

I’m sick of taking flak just because I pick and choose which civil liberties I want to respect. If I need to give a bit more information to a few other pliant members of Congress, I will. The ones who get huffy about the Bill of Rights aren’t going to get the time of day from this White House. I recognize that some of my base is getting a bit upset about this civil-liberties thing, so I’ll ramp up the soothing words and make use of some prominent Democratic members of Congress who are of course afraid to polarize with me. Don’t underestimate this president; I know how to talk reverentially about our great nation’s “checks and balances” as I undermine them.

“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.”

Maybe it’s just about time for another encore of “preemptive war.”

Norman Solomon

What Obama Said (and What He Meant) About Climate Change, War and Civil Liberties

The words in President Obama’s “State of the Union” speech were often lofty, spinning through the air with the greatest of ease and emitting dog whistles as they flew.

Let’s decode the president’s smooth oratory in the realms of climate change, war and civil liberties.

“For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.”

We’ve done so little to combat climate change -- we must do more.

“I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change…”

Climate change is an issue that can be very good for Wall Street. Folks who got the hang of “derivatives” and “credit default swaps” can learn how to handle “cap and trade.” The corporate environmental groups are on board, and maybe we can offer enough goodies to big corporations to make it worth their while to bring enough of Congress along.

“The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that.”

Dual memo. To T. Boone Pickens: “Love ya.” To environmentalists who won’t suck up to me: “Frack you.” (And save your breath about methane.)

“That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.”

Blow off steam with your demonstrations, you 350.org types. I’ll provide the platitudes. XL Keystone, here we come.

“After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home.”

How’s that for an applause line? Don’t pay too much attention to the fine print. I’m planning to have 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan a year from now, and they won’t get out of there before the end of 2014. And did you notice the phrase “in uniform”? We’ve got plenty of out-of-uniform military contractors in Afghanistan now, and you can expect that to continue for a long time.

“And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.”

If you believe that, you’re the kind of sucker I appreciate -- unless you think “our war in Afghanistan” doesn’t include killing people with drones and cruise missiles.

“Beyond 2014, America’s commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change. We’re 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 counterterrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates.”

We’re so pleased to help Afghan people kill other Afghan people! Our government’s expertise in such matters includes superb reconnaissance and some thrilling weaponry, which we’ll keep providing to the Kabul regime. And don’t you love the word “counterterrorism”? It sounds so much better than: “using the latest high-tech weapons to go after people on our ‘kill lists’ and unfortunately take the lives of a lot of other people who happen to be around, including children, thus violating international law, traumatizing large portions of the population and inflicting horrors on people in ways we would never tolerate ourselves.”

“We don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations. Instead, we’ll 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.”

We don’t need flag-draped coffins coming home. We’re so civilized that we’re the planetary leaders at killing people with remote control from halfway around the world.

We must enlist our values in the fight. That’s why my administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism efforts. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. And I recognize that, in our democracy, no one should just take my word for it that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage 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.”

I’m sick of taking flak just because I pick and choose which civil liberties I want to respect. If I need to give a bit more information to a few other pliant members of Congress, I will. The ones who get huffy about the Bill of Rights aren’t going to get the time of day from this White House. I recognize that some of my base is getting a bit upset about this civil-liberties thing, so I’ll ramp up the soothing words and make use of some prominent Democratic members of Congress who are of course afraid to polarize with me. Don’t underestimate this president; I know how to talk reverentially about our great nation’s “checks and balances” as I undermine them.

“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.”

Maybe it’s just about time for another encore of “preemptive war.”

Norman Solomon

The State of the Union: Is Rule of Law in Peril or Is it...

WASHINGTON - February 11 - CHRIS HEDGES, [email]
Hedges just wrote the piece “The NDAA and the Death of the Democratic State,” which states: “On Wednesday a few hundred activists crowded into the courtroom of the Second Circuit, the spillover room with its faulty audio feed and dearth of chairs, and Foley Square outside the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse in Manhattan where many huddled in the cold. The fate of the nation, we understood, could be decided by the three judges who will rule on our lawsuit against President Barack Obama for signing into law Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act.

“The section permits the military to detain anyone, including U.S. citizens, who ‘substantially support’ — an undefined legal term — al-Qaida, the Taliban or ‘associated forces,’ again a term that is legally undefined. Those detained can be imprisoned indefinitely by the military and denied due process until ‘the end of hostilities.’ In an age of permanent war this is probably a lifetime. Anyone detained under the NDAA can be sent … to any ‘foreign country or entity.’ This is, in essence, extraordinary rendition of U.S. citizens. It empowers the government to ship detainees to the jails of some of the most repressive regimes on earth.

“Section 1021(b)(2) was declared invalid in September after our first trial, in the Southern District Court of New York. The Obama administration appealed the Southern District Court ruling.” Hedges is lead plaintiff in the NDAA lawsuit. His most recent book is The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress and he was part of a team of New York Times reporters who won a Pulitzer Prize.

MICHAEL RATNER, mratner at ccrjustice.org, @justleft
Ratner is president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He said today: “The rule of law is not in peril; it is no more. The country under Obama is utterly lawless. There is nothing legal or moral about murdering with drones or assassinations, continuing indefinite detention, military commissions and renditions. There is nothing legal or moral about attacking other countries such as Yemen, Pakistan or Libya. There is nothing legal or moral about a massive surveillance state. And then just to make sure no one reveals our evil we persecute and jail our truth tellers: [Julian] Assange, [Bradley] Manning, [Jeremy] Hammond, [John] Kirakou, while the real criminals go free. What you are seeing here is the recognition by the U.S. that it is weakening as a world power and it is striking out in ways that aren’t always rational but that are certainly inhuman and lawless.”

Ratner notes in “The Ratner Report” on The Real News Network: “We’ve been litigating this issue for a number of years now. The Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU represent the family of Anwar al-Aulaqi, as well as [his 16-year-old son] Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, who were killed by drones in Yemen.”

SHAHID BUTTAR, [email], @Sheeyahshee
Buttar is executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. He said today: “The civil liberties abuses of the Bush administration, and their continuing extension by the Obama administration, have reduced our Constitution to a shadow of itself. This week’s State of the Union address offers a disturbing reminder that, in 2013, America can not be plausibly described as ‘the land of the free.’

“Our supposedly ‘free’ country imprisons more people than any other on Earth, including China — which has a much larger population, and a longstanding reputation for abusing rights.

“Our supposedly ‘free’ country actively suppresses dissent. Instead of enjoying meaningful First Amendment rights to speech, assembly, and the right to petition our government, the peaceful Occupy movement was targeted by federal and state authorities for surveillance, infiltration, disruption, and violent suppression. Occupy activists in several states, like peace activists, environmental activists, and labor organizers, have been charged (and in many cases, convicted) of terror offenses.

“In our supposedly ‘free’ country, the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures has collapsed. Congress recently approved mass warrantless wiretapping by the NSA, which operates not only in secret, but under a secret budget at a time when politicians claim to face a budget crisis. Meanwhile, the FBI unapologetically infiltrates faith institutions and peaceful activist groups, creating a national biometric identity scheme under cover of facilitating immigration enforcement, and faking the results of its forensic investigations. Even local police routinely work as spies, using drones and other military technology to monitor Americans for activities as ‘suspicious’ as drawing and taking notes.

“Our supposedly ‘free’ country also abuses more fundamental rights. Anyone, including citizens, is subject to arbitrary military detention without trial or proof of crime, or outright assassination by the CIA, a secret civilian agency for which the White House has announced a nominee for Director whom the Senate should reject. Brennan refuses to acknowledge that torture (which the CIA recently conducted as a matter of policy before destroying much of the evidence) is a crime. Brennan has not, and can not, explain the national security justification for drone strikes given their profound strategic risks. And Brennan hasn’t even faced questions about the CIA training domestic police departments, like the NYPD, in violation of its statutory charter.

“Finally, our supposedly ‘free’ country practices unequal justice. While millions face prosecution for relatively minor offenses, the architects of U.S. human rights abuses include a federal appellate judge wielding a lifetime appointment and six figure government paycheck. Whistleblowers, like the NSA’s Thomas Drake and the CIA’s John Kiriakou, face prison sentences not for committing crimes, but for revealing them to the public.

“Neither the President nor his partisan critics are likely to note these issues this week, but Americans feel their impact every day. Under each of the past two presidents, executive fiat, enabling legislative statutes and judicial formalism have combined to shred our Constitution and transform America from a ‘land of the free’ into a land that loudly proclaims freedom while denying it to our own people.”

The State of the Union: Is Rule of Law in Peril or Is it...

WASHINGTON - February 11 - CHRIS HEDGES, [email]
Hedges just wrote the piece “The NDAA and the Death of the Democratic State,” which states: “On Wednesday a few hundred activists crowded into the courtroom of the Second Circuit, the spillover room with its faulty audio feed and dearth of chairs, and Foley Square outside the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse in Manhattan where many huddled in the cold. The fate of the nation, we understood, could be decided by the three judges who will rule on our lawsuit against President Barack Obama for signing into law Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act.

“The section permits the military to detain anyone, including U.S. citizens, who ‘substantially support’ — an undefined legal term — al-Qaida, the Taliban or ‘associated forces,’ again a term that is legally undefined. Those detained can be imprisoned indefinitely by the military and denied due process until ‘the end of hostilities.’ In an age of permanent war this is probably a lifetime. Anyone detained under the NDAA can be sent … to any ‘foreign country or entity.’ This is, in essence, extraordinary rendition of U.S. citizens. It empowers the government to ship detainees to the jails of some of the most repressive regimes on earth.

“Section 1021(b)(2) was declared invalid in September after our first trial, in the Southern District Court of New York. The Obama administration appealed the Southern District Court ruling.” Hedges is lead plaintiff in the NDAA lawsuit. His most recent book is The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress and he was part of a team of New York Times reporters who won a Pulitzer Prize.

MICHAEL RATNER, mratner at ccrjustice.org, @justleft
Ratner is president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He said today: “The rule of law is not in peril; it is no more. The country under Obama is utterly lawless. There is nothing legal or moral about murdering with drones or assassinations, continuing indefinite detention, military commissions and renditions. There is nothing legal or moral about attacking other countries such as Yemen, Pakistan or Libya. There is nothing legal or moral about a massive surveillance state. And then just to make sure no one reveals our evil we persecute and jail our truth tellers: [Julian] Assange, [Bradley] Manning, [Jeremy] Hammond, [John] Kirakou, while the real criminals go free. What you are seeing here is the recognition by the U.S. that it is weakening as a world power and it is striking out in ways that aren’t always rational but that are certainly inhuman and lawless.”

Ratner notes in “The Ratner Report” on The Real News Network: “We’ve been litigating this issue for a number of years now. The Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU represent the family of Anwar al-Aulaqi, as well as [his 16-year-old son] Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, who were killed by drones in Yemen.”

SHAHID BUTTAR, [email], @Sheeyahshee
Buttar is executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. He said today: “The civil liberties abuses of the Bush administration, and their continuing extension by the Obama administration, have reduced our Constitution to a shadow of itself. This week’s State of the Union address offers a disturbing reminder that, in 2013, America can not be plausibly described as ‘the land of the free.’

“Our supposedly ‘free’ country imprisons more people than any other on Earth, including China — which has a much larger population, and a longstanding reputation for abusing rights.

“Our supposedly ‘free’ country actively suppresses dissent. Instead of enjoying meaningful First Amendment rights to speech, assembly, and the right to petition our government, the peaceful Occupy movement was targeted by federal and state authorities for surveillance, infiltration, disruption, and violent suppression. Occupy activists in several states, like peace activists, environmental activists, and labor organizers, have been charged (and in many cases, convicted) of terror offenses.

“In our supposedly ‘free’ country, the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures has collapsed. Congress recently approved mass warrantless wiretapping by the NSA, which operates not only in secret, but under a secret budget at a time when politicians claim to face a budget crisis. Meanwhile, the FBI unapologetically infiltrates faith institutions and peaceful activist groups, creating a national biometric identity scheme under cover of facilitating immigration enforcement, and faking the results of its forensic investigations. Even local police routinely work as spies, using drones and other military technology to monitor Americans for activities as ‘suspicious’ as drawing and taking notes.

“Our supposedly ‘free’ country also abuses more fundamental rights. Anyone, including citizens, is subject to arbitrary military detention without trial or proof of crime, or outright assassination by the CIA, a secret civilian agency for which the White House has announced a nominee for Director whom the Senate should reject. Brennan refuses to acknowledge that torture (which the CIA recently conducted as a matter of policy before destroying much of the evidence) is a crime. Brennan has not, and can not, explain the national security justification for drone strikes given their profound strategic risks. And Brennan hasn’t even faced questions about the CIA training domestic police departments, like the NYPD, in violation of its statutory charter.

“Finally, our supposedly ‘free’ country practices unequal justice. While millions face prosecution for relatively minor offenses, the architects of U.S. human rights abuses include a federal appellate judge wielding a lifetime appointment and six figure government paycheck. Whistleblowers, like the NSA’s Thomas Drake and the CIA’s John Kiriakou, face prison sentences not for committing crimes, but for revealing them to the public.

“Neither the President nor his partisan critics are likely to note these issues this week, but Americans feel their impact every day. Under each of the past two presidents, executive fiat, enabling legislative statutes and judicial formalism have combined to shred our Constitution and transform America from a ‘land of the free’ into a land that loudly proclaims freedom while denying it to our own people.”

Targeted Killings: The White Paper Allows the Government to Kill a US Citizen who...

By Dennis Bernstein

B:  We continue our discussion of the revelations around a memo coming out of the Justice Department that the administration plans to keep up these assassinations and expand the program.  Joining us to take a legal look at this is Marjorie Cohn, Professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former President of the National Lawyers Guild.  She is also the editor of “The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse.”  Welcome back to Flashpoints, Marjorie.  You say the White Paper runs afoul of international and US law.  Please explain.

MC:  The White Paper allows the government to kill a US citizen who is not on the battlefield, if some high government official who is supposedly informed about the situation thinks that the target is a senior Al Queda leader who poses an imminent threat of a violent attack against the United States.  So how do they define “imminence”? Well, it doesn’t require any clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.  So it completely dilutes this whole idea of imminent threat.  Under well-established principles of international law and the UN Charter, one country can use military force against another only in self-defense.  But under the Caroline case, which is the gold standard here, the “necessity for self-defense must be instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.”

That means we are going to be attacked right away and we can use force.  But the very nebulous test that the White Paper lays out even allows the targeted killing of somebody who is considered to be a “continuing” threat, whatever that means.  The most disturbing part of it says that US citizens can be killed even when there is no “clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”  So we have a global battlefield, where if there is someone, anywhere, who might be associated with Al Qaeda, according to a high government official, then Obama can authorize (it’s not even clear Obama himself has to authorize these targeted killings, these drone attacks) on Terror Tuesday (thanks to the New York Times expose several months ago) who he is going to kill after consulting with John Brennan.  John Brennan, of course, is his counter-terrorism guru who is up for confirmation to be CIA Director.  Very incestuous.  John Brennan has said that targeted killings constitute lawful self-defense.

One of the most disturbing things here is the amassing of executive power with no review by the courts, no checks and balances.  So the courts will have no opportunity to interpret what “imminence” means, or what “continuing” threat means.

The White Paper cites John Yoo, who claims that courts have no role to play in what the President does in this so-called War on Terror where the whole world is a battlefield.  I say so-called War on Terror because terrorism is a tactic.  It’s not an enemy.  You don’t declare war on a tactic.  And the White Paper refers Yoo’s statement that judicial review constitutes “judicial encroachment” on the judgments by the President and his National Security advisors as to when and how to use force.

The White Paper cites Hamdi v. Rumsfeld which says the President has the authority to hold US citizens caught on the battlefield in Afghanistan as enemy combatants.  But in Hamdi, the Supreme Court stated that a US citizen who is being detained as an enemy combatant is entitled to due process.  Due process means an arrest and a fair trial.  It doesn’t mean just taking him out with a drone.  Also, there’s another interesting passage in this White Paper.  It says “judicial enforcement [a court reviewing these kill orders of the executive] of such orders would require the court to supervise inherently predictive judgments by the president and his national security advisors as to when and how to use force against a member of an enemy force against which Congress has authorized the use of force.”

Inherently predictive.  Does that mean that the court can’t review decisions made with a crystal ball because it’s too mushy?  I don’t know.  Certainly courts are competent to make emergency decisions under FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  The FISA Court meets in secret and authorizes wiretaps requested by the executive branch.  Courts can do this.  Courts can act in emergencies to review and check and balance what the executive is doing.  That’s what our Constitution is all about.

DB: Congress is looking for some original documents about what’s going on here.  The White Paper is sort of a restatement of National Security documents that we probably haven’t been able to see yet. What about the Geneva Conventions?  It sort of throws that in the garbage.

MC:  Well, it does because the Geneva Conventions define willful killing as a grave breach.  And grave breaches are punishable as war crimes.  So this also violates the Geneva Conventions.  Although the White Paper says that they are going to follow the well-established principle of proportionality – proportionality means that an attack cannot be excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage – I don’t see how they can actually put that into practice because the force is going to be excessive.  When you see how they are using drones, they are taking out convoys, and they are killing civilians, large numbers of civilians.

