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SCOTUS Declines To Protect The Great Vampire Squid From Claims

Well, boo fucking hoo. How dare these pesky people hold them accountable for their lying, cheating and stealing? This is some satisfaction, since there is nothing significant in sight from the ironically-named Department of Justice: (Reuters) - Gold...

James O’Keefe Teaches Freedomworks His Secrets of Success

I felt obligated to watch the FreedomWorks webcast Monday afternoon, if only to capture a few golden moments with star videographer lying liar James O'Keefe. O'Keefe was sharing his secrets of successful videography with the FreedomWorks crowd, whil...

Iraq After Ten Years

March 19, 2013. Ten years ago today the Bush regime invaded Iraq. It is known that the justification for the invasion was a packet of lies orchestrated by the neoconservative Bush regime in order to deceive the United Nations and the American people.

On the News With Thom Hartmann: Maryland to Become 18th State to Ban Death...

In today's On the News segment: The Senate Budget Committee approved a deficit reduction plan that would include a minimum wage increase, and more.

Jim Javinsky here - Thom Hartmann – on the news...

You need to know this. Maryland will soon become the 18th state in our nation to ban the death penalty. That state's lawmakers approved the ban last week, by a vote of 82-56, and Governor Martin O'Malley will sign the measure into law at the end of this legislative session. In the past 37 years, five men have been executed in Maryland, and there are currently another five men on death row. The new legislation, which Gov. O'Malley has pushed since 2007, converts death sentences into life without parole, and allows the governor to commute sentences, or change them to a specified period of incarceration. In an op-ed published this morning, Gov. O'Malley laid out some astonishing statistics that show, not only is capital punishment extremely expensive, but it fails to deter criminals from committing violent crimes. He wrote that in 2011, states with a death penalty had an average murder rate of 4.9 per 100,000, while states that didn't use capital punishment had a lower murder rate of 4.1 per 100,000. According to O'Malley, "Our free and diverse Republic was not founded on fear, or on revenge, or on retribution. Freedom, justice, the dignity of every individual, equal rights before the law – these are the principles that define our character. The death penalty is inconsistent with these principles." And the Governor is absolutely right. It's time we live up to "freedom and justice for all," and abolish the inhumane practice of execution in every state in our nation.

In screwed news... Walmart wants to keep Washington, D.C. employees in poverty. The low-wage retailer is scheduled to open six stores in the D.C. region, while at the same time actively fighting a proposed bill that would ensure workers at large retailers earn a living wage. Currently, the minimum wage in our nation's capital is $8.25 an hour, but this new legislation would require national retailers who make over $1 billion a year to pay an hourly wage of $11.75, and offer benefits to their employees. D.C. Council Chair Phill Mendelson introduced the proposal, saying, "by adopting a living wage standard for large retailers, the District can ensure economic development better meets the community's need for family-supporting jobs." A substantial wage increase like this one could reduce the need for government wage subsidies, such as food stamps and Medicaid. It's clear that Walmart would rather have taxpayers pick up the tab for services that it's low-wage workers can't afford, but it's time to stop their corporate welfare. If Walmart wants to do business in D.C., they may finally have to pay for the privilege to do so.

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

On Thursday, the Senate Budget Committee approved a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.85 trillion over 10 years, and the proposal includes two provisions that many progressives should be excited about. The panel added Senator Bernie Sanders' amendments to raise the minimum wage, and end tax breaks for companies that ship jobs – and profits – overseas. Senator Sanders said, "at a time when we have a $16.6 trillion national debt; at a time when roughly one-quarter of the largest corporations in American are paying no federal income taxes; and at a time when corporate profits are at an all-time high, it is pat time for corporate America to contribute significantly to deficit reduction." That's why we call him "America's Senator" - because Senator Sanders knows we can't reduce deficits by cutting spending alone, and that it's immoral to balance the budget on the backs of the poor. It's time to make the tax-dodging corporations pay their fair share. And Sen. Bernie Sanders is leading the fight.

When you think European financial crisis, you think Greece, or Spain, or Italy. But economic trouble in the small island nation of Cyprus is causing a serious panic throughout Europe. Cyprus banks are in need of a $13 billion dollar bailout because of the exposure to the financial troubles in neighboring Greece. In exchange for the bailout, representatives from the European Central Bank and IMF, along with finance ministers from European countries, have proposed a radical plan to impose a one-time tax on bank depositors. The plan calls for a 6.75% tax on all bank deposits up to 100,000 euros, and a 9.9% tax on deposits over that amount. As residents learned of the proposal, people rushed to banks and ATMs to withdraw their savings to avoid the tax. If leaders are not careful, this policy could bring down the banking system in Cyprus, and possibly throughout Europe. Let's hope they make the right decisions, and stop this financial disaster before it's too late. Stay tuned.

And finally... Watch out for the gun-toting ninjas in Illinois. At least, that's the warning of one 17-year-old boy from Elmwood Park. The boy was taken to the hospital on Friday, with a gunshot wound to his left groin area, when he told police he was attacked by two gun-yielding men in ninja masks. After a police investigation, which turned up no evidence of the two attackers, the boy eventually admitted the injury was self-inflicted. Apparently, he thought it was a brilliant idea to play around with a gun while driving, and it went off, shooting him in the groin. Thankfully, the boy's injury didn't result in the loss of his life. The loss of his pride, however, is another story.

And that's the way it is today – Monday, March 18, 2013. I'm Jim Javinsky – in for Thom Hartmann – on the news.

Polluters Using Congressional Budget Process to Push Keystone XL Pipeline, Kill Climate Work, Harm...

WASHINGTON - March 18 - As the U.S. Senate grapples with must-pass budget and appropriations bills this week, polluters and their allies in Congress are pushing a series of amendments that will have destructive impacts on the environment. Among the measures expected to be discussed are a requirement to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline — a move that a top climate scientist says will mean “game over” for avoiding catastrophic effects of climate change.

The amendments also include, or are expected to include, ones that would eliminate funding for salmon recovery funding in the Pacific Northwest, prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from using the Clean Air Act to reduce damaging greenhouse pollution, cut significant funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund for federal public lands, and eliminate ocean and coastal planning. 

“Polluters are in a feeding frenzy, trying to game the political system to maximize their profits at the expense of clean air, clean water, wildlife and a healthy climate,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These obscene power grabs by the oil, gas and coal industries have no place in what’s supposed to be rational debate over setting budget priorities for the nation.”

The Senate this week is scheduled to consider a continuing resolution (H.R. 933) to fund the federal government through the rest of fiscal year 2013 (ending Sept. 30, 2013) and the fiscal year 2014 federal budget. As in previous years, armies of industry lobbyists are desperately trying to insert additional measures unrelated to the budget or meaningful deficit reduction. 

“Few issues right now are more important to the health of our environment than Keystone XL and the deepening climate crisis. We’re counting on our senators not to sell out our future to these polluting industries whose only interest is fattening their profit margins,” Snape said.

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

5 Corrupt Things About New Jersey Governor Chris Christie

Christie knows you can piss off some of the people some of the time, just as long as you don’t rock the billionaires’ boats.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie speaks at a press conference on superstorm Sandy cleanup efforts, in Hoboken, New Jersey, on November 4, 2012.
Photo Credit: Photo: AFP

March 15, 2013  |  

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Since last October, Chris Christie has been embraced by President Obama, friended by Mark Zuckerberg, and praised by Bill Maher. In a political time of fracture he’s seemingly been the healer; in a time of discord, he’s been portrayed as leading the singers in Kumbaya -- all five verses.

Nonsense. The only true bipartisanship the governor has managed has been the delicate balance between his glistening public persona and the ugly reality of his stewardship of an essential northeastern state. He is extraordinarily deft at it: he can annoy the rowdies who wouldn’t invite him to CPAC yet still get the Koch brothers to welcome him to their table and happily help him write his laws. Christie knows that conservatives come in two main types: the loud bullies who always back the wrong horse and always steer him straight to the glue factory, and the stealth guys in the suits who have all the money.

Embrace the president after Superstorm Sandy and you enrage the former. Bill O’Reilly tried to blame Mitt Romney’s loss on it. One of the interchangable umbrage merchants at the Washington Times called for Christie’s excommunication. The governor even caused Laura Ingraham to bray loudly about him becoming a Democrat. 

But the political genius of Chris Christie lies in his awareness that you can piss off some of the people some of the time, just so long as you don’t rock the billionaires’ boats. More over, sacrifice the correct group of the overheated -- like the ones still clinging to a Romney victory only they and Romney believed still possible -- and you suddenly look like you’re putting the public interest over political dogma, and you stand out like a beacon to milder liberals looking for somebody on the other side who just might possibly not be stark raving mad.

As Christie tries to hone this high-wire act on a national stage and shove the Marco Rubios and Jeb Bushes off the 2016 stage, it is instructive to realize that the act is not new -- only the venue is. Stage dramatic budget cuts in front of the gullible local media and they’ll write encomiums about your courage that the hurried national media will devour amid their limited research. The national guys may find out about the $28 million Christie cut from healthcare for women and the elderly; they’ll never be told about the $260 million in his budget wasted on an Atlantic City casino that reported $35 million in losses in just its first three months of operation.

The national media sees the hug with Obama and the daring pushback against “Corzine Democrats.” It never sees the state teetering on the verge of 10% unemployment, nor the seemingly impossible reality of Christie advocating tax cuts that would drain more than a billion dollars from the money the state is taking in, while he still managed to increase his budget by a whopping 6.8% from 2011 to 2012.

And Christie bipartisanship -- maintaining his own image despite vast piles of facts that contradict it at every turn -- runs through not merely legislation but also ethics. This is New Jersey we're talking about: the four governors elected before Christie were: 1) the guy who went back to private business and lost $1.6 billion in customer investments in about 18 months; 2) the guy who resigned with his wife at his side at a news conference during which he announced he was gay; 3) the woman who claimed black men competed with each other to see who could produce the most children out of wedlock, and then personally frisked one of them during a police ride-along; and 4) the anti-gun liberal who desperately tried to hold onto the governor’s mansion by promising to crack down on “welfare mothers.” 

Japanese ‘Skull Reaper’ banned from city council duty over wrestling mask

Published time: March 13, 2013 23:17

Image from twitter user@skullaji

After refusing to take off his mask, the Japanese wrestler known in the ring as Skull Reaper A-ji has been ejected from a city council meeting. Oita residents elected him as councilor last month despite, or thanks to, his awesome outfit.

Campaigning on educational reform and improved social welfare facilities, the 44-year-old won only 2,828 votes, but that was enough for him to get a seat on the city council. He says people elected him as Skull Reaper and he wanted to do his part for the city as this persona.

But before his first council meeting, other councilors said it was inappropriate for a member of the assembly to conceal his identity by wearing a mask. They referred to a rule of the council stating that “hats, capes and the like” are not allowed in the chamber.

Skull Reaper A-ji refused the request, and instead pointed to the fact that he has done a lot of charitable work for the community in the last decade, including visiting institutions for people with physical disabilities.

“People find it easy to come up and talk to me because I have a mask on,” he told the Nishinippon Shimbun, a Japanese daily.

“My mask is my uniform, I even wear it to weddings, so I will not remove it,” he added.

Image from twitter user@skullaji

“If I take my mask off, I’m an entirely different person. I will not take it off,” he told the newspaper Nikkan Sports after he was told of the decision.

But all parties in the council agreed that Skull Reaper A-ji could use his ring name, as it was the name he used to be voted into office.

Other politicians in Japan who wear masks have been elected at local level, including a councilor with the nickname Super Delfin in Osaka and a former professional wrestler who was elected to represent the Iwate Prefecture in the north of Japan in 2003.

Image from twitter user@skullaji

Image from twitter user@skullaji

Why Chavez Chose Social Safety Net Over Skyscrapers

Since news broke last week of the death of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, reactions to that leader’s passing have been pouring in. While many argue that Chavez did incredible things for Venezuela and its people, there are those, especially here in the US, who don’t have such a rosy view of the former leader.

That’s where Associated Press business reporter Pamela  Sampson comes in.

In a piece from last Tuesday, speaking about the legacy of Chavez, Sampson wrote that, “Chavez invested Venezuela's oil wealth into social programs including state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programs. But those gains were meager compared with the spectacular construction projects that oil riches spurred in glittering Middle Eastern cities, including the world's tallest building in Dubai and plans for branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums in Abu Dhabi.”

You heard that right.

Sampson appears to be arguing that providing healthcare, education and employment opportunities for millions of people is far less important than flaunting your wealth for the entire world to see. Lifting an entire nation out of crippling poverty is nothing compared to building a big glitzy building or opening up a new museum.

Now, if these were the feelings of just one journalist, we could move on. But the problem is that these sentiments are echoed throughout our country. Oil corporations have become so powerful and influential in our society that the idea of nationalizing our oil and using the money from it – the way the Venezuelans, the Saudis, and the Norwegians (among others) do – to help the American people is, according to conventional wisdom, crazy and absurd.

This is the reason why, up until Chavez’s death, the U.S and Venezuela had frosty relations at best. Chavez’s decision to use his nation’s vast sums of oil wealth to help his people, instead of adding to the bottom-lines of corporations, irked many U.S. politicians and government officials.

But what’s really going on here? Why do so many Americans believe that corporate luxury is more important than “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”?

In a society, achieving safety and security is step one.

For hundreds of thousands of years, humans achieved safety and security by giving it to others, and getting it in return. And similarly, the more safety and security you gave to people, the higher status you achieved. Archeologists call societies like this “Potlatch societies,” as status is gained by giving away as much as you can at giant feasting parties called Potlatches.

This is only a slight variation on the model that Hugo Chavez used in Venezuela,
and it’s why his people loved him so much. By using his nation's oil wealth to give Venezuelans access to education, healthcare, improved housing and better living conditions, Chavez gave safety and security to millions of people, and was rewarded with high levels of admiration and respect.

Unfortunately, our modern society has become infected with a sort of cultural mental illness. The late professor of Native American studies at UC Davis, Jack Forbes, told me his people called it wetiko, a Native American word meaning “cannibal” or “thief.”

In western society, we get safety and security from making money, and then using that to buy goods and services. The more goods and services you produced, the more you were paid, and the more you were paid, the more you were able to purchase to help achieve safety and security.

This is the model that America has today. And, in its extremely mentally ill form, it’s why some billionaires say things like “I only have $30 billion. Once I have $40 billion, I’ll be happy.” And it’s why Americans might think that shiny skyscrapers are more important than the social welfare of an entire nation.

But let’s look at the numbers behind these two approaches to safety and security.

Before Hugo Chavez was president, according to the British newspaper The Guardian, unemployment in Venezuela was at 15%. As of 2009, it was at 7.6 %.

Before Hugo Chavez was president, extreme poverty was at 23.4%. As of 2011, it was at 8.5%

Meanwhile, here in the United States, millions of Americans are consistently unemployed each year. And, in the last 15 years, extreme poverty in the United States
has doubled. The number of U.S. households living on less than $2 per person a day, which is known as the “extreme poverty” line, more than doubled between 1996 and 2011, from 636,000 to 1.46 million

And, according to the latest Census Bureau data, a staggering 50 percent of Americans are either low-income or living below the poverty line.

The numbers here paint a pretty clear picture: The Chavez approach to governance, and his Robin Hood-esque mentality worked for Venezuela.

During 14 years in office, Chavez managed to drastically improve the lives of Venezuelans, while rebuilding an entire nation. He knew that the best way to achieve safety and security was not by constructing lavish buildings, but through maintaining a strong social safety net and ensuring that Venezuelans had the resources they needed to survive.

America should take a page out of the Chavez playbook.

Every Americans should have a comfortable baseline from which to survive and prosper. That means protecting this nation’s social safety net, and strengthening programs like Social Security and Medicare. It also means raising the minimum wage, and making it a living wage, so that Americans can provide for themselves, and for their families.

A country is only as strong as its people. It’s time that America was strong again.

An Addition to the Climate Movement-Civil Disobedience Toolkit

Protesters engage in civil disobedience at the White House to demonstrate against the Keystone XL pipeline. (Photo: Cool Revolution) On February 13, 48 of the nation's environmental and civil rights leaders got arrested in front of the White House to ...

Thomas Perez: Obama’s Labor Secretary Choice

Throughout his tenure, Obama waged war on labor. Perez won't change things. He'll replace Hilda Solis. She resigned in January. She accomplished little in four years.

5 Ways Privatization Is Poisoning America

We all live better lives when the common good is not for sale.

March 10, 2013  |  

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It gets more maddening every day. Essential human needs are being packaged into products to be bought and sold. The right to food and water, education, health care, public spaces, and unrestricted speech shouldn't be based on who can pay the most, or on who can generate profits with the slickest marketing pitch.

The free-market capitalism that drives our economy is a doctrine of individuals pursuing profit. Nothing else matters. An executive for Roche, a healthcare company, said "We are not in the business to save lives, but to make money."

With privatization of the common good we risk losing both our heritage and our humanness.

1. The Taking of Public Land

Attempts to privatize federal land were made by the  Reagan administration in the 1980s and the Republican-controlled  Congress in the 1990s. In 2006, President Bush proposed  auctioning off 300,000 acres of national forest in 41 states.

The assault on our common areas continues with even greater ferocity today, as the euphemistic  Path to Prosperity has proposed to sell millions of acres of "unneeded federal land," and  libertarian groups like the  Cato Institute demand that our property be "allocated to the highest-value use." Mitt Romney admitted that he didn't know "what the purpose is" of public lands.

Examples of the takeaway are shocking.  Peabody Coal is strip-mining public lands in Wyoming and Montana and making a 10,000% profit on the meager amounts they pay for the privilege.  Sealaska is snatching up timberland in Alaska. The  Central Rockies Land Exchange would allow Bill Koch to pick up choice Colorado properties from the Bureau of Land Management, while neighboring Utah Governor Gary Herbert sees  land privatization as a way to reduce the deficit. Representative Cliff Stearns recommended that we  "sell off some of our national parks." One gold mining company even  invoked an 1872 law to grab mineral-rich Nevada land for which it stands to make a  million-percent profit.

The National Resources Defense Council just reported that oil and gas companies hold drilling and fracking rights on U.S. land equivalent to the size of California and Florida combined. Much of this land is "split estate," which means the company can drill under an American citizen's property without consent. Unrestrained by government regulations, TransCanada was able to use  eminent domain in Texas to lay its pipeline on private property and then have the owner arrested for trespassing on her own land, and  Chesapeake Energy Corporation overturned a 93-year-old law to frack a Texas residence without paying a penny to the homeowners. Most recently, the  oil frenzy in North Dakota has cheated Native Americans out of a billion dollars worth of revenue from drilling leases.

Away from the mountains and the plains, back in the cities of  Chicago and Indianapolis and L.A. and San Diego, our streets and parking spaces have been surrendered to corporations until the time of our great-grandchildren, with some of the  highest profit margins in the corporate world.

2. Water for Sale

The corporate invasion of the water market is well underway. In May 2000  Fortune Magazine called water "one of the world's great business opportunities..[It] promises to be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th." Citigroup is on board, viewing water as a prime  investment, and perhaps the "single most important physical-commodity based asset class."

The vital human resource of water is being privatized and marketed  all over the country. In Pennsylvania and  California, the American Water Company took over towns and raised rates by 70% or more. In  Atlanta, United Water Services demanded more money from the city while prompting federal complaints about water quality. Shell owns  groundwater rights in Colorado, oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens is  buying up the water in drought-stricken Texas, and water in  Alaska is being pumped into tankers and sold in the Middle East.

A 2009 analysis of water and sewer utilities by Food and Water Watch  found that private companies charge up to 80 percent more for water and 100 percent more for sewer services. Various privatization abusesor failures occurred in California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.

Of course, water monopolization is a global concern, and a life-threatening issue in undeveloped countries, where  884 million people are without safe drinking water and more than 2.6 billion people lack the means for basic sanitation. Whether in the U.S. or in the world's poorest nation, the folly of privatizing water is made clear by the  profit-seeking motives of business:

(1) Water corporations are primarily accountable to their stockholders, not to the people they serve.
(2) They will avoid serving low-income communities where bill collection might be an issue.
(3) Because of the risk to profits, there is less incentive to maintain infrastructure.

3. Owning Human Life

Monsanto and their agro-chemical partners call themselves the "life industry."

In 1980 a General Electric geneticist  engineered an oil-eating bacterium, effective against oil spills, and in the first case of its kind the Supreme Court ruled that "a live, human-made micro-organism is patentable subject matter." Fifteen years later a  World Trade Organization decision allowed plants, genes, and microorganisms to be owned as  intellectual property.

The results, not surprisingly, have been disastrous. One-fifth of the  human genome is privately owned through patents. Strains of influenza and hepatitis have been  claimed by corporate and university labs, and because of this researchers can't use the patented life forms to perform cancer research. Thus the cost of life-preserving tests often depends on the whim (and the market analysis) of the organization claiming ownership of the biological entity.

The results have also been otherworldly. In 1996 the U.S. National Institutes of Health attempted to  patent the blood cells of the primitive Hagahai tribesman of New Guinea. U.S. companies AgriDyne and W.R. Grace tried to gain  ownership of the neem plant, used for centuries in India for the making of medicines and natural pesticides. Other examples of  'biopiracy': The University of Cincinnati holds a patent on Brazil's guarana seed; the University of Mississippi holds a patent on the Asian spice turmeric.

Most tragically, tens of thousands of  Indian farmers, charged for seeds that they used to develop on their own, and forced to repurchase them every year, have been driven to suicide after experiencing crop failures and ruinous debt.

Monsanto is at the forefront of GMO seeds and litigation against vulnerable farmers. To date the company has won over half of its  patent infringement lawsuits. The Supreme Court is currently weighing the arguments in  Bowman vs. Monsanto, which asks if a company can have a claim on a farmer whose crops were derived from a seed already paid for. More significantly, the question is whether a company can claim the rights to a form of life that has been nurtured by communities of farmers for centuries.

4. Owning the Air

In polluted Beijing, wealthy entrepreneur  Chen Guangbiao is selling "fresh air" in a soft drink can for about 80 cents.

While Americans are not yet dependent on (real or imagined) breathing supplements, we have relinquished public access to the air in another important way: the  1996 Telecommunications Act led the way to a giveaway of the transmission airwaves to the broadcast media. Through an effective lobbying campaign the communications industry gained all the benefits of a lucrative public space without even a licensing fee. Objected  former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, "The airwaves are a natural resource. They do not belong to the broadcasters, phone companies or any other industry. They belong to the American people."

Closely related is our right to freedom of expression on the Internet, which has been repeatedly threatened, despite the presence of existing copyright laws, by aggressive proposals like the  Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). Privacy is at risk with the  Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), passed in the House despite objections by Ron Paul and others who recognize the "Big Brother" implications of government monitoring of Google and Facebook accounts. The  Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has facilitated the monitoring of foreign communications in the name of anti-terrorism.

A 2011  UNESCO report offered this worrisome insight: "..the control of information on the Internet and Web is certainly feasible, and technological advances do not therefore guarantee greater freedom of speech."

5. Children as Products

Leading capitalists like Bill Gates and Jeb Bush and Michael Bloomberg and Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee, who together have a  few months teaching experience, have decided that the business model can pump out improved assembly line versions of our children.

Charter schools simply don't work as well as the profitseekers would have us believe. The recently updated  CREDO study at Stanford concluded again that "CMOs (Charter Management Organizations) on average are not dramatically better than non-CMO schools in terms of their contributions to student learning." Approximately the same percentages of charters and non-charters are showing improvement (or lack of improvement) in reading and math. In addition, poorly performing charters tend not to improve over time.

Nevertheless, charters remain appealing to poorly informed parents. The schools like to represent themselves as equal opportunity educational options, but the facts state the opposite, as many of them have  strict application standards that ensure access to the most qualified students. Funding for such schools drains money out of the public system.

Children are viewed as products in another way -- on the  school-to-prison pipeline. Many school districts employ "school resource officers" to patrol their hallways, and to ticket or arrest kids who disrupt the academic routine, no matter the age of the offender or the nature of the "offense":

-- A twelve-year-old was  arrested for wearing too much perfume.
-- A five-year-old was  handcuffed for committing "battery" on a police officer.
-- A six-year-old was called a  "terrorist threat" for talking about shooting bubbles at a classmate.

Along with these bizarre instances is the frightening precedent set by a private prison, Corrections Corporation of America, which despite having no law enforcement authority was allowed to  participate in a drug sweep at a high school in Arizona.

An Antidote?

A successful society doesn't derive from a few Ayn-Rand-type individuals. It's the other way around, as philosopher  John Dewey reasoned in the 1930s. It's easy to forget that our country's greatest success was due to a collaborative effort in the years during and after World War 2, when advances in manufacturing and technology made us the strongest economy the world had ever seen. It was a shared success. The common good was not for sale.

Chavez: A Personal Tribute – Stephen Lendman

Obama may have ordered him killed. Very likely he did. Believe it. Chavez did. He had good reason to do so. He said it openly. Castro warned him. He explained how imperial Washington works.

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: Did Clegg And Cable Know?

The ten things you need to know on Friday 8 March 2013...

1) DID CLEGG AND CABLE KNOW?

They may like to think they occupy the moral high ground but those Lib Dems know how to do a scandal, don't they? Former cabinet minister Chris Huhne has already pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice over his speeding points and, yesterday, Chris Huhne's ex-wife Vicky Pryce was found guilty too. ("The Price of Vengeance," splashes the Mail; "The Pryce of Revenge," splashes the Telegraph).

But here's the key bit: as the Daily Mail reports, "senior Liberal Democrats were dragged into the Chris Huhne scandal last night amid sensational claims that... Pryce confided in them two years ago".

'Did Clegg and Cable know?' is the headline in the Daily Express, which reports:

"Detectives uncovered explosive evidence suggesting that senior Lib Dems including Mr Clegg's wife Miriam and Business Secretary Vince Cable could have been in on the secret.

"They found emails from Huhne's ex-wife Vicky Pryce, saying she admitted the deception to Mr Cable, Mrs Clegg and others.

"... One, written in April 2011, claims she confided in Mr Cable and his wife saying she had 'told Vince and Rachel about points'.

"... Referring to the Deputy Prime Minister, his wife, the Business Secretary and Lib Dem elder statesman Lord Oakeshott, she says: 'Yes, I have told VC, Miriam C, MOak and a few other Lords and others working close to NC.'"

Both the Cleggs and the Cables have released statements denying they had any prior knowledge of the speeding-points story.

Nonetheless, the term "explosive" is also used by the Mirror in its lead editorial: "The guilty verdict on Vicky Pryce is a family tragedy and, for the Lib Dems, a second potentially explosive scandal over who knew what."

And the Sun declares: "The Lib Dems just cannot rid themselves of the stink of scandal."

First Rennard, now Pryce. Victory in Eastleigh suddenly seems so long ago. In fact, in comments made ahead of the Eastleigh by-election but published in House magazine last night, the party president Tim Farron referred (in a positive way!) to Lib Dems as "nutters" and "cockroaches" but warned his colleagues that "the party is in a critical state... We shouldn’t assume our survival is guaranteed".

By the way, did I mention that Liberal Democrats are gathering in Brighton today for their spring conference? You can't beat that for (bad) timing, eh?

2) GET RID OF DAVE? NAH, TOO CHAOTIC...

Good news for the leader of the Conservative Party - from the Telegraph:

"Conservative Cabinet ministers will not dare to move against David Cameron because they know they would plunge the party back into the turmoil of the 1990s, the Prime Minister's allies have said.

"... Allies of the Prime Minister said they believed that ministers such as Mrs May would run if a vacancy ever arose.

"But they insisted that neither she nor any other senior Cabinet minister would actively try to bring down the Prime Minister, fearing that to do so would repeat the Tory infighting that scarred Sir John Major's government.

"A minister close to Mr Cameron said: 'No one from that generation would move against him, because they know exactly what would happen to the party if they did. They remember the 1990s and all the damage we did to ourselves then.'

"Instead, the minister said, any attempt to oust Mr Cameron would come from younger Tories, including those first elected in 2010."

Bring on Adam Afriyie, eh?

3) WHEN RUPERT MET NIGEL...

Ukip leader Nigel Farage has a new admirer - from the Huffington Post UK:

"Nigel Farage told Rupert Murdoch at a private London dinner he would form an electoral pact with the Conservative Party if David Cameron quit as prime minister, it has been reported.

"According to the Daily Telegraph, the Ukip leader met the News International chairman for a 'secret' meal on Tuesday, the pair's first meeting, in the wake of the Eastleigh by-election which saw Farage's eurosceptic party push the Tories into third place.

"The newspaper reports that Farage told Murdoch he would work with the Tories to defeat Labour in 2015, as long as the prime minister was no longer the party's leader."

LIKE HUFFPOST UK POLITICS ON FACEBOOK | FOLLOW US ON TWITTER

4) LABOUR'S IMMIGRATION DOG WHISTLES

Hey Ed Miliband, how's that new 'progressive' approach to immigration working out for you? And have you mentioned it to your shadow home secretary?

"We won't pay dole to EU migrants for three months, vows Labour," was the headline in last night's Evening Standard; the paper was reporting on Yvette Cooper's dog-whistling speech on immigration yesterday. 'Benefit tourism' is a myth: official figures show that those born abroad are significantly less likely to claim benefits than UK nationals - but Cooper is intent on sounding 'tough'.

As the Guardian's veteran home affairs editor Alan Travis observes:

"Yvette Cooper may well have promised not to 'enter into an arms race of rhetoric' with the Tories over immigration but Labour's new approach appears designed to ensure that nobody can put a cigarette paper between them."

He adds:

"Cooper also seems to have taken the lesson from Tony Blair's law and order strategy of matching every 'tough' initiative put forward by the Conservatives and, if possible, out-flanking them by proposing a few more practical solutions of your own."

How depressing. Is there no one in public life willing to make the case for immigration?

5) 'COASTING CAN KILL'

According to the Times, in a speech today the health secretary Jeremy Hunt will tell "hospital bosses that too many of them are complacent about being 'not bad' and warns them that 'coasting can kill'... Mr Hunt compares NHS hospitals to the failing British Olympic team of years past, when they did not aim to win but were content not to come last."

The paper also reports on how "Harry Cayton, head of the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care, believes that a return of old-fashioned moral concepts is needed in order to guide the NHS out of a malaise and rebuild public confidence after the Mid Staffs scandal."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this 3-minute video of an adorable baby elephant playing in the ocean. Go on. You know you want to.

6) HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE A TORY DONOR SCORNED

Bizarre. From the Daily Mail:

"The Tories’ biggest donor of the last decade has held an extraordinary private meeting with Labour to discuss its election strategy.

"Lord Ashcroft, a hate figure for most Labour MPs, held talks with Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander, one of the architects of the party’s 2015 campaign.

"It emerged last month that the peer, a former deputy chairman of the Conservatives who gave the party £10million in funding but stopped donating several years ago, had decided not to give any more after becoming disillusioned with David Cameron’s leadership."

7) AUSTERITY WATCH, PART 121

From the Independent:

"The Government's programme of public spending cuts has been marred by short-term thinking, turf wars between departments and perverse decision-making, a committee of MPs said today.

"The Public Accounts Committee said some of the £200bn of cuts made by George Osborne undermined his attempts to boost growth. It lambasts 'silo thinking' by departments who gave no heed to how spending decisions that they made might affect other parts of the Government."

Meanwhile, the Sun reports on the prime minister's 'major speech' on the economy in Keighley yesterday - and the latter's response to his freelancing business secretary:

"Angry David Cameron has slapped down Vince Cable over his 'Plan B' suggestion for more borrowing in a bid to boost puny growth... in a withering put-down for Labour's alternative strategy too, Mr Cameron said: 'There are some people who think we don't have to take all these tough decisions to deal with our debts.

"'And what we need to do is to spend more and borrow more. It's as if they think there's some magic money tree. Well let me tell you a plain truth: there isn't.

"'Changing course would plunge the UK 'back into the abyss', the PM also warned."

Given the coalition is borrowing £212bn more than it had planned to, Dave may have his own 'magic money tree' hidden away somewhere...

8) HIDING BEHIND ISLAMOPHOBES

Tory ministers have been to invoke the German government's support for a tougher approach to migrants from Bulgaria and Romania - but my colleague Felicity Morse draws our attention to some of the more unsavoury views expressed by that country's interior minister:

"The British government has been accused of 'hiding' behind Germany and a minister with a 'dubious and suspicious record' in a bid to bolster support for blocks on Eastern European immigration."

Hans Peter Friedrich, writes Felicity, "has a controversial history with minorities in Germany, causing outrage a year ago after telling journalists in: 'Islam in Germany is not something supported by history at any point.'"

A spokesperson for Hope Not Hate told her: "Hans Peter Frederich allegedly has a dubious and suspicious record and Britain is hiding behind that. Government scaremongering on Romanians and Bulgarians is deflecting attention from what's going on at home with welfare and the NHS and the economy."

9) YOU WANNA PIECE OF US?

Uh-oh. From the BBC:

"North Korea says it is scrapping all non-aggression pacts with South Korea, closing its hotline with Seoul and shutting their shared border point.

"The announcement follows a fresh round of UN sanctions punishing Pyongyang for its nuclear test last month.

"Earlier, Pyongyang said it reserved the right to a pre-emptive nuclear strike against its 'aggressors'."

Hopefully it's the usual bit of bluster from the crazies in charge of the North Korean dictatorship and not something more serious or significant...

10) WE LOVE YOU MAGGIE. WELL, SOME PEOPLE DO.

Tories rejoice! The Telegraph reports:

"The birthplace of Baroness Thatcher is finally to have a permanent statue erected in her honour, housed in a museum dedicated to the former prime minister...

"After years of wrangling over the issue, a £200,000 fund-raising project is to begin, half of which will pay for the statue and half for the renovation of the Grantham Museum in Lincolnshire.

"... By taking the decision out of the hands of local politicians, who have spent decades arguing over whether to have a statue, the museum staff hope to unite the town’s residents behind the project."

SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT

Tonight I'm interviewing leading climate change sceptic, Professor Richard Lindzen of MIT, at the Oxford Union for a pre-recorded Al Jazeera show. It kicks off at 7.30pm and other contributors include Oxford professor Myles Allen, author and activist Mark Lynas and the Mail on Sunday's David Rose. If you'd like to come along and ask a question from the audience, please email debates@aljazeera.net.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 11

That would give Labour a majority of 96.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@DavidWooding That post Eastleigh smirk of satisfaction seems to have vanished from many Lib Dem faces this morning.

@DavidLammy Feel like I've waited all my life for football like this from Spurs."Please Gareth Bale don't stand against me at the next election!" #COYS

@davidwearing Shall we pre-empt the "men's rights" self-pity by pointing out that *every day* is International Men's Day? #IWD

900 WORDS OR MORE

Philip Collins, writing in the Times, says: "It’s a myth that lazy foreigners are sponging off our welfare state. Our leaders ought to be straight with us."

Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian, says: "More spending? The coalition may as well build a bridge to the moon."

Jonathan Aitken, writing in the Daily Mail, says: "The mad hubris of us politicians: I know because it brought me down too."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Quantitative Easing (QE) for the People: Comedian Grillo’s Populist Plan for Italy

Beppe-Grillo-e1361568756286

Default on the public debt, nationalization of the banks, and a citizen dividend could actually save the Italian economy.

Comedian Beppe Grillo was surprised himself when his Five Star Movement got 8.7 million votes in the Italian general election of February 24-25th.  His movement is now the biggest single party in the chamber of deputies, says The Guardian, which makes him “a kingmaker in a hung parliament.”

Grillo’s is the party of “no.” In a candidacy based on satire, he organized an annual “V‑Day Celebration,” the “V” standing for vaffanculo (“f—k off”).  He rejects the status quo—all the existing parties and their monopoly control of politics, jobs, and financing—and seeks a referendum on all international treaties, including NATO membership, free trade agreements and the Euro.

“If we get into parliament,” says Grillo, “we would bring the old system down, not because we would enjoy doing so but because the system is rotten.” Critics fear, and supporters hope, that if his party succeeds, it could break the Euro system.

But being against everything, says Mike Whitney in Counterpunch, is not a platform:

To govern, one needs ideas and a strategy for implementing those ideas. Grillo’s team has neither. They are defined more in terms of the things they are against than things they are for. It’s fine to want to “throw the bums out”, but that won’t put people back to work or boost growth or end the slump. Without a coherent plan to govern, M5S could end up in the political trash heap, along with their right-wing predecessors, the Tea Party.

Steve Colatrella, who lives in Italy and also has an article in Counterpunch on the Grillo phenomenon, has a different take on the surprise win. He says Grillo does have a platform of positive proposals. Besides rejecting all the existing parties and treaties, Grillo’s program includes the following:

  • unilateral default on the public debt;
  • nationalization of the banks; and
  • a guaranteed “citizenship” income of 1000 euros a month.

It is a platform that could actually work. Austerity has been tested for a decade in the Eurozone and has failed, while the proposals in Grillo’s plan have been tested in other countries and have succeeded.

Default: Lessons from Iceland and South America

Default on the public debt has been pulled off quite successfully in Iceland, Argentina, Ecuador, and Russia, among other countries.  Whitney cites a clip from Grillo’s blog suggesting that this is also the way out for Italy:

The public debt has not been growing in recent years because of too much expenditure . . . Between 1980 and 2011, spending was lower than the tax revenue by 484 billion (thus we have been really virtuous) but the interest payments (on the debt of 2,141 billion) that we had to pay in that period have made us poor. In the last 20 years, GDP has been growing slowly, while the debt has exploded.

. . . [S]peculators . . . are contributing to price falls so as to bring about higher interest rates. It’s the usurer’s technique. Thus the debt becomes an opportunity to maximize earnings in the market at the expense of the nation. . . . If financial powerbrokers use speculation to increase their earnings and force governments to pay the highest possible interest rates, the result is recession for the State that’s in debt as well as their loss of sovereignty.

. . . There are alternatives. These are being put into effect by some countries in South America and by Iceland. . . . The risk is that we are going to reach default in any case with the devaluation of the debt, and the Nation impoverished and on its knees. [Beppe Grillo blog]

Bank Nationalization:  China Shows What Can Be Done

Grillo’s second proposal, nationalizing the banks, has also been tested and proven elsewhere, most notably in China. In an April 2012 article in The American Conservative titled “China’s Rise, America’s Fall,” Ron Unz observes:

During the three decades to 2010, China achieved perhaps the most rapid sustained rate of economic development in the history of the human species, with its real economy growing almost 40-fold between 1978 and 2010.  In 1978, America’s economy was 15 times larger, but according to most international estimates, China is now set to surpass America’s total economic output within just another few years.

According to Eamonn Fingleton in In The Jaws of the Dragon (2009), the fountain that feeds this tide is a strong public banking sector:

Capitalism’s triumph in China has been proclaimed in countless books in recent years. . . .  But . . . the higher reaches of its economy remain comprehensively controlled in a way that is the antithesis of everything we associate with Western capitalism.  The key to this control is the Chinese banking system . . . [which is] not only state-owned but, as in other East Asian miracle economies, functions overtly as a major tool of the central government’s industrial policy.

Guaranteed Basic Income—Not Just Welfare

Grillo’s third proposal, a guaranteed basic income, is not just an off-the-wall, utopian idea either. A national dividend has been urged by the “Social Credit” school of monetary reform for nearly a century, and the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network has held a dozen annual conferences.  They feel that a guaranteed basic income is the key to keeping modern, highly productive economies humming.

In Europe, the proposal is being pursued not just by Grillo’s southern European party but by the sober Swiss of the north.  An initiative to establish a new federal law for an unconditional basic income was formally introduced in Switzerland in April 2012. The idea consists of giving to all citizens a monthly income that is neither means-tested nor work-related. Under the Swiss referendum system of direct democracy, if the initiative gathers more than 100,000 signatures before October 2013, the Federal Assembly is required to look into it.

Colatrella does not say where Grillo plans to get the money for Italy’s guaranteed basic income, but in Social Credit theory, it would simply be issued outright by the government; and Grillo, who has an accounting background, evidently agrees with that approach to funding.  He said in a presentation available on YouTube:

The Bank of Italy a private join-stock company, ownership comprises 10 insurance companies, 10 foundations, and 10 banks, that are all joint-stock companies . . .  They issue the money out of thin air and lend it to us.  It’s the State who is supposed to issue it.  We need money to work.  The State should say: “There’s scarcity of money?  I’ll issue some and put it into circulation.  Money is plentiful?  I’ll withdraw and burn some of it.” . . . Money is needed to keep prices stable and to let us work.

The Key to a Thriving Economy

Major C.H. Douglas, the thought leader of the Social Credit movement, argued that the economy routinely produces more goods and services than consumers have the money to purchase, because workers collectively do not get paid enough to cover the cost of the things they make.  This is true because of external costs such as interest paid to banks, and because some portion of the national income is stashed in savings accounts, investment accounts, and under mattresses rather than spent on the GDP.

To fill what Social Crediters call “the gap,” so that “demand” rises to meet “supply,” additional money needs to be gotten into the circulating money supply. Douglas recommended doing it with a national dividend for everyone, an entitlement by “grace” rather than “works,” something that was necessary just to raise purchasing power enough to cover the products on the market.

In the 1930s and 1940s, critics of Social Credit called it “funny money” and said it would merely inflate the money supply. The critics prevailed, and the Social Credit solution has not had much chance to be tested. But the possibilities were demonstrated in New Zealand during the Great Depression, when a state housing project was funded with credit issued by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, the nationalized central bank. According to New Zealand commentator Kerry Bolton, this one measure was sufficient to resolve 75% of unemployment in the midst of the Great Depression.

Bolton notes that this was achieved without causing inflation.  When new money is used to create new goods and services, supply rises along with demand and prices remain stable; but the “demand” has to come first. No business owner will invest in more capacity or production without first seeing a demand. No demand, no new jobs and no economic expansion.

The Need to Restore Economic Sovereignty

The money for a guaranteed basic income could be created by a nationalized central bank in the same way that the Reserve Bank of New Zealand did it, and that central bank “quantitative easing” (QE) is created out of nothing on a computer screen today.  The problem with today’s QE is that it has not gotten money into the pockets of consumers. The money has gotten—and can get—no further than the reserve accounts of banks, as explained here and hereA dividend paid directly to consumers would be “quantitative easing” for the people.

A basic income guarantee paid for with central bank credit would not be “welfare” but would eliminate the need for welfare.  It would be social security for all, replacing social security payments, unemployment insurance, and welfare taxes.  It could also replace much of the consumer debt that is choking the private economy, growing exponentially at usurious compound interest rates.

As Grillo points out, it is not the cost of government but the cost of money itself that has bankrupted Italy. If the country wishes to free itself from the shackles of debt and restore the prosperity it once had, it will need to take back its monetary sovereignty and issue its own money, either directly or through its own nationalized central bank. If Grillo’s party comes to power and follows through with his platform, those shackles on the Italian economy might actually be released.

Ellen Brown is an attorney and the author of eleven books, including Web of Debt: The Shocking Truth About Our Money System and How We Can Break Free. Her websites are webofdebt.com and ellenbrown.com. She is also chairman of the Public Banking Institute. Details of the June 2013 Public Banking Institute conference are here.

Quantitative Easing for the People: Default on the Public Debt, Nationalize the Banks, and...

Comedian Beppe Grillo was surprised himself when his Five Star Movement got 8.7 million votes in the Italian general election of February 24-25th. His movement is now the biggest single party in the chamber of deputies, says The Guardian, which makes him “a kingmaker in a hung parliament.”

Grillo’s is the party of “no.” In a candidacy based on satire, he organized an annual “V Day Celebration,” the “V” standing for vaffanculo (“f—k off”). He rejects the status quo—all the existing parties and their monopoly control of politics, jobs, and financing—and seeks a referendum on all international treaties, including NATO membership, free trade agreements and the Euro.

“If we get into parliament,” says Grillo, “we would bring the old system down, not because we would enjoy doing so but because the system is rotten.” Critics fear, and supporters hope, that if his party succeeds, it could break the Euro system.

But being against everything, says Mike Whitney in Counterpunch, is not a platform:

To govern, one needs ideas and a strategy for implementing those ideas. Grillo’s team has neither. They are defined more in terms of the things they are against than things they are for. It’s fine to want to “throw the bums out”, but that won’t put people back to work or boost growth or end the slump. Without a coherent plan to govern, M5S could end up in the political trash heap, along with their right-wing predecessors, the Tea Party.

Steve Colatrella, who lives in Italy and also has an article in Counterpunch on the Grillo phenomenon, has a different take on the surprise win. He says Grillo does have a platform of positive proposals. Besides rejecting all the existing parties and treaties, Grillo’s program includes the following:

• unilateral default on the public debt;
• nationalization of the banks; and
• a guaranteed “citizenship” income of 1000 euros a month.

It is a platform that could actually work. Austerity has been tested for a decade in the Eurozone and has failed, while the proposals in Grillo’s plan have been tested in other countries and have succeeded.

Default: Lessons from Iceland and South America

Default on the public debt has been pulled off quite successfully in Iceland, Argentina, Ecuador, and Russia, among other countries. Whitney cites a clip from Grillo’s blog suggesting that this is also the way out for Italy:

The public debt has not been growing in recent years because of too much expenditure . . . Between 1980 and 2011, spending was lower than the tax revenue by 484 billion (thus we have been really virtuous) but the interest payments (on the debt of 2,141 billion) that we had to pay in that period have made us poor. In the last 20 years, GDP has been growing slowly, while the debt has exploded.

. . . [S]peculators . . . are contributing to price falls so as to bring about higher interest rates. It’s the usurer’s technique. Thus the debt becomes an opportunity to maximize earnings in the market at the expense of the nation. . . . If financial powerbrokers use speculation to increase their earnings and force governments to pay the highest possible interest rates, the result is recession for the State that’s in debt as well as their loss of sovereignty.

. . . There are alternatives. These are being put into effect by some countries in South America and by Iceland. . . . The risk is that we are going to reach default in any case with the devaluation of the debt, and the Nation impoverished and on its knees. [Beppe Grillo blog]

Bank Nationalization: China Shows What Can Be Done

Grillo’s second proposal, nationalizing the banks, has also been tested and proven elsewhere, most notably in China. In an April 2012 article in The American Conservative titled “China’s Rise, America’s Fall,” Ron Unz observes:

During the three decades to 2010, China achieved perhaps the most rapid sustained rate of economic development in the history of the human species, with its real economy growing almost 40-fold between 1978 and 2010. In 1978, America’s economy was 15 times larger, but according to most international estimates, China is now set to surpass America’s total economic output within just another few years.

According to Eamonn Fingleton in In The Jaws of the Dragon (2009), the fountain that feeds this tide is a strong public banking sector:

Capitalism’s triumph in China has been proclaimed in countless books in recent years. . . . But . . . the higher reaches of its economy remain comprehensively controlled in a way that is the antithesis of everything we associate with Western capitalism. The key to this control is the Chinese banking system . . . [which is] not only state-owned but, as in other East Asian miracle economies, functions overtly as a major tool of the central government’s industrial policy.

Guaranteed Basic Income—Not Just Welfare

Grillo’s third proposal, a guaranteed basic income, is not just an off-the-wall, utopian idea either. A national dividend has been urged by the “Social Credit” school of monetary reform for nearly a century, and the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network has held a dozen annual conferences. They feel that a guaranteed basic income is the key to keeping modern, highly productive economies humming.

A basic income guarantee paid for with central bank credit would not be “welfare” but would eliminate the need for welfare. It would be social security for all, replacing social security payments, unemployment insurance, and welfare taxes.

In Europe, the proposal is being pursued not just by Grillo’s southern European party but by the sober Swiss of the north. An initiative to establish a new federal law for an unconditional basic income was formally introduced in Switzerland in April 2012. The idea consists of giving to all citizens a monthly income that is neither means-tested nor work-related. Under the Swiss referendum system of direct democracy, if the initiative gathers more than 100,000 signatures before October 2013, the Federal Assembly is required to look into it.

Colatrella does not say where Grillo plans to get the money for Italy’s guaranteed basic income, but in Social Credit theory, it would simply be issued outright by the government; and Grillo, who has an accounting background, evidently agrees with that approach to funding. He said in a presentation available on YouTube:

The Bank of Italy a private join-stock company, ownership comprises 10 insurance companies, 10 foundations, and 10 banks, that are all joint-stock companies . . . They issue the money out of thin air and lend it to us. It’s the State who is supposed to issue it. We need money to work. The State should say: “There’s scarcity of money? I’ll issue some and put it into circulation. Money is plentiful? I’ll withdraw and burn some of it.” . . . Money is needed to keep prices stable and to let us work.

The Key to a Thriving Economy

Major C.H. Douglas, the thought leader of the Social Credit movement, argued that the economy routinely produces more goods and services than consumers have the money to purchase, because workers collectively do not get paid enough to cover the cost of the things they make. This is true because of external costs such as interest paid to banks, and because some portion of the national income is stashed in savings accounts, investment accounts, and under mattresses rather than spent on the GDP.

To fill what Social Crediters call “the gap,” so that “demand” rises to meet “supply,” additional money needs to be gotten into the circulating money supply. Douglas recommended doing it with a national dividend for everyone, an entitlement by “grace” rather than “works,” something that was necessary just to raise purchasing power enough to cover the products on the market.

In the 1930s and 1940s, critics of Social Credit called it “funny money” and said it would merely inflate the money supply. The critics prevailed, and the Social Credit solution has not had much chance to be tested. But the possibilities were demonstrated in New Zealand during the Great Depression, when a state housing project was funded with credit issued by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, the nationalized central bank. According to New Zealand commentator Kerry Bolton, this one measure was sufficient to resolve 75% of unemployment in the midst of the Great Depression.

Bolton notes that this was achieved without causing inflation. When new money is used to create new goods and services, supply rises along with demand and prices remain stable; but the “demand” has to come first. No business owner will invest in more capacity or production without first seeing a demand. No demand, no new jobs and no economic expansion.

The Need to Restore Economic Sovereignty

The money for a guaranteed basic income could be created by a nationalized central bank in the same way that the Reserve Bank of New Zealand did it, and that central bank “quantitative easing” (QE) is created out of nothing on a computer screen today. The problem with today’s QE is that it has not gotten money into the pockets of consumers. The money has gotten—and can get—no further than the reserve accounts of banks, as explained here and here. A dividend paid directly to consumers would be “quantitative easing” for the people.

A basic income guarantee paid for with central bank credit would not be “welfare” but would eliminate the need for welfare. It would be social security for all, replacing social security payments, unemployment insurance, and welfare taxes. It could also replace much of the consumer debt that is choking the private economy, growing exponentially at usurious compound interest rates.

As Grillo points out, it is not the cost of government but the cost of money itself that has bankrupted Italy. If the country wishes to free itself from the shackles of debt and restore the prosperity it once had, it will need to take back its monetary sovereignty and issue its own money, either directly or through its own nationalized central bank. If Grillo’s party comes to power and follows through with his platform, those shackles on the Italian economy might actually be released.

Ellen Brown

Ellen Brown developed her research skills as an attorney practicing civil litigation in Los Angeles. In Web of Debt, her latest of eleven books, she turns those skills to an analysis of the Federal Reserve and “the money trust.” She shows how this private cartel has usurped the power to create money from the people themselves, and how we the people can get it back. She is president of the Public Banking Institute, http://PublicBankingInstitute. org , and has websites at http://WebofDebt.com and http://EllenBrown.com

Venezuela and the Middle East After Chavez

Venezuela and the Middle East After Chavez

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Posted on Mar 7, 2013
ABr / José Cruz via WikiMedia Commons (rights reserved)

By Juan Cole

This post first appeared on Juan Cole’s website, Informed Comment.

The foreign policy of late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez imagined that socialism and anti-imperialism are the same thing, and that he could lead a new sort of socialist international. (He also seems not to have distinguished between anti-Americanism and anti-imperialism.) These considerations shaped his Middle East policy in ways that were contradictory and hypocritical. Chavez, supposedly a man of the people, stood against Iran’s 2009 Green Movement, against the Libyan Revolution to overthrow the erratic Muammar Qaddafi, against the Syrian Revolution.

Iran, while it is a profound critic of the United States, is not a socialist country. Its gini coefficient or measurement of social inequality now is probably worse than in the days of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the monarch overthrown in 1979. As with all oil states, its public sector is large, but it also has a lively private sector, which is dominated by wealthy oligarchs, including some of the ayatollahs and institutions like the Revolutionary Guards. Iran is a right wing theocracy, not a left wing socialist state. If Chavez could embrace a repressive theocracy run for the benefit of wealthy oligarchs, merely because it is anti-American, then of what logical acrobatics was he incapable?

Likewise, Chavez’s support for the Ghaddafis in Libya was based on an extremely superficial reading of Libyan political, economic and social system. The Ghaddafi family looted the country of its wealth, wasting it on ruinous African adventures or squirreling it away in Western banks and real estate. Libya was not a socialist country but a post-Soviet, Russian-style oligarchy. Ordinary Libyans, especially in the east of the country, were increasingly cut out of any share in the country’s oil bonanza. I was shocked last year on my visit there how dowdy and relatively undeveloped Benghazi is; Ghaddafi had clearly punished the country’s second largest city by declining to spend much money on it. Nor was Ghaddafi of 2010 even particularly anti-imperialist. He had welcomed European investment in his oil and gas industries and had much improved relations with the Bush administration. Far from being anti-American, Ghaddafi had a thing for Condi Rice and called Barack Obama his African son. Chavez’s own ally, Iran, largely supported the struggle of the Libyan people against what one ayatollah called “this shell-shocked individual,” though of course Iran condemned the NATO air intervention.

Syria is also no longer a socialist country. The relatives and hangers-on of the ruling al-Assad family transformed themselves into billionaires, using their government contacts to gain lucrative contracts and establishing monopolies. Working Syrians were facing declining real wages in the past decade and very high youth unemployment. Poverty was increasing. Nor was Syria particularly anti-imperialist. In the 1970s and 1980s in Lebanon, Baathist Syria had gladly helped defeat the Palestine Liberation Organization and its Druze and Muslim allies on behalf of the pro-American, right wing Phalangist Party supported by some Christians. After 9/11, the Syrian government tortured al-Qaeda suspects for the Bush administration. It was the US congress that cut Syria off in 2003, not the other way around. And when Obama reopened the US embassy and sought better ties in 2009, al-Assad was perfectly happy to accept.

Whatever one thought of Chavez, he did genuinely improve the lot of the Venezuelan working classes. He won elections and was genuinely popular for this reason. He appears not to have been able to imagine that Khamenei, Ghaddafi and al-Assad are rather less interested in an ideal like the public welfare.

Unable to perform a basic political-economy analysis that would demonstrate that Iran, Libya and Syria had abandoned whatever socialist commitments they once had (Iran of the ayatollahs had never been progressive), Chavez in his own mind appears to have thought that they were analogous to the Bolivia of Eva Morales or the Ecuador of Rafael Correa. Emphatically not so.

He also imagined these countries as anti-American (only Iran really is), and appears to have believed that such a stance covers a multitude of sins on the part of their elites– looting the country, feathering their own nests, and authoritarian dictatorship and police states that deploy arbitrary arrest and torture. In the case of Libya and Syria, the regimes showed a willingness to massacre thousands of their own citizens with bombings from the air and heavy artillery and tank barrages fired into civilian neighborhoods. US imperialism has been guilty of great crimes in Central America and often backed right wing dictators in Latin America generally. You understand how it made a bad impression on Chavez. But the US supported Algeria and many other decolonizing countries in the 1960s and “imperialism” is a thin reed as an all-encompassing analytical tool. There is a sense in which capitalist Russia is seeking a superpower supremacy in parts of the Middle East. Chavez was happy to align with that development.