There’s another principle of international law called distinction, which requires that the attack be directed only at legitimate military targets.  We know from the New York Times expose that the kill list that Brennan brings to Obama to decide who he is going to take out without a trial – basically execute – can be used even if they don’t have a name, or if they are present in an area where there are suspicious “patterns of behavior.”  These are known as signature strikes.

That means that bombs are dropped on unidentified people who are in an area where suspicious activity is taking place.  That goes even beyond targeted killings.  Targeted killings are considered to be illegal.  The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Christof Heyns, expressed grave concerns about these targeted killings, saying that they may constitute war crimes.  He called on the Obama administration to explain how its drone strikes comport with international law and to specify the bases for the decisions to kill rather than capture particular individuals.

The White Paper says that one of the requirements before they can take someone out is that capture is “infeasible.”  As you go on and read this memo, infeasible begins to look like inconvenient.  We have these very mushy terms, with no clear standards that comply with international law.  Yet there is no oversight by any court, and Congress has no role either.  So we don’t have checks and balances.  Even the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that Congress passed a few days after 9/11 doesn’t authorize this.  The AUMF allows the President to use force against groups and countries that had supported the 9/11 attacks.  But when the Bush administration asked Congress for open-ended military authority “to deter and preempt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States,”  Congress specifically rejected that open-ended military authority.  Congress has not authorized this, and it’s not clear whether Congress would authorize it.  There are several congresspersons who are trying to get a hold of the actual documents that you have referred to, beyond this White Paper, which is the tip of the iceberg.

DB:  That includes Ron Wyden who is on the Intelligence Committee and can’t get a hold of this.  When one looks at this Obama policy and compares it to Bush, essentially Obama has chosen well, we’ll do a little less torture, or skip the torture, and we’ll just kill them.

MC: Obama has expanded these drone attacks far beyond what the Bush administration was doing.  There are many thorny issues, such as indefinite detention, how detainees are treated, and under what circumstances they can be released.  The Obama administration evidently feels that it’s cleaner and easier just to kill them.  Then you don’t have to worry about bad publicity from housing them at Guantanamo, not giving them a fair trial, holding them indefinitely.  This goes beyond the torture policy.  Now I don’t want to say that killing with drones is worse than the illegal and outrageous invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan that  the Bush administration began, in which thousands and thousands and thousands of people have been killed or seriously maimed.  So I wouldn’t say that Obama is worse than Bush.  But certainly Obama is following in the tradition of the Bush administration and John Yoo’s expansive view of executive power where whatever the President does is unreviewable.

DB:  I would say they continue the process of destroying the Bill of Rights, the Constitution and the necessary checks and balances that restrain war, that the people depend on.  We are out of time.  Marjorie, thanks for being with us on Flashpoints.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor of human rights at Thomas Jefferson School and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. Her most recent book is “The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse.” See www.marjoriecohn.com.

Dennis J. Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom.  You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net. He can be contacted at [email protected].

Drones: The Ultimate Stalkers

A hexacopter flown by Daniel Garate, an aerial photographer, during his demonstration at his home in Woodland Hills, Calif., Feb. 3, 2012. (Photo: J. Emilio Flores / The New York Times)A hexacopter flown by Daniel Garate, an aerial photographer, during his demonstration at his home in Woodland Hills, Calif., Feb. 3, 2012. (Photo: J. Emilio Flores / The New York Times)Imagine you’re being stalked from the sky. Every time you go in or out of any building, it’s recorded. Everybody you talk with. Everyplace you drive or take public transportation. Your sky-stalker can see through your windows, read your lips, and, using infrared cameras, can even see if you’ve lit a cigarette – of any type.

Shouldn’t this be illegal?

When Larisa Oleynik, star of “The Secret World of Alex Mack,” found she had a stalker, she got a restraining order. But if her stalker had been the police, and they were doing it with a drone, right now there are virtually no laws or regulations that would protect her. Or you.

Being concerned about such things is genuinely all-American.

You could say that our privacy concerns started with George Orwell (who, ironically, was British) and the publication of his book “1984,” but in reality the modern-day American concern about government snooping into our lives goes back before the American Revolution.

Thomas Jefferson, back before George Washington was president but after the Revolutionary War, was living in Paris and communicated in code with his protégé, James Madison, about their Federalist political enemies.

Jefferson did it again when he became President in 1801, developing an even more elaborate code to communicate with his most trusted aide, Meriwether Lewis. Their concern was which military officers, mostly leftovers from the John Adams administration, might be reading their mail or interrogating White House servants because those officers were thinking of pulling a military coup to overthrow the Jefferson administration.

The result was that Jefferson, on Lewis’s suggestion, fired two-thirds of all the commissioned officers and cut the size of the Army by over 80 percent.

Fast forward to today. Police helicopters, police trucks that can use infrared to see inside your house, and GPS units cops can attach to you car. In every case there’s a legitimate police use for these technologies, as well as an incredible potential for abuse.

The Fourth Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights that Jefferson demanded Madison put into the Constitution as the price of getting Virginia’s ratification, is one sentence long. It says:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

In other words, they can’t spy on you – on you, personally – unless they have enough proof to bring before a judge that you’re up to something that’s probably illegal.

In the case of the police helicopters, trucks, GPS units, and phone taps, to some extent both state governments, Congress, and the Supreme Court have brought their use into at least a marginal compliance with the Fourth Amendment.

Not so with drones. At least yet.

And that’s why the City of Charlottesville, Virginia – a stone’s throw from Thomas Jefferson’s home – did a beautiful thing this week in passing a resolution calling for a ban, for the moment, on drones in their skies.

The Rutherford Institute proposed the first draft of what ultimately became the resolution that was promoted by the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice. It included language that said:

WHEREAS, the federal government and the Commonwealth of Virginia have thus far failed to provide reasonable legal restrictions on the use of drones within the United States; and

“WHEREAS, police departments throughout the country have begun implementing drone technology absent any guidance or guidelines from law makers…” there should be at two-year moratorium on using information obtained from them, or on weaponizing them.

As David Swanson notes in his blog on the CCPJ site, “without proper safeguards, these drones, some of which are deceptively small and capable of videotaping the facial expressions of people on the ground from hundreds of feet in the air, will usher in a new age of surveillance in American society. Not even those indoors, in the privacy of their homes, will be safe from these aerial spies, which can be equipped with technology capable of peering through walls.”

And that doesn’t even include the capability of these police drones to be weapon-equipped, from bullets to nerve gas. Or their ability to be hacked, or their data streams to be hijacked by malicious corporations, weird stalkers, or foreign governments.

Nobody is saying there’s no legitimate place for drones in police work in America. They’re a heck of a lot cheaper than the helicopter that famously followed OJ Simpson’s car, for example. At the most basic level, they’re just an extension of already-existing and already-used technology.

And yet, as with any new technology – think email, for example, or text-messages – we need to make sure it’s used in a way that complies with the Fourth Amendment and respects our individual rights to privacy.

And that’s why it’s way beyond time to have a national conversation about drones over US skies. With the help of the CCPJ, Charlottesville has taken a great first step in starting that national dialog. Oregon, for example, has started a similar debate, with legislation introduced by both Democrats and Republicans concerned about individual privacy rights.

Let’s all work for solid legislative restrictions on police use of these drones so that they help legitimate police work while respecting the Fourth Amendment privacy rights of us all.

Guest Post: Too Big To Jail Is Here To Stay

Submitted by John Aziz of Azizonomics blog,

Lanny Breuer, the Assistant Attorney General who claimed that prosecuting banks for crimes poses a risk to the financial sector and so corrupt bankers are “too big to jail” has lost his job:

MARTIN SMITH: You gave a speech before the New York Bar Association. And in that speech, you made a reference to losing sleep at night, worrying about what a lawsuit might result in at a large financial institution.

LANNY BREUER: Right.

MARTIN SMITH: Is that really the job of a prosecutor, to worry about anything other than simply pursuing justice?

LANNY BREUER: Well, I think I am pursuing justice. And I think the entire responsibility of the department is to pursue justice. But in any given case, I think I and prosecutors around the country, being responsible, should speak to regulators, should speak to experts, because if I bring a case against institution A, and as a result of bringing that case, there’s some huge economic effect — if it creates a ripple effect so that suddenly, counterparties and other financial institutions or other companies that had nothing to do with this are affected badly — it’s a factor we need to know and understand.

But the man who put him there, and who is ultimately responsible for the policy — the Attorney General himself — is here to stay.

eric-holder

Simon Johnson notes:

Attorney General Eric Holder expressed similar views in the context of discussing why more severe charges weren’t brought against Zurich-based UBS AG last year for manipulating the London interbank offered rate. And Neil Barofsky, a onetime senior prosecutor and former inspector general of the Troubled Asset Relief Program that administered the bank bailouts, provided a scathing assessment of Justice Department policy.

The Justice Department likes to quote Thomas Jefferson: “The most sacred of the duties of government [is] to do equal and impartial justice to all its citizens,” a line that appears in its latest budget documents.

This sentiment is hardly consistent with saying that some companies have characteristics that put them above the law. Jefferson himself was very worried about the concentrated power of financiers — he would have seen today’s problems much more clearly than do Holder and Breuer.

Fundamentally, Obama’s continued support for Holder illustrates that Obama is still committed to the policy of holding financiers to a lesser standard of justice than other citizens.

The continued failure to implement even the Volcker rule — let alone a Glass-Steagall-style separation between retail and investment banking — illustrates that Obama is committed to letting bailed-out banks continue to operate in the risky manner that led to the crisis. So does the total failure to ensure a level playing field for retail investors in a market now totally dominated by algorithms.

The big banks continue to ride roughshod over the American people with the complicity of the political class. Too Big to Jail is an affront to the Constitution, an affront to the Bill of Rights, an affront to those like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Lysander Spooner, Frederick Douglas and all those who at various times crusaded to make equality before the law a reality in America.

The only sensible way forward is that lawbreakers on Wall Street must be prosecuted in the same way as other lawbreakers. That means that Eric Holder and all others associated with Too Big To Jail must lose their jobs.

But I doubt that will happen any time soon.

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An Anniversary of America’s First Progressive Revolution

Exactly a century ago, on February 3, 1913, the 16th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, authorizing a federal income tax. Congress turned it into a graduated tax, based on “capacity to pay.”

It was among the signal victories of the progressive movement — the first constitutional amendment in 40 years (the first 10 had been included in the Bill of Rights, the 11th and 12th in 1789 and 1804, and three others in consequence of the Civil War), reflecting a great political transformation in America.

The 1880s and 1890s had been the Gilded Age, the time of robber barons, when a small number controlled almost all the nation’s wealth as well as our democracy, when poverty had risen to record levels, and when it looked as though the country was destined to become a moneyed aristocracy.

But almost without warning, progressives reversed the tide. Teddy Roosevelt became president in 1901, pledging to break up the giant trusts and end the reign of the “malefactors of great wealth.” Laws were enacted protecting the public from impure foods and drugs, and from corrupt legislators.

By 1909 Democrats and progressive Republicans had swept many state elections, subsequently establishing the 40-hour work week and other reforms that would later be the foundation stones for the New Deal. Woodrow Wilson won the 1912 presidential election.

A progressive backlash against concentrated wealth and power occurred a century ago in America. In the 1880s and 1890s such a movement seemed improbable if not impossible. Only idealists and dreamers thought the nation had the political will to reform itself, let alone enact a constitutional amendment of such importance — analogous, today, to an amendment reversing “Citizens United v. FEC” and limiting the flow of big money into politics.

But it did happen. And it will happen again.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

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.

An Anniversary of America’s First Progressive Revolution

An Anniversary of America’s First Progressive Revolution

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Posted on Feb 3, 2013

By Robert Reich

This post originally ran on Robert Reich’s Web page, www.robertreich.org

Exactly a century ago, on February 3, 1913, the 16th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, authorizing a federal income tax. Congress turned it into a graduated tax, based on “capacity to pay.”

It was among the signal victories of the progressive movement — the first constitutional amendment in 40 years (the first 10 had been included in the Bill of Rights, the 11th and 12th in 1789 and 1804, and three others in consequence of the Civil War), reflecting a great political transformation in America.

The 1880s and 1890s had been the Gilded Age, the time of robber barons, when a small number controlled almost all the nation’s wealth as well as our democracy, when poverty had risen to record levels, and when it looked as though the country was destined to become a moneyed aristocracy.

But almost without warning, progressives reversed the tide. Teddy Roosevelt became president in 1901, pledging to break up the giant trusts and end the reign of the “malefactors of great wealth.” Laws were enacted protecting the public from impure foods and drugs, and from corrupt legislators.

By 1909 Democrats and progressive Republicans had swept many state elections, subsequently establishing the 40-hour work week and other reforms that would later be the foundation stones for the New Deal. Woodrow Wilson won the 1912 presidential election.

A progressive backlash against concentrated wealth and power occurred a century ago in America. In the 1880s and 1890s such a movement seemed improbable if not impossible. Only idealists and dreamers thought the nation had the political will to reform itself, let alone enact a constitutional amendment of such importance — analogous, today, to an amendment reversing “Citizens United v. FEC” and limiting the flow of big money into politics.

But it did happen. And it will happen again.

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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Armed and Dangerous: The Gun Debate

Gun Control.(Photo: Jonathan Hinkle / Flickr)Twenty years ago, in a letter to The Washington Post, Gun Owners of America Director Larry Pratt made the argument that the only thing separating Americans from the oppressed peoples of China and the Baltic States was their access to weapons.  "When the police have all the guns," he wrote,"brutal attacks against defenseless citizens will become as common here as in other oppressed regimes. This is why gun owners oppose the banning of so-called assault rifles."     Does this sound familiar? It should. The same argument is being made today by that organization and other pro-gun groups. The only way to prevent a police state, which many people claim is in the works -- in secret, is to allow the wide and unregulated distribution of all sorts of weapons.

This logic, which assumes that any regulation is the first step toward confiscation, represents the paranoid and individualist mentality that for decades has dominated debate about gun violence in the US. We are free, the argument goes, only as long as we can defend ourselves with guns not only against criminals but also against the law and the State.

A related argument is that the federal government should not be allowed to regulate guns; this is a matter best left to states. And if a state wants to do nothing, perhaps because the gun lobby can defeat candidates who back even modern reforms, or because the crime rate isn't soaring or no mass shootings have recently occurred, people in neighboring states must simply spend more money to crack down on crime and violence. It's simply the price of freedom.

Such arguments are based on the notion that government should not meddle in the affairs of individuals. Guns are not the problem, opponents add, it's people – in other words, human nature. But most homicides in the US are committed with guns; in other words, people with guns kill more people than those without them. There are 270 million privately owned firearms in this country. Use by children has increased in recent years, as has the stockpiling of exotic weapons by extreme groups and criminal organizations.

Considering this context, it seems reasonable to ask what is more threatening to freedom and security, unrestrained gun ownership or some government oversight? The arguments against regulation tend to fall into three categories: 1) the right to bear arms is constitutionally protected, 2) gun control won't reduce violence in society, and 3) gun laws are a serious threat to freedom.

Do these assertions hold up to scrutiny?

Arms and the Law

The roots of US ideas about the relationship between weapons and society go back to the Florentine political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli, who noted that military service should be the responsibility of every citizen, but soldiering the professional of none. Basing his ideas on the Roman suspicion of professional soldiers, he concluded that military force should only be used to assure the common good. This idea of citizens bearing arms in defense of the State, to avoid the potential tyranny of a standing army, was translated by the authors of the Bill of Rights into the Second Amendments and helps to explain its unusual wording:

"A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

Many libertarians have interpreted this sentence to mean that individuals are guaranteed the right to possess firearms for their personal defense or for any other use they choose. What this fails to acknowledge is the meaning of citizenship as it was understood two centuries ago. In the 18th century, citizenship directly involved militia service for men, which was part of the commitment to the greater public good. An armed citizenry did not mean an armed population. In fact, even then it was clearly understood that access to weapons was a communal rather than an individual right.

This dynamic was made clear in various declarations of rights predating the Bill of Rights. For example, Virginia's Declaration of Rights, adopted on June 12, 1776, said that a well-regulated militia, trained to arm, was the safe defense of a free State. That and subsequent variations adopted by other states made it clear that the idea was trained citizens, organized in militias, providing for a common defense. The word "people" refers to this collective role, contrasting a militia to a standing army.

Article 17 of Vermont's Declaration of Rights, adopted in 1777, followed this logic by proclaiming:

"That the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and the State; and as standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up; and that the military ought to be kept under strict subordination to and governed by the civil power."

Vermont's Article 9, which dealt with the matter of conscientious objection to military service, made it clear that "bearing arms" meant military service. It said that no one could be compelled to carry or use a gun, even though rights also involved personal service. The solution was that those who chose not to serve would pay an appropriate sum on money. Bearing arms was directly linked to the collective responsibility for defense.

Several states specifically said that criminals or people involved in rebellion could be disarmed. In other words, the security of society took precedence over an individual's right to have weapons. Thus, when early Americans spoke or an armed citizenry's role in preserving freedom, they were talking about a militia linked to the classical idea of citizenship. There is no record of anyone arguing, during the passage of the Bill of Rights, that individuals had a right to bear arms outside the ranks of a militia. On the contrary, that provoked fear for the stability of the new Republic.