Venezuela’s stances on the Middle East under Chavez were not usually important in any practical sense. Despite a lot of verbiage, its economic cooperation with Iran has been minor for both countries, and Chavez did no more than make angry speeches about Libya and Syria. Good Iranian-Venezuelan relations provoked a great deal of hysteria in the US, but they don’t actually appear to have been consequential, either in the sphere of economics or in that of security. Despite dark predictions by US hawks, it is probably not very important whether Venezuela keeps its current foreign policy or alters it.

But Chavez did sully his legacy as a progressive with his superficial reading of what ‘anti-imperialism’ entails and his inability to see the neo-liberal police states of the Middle East for what they had become.


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Ahmadinejad heads to Chavez funeral

File photo shows Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (R) and his late Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has set off for Venezuela to pay tribute to his late Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, who died earlie...

Fee to enter? Britain’s immigration crackdown continues

Published time: March 07, 2013 16:11

A Bulgarian shows his UK visa in front of the British embassy in Sofia (AFP Photo / Valentina Petrova)

Immigrants entering Britain may be forced to pay a fee, which would only be reimbursed when they leave UK soil, and if they haven’t used health services. The UK is taking an increasingly hardline stance, despite a recent sharp decline in immigration.

The UK is seeking to impose financial bonds “as a further deterrent to reduce non-compliance by high-risk nationalities,” a source close to Theresa May, the Home Secretary, told the Daily Mail. Additionally, migrant family members already residing in the country would be made to pay a sum of thousands of pounds. It would be returned upon leaving the country.

If the reform goes through, immigrants entering the country for living and work purposes would have to put down the money to guarantee they wouldn’t ‘drain’ the country’s financial resources. Such resources would include things like non-emergency care from the health service. However, if British welfare was used by migrants entering the country, they would risk losing their money.

The entry fee would additionally be used to make sure immigrants didn’t outstay their visa  (and fining them if they do), consolidating an existing act. The Immigration and Asylum Act (1999), already gives the government the right to make immigrants front some money upon entering the country, which can be retained by the government should they remain in the UK after the expiration of their visa.

Individuals from two or three countries were tagged as “high risk”, and it is at them that the scheme is targeted. The UK will not be allowed to impose the charge on immigrants from EU countries who comprise the EU’s Schengen passport-free zone.

Bulgaria and Romania had hoped to gain the same freedom to enter the UK as other EU nations, and were expected to apply to join the zone in a meeting on Thursday. However, their entrance needed to be granted through a unanimous vote, and Germany announced their plan to veto the move on Monday.

“There will be no vote, and no decision,” a source in the EU's current Irish presidency told AFP on Wednesday. “Several nations have reserves or concerns.” As a result, residents of the two countries could be among those impacted.

Net migration into Britain has fallen by a third, from 247,000 thousand migrants in June 2011 to 163,000 in 2012, according the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Conservatives said they would clamp down on migrants, saying they were taking advantage of Britain's “soft touch,” which he was determined to quash.

On Wednesday, the Labour party leader Ed Miliband promised to take a heavy hand with immigration. He stated that the party had got it wrong in the past, saying “millions of people are concerned.”

“Low-skill migration has been too high and we need to bring it down,” he said.

The Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper called for the closure of student visa loopholes on Thursday, saying that many overstay or abuse (e.g. working instead of studying), despite the party denying accusations that they are moving to the right on migration.  

The British Conservative party was shunted into third place in the Eastleigh by-election in February. The UKIP candidate, who beat the Conservatives, is a member of a party described by the Tory government as packed with “loonies and closet racists.”  

It has been suggested that parties are adopting a stronger stance because of UKIP’s reputation for being heavy-handed on immigration.

Labour MP Diane Abbot, issued a recent warning to her party not to “spiral downwards” by veering to the right on immigration as a result of the by-election results.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez dies

Published time: March 06, 2013 02:01

Hugo Chavez (AFP Photo / Prensa Miraflores - Marcelo Garcia)

Download video(311.54 MB)

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has passed away at the age of 58 following a two-year fight against cancer and a severe respiratory infection. His untimely demise raises serious questions about the future of the oil-rich Latin American power.

The president of Venezuela died on Tuesday afternoon, Vice President Nicolas Maduro has announced. "It's a moment of deep pain," he said, accompanied by senior ministers.

Foreign Minister Elias Jaua has announced in televised comments that Maduro will assume the interim presidency. Elections are to be held in 30 days, he added.

The country’s military chiefs appeared live on state television to pledge their loyalty to Maduro, whom Chavez had named as his preferred successor.

Supporters of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez react to the announcement of his death outside Miraflores Palace in Caracas, March 5, 2013 (Reuters / Jorge Silva)

Venezuela will observe seven days of mourning after the leader's passing. Thousands of Chavez supporters have taken to the streets across the country to mourn their late president.

The news comes weeks after Chavez returned from Cuba, where he underwent the fourth cancer operation. His 'delicate condition' had recently worsened due to complications from a respiratory infection, with official reports stating he was breathing through a tracheal tube and unable to speak.

Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles, whom Chavez defeated in last year’s elections, has called for national unity in the wake of the president’s death.

"My solidarity is with the entire family and followers of President Hugo Chavez, we call for Venezuelan unity at this moment," Capriles wrote on Twitter.

Supporters of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez react to the announcement of his death outside the hospital where he was being treated, in Caracas March 5, 2013 (Reuters / Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

In the US, crowds of Venezuelan immigrants took to the streets cheering while waving their country’s flag. Dozens of members of the anti-Chavez community took to the streets in Doral, Florida, wearing national colors and chanting “He is gone!”

"We are not celebrating death," Ana San Jorge, a 37-year-old Venezuelan immigrant explained, "We are celebrating the opening of a new door, of hope and change."

There are currently some 190,000 Venezuelan immigrants in the United States.

A crowd sings and waves the Venezuelan flag at a local restaurant following the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, in Doral, Florida, March 5, 2013 (Reuters / Robert Sullivan)

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin has described Chavez’s passing as “

a tragedy

.” “

He was a great politician for his country, for Latin America and for the world and of course he played a very important role in the development of relations between Venezuela and Russia, so we feel very badly about it,

” he told reporters in New York.

One of the world’s best-known socialist leaders and a staunch critic of the United States, Chavez had been battling the disease for nearly two years, undergoing four surgeries and several sessions of chemotherapy in Havana.

Despite his ailing health, Chavez was reelected in November 2012 to a fourth term. However, he was not able to attend his January 10 inauguration ceremony, which cast doubt on the succession of power in the country. Prior to his death, the Venezuelan opposition called for a new election should Chavez be unfit to take office.

Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gather in front of Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas on March 5, 2013 (AFP Photo / Leo Ramirez)

‘We are all Chavez’

Chavez’s allies across Latin America have joined in an expression of grievance. A teary-eyed Bolivian President Evo Morales declared that "Chavez is more alive than ever.”

“We are all Chavez,” said Rosario Murillo, the wife and spokeswoman of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, adding that the deceased Venezuelan president is “one of the dead who never die.”

The Cuban government declared two days of national mourning and ordered the flag to be flown at half-mast. “The Cuban people view him as one of their most outstanding sons,” President Raul Castro’s office said in a statement.

Argentina also announced three days of mourning nationwide as the country’s President Cristina Fernandez and the President of neighboring Uruguay Jose Mujica prepare to travel to Venezuela for the funeral.

Another of Chavez’s close allies, Ecuadorian President Rafael Ortega, praised the legacy of the Venezuelan president.

Supporters of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez react to the announcement of his death outside the hospital where he was being treated in Caracas, March 5, 2013 (Reuters / Carlos Garcia Rawlins)

“We have lost a revolutionary, but millions of us remain inspired,”

he said.

Chavez’s popularity extended much further than Latin America, James Petras, professor of sociology from Binghamton University, told RT.

“In fact President Chavez was loved not only by Venezuelans but throughout Latin America. And even in the US, outside of very limited circles, like Miami and some other immigrant places,” he said.

Outside of US media reports Chavez was seen as a good leader and reformer, Petras asserted.

“Working people in Europe, the US, Asia and certainly in the Middle East looked up to Chavez as someone who represented developing welfare program in the face of the Western countries reducing the welfare expenditures, cutting pensions and eliminating medical coverage,”
he explained.

Friend or tyrant? US reaction is mixed

Reacting to Chavez’s death, US President Barack Obama said the US was interested in a "constructive" future relationship with Venezuela.

"At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez's passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government," Obama said in a brief written statement.

Former US President Jimmy Carter praised Chavez for his strive for independence and influence in the region.

“President Chavez will be remembered for his bold assertion of autonomy and independence for Latin American governments and for his formidable communication skills and personal connection with supporters in his country and abroad to whom he gave hope and empowerment,” he said in a statement.

But some US politicians sharply disagreed with this estimate of Chavez’s policies.

“Hugo Chavez was a tyrant who forced the people of Venezuela to live in fear. His death dents the alliance of anti-US leftist leaders in South America. Good riddance to this dictator,” US Representative Ed Royce, Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said.

Meanwhile, US actor Sean Penn, a good friend of Chavez, said the US “lost a friend it never knew it had.”

“Poor people around the world lost a champion. I lost a friend I was blessed to have. My thoughts are with the family of President Chavez and the people of Venezuela,” Penn said in a statement.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (L) jokes with US actor Sean Penn during his visit to Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, on February 16, 2012 (AFP Photo / Leo Ramirez)


Watch Hugo Chavez tribute video on RT YouTube channel

Swiss Curb Executive Greed; Will Anyone Follow?

Swiss Curb Executive Greed, Will Anyone Follow?

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Posted on Mar 5, 2013

By William Pfaff

Switzerland just had a referendum in which it voted to give company and bank shareholders veto rights over the salaries, bonuses and overall compensation packages of senior executives and board directors.

Bonuses will be prohibited for executives being hired, those leaving, and for those present when a company is taken over. Pension funds holding stock in a company will be required to take part in these compensation votes. Violation of the new rules can be punished by fines worth up to six years of salary and prison sentences of up to three years. These requirements will be written into the Swiss constitution. In short, the Swiss want revolutionary change in the manner by which the modern European (and implicitly, American) corporation is managed, and in how it distributes its funds. This is a demand based on morality.

A majority of 68 percent of those voting in all the Swiss cantons approved this initiative. The Swiss citizenry, in short, is very angry about the current practices of Swiss corporations and financial institutions, even though the country is scarcely noted for past criticism of high finance and the practices prevailing in the international economy.

The Swiss are not the only ones angry at the pay practices of globalized capitalism. The European Union’s Commission, executive agency of the 27-member EU—whose combined economy is the largest and potentially most powerful in the world, dominating world trade—has just delivered a second staggering blow to international finance and the practices of bankers.

The Commission has ruled that all bankers and banking institutions anywhere within the EU, and also—here comes the knockout punch—all those executives working for EU-based banks worldwide, must have the bonuses they pay or receive capped at no more than existing annual salaries. This limit can be waived only if the bank’s shareholders agree, and then only to the level of double the executive’s current salary.

For a normal human being working in a normal enterprise, bonuses are usually connected to meritorious service. They are not a plutocratic competition in ego-display by a limited number of the very rich.

Today’s rich, though, are different from you and me. An executive’s pay sheet may identify bonuses as merited supplements to salaries, and stock option assignments and other monetary and material rewards as essential to keeping an immensely important individual in the company, preventing him or her from taking their invaluable talents elsewhere, but this is part of the game played by the new corporate rich. (The individual may actually be getting fired, and the money greases the exit.)

You can imagine how this draft EU law on banker compensation has been received in the City of London, the British Conservative Party and the community of New York-based executives of London and Scottish banks.

It is difficult to see how Britain can remain a member-state of the EU if this law is approved by finance ministers and the European Parliament—which will happen. Prime Minister David Cameron has already, for purely party-political and electoral reasons, promised the British electorate a referendum before the next national election on the U.K.‘s remaining in the Union (on what he assured them would be revised terms—but scarcely this revision).

The conventional political and journalists’ judgment today is that Britain is on the way out of Europe, for better or for worse. But wait—we have not yet counted in the weight of moral opinion not only in Britain and even, just possibly, in the United States, which now will become the only great business center in the world which practices this kind of mind-blasting greed. Interesting enough, though, the greedy lost the 2012 national election in America.

This greed has caused moral revulsion throughout the Western world—including in the United States, which started it all, and as a result now experiences radical inequality between rich and poor. Just since 2008, American disposable personal income has risen by 1.4 percent per year. Corporate profit has increased by 20 percent per year. The Barclays Bank’s chief American economist says nothing like this has been seen in 50 years.

America’s Puritan forefathers were Calvinist; their “errand into the wilderness” had been conceived as a re-enactment of the exodus of the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage and their Biblical covenant with God was understood as to build a new heaven and new earth. Until the American Revolution, their Presbyterian church, with its millenarian theology, provided the only organized link among the separate colonies.

However, the austere and frightening theology of Calvinist predestination and “irresistible grace” changed in America due to the influence of the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609). He argued that for hard-working men and women, predestination could be bestowed, and success and riches be seen as evidence of Heavenly Election. American Protestantism has always respected business success and wealth.

But this? The tea party movement, whatever its ideological aberrations, was seen in 2010 as a people’s revolt against big and intrusive American government, supposed “free riders,” welfare queens, Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” who would vote against him (or wouldn’t vote at all), and against academics, intellectuals and the mainstream media.


It was much more. It was a protest against secular and cosmopolitan forces in America and an affirmation of a traditional American religious culture. But what was not seen then was that it was an upsurge by America’s outsiders or abandoned: the precarious or jobless American poor and lower middle class, protesting globalization, American industry shipped abroad, American deindustrialization, American employment shipped to China, foreign immigrants living on American welfare rolls—and dead American towns, working farmers reduced to living in shabby house-trailers, their children facing perpetual debt in order to get an education.

All this while the rich get greedier.


Visit William Pfaff’s Web site for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at www.williampfaff.com.

© 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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52 Members of Congress Urge Continued Federal Protections for Wolves in Lower 48 States

PORTLAND, Ore. - March 5 - In an effort championed by Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), 52 House members sent a letter today to the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service urging an about-face on the agency’s anticipated proposal to remove federal protections for wolves across most of the lower 48 United States.

“We are grateful that these 52 representatives are standing strong for continued federal protections for wolves,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “With wolves only just beginning to recover in the Pacific Northwest, California, southern Rocky Mountains and Northeast, now’s not the time for the Fish and Wildlife Service to turn its back on wolf recovery.”

An estimated 2 million wolves once roamed freely across North America, including most of the United States. But bounties, a federal extermination program and human settlement drove the species to near extinction in most of the lower 48. While protected by the Endangered Species Act, wolf populations in the northern Rocky Mountains and the Western Great Lakes states increased; but these regions amount to a mere 5 percent of the wolf’s original range, and in other regions wolves are only just beginning to return.

“The job of wolf recovery is far from over and the members of Congress who have written to the Service are asking that science, not politics, guide federal wolf management,” said Josh Laughlin of Cascadia Wildlands. “Maintaining federal protections is critical in allowing wolves to assume their valuable ecological role across the American landscape.”

Since the original wolf recovery plans were written in the 1980s, scientists have learned much more about wolves’ behavior, ecology and needs. Research has shown that returning wolves to ecosystems sets off a chain of events that benefits many species, including songbirds and beavers that gain from a return of streamside vegetation, which thrives in the absence of browsing elk that must move more often to avoid wolves. And pronghorn and foxes are aided by wolves’ control of coyote populations. Protecting ecosystems upon which species depend is a specific goal of the Endangered Species Act — all the more reason for expanded, rather than diminished, wolf recovery efforts.

Bowing to political pressure from wolf opponents, the Service has no plans for wolf recovery in areas beyond those regions it has deemed recovered (the northern Rockies and western Great Lakes). In states where federal delisting has occurred, there are insufficient protections from local pressures to hunt or “control” wolves back to the brink of extinction. In the 18 months since federal delisting began in 2011, more than 1,700 of the 5,000-6,000 recovered wolves in the lower 48 have been killed.

Conservation organizations are hopeful that Interior Secretary nominee Sally Jewell will be a stronger advocate for wolves than outgoing Secretary Ken Salazar, who never called for comprehensive gray wolf recovery across the country.

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

The Globalization of “Fast Food”. Behind the Brand: McDonald’s

The Globalization of "Fast Food". Behind the Brand: McDonald’s

The Above image of the McDonald label, Copyright McDonald’s 2011

This article was first published in The Ecologist

In the first of a major new series following on from the ground breaking Behind the Label, Peter Salisbury takes a look at one of the biggest brands in the world – McDonald’s – and asks: has the burger giant done enough to clean-up its act?

Chances are that you have had a McDonald’s meal in the past or if not, you certainly know a lot of people who have. It’s the biggest fast food chain in the world, with 32,000 outlets in 117 countries. The clown-fronted burger outfit employs a staggering 1.7 million people, and in the first three months of 2011 alone it made $1.2bn in profits on the back of revenues of $6.1bn. The company has come in for huge amounts of criticism over the past 20 years, for the impact it has on the diets of people worldwide, its labour practices and the impact its business has had on the environment. From Fast Food Nation to Supersize Me by the way of the McLibel trials of the 1990s, plenty has been written and broadcast to tarnish the golden arches’ shine.

Declining sales in the early 2000s, which saw franchises being shut for the first time in the company’s history, caused a major rethink of the way McDonald’s operates, and its recent rhetoric has been that of a firm with a newly discovered zeal for ethical end eco-friendly practices, garnering praise from champions as unlikely as Greenpeace and the Carbon Trust. But is this just marketing hype or has McDonald’s had a genuine change of heart?

The answer is yes and no. First of all, because of the way the company is run, it’s hard to generalise. Around 80 per cent of McDonald’s outlets are run by franchisees who have to meet standards set by the company, but who can – and do – go above and beyond them. Further, McDonald’s branches are run by country and regional offices, each of which are subject to domestic standards. The production of much of the raw products which go into McDonald’s meals, from burger patties to sauces, is subcontracted to different suppliers, making it impossible to assess the company in terms of a single golden standard. Its sole global supplier (for soft drinks) is Coca-Cola.

The UK branch of the company has certainly made great strides since the 1990s, when it became embroiled in the 1997 McLibel court case, in which McDonald’s Corporation and McDonald’s Restaurants Limited sued Helen Steel and Dave Morris, a former gardener and a postman, for libel after they published a series of leaflets denouncing the company.

Exploitation

The judge overseeing the case decided that, although the pair could not prove some of their accusations – that McDonald’s destroyed rainforests, caused starvation in the third world or disease and cancer in developed countries – it could be agreed that the company exploited children, falsely advertised their food as nutritious, indirectly sponsored cruelty to animals and paid their workers low wages: a major blow to the brand in an age of increasing consumer-consciousness.

Since then, the UK branch has committed to a number of initiatives to improve its image, running an aggressive marketing campaign at the same time to portray itself as an ethical employer which is both farmer and eco-friendly. It has also moved to become more transparent, putting ingredients lists for all of its products on its website and setting up another website, Make Up Your Own Mind, inviting customers to voice concerns and publishing accounts of critics’ visits to its production sites.

All of this should be taken with a grain of salt however. It’s not surprising that a multibillion-dollar corporation, which has been hurt in the past by concerns over its practices, will do its utmost to sell itself as a reformed character. And it’s suspicious that any web search of the company brings up a hit list of sites almost exclusively maintained by the company.

Yet research conducted by the Ecologist shows that in many areas the company has improved its record of ethical and environmental awareness over the last decade. The company’s burgers, for example, are now 100 per cent beef, and contain no preservatives or added flavours whatsoever. All of McDonald’s UK’s burgers are provided by Germany’s Esca Food Solutions, which claims to maintain rigorous standards at its abattoirs and production plants, and which works closely with 16,000 independent farmers in the UK and Ireland to maintain high standards.

‘No GM’

Since the early 2000s, McDonald’s UK has maintained that none of its beef, bacon or chicken is fed genetically modified grain. Farmers working for McDonald’s have independently confirmed to the Ecologist and Esca that they have a ‘decent’ working relationship with the company.

In 2007, Esca won the UK Food Manufacturing Excellence Awards for its burgers, and in 2010 McDonald’s announced that it was launching a three-year study into reducing the carbon emissions caused by the cattle used in its burgers (cattle account for four per cent of the UK’s emissions). Meanwhile, all of the fish used in Filet-O-Fish and Fish Finger meals in Europe are sourced from sustainable fisheries certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. Fries are largely sourced from McCain’s, the world’s biggest potato supplier, and McDonald’s claims that the vast majority are produced in the UK, again by independent farmers. The fries are prepared in-store and are cooked in vegetable oil containing no hydrogenated fats. At the beginning of the potato-growing season, dextrose – a form of glucose – is added as a sweetener, and salt is added after cooking (the company claims to have reduced the amount of salt used by 23 per cent since 2008).

The bread for McDonald’s buns and muffins is sourced from a single unnamed supplier based in Heywood, Manchester, and Banbury, Oxfordshire. McDonald’s would not comment on where it sources the grain for the bakeries but says once more that it does not buy genetically modified crops. Meanwhile, the company has been working with its suppliers and franchise-holders to make sure that they are as energy efficient as possible. In 2010, The Carbon Trust awarded McDonald’s its Carbon Trust Standard for reducing its overall carbon emissions by 4.5 per cent between 2007 and 2009. The company is currently experimenting with a series of energy initiatives based around turning its waste, from packaging – which is 80 per cent recycled – to vegetable oil into energy.

Certification

Since 2007, the company – which is one of the world’s biggest coffee retailers – has committed to selling only Rainforest Alliance certified coffee. Although the certification body has certainly been responsible for improving conditions and practices in many farming operations worldwide, it has been the subject of controversy – most recently after an undercover investigation by the Ecologist revealed allegations of sexual harassment and poor conditions for some workers at its certified Kericho tea plantation in Kenya which supplies the PG Tips brand.

Certification issues aside, McDonald’s has undoubtedly become considerably better at taking criticism. In 2006, Greenpeace activists stormed McDonald’s restaurants across the world dressed in chicken suits in protest at the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, which they attributed to greedy soy producers – who in turn were selling their produce to chicken farms, of whom McDonald’s was a major customer. They subsequently praised the fast food chain for leading a unified response among soy buyers, pressuring producers to adopt a ‘zero destruction’ approach to growing their crops. Despite praise from Greenpeace, the Carbon Trust and personalities such as Jamie Oliver who have praised the company for its ethical stance on meat and buying its produce locally, the firm is by no means perfect.

One of the biggest incongruencies in its newly discovered zeal for ethical practices comes from its seemingly differing approaches to the conditions chickens live in depending on whether they produce eggs or are used as meat in Chicken McNuggets and similar meals. The firm proudly trumpets that its UK branch only buys eggs from Lion-certified free-range producers, a laudable effort from a huge buyer of eggs, and that the meat in each nugget is 100 per cent chicken breast (the final product is around 65:35 meat and batter).

Factory farming

Yet by the same token, the company buys most of its chicken from two suppliers, Sun Valley in the UK and Moy Park in Northern Ireland, who are in turn owned by the controversial American firm, Cargill, and Brazil’s Marfrig. Sun Valley has been accused of using intensive chicken farming methods to produce their meat, which campaigners say can typically involve birds being cooped up in giant warehouses for much of their natural lives with barely any space to move. Sun Valley was embroiled in a scandal in 2008 when the activist group Compassion in World Farming secretly filmed poor conditions at its supplier Uphampton Farm near Leominster.

Furthermore, although McDonald’s is happy to advertise the provenance of its beef, dairy products and eggs, it is more circumspect about chicken meat. This may be because up to 90 per cent of the meat it uses in the UK is sourced from Cargill and Marfrag facilities in Thailand and Brazil, where regulations in the farming sector are perhaps less stringent than in the UK.

Meanwhile, the fact remains that despite attempts in recent years to cultivate a more healthy image, McDonald’s primary sales come from fast food in a time when there is increasing recognition that obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the UK and the US. Although the European, and in particular the UK arm of the company, have become increasingly ethically aware, the same cannot be said for the US arm, which uses livestock farmed using intensive methods and fed in some cases on GM crops. And by buying McDonald’s in the UK, you are still buying from the same clown.

Useful links:

McDonalds: www.mcdonalds.co.uk

Greenpeace: www.greenpeace.org.uk

Compassion in World Farming: www.ciwf.org.uk

The Carbon Trust: www.carbontrust.co.uk

Third Maine Town Passes ‘No Tar Sands’ Resolution to Fight Pipeline

The small town of Waterford, Maine over the weekend became the third town in the state to pass a resolution declaring opposition to a plan aimed at bringing Canadian tar sands oil through an existing oil pipeline running from Montreal to the New England coast.

“This project is about money,” said pipeline opponent and town resident Paula Easton ahead of the vote. The risks to the local environment—including the Crooked River watershed that provides drinking water to a huge portion of southern Maine—were "unacceptable and irreversible” she said.

According to the Lewiston (Maine) Sun Journal, Easton was in the majority who ultimately voted for the resolution in a 56-34 split at the open town meeting on Saturday. Paula Easton of Clean Water for Waterford kicks off the Tar Sands discussion at the March 2 town meeting held in the fire station. A dozen people from both sides spoke on the resolution, which passed 56-34. About 115 attended the meeting. (Photo: town of Waterford)Residents were especially concerned about the possibility of a spill and remained unconvinced by industry executives present at the meeting.

“The 7.8 mile Waterford section of the pipeline holds nearly one million gallons of oil. From the Raymond shut-off valve to the Waterford shut off valve the 25 miles holds over 3 million gallons of oil,” says Waterford resident and retired scientist and educator Earl Morse. “If this antiquated, 62 year old pipeline carries tar sands and ruptures like what happened in Kalamazoo, Michigan in July 2010, the Crooked River watershed and Sebago Lake would be devastated.”

In addition to concerns about protecting local waterways and drinking water, the resolution stated concern for larger environmental and public health hazards of tar sands in the context of a town and region heavily dependent on a clean environment for recreation, tourism, and the economy at large.

“We congratulate the town and citizens of Waterford on passing this important resolution,” said Todd Martin, Outreach Coordinator for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Once you learn about tar sands and pipelines, it’s not hard to see that it would be a bad deal for Maine. We expect dozens of other towns along the pipeline to speak out in the coming months.”

The current pipeline, owned by the Exxon Mobil subsidiary Portland-Montreal Pipeline Company is a pipeline system for conventional oil that begins at a coastal terminal in the city of South Portland and carries the fuel 236 miles to Montreal.

As part of a quiet yet controversial push by those trying to find export outlets for Alberta tar sands, the PMPC said it would welcome an opportunity to reverse the flow of its pipeline, even though tar sands is much more corrosive than its conventional cousin and despite the fact that the pipeline is over sixty years old.

“After hearing from experts on both sides, and after more than an hour of discussion, the people of Waterford have spoken,” said Waterford Select Board Chair Randy Lessard. “We feel as a town that transporting tar sands oil through the Portland-Montreal pipeline poses unpredictable risks to the health, safety, natural resources, property and economic welfare of Waterford residents.”

President of the PMPC Larry Wilson spoke ahead of the vote as well, saying that once residents "heard the truth," they wouldn't oppose the pipeline. He tried to calm fears of a spill by saying, “Spills are difficult; they're challenging. Companies don't have the option of devastating the environment and walking away. You have to clean up the spill.”

It's possible he had not yet read this report from Michigan, where the Enbridge pipeline company continues to fight even its obligation to fund independent studies designed to determine the ongoing impacts of an oil spill that spewed nearly one million gallons of Canadian tar sands into the Kalamazoo River 2010. Regardless, Wilson was not successful in his attempt to persuade the majority, including town resident Bart Hague.

“As a landowner of 480 acres along the Crooked River and a mile of land that the pipeline traverses in Waterford, my land would be directly affected should tar sands be pumped through the Portland Montreal Pipeline,” said Hague. “A tar sands oil spill in the wetland habitat along the Crooked River would be nearly impossible to clean up since tar sands is heavier and thicker than conventional oil.”

In January, thousands of people from all over New England converged in the city of Portland to voice their opposition to the pipeline. An upcoming town forum in South Portland, where new pumping stations would have to be built, is scheduled for next week.

The complete language of the Waterford municipal resolution follows:

WE, the citizens of Waterford Maine, have come to understand that the Portland-Montreal Pipeline which runs through our town is being considered for the transport of tar sands oil from Montreal to South Portland, which would be a reversal of flow and change from its original use.
a) We are opposed to any change in either the flow direction or the type product pumped for any of the current crude oil pipelines that flow through Waterford and cross the Crooked River it’s tributaries, wetlands and aquifer.
b) Through the adoption of this resolution, the Town of Waterford expresses its opposition to the transport of tar sands through our town via the existing Public Utility Easement. We feel that such transport is of no benefit to Waterford and entails unacceptable risk to our river, our public health and safety, property values, recreation resources, water quality, and the pristine natural resources upon which our community depends.
c) Through the adoption of this resolution, the town of Waterford calls upon the Maine State Legislature, United States Congress, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and State Departments to require thorough environmental impact reviews of all tar sands pipeline proposals, including a complete evaluation of the health, safety and environmental risks.
d.) Through the adoption of this resolution, the town of Waterford supports the creation of clear Federal and State guidelines for tracking the chemical composition of pipeline transported fuels so that local governments, citizens, and first responders can better understand, and plan for, the risks associated with the specific type of fuel flowing through or to their communities.
e.) Through the adoption of this resolution, the town of Waterford encourages the State of Maine and other states in the northeast to support policies that help develop and shift fuel use away from high impact fuels such as tar sands.
f.) Through the adoption of this resolution, the town of Waterford will transmit a copy of this resolution to the Maine State Congressional delegation, Maine State Representative of Waterford, and the Maine State Senator representing Waterford, the US EPA and State Departments. 

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Cut Benefits, Not The Military

The Defence Secretary has told George Osborne the military cannot cope with any more cuts - so the welfare budget should be slashed instead. Philip Hammond has warned he will resist further cuts to his department in the next spending review. In an int...

USDA Considers Reintroducing Horse Slaughter to US

Animal rights advocates are voicing outrage over attempts to push the US Department of Agriculture to expand the slaughtering of horses within the United States. 

(Photo: katieharbath via Flickr) Amid controversy over the infiltration of horsemeat into European beef supplies, the New York Times is reporting that the USDA is likely to approve a new horse slaughtering plant in Roswell, New Mexico within the next two months.

In 2005, after increasing pressure from animal rights advocates, Congress effectively shut down the industry by defunding inspections by the USDA. Now, the owner of the proposed slaughterhouse, the Valley Meat Company, is suing the USDA and their Food Safety Inspection Service, charging that the department’s failure to offer inspection of horse meat violates the Federal Meat Inspection Act.

Though popular in a number of countries and cultures, many are concerned by the high rate of chemicals—such as the prohibited carcinogen phenylbutazone—frequently found in horse meat. "US horses being sent to slaughter are overwhelmingly young sport horses," according to the Equine Welfare Alliance. The majority of those animals having been used in "rodeo and racing before being dumped to slaughter."

They continue:

Since the horses are a byproduct of these sports, they were not raised for slaughter and were almost universally given drugs prohibited in food animals. The low cost of these horses ($100 to $500) makes them far cheaper than beef, thus providing a huge incentive for the fraudulent substitution.

In addition to slaughter of sport horses, the practice of capturing and selling wild horses to slaughterhouses has been ongoing for years.

In their denouncement of the practice, animal rights groups also decry the cruelty of slaughtering these "companion" animals and cite rampant abuses at horse processing facilities. On their site the Humane Society of the US (HSUS) exposes a number of myths about the practice of killing horses for meat.

"It’s no easy thing to secure the food supply," writes HSUS President, Wayne Pacelle. "More than ever, it’s a global enterprise with supply chains stretching thousands of miles – a point of vulnerability for food safety and infiltration at the production, transport and processing stages. As The HSUS and so many other watchdog groups have pointed out, there are serious gaps in the system, along with disreputable people in the production and supply chain who can take advantage or corrupt it."

Valley Meat claims they are not planning to sell the horse meat in the United States, reports the Times, "at least at the outset of its operations."

“I’m sure if markets do develop in this country for horse meat for human consumption, they will look at them,” said A. Blair Dunn, the lawyer for Valley Meat.

Despite the recent lack in domestic horse slaughterhouses, in 2012 more American horses—about 167,000 according to Humane Society estimates—were slaughtered than any other year, since the practice of shipping captured and "retired" horses to Mexican and Canadian processing facilities has become more and more popular. 

This news comes as Europe grapples with a widespread mislabeling and contamination scandal, where horse meat has appeared in food products labeled 100 percent beef across the continent. Major companies, including Tesco, Nestlé and Ikea, have had to remove their products from shelves in 14 countries.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is taking on the fight against horse slaughter and have petitioned the USDA and the FDA to delay approval of any horse slaughter facility. 

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This Year’s Subsidy to Wall Street is Equal to the Amount of This Year’s...

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.

Since we’ve bailed out the 10 largest banks $83 billion this year alone, should they give it back to us by paying into the U.S. Treasury the amount of this year’s sequester? After all, it’s the same amount.

On February 20th, Bloomberg News editors headlined, “Why Should Taxpayers Give Big Banks $83 Billion a Year?” and issued the first-ever thorough and current analysis of the taxpayer-subsidy to the Wall Street mega-banks. They found that this subsidy is $83 billion this year, but they made no note of the fact that this amount is only $2 billion less than this year’s sequester cuts are estimated to be, so that all that would need to be done, in order to avoid those cuts, would be to have those mega-banks that we bail out every year forego their subsidy from taxpayers, for just one year. Unfortunately, this would be easier said than done.

That $83 billion subsidy this year is, according to Bloomberg’s, also approximately the amount of profits that those banks are “earning” this year. So, if the mega-banks wouldn’t refund it out of what we gave them last year, then they could just refund it by paying to us – who, after all, bailed out their stockholders enormously in 2009 – the “profits” that they made this year.

The editors at Bloomberg News (hardly a bunch of populists) calculated this $83 billion figure based upon their analysis of the figures in a sadly ignored but rigorous study that had been done by IMF economists, a study that had been issued months back, in May 2012, and which was titled “Quantifying Structural Subsidy Values for Systemically Important Financial Institutions.” As Bloomberg’s editors summarized the reason for this ongoing federal subsidy: “The banks that are potentially the most dangerous can borrow at lower rates, because creditors perceive them as too big to fail,” due to the special Government backing for too-big-to-fail (TBTF) institutions.

The taxpayer-funded annual subsidy to these TBTF banks has never before been calculated as to its actual annual dollar-value, but this rigorous IMF study finally provided the means for doing that. Bloomberg’s summarizes: “What if we told you that, by our calculations, the largest U.S. banks aren’t really profitable at all? What if the billions of dollars they allegedly earn for their shareholders were almost entirely a gift from U.S. taxpayers?”

“The top five banks – JP Morgan, Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. – account for $64 billion of the total subsidy, an amount roughly equal to their typical annual profits.”

This $83 billion, in other words, is the current value of the annual subsidy received by America’s 10 mega-banks, from our Government’s special treatment of them as “Systemically Important Financial Institutions” (i.e., fully guaranteed by U.S. taxpayers, irrespective of the normal $250,000-per-account limit in savings and checking accounts), or TBTF institutions, which the other 7,053 (out of the total 7,063 FDIC-insured) banks are not – other banks can fail without destroying the U.S. economy. In a certain sense, these are the banks where the super-rich can enjoy FDIC protection without that $250,000-per-account limit, and can even gamble under the protection of that comforting umbrella.

The Dallas Federal Reserve has issued a superb study showing that even at the peak of the crash, when the highest percentage of loans were in arrears, which had occurred around January 2010, only around 3% of loans were in arrears at banks that had “less than $1 billion” in assets, whereas banks that had “over $250 billion” (and only 12 banks are in that august category) were experiencing around 12% of loans in arrears. The following chart on page 7 of the Dallas Fed’s study showed that the 2008 crash was virtually entirely a Wall Street (or mega-bank) phenomenon:

The big-ten banks are the ones that benefited from that $83 billion handout this year, and, as was noted, they did so because they are TBTF. Because these banks (basically the top line there) are TBTF, their top executives can have them engage in, essentially, high-risk gambling (such as “no-doc” or “liars” loans) with the vast sums that are under their command, since the people who buy stock in these banks know in advance that if these high-risk bets fail, then U.S. taxpayers (we) will eat their losses. Consequently, the only incentive for CEOs of these banks is to increase their bank’s size even more, so as to increase their bonuses even bigger, since these executives don’t really need to worry about risk (except as a PR issue, perhaps, but they hire PR people – including politicians – to deal with that).

When Wall Street got bailed out to the tune of trillions of dollars by the U.S. Treasury, and the Federal Reserve (and with Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac serving as a conduit between them and Wall Street), this left very little remaining for the Government to spend on the rest of the economy, such as infrastructure and education (the kinds of things that we supposedly pay taxes for), which might be why the recovery has been so slow, from the 2008 crash that was caused by Wall Street’s federally-insured gambling with the trillions that they control of everybody else’s money. If so, then this sequester is a result of Wall Street’s failed bets: instead of cutting back on the subsidy to Wall Street, the politicians in Washington have chosen to cut back on government services to the public. Politicians like Barack Obama and his team, and the George W. Bush team before them, and all of the supporters of TBTF in Congress, made the basic choice to subsidize the mega-banks instead of the needy or the deserving, and this is also why the “Top 1% Got 93% of Income Growth as Rich-Poor Gap Widened” under Obama. It really is a plutocracy; that’s precisely the way today’s USA is functioning – no doubt about it.

There were other possible ways of dealing with the 2008 crash than to continue to throw trillions of dollars at Wall Street, but that is what “our” Government did, and continues to do, because, essentially, this is what the super-rich pay them to do.

Bloomberg’s $83 billion/year finding here is so vast that it suggests that the U.S. is a crony-capitalism, hardly an authentic capitalism. The “cronies” are these giant Wall Street firms and their “counterparties” (namely, each other, plus Fannie & Freddie and the government officials and lobbyists, who all serve Wall Street), and also the stockholders and bondholders in these huge financial institutions: the mega-banks that would otherwise be “cleaned out” but for the TBTF backing they receive from U.S. taxpayers. We’re getting reamed by Wall Street and K Street, and this is the first estimate of the actual circumference of that reaming. The Dallas Fed’s study says that this reaming must stop, and that, despite what the Federal Reserve itself says, the mega-banks must be broken up. The easiest way to do that might be for Congress to pass a law that prohibits the largest ten banks from participating in the FDIC. That would transform the entire financial system, but Wall Street would hate it because it would yank their honey-pot.

Because Wall Street’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg made his roughly $20 billion fortune by serving the mega-banks, this editorial from Bloomberg News constituted remarkable news, in and of itself.

One other study of “Valuation in Systemic Risk at U.S. Banks During 1974-2010” found that the taxpayer-subsidy was $300 billion in 2008 but supposedly near zero after 2009. Matt Levine linked to that study on 7 May 2012 under the optimistic headline “Markets Are Telling Us That Too Big To Fail Is All Better.” The editors at Bloomberg ignored that study. The financial expert Yves Smith, when I called to her attention that that study, which she had relied upon, zeroed-out the megabanks’ systemic risk after 2009, wrote in reply, “I didn’t realize they were doing this using bank equity volatility as the proxy. He did not make clear how he was going to do about it in the talk. Methodologically, that’s crap.”  So, Bloomberg’s editors have issued the only reliable study that has ever been done on the size of this important subsidy.

Bloomberg’s editors were courageous to do this, and they are already getting flak for having done it. On February 24th, they issued a follow-up, “Remember That $83 Billion Bank Subsidy? We Weren’t Kidding,” and explained in more detail how they had calculated this $83 billion sum. They explained why the $83 billion estimate was far likelier an underestimate than an overestimate.

Anyway, this subsidy is a major problem, probably at least as big as the sequester, which it might have helped to cause.

On February 28th, Yves Smith posted at her “Naked Capitalism” website, “Occupy the SEC, Frustrated With Regulatory Defiance of Volcker Rule Implementation Requirements, Sues Fed, SEC, CFTC, FDIC and Treasury,” and she linked to a new legal filing in the Eastern District of New York “over the failure of the relevant financial regulators to issue a Final Rulemaking as stipulated in Dodd Frank.” She summarized what the evidence clearly showed: “Not only are the[y] out of compliance [with the Dodd-Frank Act’s Volcker Rule provision for these regulators to draft rules restricting the mega-banks from gambling with investors’ money], they [the regulatory agencies over the mega-banks] appear to have no intent of finalizing the Volcker Rule.” She went on to say: “Much of the public still fails to understand the degree to which the ruling classes no longer represent their interests. Oh, they may resent the banks, and they may also hate Congress, but most people deeply need to believe they live in a system that is fair and where business and political leaders (some if not all) still deserve respect and admiration.”

Meanwhile, click here to find out why Republicans want the sequester, even though economists, the International Monetary Fund, and even the Congress’s own research service (the Congressional Research Service), have amply warned that it will be destructive to the nation.

Comment by Washington’s Blog:  President Obama says that sequestration is the GOP’s fault. But Bob Woodward and YouTube reveal that Obama supported sequestration from day one.

Read potential solutions to the sequestration debate.

Democracy Canadian-style

canadaleaf

Given Canada’s neo-realpolitik internationally, it is no surprise that Canadian domestic affairs are following an identical logic. In the past, Canada appeared to stand apart from such settler colonies as the US and Australia in dealing more fairly with its natives. John Ralston Saul argues for the “originality of the Canadian project”, that contained elements of a rejection of the Enlightenment project of Europe/ the US, which was based on secular rationality and liberal revolution. Canada was never a monolithic nation state, but rather based on consensus, incorporating the native philosophy of man as part of nature. Canada’s policy of constant immigration furthermore fuelled the need for a multicultural “intercultural” ethic.

It was never a ‘melting pot’ and Canadians have always prided themselves on their lack of US-style national chauvinism. (Europe is formally multicultural because of its need for cheap immigrant labor, but old imperial nationalisms live on.)

Saul argues that Canada was ‘founded’ as a modern nation not in 1867 but in 1701 with the Great Peace of Montreal between New France and 40 First Nations of North America. This treaty, achieved through negotiations according to Native American diplomatic custom, was meant to end ethnic conflicts. From then on, negotiation would trump direct conflict and the French would agree to act as arbiters during conflicts between signatory tribes. The paradigm is a confederation of tribes, consensus, the Aboriginal circle, “eating from a common bowl”. The treaty is still valid and recognized as such by the Native American tribes involved.

French Canadians are generally pre-French-revolution immigrant stock. Similarly Anglo-Canadians were against the American revolution (a merchants’ revolt against the crown). The downside of this is Canada’s enduring colonial mentality, and the constant reassertion of conservative elites (Confederation, Borden, Mulroney, Harper) and kowtowing to the Britain/ US imperial center. (Diefenbaker was the one exception, defying US empire over stationing nuclear weapons on Canadian soil, and he was shafted by US do-gooder JFK and our own do-good Nobel Peacenik Lester Pearson.)

Sadly, this contradiction in Canada’s conservative colonial heritage has meant that the thread of continuity from the days when natives counted (it was their land which the whites wanted to expropriate, albeit peacefully) has now officially snapped, as Bill C-45, and the political and media campaign against the native resistance shows.

Natives face not only official pressure to give up their rights, but they face abuse, even by those who are supposed to protect them. The residential education programs, intended to forcibly assimilate native children by wiping out their languages and traditions and replacing them with modern (or rather ‘postmodern’) education, was exposed in recent years, even eliciting an official apology from Prime Minister Harper himself. Most recently Canada’s national police force stands accused of sexually abusing aboriginal women and girls in British Columbia, Human Rights Watch has revealed.

The Idle No More protest movement, spearheaded by native activists, and joined by other Canadians who are opposed to the Conservatives’ agenda, is making alliances with similar groups in the US who are opposed to the neoliberal agenda. At the “Forward on Climate” march in February in Washington DC, Chief Jacqueline Thomas of the Saikuz First Nation warned that the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline will not only threaten indigenous communities living in its path, but the myriad of ecosystems that it will invade (the equivalent of the empire’s military invasions around the world). “When we take care of the land, the land [takes] care of us,” she pleaded.

Canadian pitbull

Harper is counting on Canada’s past do-good reputation to see it through in its new, hardnosed role as imperial pitbull. “Canada remains in a very special place in the world. We are the one major developed country that no one thinks has any responsibility for the [financial] crisis. We’re the one country in the room everybody would like to be,” he boasted at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh in 2009. The other G20 nations “would like to be an advanced developed economy with all the benefits that conveys to its citizens and at the same time not have been the source, or have any of the domestic problems, that created this crisis. We also have no history of colonialism. So we have all of the things that many people admire about the great powers but none of the things that threaten or bother them.”

Harper should read a less tendentious history book. Canada is the colonial success story par excellence, and continues to be. In most colonies (for example, India), a small number of Europeans ruled over much larger Indigenous populations. In order to make profits from a colony, Europeans needed the labor of the people they had conquered to amass profit.

Colonialism in Canada was different. Here it took the form of settler colonialism (other states with this type of colonialism include the USA, Australia and Israel). “Settler colonialism took place where European settlers settled permanently on Indigenous lands, aggressively seized those lands from Indigenous peoples and eventually greatly outnumbered Indigenous populations,” writes analyst David Camfield. It destroyed the organic cultures that grew out of relationships with those lands, and, ultimately, eliminating those Indigenous societies.

What’s left of the natives, with their very different way of life, ended up tangled up in the legal system, desperately them trying to keep their original treaties alive, though these treaties, with their many vague loop-holes, have in any case proved threadbare over time. And watch out for retribution. Native spokesperson Cindy Blackstock, who has spent more than five years trying to hold Ottawa accountable for a funding gap on the welfare of aboriginal children on reserves, found herself hounded by government surveillance intended to discredit her, as recently confirmed by a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal statement.

Similarly, (white) Canadians who run afoul of the neocolonial role Canada plays abroad have been burned. Gary Peters, an Australian national based in Canada, was found complicit in “crimes against humanity”, and Cyndy Vanier — of involvement in organized crime and falsification of documents, for helping deposed Libyan president Gaddafi’s son, Saadi Gaddafi, flee Libya in 2011.

Canada has graduated as the consummate colonial success story, and has now moved smoothly into its postmodern role as ‘supporter of human rights’ — not by promoting disinterested NGOs and providing lots of funding, but via invasion, exploitation and/or subterfuge at home and abroad. This should come as no surprise, where the indicator for success in economics and politics is not fairness and consensus, but profit and engineered majority-rule.

Canada’s own democratic traditions have been trampled time and again by Harper, who prorogued Parliament twice, becoming the first prime minister ever to be found guilty of contempt of parliament, and flagrantly ignores freedom of speech by muzzling senior bureaucrats, withholding and altering documents, and launching personal attacks on whistleblowers. There is an ongoing investigation into voting fraud perpetrated by the Conservatives in the last election.

That this reality continues to be touted as Canada’s success story is a sorry commentary on our postmodern reality, where truth is in the eyes of the beholder, and public opinion is in any case shaped by ‘them that controls the words’.

IRS Should Bar Dark Money Groups From Funding Political Ads, Lawsuit Says

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A former Illinois congressional candidate and a government watchdog organization have teamed up to sue the Internal Revenue Service, claiming the agency should bar dark money groups from funding political ads.

The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday by David Gill, his campaign committee and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, is the first to challenge how the IRS regulates political spending by social welfare nonprofits, campaign-finance experts say.

As ProPublica has reported, these nonprofits, often called dark money groups because they don't have to identify their donors, have increasingly become major players in politics since the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling in early 2010.

Gill, an emergency room doctor who has advocated for health-care reform, including a single-payer plan, was the Democratic candidate for the 13th district in Illinois last year. After a tight race, Gill ended up losing to the Republican candidate by 1,002 votes — a loss the lawsuit blames "largely, if not exclusively," on spending by the American Action Network, a social welfare nonprofit.

It's impossible to say for certain why Gill lost. He had lost three earlier races for a congressional seat.

But the American Action Network, launched in 2010 by former Minnesota Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, played a role. It reported spending almost $1.5 million on three TV commercials and Internet ads opposing Gill, mainly in the weeks right before the election. That was more than any other outside group spent on the race, and more than Gill's principal campaign committee spent on the entire election, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Though Gill had never held public office, the American Action Network ads described him as who supported sending jobs to China, channeling money to the failed green-energy company Solyndra, and making a mess out of health care and Medicare.

Gill said he ran into people every day who said they weren't voting for him because of claims he would destroy Medicare.

"I think that certainly the money put forward — they saw that they could have an impact here," Gill said of the American Action Network. "They wanted to put their money where it could make a difference between victory and defeat."

Dan Conston, spokesman for the American Action Network, described CREW as a "left-wing front group" in an email. He said Gill was a "failed candidate with an extreme ideology, looking to blame anyone but himself for losing his fourth-straight congressional election."

Nonprofits like the American Action Network have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into political ads in the last two election cycles. Like super PACs, these groups can accept unlimited donations. But super PACs must identify their donors, allowing voters to see who is behind their messages.

The Gill lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, alleges the IRS failed to properly regulate the American Action Network, citing seemingly contradictory definitions the agency has applied to such groups for years.

The statute governing social welfare nonprofits says they should be operated "exclusively" for promoting social welfare. But the IRS paved the way for political spending by these groups by interpreting "exclusively" as meaning the groups had to only be "primarily" engaged in promoting the public good. Some groups have taken this to mean they can spend up to 49 percent of their money on election ads.

The lawsuit claims the IRS' interpretation of the law "is arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law," and asks for an injunction prohibiting the agency from using it.

Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director, blamed the IRS for sitting on its hands as social welfare nonprofits have been formed specifically to run negative ads paid for by anonymous donors.

"Now the IRS can explain its deplorable inaction in federal court," she said.

The IRS didn't respond to requests for comment Tuesday. It typically doesn't comment on issues related to individual taxpayers.

The American Action Network has been one of the more controversial dark money groups active in politics. Conston said the American Action Network's primary focus was on non-electoral activities and called the dispute over the group's election spending a "tired long-since settled argument."

In filings to the IRS, the group said it spent $25.7 million in its 2010 tax year. In separate filings to the Federal Election Commission, it reported spending about $19.4 million over the same period on political ads, or about 76 percent of the total expenditures reported to the IRS.

If the group stays on its current schedule, American Action Network won't file its taxes covering the 2012 election until May 2014.

The ABC of Bourgeois Politics


From the Russian Revolution until the demise of Soviet and Eastern European socialism, one dominant, uncompromising and persistent theme has obsessed ruling elites in the capitalist world and their allies: Anything but Communism(ABC). The ABC doctrine has led to the seemingly contradictory consequence of “champions” of democracy and human rights embracing anti-Communist despots and torturers. It has led the same celebrated values to be compromised in capitalist countries by the violent repression of Communists, leftists, and workers. The doctrine has placed arbitrary limits on the rights of self-determination for any emerging nation daring to flirt with a non-capitalist path. And when Communism threatens to breach the barriers constructed by the capitalist class, that class resorts to the most extreme form of Anything but Communism: fascism. 

For the left, ABC has often appeared to be an insurmountable hurdle to the goal of peoples’ power and socialism. Too often the task of overcoming ABC overwhelms the advocates of socialism, leading to compromise, concession and ideological dilution. Certainly, many of the formerly powerful Communist Parties of Western Europe succumbed to this lure. The self-described Euro-Communists, especially, hoped to convince their opponents that they were reliable and docile contestants unworthy of the class hatred embodied in ABC. They thought that by demonstrating their fealty to bourgeois standards of political conduct and by donning the trappings of civil parliamentarians, they would win the respect of their class foes. But the illusion of acceptance through “historical compromise” and electoral coalition proved to be just that—an illusion. Today, these parties have thoroughly demonstrated their “trustworthiness” by totally abandoning Communism for tepid class-neutral reformism.

ABC and Syriza

In the wake of the twenty-first-century crisis of capitalism, the need for a revolutionary movement of peoples’ power and socialism becomes both more apparent and more urgent with every passing day. The material conditions of most poor and working people have sunk to a level demanding far more radical solutions than those offered by the traditional bourgeois parties. Their failure to correct, or even address, the harsh deterioration of mass living standards over the last five years confirms their political irrelevance.

Nor are the romantic and spontaneous movements of the recent past of any use in the face of the ravages of a capitalist economic, social, and political crisis. Subcommandante Marcos or the leader-eschewing leaders of the Occupy movement are incapable of combating the ravages of a wounded capitalism despite the enthusiasm and encouragement of much of the US and European left.

Indeed, the objective conditions call for an organized movement determined to overthrow capitalism and replace it with peoples’ rule and the construction of socialism.

Yet the US left and much of the European left are still captured by the mentality of Anything but Communism. They subjectively hope to manage capitalism and yearn to return to the pre-crisis world of life-style advocacy, promotion of social harmony and tolerance, and incremental social welfare; they imagine class struggle without class conflict; and they share the make-believe hope of class justice without class domination.

This hope is found in the most recent celebrity of the Greek party, Syriza, and its attractive and agreeable leader, Alexis Tsipras. Syriza embodies the delusions of the US and European soft-left in the post-Soviet era: it advocates a noisy but vacuous anti-capitalist posture attached to a program of “enlightened” management of capitalism. Like its forebears in Social Democracy and Euro-Communism, it offers to appease the bourgeoisie while promising a distant goal with no more clarity than that of William Blake’s poetic Jerusalem.

Tsipras reveals the timidity and conservatism of the Syriza program in two recent documents: an interview with Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal published as a glowing opinion piece (The Conscience of a Radical) on January 28, 2013 and an article authored by Tsipras in Le Monde Diplomatique (The Greek Revival Plan, February 16, 2013).

The WSJ interview occurred when Tsipras visited New York to “meet with think-tank scholars, journalists and International Monetary Fund officials, and to be dined at the State Department,” to quote Stephens. It is hard to envision anyone frightening capitalism while maintaining this itinerary. As the friendly Stephens noted: “It definitely amused me to meet him in the breakfast room at his hotel, the Helmsley Park Lane on Central Park South. Not exactly the cafeteria of the proletariat.”  

The trusted spokesperson for monopoly capital, Stephens, found much to like in the spokesperson for Syriza. He concludes that: “If the radical in Syriza means a party capable of thinking for itself and posing the right questions, maybe the right answers won’t be far behind.”

Apart from this ringing endorsement, what answers does Tsipras offer to the growing devastation of Greece and the capitalist crisis?

Tsipras assures Stephens that he advocates neither a default on Greek debt nor an exit from the euro zone.
Instead, Syriza is committed to a “conference” with the European Union to discuss negotiating a restructuring of Greece’s debt (Tsipras writes of the “public debt” though he also calls for the recapitalization of Greek banks, presumably mainly private banks). The model for this maneuver is the 1953 conference called to renegotiate the debt of the Federal Republic of Germany (Tsipras fails to acknowledge that there were two Germanys in 1953!) where 21 countries agreed to reduce the FRG debt and invoke less onerous terms. Unsaid in his proposal is the Cold War context of the 1953 conference. Conferees remembered well the consequences for the world of the heavy reparations and debt imposed on Germany after World War I. They were equally anxious to draw the FRG into the Cold War (the FRG joined NATO IN 1955) and in need of the FRG’s growing industrial might. Nothing remotely like these considerations weighs on the other EU members in deciding Greece’s fate today.

But how would Syriza secure such a conference today? By moral suasion? By calling on historical parallels? Neither would move EU leaders or their Central Bankers to participate in a plan that they would perceive as disordering financial markets. To believe so is to vastly misunderstand the logic of contemporary capitalism. There is something remarkably naïve in believing that the Greek crisis can be solved by merely calling a conference of EU leaders.

Tsipras, in both his interview and article, blames Greece’s sorry state on corruption. He does not place the capitalist system, the capitalist crisis, inequality, or any other systemic element or process in Syriza’s sights; rather, he sees Greece declining because of corruption and cronyism. Surely the leader of a “radical left” party must recognize that capitalism breeds corruption just as surely as it generates crisis. Corruption is an inevitable byproduct of capitalism and will reappear and expand as long as capitalism exists. To attack it, one must attack capitalism.

But there is no attack on capitalism in Tsipras’ or Syriza’s plans. Instead, there is “…breaking with the past… working for social justice, equal rights, political and fiscal transparency—in other words, democracy.”

Fine. But these broad slogans are not socialist. They are not even anti-capitalist. In fact, they could be embraced easily by Social Democrats in Europe or even Democrats in the US.

For those who were quick to condemn the Greek Communists (KKE) for not joining with Syriza in an electoral coalition, Tsipras’ and Syriza’s program should cause pause to reconsider. Like previous appeasers of Anything but Communism, Syriza trades on its differences with Communists. It offers a pledge of fidelity to the bourgeois rules of the game. Like other appeasers, it sacrifices principled advocacy of socialism to political expediency, a sacrifice that gets us no closer to peoples’ power or to socialism. Once Syriza is compelled to come forth with a program, it is impossible to locate a common ground with revolutionary Communists.

Tackling global capitalism—essential to reversing the continuing devastation of this deep and profound crisis—requires more than a conference and a series of slogans. Real solutions are not to be found with those promising to guide capitalism out of an inhuman crisis of its own making.

Zoltan Zigedy
zoltanzigedy@gmail.com 

Giant Food Corporations Work Hand-In-Glove With Corrupt Government Agencies To Dish Up Cheap, Unhealthy...

Big Food Is Making Us Sick

The Independent reports that small farmers are being challenged by food companies are becoming insanely concentrated:

Increasingly, a handful of multinationals are tightening their grip on the commodity markets, with potentially dramatic effects for consumers and food producers alike.

***

Three companies now account for more than 40 per cent of global coffee sales, eight companies control the supply of cocoa and chocolate, seven control 85 per cent of tea production, five account for 75 per cent of the world banana trade, and the largest six sugar traders account for about two-thirds of world trade, according to the new publication from the Fairtrade Foundation.

***

This is the year “to put the politics of food on the public agenda and find better solutions to the insanity of our broken food system”.

More people may be shopping ethically – sales of Fairtrade cocoa grew by more than 20 per cent last year to £153m – but, according to the report, the world’s food system is “dangerously out of control”.

How is that effecting the safety of our food supply? Reuters notes:

Multinational food, drink and alcohol companies are using strategies similar to those employed by the tobacco industry to undermine public health policies, health experts said on Tuesday.

In an international analysis of involvement by so-called “unhealthy commodity” companies in health policy-making, researchers from Australia, Britain, Brazil and elsewhere said … that through the aggressive marketing of ultra-processed food and drink, multinational companies were now major drivers of the world’s growing epidemic of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Writing in The Lancet medical journal, the researchers cited industry documents they said revealed how companies seek to shape health legislation and avoid regulation.

This is done by “building financial and institutional relations” with health professionals, non-governmental organizations and health agencies, distorting research findings, and lobbying politicians to oppose health reforms, they said.

They cited analysis of published research which found systematic bias from industry funding: articles sponsored exclusively by food and drinks companies were between four and eight times more likely to have conclusions that favored the companies than those not sponsored by them.

How are giant food manufacturers trying to influence legislation?

As Waking Times reports, they’re trying to gag all reporting:

States are adopting laws meant to keep consumers in the dark about where their food comes from.

Do you have a right to know where that steak on your plate came from?

Should it be legal to photograph chicken farms and dairy cows?

Big Agriculture says you don’t and it shouldn’t. Armies of Big Ag lobbyists are pushing for new state-level laws across the country to keep us all in the dark. Less restrictive versions have been law in some states since the 1980s, but the meat industry has ratcheted up a radical new campaign.

This wave of “ag-gag” bills would criminalize whistleblowers, investigators, and journalists who expose animal welfare abuses at factory farms and slaughterhouses. Ten states considered “ag-gag” bills last year, and Iowa, Missouri, and Utah approved them. Even more are soon to follow.

Had these laws been in force, the Humane Society might have been prosecuted for documenting repeated animal welfare and food safety violations at Hallmark/Westland, formerly the second-largest supplier of beef to the National School Lunch Program. Cows too sick to walk were being slaughtered and that meat was shipped to our schools, endangering our kids. The investigation led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history.

***

Big Ag wants to silence whistleblowers rather than clean up its act. Ag-gag bills are now pending in Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Indiana, Nebraska, and New Hampshire. Similar legislation may crop up in North Carolina and Minnesota.

The bills aren’t identical, but they share common language — sometimes even word-for-word. Some criminalize anyone who even “records an image or sound” from a factory farm. Others mandate that witnesses report abuses within a few hours, which would make it impossible for whistleblowers to secure advice and protection, or for them to document a pattern of abuses.

Indiana’s version of this cookie-cutter legislation ominously begins with the statement that farmers have the right to “engage in agricultural operations free from the threat of terrorism and interference from unauthorized third persons.” [The Feds are treating people who expose abuse in factory farms as potential terrorists … and the states want the same power.]

Yet these bills aren’t about violence or terrorism. They’re about truth-telling that’s bad for branding. For these corporations, a “terrorist” is anyone who threatens their profits by exposing inhumane practices that jeopardize consumer health.

***

Ag-gag bills aren’t about silencing journalists and whistleblowers. They’re about curbing consumer access to information at a time when more and more Americans want to know where our food comes from and how it’s produced.

The problem for corporations is that when people have information, they act on it. During a recent ag-gag hearing in Indiana, one of the nation’s largest egg producers told lawmakers about a recent investigation. After an undercover video was posted online, 50 customers quickly called and stopped buying their eggs. An informed public is the biggest threat to business as usual.

An informed public is also the biggest threat to these ag-gag bills. In Wyoming, one of the bills has already failed. According to sponsors, it was abandoned in part because of negative publicity. By shining a light on these attempts, we can make sure that the rest fail as well, while protecting the right of consumers to know what they’re buying.

So what – exactly – are the giant food corporations trying to hide?

They are fraudulently substituting cheaper – less healthy – food for high-quality. food.   And see this.

Indeed, the dairy industry wants to add sweeteners – such as aspartame – to milk without any labeling.

Food fraud is rampant .. including huge proportions of fish.

The bottom line is that collusion between government and big business is dishing up cheap, unhealthy food … just like collusion between D.C. and giant corporations caused the financial crisis, the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, the Gulf oil spill and other major disasters (and see this; and take a peek at number 9).

For example, the FDA:

  • Declared fish from Fukushima a-okay after radiation spewed into the ocean

The Department of Agriculture:

An official U.S. government report finds that Americans ‘are sicker and die younger’ than people in other wealthy nations.  There are a number of factors for this sickness … but unhealthy, cheap food is part of it.

For Iraqi Women, America’s Promise of Democracy is Anything But Liberation

A decade on from the US-led invasion of Iraq, the destruction caused by foreign occupation and the subsequent regime has had a massive impact on Iraqis' daily life – the most disturbing example of which is violence against women. At the same time, the sectarian regime's policy on religious garb is forcing women to retire their hard-earned rights across the spectrum: employment, freedom of movement, civil marriage, welfare benefits, and the right to education and health services.An Iraqi woman, in 2008, walks past a British soldier and military vehicle with a poster of a dollar bill inscribed, in Arabic: 'You can get some money, in exchange for some information.' (Photograph: Essam al-Sudani/AFP/Getty Images)

Instead, they are seeking survival and protection for themselves and their families. But for many, the violence they face comes from the very institution that should guarantee their safety: the government. Iraqi regime officials often echo the same denials of the US-UK occupation authorities, saying that there are few or no women detainees. An increasing number of international and Iraqi human rights organizations report otherwise.

The plight of women detainees was the starting point for the mass protests that have spread through many Iraqi provinces since 25 December 2012. Their treatment by the security forces has been a bleeding wound – and one shrouded in secrecy, especially since 2003. Women have been routinely detained as hostages – a tactic to force their male loved ones to surrender to security forces, or confess to crimes ascribed to them. Banners and placards carried by hundreds of thousands of protesters portray images of women behind bars pleading for justice.

According to Mohamed al-Dainy, an Iraqi MP, there was 1,053 cases of documented rape (pdf) cases by the occupying troops and Iraqi forces between 2003 and 2007. Lawyers acting on behalf of former detainees say that UK detention practices between 2003 and 2008 included unlawful killings, beatings, hooding, sleep deprivation, forced nudity and sexual humiliation, sometimes involving women and children. The abuses were endemic, allege the detainees' lawyers, arising from the of the British military.

These same occupation forces trained Iraqi forces. Abuses often occurred under the supervision of US commanders, who were unwilling to intervene, as the Washington Post reported:

"Of all the bloodshed in Iraq, none may be more disturbing than the campaign of torture and murder being conducted by US-trained government police forces."

In the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, detainees were handed over to Iraqi forces. This enabled them to be tortured, while occupation troops could disclaim responsibility.

Today, Iraq can boast one of the highest execution rates in the world. In a single day, 19 January 2012, 34 individuals, including two women, were executed – an act described by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay as shocking:

"Given the lack of transparency in court proceedings, major concerns about due process and fairness of trials, and the very wide range of offences for which the death penalty can be imposed in Iraq."

No wonder, ten years after the invasion, the Iraqi authorities are accused by US-based Human Rights Watch of . HRW's account is echoed by a report by the Iraqi parliament's own human rights and women, family and children's committees, which found that there are 1,030 women detainees suffering from widespread abuse, including threats of rape.

Responding to these findings, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki threatened to "arrest those members of parliament who had discussed the violence against women detainees". Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Hussain al-Shahristani has acknowledged that there are 13,000 prisoners in custody accused of terror offences, but he only mentioned women detainees in passing:

"We transferred all women prisoners to prisons in their home provinces."

Al-Shahristani's statement is one in a long list of contradictory and misleading statements by the regime's most senior officials – from al-Maliki speaking of "not more than a handful of women terrorists", to his contradictory promise that he will pardon all "women detainees who have been arrested without a judicial order or in lieu of a crime committed by some of their male relatives". That assurance was followed by parading nine women, cloaked in black from head to toe, on the official state TV channel, al-Iraqiya, as a gesture of the regime's "good will".

Protesters and Iraqi human rights organizations estimate that there are as many as 5,000 female detainees. The truth is leaking out, drip by drip. A few weeks ago, 168 women detainees were released and there were promises of another 32 waiting to be released. No one accused of torture, rape or abuse has yet been brought to justice.

And it was all supposed to be so different. That was what Iraqi women were promised.

A political quota system, established in post-invasion Iraq, was designed to ensure that at least 25% of the members of the parliament were women. That was applauded as a great achievement of the "New Iraq" – compared with 8% female representation under Ba'athist regime. But this token statistic has repeatedly been trotted out to cover up the regime's crimes against women.

In reality, the al-Maliki government has since dispensed with the quota for government posts: there is only one woman minister among 44 positions. But even this appointment contains a grim irony: the minister for women's affairs, Ibtihal al-Zaidi, didn't hesitate to announce:

"I am against the equality between men and woman. If women are equal to men, they are going to lose a lot."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many women's organisations have demanded the abolition of the ministry of women's affairs after the minister adopted a position against, rather than for, women's rights.

Human rights, including women's rights, are a litmus test for democracy. Statements by senior officials, including the prime minister himself, show that – contrary to what some Iraqis had hoped for – the "liberators" have actually set the conditions for the continuity of injustice. And that, in turn, gives rise to extremism.

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

bankers

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

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

Bloomberg reported yesterday:

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

***

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

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

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

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

Indeed:

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

***

Economist Steve Keen says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The big banks were all insolvent during the 1980s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Moral Decoding of 9-11: Beyond the U.S. Criminal State, The Grand Plan for...

911

We are bring to the consideration of our readers this incisive and carefully formulated analysis by Canada’s renowned philosopher Professor John McMurtry. 

The complete text published by the Journal of 9/11 Studies can be downloaded in pdf

*          *          *

I was sceptical of the 9-11 event from the first time I saw it on television. It was on every major network within minutes. All the guilty partieswere declared before any evidencewas shown.The first questions of any criminal investigation were erased.  Who had the most compelling motives for the event? Who had the means to turn two central iconic buildings in New York into a pile of steel and a cloud of dust in seconds?[i]

Other questions soon arose in the aftermath. Why was all the evidence at the crime scenes removed or confiscated?

Who was behind the continuous false information and non-stop repetition of “foreign/Arab terrorists”when no proof of guilt existed? Who was blocking all independent inquiry?

Even 11 years on these questions are still not answered.

But those immediately named guilty without any forensic proof certainly fitted the need for a plausible Enemy now that the “threat of the Soviet Union” and “communist world rule” were dead.  How else could the billion-dollar-a-day military be justified with no peace dividend amidst a corporately hollowed-out U.S. economy entering its long-term slide?While all the media and most of the people asserted the official 9-11 conspiracy theory as given fact, not all did.

A Bay Street broker with whom I was improbably discussing the event in Cuba had no problem recognising the value meaning. When I asked what he thought about the official conspiracy theory, he was frank:

“You can call it what you want, but America needs a war to pull the people together and expand into new resource rich areas. That what it has always done from Mexico on. And that is what it needs now”.  When I wondered why none in the know said so, he smirked: “It would be impolite”, adding, “It affects the entire future prosperity of America and the West”. And all the deaths? “It had to be done –far less than it could have been”. The 19 Arabs with box-cutters reducing the World Trade Center buildings to powder in a few seconds?He shrugged.

Thus everyone since 9-11 is prohibited nail-clippers on planes to confirm the absurd – including 15 of the 19alleged hijackers being from Saudi Arabia and several apparently still alive after crashing the planes into the buildings.[ii]As for the diabolical mastermind Osama bin Laden, he is never linked by credible evidence to the crime and never claims responsibility for the strike since the videos of him are fakes. “Ground Zero” is a double entendre. All doubts are erased apriori.

Decoding the U.S. Theater of Wars and the Moral Driver Behind

One already knew that suspension of belief is the first act of fiction, and that instant culture rules the U.S. One already knew that monster technical events are America’s stock in trade. And one already knew the long history of false U.S. pretexts for war – so well established that a young strategic thinker a decade after 9-11 advises the right-wing Washington Policy Institute on how to create a crisis by deadly planned incident to make war on Iran – “it is the traditional way of getting into war for what is best in America’s interests”.[iii]

One further knew from past research that the U.S.’s strategic leadership since 1945 had been Nazi-based in information and connections and the dominant Central-European figures articulating it ever after across Democrat and Republican lineshave a common cause. For over 40 years, Henry Kissinger as Republican and Zbigniew Brzezinski as Democrat have been protégés of David Rockefeller, selected as Trilateral Commission and Bilderberg Group leaders, and capable of any mass-homicidal plan to advance “U.S. interests”. The banker-and-oil imperial line through David Rockefeller as paradigm case goes back to the Nazi period to John Foster Dulles (an in-law) and his brother Allen Dulles (OSS and then CIA Director), who Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg called “traitors” for their support of the Nazi regime.  The Rockefeller Foundation funded and developed German eugenics programs in the pre-war years, Standard Oil supplied oil in collaboration with I.G. Farben, and so on.[iv]

The supreme moral goal and strategic methods governing U.S. covert-state performance have not only have been very similar in moral principle, but have deeply connected Rockefeller protégés Kissinger and Brzezinski, and more deeply still the theoretical godfather of U.S. covert state policy, Leo Strauss, who was funded out of Germany by David Rockefeller from the start.

The inner logic of covert and not-so-covert U.S. corporate world rule since 1945unified under Wall Street financial management and transnational corporate treaties for unhindered control of commodities and money capital flows across all borders is undeniable if seldom tracked. This architecture of the grand plan for a New World Order is evident in both strategic policy and global political and armed action over decades that have seen the objectives increasingly fulfilled with constructed deadly crises as pretexts for war the standard technique.[v]Behind them as first post-Nazi historical turn lies the 1947 National Security Act (NSA) which created the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)and explicitly licensesdestruction of life, truth and other societies as institutional methods.

The CIA is charged with designing, planning and executing “propaganda, economic war, direct preventive action, sabotage, anti-sabotage, destruction, subversion against hostile States, assistance to clandestine liberation movements, guerrilla murders, assistance to indigenous groups opposed to the enemy countries of the free world”. The linkage back to Nazi methods and world-rule goal as the highest moral objective is not just one of corresponding ultimate principles and strategic policy formation. It relied on Nazi SS intelligence sources and means from the beginning of the covert terror state.[vi]

There is no heinous means that is not assumed as the highest morality by this long-standing covert institutional formation linking to the presidential office.It is an explicitly secret system involving at least the Defense Department and the CIA, the former with many more operatives and offices.

The Special Activities Division (SAD) to carry out NSA criminal operations, for example, also confers the highest honors awarded in recognition of distinguished valor and excellence – as did the earlier SS prototype in Germany. What people find difficult to recognise is that these actions, whether by the SAD or other system operations,are conceived as the highest duty, however life-system destructive and mass murderous they are. All participants are super patriots in their own view, as were the Nazis. Contradiction between declared and actual values, however, is a central mode of the covert system. For example, what can be considered a high duty in the perpetual U.S.“war on drugs”, the most morally obligatory commitment of the U.S. state,is at the same time a war against and with other drug operations to transport illegal hard drugs into the U.S. itself.[vii]

We might see here a parallel between foreign mass murder and domestic mass murder in 9-11, with both regarded as high patriotism in this supreme morality. In the background of America’s Reichstag Fire and likewise disclosing the unlimited geo-strategic action that can be operationalized as necessary and good, the post-1945 U.S. control of international sea-lanes made the covert U.S. state the world’s dominant narcotics controller so as to fund secret criminal war actions from South-East Asia to Latin America, entailing the addiction of its own peoples.[viii]This woeful method has been long known by experts, but came to be public knowledge in the Reagan-state funding of the death-squad Contras of Nicaragua as “the moral equal of our Founding Fathers” (a tribute he is said to have given later to the drug-running warlords and jihadists of Afghanistan).

These moral contradictions seem insane, but this is so only if one does not comprehend the underlying supreme morality of which they are all expressions.

Even U.S.-sponsored death squads torturing and killing tens of thousands of poor people across Latin America before 2000 and their return as direct covert U.S.-state method from Iraq to Syria after 9-11 – called “the Salvador option”[ix] – is regarded as necessary and obligatory to “defend the Free World and our way of life”. They entail ever more total U.S. world rule and self-maximizing position by strategic deduction from the supreme morality’s first premises.

The covert nature of the mass-murderous operationalization is never from moral embarrassment. It is solely to ensure effectiveness of execution against “soft” and “uninformed” public opinion, to terrorize people in situ from continued resistance, and to annihilate its leadership and community agency all the way down. Throughout the deciding moments of execution of the underlying supreme value program, global corporate money demand multiplication is always the ultimate value driver -as may be tested by seeking any covert U.S. action or overt war which is not so regulated beneath saturating propaganda of lawful intentions of peace and freedom.

These lines of underlying moral institution, policy, strategic plan, and massive life destruction at every level are indisputable facts of the covert and official faces of the U.S. state, but are typically not connected to the September 11, 2001 attack. Since most people cannot believe their own government or the “leader of the free world” could execute such a sabotage action as “9-11” in which thousands of American themselves died, these behavioral reminders forge the unifying meaning.

Worse still occurred in the last “war”before 9-11. In the background providing graphic example of how the covert U.S. state apparatus is structured to attack and murder U.S. citizens themselves to strategically maximize implementation of its supreme value program of transnational corporate money sequences over all barriers, there is the now known Operation Northwoods. Very familiar to the 9-11 truth movement, but unpublicized since its release under freedom of information laws, this Department of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff plan proposed that the CIA and other operatives covert operatives “undertake a range of atrocities” to be blamed on Cuba to provide pretext for invasion.

“Innocent civilians were to be shot on American streets; boats carrying refugees fleeing Cuba were to be sunk on the high seas; a wave of violent terrorism was to be launched in Washington DC, Miami and elsewhere. People would be framed for bombings they did commit; planes would be hijacked”.[x]

All would be blamed on Castro the Communist in place of bin Laden the Islamicist, and invasion of desired resistant territory would be achieved as a triumph of American freedom and interests over its enemies.

 Operation Northwoods was not, however, okayed by President Kennedy – perhaps another reason for his assassination and replacement by more pliant presidents to represent “America’s interests” in accord with the supreme morality. Underneath the stolen election of George Bush Jr.in contrast – whose family made its money, in part, by serving the covert financial requirements of the Nazi regime before and during the 1939-45 War – was a domestic and foreign administration which would push further than any in the past to advance “U.S. interests”to full-spectrum world rule. Its project included reversing the Roosevelt New Deal and the social state within the U.S. itself – “an anomaly” as Bush Jr. expressed the historical perspective and ethic at work.

This plan was more explicit in the published Project for the New American Century formed from 1997 on. It even supplied the need for a 9-11 event in its 2000 version, the year that Bush Jr. was elected and the year before 9-11. To indicate the “non-partisan” nature of the planning, Democrat National security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski had already hinted at the usefulness of a 9-11-style domestic attack to move policy forward in his 1998 book, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives.[xi]

The Moral Compass of 9-11

As a moral philosopher with social value systems as my primary object of analysis, my first thoughts in understanding “9-11” were of the system motives,known methods, and objective interests driving the event which could coherently explain it.Whatever the immediate hold of the official conspiracy theory on the public mind,a rational explanation is required which is consistent with the suppressed facts and the organising geo-strategic plan on both sides of the event.

For over a decade before 9-11, there were three U.S.-propelled global trends that almost never come into the understanding of 9-11 itself. 9-11 truth seekers themselves have focused on the foreground technics and the transparent motive for oil. But these are undergirded by deeper sea-shifts of geopolitical and economic wars of seizure and destruction by other name against which the world’s people were rising. To compel books of analysis into one unifying frame, transnational corporate-rights treaties from NAFTA to the Maastracht Treaty to the WTO overrode all other rights across borders;the private “financialization”stripping of social sectors and welfare states had advanced across the world; and the totalizing movement of the system across all former “cold war” and cultural borders was “the new world order” in formation. Together these vast shifts towards transnational money-sequence rule of all reversed centuries of democratic evolution. And every step of the supreme value program was life blind at every step of its global operationalization.[xii]

Yet states and cultures were so sweepingly re-set into unaccountable transnational corporate and bank rule that few recognised the absolutist value program being imposed on the world.  Fewer still recognised all was unfolding according to plan.

What has been least appreciated about the long-term strategic plan unfolding on both sides of what was immediately called “9-11” – CallEmergency!–is that supreme banker and global money director David Rockefeller had summarized “the plan” to fellow money-party elites across borders at the Bildersberg meeting in Baden Baden Germany in June 1991 -exactly at the same time that the Soviet Union and its resistant barriers fell.[xiii] Bear in mind that Rockefeller among other initiatives appointed both Kissinger and Brzezinski for the lead in both the supranational Bilderberg and Trilateral strategic bodies of which he was the lead patron, not to mention financed the unemployed academic Leo Strauss out of Germany to be the godfather  “philosopher” of the “new world order”. Rockefeller speaks very precisely to his fellow “elite of the elite” of the Western world where only Americans and Europe are invited and reportage excluded:

“A supranational sovereignty of an intellectual elite and bankers is surely preferable to the national auto-determination practiced in past centuries”, Rockefeller said.[xiv]

Observe the foundational new concepts in place of responsible government and democratic accountability. They are now consigned to “past centuries”. A “supranational sovereignty”has replaced them and is morally“preferable”. Rockefeller is not exaggerating. By 1991 a “supranational sovereignty” had already developed in the form of transnational treaties conferring override rights of “profit opportunity” on transnational corporations and private bank rule of government finances across borders – procedurally trumping any elected legislatures and their laws which are inconsistent with their thousands of treaty articles, even when the system eventually leads to world depression as now.[xv] The source of the legitimacy of governments, ultimate sovereignty, has now passed as preferable to “an intellectual elite and bankers”: more exactly, academic strategy servants and transnational money sequences overriding all human and planetary life requirements a-priori by the supreme moral goal.

Ask which function of the world’s people and means of life is not now in debt to Wall Street and the private global banking system it leads. Ask which means of life from food and water to autos and pension cheques is not thus ultimately controlled, or which commodity is not under oligopolist corporate sway. The “surely preferable” objective was already achieved by 1991 or in advanced global institutional motion. Now supreme over all else so that all else is now accountable to it, and it is not accountable to anything above it, “the plan”seemed all but accomplished by Rockefeller’s own considered words.

But what if people resist the new world rule with no life coordinate or constraint at any level of its execution? We may recall that during the death-squad rule of the Argentina generals at this time in which civilians were murdered and tortured in the thousands, National Security Adviser Kissinger congratulated the junta on their “very good results – - The quicker you succeed the better.”Kissinger also heartily approved of the earlier massacres and torture in Chile.

The resistance was in this way pre-empted long before the Soviet Union fell, and after 1990 had no block in the Middle East and Central Asia either. “The plan” has been very long term. Kissinger the geo-executer was originally appointed to high office by Rockefeller (to lead the Council on Foreign Relations back in 1954), and – to give a sense of the long-range trajectory of the plan design –was,incredibly,the U.S. administration’s first choice for an “independent 9-11 Commission”. The obviously not-independent Kissinger was still not a problem for “the free press” and official discourse. But when he was required to disclose his business connections, he withdrew to stay covert in his ongoing backroom capacities and enrichment.

The 9-11 sacrifice is better understood within the deep-structural context of the unfolding plan. Thus David Rockefeller gave special thanks to media like “the New York Times, Washington Post, Time Magazine and other great publications whose directors have attended our meetings and respected their promises of discretion” in co-operating with the plan. Rockefeller was again precise:

This plan for the world would have been impossible for us to develop if we had been subjected to the light of publicity during those years. [xvi]

The plan’s next decisive steps were in fact already in motion as Rockefeller expressed gratitude for the media black-out. A new strategic manifesto from the Pentagon was in preparation entitled “Defense Planning Guidance on Post-Cold- War Strategy,” completed on February 18, 1992.[xvii]Prepared under the supervision of Paul Wolfowitz, then the Pentagon’s Undersecretary for Policy, it was disclosed in March of 1992 by the New York Times.After the first invasion of Iraq, it became known as the Project for the New American Century, publicly released from 1997 to 2000 prior to 9-11.

Again we may note the long arc of planning control, crisis and war as required. Item 6 of the strategic plan defined the agenda in general terms: “In the Middle East and Southwest Asia, our overall objective is to remain the predominant power in the region and preserve U.S. and western access to the region’s oil.”

Oil-rich Iraq had in fact been invaded – not only to privatize its peerlessly high-quality surface oilfields but to destroy its region-leading socialist infrastructure.Iraq became accessible for invasion as the arms-bankrupted Soviet Union was in collapse. We may observe that the covertly genocidal destruction of Iraq bridged Republican and Democrat administrations over three changes of government – disclosing how the covert state operates as a moral constant across party fronts.

The actions confirm and express the one supreme moral goal identified above. They bridge from Saddam himself as CIA-payroll killer and war proxy against Iran to recapture lost Iran oilfields dating from 1980 to 1988 to the fall of the USSR in 1991 as the axis of the long-term strategic plan of global turnaround to “America’s century” still to come before and after 9-11.But between 1990 and 2003 Saddam was transmuted from former ally to aggressor against Kuwait in an invasion given an official green light from the U.S. government, to “mushroom cloud”threat with invented “weapons of mass destruction”.

In fact, National Security Adviser Wolfowitz explained after the invasion found nothing of the kind: “[We had] virtually no economic options with Iraq because the country floats on a sea of oil.”

Observe how the invasion is conceived as obligatory for a reason that expresses the supreme value goal. Observe that it occurs less than two years after 9-11, which gave the open-cheque justification for the bombing and occupation which allowed the expropriation of Iraq’s society’s oil resources.

The problem was not the evil Saddam or the “weapons of mass destruction”, the standard reverse projection.[xviii]The problem was the Iraqi people themselves and their developed oil-funded social life infrastructure between the supreme oil-fields and their U.S. corporate control and privatization. 9-11 was,thus, first the justification for invading Afghanistan – to clear the way for pipelines into the former Soviet republics from the Caspian Sea region– pipelines that prompted the U.S. representative to predictively warn the Taliban:“Either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs.”[xix]9-11 was then the necessary basis of justification for the bombing of Baghdad for the unifying supreme objective.

In fact,seldom published in the corporate media keeping the glare of publicity away from the supreme moral objective, the publicly owned and managed oil revenues of Iraq had been invested since the 1950’s in Iraq’s advanced social infrastructure, leading the Middle East with free higher education, high health standards, and near universal livelihood security. The world’s oldest civilisation was robust in organisational capacities long before the CIA-asset Saddam was installed.

Despite his murdering his way to the top in this function, even Saddam could not destroy the system because socialist government had been achieved decades earlier by a powerful oil-workers’ union base and a population glad to have all education free, an efficient low-cost foods delivery system, and the most advanced public healthcare system in the Middle East. So there was not only the “sea of oil” as a motive to assert U.S. control in the new “supranational sovereignty” of the world. Just as important in this ultimate moral cause, what the U.S. covert state always seeks to destroy by any means, isa successful social infrastructure without private big oil, bankers and transnational corporations free to control it towards higher profit opportunities.

Unravelling the Supreme Moral Doctrine behind the U.S. Covert State

The genocide of Iraq, as the long-opposing “evil empire” was in free-fall, is the most important strategic anchoring prior to “9-11”. Covert strategic policy to forward the supreme goal is by now self-evident, but the inner moral logic is assumed not penetrated.  The most influential of Rockefeller’s protégés in this regard is the “philosopher king” of the U.S. covert state, Leo Strauss. While he never worked in a philosophy department or has any training in logic, his concept of “natural right” fits exactly to the “supranational sovereignty” of private money-sequence rule of the world – what “the intellectual elite” Rockefeller refers to invoke as “moral anchor”, “right” and “justice”.

The moral thought system is not unlike that of Mein Kampf without the racist rant, camouflaged everywhere in practice by the method of big lies – “noble lies” as Strauss exalts them.[xx] The innermost value driver is a perpetual war of dispossession of the weaker for the private transnational money-capital multiplication of the rich.

Nothing in this doctrine is too mendacious, greed-crazed and murderous if it fulfills the plan of this limitless private-capital rule as ultimate moral ground and compass. In Strauss’s canonical teaching of U.S. national security advisers and intellectual following, the ruling moral absolute is expressed by the core master idea behind the “supranational sovereignty” of an “intellectual elite and bankers”:

“limitless capital accumulation – — the highest right and moral duty”.[xxi]

This is the ethical absolute of the covert U.S. state and its strategic decision structure. And there is no internal limit within this moral universe to life means seizure from poorer societies and resource looting for the supreme goal.  It is the natural and absolute Good.

To justify its meaning, the Straussian canon adopts a potted reading of Western moral and political philosophy from Plato through Hobbes, Hegel, Nietzsche, Marx and Weber. This impresses American political operatives of the faith, but Strauss is a failed philosopher turned down by Paul Tillich for his post-doctoral Habilitation and only saved from academic ruin in Germany by Rockefeller grant money. While not taken seriously as philosophy anywhere else, it is worth decoding its talmudic involution for the borrowed ideas that drive its covert state disciples and neo-fascist public “intellectuals” in America.

The ultimately organising idea is to commend all forms of conquering and limitlessly expanding private capital as “natural right and law” with genocidal subjugations justified in glowing moral terms. For example, “noble lies” is the moral category for limitless mendacity. One may wonder how educated people can be so bent out of moral shape. So I now concisely provide what cannot be found elsewhere: the inner logic of the supreme doctrine as perversions of great thinkers.

Its framework of meaning and value helps us to understand why the 9-11 event could easily follow for the managers of the covert U.S. state and its Straussian planners as not at all anomalous or evil within their moral logic. 9-11 follows as a maximally rational and unique tool to achieve the objectives in fact achieved by 9-11, and the geo-strategic cabal behind it is servilely linked from the beginning to the dominant private transnational corporate and banking interests exemplified by David Rockefeller.

To understand this brutal moral universe and its connection to 9-11, the 9-11 wars and a globalizing police state, we need to understand the deformations of its basic organising ideas. Plato’s idea of “the noble lie” means, in fact, a myth or parable to communicate an underlying truth about the triadic human soul of reason, spirit and appetite which, Plato argues, should be reflected in the construction of the ideal state (in which the rulers are communist in their common property to keep them uncorrupted and true).

But through the prism of U.S. global money-party rule a la Strauss this idea becomes the principle of lying to the public to keep the vulgar herd – the people themselves – ignorant and obedient. The philosophies of Hobbes and Hegel are also grist for this mill. Hobbes argues that “man is moved by a restless desire for power after power that ceaseth only in death”, but this brute desire in the “State of Nature” is tamed by “the covenant of peace” ordered by the internal sovereign as absolute.

Via Strauss and the U.S. covert state this becomes right is might and the ultimate “natural right” is limitless private capital power and empire with no end of totalization across the peoples and lands of the world. Hegel too suits a fascist-capitalist reading since he argues “the State is the march of God  through the world”, and war itself is history’s test of which State is a higher realisation of “the absolute Idea”. But Hegel still envisaged a “universal state”to supersede the competitive private-property division of capitalism in the “universalization of right and law on earth”.

Once again U.S. private money-capital power with no bound, the supreme moral goal in the Rockefeller-Strauss doctrine, is opposite to the classical philosophy it invokes. Once more dialectical development of reason to more coherently inclusive conception and life is reversed into one-way private money capital sequences maximized to rule the world with the U.S. military as its instrument of force and terror.

However it conceals its meaning, all positions come down to this underlying value code – as may be tested on whatever transnational money-sequence demand, right or war is launched next. 9-11 construction in such a moral world does not violate this value code. It expresses it in self-maximizing strategic turn to achieve the ultimate goal.

Friedrich Nietzsche may provide the best fodder for the doctrine when he advises that “life is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of what is alien and weaker, imposing of one’s own forms, and at its mildest exploitation” in his superman vision of “beyond good and evil”. For philosophical Nietzscheans, this is code for the inner meaning of the angst of artistic creation. But this meaning is predictably lost on the U.S. covert-state school seeking the “supranational sovereignty” of “limitless capital accumulation” as the supreme good with the “intellectual elite” as servants to it. Karl Marx’s link of capitalism’s success to productive force development is the ultimate equivocation upon which this ruling doctrine depends – making no distinction between productive capital providing life goods and unproductive money sequencing hollowing out the world by money-capital multiplication. Marx, it must be acknowledged, did not made the distinction himself since this mutation of capital came a century after his death.[xxii]

Finally Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism does not ground this doctrine of “limitless capital accumulation as the highest right and duty” with the state to serve it, as Strauss again torturously suggests. In fact, Weber deplores any such perversion of public authority. His capitalist model is a young Benjamin Franklin speaking of money saved and invested as like having “a breeding sow”, not a transnational money-sequence juggernaut of eco-genocidal expansion.  Revealingly, Benjamin Franklin and “the protestant ethic” in general were most concerned about non-waste, which Strauss explicitly excludes from the meaning of “limitless capital accumulation”. For Leo Strauss and his U.S. “national security” disciples, the capitalist may waste as much as he wants by “natural right”.

Further, in complete inversion of source, the greed worship of the U.S. state, its patrons and its academy disciples reverses the model of the “spirit of capitalism” exemplified by Benjamin Franklin in proprietary claim on knowledge and inventions. He,in fact,refused to patent his famous Franklin Stove because he believed that no innovation or new knowledge from which other people could benefit should be denied them – just as he himself had benefitted from the community of knowledge and science as the distinguishing feature of being a civilised human being.

In short, it is important to recognise how twisted the covertly ruling doctrine is. No element of it is life coherent or true to the classical thinkers in which it costumes itself. In the end, only the transnational U.S. money party has any place in its rights and obligations, and any sacrifice of other life to its supreme goal is legitimate – linking back to the Nazi-U.S. corporate axis that nearly destroyed the civilised world once before.[xxiii]

Money-Capital Power UeberAlles: How Economic Rationality Leads the Plan

The U.S. culture of money-sequence “rationality” is the underlying intellectual and moral disorder which leads to “limitless money capital accumulation” as the supreme moral goal. In formal terms, the equation of rationality to atomic self-maximization is assumed a-prioriacross domains. With globalizing Wall-Street-led “financialization”, this “rationality” becomes equated to private money-sequence multiplication across all borders as theultimate Good. This is the innermost mutation of value logic and goal, the moral DNA, from which the cancerous world system develops on both sides of 9-11.[xxiv]

This first principle itself is,in fact,built into formal economics, decision and game theory, and strategic science, as I explain step by step in “Behind Global System Collapse: The Life-Blind Structure of Economic Rationality.”[xxv] It is axiomatic but unexamined, life-blindly absolutist but not recognised as morally problematic. To make a long story short, competitive self-maximization in the market is assumed to produce “the best of possible worlds” by mathematical proof. “Pareto efficiency” is believed to demonstrate this by private money exchanges between self-maximizing atoms apriori stripped of all life properties, relations, society, conditions of choice, and all natural and civil life support systems. Pareto himself recognised outside this formula what has since been covered up.

Not only is the formula consistent with most having remaining impoverished by the “optimum” of “no-one worse off”, what none who cite “Pareto efficiency” as a standard academic mantra ever acknowledge or even recognise. Pareto himself is in no doubt of the implication. As the fascist party he belongs to rules Italy and Rockefeller creates the Council of Foreign Relations, he asserts with approval: “Very moral civilized peoplehave destroyed and continue to destroy, without the least scruple, savage or barbarian peoples”.[xxvi]We glimpse here at the roots the supreme morality built into “economic science” itself.

Yet, as demonstrated in “Behind Global System Collapse”, even the most liberal canons of America, including John Rawls’ classic A Theory of Justice, are grounded in the same meta principle.[xxvii] Rationality and value are equated to self-maximizing gain with no limit within game-theoretic interactions as the sole limiting framework of “limitless money capital acquisition”. The generic equation defines, indeed, the dominant intellectual and economic mind-set of America and the global system in action since 1980. The cabal internal to U.S. national security strategic planning follows the moral logic to its most radical conclusions with no constraints by life or law.

The one absolute moral meaning is the spread of U.S. economic, military and political power as good for all, or, more exactly in Straussian language, limitless private transnational money-capital expansion as the highest right and moral duty. Only what is consistent with or serves this supreme morality, it follows, deserves to exist. This is the alpha and omega of the covert doctrine and state, and careful reading can find no disconfirmation beneath the rhetoric of “noble lies”.

The Iraq Paradigm:  Genocide Strategy From 1990 On

The Iraq line of the geostrategic plan from 1990 to 2001 and after is a paradigmatic articulation of the covertly ruling moral logic. It launches into the theatre of war as direct war attack when U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, is instructed to green-light Saddam’s already known plan to invade Kuwait in 1990: “The US. has no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait”, she advises. To formalize the lie as official and traditional, she reports: “Secretary Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America”.[xxviii]

The dispute was, in fact, over Kuwait’s drawing out oil from reserves underlying Iraq as enabled by the colonial split of the oil-rich Kuwait province from Iraq – the classic divide-and-rule policy holding also in the division of oil-rich Kurdistan among four manufactured states. Saddam had good reason to trust the U.S., not only by the long-term official promise of neutrality but as blood-mix ally when he waged a U.S.-supported war of aggression against Iran – which still remains the target. Note the big lie to provoke the supreme crime of war has remained without any glare of publicity that might derail the plan.

When Saddam did exactly as planned by invading Kuwait, Bush Sr. raved about the Nazi-like aggression against a weaker country in the reverse projection that always defines the covert U.S. state before, through and after 9-11. So in the same name of “preventing aggression” U.S. “defense” forces invaded Iraq to destroy any life capacity it had to defend itself – always the strategy since the defeat in Vietnam. The genocide began by the massacre of many tens of thousands of fleeing soldiers. Recall the weeping young woman, the Kuwait ambassador’s daughter, planted next to baby incubators falsely claiming the monster Saddam had murdered the babies. This reverse projection was soon to be made real thousands of times over inside the victim society of Iraq.

Reverse projection of evil is the meta law of U.S. psy-ops propaganda in the deadly conflicts and wars it covertly starts. This is the supreme moral program in action as “noble lies”. In this case, the air-bombing after surrender continued from U.S. and “special ally” Britain as “sanctions of Iraq” to “prevent aggression” – again the reverse projection. In fact the bombs continually fell on the water and electricity infrastructures of the defenceless people and against all lines of repair to restore either – “the line in the sand against Iraq aggression”. We might bear in mind that Wolfowitz was Undersecretary of Defense under Secretary Cheney at this time, their positions not unlike those at the time of 9-11.

Air-bombing, as Bertrand Russell long ago pointed out, is inherently fascist in erasing the killed and maimed from sight while ensuring impunity for the bombers of defenceless people.  But all such mass murder is only collateral damage to the supreme moral goal as “natural right and law”.  The air bombing of Iraq’s water and electricity supplies dressed in one big lie after another continued in slow mass-murderous destruction of the people and their social life infrastructures years on end.

Denis Halliday, United Nations Humanitarian Co-ordinator for the mission finally called it “genocide” (Wikipedia calls it “the Persian Gulf War”) when he resigned in 1998 to protest against “the crimes against humanity”. But no-one knew until the U.S. Department of Defense Intelligence got out that the first sweep of Iraq was planned down to the mass killing of the infants and children. September 11 in 2001 is better understood in this wider context of strategic planning by the covert U.S. terror state. For years the non-stop bombing of the people’s central life-water support system deliberately engineered mass dying from diseases of children in the hundreds of thousands.

What was predicted by Harvard Medical School researchers from the continuous civilian infrastructure bombing by the U.S. military – the deaths of over 500,000 children- was verified by the counts scientifically taken at the risk of researchers as the bombing continued month after month with NATO support.[xxix]

Full-spectrum corporate money-sequencing through Iraq under the Comprehensive Privatization Program would only be enabled by “9-11”down the road. But first the bases of advanced social life organization needed to be destroyed. The later-leaked U.S. Defense Intelligence document entitled “Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities” expresses the moral DNA at work. I cite the key lines of U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency reports because they reveal the character of the supreme moral goal and its strategic planning.“With no domestic sources of water treatment replacement or chemicals like chlorine”and “laden with biological pollutants and bacteria”, the leaked Defense Intelligence Agency report says (italics added), “epidemics of such diseases as cholera, hepatitis, and typhoid” will “probably take six months before the [drinking and sewage water] system is fully degraded”.

The document continues, Conditions are favorable for communicable disease outbreaks [by the one-way air bombing] with the “most likely diseases during next sixty-ninety days of diarrheal diseases (particularly children) acute respiratory diseases (colds and influenza); typhoid; hepatitis (particularly children); measles, diphtheria, and pertussis (particularly children); meningitis including meningococcal (particularly children), cholera”. “Medical Problems in Iraq”, dated March 15, 1991, reports that the “water is less than 5 percent of the original supply – - diarrhea is four times above normal levels – - Conditions in Baghdad remain favorable for disease outbreaks”. The fifth document in June reports “almost all medicines in critically short supply” and “Gastroenteritis killing children – - in the south, 80 percent of the deaths are children”.[xxx]

In short, no limit to covert U.S. planning of indiscriminate mass murder for the supreme goal exists. The number who died in 9-11 suddenly pales in comparison. In all cases, it lets “those inimical to U.S. interests” know that there is no limit to how far the covert terror state will go for the supreme moral code not yet decoded. Combined with wars of aggression before and after 9-11, raining fire and explosions on civilians from the air so that no defense or escape can be made, saturating the fields of public meaning with big lies civilly dangerous to unmask, and bringing vast enrichment and new powers to transnational corporate conglomerates and their past and present CEO’s of the acting U.S. state – all become clear in their ultimate meaning once decoded. As the Democrat U.S. Secretary of State responded to the question of the 500,000 killed children, “we think the price was worth it”. No price is too much to pay for fulfilment of the transcendent project of the global U.S. state and its private capital rule as “the Free World”. “Those inimical to our interests” are those who oppose or are in the way of it, and thus “hate our freedom”.

The  Strategic Logic of Value through 9-11

By 2000 it was very clear to the U.S. strategic planners that the opening up of the Middle East and Central Asia after the fall of the Soviet Union had to be further pursued before it was too late.The great regret for the planning personnel of the coming Bush Jr. administration such as Paul Wolfowitz was that Iraq had not been taken over on the first invasion. The need for “full spectrum dominance” across the Middle East and Central Asia was thus the essential argument of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), with the prescription that no other “regional power”was able to contest this dominance.

The PNAC more explicitly recognised the strategic necessity for what Zbigniew Brzezinski had already called for in 1998 in The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives – namely,“the circumstance of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat” to ensure public support for “the United States, as the sole and, indeed, the first truly global power”. The now once untouchable Central Asia, formerly of the USSR, was thus targeted as essential not only for its vast oil reserves, but to complete rule of the “first truly global power”.

The Project for the New American Century was more explicit than Brzezinski in 2000, the year before 9-11. As former Defence Minister of Canada, Paul Hellyer, lucidly puts it in a recent address (italics added): “The authors of this American ‘Mein Kampf’ [the PNAC] for conquest recognized the difficulty of persuading sophisticated Americans to accept such a gigantic change in policy. So they wrote the following (subsequently removed from the record):  ‘Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary changes, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.’”[xxxi]

Excepting the Vietnam War ending in military defeat – but vastly enriched armaments and connected private bank and corporate interests – the hitherto favoured strategic-plan mode had been local death squads along with pervasive American media propaganda against the victims as “communists” and “sponsored by the USSR”. But once there was no remotely equal opponent in mass-kill capacities and transnational trade treaties now bound governments within corporate-rights law as overriding domestic laws and policies, anything became permissible. The plan for the “supranational sovereignty” of “limitless capital accumulation” in “full-spectrum power”required only 9-11 to derail world-wide peace, environmental and anti-corporate globalization movements growing into uncontrollable civilian capacity across borders and continents.

People were waking up to the one-way destruction of life systems at all levels. Iraq was not alone in the genocidal clearance of formersocialist infrastructures uniting peoples across ethnic lines. A far more democratic Yugoslavia was set up and destroyed by financial means in the same year by the 1991 U.S. Foreign Operations Appropriations Law after the 1980’s multiplication of public interest rates to over 20percent primedevoured social life support structures across the world.

This was the unseen financialization base of a global war against public and worker economic and political powers that was reaping a cumulative global civilian reaction of opposition to “the plan”. 9-11 ensured against the fightback of financially dispossessed peoples with the signature reverse operation – diversion to an external “terrorist threat” that stood in the way of more sweeping transnational corporate wars on more peoples being dispossessed. Civil war in Yugoslavia long targeted by Reagan’s secret National Security Directive 133 as early as 1984 was predicted and occurred after the underlying employment and welfare structure of multi-ethnic Yugoslavia collapsed under deliberate financial destabilization. (The villain of the piece, Slobodan Milosevic, was himself a major banker).

In oil-rich Somalia, two-thirds of its territory had been leased out to four transnational oil companies by 1993 – a condition of lost grounds of life for Somalians behind the primeval civil war ever since. These are merely expressions of the underlying logic of value and the plan for its supranational rule beneath the lights of publicity as “discretion”. The examples are myriad from Latin America to South-East Asia to sub-Sahara Africa and the Middle East to Israel and Canada today. But a descriptive law of the supreme moral goal holds across all diverse instances of its expression.

Strategic planning for the destruction of social life infrastructures of peoples for private money capital gain without limit is the ultimate value program throughout from the U.S. to China.

The people of the U.S. are not exempt from their own system of covert state rule, although democratic heroism here joins with the larger world against it. This is the ultimate moral struggle on earth today. The moral politics of the disorder are the enforcement of the descriptive law.  This is the ruling meta program, and it is carcinogenic by its nature. The supreme motive force it multiplies by is privately self-maximizing money possession (individual and corporate)seeking to be limitlessly more.More = Better. Less = Militant Demand for More.

The “9-11” event is the epicentre of the supreme moral objective seated in Wall Street. Itis best understood as an ultimate strategic maximizer of theitalicizedformula. Exactly expressed, its ultimatelyregulating axiology is private money inputs through all life to maximally more private money outputs in ad infinitum progression: Money àLife as Meansà More Money or, formally, $àLasMà$1,2,3,4— N.

At the highest level of anchoring moral meaning, this private money-demand rule seeks to beabsolute and total across borders with no quarter. “Full spectrum dominance” is its military method. Yet what distinguishes it from theNazirule it connects with as prior transnational corporate partner in war making is that in the U.S. private money demand multiplication at the top is the only organising value meaning. 97% of its money command is produced by private bank notes of others’ debt to the private bank system centred in Wall Street. Yet despite this very narrow centre of control,almost no global territory or field of life is outside its rule and strategic plan.

The “Trans-Pacific Partnership” is but its latest expression – focusing on private knowledge-patent money sequencing to rule out generic pharmaceuticals and other life-and-death knowledge commons from which higher profits cannot be made. The one underlying common principle throughout all phases is transnational corporate and bank money sequencing to more. Its converse is to overrideall life requirements at all levels, and strategically planned crises and wars are the advancing lines of control and enforcement.

What is not recognized through all the genocidal wars,ecocidal results, collapsing social life support systems and falling wages, however,is that this ruling value sequence rationally leads to9-11” as maximal strategic payoff progression.“Absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event”, the Project for the New American Century declared before 9-11,

“ – - the U.S risks the loss of a global security order that is uniquely friendly to American principles and prosperity”.

Decoded, this meant in theory and practice more transnational private money sequence progression to ever more control over all still-uncontrolled assets for more and richer returns without limit of take or life destruction. But these are unspeakable lines of value meaning, and that is likely why, for example, Wikipedia keeps altering the entry of my name with conspiracy theory attributions and smears to ensure that such deep-structural diagnosis does not gain currency. That is how this system works, and analysis will provide more variations of this gagging method on 9-11 ahead.

The strategic necessity of the 9-11 event for “global security order”can even be asserted by the principal architects of the administration under which it happened, and those who observe this can be dismissed as “conspiracy theorists”. Reverse projection is, as always, the essential psychological operation. The documented but shouted-down logistics included V-P Cheney having control of the air-de

Horsemeat Scandal Goes Global As World’s Largest Food Maker Pulls Tainted Pasta From Spain...

First it was Ireland, then the entire UK, then Germany, and gradually it spread to all of Europe (except for France of course, where it was always a delicacy). But it was only once its finally crossed the Alps and made its way to the Swiss factories of Nestle, the world's largest food maker, did the horsemeat scandal truly go global. The FT reports that "the escalating horsemeat scandal has ensnared two of the biggest names in the food industry, Nestlé, the world’s number-one food maker, and JBS, the largest beef producer by sales. Switzerland-based Nestlé on Monday removed pasta meals from shelves in Italy and Spain and suspended deliveries of all processed products containing meat from German supplier, H.J. Schypke, after tests revealed traces of horse DNA above 1 per cent. Nestlé said it had informed the authorities....Nestlé withdrew two chilled pasta products, Buitoni Beef Ravioli and Beef Tortellini from sale in Italy and Spain. Lasagnes à la Bolognaise Gourmandes, a frozen meat product for catering businesses produced in France, will also be withdrawn."

And now we wait as the panic spreads across the Atlantic to the US, where every food purist, who until recently stuffed themselves full of pink slime and still eats bucketfulls of the mysterious "meat" known as KFC, will accuse their retailer of horseplay, and demand that every burger be triple tested at massive bottom line losses to already profit-strapped food producers everywhere (but will certainly help Madison Avenue as horse ads become the latest advertising meme).

From the FT:

“We are also enhancing our existing comprehensive quality assurance programme by adding new tests on beef for horse DNA prior to production in Europe,” said Nestlé, which just last week said products under its labels were not affected.

The European food industry has already been crippled as the horsemeat scandal unfolds:

Nielsen, the consumer research group, said sales of frozen burgers in the week to February 2 fell 40 per cent, and more than two-thirds of British adults said they would be less likely to buy frozen meat products in the future.

Two people who attended the meeting described it as “constructive”. However, the minister was challenged by several people on how quickly the Food Standards Agency and the Department of Environment acted on intelligence it had received on the food supply chain. One retailer also said an attack by David Cameron on the supermarkets on Friday “had not necessarily been helpful”.

The testing, which some supermarkets already carry out, will mean extra costs for retailers at a time of weak consumer confidence.

Suppliers reckon they will end up bearing the brunt of the cost – adding to the pressure on margins which, some say, caused the problem in the first place.

“The people who in the end will suffer are the food manufacturers, because they will be forced to undertake testing. And the people with the power in this relationship on the whole are the food retailers,” said one industry player.

Many believe equine testing is just the tip of the iceberg. “I am sure this will rapidly move on to other species,” said Adam Couch, chief executive of Cranswick, a meat and pastry goods supplier, which has not been implicated in the scandal.

This is good news for KFC, because once the testing spreads to Yum's restaurant chain, half the DNA that is consumed on the premises will be found to have no earthly basis, and thus, well, "you must acquit".

As for those who are still a lap behind the latest newsflow in the race for the horsemeat-free trifecta, the Guardian has conveniently released the definitive guide to the Equine scandal.

Horsemeat scandal: the essential guide

With the Europewide scandal over the contamination of meat products, from beefburgers to lasagne, showing no sign of abating, study the issue in depth and learn all you need to know about how it came to this with our essential guide.

1. Where did the horsemeat scandal begin?

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland tested a range of cheap frozen beefburgers and ready meals from supermarkets last November for the presence of DNA from other species which were undeclared. It found horse DNA in over one-third of the beefburger samples, and pig in 85% of them.

The majority of the beef ready meals also contained pig DNA but not horse. One beefburger sample from Tesco turned out to be 29% horse instead of beef. Until then supermarkets and enforcement bodies had not tested for horse in beef products, because no one expected it to be there.

There are conflicting reports as to whether the agency began its investigation as random surveillance or after having been tipped off. Because the findings were so serious and likely to do huge damage to commercial interests, the FSAI then spent two months retesting before announcing its findings on 15 January.

The Irish and UK supermarket supply chains are highly integrated. FSAI says it alerted the UK Food Standards Agency in November since what was on sale in Ireland would also be on sale in the UK; the FSA told MPs that it only found out in January. No one knows how long the adulteration has gone on.

2. Where did the horse and pig found by the Irish in beef products come from?

The Irish survey identified three factories as the source of beef products that had been contaminated or adulterated: Silvercrest Foods in Ireland, Dalepak in Yorkshire and Liffey Meats in Ireland. Silvercrest and Dalepak are both subsidiaries of ABP Food Group, one of the largest beef processors in Europe.

ABP pointed the finger of blame at its continental suppliers, with the FSAI saying these were in the Netherlands and Spain. It later said the horsemeat had entered its chain through suppliers in Poland. The Polish government checked its horse slaughterhouses and found no irregularities in labelling. Five weeks into the scandal and the links in the Irish chain have still not been fully established.

Huge blocks of frozen meat at a cold store in Northern Ireland, Freeza Foods, which had been quarantined by officials suspicious of its labelling and state of packaging, were found to contain 80% horse. Freeza Foods said the meat blocks had been delivered to its store by meat broker McAdam Foods but that it had rejected them and only continued storing them as a "goodwill" measure for McAdam. McAdam said it in turn had been sold them by a meat trader in Hull, Flexi Foods, which imports from Poland and elsewhere. ABP confirmed it had been supplied materials by McAdam but the two companies have given conflicting accounts of what the deliveries have been.

ABP has also confirmed that it has been supplied with beef by Norwest Foods, based in Cheshire, with operations in Poland and Spain, which is now also part of FSA inquiries.