The great constitutional commentator of the period, Justice Joseph Story, noted that what the Second Amendment actually guaranteed was a "well-regulated militia." The fear was that without one the country might be vulnerable to invasion, domestic insurrection, or a military takeover by some ruler. We needed a militia, Story said, because it was impractical to keep people armed without some organization.

The fear of a militarized society or a federal government monopoly on force is not, by definition, a form of paranoia. On the other hand, it is an overreach to claim that individuals have a fundamental right to protect themselves by stockpiling weapons. For those who want a counter-force to our national military, the direction to look is greater autonomy of organized local or state militias, not the right of people to become self-appointed guardians or vigilantes.

Legal Precedents

Despite the endless repetition of claims that individuals have a constitutional right to be armed, this is not consistent with the weight of legal opinion. In fact, a series of US Supreme Court cases have made the situation quite clear. In U.S. v. Cruikshank (1876), the Court ruled that the right "of bearing arms for a lawful purpose is not a right granted by the Constitution." Ten years later, inPresser v. Illinois, the Court noted that although states have the right to form militias, they are also free to regulate the circumstances under which citizens can carry weapons. This view was upheld in an 1894 case, Miller v. Texas.

In 1939, federal gun regulations established by the National Firearms Act of 1934 were challenged.  The decision in that case was unanimous. The federal government has the right, the Court ruled, to regulate the transportation and possession of firearms, and individuals only have a right to be armed in connection with military service. In 1980, Justice Harry Blackmun commented that this case represented the Courts' basic thinking on gun control.

On June 8, 1981, the Village of Morton Grove, Illinois passed an ordinance banning the possession of handguns, except by police, prison officials, members of the military, recognized collectors and those who needed them for their work. Predictably, the National Rifle Association challenged the law. Both the Federal District Court and a Federal Appeals  Court rejected their argument, saying that there is no individual right to bear arms, the ordinance was reasonable, and the right to have weapons applies only to well-regulated militias.

The US Supreme Court refused to even hear the case.

Guns and Crime

Sentiment in favor on some form of gun control fluctuates, but has tended to grow for decades. In 1968 71 percent were in favor, peaking at more than 90 percent in 1981. In one Gallop Poll the Brady Bill won 95 percent support. Most people obviously see some connection between the availability of firearms and the rate of crimes involving guns, and a variety of studies support these views. Nevertheless, opponents insist that stronger laws won't have an impact.

Interstate trafficking of weapons is an enormous problem, undercutting the argument sometimes heard that the only reason for gun control is a high murder rate in a specific state. This provincial argument ignores interdependence, our responsibility to our neighbors, and basic facts. The only effective way to control the black market for guns, through gun shows and private sales, is a national registry of all purchasers, along with tracing and prosecution of the interstate traffickers. This does not involve rounding up handguns, but it does mean acknowledging that the situation is out of control and that saving lives takes priority over protecting a form of free enterprise that has turned monstrous.

Leaving the matter in the hands of individual communities or states may sound appropriately populous. But it avoids the issue. In 2011 guns were involved in more than 32,000 US deaths, 11,100 of them murders, as well as thousands of rapes, hundreds of thousands of robberies, and about a half million assaults. The vast majority of people convicted of violent crimes obtained their weapons either at a gun shows or on the black market. That suggests, of course, that background checks alone will not make a huge dent in the problem. But a reduction of twenty percent would significant; perhaps one less child killed every day and fewer rapes and murders.

Many crimes involving guns are impulsive, suggesting that a waiting period could help in some cases.  Of course, the underlying causes of violence and crime must also be addressed. But for those among the 20 percent who might be saved by modest reforms that would be more meaningful than any statistic or slogan.

The NRA is fond of saying that "guns don't kill people, people kill people." It's a tidy little argument but let's get real: people with guns can kill people far more effortlessly than people with knives, deadly fighting skills or poison. The FBI has assembled evidence on whether stricter laws make a difference. For example, after Massachusetts passed a law requiring a mandatory jail sentence for carrying a handgun without a license murders involving handguns dropped by almost 50 percent. Robberies went down 35 percent.  After South Carolina tightened its handgun purchase requirement in the 1990s, the murder rate dropped 28 percent.

Registration and background checks are no panacea. However, they do keep weapons out of the hands of some criminals, addicts and kids. They can also reduce the number of murder and suicides that result from being able to buy a gun in state of rage or depression. Drivers licenses and automobile registration do not prevent all auto accidents – but they help. To drive a car, a potentially dangerous vehicle, we agree that people need to be properly trained and meet minimum standards.  Similar requirements, in the form of gun safety programs and practical tests for the owners of lethal weapons, would be a step toward national sanity.

Weapons and freedom

No freedom is absolute. Even in the most decentralized and self-managed society, people must accept some social responsibilities and limits in exchange for liberty.

Ideally, in a free society citizens participate directly in making the rules governing their social contract.But even Michael Bakunin, an anarchist philosopher who took the practice of liberty to a place some might consider extreme, did not ignore than importance of social responsibility. Human beings can only fulfill their free individuality by complementing it through all the individuals around them, he argued. Bakunin was contemptuous of the type of individualism that asserts the well-being on one person or group to the detriment of others.

"Total isolation is intellectual, moral and material death." he wrote.

When a disturbed teenager or disgruntled adult commits mass murder it has nothing to do with liberty. People obviously do not have the right to abuse or destroy the lives and liberties of others. Yet, when the issue is guns, many Americans essentially argue that the freedom to be armed is more important that the right to be safe. Actually, many say that being armed is the only way to be safe, and therefore any restriction on the access to weapons is a profound threat to freedom.

Allowing the government to take any step, argue the opponents of gun regulation, is the beginning of tyranny. From this vantage point government is the enemy. It would be naive to argument that the government always uses its power wisely. The political system cries out for change, if not transformation, if we are ever to have a society that promotes real equality, justice, respect for diversity, and self-management. Yet achieving this, empowering people and making step-by-step progress, requires an appeal to hope rather than fear. Arguing that the only way to be free is to oppose and resist government, in other words knee-jerk rejection, plays into the hands of the most reactionary forces in society.

Suspicion of centralized power was clearly a concern of those who created the country. It is still justified and relevant. But the form that most threatens freedom in the 21st century is the power of powerful, unaccountable institutions, most of them private, that can influence elections and shaped government policies. Many of these same interests aggressively argue that freedom means "freedom from government." Such appeals are a convenient way to prevent intrusions into the private "right" to profit and pollute at the expense of the general health and well-being – to exploit in the name of freedom.

In the 1970s a Trilateral Commission study candidly concluded that a central objective of corporate planning in the coming era would be to lower expectations. People needed to be convinced to expect less, to accept a reduced standard of living and stop demanding that government solve all their problems.  Reagan was not a Trilateralist, but he was an effective spokesman for the same position. The Clinton administration, although committed rhetorically to "activist" government, embraced a similar social and economic agenda.

The bottom line is this: Effective regulation, combined with a comprehensive national database and a training program for gun users, would establish over time that less access to guns leads to less violent crime. This has been the case in Europe and some US states. Success would help shatter the myth that government is the problem, and that people are better off armed to the teeth and on their own.

The debate over guns is not about restricting rights. That's the cover story, an assumption promoted by the gun lobby to shape public perceptions. It's not even about "control," any more than the fight for affordable housing is secretly a fight for rent control. The goal is security, freedom from the fear and anxiety sweeping across this over-armed society.

A well-regulated militia is a altruistic idea, certainly preferable to the military-industrial complex. But almost 300 million guns in private hands is –pardon the expression – overkill.

In Switzerland, most adult between 20 and 30 males become members of a militia. They receive training, rifles and ammunition from the government that are kept in homes. However, handguns are tightly controlled and anyone who wants one must have a background check and obtain a permit.

In 2010 there were 40 Swiss homicides involving firearms, for a rate of 0.70 per 100,000.  The US rate was 3.6, or five times as high.

Rand Paul to bring new fight against TSA

Rand Paul (Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images / AFP)

Rand Paul (Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images / AFP)

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is continuing his fight against the government-controlled TSA and has introduced bills to privatize the agency and establish a passenger bill of rights.

This is the senator’s second attempt at overhauling the Transportation Security Administration; the Kentucky Republican introduced two similar bills in mid-2012 that didn’t make it through the Commerce Committee last year and received little support.

But Paul remains determined to overhaul airport security and reduce the TSA’s power, which he believes is commonly used to violate airline passengers’ privacy by committing offenses like inappropriately "groping toddlers". By privatizing the TSA and establishing passenger rights, the senator believes he can improve the airport security process, he said in an interview with Politico.

One of the two bills would require that airports hire private companies of their own choosing to conduct security screenings. The TSA already had a program that would give select airports this option, but recently abandoned it and returned full power of airport security to its own employees, thereby eliminating the competition.

TSA has repeatedly come under scrutiny for inappropriate pat-downs, stealing from passengers, inappropriate use of nude body scanners, discrimination, and arresting passengers without valid reasons. Paul has himself had a conflict with TSA agents at a Nashville airport in early 2012. After resisting a pat-down, he missed his speech at the March for Life rally and has worked towards an airport security overhaul ever since.

The senator’s second bill would create a passenger bill of rights that would provide travelers with a number of protections from procedures like invasive searches. Select passengers would have the option to opt out of pat-downs and screening procedures would be expedited. Every passenger would also receive a copy of the bill of rights.

Paul said his new bills are similar to the ones that failed in 2012, but that he believes “there is some bipartisan support for reforming the TSA.”

“The American people shouldn’t be subjected to harassment, groping and other public humiliation simply to board an airplane,” he wrote in a press release in early 2012. “It’s time to END the TSA and get the government’s hands back to only stealing our wallets instead of groping toddlers and grandmothers.”

The Rise Of America’s Lunatic Fringe

Authored by chindit

The Rise Of America's Lunatic Fringe

Anyone who spends any amount of time on the internet has seen them. They are the moonbats, the wingnuts, the whackjobs, the Conspiratorialists. They are America’s new Lunatic Fringe, and their numbers are growing.

While the rise of the internet fed a segment of society that has always existed, as the cyberworld has become an increasingly important source of both entertainment and information, an entirely new demographic has joined what was already amongst us.

Who are they and what do they believe?  The Lunatic Fringe is not uniform in either its background or beliefs.  Some clearly seem to be emotionally disturbed.  Others are simply naïve and gullible.  Still more are frustrated by an economy and a government that are behaving out of whack with what most people expected from life and from leadership.  They want to believe America stands for something noble, but it is increasingly felt by them that it does not.  They are confused, frustrated, disappointed, and growing angrier by the day.

They feel violated and betrayed.  Some harbor a diffuse rage which could blow at any time.  Others have figuratively thrown in the towel and have joined the ranks of the Preppers and Survivalists.  Surely the rise of this latter element, as evidenced by everything from a NatGeo show to an iPhone App, must be taken seriously and their concerns listened to if not addressed.

Collectively, though individually they differ, the beliefs of the Fringe include a conspiracy behind the JFK assassination, a faked moon landing, and the current favorite:  that 911 was an “inside” job.  The collective also includes the Birthers, and those who believe in everything from FEMA Camps to chemtrails to that retro old favorite of Colonel Jack Ripper, fluoridation.  (Those unfamiliar with these terms should Google them for more information than one might care to have.) The Fringe holds beliefs that have the world controlled variously by the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers, the Bilderbergers, Bohemian Grove, Skull and Bones, the Council on Foreign Relations, 33rd Degree Freemasons, the Vatican, the Queen of England, or just The Illuminati.

Every event and every incident in the world is affected by some Master Plan carried out by whomever the believer chooses from the aforementioned gallery of rogues.  For many, al Qaeda is really al CIAda, and the prime directive of that organization, along with all the other USG alphabet agencies, is to further the goals of the elite, usually through some “false flag” operation or “psy-op”, and this many believe is financed through sales of illicit drugs under the guise of CIA foreign operations.

Believers can “prove” each and every one of their claims via a series of cross-referenced internet links, the source of many undoubtedly just someone’s fertile imagination, but very real to the believers.

To the uninitiated this all seems rather humorous, albeit slightly unsettling.  It would be both wrong and unwise just to slough it off as the ramblings of the insane.  The reason such beliefs are gaining favor is because many Americans have lost faith and lost trust in the government and in America’s elected leadership.  Given what has happened over the last decade, this is not only understandable, it is even, in an odd way, reasonable.  A continual drift to the fringe can be expected because of the many very real things that make the foolish things suddenly more believable.

Why have the people lost faith and trust?  There is a host of reasons, perhaps beginning with the war of choice in Iraq and the vociferous and passionate claims of WMD that turned out to be false.  That war cost lives, cost sympathy and diplomatic capital, and cost trillions even when America was told by former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz that the war “would pay for itself from oil sales” and that “Americans would be welcomed with garlands”.  Neither was anything close to accurate.  Instead the US has war dead, war wounded, a huge bill, fewer friends, and many more enemies.

What truly exacerbated the rush to the fringe was the Financial Crisis and the subsequent railroaded bailouts, which “democratic” America opposed to the tune of 97%, and which were, and still are viewed as rewarding the very people who caused the collapse.  The oft-spoken official claims that “the taxpayer made a profit on the bailouts” just adds salt to the taxpayers’ wounds, as it conveniently fails to take into account the host of programs---from TALF to ZIRP to QEI, II, and III and Twist---that virtually handed the banks the money with which they could “pay back” the bailout cash.

America sees backroom deals and favors to insiders every step of the way, and rightfully so they see this, because that is exactly how the bailout was undertaken.  No one had to pay for his mistakes, and equally significant, no one has been prosecuted despite overwhelming evidence of fraud, malfeasance, and corruption.  Americans cannot help but subscribe to the cynical quip, “everyone is equal under the law, except for those who are above it”.  Fines don't count, especially when the money to pay them comes right back through another door. America's prisons are filled with people who did little more than use a banned substance.  It's time some bankers and officials faced the possibility of similar accommodations, should they be found guilty. Of course, first they must be prosecuted.

The belief that all is not fair is further cemented when the Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer can be taped (PBS, “Frontline”) saying, "Well, I think I am pursuing justice. And I think the entire responsibility of the department is to pursue justice. But in any given case, I think I and prosecutors around the country, being responsible, should speak to regulators, should speak to experts, because if I bring a case against institution A, and as a result of bringing that case, there’s some huge economic effect — if it creates a ripple effect so that suddenly, counterparties and other financial institutions or other companies that had nothing to do with this are affected badly — it’s a factor we need to know and understand."

No matter how one parses that quote it still says the same thing: some are above the law.

The American people are well aware they have been lied to by the leadership. They know that a lobbyist has an infinitely greater chance of getting his way than an entire nation of voters.  They know who pays the bills---the taxpayer---as well as who pays the politicians---the lobbyists.  They see the Federal Debt ballooning to Greek-like proportions, and the best Congress can do, other than take vacation or kick the can, is to tell Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to “get to work, Mr. Chairman”, which means print more money, monetize the deficit, and further dilute the value of the dollar.

Even some people within the government are undoubtedly growing frustrated. Imagine someone in DEA, FBI, CIA, or the military, who sees the slap on the wrist fine handed to a certain non-US bank for a decade or more of drug money laundering and laundering money for Iran, some of which might well have found its way to Hezbollah or to parties aiding the Iraqi insurgency. There are people in Waziristan who face the wrath of a drone-fired Hellfire missile with less evidence to back up the attack.  This bank, incidentally, received a $3.5 billion payment-in-full upon the US taxpayer bailout of insurer AIG.

When trust is gone, everything becomes an affront, a conspiracy, a power grab by the elite.  The recently passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which gives the President incredibly broad powers, seems to obviate both habeas corpus and the entire Bill of Rights.  When the trust is gone, people are less willing to believe that such a bill would never be used recklessly, or vindictively to put down vocal opponents of whatever Administration happens to be in power at the time.  When trust is gone, the people question new efforts to alter the Second Amendment, even if many are personally outraged at the rash of gun violence that has come to epitomize the United States, so they rush to guns rather than run from them.  When the trust is gone, the message of the Lunatic Fringe is afforded greater reception.  When the trust is gone the Fringe becomes the mainstream.

The government can no longer afford to ignore the Lunatic Fringe, because it is becoming less loon and more understandably and righteously indignant every day.  The government did not create the Fringe, but through callous disregard, incompetence, blatant self-interest, cronyism, selective enforcement, and pandering to its financial support base, the government has fertilized the fringe until it has grown to redwood-like size.  The nation's leadership is viewed not with admiration, but with distrust.  It is no longer the solution, but the problem.  It has reversed from friend to enemy, at least for a not insignificant portion of the citizenry.   The fringe is not going to go away, and it will continue to hammer away at an already fragile society.  It very well could lead to significant social unrest, even random violence.  New records in the Dow will not alter the focus, nor ameliorate the bubbling rage, even if the financial media or the Federal Reserve thinks it will.  This growing demographic of citizens must have their concerns addressed before it is too late.  Woe to those who ignore it.

To paraphrase a certain career New York Senator, “Mr. Government, get to work!”  Or better yet, get out of the way.

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Land of the Free? Home of the Brave? Only When It’s Convenient

These days, it’s almost mandatory for public figures to laud our men and women in the military with praise and gratitude.  “Thank you for your service,” rolls off the tongues of Republicans and Democrats alike.(Photo: AFP)

Certainly that’s the storyline fed us by politicians: our veterans are heroes – a thin green line between existential threats to our country and our freedom.

Odd then, that the principles these men and women ostensibly fought and died defending are being traded away like so much second hand junk at a garage sale.  Let’s examine how.

Republican Hypocrisy of the Highest Order

Don’t look now, but Republicans are engaged in a systematic effort to disenfranchise voters.  Yeah, that’s right—the Party that has sanctimoniously and aggressively wrapped itself in the flag for some 30 years now, is undercutting the one person, one vote principle that is the cornerstone of democracy.

See, as their attempts to use faux patriotism, fear, hate, greed and anger to forge a winning coalition began to unravel in the face of changing demographics, they started trying to prevent people who disagreed with them from voting. 

For Republicans, one person, one vote has given way to our people vote, yours don’t. 

It started in 2000 in Florida with a systematic attempt to exclude voters who were likely to vote for Democrats.  It continued to 2004, where Ohio’s Secretary of State rigged distribution of voting machines so that Democratic leaning precincts were plagued with long lines and even longer delays in voting. 

In 2012, they tried to use trumped up fears about voter fraud to put voter ID laws in place that made it more difficult for seniors, minorities, and students to vote.  Of course, these groups tend to vote for Democrats.  How much voter fraud was there to justify this assault on freedom?  Almost none.

Yet Republicans were ready to exclude tens of thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of voters to fix a problem that barely existed.  Land of the free?  Not so much.

And now we have the latest Republican assault on democracy – tying the electoral college to gerrymandered districts.  Gerrymandering has already disenfranchised voters.  In 2012, 1,156,550 more people voted for Democratic candidates in House races than for Republicans, yet Republicans won the House. 

This latest scheme – endorsed by RNC Chair Reince Priebus would apply this anti-democratic strategy to presidential elections as well.  If states with Republican governors and legislatures such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Virginia, and Ohio had adopted this tactic, Mitt Romney would be President, despite losing the popular vote by nearly 5 million.

Yup, Republicans sure love freedom and democracy – unless of course, it interferes with their attempts to gain power.

And what about those heroes everyone loves to point to – the millions of men and women who, over the course of our history have been wounded, maimed, and killed defending freedom?  Screw ‘em. 

Democrats, Cowards or Conspirators?

Of course, Democrats are doing their own bit to eviscerate our freedoms. 

Remember the Patriot Act, with all its illegal and immoral provisions violating the spirit or letter of the Bill of Rights?  Well, four years after winning the election, it’s still in effect.  Warrantless wiretapping, indefinite detention of citizens, the whole panoply of horrors hatched by Bush.  In fact, recently these abuses have been expanded.

In 1759, Ben Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Home of the brave?  Hardly.  When a rag-tag group of stateless terrorists armed only with scavenged weapons and improvised explosives can frighten us into relinquishing essential freedoms, then we have become the home of the terrified. 

So here we are.  Since the founding of our nation, nearly 750,000 people have died in battles, most defending the principles embedded in the Constitution.  Yes, this document has not always been inclusive, and yes, many of these wars were more about aggression and expansion than defense of freedom. 

But until lately, our history has been marked by an expansion of rights to more and more people over the years. 

But no more.  Republicans are trying to rig the system so the majority no longer wins, and Democrats are thumbing their noses at the Bill of Rights.

And where is the mainstream media on all this?  If not quite silent, certainly herded into incoherence with cries of “balance” and fear of being accused of being “partisan.”

Here’s the deal.  Tyranny more often comes silently from within than it does from heralded assaults from without.  And a coup can be executed with money and fear as readily as it can be with arms and aggression.

So it is that a nation that once served as a beacon of freedom slips inexorably toward  a third rate banana republic in which power, ambition, wealth, greed, fear and ignorance trump the Enlightenment principles upon which it was founded.

RIP, heroes.

John Atcheson

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on Climateprogess.org.

Land of the Free? Home of the Brave? Only When It’s Convenient

These days, it’s almost mandatory for public figures to laud our men and women in the military with praise and gratitude.  “Thank you for your service,” rolls off the tongues of Republicans and Democrats alike.(Photo: AFP)

Certainly that’s the storyline fed us by politicians: our veterans are heroes – a thin green line between existential threats to our country and our freedom.

Odd then, that the principles these men and women ostensibly fought and died defending are being traded away like so much second hand junk at a garage sale.  Let’s examine how.

Republican Hypocrisy of the Highest Order

Don’t look now, but Republicans are engaged in a systematic effort to disenfranchise voters.  Yeah, that’s right—the Party that has sanctimoniously and aggressively wrapped itself in the flag for some 30 years now, is undercutting the one person, one vote principle that is the cornerstone of democracy.

See, as their attempts to use faux patriotism, fear, hate, greed and anger to forge a winning coalition began to unravel in the face of changing demographics, they started trying to prevent people who disagreed with them from voting. 

For Republicans, one person, one vote has given way to our people vote, yours don’t. 

It started in 2000 in Florida with a systematic attempt to exclude voters who were likely to vote for Democrats.  It continued to 2004, where Ohio’s Secretary of State rigged distribution of voting machines so that Democratic leaning precincts were plagued with long lines and even longer delays in voting. 

In 2012, they tried to use trumped up fears about voter fraud to put voter ID laws in place that made it more difficult for seniors, minorities, and students to vote.  Of course, these groups tend to vote for Democrats.  How much voter fraud was there to justify this assault on freedom?  Almost none.

Yet Republicans were ready to exclude tens of thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of voters to fix a problem that barely existed.  Land of the free?  Not so much.

And now we have the latest Republican assault on democracy – tying the electoral college to gerrymandered districts.  Gerrymandering has already disenfranchised voters.  In 2012, 1,156,550 more people voted for Democratic candidates in House races than for Republicans, yet Republicans won the House. 

This latest scheme – endorsed by RNC Chair Reince Priebus would apply this anti-democratic strategy to presidential elections as well.  If states with Republican governors and legislatures such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Virginia, and Ohio had adopted this tactic, Mitt Romney would be President, despite losing the popular vote by nearly 5 million.

Yup, Republicans sure love freedom and democracy – unless of course, it interferes with their attempts to gain power.

And what about those heroes everyone loves to point to – the millions of men and women who, over the course of our history have been wounded, maimed, and killed defending freedom?  Screw ‘em. 

Democrats, Cowards or Conspirators?

Of course, Democrats are doing their own bit to eviscerate our freedoms. 

Remember the Patriot Act, with all its illegal and immoral provisions violating the spirit or letter of the Bill of Rights?  Well, four years after winning the election, it’s still in effect.  Warrantless wiretapping, indefinite detention of citizens, the whole panoply of horrors hatched by Bush.  In fact, recently these abuses have been expanded.

In 1759, Ben Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Home of the brave?  Hardly.  When a rag-tag group of stateless terrorists armed only with scavenged weapons and improvised explosives can frighten us into relinquishing essential freedoms, then we have become the home of the terrified. 

So here we are.  Since the founding of our nation, nearly 750,000 people have died in battles, most defending the principles embedded in the Constitution.  Yes, this document has not always been inclusive, and yes, many of these wars were more about aggression and expansion than defense of freedom. 

But until lately, our history has been marked by an expansion of rights to more and more people over the years. 

But no more.  Republicans are trying to rig the system so the majority no longer wins, and Democrats are thumbing their noses at the Bill of Rights.

And where is the mainstream media on all this?  If not quite silent, certainly herded into incoherence with cries of “balance” and fear of being accused of being “partisan.”

Here’s the deal.  Tyranny more often comes silently from within than it does from heralded assaults from without.  And a coup can be executed with money and fear as readily as it can be with arms and aggression.

So it is that a nation that once served as a beacon of freedom slips inexorably toward  a third rate banana republic in which power, ambition, wealth, greed, fear and ignorance trump the Enlightenment principles upon which it was founded.

RIP, heroes.

John Atcheson

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on Climateprogess.org.

The Second Amendment’s History

“A majority of Americans tell pollsters that they believe the Second Amendment protects private ownership of guns,” wrote Garry Wills, historian and author of James Madison, in 1995.

What is the basis for this belief and why was Wills focusing on this issue in 1995? Does the sparse language of the Second Amendment actually guarantee an individual right to bear arms? Protect private gun ownership and the right to carry firearms without restriction?

What does “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” mean in the context of the entire Second Amendment language? In the context of the Constitution? In the context of the historical record? What was the feeling among the constitutional delegates about standing armies? Militias? Indeed, what were the politics of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights?

Is the meaning of the Second Amendment clear? If the “original meaning” of the Constitution is clear and unambiguous, why have we been paying the Supreme Court to interpret it for over 200 years? Why do some express a “majority opinion” and others dissent? Why do we have constitutional scholars?

James Madison was the author of the militia clause in the Constitution and the Second Amendment. What was Madison’s thinking and how do we know it? Are Madison’s words undebatable?

Have all the Supreme Court justices agreed on the interpretation of the Second Amendment? Why did the Court have one interpretation this amendment for almost one hundred years and then seem to reverse course? Was there a consensus on the Court?

What was the purpose of the Second Amendment? Was it to address self defense? To save slavery? To pacify the delegates from the South who were resisting support of the Constitution at the 1787 Convention because of the slavery issue?

No one would deny that slavery played an important role in the early development of the nation, but just how important was it? What do we know about the role slavery played in the Constitutional Convention and how do we know it?

Historian Gordon Wood notes that: “If we are to understand accurately the role of slavery in the making of the Constitution, we have to try to rid ourselves of our knowledge of what happened in the succeeding decades. The founders did not know the future, any more than we do, and most of them at the outset lived with the illusion that slavery in the United States was dying away and would somehow eventually disappear, especially with the ending of the slave trade. Of course, they could not have been more wrong.”

Politics in Philadelphia

What were the politics of the delegates to the Philadelphia convention in that hot summer? Was the Amendment designed to ensure that citizens are armed and ready to fight against their own government should it become tyrannical? Did the Framers consider the possibility of a “tyrannical” new government a priority consideration as they worked to produce a document designed to unify and stabilize thirteen colonies? Does such an idea make sense? What evidence supports the idea that the Framers feared that the new government might become tyrannical?

Were the Framers concerned about individual ownership of firearms or about “security” and “domestic tranquility?” Or, were the Framers concerned about maintaining order and avoiding chaos in the new nation, discouraging threats to its “security,” instability that could discredit the Revolution, and benefit its “enemies” abroad?

Has the belief that the Second Amendment protects private ownership of guns always been so? Or is this belief born of a disposition to believe that the Second Amendment is a “sacred principle” that protects gun ownership? Is this disposition of recent vintage?

Has the Second Amendment been “hijacked”? Have gun advocates intentionally misstated the law, repeating their misstatements and investing heavily in propaganda in order to persuade the public? Persuade the corporate media? Persuade courts?

The Right, the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby and even some on the Left given to romanticizing history have a “boiler plate,” knee-jerk response to the gun control issue — they would have Americans believe that the argument that the Second Amendment guarantees the right of individuals to own firearms is moot. Is that true?

And what about the term liberty? Just what does that word mean? To whom? Why?

“The American Right is fond of putting itself inside the minds of America’s Founders and intuiting what was their ‘original intent’ in writing the U.S. Constitution and its early additions, like the Second Amendment’s ‘right to bear arms,’ ” writes investigative reporter Robert Parry. “But, surely, James Madison and the others weren’t envisioning people with modern weapons mowing down children in a movie theater or a shopping mall or now a kindergarten.”

Abusing the Second Amendment

Historian Garry Wills wrote: “The recent effort to find a new meaning for the Second Amendment comes from the failure of appeals to other sources as a warrant for the omnipresence of guns of all types in private hands. Easy access to all these guns is hard to justify in pragmatic terms, as a matter of social policy. …

“That is why the gun advocates appeal, above pragmatism and common sense, to a supposed sacred right enshrined in a document Americans revere…We must put up with our world-record rates of homicide, suicide, and accidental shootings because, whether we like it or not, the Constitution tells us to. Well, it doesn’t.”

Few Americans know much about U.S. history, or specifically know history in relation to guns and the gun control issue and they do not do their homework — a comprehensive review of the related history.

The American public generally has the reputation for being anti-intellectual, ill acquainted with scholarship and considered to have short memories and even shorter attention span. Indeed, Americans appear to have given up reading altogether.

The result is that millions of Americans have embraced the dangerous – and false – notion that the Framers of the U.S. Constitution incorporated the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights so an armed population could fight the government that the Framers had just created. This belief is not accidental — it has been deliberately taught, the result not of serious scholarship and study but the result of an agenda.

The gun industry, an interested party of the first order in the individual right interpretation of the Second Amendment, has averaged about $3.5 billion a year in inflation-adjusted terms going back to the mid-1990s. Journalist Lee Fang reports in The Nation magazine: “For every gun or package of ammunition sold at participating stores, a dollar is donated to the NRA.”

Too many Americans, frustrated and confused by a host of issues, and perhaps easily given to irrational fears and paranoia reinforced by a shallow and narrow frame of reference, have willingly embraced the Right’s well-funded propaganda and attempt to re-interpret the Second Amendment and re-write American history. They are all too willing to embrace anti-government hysteria and succumb to manipulation.

As Parry writes: “Today’s American Right is drunk on some very bad history, which is as dangerous as it is false.” The Right has been repeating lies about the Second Amendment and U.S. history for several decades, but as Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “Repetition does not transform a lie into the truth.”

Americans are being cheated by a Right that is trying to reduce American history to simplistic, comic-book levels and steal our history right out from under us. (Revisionism can come in “Left” clothing as well.)

Longstanding Precedents

Few Americans know that there are two opposing views of the Second Amendment: the collective right model and the individual model. They are unaware that the first view prevailed for almost one hundred years, that it was not only widely accepted it was uncontroversial.

Professor Robert J. Spitzer discovered in the course of his research for the “2000 Symposium on the Second Amendment” that from the time U.S. law review articles first began to be indexed in 1887 until 1960, all law review articles dealing with the Second Amendment endorsed the collective right model.

The first law review article asserting an individual’s right to own firearms for self-defense (or sport) did not even appear until 1960. Eleven articles discussing the Second Amendment were published during this 73-year period. All endorsed the collective right model.

“If there is such a thing as settled constitutional law,” wrote law professor Carl T. Bogus in 2000, “the Second Amendment may have been its quintessential example.” The United States Supreme Court addressed the Amendment three times in 1876, 1886, and 1939 and on each occasion held that it granted the people a right to bear arms only within the militia. [See United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1876); Presser v. Illinois, 116 U.S. 252 (1886);
United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939).]

The Second Amendment was adopted on December 15, 1791, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights. As passed by Congress, it read: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The Right (and those who have bought into their argument) would appear to completely dismiss the first phrase relating to the militia, the phrase that gives the leading, primary meaning of the sentence and to which the second phrase relates. The word “militia” is defined in the Constitution itself:

“The Congress shall have Power . . . To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.” [Article 1, § 8.]

Law professor Carl T. Bogus points out that the founders disagreed about how the militia ought to be organized: For example, “Madison favored a universal militia while [Alexander] Hamilton argued for a select militia. However, they agreed as a constitutional matter to leave this up to Congress; and the Constitution expressly gives Congress the power to organize the militia. Thus, the militia is what Congress decides it is, regardless of whether it differs from an eighteenth-century model. Currently, the militia is indisputably the National Guard because Congress has so decided.”

Twisted Quotes

Historian Wills’s lengthy and scholarly argument in 1995 was not to deny any private right to own and use firearms. He simply maintains that Madison “did not address that question when drafting his amendment.” He suggests that gun advocates lobbied using shoddy scholarship that included quotations that were “truncated, removed from context, twisted, or applied to a different debate from that over the Second Amendment” in order to find “new meaning for the Second Amendment” – in effect, to sell the American public the idea that there is a “sacred right enshrined in a document Americans revere.”

It has been suggested that the basis for the majority opinions of the Court in the 2008 and 2010 cases that provided support for the individual model (in 2008, for the first time) is also based on questionable scholarship and intellectual leaps. It should be noted that in both cases the Court was divided 5-to-4. [See District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008); McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 3025 (2010).]

Reporter Parry emphasizes: “The reality was that the Framers wrote the Constitution and added the Second Amendment with the goal of creating a strong central government with a citizens-based military force capable of putting down insurrections, not to enable or encourage uprisings. The key Framers, after all, were mostly men of means with a huge stake in an orderly society, the likes of George Washington and James Madison.

“The men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 weren’t precursors to France’s Robespierre or Russia’s Leon Trotsky, believers in perpetual revolutions. In fact, their work on the Constitution was influenced by the experience of Shays’ Rebellion in western Massachusetts in 1786, a populist uprising that the weak federal government, under the Articles of Confederation, lacked an army to defeat.”

Law professor Geoffrey R. Stone strongly suggests that: “It is time for opponents of gun control to stop mindlessly shouting ‘The Second Amendment!!’ as if that ends the discussion. It does not. Just as there is no First Amendment right to falsely yell fire in a crowded theatre, there is no Second Amendment right to carry an AK-47 there. And that is only the beginning of what the Second Amendment does not guarantee.”

We citizens don’t have to become constitutional lawyers or scholars on the Second Amendment. We do need to take the time to do some basic homework–and not be intimidated by right-wing bullies and their deep-pocketed propaganda campaigns. We need to reach a comfort level as to what is known, what is not known, what is debatable, and what is a misrepresentation or outright lie.