The first case of horsemeat being found in fresh beef surfaced this week, when Asda withdrew its fresh beef bolognese. Its supplier was the Irish company Greencore, which said it had in turn been supplied the meat by ABP.

3. Why did some products contain so much more horse than others?

Industry sources and food safety officials believe there are different types of adulteration taking place. Where trace levels of DNA of the wrong species, particularly pig, have been found in beef, the most likely explanation is that they have been contaminated either by failure to clean production lines thoroughly enough between different processing, or that the DNA is present in protein additives widely used in the industry to bulk out cheap so-called value or economy ranges. An economy beefburger can legally contain as little as 47% beef.

Manufacturers add other cheap ingredients including water and fat, and use concentrated proteins to bind the water and fat in. They may appear on labels as "seasoning". One of the cheapest sources of these protein additives is pork rind. It is possible that horse hide is now also being used. The widespread adulteration of cheap chicken breast with pig and beef proteins and water has been uncovered in previous scandals. The beef proteins were derived from hydrolysed cattle hides. It is not illegal to use these protein concentrates so long as they are identified correctly to the manufacturer.

Where horse has been found above trace levels, however, experts believe they are looking at fraudulent substitution of horse for beef. Where horse has been found in high concentrations, they say it suggests industrial scale adulteration.

4. How did the rest of Europe get involved?

Once the Irish authorities had reported their findings, the UK FSA asked industry to test all its beef products for horse. The next round of tests revealed that the "beef" in frozen lasagne and spaghetti bolognese made for Tesco, Aldi and Findus by a French manufacturer, Comigel, was up to 100% horse.

Comigel was making cheap beef meals for supermarkets and branded companies in 16 different countries so the scandal spread rapidly, with horsemeat meals being withdrawn in Germany, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, as well as Ireland and the UK.

5. Is the source of the Irish horsemeat the same as the French one?

The trail of the French manufacturing scandal has taken a different route to the Irish/British one so far. Comigel had subcontracted its ready meal production to a factory in Luxembourg, Tavola. It was supplied with meat by a company called Spanghero. Spanghero had bought meat from a Dutch fraudster already convicted of passing horse off as beef, Jan Fasen.

The Dutch trader ran a company called Draap, which spelled backwards is paard or Dutch for horse. It was registered in Cyprus in 2008, with an offshore vehicle in the British Virgin Islands. It emerged during Fasen's trial in Holland that he had supplied French companies with horsemeat imported from South America and Mexico fraudulently labelled as Dutch and German "beef" going back to 2007.

The horsemeat found in the recent tests on ready meals exported from France was said to have been sourced by Draap from Romania. The Romanian government has said its meat was legally exported correctly labelled as horse. The French government said Spanghero was the first agent to stamp the horse as beef; Spanghero has denied doing so deliberately. Fasen says Spanghero and French manufacturers were in on the deception from the beginning.

6. Why are the supply chains so complex?

The food and retail industries have become highly concentrated and globalised in recent decades. A handful of key players dominate the beef processing and supermarket sectors across Europe. They have developed very long supply chains, particularly for their economy lines, which enable them to buy the ingredients for processed foods from wherever they are cheapest at any point, depending on exchange rates and prices on the global commodity markets. Networks of brokers, cold stores operators and subcontracted meat cutting plants have emerged to supply rapidly fluctuating orders "just in time". Management consultants KPMG estimate there are around 450 points at which the integrity of the chain can break down.

7. Why has it happenened?

Supermarket buyers and big brands have been driving down prices, seeking special offers on meat products as consumers cut back on their spending in the face of recession. The squeeze on prices has come at a time when manufacturers' costs have been soaring. Beef prices have been at record highs as has the price of grain needed to feed cattle. The cost of energy, heavily used in industrial processing and to fuel centralised distribution chains, has also soared. There has been a mistmatch between the cost of real beef and what companies are prepared to pay.

8. How is the meat industry regulated?

Licensed slaughterhouses across Europe are required to have an official vet in attendance when slaughtering takes place – in the UK most used to be directly employed by the government but many are now supplied under contract to the Food Standards Agency by the private company Eville & Jones. Plants over a certain size are also required to have a meat hygiene inspector. A trend to deregulate and leave industry to police itself, begun under the last government, has seen numbers of inspectors fall from 1,700 at the height of the BSE crisis to around 800 now. Smaller cutting plants are no longer subject to daily inspection. The Food Standards Agency has limited powers – it has depended on industry alerting it to the results of tests voluntarily. Enforcement largely falls to individual local authorities and their trading standards officers, and their budgets have been slashed.

9. What about industry claims that it has full traceability?

The industry has previously boasted that it has full traceability of its supply chain which it audits frequently. The current scandal shows that that traceability is not worth the paper it is generally written on. Most of the factories caught up in the scandal have accreditation with mainstream auditing schemes such as that run by the British Retail Consortium but it failed to spot the problem.

10. What happened to government control of food safety and standards?

The Food Standards Agency was set up in the wake of the BSE crisis when it became clear that one agency that co-ordinated all regulation on food safety and quality was needed. Political memories have been short, however. The coalition government broke up much of the FSA in its bonfire of the quangos, so that responsibility in the current scandal is split. The FSA is still in charge of food safety; the Department of Health is responsible for nutritional standards, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs covers labelling and veterinary medicines.

11. Where do the horses come from?

The Polish and Romanian governments have not only protested their innocence of exporting horse as beef but also pointed out that their horse slaughtering industries are not large enough to account for the scale of adulteration that is emerging. Respected animal welfare organisations have warned governments for several years about the growing trade in knackered horses both between Ireland, the UK, France and Belgium, and between North and South America, and continental Europe. Much of the latter is landed via Belgium. The welfare charities have documented horses in the thousands that have been moved by networks of horse dealers without proper passports. They are a mixture of horses bred for racing and pets.

12. What part do UK horse abattoirs play?

There is an established transport corridor for horses for slaughter from Ireland through Scotland or Wales to England and on to Europe. Last week a horse abattoir in Yorkshire, Peter Boddy, was raided along with a Welsh meat trading company. Three men have been arrested on suspicion of offences under the Fraud Act. The Peter Boddy abattoir, now closed, was small, with official records showing it slaughtered 44 horses last year.

13. Why are governments talking about organised crime?

Previous convictions of dealers and traders along with intelligence suggest a link between the horse trade, meat laundering and various forms of trafficking. Lorries transporting horses have been used as cover for smuggling large quantities of cannabis between the UK and Northern Ireland and lorries transporting horsemeat to the continent are believed to be used for people smuggling on the return journey.

14. Is it a health problem?

The government said at first that there was no health risk from horsemeat, but a leading government public analyst pointed out that it could not be sure until it knew the source of the horsemeat. The latest advice from the chief medical officer is that there is a risk but that it is very low.

Horses are routinely treated with an anti-inflammatory drug called phenylbutazone, or "bute". Bute is banned from the human food chain, because it can in rare cases cause a potentially life threatening illness, aplastic anaemia, or bone marrow failure. Since it is not known what triggers the illness, it has not been possible to set any safe level for bute residues in human food. Doses from horsemeat are likely to be very low. Horse passports are supposed to record any bute administered so that animals can be excluded from going for food, but with large numbers of fake passports in circulation, some horses containing bute have been eaten.

Since the scandal the government has changed the rules so that horse carcasses may now only be released for consumption once they have been tested for bute. The first batch of tests found around 4% of horse testing positive. The horse trade from the Americas has similarly been bedevilled by problems with horse passports and drug contamination.

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Injured Soldiers To Be Given ‘Bionic Legs’

The Government has pledged £6.5m to buy the latest prosthetic limbs for soldiers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One of the new legs which will now be available to amputees is the US-made Genium.

Its cutting edge knee joint is said to relieve back pain for the wearer and help balance. Wearers also find it easier to walk backwards and over obstacles with it.

The Defence Secretary Philip Hammond made the announcement on a trip to Headley Court rehabilitation centre in Surrey.

The hospital, which is set in 85 acres of grounds dominated by an Elizabethan manor, has recently had millions spent on it.

£17m was invested to build a new complex and a further £5m was spent refurbishing the accommodation facilities last year.

Mr Hammond told Sky News: "Welfare of our people is our top priority.

"This money will mean the clinicians here will be able to select from the very best prosthetics limbs available including the latest bionic limbs.

"We are clear that those who have suffered life-changing injuries in Afghanistan or Iraq, serving their country, deserve the very best that is clinically appropriate for them.

"The NHS has made the commitment to supporting these limbs in the future once these people have left the service and gone out into the outside world."

Sky News spoke to three men who between them have lost seven limbs.

One of them is Captain Nick Beighton. He lost both his legs above the knee when he was blown up by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in October 2009.

"I trod on an IED on a foot patrol," he explained. "You come here and you have a very pragmatic approach to things.

"One of the most obvious things we've lost is the ability to move around ourselves.

"Here we are able to discount our disability and it's about what we can achieve.

"Such a fundamental part of our recovery or rehabilitation is what limb we're using, they all offer something different.

"They (prosthetic limbs) all offer something different, but the shiny ones people tend towards because they look Gucci!

"I love these legs because they give me the freedom to express myself, to be what I want to be, to get out and do everything that I want to achieve. It's why today's announcement is so important for military amputees."

They are here to work not to have fun, one resident of the centre told me as we walked through the ground. Five days a week, full on classes. It is no wonder they get the results.

The fact that many of the soldiers are here, especially those with multiple amputations, is testament to improved medical science, particularly on the battlefield.

At the start of the Afghan conflict, many, perhaps all, would have died of their wounds long before reaching Headley Court.

The money that has been announced also comes with a commitment - that the NHS will treat the injured soldiers for life after they leave the service.

Labour Tax Plans A ‘Con’, Says Osborne

Chancellor George Osborne dismissed Labour's tax plans as a "con" which would see state inspectors assessing people's homes.

Labour leader Ed Miliband last week announced proposals to bring back the 10p lower rate of income tax which was scrapped by Gordon Brown, funded by a levy on homes worth more than £2 million.

george osborne

George Osborne claimed Labour didn't 'understand aspiration' in the UK

But Osborne said the coalition government's policy of raising the income tax threshold was a fairer way of helping the low paid and claimed Labour's "mansion tax" would end up being extended to more modest properties.

He told ITV's The Agenda: "It's very costly to implement. It means you have to send inspectors round the country valuing all the homes - not just the homes worth over £2m but those worth less."

The chancellor said there were not enough "mansions" to cover the cost of a tax cut for millions of people.

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"So either it's a tax con and the money comes from somewhere else or it's soon a homes tax and they say it's a mansion tax before the election and then very quickly (it) becomes a homes tax on many people who are not living in mansions at all."

Osborne claimed that "the inspectors get their foot in the door" and then "after the election suddenly it's everyone's homes that are potentially a target and Labour will have created a new tax".

The chancellor added: "It's just another thing that proves that I don't think they understand aspiration in this country."

Osborne acknowledged that the rich should be expected to pay more, but fairness in the tax system also meant allowing working people to "get on".

He said: "In a time like this you expect the rich to pay more and actually we are forcing the rich to pay more and indeed cracking down on those who don't pay their taxes but fairness is also about having a system where people who work hard and get on can get on in our society, fairness is about a welfare system that doesn't pay for people to stay at home.

"Fairness is quite a broad concept and people feel the system's unfair but I don't think this kind of tax con is a solution to that."

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, whose Liberal Democrats back a mansion tax, also rejected Miliband's proposals as a "pale imitation" of his own party's policies.

Miliband hopes to split the coalition with a Commons vote forcing the Lib Dems to choose between backing a mansion tax or maintaining unity with the Tories.

But in a keynote speech in the City of London Clegg said: "All we've got from Ed Miliband last week is some blatant plagiarism of Liberal Democrat ideas and still no remorse for the biggest economic meltdown in modern times.

"Labour cannot be taken seriously until its leaders apologise for the economic mess they created, apologise for the unfair tax system they left behind, and apologise for letting tax avoidance rip."

Labour vice chair Michael Dugher said: "Nick Clegg is a poster boy for a politician who breaks his promises and fails to deliver. Clegg and the Lib Dems will be judged for what they do, not what they say - and they are complicit in the Tory record of failure.

"The Lib Dems are cutting taxes for millionaires while millions of families are asked to pay more, seeing their living standards decline, wages failing to keep pace with inflation and cuts to their tax credits.

"Labour will vote in Parliament for a mansion tax. In government Labour wants to use this to pay for a reinstated 10p tax rate for low and middle earners.

"Nobody will take a word Nick Clegg says seriously as long as Lib Dems continue back this Tory-led government with all its unfairness and failing economic policies."

Shadow Treasury financial secretary Chris Leslie said: "It's laughable for George Osborne to claim his policies are fair when he's giving a huge tax cut to millionaires while forcing millions on middle and low incomes to pay more.

"Labour wants action now to kick-start our flatlining economy and help people struggling with the rising cost of living.

"George Osborne should back Labour's plan for a new lower 10p rate of tax paid for by a mansion tax on homes worth over £2m. This would be fair, help 25m working people on middle and low incomes and boost spending power in the economy."

Big Corporations Put Up Seed Funding for GOP Dark Money Group

Big Corporations Put Up Seed Funding for GOP Dark Money Group

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Posted on Feb 17, 2013
Flickr/TomaBw

By Justin Elliott, ProPublica

This report originally ran on ProPublica.

Some of the nation’s biggest corporations donated more than a million dollars to launch a Republican nonprofit that went on to play a key role in recent political fights.

Like the nonprofit groups that poured money into last year’s elections, the decade-old State Government Leadership Foundation has been able to keep the identities of its funders secret. Until now.

A records request by ProPublica to the IRS turned up a list of the original funders of the group: Exxon, Pfizer, Time Warner, and other corporations put up at least 85 percent of the $1.3 million the foundation raised in the first year and a half of its existence, starting in 2003.

The donor list is stamped “not for public disclosure,” and was submitted to the IRS as part of the foundation’s application for recognition of tax-exempt status. If approved, such applications are public records.

The foundation and other similar nonprofits are allowed to take anonymous and unlimited donations from individuals or corporations. That’s because they are classified as “social welfare” nonprofits, which are supposed to benefit the community at large, and not just one group or political party.

Last year, we reported how the State Government Leadership Foundation paid for Republican redistricting consultants to draw new congressional district maps in North Carolina. The resulting gerrymander helped flip the state’s congressional delegation to Republicans.

In recent years, the foundation has also funded TV ads targeting Democrats during the 2011 Wisconsin showdown over collective bargaining rights; attacking President Obama in Virginia over his energy policy; and accusing teachers unions of “destroying our children’s future.”

The foundation also gave $1.25 million in 2011 to the Indiana Opportunity Fund, a state-level nonprofit that ran anti-union ads featuring Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels. (That group was founded by attorney Jim Bopp, who has long fought against campaign finance regulation.)

The foundation’s single-biggest early donor was the now-defunct mortgage lender Ameriquest, which gave more than $260,000. (We contacted a number of the companies on the list; they did not respond to requests for comment.) Corporate trade associations including the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Edison Electric Institute, and the American Tort Reform Association also pitched in, each giving between $50,000 and $100,000.

The foundation’s affiliated organization, the Republican State Leadership Committee, focuses on winning state-level elections for the GOP and also gets corporate money, including from tobacco and insurance giants.  As an explicitly political organization, the committee has to disclose its donors.

By contrast, the recent funders of the foundation, which took in $2.5 million in 2011 including a single donation of $1 million, are still secret.

The foundation applied for IRS recognition as a social welfare group in late 2003 but was initially rejected. The IRS concluded the foundation was “a partisan organization” that “operated primarily for the benefit of a select group” – the GOP. Social welfare groups, the IRS’ rejection letter noted, must promote the “general welfare of the whole community” — not a particular group.

The foundation’s lawyers from the firm Arent Fox fired back in an appeal, arguing that the foundation was not a partisan outfit.

The foundation, according to the 2005 appeal, “was created to promote public debate” about issues including pharmaceuticals, securities regulation, and asbestos litigation.

“It may be useful to describe what the SGLF is not,” the appeal says. “The SGLF:

• Is not affiliated with the Republican Party in any way;

• Does not meet with or coordinate its activities with the Republican Party;

• Does not make contributions to, or accept contributions from, the Republican Party;

• Does not participate in political campaigns, elections or publish electioneering messages on behalf of any candidate or party;

• Does not invite Representatives of the Republican Party to speak at its events, and

• Does not participate in the Republican Party platform, does not recruit or train Republican candidates, does not fundraise for Republican candidates, and does not coordinate its issue selection or policy positions with the Republican Party.

In 2007, more than three years after the foundation’s application, the IRS ultimately recognized it as a tax-exempt social welfare group.

But the group’s protestations that it has nothing to do with the GOP seems at odds with its recent activities. Besides running ads attacking Democrats, the foundation was involved in redistricting in several states to, as the foundation put it in a letter to Republican legislators, draw “legislative lines that we will have to defend in 2012 and beyond.”

Foundation spokesperson Jill Bader told ProPublica that since its creation the foundation’s “activities have evolved in some ways from those that were originally contemplated and conducted by the organization.”

Bader continued: “SGLF’s present activities are in strict compliance with the requirements of the Internal Revenue Code and all future SGLF activities will be in strict compliance as well.”


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Spanish Doctors, Nurses March Against ‘Pillage’ of Privatization, Austerity

Protesters march as they shout slogans during a demonstration against regional government-imposed austerity plans to restructure and part-privatize the health care sector in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013. (Andres Kudacki/ Associated Press )Thousands of nurses, doctors and other health professionals staged protests in sixteen cities across Spain on Sunday, decrying the nation's continued austerity policies that they say are putting real lives at risk each passing day.

Specifically, the energized protests were aimed at thwarting a proposal by the ruling rightwing government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of privatizing portions of the country's health care system.

"There is no study that shows that privatizing the management of hospitals leads to lower costs," said Emilia Becares to Agence France Presse. The 46-year-old nurse brought her three sons, aged seven, eight and nine to the day's protest. "This privatization hurts patients' health care to benefit other interests."

Civil servant Javier Tarabilla, 31, explained to the Associated Press that Spain’s welfare state was being systematically dismantled in order to be handed over to the private sector.

“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,” he said.

As AFP reports, the Rajoy government has slashed "health spending by seven billion euros ($9.1 billion) a year as part of a campaign to squeeze 150 billion euros out of the crisis-racked country's budget by 2014."

And AP adds:

It was the third "white tide" demonstration in Madrid, named after the color of the medical scrubs many protesters wear. But it was the first time cities other than the capital took part, including Barcelona, Cuenca, Murcia, Pamplona, Toledo and Zaragoza. Protesters marched carrying banners saying "Public health is not to be sold, it's to be defended."

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Healthcare workers and supporters hold signs as they take part in a protest against the local government's plans to cut public healthcare spending in Madrid February 17, 2013. (REUTERS/Javier Barbancho)

Protestors march as they hold a model with a skull face during a demonstration against regional government-imposed austerity plans to restructure and part-privatize the health care sector in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013. (Andres Kudacki/ Associated Press )

Protesters march as they hold a banner reading “Health care system not for sale” during a demonstration against regional government-imposed austerity plans to restructure and part-privatize the health care sector in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013. Madrid proposes selling off the management of six of 20 public hospitals and 27 of 268 health centers. (Photo: Andres Kudacki/ Associated Press )

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Horsemeat: Minister Defends Defra Response

A leading charity claims the government was made aware that illegal horsemeat was in the food chain more than a year ago. Horse Welfare International says they had a sit-down meeting with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2011,...

Is The Dietitians’ Trade Group in Bed with the Junk Food Industry?

The largest trade group of nutrition professionals—the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics—has a serious credibility problem.

The Academy represents 74,000 dietitians in the United States, and its mission is to promote optimal nutrition and well being for all people. But according to an explosive report released by Food Revolution Summit speaker Michele Simon and her organization, the industry watchdog Eat Drink Politics, the Academy is sponsored by folks like ConAgra, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Kellogg’s, Mars, and the National Dairy Council.

AND

Some Academy sponsors can become an “Academy Partner,” which entitles them to “educate” nutrition professionals about the health benefits of their products, co-sponsor events, and conduct educational sessions at meetings.  They also can use the Academy’s logo in marketing campaigns.

The report from Eat Drink Politics details how registered dietitians can earn continuing education units from Coca-Cola, in which they learn that sugar is not a problem for children. In addition to Coca-Cola, companies on the Academy’s list of approved continuing education providers include Kraft Foods, Nestlé, and PepsiCo.

Despite its enormous clout, and its nutritional advocacy mission, the Academy has thus far refused to endorse some of the steps that many experts agree could improve public health and expand health freedom, including limits on soft drink sizes, taxes on sugary sodas, or the labeling of genetically engineered foods. Could there be any connection between the millions of dollars in sponsorship the Academy receives from junk food manufacturers, and a seeming lack of initiative on behalf of the public welfare?

Fortunately, not all dietitians pass on the propaganda of the Academy’s sponsors. There are many hard-working and dedicated dietitians who base the guidance they offer their clients on the latest learnings of nutritional science. One of the inspiring dietitians of our times is bestselling author, plant-strong nutrition expert, and 2013 Food Revolution Summit speaker Brenda Davis, R.D,.

Brenda notes that many dietitians feel uncomfortable having their trade association intertwined with the processed food industry, and references a survey which found that 80% of them feel that the Academy is endorsing corporate sponsors and their products when it allows their sponsorship.

She comments: “It’s time for us to base the nutritional guidance we offer, and the policies we support, on what we know is best for the health and wellness of a population that is riddled with obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The science is clear: a whole foods, plant-strong diet that is low in sugar and processed foods, and high in nutrients and fresh foods, can help you thrive, and can dramatically reduce your risk of diet and lifestyle-induced diseases.”

Inspired by Michele Simon’s report, and fed up with their association’s junk food ties, on February 12 a group of dietitians launched Dietitians for Professional Integrity. Their goal is to advocate for more ethical, socially responsible, and relevant corporate sponsorships within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  More than 500 members joined in the first two days.

For more on Eat Drink Politics, or to sign up their informative newsletter, click here.

To join the Food Revolution, and get free tools, inspiration and support to help you take action for healthier food and food systems, click here.

Ocean Robbins

Ocean Robbins serves as adjunct professor at Chapman University and is co-host (with best-selling author John Robbins) and CEO of the 85,000 member Food Revolution Network.
Find out more and sign up for free here.

Will ‘Bedroom Tax’ Punish Pensioners’?

Some pensioners with spare rooms will be hit by reductions in housing benefit under what critics dub the Government's "bedroom tax", the Department of Work and Pensions confirmed. Existing claimants in homes where someone of working age also lives hav...

Winning the Argument

President Barack Obama waits with Sergeants at Arms and Members of Congress before entering the House Chamber to deliver the State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., February 12, 2013. (Photo: Pete Souza / White House)Washin...

Big Corporations Put Up Seed Funding for Republican Dark Money Group


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

By Justin Elliott, ProPublica

Some of the nation's biggest corporations donated more than a million dollars to launch a Republican nonprofit that went on to play a key role in recent political fights.

Like the nonprofit groups that poured money into last year's elections, the decade-old State Government Leadership Foundation has been able to keep the identities of its funders secret. Until now.

A records request by ProPublica to the IRS turned up a list of the original funders of the group: Exxon, Pfizer, Time Warner, and other corporations put up at least 85 percent of the $1.3 million the foundation raised in the first year and a half of its existence, starting in 2003.

The donor list is stamped "not for public disclosure," and was submitted to the IRS as part of the foundation's application for recognition of tax-exempt status. If approved, such applications are public records.

The foundation and other similar nonprofits are allowed to take anonymous and unlimited donations from individuals or corporations. That's because they are classified as "social welfare" nonprofits, which are supposed to benefit the community at large, and not just one group or political party.

Last year, we reported how the State Government Leadership Foundation paid for Republican redistricting consultants to draw new congressional district maps in North Carolina. The resulting gerrymander helped flip the state's congressional delegation to Republicans.

In recent years, the foundation has also funded TV ads targeting Democrats during the 2011 Wisconsin showdown over collective bargaining rights; attacking President Obama in Virginia over his energy policy; and accusing teachers unions of "destroying our children's future."

The foundation also gave $1.25 million in 2011 to the Indiana Opportunity Fund, a state-level nonprofit that ran anti-union ads featuring Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels. (That group was founded by attorney Jim Bopp, who has long fought against campaign finance regulation.)

The foundation's single-biggest early donor was the now-defunct mortgage lender Ameriquest, which gave more than $260,000. (We contacted a number of the companies on the list; they did not respond to requests for comment.) Corporate trade associations including the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Edison Electric Institute, and the American Tort Reform Association also pitched in, each giving between $50,000 and $100,000.

The foundation's affiliated organization, the Republican State Leadership Committee, focuses on winning state-level elections for the GOP and also gets corporate money, including from tobacco and insurance giants.  As an explicitly political organization, the committee has to disclose its donors.

By contrast, the recent funders of the foundation, which took in $2.5 million in 2011 including a single donation of $1 million, are still secret.

The foundation applied for IRS recognition as a social welfare group in late 2003 but was initially rejected. The IRS concluded the foundation was "a partisan organization" that "operated primarily for the benefit of a select group" – the GOP. Social welfare groups, the IRS' rejection letter noted, must promote the "general welfare of the whole community" — not a particular group.

The foundation's lawyers from the firm Arent Fox fired back in an appeal, arguing that the foundation was not a partisan outfit.

The foundation, according to the 2005 appeal, "was created to promote public debate" about issues including pharmaceuticals, securities regulation, and asbestos litigation.

"It may be useful to describe what the SGLF is not," the appeal says. "The SGLF:

• Is not affiliated with the Republican Party in any way;

• Does not meet with or coordinate its activities with the Republican Party;

• Does not make contributions to, or accept contributions from, the Republican Party;

• Does not participate in political campaigns, elections or publish electioneering messages on behalf of any candidate or party;

• Does not invite Representatives of the Republican Party to speak at its events, and

• Does not participate in the Republican Party platform, does not recruit or train Republican candidates, does not fundraise for Republican candidates, and does not coordinate its issue selection or policy positions with the Republican Party.

In 2007, more than three years after the foundation's application, the IRS ultimately recognized it as a tax-exempt social welfare group.

But the group's protestations that it has nothing to do with the GOP seems at odds with its recent activities. Besides running ads attacking Democrats, the foundation was involved in redistricting in several states to, as the foundation put it in a letter to Republican legislators, draw "legislative lines that we will have to defend in 2012 and beyond."

Foundation spokesperson Jill Bader told ProPublica that since its creation the foundation's "activities have evolved in some ways from those that were originally contemplated and conducted by the organization."

Bader continued: "SGLF's present activities are in strict compliance with the requirements of the Internal Revenue Code and all future SGLF activities will be in strict compliance as well."

Winning the Argument

Winning the Argument

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Posted on Feb 15, 2013

By Eugene Robinson

In his bid to be remembered as a transformational leader, President Obama is following the playbook of an ideological opposite, Margaret Thatcher. First you win the argument, she used to say, then you win the vote.

Obama is gradually winning the argument about what government can and should do. His State of the Union address was an announcement of that fact—and a warning to conservatives that to remain relevant, they will have to move beyond the premise that government is always the problem and never the solution.

It’s ridiculous for critics to charge that Tuesday night’s speech was not sufficiently bipartisan. Repairing the nation’s infrastructure is not a partisan issue; bridges rust at the same rate in Republican-held congressional districts as in Democratic ones. The benefits of universal preschool will accrue in red states as well as blue. Climate change is not deterred by the fact that a majority of the Republican caucus in the House doesn’t believe in it.

There is no bipartisan compromise between “do something” and “do nothing.” Obama’s re-election reflected the progress he has made in convincing Americans that “do something” is the only option—and that “do nothing” leads inexorably to decline.

Thatcher’s reshaping of British politics and governance is instructive. The Iron Lady came to power at a time when Britain was sinking. The ideological pendulum had swung too far to the left, and the nominally socialist Labor Party, architect of the modern British welfare state, was out of ideas. Thatcher’s Conservative government roused the nation from its torpor. She was an enormously polarizing figure, and much of what she did—fighting the unions, privatizing state industries and public housing—was met with bitter resistance.

Today, Britain remains one of the wealthiest countries in the world and continues to play a major role in international affairs. London is arguably the world’s pre-eminent financial center. I doubt any of this would be the case if Thatcher had not won the argument about how her nation should move forward.

When Obama took office, the United States was in a similar funk. Ronald Reagan’s conservative ideas had been corrupted by his followers into a kind of anti-government nihilism. Reagan wanted to shrink government; today’s Republican Party wants to destroy it.

Obama assumed leadership of a country in which inequality was growing and economic mobility declining, with the result that the American dream was becoming less attainable. It was a country whose primary and secondary schools lagged far behind international norms; whose airports, roads and bridges were showing their age; and, most important, whose path to continued prosperity, in the age of globalization and information technology, was not entirely clear.

Obama’s State of the Union speech was a detailed reiteration of his position that we can and must act to secure our future—and that government can and must be one of our principal instruments.

To understand why Americans re-elected Obama in November and sent more Democrats to both houses of Congress, consider the Republican response delivered by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., following the president’s address.

Never mind the unforgettable moment when Rubio stooped almost out of sight and reached for a bottle of water, all the while trying to look straight ahead at the camera like John Cleese in some Monty Python sketch. I felt genuinely sorry for him—and appalled at the Republican Party’s incompetence at basic stagecraft. First they give Clint Eastwood an empty chair to perform with at the convention, and now this?

Even more unfortunate, in the end, was the utter lack of ideas in Rubio’s speech.

“More government isn’t going to help you get ahead, it’s going to hold you back,” Rubio said. Yet he also said that he never would have been able to go to college without government-backed student loans. And he spoke touchingly of how Medicare paid for the care his father received in his final days and the care his mother needs now.

I expected him to try to reconcile this contradiction. Instead, he went back to portraying government as something to be tamed rather than something to be used. To a majority of Republican primary voters, this makes sense. To the electorate as a whole, it might have made sense 30 years ago—but not today.

Margaret Thatcher never won the hearts of her many opponents. But by winning her argument, she shaped a nation’s future. There’s an increasing chance that historians will say the same of Barack Obama.


Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
   
© 2013, Washington Post Writers Group

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US awards video game mentality: Analyst

A political analyst says the US administration uses the concepts of sacrifice and heroism to deceive people and awards video game mentality, Press TV reports.

“The entire idea of heroism, military awards, sacrifice, is totally a con. They have been selling this to people for, really, hundreds of years or longer,” Gordon Duff said in an interview with Press TV on Friday.

He slammed the US government’s issuing of awards to drone operators and cyber attack directors, saying the idea of giving a medal for being thousands of miles away from a battle front is nothing new in the United States.


“You could criticize, and certainly everyone is, the idea that the United States is going to be giving…they call it ‘the geek’s medal’, to cyber warriors,” Duff added.

He went on to say that the US administration is actually awarding the people who play video games with the lives of others.

The analyst further pointed out that the American population has forgotten about all the wars going on as such wars are not reported in the papers and nobody mentions them.

“We saw nothing in the papers, no one wants to hear about it and certainly there is no interest in members of the military, their welfare, veterans and their families. We hear nothing of it and the population frankly, to be honest, could care less,” Duff concluded.

The Pentagon announced on February 13 that it is creating the Distinguished Warfare Medal to be awarded to those US troops who launch assassination drone strikes and direct cyber attacks.

Outgoing US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday that the US drone operators and those who direct cyber attacks would be eligible to receive the medal for their direct impact on a US military operations from afar.

The United States uses its assassination drones in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Somalia, claiming that they target ‘terrorists.’ The attacks, however, have mostly led to massive civilian casualties.

TNP/HGH/SS

One Billion Rising: Globalizing the Battle for Women’s Rights

There’s talk about union, and then there’s acting in unison. As the President was talking about the State of the Union this week, the organizers of V-day were working with activists all around the world to pull off what will doubtless be the most public breaking-of the silence around gender violence that the world has seen.

One Billion Rising is the brainchild of Eve Ensler and the women and men of V-day. For fifteen years,the anti-violence mobilization V-day has used Valentines Day productions of Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues, to draw attention to violence against women and girls.  As Ensler says, V-day’s goal was to stop the violence that according to the UN, affects one in three women in the world.  Fifteen years on, she decided it was time to escalate – and she put out a global call for one billion people to Strike Dance or Rise today – February 14, 2013.

The call went out a year ago today. At last count, people in more countries than there are countries had announced they would be Striking or Dancing or Rising today. That’s 202 countries and territories. Go to the website OneBillionRising.org. Type in your zip code and you’ll find a Google Map that is a mad mass of risings. You can watch the action in South Africa, India, Congo and many other places via live videostream from home.

The action began at dawn with indigenous women in Papua New Guinea. It is sweeping through Australia, Asia, Africa and Europe to the Americas. The Prime Minister of Australia and the President of Croatia are rising. Migrant workers, domestic workers, nurses, doctors, even the Dalai Lama.  Solidarity pledges have come in from movie stars and Dalit women and the president of the United Steelworkers.

By this time tomorrow what will OBR have achieved?  It’s not like some Mayan Calendar prediction of world transformation overnight. Some organizers have taken advantage of the rising to give momentum to legislation. In the US, in Washington, the One Billion Rising Rising will be calling for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. In London, Stella Creasy MP, has introduced a bill to demand more comprehensive sex education – and she’s calling it the One Billion Rising  Act.

But OBR’s greatest impact may have to do with borders. Not only has the mobilization brought women from all over the world together into an organizing effort that puts a whole new spin on internationalism, but it has also shone a spotlight on the intersections between so called “social” issues and “economic.”

Women and the men now working in jobs typically held by women, have been the shock absorbers of our economy, said labor leaders on a panel sponsored by One Billion Rising held at Cooper Union last fall. There, National Nurses United co-president Karen Higgins made the point that “The issues women face as workers as well as healthcare providers are very personal to us.”

NNU is one of a slew of labor groups supporting OBR in this country and abroad, including the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers, The United Steelworkers, the American Federation of Teachers and Working America. The largest unions in the Philippines and UK, Kilusang Mayo Uno and UNITE, are also participating. Said Higgins this November:  

“We're seeing more and more the fall out from this economy. Violence against us is rising, not just against nurses, but all healthcare workers and we’re having to fight with employers who don't' want word to get out that we're facing that much violence. That silence hurts us too...Among our patients, heart disease in women is becoming more of a killer than cancer. And we're watching women, responsible for welfare of family, choosing between their own welfare and those of kids.”

Today women in the Philippines will be rising to end violence against women and simultaneously to raise wages. They are integrated movements.  After breaking the silence around violence against women, will the global anti-violence movement take on breaking the silence about the violence of today’s economy?

© 2013 Grit TV

Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders was the founder and host of GRITtv and is the author of the books BUSHWOMEN and Blue Grit. She's the editor of At the Tea Party

Denying Minimum-Wage Workers A Raise Is Craven and Grotesque

The president ignited a controversy in his state of the union speech by saying he wants to raise the minimum wage by $1.50, to $9 an hour. He argued that it is shameful that someone working full-time for the current minimum wage of $7.25 would still be below the poverty line.Fast-food relies on minimum-wage workers, which explains why McDonald's stock fell after Obama announced his plan. (Photograph: Alex Segre / Alamy)

Opponents – led by Speaker of the House John Boehner and an endless cadre of mustache-twirling corporate leaders and overpaid Washington think-tankers – have said they oppose the president's plans. They argue that employers forced to pay a higher minimum wage will just hire fewer people to work full-time, that the promise of economic progress from higher pay is illusory, and that a boost in the minimum wage rarely translates to an uptick in economic activity.

These are empty threats, and spurious ones.

The issue about minimum wage, for instance, has almost nothing to do with full-time workers and whether they get hired or not. Only 5.2% of hourly workers are paid minimum wage or below. That's 3.8 million people. It is true that affecting the pay of such a small number of people won't solve America's increasing problems of poverty or income inequality by itself.

But what happens when you look at part-time workers? Then you understand how craven it is to deny workers minimum wage.

There are 8 million workers who are working part-time due to economic reasons, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means that they want to work full-time, but can't. There are also 18.7 million workers who are part-time out of choice, or for "non-economic reasons".

Those part-time workers are where poverty ends up concentrated, and where the minimum wage will make the most impact.

Part-time workers are much more likely to end up working for minimum wage, according to the BLS's analysis. Fast-food makes up a decent portion of minimum-wage jobs – that's why McDonald's stock fell the most after the president announced his plan – and those workers tend to be older and less likely to be able to find jobs elsewhere. They have no economic leverage.

These part-time, minimum-wage workers also tend to include people who may be working multiple jobs to make ends meet. No matter what they do, they will end up below the poverty line. In December, Bloomberg reported the story of Tyree Johnson, a homeless man who used his two part-time, minimum-wage jobs at McDonalds to pay for a nightly room at a single-occupancy hotel. He's been working for two decades and still can't get the hours necessary to make his work full-time. He scrubs with soap in the sink each day because, he told Bloomberg, "I hate when my boss tells me she won't give me a raise because she can smell me." Johnson is just one story of many, obviously.

So when corporate leaders talk about how the minimum wage won't pull people up from the poverty line, they're right: many companies that rely on minimum-wage workers, from McDonald's to Walmart, have already figured out how to treat their workers as commodities, and poverty is now built into the system because of that. In a longtime period of joblessness like the one we're living through, people will take whatever job they can get.

But there is an intellectual dishonesty here too, as well as a craven contribution to the country's economic woes. Corporate leaders shouldn't have to be told by the government to pay their workers a living wage. They know that consumers will drive the recovery, but consumption by the rich doesn't do it. You need the middle and lower classes.

So when those corporate leaders resort to threats to hold workers hostage – citing numbers about how raising the minimum wage by $1.50 will cause them to fire people – they should take a step back and look at some other numbers.

Try this number, for instance: Over one in five American children is living in poverty. There are others, but are they really necessary? This is the world's leading country and 20% of children are part of families that can barely find money to eat.

Aside from the numbers, there is the issue of image. There is something truly grotesque about corporate leaders who earn millions of dollars – or even hundreds of thousands of dollars – arguing over paying their workers literally pennies more. Those workers often have to rely on food stamps or government welfare programs to make up the difference. Meanwhile, company CEOs have barely received a cut in pay for years, and on average they make 231 times as much as the average worker. That's a lot of money, obviously. So the idea that paying $1.50 an hour more in minimum wage would break their companies and force them to save on costs is patently ridiculous. The first and most obvious cost they would have to think about cutting would be their own pay packages. What if those CEOs made, say, only 200 times the average worker? Or 100 times? One suspects their companies could afford that uptick for poorer workers then.

Most of all, the insistence of business leaders on a lower minimum wage looks, to any other country, completely revolting. It is a Dickensian image of corporate callousness, and it comes just when Corporate America is trying to dig out from its image hole of appearing unconscionable and dastardly.

Business leaders and plump Washington lawmakers would do well to try to step back from their fat bank accounts and their sense of entitlement and put themselves in the shoes of someone who works part-time just to be able to afford food to eat and a bed for the night. Is that the America they want to create? Because keeping poor people down so that they can't even dream of being middle-class seem like a full-time task – although it seems to pay those corporate leaders a lot more than minimum wage.

UK Immigration ‘Can’t Be Restricted’ Says EU

It will not be possible for Britain to restrict the freedom of movement of Bulgarians and Romanians when transitional controls are lifted, the European Commission's vice-president has warned. Prime minister David Cameron told ministers earlier this we...

Marco Rubio and the Republican Ibogaine Problem

Senator Marco Rubio was apparently high last night.

Yes, there was another Republican response to the State of the Union. And it was, yet again, a disaster.

After watching the President address Congress for more than an hour without taking a water break, the nation learned Tuesday night that Marco Rubio can't give a five-minute speech without awkwardly lunging off camera to wet his lips.

Most in the Republican Party cringed at the moment, muttering to themselves, "Oh no, not again."

And right away, the media jumped on the often-repeated meme that the Republican response to the State of the Union is a curse against any politician who offers it.

But I'm here to tell you that, in fact, there's a very real explanation – rooted in science – for why Republicans can't seem to get a State of the Union response right. It's highly likely it's because the politicians the Republican Party chooses each year to give the Republicans' response to the State of the Union are all using a drug known as ibogaine.

Ibogaine is a psychoactive drug extracted from the iboga plant that induces wild hallucinations. In 1972, noted Doctor of Journalism Hunter S. Thompson was on the campaign trail reporting on the race for the Democratic nomination for President for Rolling Stone magazine when he suggested that one of the candidates, Edmund Muskie, was acting erratically because he was using ibogaine.

Thompson described the drug as "an exotic brand of speed ... [that] nobody in the press corps had ever heard of." He added, "It is entirely conceivable—given the known effects of ibogaine—that Muskie's brain was almost paralyzed by hallucinations...He looked out at that crowd and saw Gila monsters instead of people . . . his mind snapped completely when he felt something large and apparently vicious clawing at his legs."

Thompson claimed he was "simply reporting on rumors" he heard on the campaign trail regarding Muskie and the ibogaine addiction. (He later admitted that he was also the one who started those rumors.)

And, in the great tradition of the late Hunter S. Thompson, I think it's entirely possible the Republican Party is full of ibogaine users.

How else can you explain their behavior?

Remember Bobby Jindal – the Republican picked to respond to President Obama's State of the Union in 2009? Go back and watch the tape, watch Jindal's eyes and inflection, and you tell me that guy isn't on ibogaine.

And then there was Michelle Bachmann giving the "Tea Party" response in 2011. Was she really just "looking at the wrong camera?" Or, was she distracted by a pack of Gila monsters clawing toward her just off camera?

Heck, Michele Bachmann looked to be on so much ibogaine after the 2010 midterm elections that Chris Matthews had to ask her if she was "

"No, Chris, I'm not hypnotized. I just feel like I'm talking to a giant squid in a suit."

But, here's where everything really falls into place.

One well known side effect of ibogaine use is "dry mouth."

Check out Paul Ryan, during the vice-presidential debate; he took a water break 22 different times. What's behind the sudden onset of dry mouth you ask? Ibogaine, obviously.

And then there's what happened last night. Remember all the sweat dripping from Marco Rubio's brow? Well, you'd be drenched in sweaty fear, too, if the camera was slowly morphing into a blood-thirsty spider. Between that and the dry mouth, Rubio couldn't take it anymore and had to dive off camera.

So, yet, another Republican politician, another bout of dry mouth, and another erratic response to the State of the Union.

And don't forget about Rand Paul's "Tea Party" response last night. If anyone doubts that Rand is addicted to ibogaine like the rest of his Party, I have two words for you: Aqua Buddha.

I know the drug warriors out there are calling for the Republican Party to drug-test their future State of the Union responders, just like they want to drug-test welfare recipients. But, instead, we should be doing the compassionate thing. We should realize that Republicans don't live in a "reality-based" or "fact-based" world because of ibogane. And we need to expand Obamacare to cover treatment programs for Senators, so these helpless Republicans can stop embarrassing themselves on national TV.

So, don't worry, Republicans. All those crazy things - people riding dinosaurs cause the world is only 6000 years old, global warming being a hoax, John Boehner looking like a giant carrot wearing a suit - all those things are just the result of your ibogaine use. Even the really crazy things, like Reaganomics, transvaginal probes, and Wayne LaPierre, will go away when you get some help for your medical condition.

We're here for you, working to help you with your problem. Colorado and Washington state have already thrown you a lifeline, legislating a much less destructive alternative, that might even put you in touch with mother Earth and help you see the errors of your ways. And there's always the Ibogaine Anonymous group that meets on Thursdays in the basement of the Reagan Republican building just down the street from the Capitol.

As President Obama said so many times, there IS hope! So don't give into those Gila monsters chewing on your legs - they're no more real than the Welfare Queen Reagan hallucinated or the illegal voters you're working so hard to stop. Chill out and get some help...

SOTU: * Jobs * Equity * Climate

WASHINGTON - February 13 - LORI WALLACH, [email]
Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, Wallach said today: “It is the height of cynicism for President Obama to couple the worthy goal of rebuilding American manufacturing with a call for more of the same NAFTA-style trade-deficit boosting, job-killing FTAs [free trade agreements] — especially the 11-nation TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership]. … Since the implementation of these agreements, 50,000 U.S. manufacturing facilities have been shuttered and we have lost five million manufacturing jobs — fully one quarter of the American industrial jobs that existed before these agreements. U.S. exports to countries that are not FTA partners has exceeded U.S. export growth to countries that are FTA partners by 44 percent over the last decade. The aggregate U.S. trade deficit with FTA partners increased by more than $151 billion (inflation-adjusted) since the FTAs were implemented.”

GWENDOLYN MINK, [email]
Mink is co-editor of the two-volume Poverty in the United States: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics and Policy and author of Welfare’s End. She said today: “The President reiterated his cramped vision of equity and economic well-being in a speech that should set off alarm bells for anyone concerned with improving policies to assure economic security and advance equality. Instead of spelling out ways to strengthen and improve Medicare and Social Security to benefit program participants, the President continued to wave the banner of ‘entitlement reform,’ inviting unspecified policy changes in the name of deficit reduction. Instead of challenging America to end economic vulnerability and poverty by addressing root causes — such as race and gender inequality, the wage structure, and the extra-economic status of caregiving — the President offered an anemic rise in the minimum wage and repackaged old solutions that hang women’s economic security on their linkage to men through marriage and fatherhood. While the President did repeat his support for the Paycheck Fairness Act, he looked no further than this important but narrow measure to advance wage equity for women. The Paycheck Fairness Act would correct and strengthen interpretations of the Equal Pay Act to improve wage equality prospects for women who do ‘substantially equal’ (the same) work as men. But what about the 40 percent of women who work in jobs primarily staffed by women, which are also the jobs that receive less pay? Or the millions of women, especially of color, who are held to the lowest paying jobs? A President who wants to be perceived as an advocate for women needs to present brave and informed ideas to correct structures and practices that perpetuate injustice. One place to begin would be by uttering the word ‘union’ — when government abdicates, unions are still the best guarantee of an improved wage structure for women.”

KEVIN GRAY, [email]
Author of The Decline of Black Politics: From Malcolm X to Barack Obama, Gray said today: “Doubtless, his call to raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour should be applauded. He’s right that ‘in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty…’ A minor miracle was finally hearing Obama say the word ‘poverty’ in a speech. Even so, the President’s speech wasn’t even a glass half full. It was three quarters empty.

“Little was said about helping those in the black community suffering from double-digit unemployment. Or providing job training and economic reintegration to those locked out of the economy because of the drug war and other factors. Or dealing with a continuing housing-mortgage foreclosure crisis in communities of color and, how to force the banks to help those most in need. And while his ‘Fix It First’ jobs and infrastructure program may be – if enacted – a boon to a few select contractors, its impact on creating jobs where they are needed the most is sketchy at best.

“Obama touted the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan as though making people work until they die was the solution to the nation’s debt problem as opposed to ceasing to pay for wars with social security funds. People of color should be outraged at his support of such a backwards plan. He touted his and Arne Duncan’s ‘Race to the Top’ charter school scheme that is nothing more than turning over the schools to Wall Street and the corporations.”

MICHAEL DORSEY, [email]
Visiting fellow and professor at Wesleyan University, College of the Environment, Dorsey said today: , Dorsey said today: “What he could have said: ‘We must choose to end our dependence on fossil fuels in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.’

“The content of the president’s state of the union regarding climate was un-presidential. Trying to resuscitate broken carbon markets that have not worked in a decade since they began in Europe is a recipe for climate catastrophe. The failure to assemble the growing litany of oil and energy executives that are already doing more than the President proposed reveals the lackluster quality of his advisors — that are in desperate need of being replaced. The President could have reclaimed and built upon the admission of his predecessor, that we are addicted to oil. Who could have plotted a path to break our addiction to oil — not by taxing oil, but by giving us a pathway to shifting subsidies away from all fossil fuels and into viable renewables, like wind and solar. …

“It seems the only way forward on climate will be the coming non-violent civil disobedience — backed by both the NAACP and the Sierra Club, amongst others. These marches on the White House shall start this weekend and continue for the next 100 days to Earth Day, and possibly beyond, until we see presidential action for climate justice.”

How’s This for a Speech on the Real State of the Union?

The State of the Union is strong. Its politicians, however, are stupid and bought off by everybody from Oil Billionaires like the Koch Brothers and Saudi sheiks, to transnational corporations and defense contractors. Which is problem one. Our Supreme ...

Endangered California Plant Gains 9,600 Acres of Protected Habitat

LOS ANGELES - February 12 - Responding to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today finalized protection of 9,603 acres of critical habitat for the endangered Coachella Valley milk vetch in Southern California. The new proposal includes four areas within the greater Coachella Valley in Riverside County, Calif., near Palm Springs.

The Coachella Valley milk vetch was put on the endangered species list in 1998. In 2004, under the Bush administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed just 3,583 acres of habitat for the endemic plant’s protection. Later that year the Service designated zero acres for the species. The Center, which has been working to protect the plant since 1998, challenged that designation in 2009, which led to today’s final rule protecting more than 9,600 acres of critical habitat.

Protecting critical habitat for this lovely flower will help prevent its extinction and will safeguard imperiled sand dune areas that are an important part of California’s natural heritage,” said Tierra Curry, conservation biologist with the Center.

The Coachella Valley milk vetch is a short-lived perennial that measures up to a foot tall and is densely covered with short, white silky hairs that give it a silvery appearance. Related to peas, the milk vetch has flowers that are deep purple to violet. Its seeds are enclosed in greatly inflated pods, which break off the plant, roll in the wind and effectively disperse its seeds. Its preferred habitat is active and stabilized sandy substrates in the Coachella Valley.

The flower is threatened by development, groundwater pumping, nonnative plant species, off-highway vehicle impacts and alteration of stream flows.

Endangered species with protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be recovering as those without habitat protection.

“Today’s habitat protection is a huge improvement over the previous zero-acre designation by the Bush administration, but it’s disappointing that the final protected area doesn’t include 16,000 additional acres that were proposed for protection in 2011,” said Curry. 

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

Endangered California Plant Gains 9,600 Acres of Protected Habitat

LOS ANGELES - February 12 - Responding to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today finalized protection of 9,603 acres of critical habitat for the endangered Coachella Valley milk vetch in Southern California. The new proposal includes four areas within the greater Coachella Valley in Riverside County, Calif., near Palm Springs.

The Coachella Valley milk vetch was put on the endangered species list in 1998. In 2004, under the Bush administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed just 3,583 acres of habitat for the endemic plant’s protection. Later that year the Service designated zero acres for the species. The Center, which has been working to protect the plant since 1998, challenged that designation in 2009, which led to today’s final rule protecting more than 9,600 acres of critical habitat.

Protecting critical habitat for this lovely flower will help prevent its extinction and will safeguard imperiled sand dune areas that are an important part of California’s natural heritage,” said Tierra Curry, conservation biologist with the Center.

The Coachella Valley milk vetch is a short-lived perennial that measures up to a foot tall and is densely covered with short, white silky hairs that give it a silvery appearance. Related to peas, the milk vetch has flowers that are deep purple to violet. Its seeds are enclosed in greatly inflated pods, which break off the plant, roll in the wind and effectively disperse its seeds. Its preferred habitat is active and stabilized sandy substrates in the Coachella Valley.

The flower is threatened by development, groundwater pumping, nonnative plant species, off-highway vehicle impacts and alteration of stream flows.

Endangered species with protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be recovering as those without habitat protection.

“Today’s habitat protection is a huge improvement over the previous zero-acre designation by the Bush administration, but it’s disappointing that the final protected area doesn’t include 16,000 additional acres that were proposed for protection in 2011,” said Curry. 

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

More Austerity Cuts Coming To The States

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The Great Recession has quietly devastated public services on a state-by-state basis, with Republican and Democratic governors taking turns leading the charge. Public education has been decimated, as well as health care, welfare, and the wages and benefits of public sector workers. The public sector itself is being smashed. Since the recession began, states have made combined austerity cuts of at least $337 billion, according to the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities

The 2012-2013 budget deficits for 34 states resulted in $55 billion in cuts, according to the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities. The coming budgets for 2013-2014 that begins on July 1st is becoming clear as well, and the deficits are rolling in by the billions: Connecticut, Minnesota, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Washington, and many others have large deficits projected.

You’d expect after years of austerity cuts to public services, state politicians would think of new ways to raise revenue from those who can afford it — the wealthy and corporations. Not so. The cuts that began as a consequence of the 2008 recession are set to continue; raising revenue from the wealthy is “off the table” for Republicans and Democrats alike.

The pattern of budget cuts has revealed that the age-old distinction between Republican and Democrat has evaporated on the state level. The state budget trends — what’s getting funded and what’s not — are similarly aligned across the country. Both parties have merged their state-level agendas into a singular focus on “economic growth,” a bi-partisan euphemism meaning “corporate profits.”

Below is the bi-partisan funding trends for the states that began with the 2008 recession and continue to this day:

1) The Attack on Public Employees and Pension "Reform"

It wasn’t long ago that everyone understood that the states’ budget crises was caused in part by the recession, itself caused by the big banks and greedy corporations, and in part by the politicians continuing willingness to lower taxes on the rich. Now the corporate media and politicians have re-written history: suddenly it’s “greedy” public workers and their “lavish” pensions that are bankrupting the states. Two years ago it was the health care of public employees that was bankrupting the states, which resulted in large cuts to workers in many states.

The pre-recession pension system was working fine, but it, too, suffered under the bank-caused financial crisis; pension returns sank and right-wing economists projected ruin for the states in the future (they conveniently assumed that recession era rates would continue forever, thus under-funding the system).

Democratic governors are now as eager as their Republican counterparts to destroy the pensions of public employees. Democratic politicians in Oregon, Washington, California, New Jersey, Illinois, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maryland, Massachusetts, and several other states are leading the charge to erode the last bastion of retirement security for working people, while continuing to lay off public employees by the thousands. This national shrinkage of state governments is a long-standing right-wing dream: the smaller the state, the greater the “growth opportunities” for corporations that take over privatized public services and the lower their taxes since a smaller state requires less revenue for operating expenses.

2) Education Reform

The National Governors Association (NGA) spoke for both political parties when announcing a renewed focus on education funding for the states during the annual “state of the states” address. The funding is necessary because schools across the country are expecting an influx of students, while school districts everywhere have been starved funds by the ongoing austerity cuts; the system has been literally crumbling. But the new funding is to be used for the undermining and destruction of public education, since it is based on Obama’s pro-corporate Race to the Top education “reform” where charter schools replace public schools.

Democrats and Republicans are in complete agreement over Obama’s education policy, which closes “failing schools,” (those in poor neighborhoods), opens privately run, non-union charter schools, and fires “bad teachers,” (typically those who teach poor students). The whole system is based on standardized testing, which poorer students will spend most of their education preparing for, (those who don’t drop out from sheer boredom). Bi-partisan education reform targets teacher unions while privatizing education — the Democrats have adopted the ideas from the right-wing think tanks of the 1990′s.

3) Raising Revenue - But Not From the Wealthy or Corporations

Many states have implemented — or are planning to implement — a variety of taxes that disproportionally affect working and poor people, including increased sales taxes, alcohol, tobacco and other “sin” taxes, not to mention increases in different fees, from state parks to driver registration.

At the same time that these taxes have been upped, a consistent clamor has been raised by the media and politicians to lower the taxes for corporations, give them new subsidies or “freeze” their already-low taxes so that future tax increases will be impossible. In Oregon the Democratic governor declared a “special session” emergency in order to ensure that NIKE’s super low tax status would be frozen in place for decades, outside the reach of the public, which might want to raise corporate taxes to fund public services.

Democrat and Republican controlled states are equally competing for the adoration of corporations by lavishing a never-ending flow of taxpayer money on them, while “guaranteeing” them “investment security,” i.e., promising low taxes and an open spigot of taxpayer money. This is the basis for several states implementing “right to work” laws that target unions for destruction, while also attempting to “revamp the tax code,” which is a euphemism for lowering corporate taxes.

4) Welfare Reform: Attacking the Safety Net

Waging war against the safety net is like picking a fight with road kill — the states’ safety net is already disfigured beyond recognition, but the bi-partisan assault nevertheless continues. Bill Clinton started welfare “reform” as president, and the 2008 Great Recession accelerated the attack on those in poverty. The year 2011 was a devastating one for welfare, now called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

In 2011, states implemented some of the harshest cuts in recent history for many of the nation’s most vulnerable families with children who are receiving assistance through [TANF] … The cuts affect 700,000 low-income families that include 1.3 million children; these families represent over one-third of all low-income families receiving TANF nationwide.

But these TANF “reforms” continue, to the detriment of the neediest. Newly released budgets in several states — including California and Oregon — further tighten the program, a relentless boa-like constriction that’s already suffocated millions of the country’s poorest citizens. Typically TANF reform either lowers the monthly payment, shortens the time one can receive benefits, or raises the standards for staying in the program.

Before the giant TANF cuts in 2011, the program was already shrunken such that TANF only assisted 28 families for every 100 in poverty — the ludicrous definition of “poverty” being a family of four that makes only $22,000 or less.

There is a direct link between the assault on TANF and the rising poverty levels in the United States. Cutting TANF in a time of mass unemployment means consciously consigning millions of families to grinding poverty, hunger, homelessness, and the many other barbarisms associated with extreme poverty.

Conclusion:

It wasn’t long ago that the Democrats understood that the government can and should create jobs, especially during a recession. But now the Democratic Party has fully adopted the economics of Reaganism. As a result, the only “job creators” now recognized are the corporations. This bi-partisan agreement not to tax the rich and use the revenue for public spending to create jobs — hiring more teachers, firefighters, roads and parks workers, etc. — is unnecessarily prolonging the job crisis, ensuring more years of deficits and a deeper gouging of the public sector.

These cuts are having a devastating effect on public sector unions, the last bastion of union strength in the country. These unions are being weakened to such an extent that stripping them of their right to collectively bargain — the nail in the coffin — becomes a real possibility. No state is safe from this threat.

If unions don’t unite with community groups to demand that public services be fully funded by taxing the wealthy and corporations, the cuts will continue, communities will feel helpless, inequality will continue to spiral out of control, and working people will be further subjected to the policies of the 1%, now implemented in chorus by Republicans and Democrats alike. But, of course, this means that the unions will have to break with the suicidal strategy of relying on the Democrats for handouts. Time and again the Democrats have demonstrated their willingness to sacrifice the needs of working people in order to curry favor with the rich and corporations, their greatest benefactors when it comes to election campaign contributions.

Meet the Texas GOPer Who’s Bringing Ted Nugent to Obama’s SOTU

At some point we're going to have to consider Texas a failed state. There should be a limit to just how dumb your representatives can be before it runs afoul of some trigger mechanism, somewhere, after which all the people who voted for that particular moron are stripped from voting again until they satisfactorily re-complete the fourth grade—but one problem with that, I suppose, is that we'd end up with the most unstable, heavily armed group of mustachioed fourth graders to ever grace our poorly funded public schools, and nobody wants to see that.

Rep. Steve Stockman is one of those representatives. Put more simply, his reelection should be taken as a sign that certain areas of Texas are still bitter at Somalia's success, and even more bitter that they can't just elect outright crooks like Tom DeLay anymore. Mostly known for being a nutcase one-term Congressman back in the nineties, Stockman made a brief name for himself with Waco conspiracy theories, gun fetishism, gun fetishism about Waco conspiracy theories, and a relationship with the NRA and anti-government militias that even for the 1990's was fairly goddamn nuts.

How nuts? Oh,  pretty nuts:

A Republican member of Congress from Texas has suggested that the Clinton Administration staged the 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Tex., to convince Congress that it should ban assault weapons.

"Waco was supposed to be a way for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) and the Clinton Administration to prove the need for a ban on so-called 'assault weapons,' " the Representative, Steve Stockman, who is a strong opponent of gun control, wrote in the June issue of Guns & Ammo magazine.

And here's a post-Oklahoma-City-bombing Los Angeles Times article  on his behavior after receiving a note thought to be linked to that bombing:

Stockman and his staff denied that they had delayed passing the note--which seemed to convey information about the Oklahoma blast--to the FBI. But they faced troublesome questions about why Stockman's staff also gave the note to the National Rifle Assn. and why Stockman in March wrote to the Justice Department objecting to what he said was an impending federal raid on "citizen militia" groups, apparently akin to the kinds of anti-government groups that seem to figure in the background of at least one suspect in the Oklahoma bombing.

Before and after that short and entirely unhinged shift in Congress, Stockman hasn't had a political career so much as an  ambitious, decades-long string of political failurespunctuated by a few lucky breaks and more than a little friendly wingnut welfare (with an emphasis on molding young conservative minds via things like the Campus Leadership Program, and no, I do not know why that creeps me out as much as it does.) Still, for some reason a passel of ultraconservatives in Texas felt that it was finally time to give the obvious crazy person another shot in the big boy office, and Stockman is quickly making those Texans proud by being, well, as big a goddamn crackpot as he can manage without being hauled off for professional supervision.

Below the fold, let's consider his absolutely insane one-month record so far:

  • He was only one of a handful of House Republicans to vote against John Boehner,  boldly managing a "present" vote as the most spectacularly incompetent congressional coup of all time collapsed around its supposed planners.
  • In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School murders, his response  was to introduce legislation repealing the gun free zones around schools, and for the same reason as the similar NRA blustering—because what we needed, according to both, was to have manymore people wandering around school zones with guns, and that would probably work out just fine.
  • He was abruptly cut off in a Fox News interview after comparing Barack Obama to Saddam Hussein, thus managing to rank as one of the few crackpot Republicans too nuts  even for Fox News to stomach.
  • When Obama introduced a set of executive actions that included things like "finally appoint a permanent head of the ATF, even if that makes Republicans sad" and "government scientists should be allowed to research gun violence", Steve Stockman threatened in an exceptionally frothing statement to  impeach Obama, if necessary, in order to stop such obviously scandalous things. This may have been the first, biggest sign that Steve Stockman is in fact a bona fide moron, but he quickly surpassed even that.

That brings us to Stockman's latest episode of Congressional Moron Theater. In response to other politicians inviting Sandy Hook first responders, children, and other figures to the State of the Union, decided to rebut the presence of those people  by inviting Ted Nugent, a man whose  unhinged, violent rhetoric even managed to garner a visit by the Secret Service:

Innocent Until Proven Guilty; Imminent Until Proven – Too Late!

Code Pink protesters disrupt the start of John Brennan's Senate confirmation hearing. (Image: Getty Images)Those defending the language on imminence in the white paper released last week are right on one count: it is not new language. Below the fold, I’ve excerpted the language on imminence from three different formulations on imminence –Brennan’s speech at Harvard, the white paper, and Holder’s Northwestern speech — to show the consistency (and also, with John Brennan’s September 16, 2011 speech, exactly two weeks to Anwar al-Awlaki notice that this was now US policy).

All three point to al Qaeda’s non-combatant structure to describe the need for a more flexible concept of imminence. Both the white paper and Holder’s speech discuss a “window of opportunity,” which I find to be one of the more provocative aspects of this definition. And while Holder’s speech appears to have been edited to make it pretty, it is almost precisely the ideas presented in the white paper on imminence. There is clear continuity between Brennan’s 2011 speech, the white paper, and Holder’s speech.

Which is why I’m interested in the language Brennan used last week when responding to Angus King’s proposal for a FISA court for drone (and what should be targeted killing generally).

It’s telling not because it introduces wholesale new ideas. But because it makes clear what is implicit — but unstated — in the three other formulations.

A person who poses an imminent threat does not have to have committed any crime in the past. Imminence is exclusively about the future possibility of violence, not necessarily past involvement in it.

BRENNAN: Senator, I think it’s certainly worth of discussion. Our tradition — our judicial tradition is that a court of law is used to determine one’s guilt or innocence for past actions, which is very different from the decisions that are made on the battlefield, as well as actions that are taken against terrorists. Because none of those actions are to determine past guilt for those actions that they took. The decisions that are made are to take action so that we prevent a future action, so we protect American lives. That is an inherently executive branch function to determine, and the commander in chief and the chief executive has the responsibility to protect the welfare, well being of American citizens. So the concept I understand and we have wrestled with this in terms of whether there can be a FISA-like court, whatever — a FISA- like court is to determine exactly whether or not there should be a warrant for, you know, certain types of activities. You know… KING: It’s analogous to going to a court for a warrant — probable cause…

(CROSSTALK)

BRENNAN: Right, exactly. But the actions that we take on the counterterrorism front, again, are to take actions against individuals where we believe that the intelligence base is so strong and the nature of the threat is so grave and serious, as well as imminent, that we have no recourse except to take this action that may involve a lethal strike.

The white paper actually has the most language about past deeds, but with the language about membership plus past involvement in activities that pose an imminent threat that I keep pointing to, it doesn’t actually require past deeds either. It does, however, at least imply that an American must be involved in past crimes to be deemed an imminent threat.

John Brennan’s language last week does not.

And that’s precisely the explanation he gave for why the courts aren’t the appropriate place to measure imminent threat: because they only get involved when people have already committed crimes. This new definition of imminence envisions declaring people to be imminent threats even before they’ve committed a crime.

One note about this. Brennan ties all this to the President’s responsibility “to protect the welfare, well being of American citizens.” The biggest threat to the well being of the American citizens is not terrorists at this point, not by a long shot. It’s the big banksters who serially collapse our economy and require bailouts (and, it should be said, are often funding terrorists and drug cartels along the way because it is profitable).  Does this definition of “imminent” threat extend to the banksters who are a much more systematic front than the rump of al Qaeda is at this point?

In any case, be warned. If the plan for a FISA Drone (and Targeted Killing) Court moves forward, it will not be measuring guilt — what courts were established to measure. But instead, potential future guilt.


Eric Holder, Northwestern Speech, March 5, 2012

First, the U.S. government has determined, after a thorough and careful review, that the individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States; second, capture is not feasible; and third, the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.

The evaluation of whether an individual presents an “imminent threat” incorporates considerations of the relevant window of opportunity to act, the possible harm that missing the window would cause to civilians, and the likelihood of heading off future disastrous attacks against the United States.   As we learned on 9/11, al Qaeda has demonstrated the ability to strike with little or no notice – and to cause devastating casualties.   Its leaders are continually planning attacks against the United States, and they do not behave like a traditional military – wearing uniforms, carrying arms openly, or massing forces in preparation for an attack.   Given these facts, the Constitution does not require the President to delay action until some theoretical end-stage of planning – when the precise time, place, and manner of an attack become clear.   Such a requirement would create an unacceptably high risk that our efforts would fail, and that Americans would be killed.

Whether the capture of a U.S. citizen terrorist is feasible is a fact-specific, and potentially time-sensitive, question.   It may depend on, among other things, whether capture can be accomplished in the window of time available to prevent an attack and without undue risk to civilians or to U.S. personnel.   Given the nature of how terrorists act and where they tend to hide, it may not always be feasible to capture a United States citizen terrorist who presents an imminent threat of violent attack.   In that case, our government has the clear authority to defend the United States with lethal force.

Unknown Author, White Paper, November 8, 2011

First, the condition that an operational leader present an “imminent” threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future. Given the nature of, for example, the terrorist attacks on September 11, in which civilian airliners were hijacked to strike the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, this definition of imminence, which would require the United States to refrain from action until preparations for an attack are concluded, would not allow the United States sufficient time to defend itself. The defensive options available to the United States may be reduced or eliminated if al-Qa’ida operatives disappear and cannot be found when the time of their attack approaches. Consequently, with respect to al-Qa’ida leaders who are continually planning attacks, the United States is likely to have only a limited window of opportunity within which to defend Americans in a manner that has both a high likelihood of success and sufficiently reduces the probabilities of civilian casualties.

[snip]

By its nature, therefore, the threat posed by al-Qa’ida and its associated forces demands a broader concept of imminence in judging when a person continually planning terror attacks presents an imminent threat, making the use of force appropriate. In this context, imminence must incorporate considerations of the relevant window of opportunity, the possibility of reducing collateral damage to civilians, and the likelihood of heading off future disastrous attacks on Americans.

[snip]

With this understanding, a high-level official could conclude, for example, that an individual poses an “imminent threat” of violent attack against the United States where he is an operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force and is personally and continually involved in planning terrorist attacks against the United States. Moreover, where the al-Qa’ida member in question has recently been involved in activities posing an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States, and there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities, that member’s involvement in al-Qa’ida’s continuing terrorist campaign against the United States would support the conclusion that the members is an imminent threat. [my emphasis]

John Brennan, Harvard Law Speech, September 16, 2011

Others in the international community—including some of our closest allies and partners—take a different view of the geographic scope of the conflict, limiting it only to the “hot” battlefields. As such, they argue that, outside of these two active theatres, the United States can only act in self-defense against al-Qa’ida when they are planning, engaging in, or threatening an armed attack against U.S. interests if it amounts to an “imminent” threat.

In practice, the U.S. approach to targeting in the conflict with al-Qa’ida is far more aligned with our allies’ approach than many assume. This Administration’s counterterrorism efforts outside of Afghanistan and Iraq are focused on those individuals who are a threat to the United States, whose removal would cause a significant – even if only temporary – disruption of the plans and capabilities of al-Qa’ida and its associated forces. Practically speaking, then, the question turns principally on how you define “imminence.”

We are finding increasing recognition in the international community that a more flexible understanding of “imminence” may be appropriate when dealing with terrorist groups, in part because threats posed by non-state actors do not present themselves in the ways that evidenced imminence in more traditional conflicts. After all, al-Qa’ida does not follow a traditional command structure, wear uniforms, carry its arms openly, or mass its troops at the borders of the nations it attacks. Nonetheless, it possesses the demonstrated capability to strike with little notice and cause significant civilian or military casualties. Over time, an increasing number of our international counterterrorism partners have begun to recognize that the traditional conception of what constitutes an “imminent” attack should be broadened in light of the modern-day capabilities, techniques, and technological innovations of terrorist organizations.

© 2013 Empty Wheel

Marcy Wheeler

Marcy Wheeler writes the blog Emptywheel. Her book, Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy, provided a primer on the CIA Leak case surrounding Valerie Plame and her husband, Joe Wilson. She has a Ph.D. from University of Michigan; her research focused on the oppositional uses of a particular literary-journalistic form that arose with the industrial press. Marcy is a recipient of the Hillman Award for blog journalism.

Innocent Until Proven Guilty; Imminent Until Proven – Too Late!

Code Pink protesters disrupt the start of John Brennan's Senate confirmation hearing. (Image: Getty Images)Those defending the language on imminence in the white paper released last week are right on one count: it is not new language. Below the fold, I’ve excerpted the language on imminence from three different formulations on imminence –Brennan’s speech at Harvard, the white paper, and Holder’s Northwestern speech — to show the consistency (and also, with John Brennan’s September 16, 2011 speech, exactly two weeks to Anwar al-Awlaki notice that this was now US policy).

All three point to al Qaeda’s non-combatant structure to describe the need for a more flexible concept of imminence. Both the white paper and Holder’s speech discuss a “window of opportunity,” which I find to be one of the more provocative aspects of this definition. And while Holder’s speech appears to have been edited to make it pretty, it is almost precisely the ideas presented in the white paper on imminence. There is clear continuity between Brennan’s 2011 speech, the white paper, and Holder’s speech.

Which is why I’m interested in the language Brennan used last week when responding to Angus King’s proposal for a FISA court for drone (and what should be targeted killing generally).

It’s telling not because it introduces wholesale new ideas. But because it makes clear what is implicit — but unstated — in the three other formulations.

A person who poses an imminent threat does not have to have committed any crime in the past. Imminence is exclusively about the future possibility of violence, not necessarily past involvement in it.

BRENNAN: Senator, I think it’s certainly worth of discussion. Our tradition — our judicial tradition is that a court of law is used to determine one’s guilt or innocence for past actions, which is very different from the decisions that are made on the battlefield, as well as actions that are taken against terrorists. Because none of those actions are to determine past guilt for those actions that they took. The decisions that are made are to take action so that we prevent a future action, so we protect American lives. That is an inherently executive branch function to determine, and the commander in chief and the chief executive has the responsibility to protect the welfare, well being of American citizens. So the concept I understand and we have wrestled with this in terms of whether there can be a FISA-like court, whatever — a FISA- like court is to determine exactly whether or not there should be a warrant for, you know, certain types of activities. You know… KING: It’s analogous to going to a court for a warrant — probable cause…

(CROSSTALK)

BRENNAN: Right, exactly. But the actions that we take on the counterterrorism front, again, are to take actions against individuals where we believe that the intelligence base is so strong and the nature of the threat is so grave and serious, as well as imminent, that we have no recourse except to take this action that may involve a lethal strike.

The white paper actually has the most language about past deeds, but with the language about membership plus past involvement in activities that pose an imminent threat that I keep pointing to, it doesn’t actually require past deeds either. It does, however, at least imply that an American must be involved in past crimes to be deemed an imminent threat.

John Brennan’s language last week does not.

And that’s precisely the explanation he gave for why the courts aren’t the appropriate place to measure imminent threat: because they only get involved when people have already committed crimes. This new definition of imminence envisions declaring people to be imminent threats even before they’ve committed a crime.

One note about this. Brennan ties all this to the President’s responsibility “to protect the welfare, well being of American citizens.” The biggest threat to the well being of the American citizens is not terrorists at this point, not by a long shot. It’s the big banksters who serially collapse our economy and require bailouts (and, it should be said, are often funding terrorists and drug cartels along the way because it is profitable).  Does this definition of “imminent” threat extend to the banksters who are a much more systematic front than the rump of al Qaeda is at this point?

In any case, be warned. If the plan for a FISA Drone (and Targeted Killing) Court moves forward, it will not be measuring guilt — what courts were established to measure. But instead, potential future guilt.


Eric Holder, Northwestern Speech, March 5, 2012

First, the U.S. government has determined, after a thorough and careful review, that the individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States; second, capture is not feasible; and third, the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.

The evaluation of whether an individual presents an “imminent threat” incorporates considerations of the relevant window of opportunity to act, the possible harm that missing the window would cause to civilians, and the likelihood of heading off future disastrous attacks against the United States.   As we learned on 9/11, al Qaeda has demonstrated the ability to strike with little or no notice – and to cause devastating casualties.   Its leaders are continually planning attacks against the United States, and they do not behave like a traditional military – wearing uniforms, carrying arms openly, or massing forces in preparation for an attack.   Given these facts, the Constitution does not require the President to delay action until some theoretical end-stage of planning – when the precise time, place, and manner of an attack become clear.   Such a requirement would create an unacceptably high risk that our efforts would fail, and that Americans would be killed.

Whether the capture of a U.S. citizen terrorist is feasible is a fact-specific, and potentially time-sensitive, question.   It may depend on, among other things, whether capture can be accomplished in the window of time available to prevent an attack and without undue risk to civilians or to U.S. personnel.   Given the nature of how terrorists act and where they tend to hide, it may not always be feasible to capture a United States citizen terrorist who presents an imminent threat of violent attack.   In that case, our government has the clear authority to defend the United States with lethal force.

Unknown Author, White Paper, November 8, 2011

First, the condition that an operational leader present an “imminent” threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future. Given the nature of, for example, the terrorist attacks on September 11, in which civilian airliners were hijacked to strike the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, this definition of imminence, which would require the United States to refrain from action until preparations for an attack are concluded, would not allow the United States sufficient time to defend itself. The defensive options available to the United States may be reduced or eliminated if al-Qa’ida operatives disappear and cannot be found when the time of their attack approaches. Consequently, with respect to al-Qa’ida leaders who are continually planning attacks, the United States is likely to have only a limited window of opportunity within which to defend Americans in a manner that has both a high likelihood of success and sufficiently reduces the probabilities of civilian casualties.

[snip]

By its nature, therefore, the threat posed by al-Qa’ida and its associated forces demands a broader concept of imminence in judging when a person continually planning terror attacks presents an imminent threat, making the use of force appropriate. In this context, imminence must incorporate considerations of the relevant window of opportunity, the possibility of reducing collateral damage to civilians, and the likelihood of heading off future disastrous attacks on Americans.

[snip]

With this understanding, a high-level official could conclude, for example, that an individual poses an “imminent threat” of violent attack against the United States where he is an operational leader of al-Qa’ida or an associated force and is personally and continually involved in planning terrorist attacks against the United States. Moreover, where the al-Qa’ida member in question has recently been involved in activities posing an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States, and there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities, that member’s involvement in al-Qa’ida’s continuing terrorist campaign against the United States would support the conclusion that the members is an imminent threat. [my emphasis]

John Brennan, Harvard Law Speech, September 16, 2011

Others in the international community—including some of our closest allies and partners—take a different view of the geographic scope of the conflict, limiting it only to the “hot” battlefields. As such, they argue that, outside of these two active theatres, the United States can only act in self-defense against al-Qa’ida when they are planning, engaging in, or threatening an armed attack against U.S. interests if it amounts to an “imminent” threat.

In practice, the U.S. approach to targeting in the conflict with al-Qa’ida is far more aligned with our allies’ approach than many assume. This Administration’s counterterrorism efforts outside of Afghanistan and Iraq are focused on those individuals who are a threat to the United States, whose removal would cause a significant – even if only temporary – disruption of the plans and capabilities of al-Qa’ida and its associated forces. Practically speaking, then, the question turns principally on how you define “imminence.”

We are finding increasing recognition in the international community that a more flexible understanding of “imminence” may be appropriate when dealing with terrorist groups, in part because threats posed by non-state actors do not present themselves in the ways that evidenced imminence in more traditional conflicts. After all, al-Qa’ida does not follow a traditional command structure, wear uniforms, carry its arms openly, or mass its troops at the borders of the nations it attacks. Nonetheless, it possesses the demonstrated capability to strike with little notice and cause significant civilian or military casualties. Over time, an increasing number of our international counterterrorism partners have begun to recognize that the traditional conception of what constitutes an “imminent” attack should be broadened in light of the modern-day capabilities, techniques, and technological innovations of terrorist organizations.

© 2013 Empty Wheel

Marcy Wheeler

Marcy Wheeler writes the blog Emptywheel. Her book, Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy, provided a primer on the CIA Leak case surrounding Valerie Plame and her husband, Joe Wilson. She has a Ph.D. from University of Michigan; her research focused on the oppositional uses of a particular literary-journalistic form that arose with the industrial press. Marcy is a recipient of the Hillman Award for blog journalism.

Protesters Confront CEO and “Fix the Debt” Leader over Corporate Tax Breaks

Flip the Debt unveils corporate debt clock outside IRS building in New York City. (Sign by People's Puppets of Occupy Wall Street; Photo by Amber King) "Fix the Debt," the CEO-led campaign promoting fear and what some have called near-hysteria over th...

Coming Tuesday (Hopefully): The State of the Union’s Economy

President Barack Obama after delivering his State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, Jan. 25, 2011. In his annual address on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2013, President Obama will have the opportunity to define the central issues of his se...

Guest Post: Show This To Anyone That Believes That “Things Are Getting Better” In...

Submitted by Michael of The Economic Collapse blog,

How can anyone not see that the U.S. economy is collapsing all around us?  It just astounds me when people try to tell me that "everything is just fine" and that "things are getting better" in America.  Are there people out there that are really that blind?  If you want to see the economic collapse, just open up your eyes and look around you.  By almost every economic and financial measure, the U.S. economy has been steadily declining for many years.  But most Americans are so tied into "the matrix" that they can only understand the cheerful propaganda that is endlessly being spoon-fed to them by the mainstream media.

As I have said so many times, the economic collapse is not a single event.  The economic collapse has been happening, it is is happening right now, and it will continue to happen.  Yes, there will be times when our decline will be punctuated by moments of great crisis, but that will be the exception rather than the rule.  A lot of people that write about "the economic collapse" hype it up as if it will be some huge "event" that will happen very rapidly and then once it is all over we will rebuild.  Unfortunately, that is not how the real world works.

We are living in the greatest debt bubble in the history of the world, and once it completely bursts there will be no going back to how things were before.  Right now, we are living in a "credit card economy".  As long as we can keep borrowing more money, most people think that things are just fine.  But anyone that has lived on credit cards knows that eventually there comes a point when the game is over, and we are rapidly approaching that point as a nation.

Have you ever been there?  Have you ever desperately hoped that you could just get one more credit card or one more loan so that you could keep things going?

At first, living on credit can be a lot of fun.  You can live a much higher standard of living than you otherwise would be able to.

But inevitably a day of reckoning comes.

If the federal government and the American people were forced at this moment to live within their means, the U.S. economy would immediately plunge into a depression.

That is a 100% rock solid guarantee.

But our politicians and the mainstream media continue to perpetuate the fiction that we can live in this credit card economic fantasy land indefinitely.

And most Americans could not care less about the future.  As long as "things are good" today, they don't really think much about what the future will hold.

As a result of our very foolish short-term thinking, we have now run up a national debt of 16.4 trillion dollars.  It is the largest debt in the history of the world, and it has gotten more than 23 times larger since Jimmy Carter first entered the White House.

The chart that you see below is a recipe for national financial suicide...

U.S. National Debt

Of course things have accelerated over the past four years.  Since Barack Obama entered the White House, the U.S. government has run a budget deficit of well over a trillion dollars every single year, and we have stolen more than 100 million dollars from our children and our grandchildren every single hour of every single day.

It is the biggest theft of all time.  What we are doing to our children and our grandchildren is beyond criminal.

And now our debt is at a level that most economists would consider terminal.  When Barack Obama first entered the White House, the U.S. debt to GDP ratio was under 70 percent.  Today, it is up to 103 percent.

We are officially in "the danger zone".

If things really were "getting better" in America, we would not need to borrow so much money.

Our politicians are stealing from the future in order to make the present look better.  During Obama's first term, the federal government accumulated more debt than it did under the first 42 U.S presidents combined.

That is utter insanity!

If you started paying off just the new debt that the U.S. has accumulated during the Obama administration at the rate of one dollar per second, it would take more than 184,000 years to pay it off.

So what is the solution?

Get ready to laugh.

The most prominent economic journalist in the entire country, Paul Krugman of the New York Times, recently suggested the following in an article that he wrote entitled "Kick That Can"...

Realistically, we’re not going to resolve our long-run fiscal issues any time soon, which is O.K. — not ideal, but nothing terrible will happen if we don’t fix everything this year. Meanwhile, we face the imminent threat of severe economic damage from short-term spending cuts.

So we should avoid that damage by kicking the can down the road. It’s the responsible thing to do.

You mean that we might actually do damage to the debt-fueled economic fantasy world that we are living in if we stopped stealing so much money from future generations?

Oh the humanity!

It is horrifying to think that all that one of the "top economic minds" in America can come up with is to "kick the can" down the road some more.

Unfortunately, neither Paul Krugman nor most of the American people understand that our financial system is actually designed to create government debt.

The bankers that helped create the Federal Reserve intended to permanently enslave the U.S. government to a perpetually expanding spiral of debt, and their plans worked.

At this point, the U.S. national debt is more than 5000 times larger than it was when the Federal Reserve was first created.

So why don't the American people understand what the Federal Reserve system is doing to us?

It is because most of them are still plugged into the matrix.  A Zero Hedge article that I came across today put it beautifully...

US society in a nutshell: Chris Dorner has been around for a week and has 222 million results on Google; the Federal Reserve has been around for one hundred years and has 187 million results.

If nothing is done about our exploding debt, it is only a matter of time before we reach financial oblivion.

According to Boston University economist Laurence Kotlikoff, the U.S. government is facing a "present value difference between projected future spending and revenue" of 222 trillion dollars in the years ahead.

So how in the world are we going to come up with an extra 222 trillion dollars?

But it is not just the U.S. government that is drowning in debt.

Just check out this chart which shows the astounding growth of state and local government debt in recent years...

State And Local Government Debt

All over the United States there are state and local governments that are on the verge of bankruptcy.  Just check out what is going on in Detroit.  The only way that most of our state and local governments can keep going at this point is to also "kick the can" down the road some more.

And of course most of the rest of us are drowning in debt as well.

40 years ago, the total amount of debt in the U.S. economic system (government + business + consumer) was less than 2 trillion dollars.

Today, the total amount of debt in the U.S. economic system has grown to more than 55 trillion dollars.

Can anyone say bubble?

The good news is that U.S. GDP is now more than 12 times larger than it was 40 years ago.

The bad news is that the total amount of debt in our financial system is now more than 30 times larger than it was 40 years ago...

Total Credit Market Debt Owed

At the same time that we are going into so much debt, our ability to produce wealth continues to decline.

According to the World Bank, U.S. GDP accounted for 31.8 percent of all global economic activity in 2001.  That number dropped to 21.6 percent in 2011.  That is not just a decline - that is a nightmarish freefall.  Just check out the chart in this article.

We are becoming less competitive as a nation with each passing year.  In fact, the U.S. has fallen in the global economic competitiveness rankings compiled by the World Economic Forum for four years in a row.

Most Americans don't understand this, but the United States buys far more from the rest of the world than they buy from us each year.  In 2012, we had a trade deficit of more than 500 billion dollars with the rest of the world.

That means that more than 500 billion dollars that could have gone to U.S. workers and U.S. businesses went out of the country instead.

So how does our country survive if hundreds of billions of dollars more is flowing out of the country than is flowing into it?

Well, to make up the shortfall we go to the countries that we sent our money to and we beg them to lend it back to us.  If that doesn't work, we just print and borrow even more money.

Overall, the United States has run a trade deficit of more than 8 trillion dollars with the rest of the world since 1975.

That is 8 trillion dollars that could have saved U.S. businesses, paid the salaries of U.S. workers and that would have helped fund government.

But instead, our foolish policies have greatly enriched China and the oil barons of the Middle East.

Sadly, politicians from both political parties continue to boldly support the one world economic agenda of the global elite.

Just consider how destructive many of these "free trade" deals have been to our economy...

When NAFTA was pushed through Congress in 1993, the United States had a trade surplus with Mexico of 1.6 billion dollars.

By 2010, we had a trade deficit with Mexico of 61.6 billion dollars.

Back in 1985, our trade deficit with China was approximately 6 million dollars (million with a little "m") for the entire year.

In 2012, our trade deficit with China was 315 billion dollars.  That was the largest trade deficit that one nation has had with another nation in the history of the world.

In particular, our trade with China is extremely unbalanced.  Today, U.S. consumers spend approximately 4 dollars on goods and services from China for every one dollar that Chinese consumers spend on goods and services from the United States.

But isn't getting cheap stuff from China good?

No, because it costs us good paying jobs.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the United States is losing half a million jobs to China every single year.

Overall, more than 56,000 manufacturing facilities in the United States have been shut down since 2001.  During 2010, manufacturing facilities in the United States were shutting down at a rate of 23 per day.  How can anyone say that "things are getting better" when our economic infrastructure is being absolutely gutted?

The truth is that there are never going to be enough jobs in America ever again, because millions of our jobs are being sent overseas and millions of our jobs are being lost to technology.

You won't hear this on the news, but the percentage of the civilian labor force in the United States that is employed has been steadily declining every single year since 2006.

Younger workers have been hit particularly hard.  In 2007, the unemployment rate for the 20 to 29 age bracket was about 6.5 percent.  Today, the unemployment rate for that same age group is about 13 percent.

If you are under the age of 30 and you aren't living with your parents, there is a really good chance that you are living in poverty.  If you can believe it, U.S. families that have a head of household that is under the age of 30 have a poverty rate of 37 percent.

Our economy has been steadily bleeding huge numbers of middle class jobs, and many of those jobs have been replaced by low paying jobs in recent years.

According to one study, 60 percent of the jobs lost during the last recession were mid-wage jobs, but 58 percent of the jobs created since then have been low wage jobs.

And at this point, an astounding 53 percent of all American workers make less than $30,000 a year.

Oh, but "things are getting better", right?

Maybe if you live on Wall Street or if you are an employee of the federal government.

But for most families this economic decline has been a total nightmare.  Median household income in America has fallen for four consecutive years.  Overall, it has declined by over $4000 during that time span.

Sometimes people forget how good things were about a decade ago.  About three times as many new homes were sold in the United States in 2005 as were sold in 2012.

But we like to live in denial.

In fact, a lot of families are trying to keep up their standards of living by going into tremendous amounts of debt.

Back in 1983, the bottom 95 percent of all income earners in the United States had 62 cents of debt for every dollar that they earned.  By 2007, that figure had soared to $1.48.

Fake it until you make it, right?

But how much debt can our system possibly handle?

Total home mortgage debt in the United States is now about 5 times larger than it was just 20 years ago.

Total credit card debt in the United States is now more than 8 times larger than it was just 30 years ago.

We are a nation that is completely addicted to debt, but as the financial crisis of 2008 demonstrated, all of that debt can have horrific consequences.

As the economy has slowed in recent years, the Federal Reserve has decided that "the solution" is to recklessly print money in an attempt to get the debt spiral cranked up again.

Have they gone overboard?  You be the judge...

Monetary Base 2013

And of course this won't have any affect on the value of the money that you have been saving up all these years right?

Wrong.

Every single dollar that you own is continually losing value...

Purchasing Power Of The Dollar

Overall, the value of the U.S. dollar has declined by more than 96 percent since the Federal Reserve was first created.

As the cost of living continues to go up and wages continue to go down, millions of American families have fallen out of the middle class and into poverty.

If you can believe it, the number of Americans on food stamps has grown from about 17 million in the year 2000 to more than 47 million today.

But "things are getting better", right?

Incredibly, more than a million public school students in the United States are homeless.  This is the first time that has ever happened in our history.

But "things are getting better", right?

There are now 20.2 million Americans that spend more than half of their incomes on housing.  That represents a 46 percent increase from 2001.

But "things are getting better", right?

In 1999, 64.1 percent of all Americans were covered by employment-based health insurance.  Today, only 55.1 percent are covered by employment-based health insurance.

But "things are getting better", right?

Today, more Americans than ever have found themselves forced to turn to the federal government for help.

Overall, the federal government runs nearly 80 different "means-tested welfare programs", and at this point more than 100 million Americans are enrolled in at least one of them.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 49 percent of all Americans live in a home that receives direct monetary benefits from the federal government.  Back in 1983, less than a third of all Americans lived in a home that received direct monetary benefits from the federal government.

So is it a good sign or a bad sign that the percentage of Americans that are financially dependent on the federal government is at an all-time high?

And in future years the number of Americans that are receiving benefits from the federal government is projected to absolutely skyrocket.

Back in 1965, only one out of every 50 Americans was on Medicaid.  Today, one out of every 6 Americans is on Medicaid, and things are about to get a whole lot worse.  It is being projected that Obamacare will add 16 million more Americans to the Medicaid rolls.

If you take a look at Medicare, things are very more sobering.

As I wrote recently, it is being projected that the number of Americans on Medicare will grow from 50.7 million in 2012 to 73.2 million in 2025.

At this point, Medicare is facing unfunded liabilities of more than 38 trillion dollars over the next 75 years.  That comes to approximately $328,404 for every single household in the United States.

Are you ready to contribute your share?

Social Security is a complete and total nightmare as well.

Right now, there are approximately 56 million Americans collecting Social Security benefits.

By 2035, that number is projected to soar to an astounding 91 million.

Overall, the Social Security system is facing a 134 trillion dollar shortfall over the next 75 years.

Oh, but don't worry because "things are getting better", right?

I honestly do not know how anyone can look at the numbers above and come to the conclusion that the economy is in good shape.

We have accumulated the largest mountain of debt in the history of the world, our economic infrastructure is being gutted, we are bleeding good jobs, government dependence is at an all-time high and we are getting poorer as a nation with each passing day.

But other than that, everything is rainbows and lollipops, right?

If you want to see the economic collapse, just open up your eyes.

And if dramatic changes are not made quickly, things are going to get much, much worse from here.

Please share this article with as many people as possible.  Time is quickly running out and there are a whole lot of people out there that we need to wake up while we still can.

The Economic Collapse Is Happening

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More Evidence Obamacare Ripped Off Americans

The Push for Privatization of Medicare and Medicaid Spells Disaster

Make no mistake. March 23, 2010 will live in infamy. With strokes from 22 pens, Obama enacted the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

It’s a ripoff. It’s a healthcare rationing scheme. It’s a boon to predatory providers. It’s a plan to enrich insurers, drug companies, and large hospital chains.

WellPoint, Inc. is America’s largest managed healthcare company. It wrote the plan. It got what it wanted. It benefitted at the expense of people needing care. So did other healthcare giants. They scammed ordinary people for profit.

Ralph Nader calls Obamacare “a pay-or-die system.” It’s “the disgrace of the Western world.” It’s a monstrosity. It mocks a fundamental human right.

It violates the Constitution’s “general welfare” clause. Article I, Section 8 states:

“The Congress shall have power to….provide for (the) general welfare of the United States.”

It means “We the People.” It includes everyone equitably. It means what never was, isn’t now, or won’t ever be under a system favoring privilege, not fairness.

Western-style democracy is the world’s biggest scam. Obamacare proves it. So do numerous other examples in representative/republican societies.

Affordable care is a figure of speech. It’s more deform than reform. It’s not universal care, single-payer or fair. It’s market-based for profit. It does nothing to control costs. It’s regulation light.

It’s a boon for huge profits. It’s got loopholes big enough to reap huge amounts. It helps business at the expense of ordinary people. It leaves tens of millions uninsured. It leaves millions more underinsured.

Legitimate democracies would have enacted what’s badly needed. Comprehensive coverage requires universal single-payer. Everyone in. No one excluded.

Private insurers have no legitimacy except for those who want them. They’re administrative middlemen. They game the system. They add hundreds of billions annually to costs.

They provide no care. They ration it. Obamacare lets them do it through unaffordable premiums.

“It’s time for single payer,” says Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP). Dr. James Mitchiner called for what’s long overdue.

It’s time to “creat(e) a national, universal, publicly funded health care system, free of the corrupting power of profit-oriented health insurance, and at the same time capable of passing constitutional muster.”

“In short, the right thing is an expanded and improved Medicare-for-All program, otherwise known as single-payer.”

Nothing else provides healthcare equitably. Marketplace solutions don’t work. They game the system for profit.

For decades, America experimented with failed systems. They include HMOs, PPOs, high-deductible plans, health savings accounts, pay-for-performance, capitation, and disease management.

Expect Accountable Care Organizations, Patient-Centered Medical Homes, and other new schemes to fail. They’re designed that way.

Current and planned systems are “duplicative, inefficient, wasteful of scarce….resources, conducive of job lock, and completely misdirected in supporting the 21st-century health care agenda that America needs and deserves,” says Mitchiner.

The only workable system is scorned. Universal single-payer helps everyone. Cost control makes it affordable. Everything people need is accessible.

Included are inpatient and outpatient care, primary and specialty care, emergency treatment, preventive and restorative services, mental health and substance abuse, dental care, prescription drugs, home health and longterm care, and effective alternative treatments now excluded.

“Single-payer is the only remaining option to simultaneously and synergistically expand access, control costs, preserve choice and reduce disparities,” says Mitchiner.

There’s “no other efficient and constitutionally safe way to do this.” America’s dysfunctional system failed.

On January 24, PNHP’s Dr. John Geyman headlined “The Affordable Care Act (ACA): What to Expect in 2013,” saying:

ACA “props up an inefficient and exploitative private health insurance industry….” Deregulated markets don’t work. Systemic problems fester. Vitally needed affordable care is denied.

Nothing ahead looks promising. Mergers and consolidation will increase costs, limit choices, reduce care, and keep millions from getting any.

Privatization will game Medicare and Medicaid for profit. Insurers will “limit definitions” to cut benefits. Market-based bureaucracy and fragmentation “worse(ns) health outcomes.”

ACA won’t “hold up.” Progressive reform is needed. Universal single-payer alone works. It’s high time the world’s richest country provided it.

In 1960, healthcare as a percent of GDP was 5.1%. In 2002, it was 15%. In 2011, it was 17.9%. By 2020, it’ll exceed 20%.

Between 1960 and 2009, average annual healthcare spending rose from $147 per person to $8,086. It reflected a 55-fold increase.

In inflation-adjusted 2010 dollars, it increased annually from $1,082 to $8,218 – a 7.6-fold rise.

In 1942, Christ Hospital, NJ charged $7 per day for a maternity room. Today it’s $1,360.

In 1980, a typical US hospital room cost $127. Today it’s multi-fold higher.

A 2011 survey of 11 Ohio hospitals found daily hospital room prices ranged from $688 – $2,425. Cost averaged $1,393. The median price was $1,322.

Obama’s Affordable Care Act promises higher costs. Doing so will deprive growing millions of vitally needed care. Many won’t get any. Others will get much less than needed. Insurers and other predatory giants will game the system.

They’ll charge whatever they wish. Regulatory freedom permits it. They’ll take full advantage.

On February 1, Yves Smith headlined “IRS anticipates Cheapest ObamaCare Family Plan will be $20,000 in 2016.”

It’s the cheapest one for a family of five. At the same time, credits are available for families who “lack affordable coverage.” Whatever is provided won’t match annually rising costs.

ACA was supposed to lower them. Saying so was a Big Lie. Even many supporters are disenchanted. It’s “less of a deal” than they thought.

It wasn’t supposed to be. It was a big win for predatory healthcare giants. It was designed that way.

Former CIGNA vice president Wendell Potter said it shifts costs to consumers, offers inadequate or unaffordable access, and forces Americans to pay higher deductibles for less coverage.

In other words, it scams them. It prevents universal coverage, denies a public option, is unaffordable for millions, excludes many entirely, affords inadequate coverage for many more, permits high co-pays and coverage gaps, and leaves patients vulnerable to financial ruin in case of serious illness.

It allows rising predatory costs. It empowers private insurers. It lets them ripoff hundreds of billions annually for overhead, profit, huge salaries and bonuses. Every dollar scammed is one less for care.

Labor initially endorsed ACA. Cold shower reality “turn(ed some) sour.”

“Union leaders say many (ACA) requirements will drive up costs for their healthcare plans and make unionized workers less competitive.”

They want compensating federal subsidy help for lower-paid rank and file. Smith expects complaints “to get louder” ahead.

ACA “is a gimmie to Big Pharma and the health insurers.” It works for large hospital chains. It exacerbates fundamental problems. It made America’s dysfunctional system worse.

Consumers end up with “costly insurance that does not cover much.” Expensive care will be hard to get or unaffordable. Many of America’s most disadvantaged are left in no-man’s land.

They’ll be be uncovered by federal benefits and ineligible for subsidized insurance. ACA provides 100% of funds to expand Medicaid until 2016. Thereafter, it’s 90%.

Until now, federal funding required state participation. No longer. Millions will be harmed. Many will be left out entirely.

Medicaid expansion provided coverage for around 17 million Americans by 2019. States now can opt out at their discretion.

Opting in assures full federal coverage for three years. At the same time, Congress plans major Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, disability, education, and other social benefits cuts.

Bipartisan complicity assures it. It’s part of their scheme to destroy America’s social contract. ACA is an integral component. Ordinary people should have opposed it when they had a chance. They’ll have cause to reflect when ill.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. 

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

Five Executive Actions Against Climate Chaos: What the President Should Announce in State of...

WASHINGTON - February 11 - Four weeks after federal scientists reported that climate change is raising extreme weather risk and could warm America by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, President Barack Obama is being challenged to lay out a bold plan to fight climate chaos in Tuesday’s State of the Union speech to Congress. Citing the draft National Climate Assessment, the Center for Biological Diversity urged the president to announce five executive actions to cut greenhouse gas pollution to avert the scientific report’s prediction of catastrophic climate change.

“President Obama needs to grab the steering wheel before we drive off the climate cliff,” said Bill Snape, the Center’s senior counsel. “Starting tomorrow, the president can regulate carbon pollution from power plants and airplanes, ban fracking on public lands and set a national cap on greenhouse gases. Bold and immediate action is the only way to avoid the terrifyingly hot future predicted by climate scientists.”

Here are five executive actions President Obama should use to fight climate change:

1. Set a national carbon pollution cap: The president should direct the Environmental Protection Agency to set a national pollution cap for greenhouse gases. The Clean Air Act already requires the EPA to set a cap for widespread and damaging "criteria pollutants." The agency has done so for six pollutants, including carbon monoxide and lead. Between 1980 and 2010, emissions of these six pollutants fell by 63 percent while the gross domestic product grew by 128 percent. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide emissions, which were unregulated, went up by 21 percent, contributing to climate change and ocean acidification. The president should also order the EPA to immediately regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution, and from airplanes, the fastest-growing transportation source of greenhouse gases.

2. Ban fracking and end fossil fuel development on public lands: The president should direct the Department of the Interior to stop leasing out millions of acres of publicly owned lands for extreme and polluting forms of fossil fuel development. Fracking, a particularly dangerous extraction practice, poisons our air and water and releases large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. As a first step, the president should direct the Interior department to prohibit fracking on federal lands. Ending all fossil fuel development on public lands will allow these precious areas to be used for wildlife habitat and recreation in a warming world.

3. Don't approve the Keystone XL pipeline: The Keystone XL pipeline would transport up to 35 million gallons of oil a day from Canada's tar sands — one of the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive energy sources in the world — to the Gulf of Mexico. Dr. James Hansen, one of the world's leading climate scientists, has called the Keystone pipeline "game over" for the climate. The Keystone pipeline cannot go forward without State Department approval, and the president should stop the project permanently.

4. Protect the Arctic from offshore drilling: The president should prohibit offshore fossil fuel development in the Arctic’s delicate ecosystem. As melting sea ice hits record lows, oil companies have rushed to exploit the Arctic’s fossil fuel spoils. We should not invest in a new carbon-intensive fossil fuel infrastructure at the top of the world, where cleaning up spilled oil would be impossible and where multiple accidents this year demonstrated that the oil industry cannot operate safely. An oil spill in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas would devastate one of the most pristine ecosystems on the planet, killing polar bears, ice seals and other imperiled wildlife.

5. Join the world in seeking a fair and ambitious climate treaty: It’s time for President Obama to fulfill his campaign promise to seek a successful global climate treaty. In 1992 the first President Bush signed, and the Senate ratified, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in which America agreed to take action to avoid dangerous climate change. Yet the U.S. negotiating team refuses to agree to the cuts necessary to avert climate disruption. The president should direct his State Department negotiating team to commit our country to fair, ambitious and binding greenhouse gas reductions.

“If 2012 taught us anything, it’s that climate change is setting in and Americans are feeling the pain, whether it’s Superstorm Sandy, record hot temperatures, widespread drought or massive wildfires,” Snape said. “It’s imperative that the president take the reins and finally do what’s needed to begin addressing this crisis before it’s too late.”

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

Sovereign Defaults Past And Present In One Chart

When a sovereign nation accumulates too much debt, far more than its economic growth can sustain, there are only two ways out: inflating the debt away, or defaulting. The global central banks have bet not only the house but the entire $700 trillion derivative house of cards that they can generate the former in order to preserve the equity tranche (controlled by the same entities that also control the central banks) above the insurmountable global debt load, and certainly there are more than enough historic examples of instances where a nation literally destroyed its currency by hyperinflation in order to eliminate the debt overhang. Because when it comes to getting the Goldilocks outcome of just enough inflation to slowly grind the debt away, the track record of the world's central planners is simply woeful.

The flipside to the great reflation operation is that while Bernanke and company try year after year to bring enough base money into the system to generate the "virtuous" inflationary cycle, they are increasingly hitting against the statutory limit, which in this case is the amount of debt in the system that keeps on rising year after year, until one day the central banks will have run out of time. This is the moment when global debt - both at the individual sovereign level and consolidated - is so vast, default is the only option. In other words, one can only attempt to reflate so many times before the time runs out.

As the chart below shows, in some 200 years of history, when expressed as a ratio of total sovereign debt to tax revenues, the empirical data as compiled by Reinhart and Rogoff ranges from 2x to 16x. This is shown by the blue bars in the chart below.

So where are we in this cycle as the debt clock counts down?

As the red bars show, we are in a very uncomfortable place, with Japan now at the highest such ratio in history, well above the highest recorded which always ended up in default, while the US, whose such ratio is over 600%, is above the long-term average of circa 520% in default triggering public debt/revenue. The problem is that every current and subsequent attempt to reflate merely pushes both of these higher, until one day the marginal growth creation of every dollar in new debt becomes negative.

How much higher can consolidated global debt go before global GDP is not only no longer growing, but every incremental dollar in debt has a negative impact on GDP, as was the case for the US in the fourth quarter? Keep an eye on global economic growth: if and when the world enters outright recession: the most feared outcome by all central bankers who realize they are out of weapons and their only recourse is much more of the same, that may be cue to quietly leave town.

And some further thoughts on this issue, courtesy of none other than Dylan Grice, circa precisely three years ago:

As is the case for today’s central bankers, Von Havenstein was faced with horrible fiscal problems; as is the case with today’s central bankers, the distinction between fiscal and monetary policy had blurred; as is the case for today’s central bankers, the political difficulty of deflating was daunting; and, as is the case for today’s QE-enthralled central bankers, apparently respectable economic theory reassured him that he was doing the right thing.

One might think that the big difference is that today we have a greater expertise. Surely we understand what happens when deficits are financed with printed money, and that it is only backward and corrupt states that don’t know any better, like Bolivia and Zimbabwe? But just a few years ago didn’t we think that it was only backward and corrupt states that suffered banking crises too?

And anyway, how could Von Havenstein not have known that the continued and escalating printing of money to fund government deficits would cause inflation? The United States experience of unrestrained money printing during the Civil War has been well documented, as had the hyperinflation of revolutionary France in the late 18th century. Isn’t it possible that, like today, he was overconfident in his ability to control his creation and in the economic theory which told him such control was possible? Certainly, in an article in the New York Times on the eve of the First World War, again from Liaquat Ahamed’s book, there seems to have been evidence of the general optimism that there would be no “unlimited issue of paper money and its steady depreciation … since monetary science is better understood at the present time than in those days.”

The fact is we do understand the economics of inflation. Despite what economists everywhere say about being in ‘uncharted territory’ with QE, we know that if you keep monetizing deficits eventually you get inflation, and we know that once you’re on that path it can be extremely difficult to get off it. But we knew that then. Despite what economists everywhere say about being in "uncharted territory" with QE, we know that if you keep monetizing deficits eventually you get inflation, and we know that once you're on that path it can be extremely difficult to get off it. But we knew that then. The real problem is that inflation is an inherently political variable and that concern over debt sustainability and unfunded welfare obligations leaves us more dependent on politicians than we have been in many decades. Frank Graham concluded his 1930 study of the Weimar hyperinflation with the following observation, which I think is as ominous as it is apt today:

"The mills of international finance grind slowly but their capacity is great. It is also flexible. The one condition is that the hoppers be not unduly loaded in the effort to get the whole grist from a single grinding. So much for the economics of the question. What politics has in store is, however, an inscrutable mystery. It can only be said that such financial difficulties as may occur will almost certainly arise from political rather than from economic sources."

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Coming Tuesday (Hopefully): The State of the Union’s Economy

Coming Tuesday (Hopefully): The State of the Union’s Economy

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Posted on Feb 11, 2013
AP / Saul Loeb

President Obama will deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

By Robert Reich

This post originally ran on Robert Reich’s Web page.

If you’re sitting in the well of the House when a president gives a State of the Union address (as I’ve had the privilege of doing five times), the hardest part is on the knees. You’re required to stand and applaud every applause line, which means, if you’re in the cabinet or an elected official of the president’s party, an extraordinary amount of standing and sitting.

But for a president himself, the State of the Union provides a unique opportunity to focus the entire nation’s attention on the central issue you want the nation to help you take action on.

President Obama has been focusing his (and therefore America’s) attention on immigration, guns, and the environment. All are important. But in my view none of these should be the central theme of his address Tuesday evening.

His focus should be on the joblessness, falling real wages, economic insecurity, and widening inequality that continue to dog the nation. These are the overriding concerns of most Americans. All will grow worse if the deficit hawks, austerity mavens, trickle-down charlatans, and government-haters who have commanded center stage for too long continue to get their way.

In coming weeks the GOP will be using another fiscal cliff, a funding crisis, and another debt ceiling showdown to convince Americans of an outright lie: that the federal budget deficit is our most important problem, that it is responsible for the continuing anemic recovery, and that we must move now to reduce it.

The President should make it clear that any Republican effort to hold the nation hostage to the GOP’s ideological fixation on the budget deficit and a smaller government will slow the economy, likely pushing us into another recession. And that those most imperiled are the middle class and the poor.

He should emphasize that the real job creators are not the rich but the vast majority of ordinary Americans whose purchases give businesses reason to add jobs. And that if most Americans still cannot afford to buy, the government must be the spender of last resort.

Perhaps it’s too much to hope for, but I’d encourage the President to call for boosting the economy: Reversing the recent Social Security tax hike by exempting the first $20,000 of income from payroll taxes and lifting the ceiling on income subject to it, to make up the shortfall. Reviving the WPA and CCC, to put the long-term unemployed directly to work. Raising the minimum wage. Imposing a 2% annual tax surcharge on wealth in excess of $7 million to fund a world-class system of education, so all our kids can get ahead. Cutting corporate welfare and the military but not cutting public investments or safety nets the middle class and poor depend on. Giving tax credits to companies that create more new jobs in America. Helping states and locales rehire the teachers, fire fighters, police officers, and social workers they need.

This is the most fragile recovery in modern history, from the deepest downturn since World War II. Most Americans are not experiencing a recovery at all. As has been shown in Europe, austerity economics is a cruel hoax. President Obama must acknowledge this in his State of the Union, and commit to fighting those who would impose it on America. 

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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Romanian And Bulgarian ‘Surge’ Must Be Stopped, Say MPs

The government has insisted the UK will not be a "soft touch" on immigration after Conservative MPs raised concerns there will be a sharp jump in migration from Romania and Bulgaria. Next year transitional controls placed on immigration from the two n...

Genetically Engineered Meat, Coming Soon to a Supermarket Near You

If you’re one of the 91 percent of Americans who opposes genetically engineered (GE) meat, you may have limited time to act: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed approval of the first-ever GE animal, called “AquAdvantage Salmon.” If this first approval proceeds, the process is likely to become top secret in the future: we won’t find out about new GE animals until after they’re approved for human consumption, and they won’t be labeled. Welcome to the new world of genetically engineered meat — unless we act now.

The Process

The problems begin with FDA’s bizarre decision to consider GE meat using its “New Animal Drug Approval” (NADA) process, a process designed for evaluation of new animal drugs (hence the name), not genetically engineered animals. The GE salmon themselves are, according to this analysis, the animal drug. As food blogger Ari LeVaux explains on Civil Eats, “the drug per se is AquaBounty’s patented genetic construct... Inserted at the animal’s one-cell stage, the gene sequence exists in every cell of the adult fish’s body.”

Of course, NADA was not designed to analyze the human health or environmental consequences of new animal drugs, and because the animals are the drugs in this process, their welfare is also ignored. In all three areas, there is ample reason for concern.

Human Health

Since they aren’t consumed by humans, new animal drugs are not evaluated for their human health impact, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that FDA’s analysis in this area has been almost nonexistent. Health and consumer rights advocates have raised alarms, noting among other concerns, that: 1) these animals will require massive doses of antibiotics to keep them alive in dirty, crowded aquaculture conditions, and we don’t know these antibiotics’ effect on human health; 2) the limited testing that has been conducted was carried out by or for AquaBounty and included shockingly small sample sizes; and 3) what studies have been done indicated increased allergic potential and increased levels of the hormone IGF-1, which is linked to various cancers — an outcome ignored in FDA’s approval according to the Consumers Union, Food & Water Watch, and the Center for Food Safety.