The Right has given us nothing but destruction and death. Irrational right-wing extremists and their so-called “conservatism” have transformed the United States into a nightmare.

They have given us not simply extraordinarily bad manners but conscience-less coarseness; distracted us with nihilistic obstructionism that prevents our being able to effectively solve major national problems; made us look like backward, ignorant, unworthy and reckless fools before the entire world; militarized our culture with an authoritarianism that would echo the Third Reich; robbed us of our joy, our peace of mind, our dignity and our self-respect; de-civilized us with fear, violence and ugliness; “drenched us in Bloodshed;” indoctrinated citizens with misrepresentations, distortions, and blatant lies; attempted to make superstition respectable and madness the norm; polarized our national community; and they want to steal our past, our American history as well.
Enough.

Alternative Reality

I am on the side of the collective right argument, the argument that the Second Amendment does not protect individual gun ownership, an argument supported by credible real scholarship by real scholars that supports thecollective right argument.

I emphasize the word real because it is clear that too many Americans live in an alternative reality that confuses belief with facts, and are unable to distinguish scholarship from fanciful propaganda and scholars from lobbyists.

We may even have members of the U.S. Supreme Court who have succumbed to what is nothing less than a National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun lobby sales pitch that fits their right-wing, corporatist, authoritarian mentality.

I believe too many of the American public, politicians and mainstream media have been hoodwinked by the radical Right, the billion-dollar gun industry and the NRA. Yes, we are over 300 million individuals, but we are individuals who do not live in isolation but share a society.

On a personal note: I know what it is like to face a 22 revolver in the hands of a 9-year-old boy (reputed to have been disturbed) just two inches off my forehead (in the U.S. Virgin Islands in the early ‘70s). Believe me, I remember what the color “gun metal” looks like and know the sensation of feeling that all the blood has left my body. I want to see strong, sensible gun regulations.

I want the country of my birth to regain its sanity.

Obama: Radical or Rhetoric? * Rule of Law * Climate Change

WASHINGTON - January 22 - Following President Obama’s inauguration speech, CNN stated: “His was a call for radical changes even as a divided Congress rules over an undecided nation.”

SHAHID BUTTAR, [email], @bordc
Buttar is executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. He said today: “Some critics of Mr. Obama’s inaugural address may describe his comments as radical. But insisting on values as fundamental as ‘equality before the law’ and the ‘enduring strength of our Constitution’ are hardly radical. Indeed, they are simply restatements of principles that have long united America.

“If observers want to criticize the president, they should instead challenge his derogation in practice of the same values he professes in his lofty speeches. The President’s first term unfortunately witnessed a continued extension of the Bush-Cheney legacy, and he seems no more inclined than his neo-con predecessors to heed longstanding constitutional limits on executive power.

“Extrajudicial assassination using armed drone aircraft, the use of unmanned aerial drones to conduct domestic spying without warrants, the NSA’s dragnet warrantless spying program, the FBI’s resurrection of COINTELPRO, the unprecedented crackdown on immigrants under President Obama, the use of immigration enforcement as a pretext to create a national biometric identification scheme for all Americans (including citizens), the continuation of racial profiling in the drug war and the new threat of military detention within the U.S. all reflect a dangerous side to the president’s legacy that undermines the rights of all Americans, regardless of political party or ideology.”

DAPHNE WYSHAM, via Lacy MacAuley, [email]
Wysham is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and is the founder and co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network. She said today: “Obama is finally and fearlessly uttering the words ‘climate change’ in the context of needing to take aggressive action. While this is welcome news to climate change activists, the words will be meaningless unless a) the Obama Administration rejects the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline; b) Obama selects a new EPA administrator who is willing to take action under the Clean Air Act to rein in CO2 emissions from all sources; c) he stops pushing for dangerous energy development deep offshore in the Gulf, in the Arctic and via continued fracking for oil and gas; d) he pursues a renewable energy standard for the entire country; and e) he directs our publicly financed development banks and export credit agencies to get out of fossil fuels entirely."

Obama: Radical or Rhetoric? * Rule of Law * Climate Change

WASHINGTON - January 22 - Following President Obama’s inauguration speech, CNN stated: “His was a call for radical changes even as a divided Congress rules over an undecided nation.”

SHAHID BUTTAR, [email], @bordc
Buttar is executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. He said today: “Some critics of Mr. Obama’s inaugural address may describe his comments as radical. But insisting on values as fundamental as ‘equality before the law’ and the ‘enduring strength of our Constitution’ are hardly radical. Indeed, they are simply restatements of principles that have long united America.

“If observers want to criticize the president, they should instead challenge his derogation in practice of the same values he professes in his lofty speeches. The President’s first term unfortunately witnessed a continued extension of the Bush-Cheney legacy, and he seems no more inclined than his neo-con predecessors to heed longstanding constitutional limits on executive power.

“Extrajudicial assassination using armed drone aircraft, the use of unmanned aerial drones to conduct domestic spying without warrants, the NSA’s dragnet warrantless spying program, the FBI’s resurrection of COINTELPRO, the unprecedented crackdown on immigrants under President Obama, the use of immigration enforcement as a pretext to create a national biometric identification scheme for all Americans (including citizens), the continuation of racial profiling in the drug war and the new threat of military detention within the U.S. all reflect a dangerous side to the president’s legacy that undermines the rights of all Americans, regardless of political party or ideology.”

DAPHNE WYSHAM, via Lacy MacAuley, [email]
Wysham is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and is the founder and co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network. She said today: “Obama is finally and fearlessly uttering the words ‘climate change’ in the context of needing to take aggressive action. While this is welcome news to climate change activists, the words will be meaningless unless a) the Obama Administration rejects the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline; b) Obama selects a new EPA administrator who is willing to take action under the Clean Air Act to rein in CO2 emissions from all sources; c) he stops pushing for dangerous energy development deep offshore in the Gulf, in the Arctic and via continued fracking for oil and gas; d) he pursues a renewable energy standard for the entire country; and e) he directs our publicly financed development banks and export credit agencies to get out of fossil fuels entirely."

Our Dumb Democracy: Why the United States of Stupid Still Reins Supreme

Astoundingly, Mr. Obama – the supreme pragmatist and compromiser – gave an inaugural address that was as strong a defense of progressivism as we have seen in thirty years. Yet it will take more than words to make a difference.  As the echoes of his speech fade, we are still faced with ultra-rightwing terrorists threatening to hold the US economy hostage to a set of demands that the majority of Americans disagree with.

These are the same loonies who deny global warming; the same ones who set up a museum showing prehistoric humans walking with dinosaurs; the same ones who think the answer to gun violence is more guns; the same ones who voted against relief for victims of Sandy … the same ones who want to shove ultrasound instruments into women’s vaginas and tell people who they can and cannot marry while simultaneously shouting to the rooftops about freedom and values. 

Yeah. Their freedoms, their beliefs and their values, please.  All others step to the back of the bus, or consult Leviticus.  You know, that font of ancient wisdom that tells us when and how to stone our neighbor’s daughter.

Want to know how our political discourse got so mind-numbingly stupid? 

Well, we can start with this little fact:  The press is so enamored with “balance” that they’ll treat even the most ignorant, shallow, fatuous movement – a movement composed of the selfish, the self-obsessed, the angry, the bigoted, and the blissfully ignorant – as if it were a serious movement. 

Consider the following signs seen at Tea Party protests.

There’s the now infamous: “Keep your government hands off my Medicare.”

Or this gem:  “Don’t steal from Medicare to Support Socialized Medicine.”

Or this: “Get a Brain.  Morans [sic].”

Or this:  “Obama Half Breed Muslin” – or maybe cotton or linen?

Or this: “We came unarmed.  This time.”

Or this:  “Stop Illeagles.”  Yup, gotta hate it when eagles get ill.

There’s absolutely no shortage of these tributes to stupidity – the list could go on and on. 

At one time this kind of foolishness would have been laughed off the national stage. 

Now it dominates one of our major political parties, thanks to the media’s embrace of balance and false equivalence and the Democrats’ silent complicity.

It might be time for a whole new set of “imponderables”.

Imponderables are questions or statements that by their nature expose something that doesn’t make sense. At their best, they’re mildly amusing and instructive. For example, why does Hawaii have an Interstate Highway system? or Why isn’t “phonetic” spelled the way it sounds? or Why do psychics have to ask you for your name?

Yes, today’s political discourse is so thoroughly littered with “conventional wisdom” without an iota of wisdom, that there should be a new category – political imponderables. Here are a few examples:

National “Defense:” If the US was spending more than the next 16 countries combined on defense prior to 911, why did we need to create the Department of Homeland Security to defend ourselves?

Shouldn’t the Defense Department be called the Department of Offense?

Why isn’t every citizen asking why we have tens of thousands of troops scattered around the world to fight the cold war, nearly 25 years after it ended.

If Citizen’s United is about Free Speech, why does it cost so much? Republicans and plutocrats are set to spend far more than $1 billion on the presidential race.

Why did Obama call the Patriot Act shoddy and dangerous then essentially continue Bush’s assault on the Bill of Rights?

Climate Change: Why did candidate Obama call climate change an epochal man-made threat to the planet, while President Obama virtually ignored it his entire first term.  

Why do states which are experiencing the worst climate-related disasters elect Republican governors and congressional representatives who deny its existence?

Deficit Duplicity: Why are Republicans once again threatening to shut down government over extending the debt ceiling, after voting for the Ryan’s first budget, which required multiple and astronomical increases in the debt ceiling until the year 2062?

If Republicans really hate deficits, why did the last three Republican Presidents run up more than 66% of the nation's cumulative deficit  – more than all other Presidents combined?  And why didn’t rank and file Republicans utter a peep against it when they did?

Deregulation, Trickle Down Redux, or Fool me once, shame on you … If thirty years of policies featuring deregulation, tax cuts for the rich and starve the beast policies resulted in the economic crash in 2008 – the worst since the Great Depression, which was also preceded by laissez-faire policies – how can more of the same be the solution?

Small Government that Isn’t: If Republicans like small government, why does it always grow  when they’re in office?

Why does the press mindlessly repeat conservative fear mongers’ debt warnings even as the deficit is disappearing?

There’s no shortage of political imponderables.  Given the absurdity of our political process and the media’s malfeasance, our national well of stupidity is deep and wide.

The answer to all these questions is simple – these absurdities exist, because our media has replaced truth, accuracy and reality with balance, false equivalency, and stenography and Democrats have been silent co-conspirators.

Why?  Because the press is a wholly owned subsidiary of corporations, and too many Democrats feed at the corporate trough.

And that’s not funny, but it is stupid.

John Atcheson

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on Climateprogess.org.

Our Dumb Democracy: Why the United States of Stupid Still Reins Supreme

Astoundingly, Mr. Obama – the supreme pragmatist and compromiser – gave an inaugural address that was as strong a defense of progressivism as we have seen in thirty years. Yet it will take more than words to make a difference.  As the echoes of his speech fade, we are still faced with ultra-rightwing terrorists threatening to hold the US economy hostage to a set of demands that the majority of Americans disagree with.

These are the same loonies who deny global warming; the same ones who set up a museum showing prehistoric humans walking with dinosaurs; the same ones who think the answer to gun violence is more guns; the same ones who voted against relief for victims of Sandy … the same ones who want to shove ultrasound instruments into women’s vaginas and tell people who they can and cannot marry while simultaneously shouting to the rooftops about freedom and values. 

Yeah. Their freedoms, their beliefs and their values, please.  All others step to the back of the bus, or consult Leviticus.  You know, that font of ancient wisdom that tells us when and how to stone our neighbor’s daughter.

Want to know how our political discourse got so mind-numbingly stupid? 

Well, we can start with this little fact:  The press is so enamored with “balance” that they’ll treat even the most ignorant, shallow, fatuous movement – a movement composed of the selfish, the self-obsessed, the angry, the bigoted, and the blissfully ignorant – as if it were a serious movement. 

Consider the following signs seen at Tea Party protests.

There’s the now infamous: “Keep your government hands off my Medicare.”

Or this gem:  “Don’t steal from Medicare to Support Socialized Medicine.”

Or this: “Get a Brain.  Morans [sic].”

Or this:  “Obama Half Breed Muslin” – or maybe cotton or linen?

Or this: “We came unarmed.  This time.”

Or this:  “Stop Illeagles.”  Yup, gotta hate it when eagles get ill.

There’s absolutely no shortage of these tributes to stupidity – the list could go on and on. 

At one time this kind of foolishness would have been laughed off the national stage. 

Now it dominates one of our major political parties, thanks to the media’s embrace of balance and false equivalence and the Democrats’ silent complicity.

It might be time for a whole new set of “imponderables”.

Imponderables are questions or statements that by their nature expose something that doesn’t make sense. At their best, they’re mildly amusing and instructive. For example, why does Hawaii have an Interstate Highway system? or Why isn’t “phonetic” spelled the way it sounds? or Why do psychics have to ask you for your name?

Yes, today’s political discourse is so thoroughly littered with “conventional wisdom” without an iota of wisdom, that there should be a new category – political imponderables. Here are a few examples:

National “Defense:” If the US was spending more than the next 16 countries combined on defense prior to 911, why did we need to create the Department of Homeland Security to defend ourselves?

Shouldn’t the Defense Department be called the Department of Offense?

Why isn’t every citizen asking why we have tens of thousands of troops scattered around the world to fight the cold war, nearly 25 years after it ended.

If Citizen’s United is about Free Speech, why does it cost so much? Republicans and plutocrats are set to spend far more than $1 billion on the presidential race.

Why did Obama call the Patriot Act shoddy and dangerous then essentially continue Bush’s assault on the Bill of Rights?

Climate Change: Why did candidate Obama call climate change an epochal man-made threat to the planet, while President Obama virtually ignored it his entire first term.  

Why do states which are experiencing the worst climate-related disasters elect Republican governors and congressional representatives who deny its existence?

Deficit Duplicity: Why are Republicans once again threatening to shut down government over extending the debt ceiling, after voting for the Ryan’s first budget, which required multiple and astronomical increases in the debt ceiling until the year 2062?

If Republicans really hate deficits, why did the last three Republican Presidents run up more than 66% of the nation's cumulative deficit  – more than all other Presidents combined?  And why didn’t rank and file Republicans utter a peep against it when they did?

Deregulation, Trickle Down Redux, or Fool me once, shame on you … If thirty years of policies featuring deregulation, tax cuts for the rich and starve the beast policies resulted in the economic crash in 2008 – the worst since the Great Depression, which was also preceded by laissez-faire policies – how can more of the same be the solution?

Small Government that Isn’t: If Republicans like small government, why does it always grow  when they’re in office?

Why does the press mindlessly repeat conservative fear mongers’ debt warnings even as the deficit is disappearing?

There’s no shortage of political imponderables.  Given the absurdity of our political process and the media’s malfeasance, our national well of stupidity is deep and wide.

The answer to all these questions is simple – these absurdities exist, because our media has replaced truth, accuracy and reality with balance, false equivalency, and stenography and Democrats have been silent co-conspirators.

Why?  Because the press is a wholly owned subsidiary of corporations, and too many Democrats feed at the corporate trough.

And that’s not funny, but it is stupid.

John Atcheson

John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atcheson’s book reviews are featured on Climateprogess.org.

Institutionalized Killing: Obama to Approve Drone Assassination Manual

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President Obama is about to sign off on a manual that will institutionalize the process by which the White House orders and approves killings by remote-controlled drones, according to a report Sunday.

The so-called counterterrorism “playbook” will define the circumstances under which the CIA and the military’s Special Forces Command, the two agencies that operate drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other parts of the Middle East and Africa, may use lethal force.

The front-page article in the Washington Post amounts to a semi-official announcement by the White House and is based on statements by unnamed government officials. Its publication, on the same day that Obama officially took the oath of office for his second term as president, demonstrates the role of his administration as an instrument of the military-intelligence apparatus.

The US government is so deeply engaged in assassinations all over the world that top officials believe a manual is required to regularize the process. According to the Post account, the drafting of the drone warfare manual has been delayed by infighting between the CIA and other agencies, with the CIA seeking greater latitude to conduct missile strikes. These include “signature” strikes, in which the target is not an identified member of Al Qaeda or some other alleged terrorist group, but individuals who appear to be engaged in activity that bears the “signature” of terrorism, such as congregating with weapons, or loading vehicles with what appear to be explosives.

This means, in practice, targeting for murder people who appear to be engaged in resistance against US occupations or military actions in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa. Moreover, since most drone strikes target rural areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and other countries where tribal gatherings are common and weapons are omnipresent, the demand for “signature” strikes amounts to a license for the CIA to murder anyone in the population of these territories.

The newspaper reported that the dispute was settled by the CIA gaining an exemption for wider attacks in Pakistan for a period of at least one year, more likely two years, and with a possible extension of even greater duration. The mountainous areas of northwest Pakistan, along the border with Afghanistan, have been the most frequent target of drone missile strikes, killing thousands, including hundreds of women and children.

The Post reports that the drone missile “playbook” will be submitted to Obama within weeks. The newspaper observes that it “marks the culmination of a year-long effort by the White House to codify its counterterrorism policies and create a guide for lethal operations through Obama’s second term.”