Our Environment

The process of examining new drugs’ environmental impact is also lax, so it’s also not surprising that FDA bungled this analysis as well. As just one glaring example, the agency looked only at how one small pilot project in Canada and Panama will affect U.S. waters, ignoring its legal obligations to consider the likelihood of salmon escaping as the pilot program expands—an expansion the company has already announced. Similarly, FDA suggests that the GE salmon’s lack of fear and rapacious appetite means that they could not survive escape. Another possibility, ignored by FDA and feared by environmental groups including Friends of the Earth, is that escapees would “wreak havoc on the ecosystem.” The Center for Food Safety (CFS) points out that every year “millions of farmed salmon escape, outcompeting wild populations for resources and straining ecosystems.” Regarding GE salmon, CFS continues: “Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences notes that a release of just sixty GE salmon into a wild population of 60,000 would lead to the extinction of the wild population in less than 40 fish generations.” FDA totally ignores this scenario and its vast implications for our aquatic ecosystems.

Animal Welfare

Animal welfare is the one area where we might expect NADA to do a passable job because the process is supposed to guarantee drug safety in the target animal. Sadly, FDA ignored animal welfare in its decision to recommend approval of GE meat, perhaps because it considers the GE animals to be drugs, not animals. In 2010, the American Anti-Vivisection Society and Farm Sanctuary detailed more than a dozen concerns with the AquAdvantage salmon, any one of which should have precluded approval. Yet, in its proposal, FDA ignored animal welfare concerns entirely.

Here are just a few of our concerns, none of which were addressed in FDA’s proposal:

  1. Although AquaBounty supplied limited animal welfare data, its own application indicates that it engaged in “extensive culling” of deformed, diseased, dying, and dead fish from its analysis. This would be like studying smoking’s impact only on long-distance runners who had shown no signs of cancer or heart disease.
  2. All aquaculture causes physical deformities and makes fish sick; nevertheless (and even after culling the sickest animals), the limited data supplied by AquaBounty indicates that AquAdvantage fish are even sicker and more prone to abnormalities and death losses than other farmed fish
  3. Even within these parameters, there were problems with the studies. For example, sample sizes provided were tiny and included limited data, and all analysis was done by the company (do you recall how this worked out with the tobacco companies?).
  4. Salmon in the wild are remarkable animals, swimming thousands of miles, including up streams and waterfalls; and of course, they feel pain and have similar cognitive, emotional, and behavioral complexity to other animals. AquAdvantage salmon will be crammed into tanks in grossly unnatural conditions, and slaughter will be completely unregulated (see video below). Imagine living your entire life, day and night, in an elevator with 20 other people — you can’t even stand up; you live in a pile of everyone else’s limbs and excrement. That’s aquaculture.

Brave New World

The scariest thing about approving GE animals through NADA is that once a type of technological drug advance is approved (here, genetic animal engineering), future approvals become much easier and much less transparent: the process that protects corporate drug development secrets will protect the GE process, resulting in reduced scrutiny and no transparency at all for future approvals. The American public will probably not even find out about future GE animals until after they’re approved for sale. As Friends of the Earth notes, FDA’s approval “will open the floodgates for other genetically engineered animals, including pigs and cows, to enter the food supply.” 

Conclusion

FDA’s process for approving genetically engineered meat is rotten to the core, and the effects of such a bad process on human health, our environment, and animals cannot be overstated. In the 2010 process, FDA received more than 400,000 comments and letters from more than 300 health, consumer advocacy, environmental, animal protection, and other organizations. All were ignored. We have one more chance before litigation becomes necessary. Click here to take action.

Bruce Friedrich

Bruce Friedrich is Senior Director for Strategic Initiatives for Farm Sanctuary.

More Evidence Obamacare Ripped Off Americans

Make no mistake. March 23, 2010 will live in infamy. With strokes from 22 pens, Obama enacted the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

Bogus Child Abuse Charges for Pregnant Drug-Using Moms

Drug-using women can be punished for the assumption that they harmed their fetuses, even if there is no evidence other than drug use itself.

February 11, 2013  |  

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Editor's note: America has a long history of treating the poor like criminals, from legislation banning the transportation of poor people across state lines to anti-vagrancy laws that could land you in jail if you didn't have a job or a home. We've come to rely on the criminal justice system to deal with the poor, even as more and more Americans fall into poverty. The following is part of a series that looks at the diverse ways poverty is criminalized in America, such as laws targeting the homeless, the surveillance of welfare recipients, the re-emergence of debtor prisons, and extreme policing tactics like stop-and-frisk.

After suffering a stillbirth in South Carolina, 21-year-old Regina McKnight was arrested and charged with her fetus’ homicide because she used cocaine while pregnant. McKnight served eight years in prison for a loss that, as it turned out, she did not even cause. In 2008, with four years of her sentence left to serve, the South Carolina Supreme Court said the state used “outdated” research to make its case and overturned McNight’s conviction.

While prosecutors had claimed McKnight’s cocaine use caused her stillbirth, the Court said McKnight’s attorneys failed to secure testimony from experts who would have explained how “recent studies show[ed] that cocaine is no more harmful to a fetus than nicotine use, poor nutrition, lack of prenatal care, or other conditions commonly associated with the urban poor.”

McKnight’s case is not unusual. A recent study examining the outcome of pro-life policies since Roe v. Wade through 2005 identified more than 400 pregnant women who were arrested, incarcerated or forced into health “treatment” they did not want or need. As the data make clear, drug war stigma and racism were central to such prosecutions: 84 percent of these cases alleged that the woman, “in addition to continuing her pregnancy, had used an illegal drug,” particularly cocaine. Fifty-two percent of the women targeted are black.

Legal Rights for Fetuses 

The cases do not necessarily include the death of a fetus, as in McKnight’s case. Drug-using women can be punished for the assumption that they harmed their fetuses, even if there is no evidence other than drug use itself. In states where feticide or “personhood” measures define an egg, embryo or fetus as a child, "child abuse" can occur in the womb.

In South Dakota, a 12-weeks pregnant, homeless, 28-year-old Native American woman, Martina Greywind, was charged with “reckless endangerment” for using inhalants during her pregnancy. After two weeks in jail, she was able to obtain a release for a medical appointment where she received an abortion. Her case was dismissed, with the state noting that her pregnancy’s termination made her charges “no longer ripe for litigation,” while the prosecutor told media it was “no longer worth the time or expense to prosecute her.”

Lynn Paltrow of the National Advocates for Pregnant Woman, one of the groups that worked on the study, says the trend of incarcerating women for harming their fetuses with drug use is part of the larger effort to create separate legal rights for fertilized eggs and embryos. According to Paltrow, the legal principle that fetuses are separate entities with their own legal rights involves a “synergetic effect” established through case law.

One such precedent was established earlier this month in the Alabama Supreme Court, which ruled that “the crime of chemical endangerment” -- exposing a child to a controlled substance or the environment in which it was produced -- applies to a fetus in a womb. The concurring opinion defined a fetus as a child, noting that the state has the responsibility to “protect life.” In these cases, the pro-life rhetoric works with equally flawed drug war stigma to criminalize women for crimes against an “unborn child.”

While the Alabama ruling rests firmly on the belief that a fetus is a child, it also stems from the notion that exposing infants to methamphetamine is so damaging it should be labeled a crime. Studies have repeatedly found that the developmental effects of prenatal exposure to methamphetamine are not clear.

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology’s special information sheet about meth exposure in-utero, "the effects of maternal methamphetamine use cannot be separated from other factors” and there "is no syndrome or disorder that can specifically be identified for babies who were exposed in utero to methamphetamine."

Bogus Child Abuse Charges for Pregnant, Drug-Using Women (Hard Times USA)

A woman who uses drugs can be punished just for the assumption that using drugs has harmed her fetus.

February 11, 2013  |  

Like this article?

Join our email list:

Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.

Editor's note: America has a long history of treating the poor like criminals, from legislation banning the transportation of poor people across state lines to anti-vagrancy laws that could land you in jail if you didn't have a job or a home. We've come to rely on the criminal justice system to deal with the poor, even as more and more Americans fall into poverty. The following article is part of a series that looks at the diverse ways our countrycriminalizes poverty, including laws targeting the homeless, the surveillance of welfare recipients, the re-emergence of debtor prisons, and extreme policing tactics like stop-and-frisk.

After suffering a stillbirth in South Carolina, 21-year-old Regina McKnight was arrested and charged with murdering her fetus because she used cocaine while pregnant. McKnight served eight years in prison for a loss that, as it turned out, she did not even cause. In 2008, with four years of her sentence left to serve, the South Carolina Supreme Court said the state used “outdated” research to make its case and overturned McNight’s conviction.

While prosecutors had claimed McKnight’s cocaine use caused her stillbirth, the Court said McKnight’s attorneys failed to secure testimony from experts who would have explained how “recent studies show[ed] that cocaine is no more harmful to a fetus than nicotine use, poor nutrition, lack of prenatal care, or other conditions commonly associated with the urban poor.”

McKnight’s case is not unusual. A recent study examining the outcome of pro-life policies since Roe v. Wade through 2005 identified more than 400 pregnant women who were arrested, incarcerated or forced into health “treatment” they did not want or need. As the data make clear, drug war stigma and racism were central to such prosecutions: 84 percent of these cases alleged that the woman, “in addition to continuing her pregnancy, had used an illegal drug,” particularly cocaine. Fifty-two percent of the women targeted are black.

Legal Rights for Fetuses 

The cases do not necessarily include the death of a fetus, as in McKnight’s case. A woman who uses drugs can be punished for the assumption that she has harmed her fetus, even if her drug use is the only evidence against her. In states where feticide or “personhood” measures define an egg, embryo or fetus as a child, "child abuse" can occur in the womb.

In South Dakota, a 12-weeks pregnant, homeless, 28-year-old Native American woman, Martina Greywind, was charged with “reckless endangerment” for using inhalants during her pregnancy. After two weeks in jail, she was able to obtain a release for a medical appointment where she received an abortion. Her case was dismissed, with the state noting that her pregnancy’s termination made her charges “no longer ripe for litigation,” while the prosecutor told media it was “no longer worth the time or expense to prosecute her.”

Lynn Paltrow of the National Advocates for Pregnant Woman, lead author of the pro-life policies study, says that cases targeting women who become pregnant, go to term, and use an illicit drug or alcohol are part of the larger effort to create separate legal rights for fertilized eggs and embryos.

One such precedent was established last month in the Alabama Supreme Court, which ruled that “the crime of chemical endangerment” -- exposing a child to a controlled substance or the environment in which it was produced -- applies to a fetus in a womb. The concurring opinion defined a fetus as a child, noting that the state has the responsibility to “protect life.” In these cases, the pro-life rhetoric works with equally flawed drug war stigma to criminalize women for crimes against an “unborn child.”

While the Alabama ruling rests firmly on the belief that a fetus is a child, it also stems from the notion that exposing infants to methamphetamine is so damaging it should be labeled a crime. Studies have repeatedly found that the developmental effects of prenatal exposure to methamphetamine are not clear. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology’s special information sheet about meth exposure in-utero, "the effects of maternal methamphetamine use cannot be separated from other factors," and there "is no syndrome or disorder that can specifically be identified for babies who were exposed in utero to methamphetamine."

Child Services 

On February 7, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that a positive drug test does not prove parental neglect and that the state’s child protection services do not have jurisdiction over pregnant women. “The court’s decision protects the rights of all pregnant women and in so doing actually protects maternal, fetal, and child health,” Lynn Paltrow said. 

While the Alabama ruling interpreted a criminal statute, the New Jersey law interpreted a civil statute. The former provides for a criminal case and prosecution, while the latter turns the matter over to child protective services, which is not always as benign as it sounds.

“Facing jail or the loss of custody of child are both devastating consequences, both likely to deter a mother from getting care,” Paltrow said. “But one does send you to jail, potentially for life, and the other puts you in the civil child welfare system.”

Lawrence S. Lustberg, an attorney who worked on the case, told AlterNet, “Nobody is endorsing the use of drugs while one is pregnant, but the problem with regulating it and allowing for state interference or state scrutiny of women who are pregnant leads to two problems.” The first is that threatening a woman with the removal of her children due to behavior while pregnant  “is going to disincentivize women from doing the right thing, from getting care," Lustberg said. “Women who are drug-addicted, alcoholics, or have other problems while pregnant  should be encouraged to seek help, and if you threaten to take their children away they will be discouraged from seeking help, and that’s damaging to women and children.”

Another issue, Lustberg said, is that punishing pregnant women for crimes against a fetus encourages much broader oversight of children and mothers' lives. “The research shows that drug use...while potentially harmful, is no more harmful than a number of other things that are legal. Not just alcohol, but working too hard, not getting enough exercise, getting too much exercise, not eating the right things, sleep — all kinds of things that correlate with problems upon childbirth," he said. “Once you start allowing the state to intrude into that whole decision-making process, there is no end to it, and you would be subjecting pregnant women to a level of oversight by the government that you would not be subjecting any other people in our entire society to, and that is very troubling indeed.”

History of Racism

“The prosecutors typically charge the least popular most politically vulnerable women in town -- usually drug-using, African-American women," said Lynn Paltrow. She adds that prosecutors “try to get a court to decide that the word 'child' in the child-abuse statute applies to eggs, embryos, and fetuses” by suggesting that the law would only be used “against drug-using women,” and then setting the precedent for “unequal system of law for all pregnant women.”

The majority of these kinds of cases involve black women, and cocaine is the mostly commonly cited drug used to justify an arrest for fetal harm. The crack era of the ‘90s portrayed black women as enemies in the war on drugs. Media coverage of the crack cocaine “epidemic” churned out images of the “crack whore” whose reckless pleasure-seeking unknowingly or even intentionally harmed her unborn child. The media sensationalized the “crack baby,” providing an emotionally charged icon of victimization, while pregnant, black drug users were scapegoated for a policy failure to prevent crack cocaine use.

Researchers following children who were exposed to cocaine before they were born have found that the long-term effects are relatively minor. The infants exposed to crack cocaine in the ‘90s are now growing up, and most of them are leading normal, healthy lives.  

One study found that cocaine exposure slows fetal growth, but the difference went away as cocaine-exposed children grew up.

Research measuring brain function has found that cocaine-exposed children may have a harder time with tasks requiring attention management, as well as deviant behavior. Still, as Harolyn M. Belcher, a neurodevelopmental pediatrician who is director of research at the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Family Center in Baltimore, told the New York Times in 2009, these conclusions are “subtle and hard to generalize.”

“Just because it is statistically significant doesn’t mean that it is a huge public health impact,” Belcher told the Times. In 1997 for example, a study found that clinicians could not distinguish “crack-addicted babies” from babies born to comparable mothers who did not use cocaine.

Most women using crack cocaine while pregnant were also using other substances, and most of the children in these studies are poor, and are subject to a variety of other risk factors that affect cognitive development and behavior, like inadequate healthcare and schools, unstable family situations, and exposure to lead. In 2001, a comprehensive study concluded: “[T]here is no convincing evidence that prenatal cocaine exposure is associated with any developmental toxicity difference in severity, scope, or kind from the [consequences] of many other risk factors.”

“Society’s expectations of the children,” Deborah A. Frank, a Boston pediatrician, told the Times, “and reaction to the mothers are completely guided not by the toxicity, but by the social meaning” of the drug.

Barriers to Treatment

Even seeking treatment for substance addiction does not safeguard a pregnant woman from persecution. Wisconsinite Rachael Lowe, 20, learned this the hard way, when her attempt to seek treatment for her Oxycontin addiction landed her in a psychiatric ward more than an hour away from her husband and 2-year-old son. While she was held against her will in the psychiatric ward, she did not receive prenatal care, but was prescribed several medications, including Xanax. Lowe’s fetus received legal representation, but Lowe did not receive legal counsel until 12 days after she was taken into custody.

At a later hearing, a doctor testified that Lowe’s addiction posed no significant risk to the health of the fetus, and the court said Lowe would be released from what the study called her “hospital-based incarceration.” But the state was still allowed access to her womb, as Lowe was under surveillance and supervision for the remainder of the pregnancy, required to provide urine samples and cooperate with law enforcement and health professionals. As a result of the intervention, Lowe lost her jobs, and her husband had to take a leave of absence from his job.

For pregnant addicts, withdrawing from drugs like narcotic painkillers and heroin can be a greater danger to both the woman and the fetus. Nonetheless, prosecutors and judges who demand full abstinence have criminalized pregnant women who are taking methadone to curb their drug cravings. The legal system’s failure to recognize the complexity of a pregnant woman’s health decisions can have the effect of scaring women out of treatment -- causing danger to both them and their fetus.

Prenatal exposure to opiates like heroin and oxycodone is not associated with birth defects or impeded growth and development, but it is associated with withdrawal symptoms in newborns that trained professionals can manage and eliminate. 

In pregnant women, withdrawal symptoms can cause uterine contractions, miscarriage or early labor that may be more damaging to the child.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advises:

If you’re pregnant and using drugs such as heroin or abusing opioid prescription painkillers, it’s important that you get help for yourself and your unborn baby. Methadone maintenance treatment can help you stop using those drugs. It is safe for the baby, keeps you free of withdrawal, and gives you a chance to take care of yourself.

‘Vulnerable’ claimants to get help

Ministers have announced plans to make special arrangements for benefit claimants who could be at risk of getting into greater financial difficulties under the coalition's flagship welfare reforms. "Vulnerable" claimants will be able to get personalis...

US Economy Contracts – More Cuts Will Mean Even Less Growth

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Bio

John Weeks is Professor Emeritus and Senior Researcher at the Centre for Development Policy and Research, and Research on Money and Finance Group at the School of Oriental & African Studies at the University of London.

Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay. And welcome to this week's edition of The Weeks Report with John Weeks, who now joins us from London.

John's a professor emeritus at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies. He's the author of the forthcoming book The Economics of the 1 Percent: 1 Percent Economics, 99 Percent Ideology, and he's the founder of JWeeks.org.Thanks for joining us again, John.JOHN WEEKS, PROF. EMERITUS, SCHOOL OF ORIENTAL AND AFRICAN STUDIES (SOAS): Well, thank you for having me. It's always a pleasure.JAY: So what caught your attention this week?WEEKS: Well, two things caught my attention. The more pressing thing is that—the report that the U.S. economy contracted. Everyone had assumed that it would expand in the last three months of 2012, but it contracted, in fact. The U.S. economy had been growing at a quite respectable 3 percent. There was a problem about generating employment and so on, but at least it was growing. And it contracted in the last three months, the last quarter.What was going on? I think that most rational people say what happened is that the budget cuts—even though the budget cuts were in the military part of the budget, which is not necessarily a bad thing—it's probably a good thing—still, budget cuts are budget cuts. And what happens is the military was ordering fewer things from the factories, and the people who supply the military were laying off people, and the people who were laid off had less money to spend, and so on. So as a result the U.S. economy contracted.Okay. So I would say we're being sent a signal there, and which I hope President Obama and his advisers recognize that signal, namely, that if there's a so-called compromise in which there are budget cuts to go along with raising the debt ceiling, then we're going to contract again.JAY: Now, you get an argument from the conservatives in Congress in the United States that this will only take some time, that if you have smaller government and less government spending, eventually the private sector is going to pick all of that up. What do you make of that theory?WEEKS: Well, I've always had a preference for fairy tales, but not that particular one. I mean, it is amazing how much nonsense that you hear, the idea that if the government were just smaller, then the private sector would expand to fill the gap, you might say. There is a bit of truth to it. If the government contracted, the financial interests would be able to appropriate what formerly had been the taxes that we were paying, so instead of us paying to the federal government, we would be paying to the big banks in the United States. I mean, there might be some people that prefer that their money go to the big banks than go to the government. But to be serious, no, there is absolutely no sign that the private sector will expand in the absence of a government stimulus, kickstart (if you want to use a cliche), to get it going. There is—interest rates are close to zero. How would a contracting public sector, how is it supposed to expand, give a stimulus to business? The way it's supposed to happen is the government stops borrowing, it reduces the deficit; that reduction in the deficit brings the interest rates down, 'cause before, the U.S. government had been competing with the private sector to borrow money, pushing interest rates up. I think you can see that that story is absolutely madness now. I mean, the U.S. Treasury rate, short-term borrowing rate is below 1 percent, below 0.5 percent. The long-term U.S. borrowing rate is barely above 1 percent. So, therefore, if there were any businesss out there that were eager and panting to borrow money and expand, just waiting for the government to contract, why didn't they do it by now? They got—the money's not going to get any cheaper.JAY: And certainly for the big banks, money's virtually free right now from the Fed. But that doesn't seem to be inducing them to be lending it out.But there's a critique of this that you can say comes from the left, which is that if there's—government does matter, deficit funding does matter, some day rates will go up, and then people are going to be paying extraordinary amounts of their national wealth towards paying off this loan, and that it's better to have much more taxation than more borrowing.WEEKS: Well, I wrote a little bit about this in The Real News last week that's still up. At the present time, of the—about 6 percent of the federal budget goes to interest payments. In 1991, the last—well, 1992, actually, the last year in which George Bush senior was president, the percentage was 15 percent. So what we're paying now is far less than it was then. And if interest rates were to triple, it would still be below that peak in 1992. So what I would say is, let's worry about that problem when it comes around. Right?Another aspect of it is, as the economy recovers, the deficit's going to get smaller, and it will be less necessary to borrow, because as the economy recovers, more taxes will be paid, there'll be more—more people will have higher incomes, more people will be employed, businesses will be making larger profits (bless 'em), and the government will have more revenue, and the deficit will go down. In fact, that has been happening over the last 18 months. It's actually—the deficit has been going down, and the ratio of public debt to GNP is becoming smaller. Sure, it hasn't—no, it hasn't dropped tremendously, but the deficit, for example, has gone down to about 6.5 percent. It partly depends on how you calculate it. But, you know, however you calculate it, the deficit is less now than it was two years ago, and that has nothing to do with the cuts. As a matter of fact, the cuts have probably made it worse, because they slowed down the rate of growth. So if the deficit is getting smaller, then we'll be borrowing less. And in any case, there is another way to do it, for the government to do it, that doesn't bother any of us, and that is for the government to borrow from itself. And what that means is for the federal government, for the Treasury, which pays out all of these things and actually, you know, pays for them with checks and money and so on, to go along to the Federal Reserve system and say, give us a line of credit, whatever it is, you know, $100 billion or—sounds like a lot of money, doesn't it? Whatever it happens to be, $1 trillion. And then you don't have to borrow in markets. And there's no—when we pay our taxes to pay off the debt, where are those taxes going? The federal government itself is holding that debt. Where are they going? I'll tell you where most of them are going. Most of them are going to the Social Security fund. Twenty-five percent of our debt is held by the Social Security fund. So, therefore, when the debt goes up, 25 percent of it more or less, if your taxes go up to pay more debt, part of it's going to the Social Security fund. Another part of it's going to private pension funds. I saw a recent estimate that said that the part of the debt which is held by the private sector—and you might say the private profit-making sector—including foreigners, is probably about 48 percent of the debt, slightly less than half.JAY: So if—but if you look at from President Obama, who talks about the need to deal with the debt—and certainly on the conservative side they find it the number-one priority, and not just in the United States; you see the same debates in Canada and in Europe and most other countries. But the elites certainly believe you have to pay down the debt. And I assume it's because they think their assets are going to get devalued if that isn't done. What's wrong with that? I mean, it's not just propaganda. These guys do seem to believe it has to be done.WEEKS: Well, I think it's a—it's not easy to explain. Many people say, or in the past people have said, well, banks don't like debt because it might provoke inflation—which I think in the current context is complete rubbish, but let's say it did. And so, therefore, the banks don't like the deficit, they don't like spending, because it might provoke inflation, and then the loans that they made will be devalued by inflation. Well, I think that's no longer true, because banks don't make their money from lending out anymore. I wish they did. And if you look at the financial sector profits, then they've actually been going up while the rest of us have been not having such a happy time of it. So it appears that the banks can make money when things are bad. They make money when things are good. And it's no longer [crosstalk]JAY: But there's a lot of people other than banks that would be affected if it became inflationary, I mean, from people owning houses to people on fixed incomes to anyone that owns some physical asset. They're worried about it depreciating.WEEKS: Let me come back to that, that issue, 'cause that's—you ask, you know, why are these—why are the wealthy, why are the rich, why are the 1 percent, why they're against deficits and want the debt to be brought down. I think for the right—for the Tea Party people in Congress and for the right wing all over Europe, they see a historic opportunity before them that they haven't had in 50 or 60 years, and that is to destroy the welfare state—in the case of the United States, to destroy what's left of it, and so they can say, look, we've got to get this deficit down, we've got to do something about the debt, because all of those future generations would like to pay it off, and all of those arguments, and we might have inflation, and we've got to get it down, and the only way to do it is to cut social welfare. Because what are the biggest programs in the United States? Medicare and Social Security benefits. And so, I mean, you know, my heart bleeds, but we've just got to get those down, 'cause otherwise America is going to go deeper and deeper in debt. I think that that's their basic agenda.JAY: And why?WEEKS: And—you mean and what should we do about it?JAY: No, no, I said why. Why? Because the alternative is higher taxes.WEEKS: Because they want to redistribute income. See, currently people pay taxes. It goes to the government. The government makes expenditure. Increasingly, those expenditures are—directly or indirectly affect the 99 percent. What the 1 percent wants is to get rid of that, is to get taxes down and say to people, look, you should be happy your taxes are lower. But what will be happening in that process is there will be a redistribution of income towards the wealthy, just as has been going on for the last 30 years. I mean, it's not accidental, if you look at the statistics, that the decline in the size of the federal government has gone hand-in-hand with the rise in the incomes of the 1 percent. And I think that that's what they have in mind.JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us, John.WEEKS: Well, thanks for having me. It's always a pleasure.JAY: And thanks for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

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Truthdigger of the Week: Anonymous Obamacare Explainer

Truthdigger of the Week: Anonymous Obamacare Explainer

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Posted on Feb 9, 2013
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By Alexander Reed Kelly

The best journalists are also teachers who, mindful of the bewildering complexity of the issues they report, patiently explain their deep meanings and consequences in language literate audiences can understand.

President Obama’s devoted supporters hailed the passage of his 2010 Affordable Care Act as a legislative victory for the public over a pro-corporate Republican Party. What many of them did not and still don’t seem to know is that the measure, which will go into full effect in 2014, is another instance of government and business coming together to pick the pockets of the American people. An anonymous writer on the website of former Assistant Treasury Secretary Paul Craig Roberts explains how.

“The ACA was not selflessly designed with the intent of providing affordable and equitable medical services to those in need,” the author writes, “but rather to acquire taxpayer money for the private insurance companies under the seemingly helpful guise of health care and the ideological excuse of personal responsibility. It takes money from ordinary people and gives it to a medical insurance industry that profits handsomely from this legally-enforced corporate welfare—all while keeping Americans locked in the same broken system that puts profit before patients.”

As should be expected from a bill fashioned by hordes of lobbyists (in 2009, the health insurance industry had six lobbyists for every member of Congress), mere mortals hoping to understand how the Affordable Care Act works have to find their way through “a complex, convoluted maze of regulations and procedures.” With Americans working longer and harder than they have in previous decades, or suffering the overwhelming, mind-sapping anxiety that comes with being un- or underemployed, who has the time and sophistication to devote to such study? Aside from a few intellectual and independently wealthy oddballs, only those who are paid to, that’s who. It’s from this understanding that Roberts’ anonymous author must have written his or her explanation, which, while lengthy and demanding of some time, appears to be one of the most concise attempts to clarify in sufficient detail how the law will contribute to the already considerable “financial distress” of many Americans.

Although “a few websites” contain explanations of the law, often “very important details have either been left out or glossed over,” the author says. “These details are well worth understanding so you will know what’s at stake for you and your family.”

In the article, the author discusses the roles that the following factors play in the Affordable Care Act: 1. Modified Adjusted Gross Income, 2. tax credits, 3. the customer’s share of the insurance premium, 4. the return of tax credits to the IRS, 5. the expansion of Medicaid and estate recovery, 6. inadequate coverage in most subsidized plans, 7. penalties and 8. exemptions and more.

“The way this law works is fundamentally unfair and will not bring medical care to the many,” the author explains, “but, instead will progress to greater personal debt for individuals and families who can’t afford the ‘affordable’ insurance as well as those who must keep an eye on their income to avoid the many traps and false ends this law creates. At their expense, the forced purchase of health insurance will bring increased revenue to the industry, not to mention more kickbacks to Congress, and in the very near future, the health insurance industry will be ‘too big to fail.’ ”

Rather than leading Americans to quality, low-cost health care, the Affordable Care Act was passed to enrich the executives and stockholders of the corporations that wrote it, evidence-based accounts indicate. For giving the much-needed medicine of information to his or her audience, we honor the anonymous author of Roberts’ Obamacare clarification as our Truthdigger of the Week. Read it here.

Hear Bill Moyers explain how lobbyists tanked the public option—a proposed government-run program that would have forced health insurers into competition—below.

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Transvaginal Ultrasound: Rape Is Not A Medical Procedure

There are a lot of very good reasons for women of any age to need a transvaginal ultrasound: abnormal cells in a PAP smear, pelvic pain, irregular bleeding that could indicate cysts, fibroid tumors, polyps, twisted ovaries, infections, endometriosis, endometrial hyperplasia, ectopic pregnancies, and even outright cancer.

It can even be a useful diagnostic instrument in testing for urinary and kidney disease as well, transvaginal ultrasounds being the best way to obtain the clearest and most detailed internal images possible outside a MRI or CT scan. I’ve had one myself recently, for good medical reasons, and have reason to be grateful such amazing and wonderful technology exists. So it is appalling when something that was designed to promote women’s health and welfare is being abused by politicians to hurt the very people it was meant to help.

If you are pregnant, ultrasounds are quite common and sensible early on to determine the presence of more than one fetus, and to calculate your due date. Later, an ultrasound helps to check the health of the baby, the location of the placenta, the amount of amniotic fluid around the baby, the baby’s position and to calculate its expected weight at birth. But all these can be determined with a simple topical ultrasound – transvaginal ultrasounds are not a common prenatal procedure and are not used unless there is some additional medical problem that needs closer examination by a doctor.

While being pregnant, in and of itself, doesn’t medically require a transvaginal ultrasound, any woman who intends to have an abortion certainly doesn't need one, either topical or transvaginal. There is no medical reason for forcing a woman to look at clear anatomical images of a fetus she and her doctor intend to abort, other than to traumatize women, make it often prohibitively expensive to obtain abortions, and more difficult for doctors to perform them. It’s the so-called “pro-life” mindset that wants to push their self-righteous moral agenda down your throat – or in this case, up your vagina.

Last year, US officials expanded the legal definition of rape to include men as well as women, any victim who is unable to consent to sex, and – this is the relevant bit – anyone who is violated with an object, any object, not just a penis – be it a beer bottle or hairbrush or rolling pins or scissors or mop handles or radio antennae or any myriad of foreign objects that have been recorded used against abuse victims. Rape is all about power – of completely dominating another person against their will.

All women are not the same, not cookie cutter patients who can easily be treated all the same. So if a doctor tells me she needs to do a transvaginal ultrasound for medical reasons, and I as a reasonable, informed, intelligent person consent, it’s not rape. I can tell you from personal experience that a transvaginal ultrasound is neither humiliating nor all that painful, but it is deeply and intimately personal. The radiologist who did mine was kind, gentle and very professional - and outraged when I told her about women in the States being forced to have transvaginal ultrasounds before any abortion, not just as a woman but because her medical expertise should never be used for political purposes, ever. But the procedure not being painful isn't the point - even when it's not humiliating and painful, it's still rape if it's unnecessary and against your will. A breast exam in itself isn't humiliating or painful - but if someone were squeezing your breasts and pinching your nipples when it was unnecessary and against your will, that would still be sexual assault.

So when rightwing Republican legislators introduce a bill that would require women to submit to a mandatory transvaginal ultrasound before an abortion, against her will and regardless of medical necessity, they are reaching for power they are not entitled to, and attempting to legalize rape.

They are also doing the medical community a vast disservice, since this is not only becomes sanctioned rape where such laws are in force, the media attention surrounding the issue causes distrust and reticence in women who might have a genuine reason to need a transvaginal ultrasound.

Twenty one states have a range of ultrasound laws for pregnant women and those seeking abortion; Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah all require that ultrasounds be offered to pregnant women, something to which I have little objection. Women should be offered decent medical care, and ultrasounds are part of that care. It's when politics become more important than health where it goes off the rails.

Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia require that if an ultrasound is conducted before an abortion, the woman must be shown the images. Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana and Mississippi all require an ultrasound before abortion, and the images must be offered to the woman. Texas is the most draconian: an ultrasound is mandatory for any abortion, and the woman must not only be shown the images, but have them described in minute detail.

Republicans have been working hard to push similar bills in Kansas and Nebraska and Ohio. Mississippi Republicans passed a law last year that went an amazing step further than simply requiring transvaginal ultrasounds on women seeking an abortion, they included victims of rape or incest – in effect, damning women to being raped twice.

Interestingly, an amendment banning men from having vasectomies failed to pass – making it clear this isn’t so much about the ethics of preserving unborn life as it is protecting a man’s right to literally do whatever the fuck he wants to a woman.

Virginia State Delegate C. Todd Gilbert exhibited his lack of compassion and respect for women while on the floor speaking in favor of an ultrasound abortion bill by belittling a woman’s decision to have an abortion as being a “matter of lifestyle convenience.” Apparently, his colleagues in the House agreed with him; the bill passed, 63 to 36.

As for exactly who benefits from any such “lifestyle convenience”, Tennessee Republican State Senator Jim Tracy, running as a candidate in the 4th Congressional District next year, has proposed a bill requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before any abortion. He’s quite adamant his stand is one of moral conscience – not at all capitalizing on the scandal where his opponent, Republican Representative and anti-choice doctor Scott DesJarlais cheated on his wife, smoked pot, prescribed recreational drugs for lady patients he fancied, and pressured his mistress into an abortion, then blamed his behavior on the women while claiming God had forgiven him.

Seems both men found abortion quite the lifestyle convenience, y’betcha.

Rightwing pro-life advocates have repeatedly shown an abysmal lack of medical knowledge as well, from Missouri Republican Todd Akin’s ludicrous claim that women couldn’t become pregnant from a “legitimate” rape, to the self-educated rightwing pastor, radio host Kevin Swanson who claimed doctors and scientists have shown that embryos or remain in the uterus if a woman is taking birth control pills.

Studies by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have shown that anywhere from 10-25% of all clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage, the most common type of pregnancy loss, most as a result of an unhealthy developing fetus that has no chance of surviving to the end of pregnancy. Chemical pregnancies, when a fertilized egg does not attach itself to the uterine wall, account for 50-75% of all miscarriages, resulting in bleeding that occurs around the time of an expected period; a woman may not even realize she’s been pregnant.

But according to Iowa Republican State Representatives Tom Shaw and Rob Bacon, co-authors of House File 138, backed by seven other Republicans, single-celled zygotes are entitled to full human rights, and they intend to jail both women who have an abortion, and those doctors who perform the operation, for murder, even in the case of rape and incest.

If single cell zygotes smaller than your average paramecium are accorded full legal human rights, how long will it take before some Republican decides any woman who miscarries must be guilty of involuntary manslaughter? Will even women who are trying to become pregnant decide to forgo pregnancy tests or to seek pre-natal care when any pregnancy that fails is less a personal tragedy and more a potential jail sentence?

If rightwing Republican understanding of science, biology or even common sense is questionable at best, their grasp on theology is equally bizarre; from Indiana’s Richard Mourdock’s insistence that even if women did get pregnant from rape, they shouldn’t be allowed an abortion because it was “something that God intended to happen” to Alabama Senator Shadrack McGill, who wants to outlaw abortion because he fears aborted fetuses might go to Hell.

Republicans failed in massive numbers to attract women’s votes this past election – and quite probably a good number of men equally appalled at how their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters were being treated. Yet despite criticism on all sides, despite the objections of doctors themselves, despite condemnation by women’s groups, despite their losses at the polls, they’re still trying. The latest assault on women came from Michigan, but while the Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger professed he had “no interest in forcing a woman to have a transvaginal ultrasound”, the bill still mandates women seeking abortions must have a topical ultrasound before the procedure. Except there’s a loophole no one is mentioning; as women in Texas have found, if the pregnancy is too early for a normal topical ultrasound to show any distinct imaging, then the only alternative is transvaginal. Either way, Republicans are increasingly attempting to intrude – quite literally – into women’s bodies.

“This is an unnecessary and unwarranted intrusion into the health decisions of women,” said Michigan’s House Democratic Leader Tim Greime. “This is yet another example of the Republican obsession with over-regulating people’s private lives.” Actually, he understates it; this bill would go far beyond being an unwarranted intrusion into women’s medical rights, or interfering with a doctor’s care.

Allowing a woman to close her eyes, just lie back and think of England, if she doesn’t want to see the pictures doesn’t make it any less criminal. Being forced to sign a consent form before being forced to submit to having a long plastic rigid wand shoved up your vagina against your will and for no good medical reason doesn’t make this “consensual.” It’s unnecessary, sadistic, illegal, immoral and reprehensible.

It's more than that - it’s rape.

How Organizations with Ties to Hate Groups Are Trying to Influence the Immigration Debate

immigrant-rights-protest-america

The U.S. House of Representatives held its first hearings for the current session on immigration reform Tuesday. Many immigration groups also submitted official testimony for the record. One name, in particular, jumped out as questionable, at best, in terms of being an expert witness on the topic of immigration—Jessica Vaughan, who submitted a written statement. Vaughan is the director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), an organization that portrays itself as an "independent, non-partisan, non-profit, research organization" that advocates a "low-immigration, pro-immigrant" public policy. In reality, CIS is connected to a shadowy network of anti-immigrant funders and activists who participate in or are associated with movements for white nationalism.

The CIS was founded in 1985 as a project of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Founded by Michigan native John Tanton, FAIR is a designated hate group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. While CIS tries to portray a more neutral public face, FAIR has no such qualms. For example, its president Dan Stein said on Tucker Carlson's TV show: "Immigrants don't come all church-loving, freedom-loving, God-fearing....Many of them hate America, hate everything that the United States stands for."

While FAIR and CIS are formally separate organizations now, they are still heavily intertwined, sharing many of the same donors and several board members, and FAIR regularly cites CIS reports in its activities. Mark Krikorian, Tanton's friend with whom he has frequently corresponded about immigration, runs CIS after holding a similar position at FAIR.

Krikorian has a very spotty record on race and immigrant issues. He spoke at a meeting of the Michigan State University's chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, a group that had generated significant controversy by having events, such as "Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day," a "Koran Desecration" competition, and by posting "Gays Spread AIDS" fliers across campus. The same speakers series that the students hosted also included Holocaust denier Nick Griffin and Jared Taylor of American Renaissance, a racist publication that has argued that blacks are incapable of civilization

Krikorian doesn't limit himself to research but frequently writes columns for National Review that denigrate immigrants in a variety of ways:

Over the years, FAIR accepted $1.3 million from a foundation called the Pioneer Fund, which was set up in 1937 to "improve the character of the American people by promoting procreation by those of white, colonial stock." Tanton wrote Graham, saying that they had a mutual friend in Pioneer Fund's Harry Weyher. The Pioneer Fund also funded people like William B. Shockley, a famous physicist who argued that blacks are intellectually inferior to whites.

CIS Fellow John Miano and board member Carol Iannone have written for extreme white nationalist website VDARE.com. CIS and VDARE have a close connection, as staffers circulate VDARE articles to its members and CIS published at least one report from the group's founder. VDARE was founded by Peter Brimelow and publishes articles by people like Steve Sailer, who wrote: "And also, to be frank, because blacks, American Indians and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Hispanics have shown that they get corrupted faster by the 'moral hazard' of social insurance than do whites."

VDARE publishes rants by people like Taylor, the Pioneer Fund's J. Philippe Rushton and white nationalist authors like Sam Francis and Kevin MacDonald, who wrote:

Jewish activity collectively, throughout history, is best understood as an elaborate and highly successful group competitive strategy directed against neighboring peoples and host societies. The objective has been control of economic resources and political power. One example: overwhelming Jewish support for non-traditional immigration, which has the effect of weakening America’s historic white majority.
CIS members, such as Patrick McHugh, also have participated in meetings and events with former members of Congress like Tom Tancredo and Brian Bilbray and any number of members of the white nationalist movement and anti-immigrant network connected to Tanton, including Barbara Coe, head of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform (who refers to Mexicans as "savages"), and Glenn Spencer, head of the American Patrol, which "arrests" undocumented immigrants on the Mexico-U.S. border. Spencer, who is convinced that Mexico wants to retake parts of the United States it lost in the Mexican-American War, wants to develop unmanned aircraft and special ground sensors to prevent further immigration across the border.

The SPLC has widely refuted claims made in CIS reports, as many of them use improper science or use anecdotal, false or nonexistent evidence. In one example, CIS staffers claimed that cities were letting non-citizens vote in significant numbers. When pressed, CIS could only produce one example of a non-citizen voting. According to the SPLC: "CIS often manipulates data, relying on shaky statistics or faulty logic to come to the preordained conclusion that immigration is bad for this country."

Tanton is not only responsible for FAIR, but he played a key role in the creation and growth of the CIS as well and is connected directly and indirectly to nearly every significant organization in the anti-immigrant community. Although he recently retired, Tanton was influential in getting his friend and close associate Otis Graham on the board of CIS.  Graham was previously on the FAIR board. Graham has a long history of participation across the anti-immigrant movement, including appearing at workshops like one called "Immigration Reform and America's Unchosen Future," where he appeared on the same stage as Frosty Wooldridge, who claims that immigrants bring a "disease jihad" to the United States and warns that immigration will bring about another Civil War. Graham himself has written that the United States is not actually a nation of immigrants, defended racist policies like the 1924 Asian Exclusion Act and minimized the participation of groups like the Ku Klux Klan in anti-immigrant history. He also credited the American Coalition of Patriotic Societies for passage of the 1924 act without noting their pro-Nazi, anti-semitic activities. Graham completed one of his books with advice from Tanton and CIS congressional witness Jessica Vaughn. He also has written articles suggesting that racial and ethnic diversity leads to more social problems and that immigrants will lower the skills and wages in the U.S. economy.

Tanton's journal, "The Social Contract," has published a who's who of white nationalist writers. The magazine was co-edited by Wayne Lutton, who is heavily associated with the white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens. Tanton co-authored "The Immigration Invasion" with Lutton as well, and Lutton became a trustee of the New Century Foundation, which publishes Taylor's American Renaissance. Board members and writers for "The Social Contract" have included Graham, Krikorian, Francis, CIS Director of Research Steven Camarota and CIS Fellow Don Barnett, as well as CIS board members Frank Morris, Vernon Briggs, William Chip, John Vinson of the American Immigration Control Foundation, Joseph Fallon and James Lubinskas of American Renaissance, Derek Turner of Right Now and Michael Masters of Virginia Council of Conservative Citizens.

Social Contact Press also translated, published and promoted "The Camp of the Saints," a racist apocalyptic novel written by French author Jean Raspail. The book tells the story of a fictional invasion of Europe by "hordes of sex-crazed Africans, dirty Arabs and 'Hindus' who enslave white women on sex farms." 

Tanton has made his personal feelings very clear: "I've come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority—and a clear one at that." He also asked: "Will Latin American migrants bring with them the tradition of the mordida (bribe), the lack of involvement in public affairs, etc.?" and wrote, "On the demographic point: perhaps this is the first instance in which those with their pants up are going to get caught by those with their pants down!"

Read more about John Tanton from the SPLC

Originally posted at the AFL-CIO Now Blog.

Guest Post: The U.S. Economy Is Now Dangerously Detached From Reality

Submitted by Brandon Smith from Alt-Market

The U.S. Economy Is Now Dangerously Detached From Reality

Recently I was asked to give a presentation on the current state of the global economy to a local group of concerned citizens here in Northwest Montana.  I was happy to oblige but when composing my bullet points I realized that, in truth, there were no legitimate economic numbers to examine anymore.  You see, financial analysts have traditionally used multiple indicators of employment, profit, savings, credit, supply, and demand in their efforts to divine the often obscured facts of our financial system.  The problem is, nearly every index we used in the past, every measure of capital flow and industry, is absolutely useless today. 

We now live in an entirely fabricated fiscal environment.  Every aspect of it is filtered, muddled, molded, and manipulated before our eyes ever get to study the stats.  The metaphor may be overused, but our economic system has become an absolute “matrix”.  All that we see and hear has been homogenized and all truth has been sterilized away.  There is nothing to investigate anymore.  It is like awaking in the middle of a vast and hallucinatory live action theater production, complete with performers, props, and sound effects, all designed to confuse us and do us harm.  In the end, trying to make sense of the illusion is a waste of time.  All we can do is look for the exits…

There is some tangible reality out there, but it is difficult to find, and there are few if any mainstream numbers to verify.  One has to remember always that the fundamental world of money and trade revolves around real people and real circumstances.  No matter how corrupt our economic system is, as long as there are human beings, there will always be supply and demand that cannot be hidden.  We have to look past the “official numbers” and look at the roots of trade.  Where has demand fallen?  Where has supply diminished?  Where are the tangible goods and needs and how have they changed?

Let’s first start with the mainstream version of our system, looking at each aspect of the economy that no longer represents the truth of our situation…

Employment, Savings, And Debt

Much of this information is old news to those of us in the Liberty Movement, who tracked the progress of the global collapse long before the general public even knew of its existence.  However, it is useful to take a step back and look at the basic picture every once in a while. 

According to numbers issued by the Department of Labor, weekly unemployment reports have dropped to a five year low, and the overall employment rate is holding at 7.9%.  This would seem to be a vast improvement over the dreadful bloodletting in the system only a few years ago.  Has the private Federal Reserve and the Obama Administration really done it?  Have they turned back the tide on the greatest fiscal crisis the U.S. has seen since the Depression?

No.  They haven’t. 

They have only changed how the data is disseminated to the public. In order to understand how the employment statistics con is being engineered, it is important to understand the difference between “Adjusted” and “Unadjusted” numbers.

Labor Department data is “seasonally adjusted”, using a series of statistical assumptions including something called “Trend Cycle Analysis”.  Trend Cycle Analysis is, basically, a sham, but a sham put together in a very complex and confusing manner.  If you ask a mainstream economist what it is, you’ll likely get a three hour long dissertation filled with financial babble and very little concrete explanation.  So let me break it down as simply as I can…

Imagine that you are going to estimate how much profit you plan to make in a particular month, but you don’t just consider your current pay rate and pop it into a calculator; you also throw in the possibility of a few pay raises, an inheritance from a grandma who might kick the bucket, and, your exaggerated expectations of the entire year’s profit on top of that.  You may also take into account future bad weather, a mugging, a nuclear war….whatever.  All hypothetical situations not based in reality.  Basically, you decide that a particular trend in your income is inevitable, then, mold your statistical analysis around that assumption.      

When your real profit numbers come in (the unadjusted numbers) and they do not meet your expectations, you simply change them according to what you believe SHOULD have happened.  If you insist that your profits are going to go up for the year, and they go down for a couple months instead, you change the variables you use to calculate the statistical average so that the results match your expectations, assuming that it will all balance out in the end.

Now, this sounds utterly insane for the common person out there trying to make a living.  If you ran your household this way, without accepting the cold hard unadjusted numbers in front of you, you’d find yourself broke and on the street in no time.  Unfortunately this is EXACTLY how our government handles most financial data; by coming to a final conclusion before hand, and then forcing the numbers to fit that conclusion.

This is why in February of 2013, “adjusted” first week unemployment rate was reported at 366,000 – a 5000 person drop from the week before.  A seeming improvement in the trend.  But, unadjusted numbers came in at 386,176 – a 16,000 person spike from the week before.  When one examines real unemployment numbers, he finds that the divergence between the adjusted and unadjusted statistics is growing larger with each passing quarter.  That is to say, the contradiction is becoming so blatant between the hard numbers and the Labor Department’s fantasy numbers that one must question whether or not the government is lying to us outright about the state of the economy (hint – they are lying). 

These same methods are used by the government to calculate progress in the housing market, disposable income, etc. 

The claim of “recovery” in the jobs market simply doesn’t jive with other indicators, like 2012 Christmas retail, which had the worst showing since the crash in 2008 (and these are still mainstream numbers!):

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/12/26/us-holiday-retail-sales-growth-weak...

Average household savings continue to scrape the bottom of the barrel, indicating that the public is not spending or withholding cash.  They are simply broke:

And the overall GDP of the U.S. contracted in the fourth quarter of 2012 for the first time in three years (again, according to official numbers, meaning the reality is much worse):

http://money.cnn.com/2013/01/30/news/economy/gdp-report/index.html

The downturn in consumption and industry also seems to be supported by the Baltic Dry Index, a measure of global shipping and rates.  The BDI has fallen to near historic lows THREE TIMES in the past year, which to my knowledge, has never happened before.  In the past, the BDI has been a strong prophetic indicator of future market volatility.  Usually, around a year after a severe decline in the index, a dangerous economic event takes place.  The BDI made its first sharp drop to all time lows at the end of January 2012, exactly a year ago. 

U.S. household debt was recently reported to have fallen to a 29 year low, but the ratio used by the Federal Reserve applies a statistic for disposable income that is derived from the Trend Cycle boondoggle method.  While markets cheer, the truth is, the only reason household debt obligations have fallen at all is because bank lending and credit issuance remains frozen.  Consumer debt falls when there is no money to borrow.  In fact, the Federal Reserve actually pays large banks NOT to lend to the public; an activity which was exposed by Dennis Kucinich in 2009 on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.  An activity that continued through 2012:

http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/31/the-fed-should-stop-paying-banks-not-to-lend/

Keep in mind, one of the primary arguments the Federal Reserve used when promoting the bailout concept was that it would “free up credit markets” so that lending could pick up again and fuel a recovery, and yet, at the same time, they were paying banks to NOT lend.

Meanwhile, the supposed job recovery has produced an astonishing increase in welfare recipients in the U.S., including a record 46 million Americans on foodstamps (approximately 15% of our population):

http://www.nbcnews.com/business/report-15-americans-food-stamps-980690

If we are to apply any “trend” to our calculations on overall economic health, then we should include the extreme level of government handouts, and poverty levels which are now at all time highs.  The facts are undeniable; the number of people who have much less than they did in 2008 has grown.  How then could the U.S. be considered “in recovery”?

National Debt And The Fiat Lie

With the Dow Index hovering near highs of 14,000 our system truly looks to be on a rocket ship to pre-2008 money market bliss.  In a mere five years we have returned to equity spikes that stagger the mind and the wallet.  At least, that’s how it all appears…

What needs to be taken into account, though, is the amount of fiat money being created by the Federal Reserve, and how much of that printed pixie dust currency is fueling our magical flight to Neverland.  Since 2008, our official national debt has increased from $10 trillion to $16.4 trillion, and some estimate $17 trillion to $18 trillion by the end of 2013 (unless, of course, a collapse occurs).  Which means our national debt, which took decades to reach the $10 trillion mark, will have nearly doubled in only six years! 

So, what has a doubling of our national debt in such a short span of time bought us?  Well, credit markets remain frozen, property markets remain stagnant, poverty is at historic levels, welfare recipients are at epic highs, and consumer activity and GDP is back at 2008 lows.  Where did all that printed money go?  Where was it spent?  To answer that question, we only need to find what area of the economy has seen the most positive (or fantastical) activity.  What sector is seeing a massive boost while the rest tumbles?

I suggest that a large portion of QE1 through QE3 has gone to prop up the stock market, and nothing else.  I suggest that American taxpayers are fronting the bill for the equities bonanza we see today.  I suggest that the Dow is being used as a Red Herring to distract the populous for as long as possible while real assets are being snapped up and hoarded by international banks and foreign entities.  I suggest that we are being leached dry and that the parasites are almost ready to move on…

When will it all end?  Perhaps sooner than many people think.  The decision by D.C. to delay talks on the so-called “Fiscal Cliff” until March may not be coincidence.  Extensive cuts in federal spending are absolutely necessary and cannot be dismissed forever, but, because the last vestiges of our system that still operate do so through government money, such cuts will cause immediate damage to the economy, including possible default and dollar devaluation.  Refusal to make cuts will result in credit downgrades, currency inflation, and a loss of the greenback’s world reserve status.  There is no “right” way out of this quandary. 

When this collapse is initiated, it would certainly behoove all parties involved, including central banks, international banks, and criminal politicians, to have a scapegoat handy for the citizenry to direct their rage at.

Event Horizon Economics

An “Event Horizon” in physics is a moment or singularity in spacetime at which a gravitational pull becomes so great that there is no way to escape it.  It is a point of no return.  I believe America’s economy has reached its own Event Horizon.  Our system is now entirely fiat driven, with very little or no true economy left.  Without constant injections from the Fed, and perpetually low interest rates, the country would implode tomorrow.  This is not recovery.  Actually, I’m not sure what to call it. 

Today, independent economic analysts cannot look to the numbers to determine future trends.  Most are fake, and the rest are ugly, and I’m not sure much else can be said in their regard.  Instead, we must now look to events, rather than statistics, because our country has been maneuvered into a position of utmost frailty.  Like an avalanche shelf waiting for that perfectly timed disturbance to trigger its roaring collapse.  All that is needed is a macro-crisis, and it is no great feat for such a thing to be created in our tension filled global environment.

War in Syria and Iran leading to a tripling of energy prices.  Sanctions and strife with North Korea leading to Chinese economic retribution.  Conflict between China and Japan, again leading to Chinese economic warfare and perhaps real warfare.  An opportune “cyber attack” which could be used as an excuse for a market crash and even an internet shutdown.  A “political impasse” between Reps and Dems which leads to a default of U.S. credit.  Any one of these catastrophes could easily occur (with a little nudge from some well placed people) and feed a wider global tragedy.  The important thing to remember is that while this event will be blamed for the breakdown, it was international banks, the Federal Reserve, and elements of our own government that made the domino effect possible.  They put the pieces in place.  The act that knocks them over is secondary.

I have spent the past seven years writing about “potential” threats to our overall system, but these dangers were always just beyond our sight.  Just around the corner.  Today, it is as if the journey is over, and all those threats have materialized right before my eyes as real, and imminent.  I am watching that which I warned of come to fruition, and this is certainly not a pleasant thing.  What is valuable, though, is what we have all done in the Liberty Movement with the time that we had.  From when I began writing for the movement until now, I have seen an overwhelming increase in public awareness.  It may not be obvious to newer activists, but it is there all the same.  While we still face disparaging odds, and millions upon millions of oblivious bystanders, there is, amidst these darker moments, a steadfast community of free men and women forming.  I have full faith in the future.  Much more so than I ever did before.  Our economy may be detached from reality, but our endeavors as individuals will not be.  Our resolve will be the great game changer.  Not fiscal calamity.

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A Choice For Corporate America: Are You With America Or The Cayman Islands

When the greed, recklessness, and illegal behavior on Wall Street drove this country into the deepest recession since the 1930s, the largest financial institutions in the United States took every advantage of being American. They just loved their coun...

Revealing the Real TANF

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again: the American people have been sold a bill of goods when it comes to the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program created in 1996. Both parties tout it as a “success,” but if you look at the numbers—and at the real lives of people who turn to the program for assistance when they are out of work—the picture is bleak, to say the least.

(Photo: USDA via Flickr)This March, TANF is set to expire and will need to be renewed. It will mark yet another opportunity to have an honest, fact-based discussion about the program. So it was good to see a top-notch panel of experts at the Center for American Progress (CAP) yesterday talking about TANF—“Learning from the Past, Planning for the Future.”

The speakers included Witnesses to Hunger member Shearine Mcghee, a former participant in the successful TANF subsidized jobs program that was created through the Recovery Act but allowed to expire in 2010. Kudos to CAP for having as one of the experts on poverty someone who has actually lived in poverty—it’s way too rare in this town, especially in Congress where public policy decisions are made without testimony from the people who are most affected.

Dr. LaDonna Pavetti, vice president for family income support policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), opened the discussion with an overview of how the program has performed as a safety net and in boosting employment—since the promise of TANF was that it would serve both purposes and thereby create pathways to self-sufficiency. 

Her top line statistic in assessing TANF as a safety net—a statistic that I wish every member of Congress and every progressive activist had on his or her bulletin board, and that the mainstream press would deign to report every now and then—is this: Before welfare reform, for every 100 families with children in poverty in the US, 68 were able to access cash assistance; now that number has fallen to just 27 (and Pavetti thinks it will be even lower when the 2012 data comes in). The benefit for those lucky twenty-seven families who are able to access it is less than 30 percent of the poverty line in most states—so less than $5,400 annually for a family of three.

“TANF does provide an important safety net for unemployed or underemployed families, but it reaches very few families in need, and when it does reach families they get a very small amount of cash,” said Pavetti. 

Pavetti also pointed out that in 1995—the year before TANF replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC)—AFDC kept over 2.2 million poor children from falling into deep poverty (defined as below half the poverty line, or less than $11,500 for a family of four today). This means that AFDC successfully lifted over 62 percent of poor children out of deep poverty. But in 2005, TANF lifted just 21 percent of children who would otherwise be in deep poverty, or just 650,000 kids. TANF has directly contributed to the number of people living in deep poverty rising from 12.6 million in 2000, to 20.4 million people today. This includes over 15 million women and children (and nearly 10 percent of all children). 

“So we have a lot less effect [today] on families and [are not] helping them deal with very, very deep poverty,” said Pavetti.

But it was her report on TANF as an employment program that I found most striking. She demonstrated that the (mostly) conservative claim that the TANF work requirement led to huge employment gains for single mothers is bogus. It’s true that in the late ’90s there was a significant increase in employment, but that’s largely because there was a booming economy. Those gains began to decline in 2000 and have vanished today.

“[By] 2011, we basically had lost all of what we had gained,” said Pavetti. “We’re back to where we were in 1996—actually a little bit below it.” Indeed in 1996, 64 percent of single mothers with a high school education or less were working, and in 2011 it was 62 percent. 

Pavetti said that the “more compelling story” is told by comparing the employment of single mothers with and without a high school degree, to single women with similar educational backgrounds and no children. In the early 1990s, there was a significant gap between the two groups. But since 2000, the likelihood of employment for a single mother with kids is almost exactly the same as it is for a single woman without kids. The more significant determining factor for earned income is level of education. 

“This is not a story about parent responsibility,” said Pavetti.“It’s really about what are the labor market opportunities for individuals who have a high school or less than high school [education].”

Pavetti suggested that TANF needs to be reformed to allow parents more educational opportunities so that they can advance in the labor market. Currently, the federal statute is very rigid about which kinds of education and training activities can be counted towards work requirements for TANF participants. She also suggested a renewed focus on a subsidized jobs program—like the one that placed 260,000 unemployed low-income parents and young adults in jobs during the recession. The program enjoyed bipartisan support from governors before House Republicans allowed it to expire. (Many people waged a strong fight to save the program, including Pavetti, who maintained a sort of vigil through her blog, counting down the days until it was scheduled to “die.”)

Mcghee talked about the powerful role that the subsidized jobs program played in her life. She said she was “thankful” for a medical assistance/medical billing work-training program that she enrolled in through TANF.  But when she graduated, prospective employers wanted her to have at least one year of experience in her field. So she found herself instead applying for fast food and other low-wage jobs for which she was then overqualified—what witnesses call “graduation to the same poor wages.”

The federally subsidized Way to Work program allowed her to work for the Coalition Against Hunger doing SNAP outreach, and educating other mothers and families about nutrition. With that work experience, Mcghee was able to obtain a job as a nutrition assistant for the Philadelphia WIC program, where she has been employed for two years.

“The Way to Work program gave us the job readiness that we needed to further our employment,” she said.

Witnesses to Hunger founder Dr. Mariana Chilton—an associate professor at Drexel University School of Public Health and co-principal investigator for Children’s HealthWatch—talked about the tension between education and work for mothers in poverty.

“It’s a real struggle,” she said. “It’s what the women in Witnesses to Hunger call ‘the monster under the bed.’  Because they know they need to improve their education in order to make a better wage. But as [one] Witness said, ‘What am I supposed to do? Tell my kids I can’t feed you for two years—just wait while I go to school and then I’ll feed you?’ So there’s a real Catch-22 between advancing education to get the better job, or going into work and getting stuck in this dead-end job. We need to find some better ways to work with this system.”

Dr. Kristin Seefeldt, assistant professor of social work at the University of Michigan and author of Working After Welfare, has been interviewing women in poverty and deep poverty for decades. She also talked about the difficulties women participating in TANF encounter as they try to further their education. In the late 1990s, she said these women were able to find stable jobs with decent wages—enough to get by—and could plan on waiting until their children were a little older before they returned to school.

“Now it’s different,” said Seefeldt. “That sort of choice is no longer there—the jobs aren’t giving that many hours, the wages aren’t enough to support [a family]. So either women get trapped [in low-wage work].”

Because they can’t obtain the education they need through TANF, many end up taking on huge debt while working multiple jobs. Seefeldt described a woman determined to get her Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) degree who now works two jobs—because the hours of her “main job” were cut back.

“So she sits beside rehab patients in the middle of the night and tries to do her homework then, and she has another job during the day,” said Seefeldt. “And her kids are either in the car with her—driving from one place to the next—or they’re at a relative’s house. All of them are almost never home. That’s going to go on for another couple years, and I don’t think that’s a situation anyone wants to be in.”

Georgetown University law professor Peter Edelman—director of the Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy—moderated the discussion and noted that some of the program’s resistance to education is found in TANF’s original underpinnings.

“At the very beginning, the philosophy of TANF was work first,” he said. “The premise was that job training doesn’t work, and that letting somebody get educated first before they go to work is wrong—they should get experience and that’s the path to later success. That’s an over-simplification, but there are many states out there that still buy into that attitude.”

Deborah Schlick, project manager of Transitions to Economic Stability at the Minnesota Department of Human Services, said that the “assumption that we need to push people into work” is unfounded. She reported that 80 percent of the parents in Minnesota who turn to TANF for assistance have been in the state’s labor market, and 50 percent are “coming straight out of a job.” She also noted that only 40 percent of the state’s workers are able to collect unemployment insurance, so very low-wage workers with children are forced to turn to TANF. Schlick suggested that to improve TANF she would “start with an assumption that poverty is a measure of circumstances, it’s not a measure of the person. I think misunderstanding that has gotten us in a lot of trouble.”

You go to a discussion like this and you get a sense of just how deep the knowledge is—sixteen years after TANF was created—about why the program doesn’t work and how it could easily be improved. And yet, Republicans and some Democrats continue to get away with pushing the notion that it is a success. 

I’m not sure what it will take to reveal the truth to Americans about how this program is failing low-wage working families and families that are unable to work. But I sure hope I won’t be writing another version of this article six months from now. Instead, I’d like to write about a creative, coordinated campaign by advocates and families across the country that is focused on revealing the real TANF, and that refuses to be distracted by the same old lies told by the same old people.

© 2013 The Nation

Greg Kaufmann
Greg Kaufmann is a Nation contributor covering poverty in America.  He has been a guest on NPR, including Here & Now and Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane, and various local radio programs including the Matthew Filipowicz Show.  His work has also appeared on Common Dreams, Alternet, Tikkun.org, NPR.org, CBSNews.com, and MichaelMoore.com.  He previously worked as a staffer for the Kerry campaign, a copywriter and speechwriter for various Democrats in national and local politics, and as a screenwriter.  He serves as an advisor for the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Releases Roadmap for Speeding Protection of Hundreds of Species...

WASHINGTON - February 8 - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released a four-year work plan detailing how it will implement a far-reaching 2011 settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity that requires Endangered Species Act protection decisions for 757 species. The work plan lays out the years in which all the species in the agreement will get protective decisions or critical habitat designations. Under the settlement, 54 species have so far been protected and 66 have been proposed for protection, including American wolverines, lesser prairie chickens and Ozark hellbenders. 

“Our agreement is already working to speed up protection for hundreds of species across the country,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “This work plan is important because it sets out exactly when species will receive protection, which is important for local governments, landowners and others to begin the tough job of ensuring the survival and recovery of these species.”

In some cases the plan provides additional detail about what protection species will receive. For example, it specifies that Fish and Wildlife will propose critical habitat for lesser prairie chickens this year, providing some hope the agency is serious about protecting these showy and severely imperiled birds. In another case it specifies that, in addition to protecting Mexican garter snakes, the agency will make a protection decision for narrow-headed garter snakes. Both snakes are residents of southwestern rivers and were petitioned by the Center. 

Other species to receive protection decisions this year include eastern small-footed bats and northern long-eared bats, two species the Center petitioned because of the threat of the epidemic called white-nose syndrome, which has killed more than 7 million bats and continues to spread; Kittlitz’s murrelets, also petitioned by the Center and threatened by climate change; and Oregon spotted frogs, which have disappeared from more than 90 percent of their native range over the past half-century. 

“The settlement agreement is working to move protection forward for some of the most endangered wildlife in the United States," said Greenwald. “The Endangered Species Act is recovering hundreds of species across the country, but it can only start helping species once they’re actually listed as threatened or endangered.” 

Read more about the Center’s 757 agreement here.

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

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Releases Roadmap for Speeding Protection of Hundreds of Species...

WASHINGTON - February 8 - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released a four-year work plan detailing how it will implement a far-reaching 2011 settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity that requires Endangered Species Act protection decisions for 757 species. The work plan lays out the years in which all the species in the agreement will get protective decisions or critical habitat designations. Under the settlement, 54 species have so far been protected and 66 have been proposed for protection, including American wolverines, lesser prairie chickens and Ozark hellbenders. 

“Our agreement is already working to speed up protection for hundreds of species across the country,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “This work plan is important because it sets out exactly when species will receive protection, which is important for local governments, landowners and others to begin the tough job of ensuring the survival and recovery of these species.”

In some cases the plan provides additional detail about what protection species will receive. For example, it specifies that Fish and Wildlife will propose critical habitat for lesser prairie chickens this year, providing some hope the agency is serious about protecting these showy and severely imperiled birds. In another case it specifies that, in addition to protecting Mexican garter snakes, the agency will make a protection decision for narrow-headed garter snakes. Both snakes are residents of southwestern rivers and were petitioned by the Center. 

Other species to receive protection decisions this year include eastern small-footed bats and northern long-eared bats, two species the Center petitioned because of the threat of the epidemic called white-nose syndrome, which has killed more than 7 million bats and continues to spread; Kittlitz’s murrelets, also petitioned by the Center and threatened by climate change; and Oregon spotted frogs, which have disappeared from more than 90 percent of their native range over the past half-century. 

“The settlement agreement is working to move protection forward for some of the most endangered wildlife in the United States," said Greenwald. “The Endangered Species Act is recovering hundreds of species across the country, but it can only start helping species once they’re actually listed as threatened or endangered.” 

Read more about the Center’s 757 agreement here.

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

Iran’s president defies supreme leader to safeguard his future

BEIRUT, Feb 8 - It was an extraordinary moment in the history of the Islamic Republic. Live on state radio, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani exchanged insult after insult in the assembly chamber last Sunday as shock...

The End of Squatting in the UK?

Calls from within government to fully criminalise squatting gather momentum. It could have serious implications for political occupations, and will it backfire on the government's plans to reduce its welfare budget?

TRANSCRIPT:

Hassan Ghani

As Britain's economists speculate over the prospects of a triple-dip recession, the future looks bleak for those already struggling to make ends meet.

Across England, the cost of renting is going up, house repossessions are on the rise, and particularly here in London more and more people are finding themselves homeless. One path out of that is squatting, but that is now under serious threat.

Tens of thousands of people have been squatting in empty buildings across the UK for many many years. But last year the government criminalised squatting in residential buildings, and now it's considering doing the same for commercial buildings. Mike Wetherly is a Member of Parliament whose been campaigning to make this happen.

Mike Weatherly, Member of Parliament, Conservative Party

"I'm no fan of empty buildings either, and I think we ought to do various things to encourage empty buildings to be put back into use. What I don't want to see is vulnerable people, and these are often very vulnerable people, drug addicts and alcohol and so on, going into these vulnerable properties, commercial ones which have been abandoned, are unsafe, they don't have sanitation, they don't have electricity. The local authorities should be looking after homeless people.

Now, some squatters have got nothing to do with homelessness, they are basically anarchists who just want to have rent-free accommodation, they're well educated and web savvy. I don't mind people having alternative views on life, and they can live the way they want to, but what they can't do is just take what doesn't belong to them and rob people of their own property."

Hassan Ghani

It's true that many in Britain do see squatters as a scourge on society, that threaten to steal their property and land. It's an image perpetuated by much of the media. So we decided to visit some squats in London and find out what they're like for ourselves.

Leon, Squatter at Rochester Square

"Welcome to One Rochester Square"

Hassan Ghani

Rochester Square is nestled in a residential neighbourhood of North London. The rare green space lay unused for years until the squatters arrived six months ago.

Leon, Squatter at Rochester Square

"We've got six rooms in the main area, and one room at the back of the kitchen. The kitchen is built in a way that all our water that we use for cleaning our clothes and cleaning our dishes is recycled back round to the toilet and used also as water to flush the toilet, saving about 70 litres a day. We have a bike workshop, where two people who are amateur bike mechanics work on fixing people's bikes, and building up new ones from spare parts.

When we arrived, there were alcohol bottles, there were hypodermic needles, there was pornography, so when we came we did a lot of cleaning up. We've tried to contact the owner, tried to show him what we've done. Unfortunately he only wanted to deal with us through his solicitor and hasn't come down to his site, to have a look at what we've done here, which is a bit unfortunate.

If you look up you can see that most of the wood is rotting, and this is what happens if you don't take care of a place."

Pete, Squatter at Rochester Square

"We have to be very careful to separate media scare stories, because there is a campaign of right wing media vilification against squatters, from the fact."

Hassan Ghani

Pete is a masters student and a part time teacher. He says that all the squatters he knows think carefully before choosing to occupy a space.

Pete, Squatter at Rochester Square

"Squatters tend to go for places which have been left empty for a very long time anyway. And if they find that this place has just been sold, or if its to become somebody's home, they're not going to squat it. A) because the legislation which existed even before the new law meant that they would be evicted very rapidly anyway as a consequence, and B) because squatters are not in the business of taking people's homes, they're in the process of putting a temporary shelter over their heads.

I wonder if many landlords didn't just talk to the squatters, as rational individuals, and they'd be able to see that actually they're not just druggies who're going to tear the place apart, but can actually improve the place."

Hassan Ghani

And he says squatters, like wider society, are composed of a diverse range of people.

Pete, Squatter at Rochester Square

"I used to believe that squatters were a subculture of people who were anarchists, and didn't work, and all had mohicans. And then I learned, actually, that they're just people. And that many of the people who were serving me food in a restaraunt, or many people in healthcare, are squatters. People who are providing essential services are squatters. They are a very diverse range of poeple. They're just people on low incomes, and they're just finding a solution to the fact that this is an incredibly expensive city to live in, and property ownership is getting more and more concentrated into fewer and fewer hands."

Hassan Ghani

London is among the most expensive places to live in the world. Ana previously rented a room in private accommodation, but even that cost her half her earnings each month. She now lives in the garden squat.

Ana, Squatter at Rochester Square

"If I'm working and I need to pay the rent, I will use more than 50% of that money to pay the rent, plus feeding, plus transportation, and basically that will mean that I will be living to pay my housing, and I don't believe that that's fair. Housing, food and health are a human right. So many people without houses, so many houses without people - why?"

Hassan Ghani

While filming at the squat, we stumbled into a gathering of neighbourhood residents, who'd come to voice their opinions on its use. And we were surprised to find that overall they were supportive of the squatters, telling us the space had previously been a den of crime.

Will, Local Resident

"If somebody owns land then what they do with it, and this is a privately owned space, it should be to a degree up to them. But if there's no action taking place, and that continues for a significant number of years, then those decisions need to be made by somebody else who's more capable. Especially because this is such a significant area of land, we're not talking about a small garden space in the middle of a few other houses, this is maybe even ten thousand square foot in the very centre of a very built up area, in very central London.

There's certain times when I feel very strongly that squatters shouldn't get into private properties, and there's certain times when I think 'go for it', I'm really pleased to see that unused spaces in central London are being used, especially when they're being used as productively as this. However, I've seen people's properties damaged in a number of unpleasant ways by people who don't have the same moral code, I guess."

Hassan Ghani

The squatters, however, have been served a notice of eviction. Their efforts to convince the local authorities to buy the land from the landlord, so that it can be used by the local community, have so far failed.

The next squat we went to see was quite different. An industrial building in south London, the Colorama squat was previously a printing workshop. It too lay abandoned for several years, until squatters arrived. It now serves as a multi purpose hall downstairs, and accommodation for squatters upstairs.

Tom, Squatter at 'Colorama'

"It was in a really really bad state, it was a complete wreck when we first moved in. I came on the second day and it took a lot of work to make it livable, and also so we could hold events here. We've got a free shop, we've got free events, free music, free movies, an info-shop, a library, for people who want to read up and access that kind of stuff. And we've got a lot of people from the community turn up, we've got families and kids running around here. We also get squatting networks, which is a very broad range of people, political types, people who are squatting just to have a roof over their heads, and the neighbourhood."

Hassan Ghani

Tom was homeless until he found this squat. He says he doesn't want to be dependent on the welfare state, and that squatting has given him the motivation and the independence he needs to change his life.

Tom, Squatter at 'Colorama'

"Before I came here I was homeless for eight months, so I had nowhere else to live. Without squatting I would have been on the streets, there was no way I could afford to live. And it's the same with a lot of people here, people who squat out of necessity. This place gives you motivation, I had no motivation, I was homeless because of the rent, and this place has given me motivation, it's given me order, it's given me structure."

Hassan Ghani

Listening to Tom it's clear that for him squatting is more than just about necessity, he has some very strong views on what he sees as serious inequality in society.

Tom, Squatter at 'Colorama'

"My dad worked forty odd years in a factory, for nothing. He had no money whatsoever. He worked his entire life, and he was a clever bloke. The people who had the privilege, had the ability to go and get that kind of stuff, that's what was given to them by birth, by their education.

Hassan Ghani

"If you can't squat in buildings like this anymore, where does that leave you?"

Tom

"Either in prison, or homeless."

Hassan Ghani

We arrived at Colorama on a Thursday, when they have their weekly people's kitchen. They open their doors to the public and provide freshly cooked meals to anyone who comes in, donations are welcome but not necessary.

So, who pays for all this food then, you might wonder. Well, we were invited to meet two squatters just after midnight, in sub-zero temperatures, to find out.

It all looks a bit unhygienic, piling through the bins of a supermarket. But these two have built up experience of where to go and what to look for, and they seem to be wearing appropriate clothing. Some of the food they find is actually quite expensive in the stores, but all of it has been thrown out, even though much of it is still edible. On this night we found plenty of fruit and vegetables, almost too much to carry, in perfect condition. Many squatters live on this supply of food which would otherwise end up in landfill. Another example, they say, of how society is wasting its resources

Laura, Squatter at 'Colorama'

"I think it's totally fine to eat the food we find in the bins, because most of it's actually quite nice. You just wash it, chop it up, cook it, and it's totally fine to eat. Most employees will understand, because they see everyday that they have to throw away vast amounts of food, and most of them will realise that it's actually a really stupid thing to do, you could just give it to people who are in need of food. Sometimes they're not allowed to give food to us, or sometimes they have to shoo us away, we're not allowed to enter the premises, and sometimes they even build like big fences, electric wires, and put padlocks in front of the bins, just because they don't want people to get food, they want people to buy stuff, this is how capitalism works. I think it's such a waste of resources, throwing food away."

Hassan Ghani

We've got one last squat to visit. This is one that critics like Mike Weatherley would possibly approve of. It's based in an abandoned pub in North London. Nathan showed us around - he lives here with up to sixteen others, spread across several floors. He says the building has been empty for around ten years, and although they moved in without asking anyone, when the landlord finally turned up and met them, he was impressed in the way they'd maintained the property, and let them stay if they agreed to leave when he wanted it back.

Nathan, Squatter

"Before we moved in, the garden was full of sewage. The whole place was derelict. We've redecorated all in here, so it looked nothing like this. It looked a real state. We've had to sort out the plumbing..."

Hassan Ghani

I asked him if he thought that other squatters who occupied a building against the landlord's wishes were essentially stealing that property.

Nathan Squatter

"I don't think it's necessarily stealing, because the idea of squatting isn't that you nick something from someone, you don't want to permanently deprive someone of a place. If a place is empty, you want to be able to utilise it to give other people a home, create more homes, if it genuinely is empty. So I'm not talking about going into a building stopping people from doing work on their home, or they've just gone on holiday, or they popped to the shops and you're in there, because that thing doesn't happen, nobody really wants to do that because A) you deprive someone of a home, and second you're going to be out on the streets because they're going to get a court order and the police are going to drag you out. There are obviously people who squat buildings that are in use, and I don't think that should be done, but you can do your homework, you can research a building and find out if it is unused and the planning permission on it and everything.

In the UK there's 700 thousand empty properties, and there's an estimated half a million hidden homeless. Squat's are a great social safety net. The fact that there's so many vulnerable people in squats goes to show how much the system is failing them, outside of squat society. I think rather than come down on the squatters, maybe we should come down on the inequality within society. There are people in this house who work, and yet still have to squat to be able to get by. More and more people are struggling just to be able to get by, because they're paying so much in rent. If the possibility was accessible to not squat, I think most people would not squat."

Hassan Ghani

"There isn't a problem when the landlord and the squatters come to an agreement, and that's probably a way forward. But a lot of the time, when the landlord and the bailiffs come to evict them, the squatters don't let the bailiffs, in, they physically stop them from getting in."

Nathan, Squatter

"When someone's got bailiffs on you, I think it's come to a point where the owner has not engaged with you at all to be able to talk with you, to come to an agreement, and they're forcing you out the property. There's a place just down the road here, it's been empty for I think seven years. It's been squatted three or four times, and each time they get the bailiffs in and evict people. And then it stands empty. You're just going to leave the building empty for another five years, can we not just stay in here until you use it? And they just force them out into the street. I can understand why people would want to resist and hold their home."

Hassan Ghani

But that's not how supporters of criminalising squatting see it.

Mike Weatherley, Member of Parliament, Conservative Party

"These buildings aren't being wasted, they belong to somebody. If I don't drive my car for a year, that doesn't give a squatter a right to drive my car, or if someone's not using their property which they've bought. So it does belong to somebody, and they are stealing something that doesn't belong to them. Anything that they say about making the premises better or improving it, is actually false. They don't run round the hoover before they leave. I've seen open fires in these, some of these buildings have been destroyed, and there is a lot of drug taking and anti-social behaviour associated with a lot of squats, not all squats, but a lot of squats. And if you talk to some of the residents that I do, that are around squats, they are very disturbed about the squats. There's late night parties, there's music, there's all sorts of people coming and going through the night, and they don't really like that type of intrusion into their lives."

Hassan Ghani

It is true that some squatters occupy buildings or land for political reasons, such as the campaign to stop a new runway at Heathrow airport, or others who object to way wealth is distributed and society is organised. But should they be imprisoned for doing so? And as for anti-social squatters:

Nathan, Squatter

"There's a whole range of squatters and squats. Just as in society you've got nice people and you've got dickheads. It's the same in the squat community, you've got the same thing. The majority of people are quite understanding. Whenever anyone goes into a home, they want to create a home, they don't want to go into a place and destroy it, because then it's shit to live there. You obviously want to make it your home to live there, so you want to keep it nice, and make it comfortable. But then there are other people who are party crews, and they like to open up a building and throw parties once in a while, and often sometimes too often. But then again, when I was a student I had more complaints from the neighbours than I do now. (When you were a student living in rented accommodation?) Yeah.

Pete, Squatter at Rochester Square

"There are cases of squats that are bad. It would be absolutely short-sighted of me to sit here and say that all squatting is good, that's not the case. But there's no evidence to suggest that squatters are any more anti-social than any other sector of the housing population. I've lived in private rented accommodation with incredible violent anti-social people, who take drugs, and listen to loud music, and are bad neighbours. Many of the most community minded people I've known are squatters.

Hassan Ghani

The squats we visited certainly seemed to be well organised, and as far as we could tell, responsible within their respective communities. But with residential squatting already criminalised, with a penalty of up to six months in prison, and squatting in commercial buildings probably next, something is going to have to change.

Pete, Squatter at Rochester Square

"The average rent in London is over £1300. There are 80 thousand empty buildings in this city, many of those are registered in tax-havens. We've got lots of companies which are absentee landlords, leaving buildings empty and speculating on them, and that's the crime. The conservative government has decided to legislate in favour of landlords to the point where it says that the right to own private property, even if you own lots and lots of buildings, and keep them empty for 20, 30 years, is so much more important than the human right to have a temporary shelter over your head, that they're willing to throw people who do the latter into prisons."

Mike Weatherley, Member of Parliament, Conservative Party

"We should do other things to encourage empty properties back into use, but that doesn't mean that we should then say 'well it's a free-for-all for everybody to go and take what doesn't belong to them'."

Hassan Ghani

Perhaps the most important question is where do these people go next, if squatting in empty commercial buildings also becomes a criminal act. Statistics show that 40% of homeless people are squatters at some point. At a time when the government is trying reduce its welfare budget, the last thing it needs is more people on low or no income joining the queue for housing benefits. Is it on route to scoring an own goal? Hassan Ghani, for the Real News, London.

More Austerity Cuts Coming to the States

The Great Recession has quietly devastated public services on a state-by-state basis, with Republican and Democratic governors taking turns leading the charge. Public education has been decimated, as well as health care, welfare, and the wages and benefits of public sector workers. The public sector itself is being smashed. Since the recession began, states have made combined austerity cuts of at least $337 billion, according to the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities.Seattle teachers protest budget cuts, Jan. 24, 2012

The 2012-2013 budget deficits for 34 states resulted in $55 billion in cuts, according to the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities. The coming budgets for 2013-2014 that begins on July 1st is becoming clear as well, and the deficits are rolling in by the billions: Connecticut, Minnesota, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Washington, and many others have large deficits projected.

You’d expect after years of austerity cuts to public services, state politicians would think of new ways to raise revenue from those who can afford it — the wealthy and corporations. Not so. The cuts that began as a consequence of the 2008 recession are set to continue; raising revenue from the wealthy is “off the table” for Republicans and Democrats alike.

The pattern of budget cuts has revealed that the age-old distinction between Republican and Democrat has evaporated on the state level. The state budget trends — what’s getting funded and what’s not — are similarly aligned across the country. Both parties have merged their state-level agendas into a singular focus on “economic growth,” a bi-partisan euphemism meaning “corporate profits.”

Below is the bi-partisan funding trends for the states that began with the 2008 recession and continue to this day:

1)  The Attack on Public Employees and Pension "Reform"

It wasn’t long ago that everyone understood that the states’ budget crises was caused in part by the recession, itself caused by the big banks and greedy corporations, and in part by the politicians continuing willingness to lower taxes on the rich. Now the corporate media and politicians have re-written history: suddenly it’s “greedy” public workers and their “lavish” pensions that are bankrupting the states. Two years ago it was the health care of public employees that was bankrupting the states, which resulted in large cuts to workers in many states.

The pre-recession pension system was working fine, but it, too, suffered under the bank-caused financial crisis; pension returns sank and right-wing economists projected ruin for the states in the future (they conveniently assumed that recession era rates would continue forever, thus under-funding the system).

Democratic governors are now as eager as their Republican counterparts to destroy the pensions of public employees. Democratic politicians in Oregon, Washington, California, New Jersey, Illinois, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maryland, Massachusetts, and several other states are leading the charge to erode the last bastion of retirement security for working people, while continuing to lay off public employees by the thousands. This national shrinkage of state governments is a long-standing right-wing dream: the smaller the state, the greater the “growth opportunities” for corporations that take over privatized public services and the lower their taxes since a smaller state requires less revenue for operating expenses.

2) Education Reform

The National Governors Association (NGA) spoke for both political parties when announcing a renewed focus on education funding for the states during the annual “state of the states” address. The funding is necessary because schools across the country are expecting an influx of students, while school districts everywhere have been starved funds by the ongoing austerity cuts; the system has been literally crumbling. But the new funding is to be used for the undermining and destruction of public education, since it is based on Obama’s pro-corporate Race to the Top education “reform” where charter schools replace public schools.

Democrats and Republicans are in complete agreement over Obama’s education policy, which closes “failing schools,” (those in poor neighborhoods), opens privately run, non-union charter schools, and fires “bad teachers,” (typically those who teach poor students). The whole system is based on standardized testing, which poorer students will spend most of their education preparing for, (those who don’t drop out from sheer boredom). Bi-partisan education reform targets teacher unions while privatizing education — the Democrats have adopted the ideas from the right-wing think tanks of the 1990′s.

3) Raising Revenue - But Not From the Wealthy or Corporations

Many states have implemented — or are planning to implement — a variety of taxes that disproportionally affect working and poor people, including increased sales taxes, alcohol, tobacco and other “sin” taxes, not to mention increases in different fees, from state parks to driver registration.

At the same time that these taxes have been upped, a consistent clamor has been raised by the media and politicians to lower the taxes for corporations, give them new subsidies or “freeze” their already-low taxes so that future tax increases will be impossible. In Oregon the Democratic governor declared a “special session” emergency in order to ensure that NIKE’s super low tax status would be frozen in place for decades, outside the reach of the public, which might want to raise corporate taxes to fund public services.

Democrat and Republican controlled states are equally competing for the adoration of corporations by lavishing a never-ending flow of taxpayer money on them, while “guaranteeing” them “investment security,” i.e., promising low taxes and an open spigot of taxpayer money. This is the basis for several states implementing “right to work” laws that target unions for destruction, while also attempting to “revamp the tax code,” which is a euphemism for lowering corporate taxes.

4) Welfare Reform: Attacking the Safety Net

Waging war against the safety net is like picking a fight with road kill — the states’ safety net is already disfigured beyond recognition, but the bi-partisan assault nevertheless continues. Bill Clinton started welfare “reform” as president, and the 2008 Great Recession accelerated the attack on those in poverty. The year 2011 was a devastating one for welfare, now called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

In 2011, states implemented some of the harshest cuts in recent history for many of the nation’s most vulnerable families with children who are receiving assistance through [TANF] … The cuts affect 700,000 low-income families that include 1.3 million children; these families represent over one-third of all low-income families receiving TANF nationwide.

But these TANF “reforms” continue, to the detriment of the neediest. Newly released budgets in several states — including California and Oregon — further tighten the program, a relentless boa-like constriction that’s already suffocated millions of the country’s poorest citizens. Typically TANF reform either lowers the monthly payment, shortens the time one can receive benefits, or raises the standards for staying in the program.

Before the giant TANF cuts in 2011, the program was already shrunken such that TANF only assisted 28 families for every 100 in poverty — the ludicrous definition of “poverty” being a family of four that makes only $22,000 or less.

There is a direct link between the assault on TANF and the rising poverty levels in the United States. Cutting TANF in a time of mass unemployment means consciously consigning millions of families to grinding poverty, hunger, homelessness, and the many other barbarisms associated with extreme poverty.

Conclusion:

It wasn’t long ago that the Democrats understood that the government can and should create jobs, especially during a recession. But now the Democratic Party has fully adopted the economics of Reaganism. As a result, the only “job creators” now recognized are the corporations. This bi-partisan agreement not to tax the rich and use the revenue for public spending to create jobs — hiring more teachers, firefighters, roads and parks workers, etc. — is unnecessarily prolonging the job crisis, ensuring more years of deficits and a deeper gouging of the public sector.

These cuts are having a devastating effect on public sector unions, the last bastion of union strength in the country. These unions are being weakened to such an extent that stripping them of their right to collectively bargain — the nail in the coffin — becomes a real possibility. No state is safe from this threat.

If unions don’t unite with community groups to demand that public services be fully funded by taxing the wealthy and corporations, the cuts will continue, communities will feel helpless, inequality will continue to spiral out of control, and working people will be further subjected to the policies of the 1%, now implemented in chorus by Republicans and Democrats alike. But, of course, this means that the unions will have to break with the suicidal strategy of relying on the Democrats for handouts. Time and again the Democrats have demonstrated their willingness to sacrifice the needs of working people in order to curry favor with the rich and corporations, their greatest benefactors when it comes to election campaign contributions.

Shamus Cooke

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org).  He can be reached at shamuscook@gmail.com

The End of Squatting in the UK?

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Transcript

Hassan Ghani

As Britain’s economists speculate over the prospects of a triple-dip recession, the future looks bleak for those already struggling to make ends meet.Across England, the cost of renting is going up, house repossessions are on the rise, and particularly here in London more and more people are finding themselves homeless. One path out of that is squatting, but that is now under serious threat.Tens of thousands of people have been squatting in empty buildings across the UK for many many years. But last year the government criminalised squatting in residential buildings, and now it’s considering doing the same for commercial buildings. Mike Wetherly is a Member of Parliament whose been campaigning to make this happen.Mike Weatherly, Member of Parliament, Conservative Party“I’m no fan of empty buildings either, and I think we ought to do various things to encourage empty buildings to be put back into use. What I don’t want to see is vulnerable people, and these are often very vulnerable people, drug addicts and alcohol and so on, going into these vulnerable properties, commercial ones which have been abandoned, are unsafe, they don’t have sanitation, they don’t have electricity. The local authorities should be looking after homeless people.Now, some squatters have got nothing to do with homelessness, they are basically anarchists who just want to have rent-free accommodation, they’re well educated and web savvy. I don’t mind people having alternative views on life, and they can live the way they want to, but what they can’t do is just take what doesn’t belong to them and rob people of their own property.”Hassan GhaniIt’s true that many in Britain do see squatters as a scourge on society, that threaten to steal their property and land. It’s an image perpetuated by much of the media. So we decided to visit some squats in London and find out what they’re like for ourselves.Leon, Squatter at Rochester Square“Welcome to One Rochester Square”Hassan GhaniRochester Square is nestled in a residential neighbourhood of North London. The rare green space lay unused for years until the squatters arrived six months ago.Leon, Squatter at Rochester Square“We’ve got six rooms in the main area, and one room at the back of the kitchen. The kitchen is built in a way that all our water that we use for cleaning our clothes and cleaning our dishes is recycled back round to the toilet and used also as water to flush the toilet, saving about 70 litres a day. We have a bike workshop, where two people who are amateur bike mechanics work on fixing people’s bikes, and building up new ones from spare parts.When we arrived, there were alcohol bottles, there were hypodermic needles, there was pornography, so when we came we did a lot of cleaning up. We’ve tried to contact the owner, tried to show him what we’ve done. Unfortunately he only wanted to deal with us through his solicitor and hasn’t come down to his site, to have a look at what we’ve done here, which is a bit unfortunate.If you look up you can see that most of the wood is rotting, and this is what happens if you don’t take care of a place.”Pete, Squatter at Rochester Square“We have to be very careful to separate media scare stories, because there is a campaign of right wing media vilification against squatters, from the fact.”Hassan GhaniPete is a masters student and a part time teacher. He says that all the squatters he knows think carefully before choosing to occupy a space.Pete, Squatter at Rochester Square“Squatters tend to go for places which have been left empty for a very long time anyway. And if they find that this place has just been sold, or if its to become somebody’s home, they’re not going to squat it. A) because the legislation which existed even before the new law meant that they would be evicted very rapidly anyway as a consequence, and B) because squatters are not in the business of taking people’s homes, they’re in the process of putting a temporary shelter over their heads.I wonder if many landlords didn’t just talk to the squatters, as rational individuals, and they’d be able to see that actually they’re not just druggies who’re going to tear the place apart, but can actually improve the place.”Hassan GhaniAnd he says squatters, like wider society, are composed of a diverse range of people.Pete, Squatter at Rochester Square“I used to believe that squatters were a subculture of people who were anarchists, and didn’t work, and all had mohicans. And then I learned, actually, that they’re just people. And that many of the people who were serving me food in a restaraunt, or many people in healthcare, are squatters. People who are providing essential services are squatters. They are a very diverse range of poeple. They’re just people on low incomes, and they’re just finding a solution to the fact that this is an incredibly expensive city to live in, and property ownership is getting more and more concentrated into fewer and fewer hands.”Hassan GhaniLondon is among the most expensive places to live in the world. Ana previously rented a room in private accommodation, but even that cost her half her earnings each month. She now lives in the garden squat.Ana, Squatter at Rochester Square“If I’m working and I need to pay the rent, I will use more than 50% of that money to pay the rent, plus feeding, plus transportation, and basically that will mean that I will be living to pay my housing, and I don’t believe that that’s fair. Housing, food and health are a human right. So many people without houses, so many houses without people - why?”Hassan GhaniWhile filming at the squat, we stumbled into a gathering of neighbourhood residents, who’d come to voice their opinions on its use. And we were surprised to find that overall they were supportive of the squatters, telling us the space had previously been a den of crime.Will, Local Resident“If somebody owns land then what they do with it, and this is a privately owned space, it should be to a degree up to them. But if there’s no action taking place, and that continues for a significant number of years, then those decisions need to be made by somebody else who’s more capable. Especially because this is such a significant area of land, we’re not talking about a small garden space in the middle of a few other houses, this is maybe even ten thousand square foot in the very centre of a very built up area, in very central London.There’s certain times when I feel very strongly that squatters shouldn’t get into private properties, and there’s certain times when I think ‘go for it’, I’m really pleased to see that unused spaces in central London are being used, especially when they’re being used as productively as this. However, I’ve seen people’s properties damaged in a number of unpleasant ways by people who don’t have the same moral code, I guess.”Hassan GhaniThe squatters, however, have been served a notice of eviction. Their efforts to convince the local authorities to buy the land from the landlord, so that it can be used by the local community, have so far failed.The next squat we went to see was quite different. An industrial building in south London, the Colorama squat was previously a printing workshop. It too lay abandoned for several years, until squatters arrived. It now serves as a multi purpose hall downstairs, and accommodation for squatters upstairs.Tom, Squatter at ‘Colorama’“It was in a really really bad state, it was a complete wreck when we first moved in. I came on the second day and it took a lot of work to make it livable, and also so we could hold events here. We’ve got a free shop, we’ve got free events, free music, free movies, an info-shop, a library, for people who want to read up and access that kind of stuff. And we’ve got a lot of people from the community turn up, we’ve got families and kids running around here. We also get squatting networks, which is a very broad range of people, political types, people who are squatting just to have a roof over their heads, and the neighbourhood.”Hassan GhaniTom was homeless until he found this squat. He says he doesn’t want to be dependent on the welfare state, and that squatting has given him the motivation and the independence he needs to change his life.Tom, Squatter at ‘Colorama’“Before I came here I was homeless for eight months, so I had nowhere else to live. Without squatting I would have been on the streets, there was no way I could afford to live. And it’s the same with a lot of people here, people who squat out of necessity. This place gives you motivation, I had no motivation, I was homeless because of the rent, and this place has given me motivation, it’s given me order, it’s given me structure.”Hassan GhaniListening to Tom it’s clear that for him squatting is more than just about necessity, he has some very strong views on what he sees as serious inequality in society.Tom, Squatter at ‘Colorama’“My dad worked forty odd years in a factory, for nothing. He had no money whatsoever. He worked his entire life, and he was a clever bloke. The people who had the privilege, had the ability to go and get that kind of stuff, that’s what was given to them by birth, by their education.Hassan Ghani“If you can’t squat in buildings like this anymore, where does that leave you?”Tom“Either in prison, or homeless.”Hassan GhaniWe arrived at Colorama on a Thursday, when they have their weekly people’s kitchen. They open their doors to the public and provide freshly cooked meals to anyone who comes in, donations are welcome but not necessary.So, who pays for all this food then, you might wonder. Well, we were invited to meet two squatters just after midnight, in sub-zero temperatures, to find out.It all looks a bit unhygienic, piling through the bins of a supermarket. But these two have built up experience of where to go and what to look for, and they seem to be wearing appropriate clothing. Some of the food they find is actually quite expensive in the stores, but all of it has been thrown out, even though much of it is still edible. On this night we found plenty of fruit and vegetables, almost too much to carry, in perfect condition. Many squatters live on this supply of food which would otherwise end up in landfill. Another example, they say, of how society is wasting its resourcesLaura, Squatter at ‘Colorama’“I think it’s totally fine to eat the food we find in the bins, because most of it’s actually quite nice. You just wash it, chop it up, cook it, and it’s totally fine to eat. Most employees will understand, because they see everyday that they have to throw away vast amounts of food, and most of them will realise that it’s actually a really stupid thing to do, you could just give it to people who are in need of food. Sometimes they’re not allowed to give food to us, or sometimes they have to shoo us away, we’re not allowed to enter the premises, and sometimes they even build like big fences, electric wires, and put padlocks in front of the bins, just because they don’t want people to get food, they want people to buy stuff, this is how capitalism works. I think it’s such a waste of resources, throwing food away.”Hassan GhaniWe’ve got one last squat to visit. This is one that critics like Mike Weatherley would possibly approve of. It’s based in an abandoned pub in North London. Nathan showed us around - he lives here with up to sixteen others, spread across several floors. He says the building has been empty for around ten years, and although they moved in without asking anyone, when the landlord finally turned up and met them, he was impressed in the way they’d maintained the property, and let them stay if they agreed to leave when he wanted it back.Nathan, Squatter“Before we moved in, the garden was full of sewage. The whole place was derelict. We’ve redecorated all in here, so it looked nothing like this. It looked a real state. We’ve had to sort out the plumbing...”Hassan GhaniI asked him if he thought that other squatters who occupied a building against the landlord's wishes were essentially stealing that property.Nathan Squatter“I don’t think it’s necessarily stealing, because the idea of squatting isn’t that you nick something from someone, you don’t want to permanently deprive someone of a place. If a place is empty, you want to be able to utilise it to give other people a home, create more homes, if it genuinely is empty. So I’m not talking about going into a building stopping people from doing work on their home, or they’ve just gone on holiday, or they popped to the shops and you’re in there, because that thing doesn’t happen, nobody really wants to do that because A) you deprive someone of a home, and second you’re going to be out on the streets because they’re going to get a court order and the police are going to drag you out. There are obviously people who squat buildings that are in use, and I don’t think that should be done, but you can do your homework, you can research a building and find out if it is unused and the planning permission on it and everything.In the UK there’s 700 thousand empty properties, and there’s an estimated half a million hidden homeless. Squat’s are a great social safety net. The fact that there’s so many vulnerable people in squats goes to show how much the system is failing them, outside of squat society. I think rather than come down on the squatters, maybe we should come down on the inequality within society. There are people in this house who work, and yet still have to squat to be able to get by. More and more people are struggling just to be able to get by, because they’re paying so much in rent. If the possibility was accessible to not squat, I think most people would not squat.”Hassan Ghani“There isn’t a problem when the landlord and the squatters come to an agreement, and that’s probably a way forward. But a lot of the time, when the landlord and the bailiffs come to evict them, the squatters don’t let the bailiffs, in, they physically stop them from getting in.”Nathan, Squatter“When someone’s got bailiffs on you, I think it’s come to a point where the owner has not engaged with you at all to be able to talk with you, to come to an agreement, and they’re forcing you out the property. There’s a place just down the road here, it’s been empty for I think seven years. It’s been squatted three or four times, and each time they get the bailiffs in and evict people. And then it stands empty. You’re just going to leave the building empty for another five years, can we not just stay in here until you use it? And they just force them out into the street. I can understand why people would want to resist and hold their home.”Hassan GhaniBut that’s not how supporters of criminalising squatting see it.Mike Weatherley, Member of Parliament, Conservative Party“These buildings aren’t being wasted, they belong to somebody. If I don’t drive my car for a year, that doesn’t give a squatter a right to drive my car, or if someone’s not using their property which they’ve bought. So it does belong to somebody, and they are stealing something that doesn’t belong to them. Anything that they say about making the premises better or improving it, is actually false. They don’t run round the hoover before they leave. I’ve seen open fires in these, some of these buildings have been destroyed, and there is a lot of drug taking and anti-social behaviour associated with a lot of squats, not all squats, but a lot of squats. And if you talk to some of the residents that I do, that are around squats, they are very disturbed about the squats. There’s late night parties, there’s music, there’s all sorts of people coming and going through the night, and they don’t really like that type of intrusion into their lives.”Hassan GhaniIt is true that some squatters occupy buildings or land for political reasons, such as the campaign to stop a new runway at Heathrow airport, or others who object to way wealth is distributed and society is organised. But should they be imprisoned for doing so? And as for anti-social squatters:Nathan, Squatter“There’s a whole range of squatters and squats. Just as in society you’ve got nice people and you’ve got dickheads. It’s the same in the squat community, you’ve got the same thing. The majority of people are quite understanding. Whenever anyone goes into a home, they want to create a home, they don’t want to go into a place and destroy it, because then it’s shit to live there. You obviously want to make it your home to live there, so you want to keep it nice, and make it comfortable. But then there are other people who are party crews, and they like to open up a building and throw parties once in a while, and often sometimes too often. But then again, when I was a student I had more complaints from the neighbours than I do now. (When you were a student living in rented accommodation?) Yeah.Pete, Squatter at Rochester Square“There are cases of squats that are bad. It would be absolutely short-sighted of me to sit here and say that all squatting is good, that’s not the case. But there’s no evidence to suggest that squatters are any more anti-social than any other sector of the housing population. I’ve lived in private rented accommodation with incredible violent anti-social people, who take drugs, and listen to loud music, and are bad neighbours. Many of the most community minded people I’ve known are squatters.Hassan GhaniThe squats we visited certainly seemed to be well organised, and as far as we could tell, responsible within their respective communities. But with residential squatting already criminalised, with a penalty of up to six months in prison, and squatting in commercial buildings probably next, something is going to have to change.Pete, Squatter at Rochester Square“The average rent in London is over £1300. There are 80 thousand empty buildings in this city, many of those are registered in tax-havens. We’ve got lots of companies which are absentee landlords, leaving buildings empty and speculating on them, and that’s the crime. The conservative government has decided to legislate in favour of landlords to the point where it says that the right to own private property, even if you own lots and lots of buildings, and keep them empty for 20, 30 years, is so much more important than the human right to have a temporary shelter over your head, that they’re willing to throw people who do the latter into prisons.”Mike Weatherley, Member of Parliament, Conservative Party“We should do other things to encourage empty properties back into use, but that doesn’t mean that we should then say ‘well it’s a free-for-all for everybody to go and take what doesn’t belong to them’.”Hassan GhaniPerhaps the most important question is where do these people go next, if squatting in empty commercial buildings also becomes a criminal act. Statistics show that 40% of homeless people are squatters at some point. At a time when the government is trying reduce its welfare budget, the last thing it needs is more people on low or no income joining the queue for housing benefits. Is it on route to scoring an own goal? Hassan Ghani, for the Real News, London.


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Ayn Rand’s Gospel of Selfishness and Billionaire Empowerment Is Plaguing America

The United States and other independent governments around the world are crumbling while Ayn Rand’s billionaires are taking over.

February 7, 2013  |  

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Thirty years after her death, Ayn Rand’s philosophy of selfishness and billionaire empowerment rules the world. It’s a remarkable achievement for an ideology that was pushed to the fringes for most of her life, and ridiculed on national television in a notorious interview with Mike Wallace.

But, it’s happened. And today, the United States and other independent governments around the world are crumbling while Ayn Rand’s billionaires are taking over.

With each new so-called Free Trade agreement – especially the very secretive Trans Pacific Partnership, which has less to do with trade and more to do with a new law of global governance for transnational corporations – Ayn Rand’s reviled “state” (or what we would call our democracy, the United States of America) is losing its power to billionaires and transnational corporations.

Ayn Rand hated governments and democracy. She considered them systems of mob rule. She grew up in Russia, and as a child watched the Bolsheviks confiscate her father’s pharmacy during the Russian Revolution. Likely suffering from PTSD from that incident, Ayn Rand devoted her future writings to evil government, including the "evil" of its functions like taxation, regulation, and providing social services to the poor and sick.

She divided the world into makers and takers (or what she called “looters”).

On one side are the billionaires and the industrialists. People like Dagny Taggert, a railroad tycoon, and Hank Rearden, a steel magnate. Both were fictional characters in her book Atlas Shrugged, but both have real-world counterparts in the form of the Koch Brothers, the Waltons, and Sheldon Adelson. According to Rand, they are the “Atlases” holding up the world.

So, in Atlas Shrugged, when the billionaires, tired of paying taxes and complying with government regulation, go on strike, Ayn Rand writes that the American economy promptly collapsed.

On the other side are the “looters,” or everyone else who isn’t as rich or privileged, or who believed in a democratic government to provide basic services, empower labor unions, and regulate the economy. They are the leeches on society according to Rand (and according to Mitt Romney with his 47% comments). And, as she told Mike Wallace in in 1959, they do not even “deserve love.”

To our Founding Fathers, looking out for the general welfare of the population was an explicit role of the government, one of its most important and the reason this nation was created when we separated from Britian.

But to Ayn Rand, a government that taxed billionaires to help pay for healthcare and education for impoverished children was not just unwise economically, it was also immoral.

Nature abhors a vacuum – both in the wild and in politics.  So, when people, organized in the form of a government, are removed from power, then money organized in the form of corporations and billionaires moves into the vacuum to take power – which is exactly what’s happening today, worldwide.

In the thirty years after her death, the United States crept closer and closer to Ayn Rand’s utopia. Reagan dramatically slashed taxes on the rich and went after labor unions. Clinton deregulated financial markets for the rich, ended welfare as we know it, and committed our nation to one globalist corporate free trade agreement after another.

And, under Bush and Obama, we’ve seen the rapid privatization of our commons, the further erosion of social safety nets, and more losses of national sovereignty with more so-called free trade agreements.

In Europe, we’re seeing sovereign governments neutered by Conservative technocrats. According to Ayn Rand, the rich can never be asked to sacrifice. So instead, it’s working people across the Eurozone who have to pay for the bad investments that the banksters made in the run-up to the global financial collapse.

Drastic Austerity Cuts: The Great Recession has Smashed Public Services on a State by...

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The Great Recession has quietly devastated public services on a state-by-state basis, with Republican and Democratic governors taking turns leading the charge. Public education has been decimated, as well as health care, welfare, and the wages and benefits of public sector workers. The public sector itself is being smashed. Since the recession began, states have made combined austerity cuts of at least $337 billion, according to the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities

The 2012-2013 budget deficits for 34 states resulted in $55 billion in cuts, according to the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities. The coming budgets for 2013-2014 that begins on July 1st is becoming clear as well, and the deficits are rolling in by the billions: Connecticut, Minnesota, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Washington, and many others have large deficits projected.

You’d expect after years of austerity cuts to public services, state politicians would think of new ways to raise revenue from those who can afford it — the wealthy and corporations. Not so. The cuts that began as a consequence of the 2008 recession are set to continue; raising revenue from the wealthy is “off the table” for Republicans and Democrats alike.

The pattern of budget cuts has revealed that the age-old distinction between Republican and Democrat has evaporated on the state level. The state budget trends — what’s getting funded and what’s not — are similarly aligned across the country. Both parties have merged their state-level agendas into a singular focus on “economic growth,” a bi-partisan euphemism meaning “corporate profits.”

Below is the bi-partisan funding trends for the states that began with the 2008 recession and continue to this day:

1)  The Attack on Public Employees and Pension “Reform”

It wasn’t long ago that everyone understood that the states’ budget crises was caused in part by the recession, itself caused by the big banks and greedy corporations, and in part by the politicians continuing willingness to lower taxes on the rich. Now the corporate media and politicians have re-written history: suddenly it’s “greedy” public workers and their “lavish” pensions that are bankrupting the states. Two years ago it was the health care of public employees that was bankrupting the states, which resulted in large cuts to workers in many states.

The pre-recession pension system was working fine, but it, too, suffered under the bank-caused financial crisis; pension returns sank and right-wing economists projected ruin for the states in the future (they conveniently assumed that recession era rates would continue forever, thus under-funding the system).

Democratic governors are now as eager as their Republican counterparts to destroy the pensions of public employees. Democratic politicians in Oregon, Washington, California, New Jersey, Illinois, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maryland, Massachusetts, and several other states are leading the charge to erode the last bastion of retirement security for working people, while continuing to lay off public employees by the thousands. This national shrinkage of state governments is a long-standing right-wing dream: the smaller the state, the greater the “growth opportunities” for corporations that take over privatized public services and the lower their taxes since a smaller state requires less revenue for operating expenses.

2) Education Reform

The National Governors Association (NGA) spoke for both political parties when announcing a renewed focus on education funding for the states during the annual “state of the states” address. The funding is necessary because schools across the country are expecting an influx of students, while school districts everywhere have been starved funds by the ongoing austerity cuts; the system has been literally crumbling. But the new funding is to be used for the undermining and destruction of public education, since it is based on Obama’s pro-corporate Race to the Top education “reform” where charter schools replace public schools.

Democrats and Republicans are in complete agreement over Obama’s education policy, which closes “failing schools,” (those in poor neighborhoods), opens privately run, non-union charter schools, and fires “bad teachers,” (typically those who teach poor students). The whole system is based on standardized testing, which poorer students will spend most of their education preparing for, (those who don’t drop out from sheer boredom). Bi-partisan education reform targets teacher unions while privatizing education — the Democrats have adopted the ideas from the right-wing think tanks of the 1990′s.

3) Raising Revenue – But Not From the Wealthy or Corporations

Many states have implemented — or are planning to implement — a variety of taxes that disproportionally affect working and poor people, including increased sales taxes, alcohol, tobacco and other “sin” taxes, not to mention increases in different fees, from state parks to driver registration.

At the same time that these taxes have been upped, a consistent clamor has been raised by the media and politicians to lower the taxes for corporations, give them new subsidies or “freeze” their already-low taxes so that future tax increases will be impossible. In Oregon the Democratic governor declared a “special session” emergency in order to ensure that NIKE’s super low tax status would be frozen in place for decades, outside the reach of the public, which might want to raise corporate taxes to fund public services.

Democrat and Republican controlled states are equally competing for the adoration of corporations by lavishing a never-ending flow of taxpayer money on them, while “guaranteeing” them “investment security,” i.e., promising low taxes and an open spigot of taxpayer money. This is the basis for several states implementing “right to work” laws that target unions for destruction, while also attempting to “revamp the tax code,” which is a euphemism for lowering corporate taxes.

4) Welfare Reform: Attacking the Safety Net

Waging war against the safety net is like picking a fight with road kill — the states’ safety net is already disfigured beyond recognition, but the bi-partisan assault nevertheless continues. Bill Clinton started welfare “reform” as president, and the 2008 Great Recession accelerated the attack on those in poverty. The year 2011 was a devastating one for welfare, now called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

In 2011, states implemented some of the harshest cuts in recent history for many of the nation’s most vulnerable families with children who are receiving assistance through [TANF] … The cuts affect 700,000 low-income families that include 1.3 million children; these families represent over one-third of all low-income families receiving TANF nationwide.

But these TANF “reforms” continue, to the detriment of the neediest. Newly released budgets in several states — including California and Oregon — further tighten the program, a relentless boa-like constriction that’s already suffocated millions of the country’s poorest citizens. Typically TANF reform either lowers the monthly payment, shortens the time one can receive benefits, or raises the standards for staying in the program.

Before the giant TANF cuts in 2011, the program was already shrunken such that TANF only assisted 28 families for every 100 in poverty — the ludicrous definition of “poverty” being a family of four that makes only $22,000 or less.