In other words, throughout Obama’s reelection campaign, top White House officials have been negotiating and concretizing the details of a secret document that takes as its point of departure the principle that the president is above the law and can order the death of any individual on the planet, including American citizens, without any legal recourse or constraint.

According to the report, “Among the subjects covered in the playbook are the process for adding names to kill lists, the legal principles that govern when US citizens can be targeted overseas and the sequence of approvals required when the CIA or US military conducts drone strikes outside war zones.”

The Obama administration has refused to disclose what “legal principles” supposedly give the president the power of life and death over all humanity. Legal memoranda drafted by the Department of Justice have been kept secret from the American people, with the administration prevailing in a series of court hearings where judges have bowed to its assertion of an absolute right to maintain “state secrets,” regardless of the provisions of the Bill of Rights.

Even the legal requirements drawn up by the Obama administration, however, will not actually impose any limits on the CIA and military. One former official told the Post that the CIA exemption for Pakistan would be in effect for “less than two years but more than one,” but added that any final decision “will undoubtedly be predicated on facts on the ground.”

One purpose of the planted account in the Post is to bolster the image of White House counterterrorism coordinator John Brennan, nominated by Obama to head the CIA. Brennan was Obama’s first choice as CIA director in 2009, but the newly elected president dared not nominate him because of his role as an advocate of rendition and torture while a top CIA official during the Bush administration.

The article published Sunday conforms to recent efforts by the White House to present Brennan as the advocate of moderation and restraint in the waging of drone warfare. He is described as the driving force of the “playbook,” his aim being “to impose more consistent and rigorous controls on counterterrorism programs that were largely ad-hoc in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.”

Insofar as this is anything more than puffery before Brennan’s nomination hearing next month, the account suggests that Brennan’s role is like that of the Nazi bureaucrats who wanted order and system in the operation of the Final Solution, rather than uncontrolled, spasmodic and therefore inefficient violence.

Meanwhile, the US killing machine continues its grisly operations. Over the weekend, US drone strikes killed at least six, and perhaps as many as sixteen, in several attacks in southern Yemen. Drone-fired missiles killed three people Saturday in Maarab province and three more in a car in the same province Sunday. Another ten were killed in an explosion at a house in al-Bayda province, said to be an accidental detonation during bomb-making, but possibly the result of another US strike, since the US government never comments publicly on drone operations.

Money Out… Voters In

It’s time to stop moneyed conservative interests from trying to buy or steal our democracy. We know the problem—let’s get to the solutions.

Since the 1880s we’ve seen how money shouts, and since the 1980s we’ve watched regressives seek to restrict the freedom to vote, culminating last year in the explosion of Super PAC spending and voting rights restrictions. This time, the efforts of the Adelsons, Kochs and Roves largely failed (at the federal level). But the economic elites will be back to attempt their hostile takeover of our democracy with even more money and sophistication.

Hence MoneyOut/VotersIn Day in some sixty cities on January 19. That’s when a large coalition of public interest, labor, voting rights and faith groups are aspiring to a “more perfect union” on the confluence of the third anniversary of Citizens United, the weekend celebration of MLK and the Presidential Inauguration.

Generations of traditional campaign finance groups have worked against a democracy-for-sale. And heroic voting rights groups have long sought to fulfill Dr. King’s plea at the Washington Monument in 1957: “Give us the ballot! Give us the ballot!” But rarely have these two communities worked together to stop the rigging of the political system. Until we ensure that popular majorities become public law, it will be hard to accomplish so much of what is urgent—a more progressive tax code, immigration reform, climate change legislation, a living wage, labor reform and gun violence reduction.

So on January 19, scores of groups and thousands of people around the country will organize around a three-part Democracy-for-All program: a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United; public funding of public elections, in Washington and state capitols; and guaranteed voting rights so potentially 50 million more Americans can vote before or on a National Holiday in November.

First, reverse Citizens United. A momentary five-justice majority in this case tried to assure that a plutocracy of donors supplant a democracy of voters. As for the view that, well, both capital and labor will now be able to spend without limit in elections, the reality is that capital has 3,000 times more wealth than labor, the Koch brothers alone with a net worth more than all unions in America. Senator John McCain is right when he calls the decision the worst in a century. How can “originalists” like Justices Scalia and Thomas ignore the historical reality that the founders intended the First Amendment apply to actual people, not corporations, which never appear in the Constitution? How can Justice Kennedy make believe that “the appearance of influence or access…will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy” if Sheldon Adelson spends, say, $40 million on someone’s behalf and then calls the winning candidate with his ideas on lowered capital gains rates? How can big interests and their apologists hide behind the First Amendment when money is literally property, not speech?

But then, like segregationists who hid behind “property rights” and “states rights,” today’s powerbrokers pretend that they are merely the modern equivalent of silenced minorities. Walmart is not Tom Paine or Fannie Lou Hamer.

It’s one thing for money to buy companies in a system of capitalism based on the private pursuit of profit—but quite another for money to buy congressmen with trillions in shareholder wealth collected for commercial, not political, purposes.

There is an almost comical irony in the law creating corporate charters to raise private capital for business purposes…and then allowing these creations to use that privilege to privatize democracy itself. Surely the Supreme Court can figure out how to condition a privilege, so that corporations can contract and enjoy police protection, but not vote, marry or drown out other voices with an ocean of paid political commercials.

By lopsided margins, the public opposes the current system of purchased politicians and supports overturning Citizens United by amendment or a new Court decision. (Eighty percent favor one and 70 percent would make Super PACs illegal.) While the exact language of an amendment might vary, one version could simply state that money isn’t speech and can, in the electoral context, be regulated like excessive decibels and pollution are by sound/place/manner laws and environmental rules.

There are currently 125 members of Congress, eleven states and 350 cities and towns that have called for a constitutional amendment. Obviously, no state resolution can force a constitutional conclusion, but together they can help create a climate for change, the way hundreds of local referenda for a nuclear freeze in the early 1980s spurred nuclear arms reductions in later Reagan-Gorbachev summits.

True, it’s not feasible today to get a two-thirds majority of each chamber and three-fourths of state legislatures to vote for an amendment—which has happened seventeen times since the Bill of Rights—but a growing movement has taken the idea from pipe dream to mainstream. President Obama told one of the authors in the spring that it was something he wanted to consider in a second term. In his Reddit AMA in October, Obama said, “Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight of the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change.”

Next, enact “Democracy Funding.” There are successful versions in New York City, Maine and Arizona. Essentially, either a critical mass of small donations generate a multiple of public matching funding (in New York City, donations from city voters of $175 or under are matched six to one) or candidates can voluntarily opt in to a system where, if they reach a minimum threshold of donors, they receive a fixed amount of public funds to run for office.

Compare the New York City system with matching “democracy funding” and the New York State system without it. Small donations (under $250) account for 55 percent of campaign funds raised in City races but only six percent of State races. Forget 1 percent vs. 99 percent. Given the ethic that you don’t bite the hand that funds you, who is in charge when .5 percent of eligible voters comprise 100 percent of all campaign treasuries in NYS? That’s why a Fair Elections Act creating publicly financed state elections is about to be debated in Albany.

Yes, public funds are involved. But either we have a system of the private funding of public elections—with the hundreds of billions in corporate welfare that result—or we have the public funding for public elections just as we now pay for voting machines and election personnel to administer that Tuesday. New York State has learned that two dollars a voter would pay for a program covering statewide races. Is not our democracy more valuable than one aircraft carrier?

Then there’s Universal Voter Registration. Voter fraud is essentially nonexistent. Meanwhile, some state laws have seven-hour lines for people to exercise their right to vote. As used successfully in many Western European countries and as prominently advocated by the Brennan Center for Legal Justice at NYU, a system of universal registration based on various data bases, like Social Security at birth, could automatically enroll people at 18, creating some 50 million more voters.

Many states—led by Oregon and Washington—have shown that a mix of voting-by-mail, early voting, and same day registration can boost participation by 20 percent points or more. As part of a federal Voter Empowerment Act, it would be also ideal if Congress could create a National Democracy Day on a Saturday in November rather than a working day.

* * *

There are many important steps to save our democracy, from filibuster and gerrymander reforms to the DISCLOSE Act, from the IRS finally investigating tax-deductible groups spending massively in political campaigns, to requiring shareholder resolutions before a company politically spends over a certain amount. But if the three essential elements of a Democracy-for-All Act were enacted, they would fundamentally forever alter who runs, who wins and whom they respond to once in office.

But the only way any or all of this can occur is for candidates to fear and hear from voters more than donors. That’s precisely what happened right after the Watergate scandal, when Congress enacted strong new laws limiting spending and corruption. Now is another opportune moment. After the recent backlash to secret Super PACs and to voter suppression laws—and the election of Obama, who denounced Citizens United to the justices at this 2010 State of the Union and who election night 2012 said of long lines of voters, “We have to fix that”—we demand democracy! If not January 19, then when…and if not us, then who?"

Learn more about MoneyOut/VotersIn Day here.

© 2012 The Nation

Robert Weissman

Robert Weissman is the president of Public Citizen.

Mark Green

Mark Green is the former Public Advocate for New York City and author/editor of a couple dozen books, including Who Runs Congress and Losing Our Democracy. He's the host of the nationally syndicated radio show, Both Sides Now.

Drones are the “Weapon of Choice” in Obama’s Destruction of Due Process

The United States continues the constant pounding of the tribal region of North Waziristan in Pakistan.

On January 10, AFP reports that six “militants” allegedly working for al-Qaeda were killed in a drone strike.

This is the seventh drone strike this year in the area.

The latest state-sanctioned assassination was carried out when CIA-controlled drones fired four Hellfire missiles at a village and a motorcycle near the town of Mir Ali, according to AFP sources.

In what should come as no surprise to anyone following the unconscionable chronicle of the never-ending drone war, there is no word as to the identity of either the targets or the victims.

Of course, the White House insists that several “leaders” of al-Qaeda have been killed in the attacks.

As reported by Long War Journal:

Four senior and midlevel al Qaeda and Taliban leaders are reported to have been killed in the seven strikes since the beginning of the New Year. The US killed Mullah Nazir, the leader of a Taliban group in South Waziristan who was closely allied with Bahadar, al Qaeda, and the Afghan Taliban, in a strike on Jan. 3. In a second strike on Jan. 3, the US killed Faisal Khan, commander in the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan commander. In one of two strikes on Jan. 6, the US killed Wali Mohammed, a Taliban commander who is said to have directed suicide operations for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. And in one of the two strikes on Jan. 8, an al Qaeda leader known as Sheikh Yasin Al Kuwaiti is reported to have been killed.

And the Obama administration is certainly proud to report (although they are notoriously tight-lipped about the death-by-drone program) that in a similar attacks in the same region carried out on January 8, eight other “militants” were assassinated. Again, from Long War Journal:

Just after midnight, the CIA-operated, remotely piloted Predators or the more deadly Reapers first struck a compound in the village of Haider Khel near the town of Mir Ali. Eight missiles were fired at the compound, which was thought to be owned by an “important Taliban leader,” The Nation reported; however, it is unclear if he was killed in the strike. Five people are reported to have been killed.

A Pakistani security official told AFP that four “militants” were killed in the strike. Reuters reported that one of those killed was a “foreign tactical trainer” from either Somalia or the United Arab Emirates.

The US drones then fired several more missiles at a compound in the nearby village of Eissu Khel. Three people were reported killed in the strike, but it is unclear if they were militants or civilians.

Unclear, and to the president, unimportant. The president’s on-the-record statements regarding the serial drone killings reveal that he considers himself the judge, jury, and executioner — and does not believe he is obliged to provide evidence to the American people.

In fact, it would be very naïve to believe these (allegedly) targeted assassinations only kill innocents due to unfortunate miscalculations. When the judicial and executive powers of government are consolidated and restraints on the exercise of power are cast aside, it can be expected — based both on our knowledge of history and on the nature of man — that power will be abused and no one’s rights or life will be safe from elimination by despots.

In interviews with CNN and Fox, the president consistently defended the fact that he orders drone strikes to assassinate people based on nothing more than his suspicion that they threaten U.S. national security. But for all his apparent frankness, there is one aspect of his drone-based assassination program about which the president remains mum.

This silence shrouds the cold and callous manner in which civilian deaths are disregarded by the president when it comes to counting the number of fatalities resulting from his death-by-drone campaign. “Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties,” the New York Times reported in an article published May 29, 2012. When read in conjunction with the headline from an Associated Press article reading “Iraq to Stop Counting Civilian Dead,” a picture of global casualness as to casualties begins to emerge.

The Times clarified: “Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” (Emphasis added.)

The highly informative New York Times piece illuminates much of the macabre methodology of aggregating the names of enemies of the state to President Obama’s proscription list.

Recounting the scene at one of the regularly scheduled Tuesday intelligence briefings at the White House, Jo Becker and Scott Shane wrote, “The mug shots and brief biographies resembled a high school yearbook layout. Several were Americans. Two were teenagers, including a girl who looked even younger than her 17 years.”

It cannot be too soberly restated that these seemingly cold-blooded conferences are occurring every week in the Oval Office and are presided over by the president of the United States.

That last fact is essential if one is to understand the era into which our Republic has entered. The president of the United States, in this case Barack Obama, sits in a chair in the White House rifling through dossiers of suspected terrorists. After listening to the advice of his claque of counselors, it is the president himself who designates who of the lineup is to be killed. As the New York Times explains: “Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret ‘nominations’ process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical. He had vowed to align the fight against Al Qaeda with American values; the chart, introducing people whose deaths he might soon be asked to order, underscored just what a moral and legal conundrum this could be.”

There is a salient question that the president would likely laugh at were it to be posed to him: Where is the constitutional authority for creating and issuing kill orders?

The presidential presumption of guilt by association followed by the autocratic order of a lethal drone strike rightly worries many constitutionalists and friends of liberty. In fact, many questions prompted by the president’s drone program remain unanswered. Why can’t these alleged “terrorists” be tried in our federal court system? For decades those accused of terroristic crimes have been formally charged with those crimes, had those charges heard before an impartial federal judge, and been permitted to mount a defense to those crimes.

Due process as a check on monarchical power was included in the Magna Carta of 1215. This list of grievances and demands codified the king’s obligation to obey written laws or be punished by his subjects. Article 39 of the Magna Carta says: “No freemen shall be taken or imprisoned or disseised [dispossessed] or exiled or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him nor send upon him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.”

Over the years, the Magna Carta was occasionally revised and amended. In 1354, the phrase “due process of law” appeared for the first time. The Magna Carta as amended in 1354 says: “No man of what state or condition he be, shall be put out of his lands or tenements nor taken, nor disinherited, nor put to death, without he be brought to answer by due process of law.”

This fundamental restraint on the royal presumption of the power to lop off heads on command was incorporated by our Founders in the Bill of Rights, particularly in the Fifth Amendment that says in relevant part: “No person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

President Obama’s nearly daily approval of drone-delivered assassinations is an effrontery to over 650 years of our Anglo-American law’s protection from autocratic decrees of death without due process of law. When any president usurps the power to place names on a kill list and then have those people summarily executed without due process, he places our Republic on a trajectory toward tyranny and government-sponsored terrorism.

Finally, one wonders where the pacifist bloc of the coalition that elected Barack Obama in 2008 has gone now that there candidate has become president and not only continued his predecessors program of drone diplomacy, but has accelerated it.

From 2004-2007, President George W. Bush authorized only 10 drone strikes. During Barack Obama’s first year in office — 2009 — that number increased by more than 500 percent.

Every time a U.S. drone fires a Hellfire missile at a “compound” and kills “militants,” every one of those uncounted, unnamed, unindicted victims — regardless of guilt or innocence — was assassinated, not executed. Execution implies justice and American justice requires due process.

Joe A. Wolverton, II, J.D. is a correspondent for The New American and travels frequently nationwide speaking on topics of nullification, the NDAA, and the surveillance state. He can be reached at [email protected] This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

US Law Prohibits Transferring Guantanamo Prisoners to America

guantanamo

FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) legislation proscribes it.

January 11, 2013 marks Guantanamo’s 11th anniversary. More on that below.

On January 11, 2002, its first 20 prisoners arrived. It’s one of many US torture prisons globally.

Most held there are innocent victims. They’re not terrorists. They’re lawlessly detained. Many remained for years uncharged and untried. Fundamental rights are denied.

Seton Hall University Law Professor Mark Denebeaux analyzed unclassified government data. He got them through FOIA requests.

They revealed what’s vital to know. The vast majority of Guantanamo detainees weren’t accused of hostile acts. Afghan bounty hunters seized around 95% of them.

They sold them to US forces for $5,000 per claimed Taliban and $25,000 for alleged Al Qaeda members. Evidence of criminality wasn’t sought.

Washington wanted prisoners. It still does. Innocence or guilt didn’t matter. It still doesn’t.

What George Bush began, Obama continues. It’s institutionalized. Torture and other crimes against humanity reflect official US policy.

On January 20, 2009, Obama became America’s 44th president. He promised closure. On January 22, 2009, his Executive Order followed. It said:

“By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, in order to effect the appropriate disposition of individuals currently detained by the Department of Defense at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base (Guantánamo) and promptly to close detention facilities at Guantánamo, consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice…”

He promised “immediate review of all” detainees within 30 days and “humane standards of confinement.”

He lied. He’s a serial liar. He broke every major promise made. He’s a moral coward. He’s an unindicted war criminal. He belongs in prison, not government.

He’s got four more years to wage war on humanity. Expect him to take full advantage.

On January 3, 2013, the ACLU headlined “NDAA Prevents Closing Guantanamo, Could Lead to Claims of a Right to Discriminate.”

On December 31, 2012 (New Year’s eve), Obama signed FY 2012 NDAA legislation. He assumed diktat authority. He’s now judge, jury and executioner.

NDAA lets him order anyone arrested and indefinitely detained. He can do so based solely on suspicions, unfounded allegations, or none at all. US citizens are included. They can be targeted at home or abroad. There’s no place to hide.

FY 2013 NDAA repeats the same authority. Obama again signed quietly on New Year’s eve. Doing so helps institutionalize greater harshness. It’s fast-tracking America toward full-blown tyranny.

It targeted Guantanamo detainees. The ACLU explained, saying:

Obama signed NDAA. It “jeopardizes his ability to meet his promise to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay during his presidency.”

It “contains a troubling provision compelling the military to accommodate the conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of all members of the armed forces without accounting for the effect an accommodation would have.”

It “restricts Obama’s ability to transfer detainees for repatriation or resettlement in foreign countries or to prosecute them in federal criminal court.”

“Originally set to expire on March 27, the transfer restrictions have been extended through Sept. 30. As recently as October, Obama reiterated his commitment to close Guantanamo. Currently, 166 prisoners remain at the prison camp.”

According to ACLU director Anthony Romero:

Obama “utterly failed the first test of his second term, even before inauguration day. His signature means indefinite detention without charge or trial, as well as the illegal military commissions, will be extended.”

He “jeopardized his ability to close Guantanamo during his presidency.”

“Scores of men who have already been held for nearly 11 years without being charged with a crime – including more than 80 who have been cleared for transfer – may very well be imprisoned unfairly for yet another year.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) reported on “torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of” Guantanamo prisoners.

Documented evidence was obtained. Abusive treatment is standard practice. Waterboarding is one of many tactics.

Others include beatings, painful hog-tying, prolonged stress positions, electric shocks, sensory deprivation, extreme heat and cold, deafening sounds, and much more.

CCR described prolonged isolation. “Approximately 70%” of detainees “are in solitary confinement or isolation,” it said.

“Virtually none have ever been charged, and most will never be charged or tried.”

“Yet, they remain in ‘super-maximum security confinement’ conditions.” Doing so exceeds what’s psychologically tolerable.

Pentagon authorities won’t acknowledge what’s done. Euphemisms substitute. Prisoners get greater “privacy” and “single-occupancy cells,” they claim. Hell is hell. Sanitizing it doesn’t wash.

Conditions speak for themselves. Cells are small, windowless steel cages without access to natural light or air. Fluorescent lights stay on 24 hours a day. Sleep is impeded.

Attorney Brent Mickum represents Bisher al-Rawi. He’s “slowly but surely, slipping into madness,” he said. He has no human contact. He’s entirely cut off from the outside world. So are most others.

Attorney Clive Stafford Smith said his client smeared feces on his cell walls. When asked why, he couldn’t explain.

Prisoners are zombie-like. They resemble the living dead. Appalling treatment continues out of sight and mind. Media scoundrels say nothing.

CCR explained Guantanamo by the numbers:

Since 2002, an estimated 779 men were detained. Nearly all were Muslims. Another 664 men were transferred from Guantanamo. It now holds 166 indefinitely.

According to US government records, 92% aren’t terrorists. They’re not Al Qaeda fighters. Eighty-six men cleared for release remain detained.

Another 46 are indefinitely held without charge or trial. Washington claims they can neither be released or prosecuted.

Twenty-two or more prisoners were under 18 when captured. Twelve or more fear torture or persecution if returned to their home countries. They’ll remain detained until or unless other nations offer them safe havens.

Ten years or longer reflect how long most men have been held without charge or trial. Nine died in captivity. Two were forcibly sent to Algeria “despite credible fears of abuse.”

No US government officials have been held accountable. None will be. They freely get away with murder, torture, and other unconscionable abuses. They do it out of sight and mind.

Obama authorized it. He’s guilty of gross crimes against humanity. So are other complicit government and Pentagon officials.

Guantanamo remains open. Obama won’t close it. The New York Times tried having it both ways. On November 25, 2012, it headlined “Close Guantanamo Prison.”

Obama promised, it said. He pledged no more torture and abuse. It “was a bold beginning.” It’s unfilled. He continues Bush administration practices. He claims executive power.

During last year’s presidential campaign, Guantanamo “scarcely came up.”

At the same time, NYT editors “trust” he’ll fulfill his pledge. He spurned it for four years. Expect no change ahead.

Jennifer Daskal is Georgetown University adjunct professor. Formerly she was Justice Department counsel to the assistant attorney general. She’s senior counterterrorism counsel for Human Rights Watch.

On January 10, her Times op-ed headlined “Don’t Close Guantanamo.”

Earlier she favored closure. No longer. She believes “Guantanamo should stay open – at least for the short term.”

Dozens of prisoners can’t be prosecuted, she said. They’re “too dangerous to be transferred or released.” Why she didn’t explain.

She turned international law on its head. She claims they’re “held under rules of war” that permit “detention without charge for the duration of hostilities.”

False! Bush officials called them “unlawful combatants.” They’re now classified “unprivileged enemy belligerents.”

Language changed but not intent or lawlessness. Francis Boyle told this writer and others earlier. He said Bush spurned Geneva, constitutional and US statute laws.

He “created an anti-matter of legal nihilism where human beings (including US citizens) can be disappeared, detained incommunicado, denied access to attorneys and regular courts, tried in kangaroo courts, executed, tortured, assassinated and subjected to numerous other manifestations of State Terrorism.”

Obama continues the same practices. Lawlessness is official US policy.

Dascal claims “legal authority” permits detaining them. She says Guantanamo today “is a far cry from” 2002. She ignores continued abusive treatment.

She claims most detainees “live in communal facilities where they can eat, pray and exercise together.”

On June 24, 2012, Jimmy Carter headlined “A Cruel and Unusual Record.”

He condemned America’s “widespread abuse of human rights.”

He cited targeted assassinations, indiscriminate drone killings, indefinite detentions without charge, warrantless spying, abusing people based on “their appearance, where they worship or with whom they associate,” keeping Guantanamo open, and obtaining confessions by torture.

What Bush authorized, Obama continues. Illegal practices remain policy. Torture is institutionalized. International law is spurned. Constitutional rights don’t matter.

America “abandon(ed) its role as the global champion of human rights,” said Carter. Remaining Guantanamo prisoners “have little prospect of ever obtaining their freedom.”

US authorities “revealed that, in order to obtain confessions, (prisoners were) tortured by waterboarding more than 100 times or intimidated with semiautomatic weapons, power drills or threats to sexually assault their mothers.”

National security priorities prevent defense attorneys from raising these issues responsibly.

“Instead of making the world safer, America’s violation of international human rights abets our enemies and alienates our friends.”

Dascal disagrees. Closing Guantanamo “would do more harm than good,” she claims. Keep it open, she urges. Violating international, constitutional, and US statute laws wasn’t explained.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) headlined “January 11: (National) Day of Action Against Guantanamo.”

“Join us,” it said. “Call on President Obama to fulfill his promise.” Demand he uphold human rights.

“166 men remain detained at Guantanamo.” Most never should have been sent there in the first place.

They’ve been lawlessly held “over ten years without any charge or trial. They must be tried in a fair (civil) court or released. Guantanamo must be shut down.”

At 1:30PM in Washington, activists gathered outside the Supreme Court. They marched past Capitol Hill to the White House.

The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church hosted a 2:30PM interfaith prayer service. Efforts continue to do the right thing. Over 25 organizations participated.

They include CCR, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, CloseGuantanamo.Org, Code Pink, Council on American Islamic Relations, Veterans for Peace, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Physicians for Human Rights, Women Against Military Madness, and others.

Obama ignores them. He spurns rule of law principles. He’s defiant. He’s obstructionist.

Keep Gitmo open, he ordered. Torture and other forms of abuse continue out of sight and mind. They reflect official US policy.

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/us-law-prohibits-transferring-guantanamo-prisoners-to-america/US Law Prohibits Transferring Guantanamo Prisoners to America

Patriot Dawn — The Resistance Rises: “The Government of the United States of America...

The following excerpt appears in the new book Patriot Dawn – The Resistance Rises, by Max Velocity. Max has served in both, the British and the U.S. armies, and also as a high threat security contractor. He has served on six military operational deployments, including to Afghanistan immediately post-9/11, and additionally he spent five years serving as a security contractor in both Iraq and Afghanistan. During his career in the British Army he served with British SOF (The Parachute Regiment), to include a role training and selecting recruits for the Regiment. More recently, he has served in a Combat Medic and Civil Affairs role in the US Army Reserves. He is the author of two previous books: Contact! A Tactical Manual for Post Collapse Survival  and Rapid Fire! Tactics for High Threat, Protection and Combat Operations.

His latest book, Patriot Dawn – The Resistance Rises, is a step away from the user friendly tactical manuals he is known for, and combines the excitement of an action-packed fictional novel with real-world battle hardened experience in offensive, defensive and counter-insurgency strategies and tactics.

The United States has descended into Civil War. The storm was rising for some time, a Resistance in the hearts of American Patriots to the strangulation of liberty by creeping authoritarianism. The scene was set. It just took a little push.

A terrorist attack on the United States leads to war with Iran, followed by collapse, as the economy goes over the cliff. The final blow is a widespread opportunistic Chinese cyber attack, taking down the North American Power Grid.

From the ashes, the Regime emerges. Liberty is dead. What remains of the United States of America is polarized.

The Resistance Rises.

Jack Berenger is a former Army Ranger Captain, living in northern Virginia with his family. Following the collapse, they fall foul of Regime violence and evacuate to the farm of an old Army friend. Jack is recruited into the resistance, to train the fledgling forces in the Shenandoah Valley. The fight begins. Resist.


The following excerpt appears in the prologue of Patriot Dawn – The Resistance Rises and takes place just after a large-scale terrorist attack on Washington D.C.

The terrorist attackers were reported to have been recruited, abetted, directed and sponsored by Iran, although the details were unclear and it appeared that an investigation was not the top priority of the Administration.

How had the terrorists managed to charter this plane, which had apparently originated in Dubai on a one stop flight to the US, loading it with two hundred heavily armed fighters, without alerting any suspicion?

However, the focus following the attack was not international but domestic, and the priority was the ‘safety and security’ of the public by the accelerated implementation of the massive domestic surveillance and policing drive.

Fear was paramount and the masses were even more convinced that giving up their freedom and rights was in their best interests for their ‘safety and security’. Many internet bloggers and alternative media sites were describing the attack as a ‘False Flag’, abetted by the ‘Powers That Be’, but those crackpots were soon shut down by the Department of Homeland Security, in order to prevent further ‘panic mongering’.

The attack also provided the justification for war against Iran. However, that war was prosecuted by the Administration in the form of a primarily naval and air campaign that limited the involvement of ground troops.

This limitation allowed for the deployment of troops as convenient to the agenda of the Administration and the military-industrial complex, but ensured that sufficient active duty units remained available for domestic operations.

The attack on Iran was however the final straw that preceded the total meltdown of the Middle East.

As part of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, measures were in place to allow Posse Comitatus laws to be ignored domestically. This was activated by executive order and active duty and reserve U.S. Army units were used to reinforce the National Guard in operations against domestic terrorists and sleeper cells.

The terrorist attack had precipitated the final mortal blow to liberty and the destruction of the United States of America as a Constitutional Republic. It was true that the erosion of liberty and the Bill of Rights had been going on for some time; the Constitution was viewed by many as a dead document, and the measures had already been put in place for the implementation of a state of emergency.

The attack had been a terrible thing, but at the same time it was so convenient to the agenda of the Administration. Everything since the attack had been the death rattle of liberty as the police surveillance state was fully imposed.

Due process and Habeus Corpus were suspended, and the NDAA allowed arrest and internment without probable cause or trial on the simple suspicion by the authorities that someone posed a terrorist threat; a system that was easily abused.

Everything in society was now centered on compliance and obedience to authority. Questioning of the orders of those in authority positions was not tolerated. America was no longer the land of the free, but anyone with a mind had seen that coming for a long time.

Anyone with ideas counter to the official line, or who argued or challenged authority, was labeled a ‘domestic terrorist’, arrested and interned in ‘corrective and reeducation facilities’.

Following the activation of the NDAA by Executive Order, a state of emergency was implemented. It was necessary, because another terrorist attack could happen at any time, and anyone could be a terrorist. There was a lot of talk about sleeper cells and many citizens were arrested and interned without trial. ‘Extremist terrorist’ organizations, including Patriot and conservative organizations such as the Tea Party, were outlawed.

It wasn’t really clear to the general public exactly what happened next, given that they only got their information from the Administration via the heavily state directed mainstream media, and the internet was now under heavy lockdown. However, the economic dangers that had been looming and fueled by the continuous policy of ‘Quantitive Easing’, or money printing by the Federal Reserve, finally came home to roost.

The economy went over the cliff. There was much discussion that the actual precipitator of the plunge was the cabal of bankers who were the real power behind the Regime; they had pulled the financial plug, causing a massive run on the banks and hyperinflation, just like they had done in 1929 to cause the Great Depression. But who really knew, given the lockdown?

The effect was ultimately to cripple the economy, destroying the middle classes. What better way to turn the screws of citizen compliance when so many were now reliant on entitlement handouts?

The ‘progressive’ agenda of collective socialism was nearing its ultimate fulfillment; coerced redistribution of wealth, except now no-one was generating any wealth to feed the monster of the dependent welfare classes.

Statist authoritarian big central government was the order of the day, even though those policies spelled the death of the country. Many ‘progressives’ yearned for that, so that the ‘United Socialist States of America’ could rise from the ashes.

The government of the United States of America was no longer an ‘Administration’; it was a totalitarian Regime.


You can continue reading the remainder of this prologue at Max Velocity Tactical

Order your copy of Patriot Dawn – The Resistance Rises at Amazon.com or Create Space

Also available for Kindle

Guest Post: Where Does The Hatred Of Constitutionalism Come From?

Submitted by Brandon Smith of Alt-Market blog

Where Does The Hatred Of Constitutionalism Come From?

The Constitution of the United States is an undeniably powerful document.  So powerful in fact, that it took establishment elitists with aspirations of globalized governance over a century to diminish the American people’s connection to it.  It’s been a long time coming, but in the new millennium, there is now indeed a subsection of the masses that not only have no relationship to our founding roots, they actually despise those of us who do!

There are a number of reasons for this dangerous development in our culture:  A public school system that rarely if ever teaches children about the revolution, the founders, constitutional liberty, or the virtues of individualism in general.  A mainstream media apparatus that has regurgitated endless anti-constitutional shlock for decades, attacking any person or group that presents a freedom oriented view.  And a governmental structure that has become so corrupt, so openly criminal, that they ignore all aspects of constitutional law without regard, rarely feeling the need to explain themselves.  As a people, we are surrounded daily by the low droning wash-talk of denigration and disdain for our principled foundations.  The wretched ghosts of collectivism and tyranny mumble in our ears from birth to death.  It’s truly a miracle that every man and woman in this nation has not succumbed to the mind numbing hypnotism…

However, our propaganda soaked environment is not the ONLY cause of our self destructive society; many people are themselves to blame.  Severe character flaws and psychological imbalances have left some open to suggestion, manipulation, and fraud.  Their hatred, though fueled in part by the socialization of the establishment, is still theirs to own.

The brutal ignorance on display in mainstream circles against the liberty-minded needs to be addressed.  In my view, the American public is being conditioned to see us as a convenient “enemy” which they can use to project all their internal grief and woe.  Our country is on the verge of collapse, economically, politically, and philosophically.  Corporatized elements of our government and the financial high priests of the international banking sector are behind this calamity, and of course, they don’t plan to take responsibility.  Who better to demonize as the catalyst for all the pain that is coming than the only people who have the awareness and the means to stand against the catastrophe?    

There is no doubt in my mind that a great conflict is near, between those of us who value liberty and constitutional protections, and those who would destroy them.  This battle is unlikely to be solved with words.  The anti-constitutionalist rhetoric is becoming so ruthless, so malicious, that it can only lead to a hardening of our own hearts, and an equally forceful response.

Most of us have seen all the mainstream magazines with front page headlines calling for the retirement of the Constitution.  Most of us know about the suggestions by media entities and political opportunists (including Joe Biden) for Barack Obama to bypass congress and the Constitution, implementing possible gun restriction, registration, and confiscation through “executive order” like a common dictator.  There is an obviously brash and violent effort amongst political players today to mold our government into a godlike entity.  But, this is not what concerns me most.  What concerns me is the subversive boiling poison that is leaking into our culture at the local level, creating freedom hating zombies.  Take, for instance, the anti-constitutionalist crusade by a New Hampshire representative against the New Hampshire Free State Project:

What causes someone to hate freedom-loving people so much that they would destroy their own liberties just to drive us away?  Is this not cutting off their own nose just to spite OUR face?  Or, do they even see the loss of freedom for themselves as a bad thing?