There is a direct link between the assault on TANF and the rising poverty levels in the United States. Cutting TANF in a time of mass unemployment means consciously consigning millions of families to grinding poverty, hunger, homelessness, and the many other barbarisms associated with extreme poverty.

Conclusion:

It wasn’t long ago that the Democrats understood that the government can and should create jobs, especially during a recession. But now the Democratic Party has fully adopted the economics of Reaganism. As a result, the only “job creators” now recognized are the corporations. This bi-partisan agreement not to tax the rich and use the revenue for public spending to create jobs — hiring more teachers, firefighters, roads and parks workers, etc. — is unnecessarily prolonging the job crisis, ensuring more years of deficits and a deeper gouging of the public sector.

These cuts are having a devastating effect on public sector unions, the last bastion of union strength in the country. These unions are being weakened to such an extent that stripping them of their right to collectively bargain — the nail in the coffin — becomes a real possibility. No state is safe from this threat.

If unions don’t unite with community groups to demand that public services be fully funded by taxing the wealthy and corporations, the cuts will continue, communities will feel helpless, inequality will continue to spiral out of control, and working people will be further subjected to the policies of the 1%, now implemented in chorus by Republicans and Democrats alike. But, of course, this means that the unions will have to break with the suicidal strategy of relying on the Democrats for handouts. Time and again the Democrats have demonstrated their willingness to sacrifice the needs of working people in order to curry favor with the rich and corporations, their greatest benefactors when it comes to election campaign contributions.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org). He can be reached at shamuscooke@gmail.com

http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=711

http://www.nga.org/cms/stateofthestates

http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3498

Ayn Rand: Queen of the Universe

Thirty years after her death, Ayn Rand’s philosophy of selfishness and billionaire empowerment rules the world. It’s a remarkable achievement for an ideology that was pushed to the fringes for most of her life, and ridiculed on national television in a notorious interview with Mike Wallace.

But, it’s happened. And today, the United States and other independent governments around the world are crumbling while Ayn Rand’s billionaires are taking over.

With each new so-called Free Trade agreement – especially the very secretive Trans Pacific Partnership, which has less to do with trade and more to do with a new law of global governance for transnational corporations – Ayn Rand’s reviled “state” (or what we would call our democracy, the United States of America) is losing its power to billionaires and transnational corporations.

Ayn Rand hated governments and democracy. She considered them systems of mob rule. She grew up in Russia, and as a child watched the Bolsheviks confiscate her father’s pharmacy during the Russian Revolution. Likely suffering from PTSD from that incident, Ayn Rand devoted her future writings to evil government, including the "evil" of its functions like taxation, regulation, and providing social services to the poor and sick.

She divided the world into makers and takers (or what she called “looters”).

On one side are the billionaires and the industrialists. People like Dagny Taggert, a railroad tycoon, and Hank Rearden, a steel magnate. Both were fictional characters in her book Atlas Shrugged, but both have real-world counterparts in the form of the Koch Brothers, the Waltons, and Sheldon Adelson. According to Rand, they are the “Atlases” holding up the world.

So, in Atlas Shrugged, when the billionaires, tired of paying taxes and complying with government regulation, go on strike, Ayn Rand writes that the American economy promptly collapsed.

On the other side are the “looters,” or everyone else who isn’t as rich or privileged, or who believed in a democratic government to provide basic services, empower labor unions, and regulate the economy. They are the leeches on society according to Rand (and according to Mitt Romney with his 47% comments). And, as she told Mike Wallace in in 1959, they do not even “deserve love.”

To our Founding Fathers, looking out for the general welfare of the population was an explicit role of the government, one of its most important and the reason this nation was created when we separated from Britian.

But to Ayn Rand, a government that taxed billionaires to help pay for healthcare and education for impoverished children was not just unwise economically, it was also immoral.

Nature abhors a vacuum – both in the wild and in politics.  So, when people, organized in the form of a government, are removed from power, then money organized in the form of corporations and billionaires moves into the vacuum to take power – which is exactly what’s happening today, worldwide.

In the thirty years after her death, the United States crept closer and closer to Ayn Rand’s utopia. Reagan dramatically slashed taxes on the rich and went after labor unions. Clinton deregulated financial markets for the rich, ended welfare as we know it, and committed our nation to one globalist corporate free trade agreement after another.

And, under Bush and Obama, we’ve seen the rapid privatization of our commons, the further erosion of social safety nets, and more losses of national sovereignty with more so-called free trade agreements.

In Europe, we’re seeing sovereign governments neutered by Conservative technocrats. According to Ayn Rand, the rich can never be asked to sacrifice. So instead, it’s working people across the Eurozone who have to pay for the bad investments that the banksters made in the run-up to the global financial collapse.

As we saw in Greece in 2011 with the deposing of Prime Minister George Papandreou, and all across the state of Michigan over the last few years with financial managers laws, when democratic governments are unwilling to do the bidding of the rich, they're immediately replaced by corporate lackeys who will.

The Taggerts and the Reardens are holding the reins of government today.

Which explains why Corporate America paid an average tax rate of just 12% in 2011 – the lowest rate in 40 years. It explains why 400 billionaires in America now own more wealth than 150 million other Americans combined. And it explains why fewer impoverished Americans are getting less federal assistance than at any time in the last half-century.

Ayn Rand envisioned a world without governments – a world where the super-rich are free to do as they wish.

We tried that during the so-called Gilded Age of the late 19th Century – before Ayn Rand was alive. If she'd watched the ruthlessness of the Robber Barons like she did the Bolsheviks, she may have reached different conclusions.

She may have realized that American Presidents like Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower were right when they made sure that wealth was more evenly distributed and the Billionaire Class was held in check.

Or she may have come to understand that corporations and billionaires owe their wealth to the state and not the other way around. Without favorable patent and copyright laws, a court system, an educated workforce, and an infrastructure to move goods about the country, then no one would be able to get rich in America.  We'd be like the Libertarian paradise of Somalia.

As Harry Moser, the founder of the Reshoring Initiative,argued in The Economist, “Corporations are not created by the shareholders or the management. Rather they are created by the state. They are granted important privileges by the state (limited liability, eternal life, etc). They are granted these privileges because the state expects them to do something beneficial for the society that makes the grant. They may well provide benefits to other societies, but their main purpose is to provide benefits to the societies (not to the shareholders, not to management, but to the societies) that create them.”

Sadly, this understanding of how democratic republics work - and why - has been lost this generation.

And Ayn Rand’s disciples are making sure the next generation never finds it again.

Idaho State Senator John Goedde, who chairs that state Senate’s Education Committee, introduced a bill this week that would require all students to read Ayn Rand’s book “Atlas Shrugged” before they can graduate. Goedde explained that the book made his son a Republican and that it “certainly gives one a sense of personal responsibility.”

Between stupidity like this, and the re-birth of Ayn Rand through corporate-funded think tanks and Hollywood movies, the Billionaire Class wants to make sure the next generation buys into a toxic ideology that’s quite literally destroying the world as we know it.

They don’t want the 21st Century to be “America’s Century.” They want it to be the “Billionaire’s Century.” And if they succeed, then the middle class in America - and through most of the developed world - will go extinct.

No publication of Shannon report

A report into the case of abducted schoolgirl Shannon Matthews will not be published in full because it could put her and her siblings at risk. An executive summary of the Serious Case Review into the run-up to Shannon's disappearance in Dewsbury, Wes...

UK Deficit To Be £64bn Above Osborne’s 2015 Target

The UK will borrow £64bn more than expected by 2015 despite Chancellor George Osborne's repeated attempts to control the country's deficit, a report warned today.

As a result, spending on services like the police, defence, transport and justice could be cut by a third by 2017/18 under current Government spending plans, .

The plans suggest 1.2 million job losses in the public sector by that date, 300,000 more than predicted by the Government's official forecasters, according to the Green Budget published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The respected economic think-tank said Chancellor George Osborne's failure to hit deficit reduction targets means tax rises or "substantial" additional cuts in welfare benefits are likely after the 2015 general election to avoid "hard to contemplate" cuts in Whitehall budgets.

The fiscal position may force the Chancellor to raid pensioner benefits, the NHS, schools or overseas aid, hitherto protected from cuts, said the report.

"Over the last 30 years, tax rises announced in the year after a general election have averaged £7.5 billion," said the IFS.

"Considering this trend, and in the context of the current fiscal situation, further tax rises following the next election would not be surprising."

With the public finances failing to come into balance as quickly as Osborne had hoped, IFS director Paul Johnson questioned whether the Chancellor can continue to shield the NHS, schools and overseas aid from cuts.

The Government has said it will continue to protect these three areas from cuts in the spending review for 2015/16, now being negotiated.

But Johnson said extending the protection further would mean spending on other departments - like the Home Office, Defence and Environment - falling by a third by 2017/18.

If the budget for defence equipment was protected, as Prime Minister David Cameron has suggested, that figure would rise to 35%.

Whitehall departments have so far relied heavily on job losses to meet the Chancellor's austerity demands, and if they continued to do so at the same rate, 1.2 million public sector jobs could go by 2017/18, compared with the 900,000 forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility, said the IFS.

Johnson said: "As economic performance and forecasts have worsened, the Chancellor has followed a dual strategy. He is allowing borrowing to increase substantially in this Parliament - allowing the automatic stabilisers to work - whilst promising another dramatic dose of public spending cuts in the next Parliament.

"The effects of concentrating all those cuts on currently unprotected areas of public service spending look hard to contemplate. A more likely scenario perhaps is that other choices will be made after the next election.

"Taxes could rise, hitherto protected elements of public spending, like the NHS and pensions, could be hit, or the date at which we reach fiscal balance will be pushed further out."

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "The IFS is right. If the Government does not change course then there could be well over a million job losses in the public sector and savage cuts to vital services.

"This is the direct consequence of austerity policies that have shrunk the economy and cut living standards for millions.

"Even policies designed to boost investment are failing; now we learn that the Bank of England's lending boost has failed to help business and instead gone to mortgages.

"The Chancellor needs a budget for growth, jobs and families. His medicine is failing to cure the patient, and has toxic side effects. As the IMF now recognises, it's time for a new approach."

Dogs microchipping scheme welcomed

Animal charities, vets and union leaders have welcomed moves to make it compulsory for all dogs in England to be microchipped.

The Government said the idea would help reunite owners with lost or stolen pets as well as improving the welfare of dogs.

Ministers also announced plans to extend legal protection over dog attacks to cover incidents on private property.

The change will be a boost for postmen and women, health visitors and others who call at private addresses but have not been covered by the law if they are bitten by a dog.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: "It's ludicrous that in a nation of dog lovers, thousands of dogs are roaming the streets or stuck in kennels because the owner cannot be tracked down.

"I am determined to put an end to this and ease the pressure on charities and councils to find new homes for these dogs. Microchipping is a simple solution that gives peace of mind to owners. It makes it easier to get their pet back if it strays and easier to trace if it is stolen. The generous support of Dogs Trust will mean that this valuable service can be offered for free to pet owners across the country."

Around 110,000 stray dogs are picked up by police, local authorities and animal welfare charities each year, with around half unable to be reunited with their owner because they cannot be identified. Around 6,000 dogs are put down each year, while strays cost the taxpayer and welfare charities £57 million a year.

Thousands of postal workers and hundreds of telecoms engineers are attacked by dogs every year, mainly on private property such as gardens, drives and private roads.

The RSPCA gave a cautious welcome to the news, but warned more preventative measures were needed to improve animal welfare.

David Bowles, head of public affairs, said: "Compulsory microchipping and extending the law to cover private property as well as public spaces is a welcome move. However, on their own we don't believe they will make owners more responsible or ensure fewer dogs bite people or other animals."

The U.S. Congress: From One Crisis to Another, The Politics of Debt Default

washington

“The full consequences of a default — or even the serious prospect of default — by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate… Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and on the value of the dollar in exchange markets.”

-Ronald Reagan (1911-2004), 40th President of the United States (1981–89), (1983)

“Decisions about the debt level [should] occur in conjunction with spending and revenue decisions as opposed to the after-the-fact approach now used… [doing so] would help avoid the uncertainty and disruptions that occur during debates on the debt limit today.”

-U.S. Government Accountability Office (G.A.O.)

“I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether they should pay the bills for what they’ve racked up… We can’t not pay bills that we’ve already incurred.”

-President Barack Obama, Tuesday January 1, 2013

That’s why the American people hate Congress.”

-Chris Christie, New Jersey Republican Governor, (January 2, 2013, after the Republican House majority refused to vote on a $60 billion aid package for victims of Superstorm Sandy)

One crisis averted, three to come! Indeed, that’s what can be said after the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on January 23, 2013, to suspend the government’s statutory borrowing limit for three months.

In fact, the cycle of artificially created crises will go on and on in Washington D.C. Now, the next crises are scheduled for March 1s, for March 27th and for May 19th. Stay tuned. On March 1st, automatic sequester cuts agreed by Congress in 2012 will take effect, causing an immediate cut of $69 billion in public discretionary spending. Then, on March 27, the U.S. government’s ability to fund itself (the “continuing resolution”) will run out. And, of course, come May 19, the melodrama of raising the debt ceiling will be back again in force.

Ever since Republicans took control of the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives in 2010, a fiscal drama with the White House and the U.S. Senate has been replayed time and again. One of the political gimmick is called the “raising of the country’s debt limit.

Why so many artificial crises in the current American political system? Extreme political polarization seems to be the answer.

Indeed, since the 2010 mid-term election, when the Republican Party took control of the House of Representatives with some 242 seats, this party has behaved as if it were in fact two parties in one. There is the traditional conservative Republican Party on one side, and the radical Republican Tea Party on the other side. With some 67 anarchist anti-tax and anti-establishment Tea Party House members voting as a block, the latter has been in a position to hold the balance of power in the House and to prevent compromised solutions to the country’s fiscal problems.

A good example was the 2011 showdown between the Democratic Obama administration and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives regarding raising the U.S. government’s debt ceiling.

In the spring of 2011, House Republicans, spurred by Tea Party members who practice no party discipline toward the Republican Party except to themselves, and reneging on a decades-long bipartisan tradition, refused to raise the nation’s debt ceiling, thus threatening to push the U.S. government toward debt default. They demanded that the Obama administration concede to freezing tax revenues and to enacting massive spending cuts. In the midst of a financial crisis and an economic slowdown, such huge public spending cuts could have pushed the U.S. economy toward an economic depression similar to the 1930’s Great Depression.

For the first time, therefore, House Tea Party members decided to use the perfunctory requirement to raise the debt limit to gain partisan political advantage. That move has introduced into the functioning of the U.S. Congress an element of radicalism and brinkmanship that could prevent the U.S. government from operating properly for years to come.

Mind you, the obligation for Congress to vote on raising the U.S. government’s debt ceiling has existed since a 1917 law to that effect was enacted. It allows the U.S. Treasury to proceed with borrowing to finance government operations as outlined in an already approved budget for a given fiscal year.

Economically speaking, indeed, there are three main ways to finance public expenditures: -through tax revenues; -through borrowing; -or, through the printing press, when a government borrows from its own central bank. The latter is in fact an inflation tax imposed on every user of the national currency.

Therefore, if the U.S. Congress has already approved a public budget of operations that does not raise taxes in a sufficient amount to cover outlays, and if an inflation tax is out of question, the only other avenue left is to borrow the required funds.

For years, the 1917 requirement to raise the debt limit was considered redundant since the budget had already been approved and it was seen as a simple bipartisan formality. Since 1940, for example, the U.S. debt ceiling has been raised 94 times, 54 times by a Republican administration and 40 times by a Democratic administration. Altogether the debt ceiling has been raised 102 times since 1917. It has been raised every year that the U.S. government has run a deficit.

If the Tea Party members of the House keep on routinely using the 1917 law to formally raise the debt limit as an obstructionist tool, Congress may be constantly gridlocked and the U.S. government will continue going from crisis to crisis. A small minority of House members could then hold the U.S. government hostage. As a consequence, it could become increasingly difficult for the U.S. Administration to implement sensible economic and fiscal policies along the principle of majority rule. The U.S. economy is bound to suffer severely from such a political paralysis.

In 2011, former president Bill Clinton expressed the view that the 1917 law is unconstitutional since it goes against Article I, sec. 8 of the U.S. Constitution that requires that Congress pay “the Debts and provide for the … general Welfare of the United States.” Besides, the Fourteenth Amendment (section 4) of the U.S. Constitution states that: “the validity of the public debt of the United States… shall not be questioned.

Therefore, if Congress does not fulfill its duties for one reason or another, the President in whom executive power is vested may have the right to act for the “general Welfare of the United States”.

In the coming weeks, if the House of Representatives refuses bipartisan cooperation and keeps stonewalling the Administration, President Obama may have no other choice but to call the Tea Party members’ bluff by unilaterally declaring the 1917 law unconstitutional and letting the courts sort it out later.

A constitutional crisis may seem to many to be a better alternative than a repetitive and protracted economic and financial crisis and an economy constantly teetering on the brink of a permanent fiscal cliff.

Dr. Rodrigue Tremblay, a Canadian-born economist, is the author of the book “The Code for Global Ethics, Ten Humanist Principles”, and of “The New American Empire”)

Her Majesty’s “Post Imperial” Government in Crisis: Prime Minister Cameron in Blunderland

british empire

“The refuge of the morally, intellectually, artistically and economically bankrupt is war.”(Martin H.Fischer, 1879-1962.)

It has not been an auspicious couple of weeks for UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

His Cabinet colleagues, largely a bunch of millionaires, have accused the unemployed of being work-shy and a burden on the taxpayers – never mind that businesses are closing in near industrial numbers and that often hundreds, if not thousands, apply for one job. Additionally, according to the Literacy Trust: ” One in six people in the UK struggle with literacy. This means their literacy is below the level expected of an eleven year old … Men and women with poor literacy are least likely to be in full-time employment at the age of thirty.”

A junior Health Minister has accused the poor of being fat because, she has decided, they eat the wrong things.

The latter of course, implies that the overweight poor will be a further burden on Britain’s National Health Service, being more likely to develop chronic conditions. It seems this health fascism exempts government Ministers and politicians such as the Minister for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, who must flatten the tires and springs of his Ministerial limousine, along with other political rotundas, politicians who of course, live entirely at the taxpayers expense, from large salaries, with all financial outputs covered and health care.

David Cameron himself stated that without the health help he had received, often twenty four hours a day, for his little son Ivan, suffering a chronic condition which subsequently proved fatal, his family would have been unable to cope. Now under his government, the Health Service too is under government fire – slash and burn style. Cuts in welfare include attempting to force the very disabled, even potentially terminally ill back to work. Some have committed suicide.

Public anger and resentment is palpably mounting against pretty well all policies in a government seen as completely blind to the reality in Britain’s villages, towns and cities.

The government message of course is fiscal belt tightening, ”getting the economy back on track.”

Then the Prime Minister cancelled a long planned address in Europe on Britain and the EU (another mess) leapt on a ‘plane for Mali, a geographical stone’s throw away from the ruins of his last African foray, Libya, and announced support for France’s reckless insurgency, in one of the few countries the British have not invaded, plundered or colonised. So much for fiscal probity.

The opposition Labour Party’s Defence spokesman, Jim Murphy, commented of what rapidly became Operation Creep: “The UK commitment to Mali has grown from lending the French two transport aircraft, to the deployment of perhaps hundreds of troops to the region.” Most will be there, Cameron has assured, on a “training mission.”

In what should have been a mega reality check for anyone but the Prime Minister, former Labour Cabinet Minister, Frank Dobson, pointed out that: “The American catastrophe in Vietnam started off with a deployment of troops in a training capacity.”

From there he went to meddle in Algiers, popped in on the remains of Libya in a sixteen vehicle armed and armored motorcade, where he addressed a police training college (in english) and assured them that: “In building a new Libya you will have no greater friend than the United Kingdom. We will stand with you every step of the way.” That should send a chill down spines.

Cameron’s decision to fly to the Maghreb, wrote one commentator: “was a Blair-style statement that Britain intends to stay involved. Indeed, Cameron’s references to a ‘generational struggle’ make him sound remarkably similar to Tony Blair after 9/11.”

“I believe we are in the midst of a long struggle against murderous terrorists and a poisonous ideology that supports them,” he told the World Economic Forum in Davos on returning.

Whilst: “We’ve successfully put pressure on al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan, so al-Qaida franchises have been growing for years in Yemen, in Somalia” and across parts of Africa he warned. His predecessor, “Peace Envoy” Tony Blair, wanted by lawyers and others worldwide for his Iraq lies, cheered on Britain in Mali from the television studios.

It now transpires that David Cameron relies on Blair, who may yet be headed for the International Criminal Court in The Hague, as, seemingly some sort of mentor, from whom, it is reported, he has been taking personal advice.The Chancellor, George Osborne, is reported as referring to Blair as “the master.” (i)

Cameron is quoted as being: “very admiring of Blair, whom he regards as a nice person and has conviction.” With judgment like that there may be those who feel he would be dangerous in charge of a broom, yet alone a country.

Iraq’s ruins, widows, orphans, three million dead, five million displaced are testimony to Blair’s “conviction” and niceness, in this tenth anniversary of the invasion year and twenty second of the embargo, which Blair endorsed, helped sustain its strangulation, colluded with – with UK aircraft aiding the illegal US bombings, during his term in office, 1997-2007.

On Monday (4th February) David Cameron hosted Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan at a dinner at the Prime Ministerial country home, Chequers: “as part of his ongoing efforts to help to strengthen Afghanistan-Pakistan relations and promote regional peace and stability”, according to The Independent.

It would have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall as the canapés did the rounds. Ahead of this much touted mini summit, President Karzai gave lengthy interviews to the Guardian and ITN (ii.) It was to put it mildly, a bit of a broadside:

“In 2002 through 2006, Afghanistan had a lot better security. When we had our own presence there, with very little foreign troops, schools were open in Helmand and life was more secure”, said the President.

Moreover, whilst he appreciated “the sacrifices” and “contributions” of the British forces: “ … we also would like our allies in the west to recognise the immense sacrifices of the Afghan people in the last ten years, the immense loss of life and the suffering that the Afghan people put up with …”

Acknowledging corruption within the Afghan government and its agencies (indeed the allegations leveled at his own family and connections are a litany) he stated that: “in comparison to the corruption coming through the international donor contracts, and the way the money was spent (it was) really insignificant.” He gave examples.

Asked about the attacks by Afghan troops on coalition forces, he said it “pained” his Administration as a “serious breach of hospitality” for which Afghanistan is known, but: “ …there has to be a lot more cultural sensitivity by our allies when they send troops to Afghanistan. Plus much more.”

Given night raids, wholesale destruction of lives, livelihoods, homes, terrorism by Drones, his restraint was commendable, the more so since he and colleagues survived a US “friendly fire” missile attack in 2001, suffering serious injuries, his also involving damage to facial nerves, still sometimes noticeable.

Asked what stood in the way of progress in Afghanistan: “The risk is continuation of foreign interference …” Further: “The exit of foreign forces will not bring more violence … but a serious, strong, good reduction in violence will occur.” Earlier he had said: “On our own, as Afghans, we will be good. It’s the external factors that will determine the extent of progress and stability or the lack of it.”

On the planned departure of western troops from Afghanistan one comment was that perhaps the reason was: “ …that they have felt that there was no fight in Afghanistan from the very first day, that terrorism was not in Afghanistan to be found, that they had to go to the (Taliban’s) sanctuaries long time back, that they didn’t do that and since they cannot do that even today there is no point for them to stay in Afghanistan, so they would like to leave …” Ouch.

(It should be said that in the mid nineties Karzai not only worked with the Taliban, but they asked him to be their Ambassador to the United Narions.)

In a long interview there are certainly some enlightening lines. US and UK “progress” and conquest of “hearts and minds” over twelve years in Afghanistan seems to lie buried in that “graveyard of empires.”

The US is committed to “an enduring presence” in Afghanistan (it’s the minerals, stupid.) So far Hamid Karzai is talking a conciliatory line. They would perhaps be confined to the odd base, but in no towns or villages. Mr Karzai seems like a man who is capable of changing his mind.

It is to be hoped nothing went wrong with the menu of that bridge-building Prime Ministerial dinner. Britain has had another major food scandal, with horsemeat found in beefburgers – and pork in halal meat. Hope none found its way to Chequers to round off Cameron’s latest accident prone couple of weeks.

Notes

i. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/meet-my-nbf-david-cameron-and-tony-blair-become-chums-8478494.html

ii. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/04/hamid-karzai-interview-full-transcript?INTCMP=SRCH

Obama’s Flip-Flops on Money in Politics: A Brief History

Obama’s Flip-Flops on Money in Politics: A Brief History

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Posted on Feb 4, 2013
The White House/Pete Souza

By Justin Elliott, ProPublica

This piece first appeared on ProPublica.

When President Obama told supporters that he would morph his campaign into a new nonprofit that would accept unlimited corporate donations, the announcement set off a familiar round of griping from campaign finance reformers.

The creation this month of Organizing for Action, which will promote the president’s second-term agenda, appears to be the fourth reversal by Obama on major money-in-politics issues since 2008.

“No big bank or corporation will donate million-dollar checks to OFA without the expectation that it will impact which issues they engage on, and that’s very troubling,” said Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

The Washington Post noted that in reorganizing his campaign as a tax-exempt social welfare group, the president is embracing a structure that has been criticized for allowing anonymous money into politics.

Conservatives who’ve been attacked by the Obama camp for their reliance on such “dark money” groups called out the president’s “brazen hypocrisy.” Neither the White House nor Organizing for America responded to requests for comment.

Here’s a brief history of Obama’s other shifts on money-in-politics issues going back to 2008:

In November 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama pledged to take part in the presidential public financing system for the general election, calling himself “a longtime advocate for public financing of campaigns.” Under the system, created in the wake of Watergate, a candidate receives taxpayer money ($84 million in 2008) and cannot accept most private donations or spend beyond the amount of the government grant.

Less than a year later, in June 2008, Obama reversed himself and announced he was opting out of the system. He maintained he still supported the system in principle but said it should be reformed.

Obama became the first candidate to decline general election public financing since the creation of the system and went on to raise a then-record $745 million for the cycle. He outspent John McCain, who did accept public money, by four-to-one. Obama’s 2008 decision generally takes at least some of the blame from campaign finance observers for killing the system.

Neither Obama nor Mitt Romney accepted public financing in the 2012 race. The Obama campaign raised $782 million for the cycle.

When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 2010 Citizens United decision, opening the way for the creation of super PACs financed with unlimited corporate or individual money, Obama became the ruling’s biggest critic.

“Last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections,” Obama said in his State of the Union address a few days after the decision. “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.”

That criticism turned into a pledge not to use the new funding vehicles. In July 2011, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt told the Washington Post: “Neither the president nor his campaign staff or aides will fundraise for super PACs. Our campaign will continue to lead the way when it comes to transparency and reform.”

Seven months later, the campaign reversed itself and embraced a super PAC founded by former White House aides called Priorities USA Action. “[O]ur campaign has to face the reality of the law as it currently stands,” wrote campaign manager Jim Messina in a blog post.

With the blessing of the campaign, top Obama aides, such as then-Chief of Staff Jack Lew and confidantes like Rahm Emanuel, were dispatched to solicit super PAC donations from Democratic millionaires and billionaires. Priorities USA ultimately spent more than $60 million to help re-elect the president.

  • Inaugural festivities funding

After Obama’s victory in 2008, his inaugural committee abided by what it called “an unprecedented set of limitations on fundraising as part of President-elect Obama’s pledge to put the country on a new path.” That meant taking no corporate money and no individual contributions in excess of $50,000 to pay for the myriad parties and balls that end up costing tens of millions of dollars.

The second time around, Obama reversed the policy. The inaugural committee organizing this month’s inaugural festivities accepted corporate money and imposed no limits on giving. A spokesperson cited the need to “meet the fund-raising requirements for this civic event after the most expensive presidential campaign in history.”

  • Unlimited special interest spending

Just a few months ago, the Obama campaign sent me a memo on the president’s campaign finance record, highlighting his repeated denunciations of special interest money in politics.

“That’s one of the reasons I ran for President: because I believe so strongly that the voices of ordinary Americans were being drowned out by the clamor of a privileged few in Washington,” he said in May 2010, decrying the way Citizens United “gives corporations and other special interests the power to spend unlimited amounts of money — literally millions of dollars — to affect elections throughout our country.”

In 2012, the Obama campaign specifically called out social welfare, or 501(c)(4),  groups that spent hundreds of millions of dollars of anonymous money on political ads.

That’s why campaign finance reformers are so angry: Organizing for Action is a 501(c)(4) that will advocate for the president’s second-term agenda.

The group has said that despite its status, it will voluntarily disclose donors. But it’s not clear whether that will involve full, prompt disclosure of who is giving and how much, or simply providing a list of names at some point.

A spokeswoman for the new group told NBC this week the disclosure issue is “still being worked out.”

Unnamed Democratic officials have told media outlets that the group will take corporate money (though not donations from registered lobbyists). Indeed, at a meeting this month at the Newseum in Washington, Obama campaign aides pitched top Democratic donors, reported Politico, which obtained a ticket to the event.

The meeting was sponsored by a trade association founded by Fortune 100 companies, including UnitedHealthcare, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and Duke Energy.

Social welfare groups are formed to promote the common good and may be involved in politics. Under IRS rules, they are not supposed to be primarily engaged in campaigns.

It’s unclear whether Organizing for Action will get involved in electoral politics as other such nonprofits have in recent years. The group’s spokeswoman told NBC it will run “issue” ads to support Obama’s agenda — but that’s a category of political advocacy that has been open to wide interpretation.

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Report: Japanese Whaling ‘Dead in the Water’ Without Millions in Subsidies

The controversial Japanese whaling industry, which has met fierce criticism and often combative oversea confrontations, is "effectively dead in the water" without large government subsidies says a new report by animal watchdog group, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw).

A Japanese whaling fleet's mothership, the Nisshin Maru, seen from Sea Shepherd vessel the Bob Barker. (Photo: Sam Sielen/AFP/Getty) Breaking the story on the uneaten 'warehouses of whale meat,' the Guardian cites a new report, to be published Tuesday, which found that—despite a dramatic drop in whale meat consumption—the Japanese government continues to siphon millions from public tax dollars to keep the industry afloat.

Whale meat consumption has reportedly fallen to about 1% of its 1960s peak, with stockpiles of unsold whale meat topping 5 million kilograms.

According the report, despite this obvious glut, the Japanese government spent at least ¥30bn ($4.8bn) on whaling between 1987 and 2012, including last year's subsidies of ¥2.28bn ($366m) which were siphoned off from money budgeted for reconstruction from the 2011 tsunami.

"With growing wealth and modernisation, the people of Japan have lost their yen for whale meat," the report says. "Yet fisheries officials and other government figures continue to siphon off millions of taxpayer yen to prop up an industry that is effectively dead in the water."

An unnamed Japanese anti-whaling activist and volunteer with ocean conservationist group Sea Shepard says that, despite the significant drop in popularity, Japanese whaling continues primarily because of "greed and bureaucracy, and also because the Japanese, like any country, don't like being told what to do by other countries."

"The fisheries agency is using international opposition to whaling to build domestic support," said Patrick Ramage, the director of Ifaw's global whale program. "But I don't think that argument is selling any better than all that whale meat now sitting in warehouses."

Rosa Parks’ Stamp on American History

(Photo: George Bridges/ Getty)Today, to honor the Feb. 4 centennial of the birth of Rosa Parks, the United States Postal Service has issued a Rosa Parks stamp. Last year, a stone carving of Parks was added to the National Cathedral. In 2005, she became the first woman and second African American to lie in honor in the nation's Capitol and, through a special act of Congress, a statue of her was ordered placed in the Capitol.

Yet these tributes to Rosa Parks rest on a narrow and distorted vision of her legacy. As the story goes, a quiet Montgomery, Ala., seamstress with a single act challenged Southern segregation, catapulted a young Martin Luther King Jr. into national leadership and ushered in the modern civil rights movement. Parks' memorialization promotes an improbable children's story of social change -- one not-angry woman sat down, the country was galvanized and structural racism was vanquished.

This fable diminishes the extensive history of collective action against racial injustice and underestimates the widespread opposition to the black freedom movement, which for decades treated Parks' political activities as "un-American." Most important, it skips over the enduring scourge of racial inequality in American society -- a reality that Parks continued to highlight and challenge -- and serves contemporary political interests that treat racial injustice as a thing of the past.

A more thorough accounting of Parks' political life offers a different set of reasons for the nation to honor her. Laboring in the 1940s and 1950s in relative obscurity, Parks and her colleague E.D. Nixon were among a small group who sought to transform Montgomery's NAACP into a more activist branch, determined to register their dissent, even if they could deal no significant blow to white supremacy. With Nixon as branch president and Parks as secretary, they pushed for black-voter registration, legal justice and school desegregation -- and Parks traveled the state documenting white brutality and legal malfeasance. The summer before her bus stand, she attended a two-week workshop at Highlander Folk School, an interracial, adult organizer training school in Tennessee, to organize for the implementation of school desegregation.

Knowing well the cost of bus resistance (a neighbor had been killed for his resistance, the young Claudette Colvin manhandled) and having made numerous personal stands against segregation that went nowhere, Parks understood the cost, danger and likely ineffectiveness of her stand. And yet "pushed as far as [she] could stand to be pushed," she did it anyway. When, to her surprise, her arrest galvanized a mass movement, she worked hard to sustain it over the next year.

Her stand led to significant economic and personal hardship for her family. In the early days of the boycott, both Rosa and Raymond Parks lost their jobs. Eight months after the boycott ended, still unable to find work, in poor health and continuing to face death threats, they left Montgomery for Detroit. There she did not rest, but joined with new and old comrades to fight the racism of her new hometown and American society more broadly.

One of the greatest distortions of the Parks fable is the way it portrays her as meek, missing the resolute political sensibility that identified Malcolm X as her personal hero. Arriving in Detroit in 1957, she spent more than half her life fighting racial injustice in the Jim Crow North. Describing the city as the "promised land that wasn't," the Parks family lived in the "heart of the ghetto" and found racism in Detroit "almost as widespread as Montgomery." Having volunteered on his upstart political campaign, Parks was hired by the newly elected Rep. John Conyers in 1965 to be part of his Detroit staff, where she worked on issues such as police brutality, open housing, welfare and job discrimination -- the plagues of Northern racism.

Her long-standing political commitments to self-defense, black history, economic justice, police accountability and black political empowerment intersected with key aspects of the Black Power movement, and she took part in numerous mobilizations in the late 1960s and 1970s. An internationalist, she opposed U.S. involvement in Vietnam, demonstrated at the South African embassy to condemn apartheid and contested U.S. policy in Central America. Eight days after 9/11, she joined other activists in a letter calling for justice, not vengeance, insisting the U.S. must work with the international community and warning against retaliation or war.

To the end of her life, Parks continued to stress the enduring need for social change, reminding Americans "not [to] become comfortable with the gains we have made in the last forty years." That lifetime of steadfastness and outrage, tenacity and bravery, is what deserves national veneration.

Doing justice to Parks' actual legacy thus requires something of us -- something much harder than a stamp or a statue. Rosa Parks' courage was the ability to make an independent stand, even though she and others had done it before and nothing had changed, and even when she well-understood the harm that might befall her. She made those stands over and over throughout the course of her life.

Honoring her legacy means summoning similar audacity. It requires acknowledging that America is not a postracial society and that the blight of racial and social injustice is deep and manifest. It entails a profound recommitment to the goals for which she spent a lifetime fighting -- a criminal justice system fair and just to people of color, unfettered voting rights, educational access and equity, real assistance to the poor, an end to U.S. wars of occupation and black history in all parts of school curricula. Finally, it means heeding her words to Spelman College students: "Don't give up, and don't say the movement is dead."

© 2013 The Slate Group LLC

Jeanne Theoharis

Jeanne Theoharis is professor of political science at Brooklyn College and is the author of numerous books and articles on the civil rights and Black Power movements, the politics of race and education, social welfare and civil rights in post-9/11 America, including the biography, The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.

Rosa Parks’ Stamp on American History

(Photo: George Bridges/ Getty)Today, to honor the Feb. 4 centennial of the birth of Rosa Parks, the United States Postal Service has issued a Rosa Parks stamp. Last year, a stone carving of Parks was added to the National Cathedral. In 2005, she became the first woman and second African American to lie in honor in the nation's Capitol and, through a special act of Congress, a statue of her was ordered placed in the Capitol.

Yet these tributes to Rosa Parks rest on a narrow and distorted vision of her legacy. As the story goes, a quiet Montgomery, Ala., seamstress with a single act challenged Southern segregation, catapulted a young Martin Luther King Jr. into national leadership and ushered in the modern civil rights movement. Parks' memorialization promotes an improbable children's story of social change -- one not-angry woman sat down, the country was galvanized and structural racism was vanquished.

This fable diminishes the extensive history of collective action against racial injustice and underestimates the widespread opposition to the black freedom movement, which for decades treated Parks' political activities as "un-American." Most important, it skips over the enduring scourge of racial inequality in American society -- a reality that Parks continued to highlight and challenge -- and serves contemporary political interests that treat racial injustice as a thing of the past.

A more thorough accounting of Parks' political life offers a different set of reasons for the nation to honor her. Laboring in the 1940s and 1950s in relative obscurity, Parks and her colleague E.D. Nixon were among a small group who sought to transform Montgomery's NAACP into a more activist branch, determined to register their dissent, even if they could deal no significant blow to white supremacy. With Nixon as branch president and Parks as secretary, they pushed for black-voter registration, legal justice and school desegregation -- and Parks traveled the state documenting white brutality and legal malfeasance. The summer before her bus stand, she attended a two-week workshop at Highlander Folk School, an interracial, adult organizer training school in Tennessee, to organize for the implementation of school desegregation.

Knowing well the cost of bus resistance (a neighbor had been killed for his resistance, the young Claudette Colvin manhandled) and having made numerous personal stands against segregation that went nowhere, Parks understood the cost, danger and likely ineffectiveness of her stand. And yet "pushed as far as [she] could stand to be pushed," she did it anyway. When, to her surprise, her arrest galvanized a mass movement, she worked hard to sustain it over the next year.

Her stand led to significant economic and personal hardship for her family. In the early days of the boycott, both Rosa and Raymond Parks lost their jobs. Eight months after the boycott ended, still unable to find work, in poor health and continuing to face death threats, they left Montgomery for Detroit. There she did not rest, but joined with new and old comrades to fight the racism of her new hometown and American society more broadly.

One of the greatest distortions of the Parks fable is the way it portrays her as meek, missing the resolute political sensibility that identified Malcolm X as her personal hero. Arriving in Detroit in 1957, she spent more than half her life fighting racial injustice in the Jim Crow North. Describing the city as the "promised land that wasn't," the Parks family lived in the "heart of the ghetto" and found racism in Detroit "almost as widespread as Montgomery." Having volunteered on his upstart political campaign, Parks was hired by the newly elected Rep. John Conyers in 1965 to be part of his Detroit staff, where she worked on issues such as police brutality, open housing, welfare and job discrimination -- the plagues of Northern racism.

Her long-standing political commitments to self-defense, black history, economic justice, police accountability and black political empowerment intersected with key aspects of the Black Power movement, and she took part in numerous mobilizations in the late 1960s and 1970s. An internationalist, she opposed U.S. involvement in Vietnam, demonstrated at the South African embassy to condemn apartheid and contested U.S. policy in Central America. Eight days after 9/11, she joined other activists in a letter calling for justice, not vengeance, insisting the U.S. must work with the international community and warning against retaliation or war.

To the end of her life, Parks continued to stress the enduring need for social change, reminding Americans "not [to] become comfortable with the gains we have made in the last forty years." That lifetime of steadfastness and outrage, tenacity and bravery, is what deserves national veneration.

Doing justice to Parks' actual legacy thus requires something of us -- something much harder than a stamp or a statue. Rosa Parks' courage was the ability to make an independent stand, even though she and others had done it before and nothing had changed, and even when she well-understood the harm that might befall her. She made those stands over and over throughout the course of her life.

Honoring her legacy means summoning similar audacity. It requires acknowledging that America is not a postracial society and that the blight of racial and social injustice is deep and manifest. It entails a profound recommitment to the goals for which she spent a lifetime fighting -- a criminal justice system fair and just to people of color, unfettered voting rights, educational access and equity, real assistance to the poor, an end to U.S. wars of occupation and black history in all parts of school curricula. Finally, it means heeding her words to Spelman College students: "Don't give up, and don't say the movement is dead."

© 2013 The Slate Group LLC

Jeanne Theoharis

Jeanne Theoharis is professor of political science at Brooklyn College and is the author of numerous books and articles on the civil rights and Black Power movements, the politics of race and education, social welfare and civil rights in post-9/11 America, including the biography, The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.

Obamacare: A Deception

Obamacare was formulated on the concept of health care as a commercial commodity and was cloaked in ideological slogans such as “shared responsibility,” “no free riders” and “ownership society.”

Serious News: In Low Supply From Corporte-Owned Mainstream Media

Serious News: In Low Supply From Corporte-Owned Mainstream Media

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Posted on Feb 3, 2013
Flickr/bikesandwhich

By Ralph Nader

This article was first published on Ralph Nader’s site, Nader.org

On January 30, 2013, an unusual front-page story appeared prominently in The Washington Post about a small D.C. charity called Martha’s Table that serves meals to 1,100 people a day, has early-childhood and after-school programs, and provides other community-enriching programs. Among its distinctions is a giant volunteer corps of, according to the Post, “10,000 school kids, poor people and the occasional president who chops vegetables and builds sandwiches.” Fascinating!

The only reason for the Post writing and front-paging the article is that the new, full-time, volunteer president is Patty Stonesifer, ex-Microsoft megamillionaire, ex-chief executive of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and ex-chairperson of the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents. Amazing!

The Post’s million readers also got to see Ms. Stonesifer say, “I was amazed at how there is a city within a city here….This idea that the District [of Columbia] has so much child hunger, it’s mind-boggling.”

The Post, the local television stations and cable shows often do not showcase the District’s big dirty secret. That, among its glittering affluent class (mostly shorn of noblesse oblige), half-dozen major universities and governmental departments, there is widespread, deep poverty, unhealthy and afflicted children, and higher rates of cancer and diabetes, for example, than most states.

What is important to the Post and other local media are local professional sports, local entertainment, visiting celebrities, and endless gossip or other permutations of such page- and time-fillers. The Post obviously believes that the injured knee of rookie sensation, Robert Griffin III and its impact on the Redskins’ organization are too big for its sport pages, and required multiple front-page stories since RGIII injured himself during playoffs in January.

The Post has been cutting back – ending its separate daily business section and its separate Sunday Book Review section. But its (spectator) sports section remains large with numerous reporters, columnists, feature writers, editors and gossip-mongers frantically scurrying around.

The Post’s front page features an article by sports columnist Sally Jenkins, but not one by their recently retired, superb business columnist Steve Pearlstein, who tells readers how and why their living standards are being mauled by big business. I doubt that readers would be upset were Ms. Jenkins to have written that column back in the sports pages instead.

When one of America’s leading newspapers decides to lighten up or stupefy – take your pick – its content at a time of grave developments and degradations in our society – local, regional, national and international, “We the People” need to be part of the conversation. It is not sufficient to be told vaguely about the illusive “surveys” of reader opinion that do not convey the availability of real choices.

Space and time for serious matters are also increasingly limited in other news outlets. Over 90 percent of commercial radio is music and advertisements. Commercial TV entertainment and ads are not far behind. There are fewer examples of serious, compelling programming by the national afternoon entertainment shows than there were in the Phil Donahue, Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin shows. These shows found some time to inform readers about auto safety, unsafe medicines and other consumer and environmental subjects. Now, it is nonstop sadomasochism, reality show family drama or other similar kinds of cheating and betrayals in relationships. Forget about local television shows – most are long gone, having been displaced by these syndicated shows.

Bear in mind, much of this modern Sodom and Gomorrah is conducted on our public airwaves used by broadcasters for free. When I called Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, the leading bloviated soliloquists on radio, “corporate welfare kings,” they were nonplussed as if profitably using our public airwaves without payment is their birthright.

This week, the media buildup is for the Superbowl. Endless articles, features and gossip, with huge photographs, swarm superficially over the pages and airwaves and cable networks. There is simply no such restraint. Enough is enough! Soon, the buildup will be for Hollywood’s Oscars on February 24, and all the “players” will be profiled and psycho-analyzed.

In the meantime, valiant Americans are striving to reduce or prevent the pain, anguish and costs of preventable tragedies – poverty, repression, marginalization, exclusion and the chronic indifference to posterity in favor of vested pressures for instant gratification. The press releases, reports, accomplishments and testimonies of those striving for justice receive very little coverage from the mass media.

Groups with compelling causes come from around the country to the National Press building for well-prepared news conferences only to find no one there from the press, except an occasional indie reporter. NPR and PBS do not come close to wanting to fill some of this void.

Without media coverage, the civic community cannot, even if it demonstrates in the streets and squares, expand its audience of concern. Citizen morale struggles to persist in the face of powerful opposition. Gone is the wisdom of famed newspaper publisher, Joseph Pulitzer who advised his reporters “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

People in the colony of the District of Columbia march, protest, and host important news conferences to press for statehood so that they can have a voting representative and senator(s) in Congress. They regularly get shut out of the local media. After all, it’s only electoral democracy they’re working to install.

Maybe a blend is necessary. How about Robert Griffin III becoming the full-time chair of the D.C. statehood association, in the off-season? Or would that give the editors of the Post too much cognitive dissonance?


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Serious News: In Low Supply From Corporte-Owned Mainstream Media

Serious News: In Low Supply From Corporte-Owned Mainstream Media

Email this item Email    Print this item Print    Share this item... Share
Posted on Feb 3, 2013
Flickr/bikesandwhich

By Ralph Nader

This article was first published on Ralph Nader’s site, Nader.org

On January 30, 2013, an unusual front-page story appeared prominently in The Washington Post about a small D.C. charity called Martha’s Table that serves meals to 1,100 people a day, has early-childhood and after-school programs, and provides other community-enriching programs. Among its distinctions is a giant volunteer corps of, according to the Post, “10,000 school kids, poor people and the occasional president who chops vegetables and builds sandwiches.” Fascinating!

The only reason for the Post writing and front-paging the article is that the new, full-time, volunteer president is Patty Stonesifer, ex-Microsoft megamillionaire, ex-chief executive of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and ex-chairperson of the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents. Amazing!

The Post’s million readers also got to see Ms. Stonesifer say, “I was amazed at how there is a city within a city here….This idea that the District [of Columbia] has so much child hunger, it’s mind-boggling.”

The Post, the local television stations and cable shows often do not showcase the District’s big dirty secret. That, among its glittering affluent class (mostly shorn of noblesse oblige), half-dozen major universities and governmental departments, there is widespread, deep poverty, unhealthy and afflicted children, and higher rates of cancer and diabetes, for example, than most states.

What is important to the Post and other local media are local professional sports, local entertainment, visiting celebrities, and endless gossip or other permutations of such page- and time-fillers. The Post obviously believes that the injured knee of rookie sensation, Robert Griffin III and its impact on the Redskins’ organization are too big for its sport pages, and required multiple front-page stories since RGIII injured himself during playoffs in January.

The Post has been cutting back – ending its separate daily business section and its separate Sunday Book Review section. But its (spectator) sports section remains large with numerous reporters, columnists, feature writers, editors and gossip-mongers frantically scurrying around.

The Post’s front page features an article by sports columnist Sally Jenkins, but not one by their recently retired, superb business columnist Steve Pearlstein, who tells readers how and why their living standards are being mauled by big business. I doubt that readers would be upset were Ms. Jenkins to have written that column back in the sports pages instead.

When one of America’s leading newspapers decides to lighten up or stupefy – take your pick – its content at a time of grave developments and degradations in our society – local, regional, national and international, “We the People” need to be part of the conversation. It is not sufficient to be told vaguely about the illusive “surveys” of reader opinion that do not convey the availability of real choices.

Space and time for serious matters are also increasingly limited in other news outlets. Over 90 percent of commercial radio is music and advertisements. Commercial TV entertainment and ads are not far behind. There are fewer examples of serious, compelling programming by the national afternoon entertainment shows than there were in the Phil Donahue, Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin shows. These shows found some time to inform readers about auto safety, unsafe medicines and other consumer and environmental subjects. Now, it is nonstop sadomasochism, reality show family drama or other similar kinds of cheating and betrayals in relationships. Forget about local television shows – most are long gone, having been displaced by these syndicated shows.

Bear in mind, much of this modern Sodom and Gomorrah is conducted on our public airwaves used by broadcasters for free. When I called Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, the leading bloviated soliloquists on radio, “corporate welfare kings,” they were nonplussed as if profitably using our public airwaves without payment is their birthright.

This week, the media buildup is for the Superbowl. Endless articles, features and gossip, with huge photographs, swarm superficially over the pages and airwaves and cable networks. There is simply no such restraint. Enough is enough! Soon, the buildup will be for Hollywood’s Oscars on February 24, and all the “players” will be profiled and psycho-analyzed.

In the meantime, valiant Americans are striving to reduce or prevent the pain, anguish and costs of preventable tragedies – poverty, repression, marginalization, exclusion and the chronic indifference to posterity in favor of vested pressures for instant gratification. The press releases, reports, accomplishments and testimonies of those striving for justice receive very little coverage from the mass media.

Groups with compelling causes come from around the country to the National Press building for well-prepared news conferences only to find no one there from the press, except an occasional indie reporter. NPR and PBS do not come close to wanting to fill some of this void.

Without media coverage, the civic community cannot, even if it demonstrates in the streets and squares, expand its audience of concern. Citizen morale struggles to persist in the face of powerful opposition. Gone is the wisdom of famed newspaper publisher, Joseph Pulitzer who advised his reporters “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

People in the colony of the District of Columbia march, protest, and host important news conferences to press for statehood so that they can have a voting representative and senator(s) in Congress. They regularly get shut out of the local media. After all, it’s only electoral democracy they’re working to install.

Maybe a blend is necessary. How about Robert Griffin III becoming the full-time chair of the D.C. statehood association, in the off-season? Or would that give the editors of the Post too much cognitive dissonance?


New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.

Serious News: In Low Supply From Corporte-Owned Mainstream Media

Serious News: In Low Supply From Corporte-Owned Mainstream Media

Email this item Email    Print this item Print    Share this item... Share
Posted on Feb 3, 2013
Flickr/bikesandwhich

By Ralph Nader

This article was first published on Ralph Nader’s site, Nader.org

On January 30, 2013, an unusual front-page story appeared prominently in The Washington Post about a small D.C. charity called Martha’s Table that serves meals to 1,100 people a day, has early-childhood and after-school programs, and provides other community-enriching programs. Among its distinctions is a giant volunteer corps of, according to the Post, “10,000 school kids, poor people and the occasional president who chops vegetables and builds sandwiches.” Fascinating!

The only reason for the Post writing and front-paging the article is that the new, full-time, volunteer president is Patty Stonesifer, ex-Microsoft megamillionaire, ex-chief executive of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and ex-chairperson of the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents. Amazing!

The Post’s million readers also got to see Ms. Stonesifer say, “I was amazed at how there is a city within a city here….This idea that the District [of Columbia] has so much child hunger, it’s mind-boggling.”

The Post, the local television stations and cable shows often do not showcase the District’s big dirty secret. That, among its glittering affluent class (mostly shorn of noblesse oblige), half-dozen major universities and governmental departments, there is widespread, deep poverty, unhealthy and afflicted children, and higher rates of cancer and diabetes, for example, than most states.

What is important to the Post and other local media are local professional sports, local entertainment, visiting celebrities, and endless gossip or other permutations of such page- and time-fillers. The Post obviously believes that the injured knee of rookie sensation, Robert Griffin III and its impact on the Redskins’ organization are too big for its sport pages, and required multiple front-page stories since RGIII injured himself during playoffs in January.

The Post has been cutting back – ending its separate daily business section and its separate Sunday Book Review section. But its (spectator) sports section remains large with numerous reporters, columnists, feature writers, editors and gossip-mongers frantically scurrying around.

The Post’s front page features an article by sports columnist Sally Jenkins, but not one by their recently retired, superb business columnist Steve Pearlstein, who tells readers how and why their living standards are being mauled by big business. I doubt that readers would be upset were Ms. Jenkins to have written that column back in the sports pages instead.

When one of America’s leading newspapers decides to lighten up or stupefy – take your pick – its content at a time of grave developments and degradations in our society – local, regional, national and international, “We the People” need to be part of the conversation. It is not sufficient to be told vaguely about the illusive “surveys” of reader opinion that do not convey the availability of real choices.

Space and time for serious matters are also increasingly limited in other news outlets. Over 90 percent of commercial radio is music and advertisements. Commercial TV entertainment and ads are not far behind. There are fewer examples of serious, compelling programming by the national afternoon entertainment shows than there were in the Phil Donahue, Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin shows. These shows found some time to inform readers about auto safety, unsafe medicines and other consumer and environmental subjects. Now, it is nonstop sadomasochism, reality show family drama or other similar kinds of cheating and betrayals in relationships. Forget about local television shows – most are long gone, having been displaced by these syndicated shows.

Bear in mind, much of this modern Sodom and Gomorrah is conducted on our public airwaves used by broadcasters for free. When I called Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, the leading bloviated soliloquists on radio, “corporate welfare kings,” they were nonplussed as if profitably using our public airwaves without payment is their birthright.

This week, the media buildup is for the Superbowl. Endless articles, features and gossip, with huge photographs, swarm superficially over the pages and airwaves and cable networks. There is simply no such restraint. Enough is enough! Soon, the buildup will be for Hollywood’s Oscars on February 24, and all the “players” will be profiled and psycho-analyzed.

In the meantime, valiant Americans are striving to reduce or prevent the pain, anguish and costs of preventable tragedies – poverty, repression, marginalization, exclusion and the chronic indifference to posterity in favor of vested pressures for instant gratification. The press releases, reports, accomplishments and testimonies of those striving for justice receive very little coverage from the mass media.

Groups with compelling causes come from around the country to the National Press building for well-prepared news conferences only to find no one there from the press, except an occasional indie reporter. NPR and PBS do not come close to wanting to fill some of this void.

Without media coverage, the civic community cannot, even if it demonstrates in the streets and squares, expand its audience of concern. Citizen morale struggles to persist in the face of powerful opposition. Gone is the wisdom of famed newspaper publisher, Joseph Pulitzer who advised his reporters “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

People in the colony of the District of Columbia march, protest, and host important news conferences to press for statehood so that they can have a voting representative and senator(s) in Congress. They regularly get shut out of the local media. After all, it’s only electoral democracy they’re working to install.

Maybe a blend is necessary. How about Robert Griffin III becoming the full-time chair of the D.C. statehood association, in the off-season? Or would that give the editors of the Post too much cognitive dissonance?


New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.

Fox Guest Likens ACA Contraception Mandate To Food Stamps

If you thought that the Obama administration's recent changes to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act would quell the Fox News/right-wing fear mongering over religious liberty, think again. Fox & Friends Weekend this morning conducted an all-male discussion over the new guidelines in which their guest, Jim Towey, president of Ave Maria University, said that the contraception mandate is a “new federal entitlement, something like 'contraception stamps.'” It was very telling that he meant that as a slur, rather than a government safety net.

As Karoli described in an earlier post, the new rules allow religiously-affiliated organizations to avoid having to directly cover contraception yet still provide an opportunity for women employed by those organizations to get that coverage at no charge through a separate policy.

Think Progress has reported that a number of Catholic leaders have already come out in favor of the new regulations, including Bill Donahue of the Catholic League, normally a good pal of the Foxies. Think Progress also noted that “The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a statement to say they 'welcome' the new Obamacare regulations, and plan to comment further after a more thorough review of the rules.”

But the Friends held two discussions (this one and another with