And how about Marine Corporal Joshua Boston, who after sending a letter to Dianne Feinstein stating he would not comply with unconstitutional gun restrictions, is now receiving death threats because of his membership in the NRA:

What is the source of the hatred towards constitutionalists?  Where does it originate?  Here are just some of the personal triggers and methodologies within the mind of the anti-freedom advocate which I believe have sullied them beyond repair…

The Anti-Constitutionalist Suffers From An Inferiority Complex

I have found in my role as a Liberty Movement analyst and through literally tens of thousands of debates that anti-constitution advocates are, for the most part, of limited intelligence.  These are the average useful idiots who know little of history, politics, economics, etc., but feel the desperate need to appear as though they are experts on everything.  This usually results in constant attempts to show off for anyone who will pay attention, usually with sound-bites they heard on the nightly news coupled with remedial attacks against the character of those who dare to step outside the mainstream. 

The problem is that deep down, they know they are not very bright.  And so, they seek to always travel with the herd on every issue, for if they cannot be smart, they can at least be accepted.  Ironically, if constitutionalism was being pushed by the mainstream, they would automatically change their tune. 

It is probable that they have run into a Liberty Movement proponent (most of whom are well versed in history, politics, and economics) at least once in their lives, went in for an attack, and were utterly destroyed.  Their inferiority exposed, they learn to detest anything associated with constitutionalism.         

The Anti-Constitutionalist Does Not Like The Idea Of A Law He Cannot Use To His Advantage

Not all anti-constitutionalists are dense.  A limited few are very intelligent, but morally bankrupt.  The Constitution is not just a legal document; it is also an emotional and spiritual document.  If one does not have a relationship with his own conscience and the concept of natural law, then he will discover little in the founding ideals of America that he agrees with.  Some people (usually corrupt politicians and judges) see the law as a weapon to be used against their ideological opponents, whereas constitutionalists see the law as a shield to protect us from such despots.  The Constitution and the Bill Of Rights are both designed to protect our Absolute Freedoms.  That is, freedoms that are inborn and which no person or government is qualified to give as a gift, or take as if they are a privilege.

Nothing angers those who seek power more than a legal framework which they are not allowed to touch, or shift, or “tweak” to suit their private ambitions.      

Constitutional protections are not meant to be subject to the “buts” and “what ifs” common in the lesser legal world.  They are not open to debate.  Our rights are not subject to the demands of the so-called “majority”.  Our rights are eternal, and unchangeable.  Anti-constitutionalists attempt to work around the absolutes of the document by implementing subversive law backed by flawed logic.  But, a law which destroys previous constitutional rights is not a law which any individual American is required to follow.  Even an amendment that undermines our civil liberties is not legally binding.  The freedoms put forth in the Constitution and the Bill Of Rights are SET IN STONE (and this includes the right to bear arms in common use of the military of our day).  They cannot be undone without destroying the very fabric of the republic.

The Anti-Constitutionalist Hates Those Who Go Against The Tide, Even If The Tide Is Drowning Us All

Some people are predisposed to be followers.  They do not want to take responsibility for their futures or even their own actions.  They do not like questions.  They do not like dilemmas.  They want to be left to wallow in their own private prisons, where they are comfortably enslaved.

I remember participating in an End The Fed rally in Pittsburgh in early 2008 which was, like most activist rallies, meant to expose the uneducated public to ideas they may not have heard before.  I found it interesting that around a quarter of the people who strolled by our picket line automatically sneered, as if by reflex, even though they had probably never heard our position, or even heard of the Fed.  It dawned on me that they were not angered by our political or economic views.  Instead they were angered by the mere fact that we were there.  We were vocal, and defiant, and a disruption to their daily robot-like routine.  They hated us because we were ruining their fantasy of disconnectedness. 

Constitutionalists are predominantly individualists.  We do not cater to collectivist fairy tales.  We do not seek to roll with the tide just for the sake of finding our “place” within the machine.  We do not care about “fitting in” with the mainstream.  This is often confounding and infuriating to those who have labored their whole lives to please “the group”.  They accuse us of being “isolationists” in response.  What they do not comprehend is that illusion and delusion have isolated THEM, while the truth has brought constitutionalists together. 

Constitutionalists Are Not Politically Correct

For the past few decades our society has become engrossed with the idea of “proper language and behavior”.  Of course, their idea of “proper” usually involves ignoring the reality of a thing.  For a Constitutionalist, a spade is a spade, and we tend to call it like we see it.  We don’t bother ourselves with superficial niceties that get in the way of legitimate debate or legitimate change.  We are not “pleasant” and tolerant with those who would kill our freedoms.   We do not pull punches.

We are direct, and sometimes, brutal in our analysis. 

In some parts of the Western world (especially the UK) language has become a game, a game of self censorship and deceit.  This game has made its way to the United States in recent years, and Constitutionalists don’t play.  We know that every overtly collectivist society begins with the fear of open expression.  And so, our blunt honesty rattles those invested in the PC culture.  Their ultimate and ideal revenge would be to see us painted as social malcontents; like people who smoke in public, or wear a mullet…

Constitutionalists Are Passionate In Their Beliefs

A large percentage of men and women in this world have never been truly passionate about anything.  They simply eat, breath, and defecate their way through life, scrounging about the squalor of a broken system for whatever brief moments of comfort they can find.  They have never explored their inner workings or suffered the hardship of individuation.  They have never been forced to seek out an inner strength, a personal treasure, which guides them to a greater purpose.  Everything they think they believe in has been conditioned into them.  Their uniqueness is suppressed, and their characters shallow.  They have never loved an idea, or a principle.

Constitutionalists LOVE liberty and the mechanics of freedom.  We love the values of a sovereign republic and the opportunities that such a system provides when collectivists are removed from the picture.  There is no question or doubt in our minds; we would fight and die to protect the pillars of the Constitution. 

When confronted with this kind of passion, the average person is shocked and sometimes appalled.  The idea of unshakable will is frightening to them.  They are so used to compromising in every aspect of their lives that when they run into an uncompromising man, they reel in horror. 

That which they see as “fanaticism” is instead an excitement, a boundless joy, a fervent desire to protect something universal and precious.  What they see as “extreme”, we see as essential.

The Anti-Constitutionalist Thinks He Knows What’s Best For All Of Us

Most people who seek to deny and destroy constitutional liberties tend to lean towards a collectivist philosophy.  They are usually socialist, or a variation (Marxist, Fascist), and can be professed members of either major political party.  They believe that their vision of a perfect cultural system is the “correct” vision.  They see the Constitution as “archaic” or “outdated”.  They see it as nothing more than an obstacle to progress which must be toppled.

The “perfect world” that the collectivist strives for functions on centralization: the removal of options until there are no choices left for the common man except those which the collectivist wants him to have.  This world usually suffers from limited free speech, limited civic participation, zero tolerance for dissent, near zero privacy from government eyes, a completely disarmed populous, unaccountable leadership, and the encouragement of informer networks and betrayal for profit.  The goal is to intimidate the whole of a nation into dependence on the system, until every necessity from food to self defense is parceled out by the state.  

Collectivists understand one thing very clearly; an America without the Constitution is destined to become a centralized country. 

They will, of course, claim this is a gross exaggeration.  They will claim that this time will be different.  That the collectivist experiments of the past, which produced nothing but destruction and genocide of their own populations, are nothing similar to what they are espousing.  They will pretend as if their vision is new, progressive, and far more practical than the vision of the Founding Fathers.   In the end though, all they are promoting is a system as old as history; the feudal kingdom.  The mercantile oligarchy.  The militarized state.

At the height of their vicious sabotage of the republic, they will demonize our very heritage, claiming that it was a sham.  That we were never able to “live up to our beliefs anyway”.  That we are “hypocrites”, and this somehow negates the reverence we give to the Constitution.  Unfortunately for them, we know better.  We understand that the principles of the Constitution are not something we grasp at all times, but rather, something to which we aspire to, and grow into as our nation matures.  They require patience, and wisdom.  They force us to question our own “brilliance”, and our own egos.  They anchor us, preventing us from being swept away in the storms of fear.

There has never been and there will never be a better method of law and governance than that method which defends the individualism and freedom of the people.  The most fantastic of human accomplishments, in technology as well as in philosophy, spring from the nurturing waters of liberty.  Free minds and hearts create.  They refuse to be contained, and the Constitution gives us license to ensure that they will never be contained, even to the point of revolution. 

To deny constitutionalism, is to endorse oppression.  May we forever rebel against the agents of “progress”.  May we forever give them something to hate.

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The Grilling that Brennan Deserves

As Washington’s pundit class sees it, Defense Secretary-designee Chuck Hagel deserves a tough grilling over his hesitancy to go to war with Iran and his controversial detection of a pro-Israel lobby operating in the U.S. capital, but prospective CIA Director John Brennan should get only a few polite queries about his role helping to create and sustain Dick Cheney’s “dark side.”

During the upcoming confirmation hearings of these two nominees for President Barack Obama’s national security team, we all may get a revealing look into the upside-down world of Washington’s moral and geopolitical priorities, where too much skepticism about rushing to war is disqualifying and complicity in war crimes is okay, maybe even expected.

Still, there is at least a hope that Brennan’s confirmation hearing might provide an opening for the Senate Intelligence Committee to force out the secret legal justifications and the operational procedures for the lethal drone program that has expanded under Obama, including successfully targeting for death U.S. citizen and al-Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen.

Over the past few years, senior administration officials have praised the rigorous standards applied to these life-or-death decisions by Brennan and his counterterrorism team, but have refused to release the constitutional rationales for the President exerting these extraordinary powers or to explain exactly the methodology of selecting targets.

Presumably, some committee member will ask Brennan about such nitpicky things as constitutional due process and the Bill of Rights even if the panel will have to scurry into a classified session to hear the answers. But there is still a chance that Brennan or one of the senators will blurt something out, shedding light on one of the darkest corners of the ongoing war against al-Qaeda and other Islamic militants.

Yet, what hits closest to home for many of my Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) colleagues and me is Brennan’s earlier role, under President George W. Bush and CIA Director George Tenet, in corrupting the CIA’s analysis directorate into fabricating fraudulent intelligence to “justify” war on Iraq. From the perspective of CIA analysts who worked by a very different ethos, such treachery is truly unacceptable.

Brennan, as Tenet’s chief of staff and then the CIA’s Deputy Executive Director, had a front-row seat for all this. Former CIA colleagues who served with Brennan before and during the war with Iraq assert that there is absolutely no possibility that Brennan could have been unaware of the deliberate corruption of intelligence analysis.

Brennan’s confirmation hearing, with the nominee under oath, might be the best opportunity to hear his explanation of what he did when he faced two conflicting allegiances – his career advancement on one side and his duty to the nation as an intelligence officer on the other.

Phony Intelligence

After a five-year investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the pre-Iraq-war “intelligence” was described by committee chair Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, as “uncorroborated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”

Hagel, then a senator from Nebraska and a member of the committee, was one of two Republicans voting to approve the Senate report, making it bipartisan and presumably annoying some of his more partisan brethren who resisted admitting to the lies that President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney used to take the country to war.

Hagel also has co-chaired Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board, giving him even more insights into the challenges of rebuilding a professional intelligence service, one that puts a commitment to objective analysis over pleasing the boss. If only Brennan could show such a commitment.

A principal objection to Brennan’s return to the CIA is that he has rarely displayed any rigorous discipline in his approach to the truth. One of his most famous deviations from reality was his gilding-the-lily presentation of Seal Team 6’s killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Just hours after Osama bin Laden was killed, Brennan gave the press this rendition of what had happened and how bin Laden had died: “He was engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in. … Just thinking about that from a visual perspective: here is bin Laden … living in this million-dollar-plus compound … in an area that is far removed from the front …  hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield. I think it really just speaks to just, to how false his narrative has been over the years.”

Even giving Brennan the benefit of the doubt about the “fog of war” and such, his spin suggested not so much a lack of still-fuzzy details but an assembling of fake details, his own false narrative if you will. Brennan’s account was more agit-prop than an attempt to tell the story straight.

It was not enough to let the facts speak for themselves – Americans were surely not going to be sympathetic to the man they blame for the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people – but Brennan still chose to further belittle bin Laden as a coward hiding behind one of his wives while seeking to save himself.

Later, White House spokesman Jay Carney clarified some of Brennan’s inaccuracies. Bin Laden was not armed; he did not use one of his wives as a shield; and there was no firefight to speak of, only an initial exchange of gunfire between the U.S. commandos and one of bin Laden’s couriers in an adjacent building.

There were other details that came out subsequently, including that bin Laden’s 12-year-old daughter was in the room and watched as he was shot and killed, according to the London Guardian. Pakistani officials said bin Laden’s daughter had been hit in the ankle moments before the American assault team reached the room where they found and killed her father, and she then passed out.

Given the recent sorry history of CIA directors participating in what amount to propaganda and disinformation campaigns aimed as much at the American people as any foreign enemy, a nominee for CIA director should not have a record of making stuff up or misleading the public.

Ducking Hard Truth

Another Brennan example of ducking hard truths was his claim in June 2011 that during the previous year, “there has not been a single collateral death” from CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. Far more credible reporting shows that there have been hundreds of people killed simply for being in the vicinity of an al-Qaeda or Taliban suspect.

Yet, some administration officials are so touchy on this point that they suggest that dissenters might be terrorist sympathizers. On Feb. 5, 2012, the New York Times’ Scott Shane reported the following quote from an anonymous “senior American counterterrorism official”:

“One must wonder why an effort that has so carefully gone after terrorists … has been subjected to so much misinformation. Let’s be under no illusions – there are a number of elements who would like nothing more than to malign these efforts and help Al Qaeda succeed.” So, raising tough questions means you’re with the terrorists.

Brennan had similar problems with forthrightness when he was assigned to explain to a press conference on Jan. 8, 2010, how the infamous “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab almost downed an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

Clearly, Brennan did not expect to be asked a real question, like what motivates an upper-class Muslim youth from Nigeria to do such a thing, but a tenacious 89-year-old Helen Thomas was still in the White House press corps and was one of the very few journalists (as distinct from the stenographers) willing to pose such questions.

Thomas asked why Abdulmuttalab did what he did, a question of human motivation that is rarely part of the Washington conversation.

Thomas: “And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.”

Brennan: “Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents. … They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmuttalab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he’s (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.”

Thomas: “And you’re saying it’s because of religion?”

Brennan: “I’m saying it’s because of an al Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.”

Thomas: “Why?”

Brennan: “I think this is a — long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.”

Thomas: “But you haven’t explained why.”

The why would be the sort of question you might wish a CIA director would want answered – and answered honestly – since enemy motivation is a crucial element in winning a war or, more importantly, avoiding one.

Just Boilerplate

But all the American public gets is boilerplate about how al-Qaeda evildoers are perverting a religion and exploiting impressionable young men. Or, as Brennan suggests, some “militants” are just hard-wired for things like knocking down aircraft over Detroit with themselves on board.

There is almost no discussion about why so many people in the Muslim world object to U.S. policies so strongly that they are inclined to resist violently and even resort to suicide attacks. Perhaps, the U.S. and Western proclivity toward intervening in their affairs over many decades – propping up corrupt dictators and favoring Israel over the Palestinians – has left some Muslims looking for any way to strike back, even self-destructive acts of terror.

Maybe today, one of the reasons for the number of “militants” willing to attack Americans might have something to do with drones buzzing over Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen,  Somalia and other locales – and with distant “pilots” getting clearance from Brennan and his associates to push some button and obliterate some unsuspecting target.

Despite the American people’s legitimate right to know what’s being done in their name, Brennan gets thin-skinned when criticized or asked tough questions. Four years ago, when President Obama was first considering Brennan to head the CIA, Brennan faced questions about what he did for the Bush/Cheney “dark side” and promptly withdrew his name. In a bitter letter, he blamed “strong criticism in some quarters, prompted by [his] previous service with the” CIA.

Yet, Brennan’s 25-year career at the CIA would seem to be fair game in evaluating whether he should run the place. His former managers in CIA’s analysis directorate tell me he was a bust as an analyst.

Instead, like former CIA Director (and more recently Defense Secretary) Robert Gates, Brennan’s career zoomed upwards after he caught the attention of key White House officials – in Brennan’s case, George Tenet who held the top intelligence advisory job under President Bill Clinton before he was made CIA deputy director and then director.

Of course, the tradeoff for that kind of advancement often is your integrity, both as an intelligence officer and as a public servant. Indeed, it’s hard to conceive how someone could have flourished in the corrupt world of U.S. intelligence, especially since its descent into the post-9/11 “dark side,” without selling out one’s professionalism and morality.

Those who stood their ground and demonstrated integrity found themselves out on the street or marginalized as “soft on terror” – or maybe they were considered suspiciously finicky when it came to “quaint and obsolete” notions like the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Geneva Conventions and the rule of law.

But don’t worry. Endorsing the nomination of Brennan on Wednesday, the editors of the Washington Post tell usthat, although “the administration’s current strategy of countering al-Qaeda in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia with drone strikes is unsustainable … the strikes are certainly legal under U.S. and international law … [even though they] are problematic, given the backlash they have caused in Pakistan.”

Still, it might be nice if the American people could see the secret legal justifications underpinning Brennan’s last four years as keeper of the “kill lists.”

James Bovard’s latest book is free on Amazon on December 14 and 15 –...

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