On the News With Thom Hartman
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Thom Hartmann here – on the news…
You need to know this. Next month, the Senate will vote on gun control legislation, but provisions that the majority of voters support won’t be in the bill. Yesterday, California Senator Diane Feinstein’s assault weapons ban was pulled from the legislation, despite a Pew Research poll showing 55% of Americans support the ban. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he will allow the weapons ban to be offered as an amendment, but he will only introduce one measure, which increases the charges and penalties for gun trafficking. As Republicans would mount fierce opposition to the ban on military-style weapons, Mr. Reid said he felt sympathy for Diane Feinstein, but that her bill did not have the 60 votes needed to prevent a filibuster. The final bill may also include provisions to strengthen background checks, but it could be weighed down with pro-gun amendments from the other side of the isle. According to the New York Times, if that happens, the bill meant to strengthen gun regulations could turn into one that actually enhances guns rights. In an interview with reporters, Feinstein said, “How many assault weapons do you need circulating? To have these mass killings is such a blight on everything that America stands for.” So, the gun lobby wins again, and modest legislation, which would help keep military-style weapons out of criminals’ hands, can’t even be put up for a vote. The American people deserve to know which side their representatives stand on. Either Senators are with the majority of Americans that want these weapons off the street, or their with the gun lobby. As President Obama said in his State of the Union, “they deserve a vote,” and now is the time for that vote to happen.
In screwed news… In the five years since the 2008 financial meltdown, nearly every state in our nation has reduced funding for public universities. According to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, only North Dakota and Wyoming are investing in our future leaders at the same level they were before the Great Recession. The Think Progress Blog points out that some states have made these drastic cuts to education funding only to preserve tax breaks, leaving students on the hook for the skyrocketing tuition costs. Students in Arizona have been hit the hardest, with a 78% increase in college costs just since 2008 – all to preserve a $538 million corporate tax break enacted in 2011. So, while corporations in that state enjoy a 4.9% tax rate, students suffer with closed campuses, eliminated courses, inadequate school resources, and they pay nearly double the cost to obtain a degree. This is immoral… and extremely unwise. Our nation is 16th in the world at educating our future leaders, and huge cuts and ballooning tuition costs will only push us down further on that list. We must start investing in an educated workforce. If we’re supposed to be the greatest country in the world, why don’t we guarantee the right to a world-class education? This has to change.
In the best of the rest of the news…
Senator Elizabeth Warren is a warrior for the middle class. And in between taking on the banksters, and calling Republicans out for the pro-1% policies, Warren is also working on a book to document the battles she’s fought on behalf of working people of our nation. In an interview with the Associate Press on Tuesday, Sen. Warren said the new book, called “Rigged,” will tell the story of her time on a Congressional Oversight Panel, how she helped set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and how she ran a successful senate campaign to defeat Scott Brown. Warren said, “the title refers to how the economic system is too often rigged against families that work hard and play by the rules. The story is national, but it’s also personal.” Leave it to Senator Elizabeth Warren… not only does she fight everyday for the middle class, but manages to find time to document the story.
Next time you hear the Republican talking point about the U.S. having the highest corporate tax rate in the world, remember this: In 2012, some of our nation’s largest corporations actually got huge refunds. For instance, General Electric made $81 billion dollars in profits last year, yet received a whopping $3 billion dollar tax refund. Bank of America is another tax-dodger, as the company earned over $75 billion last year, yet wrote off so many legal settlements the company was eligible for a tax refund of over $1 billion. It is a privilege to do business in our nation, and to make huge profits off of hard-working American citizens, yet we’re actually paying corporations to be here. If Republicans are so worried about the debt and the deficit, they should be putting an end to this corporate welfare. If companies want to use our commons to make huge profits off our fellow citizens, let’s demand they start paying their fair share.
And finally… The Westboro Baptist Church has a new neighbor. About six months ago, Aaron Jackson, a founding member of a charity organization called Planting Peace, bought the house directly across the street from the anti-gay group. The purchase is part of a new nonprofit he calls “Equality House.” Mr. Jackson found out the house while playing around on Google Earth, and was struck with a brilliant idea. He said that as soon as he saw it was for sale he thought, “Oh my gosh, I could buy a house in front of the [Westboro Baptist Chuch]! And I’m going to paint that thing the color of the pride flag.” And yesterday, that’s exactly what he did. Out front of the newly-painted rainbow exterior, Mr. Jackson also flies the pride flag, and he is already working on the next steps in his fight for LGBT equality. Congrats to Aaron Jackson for standing up to Fred Phelps and his homophobic, hate group. In the words of Jesus, “love thy neighbor, as thy self.” I wonder if that includes neighbors living in a rainbow covered house…
And that’s the way it is today – Wednesday, March 20, 2013. I’m Thom Hartmann – on the news.
Treasure Island Trauma
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: March 21, 2013
A couple of years ago, the journalist Nicholas Shaxson published a fascinating, chilling book titled “Treasure Islands,” which explained how international tax havens — which are also, as the author pointed out, “secrecy jurisdictions” where many rules don’t apply — undermine economies around the world. Not only do they bleed revenues from cash-strapped governments and enable corruption; they distort the flow of capital, helping to feed ever-bigger financial crises.
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
One question Mr. Shaxson didn’t get into much, however, is what happens when a secrecy jurisdiction itself goes bust. That’s the story of Cyprus right now. And whatever the outcome for Cyprus itself (hint: it’s not likely to be happy), the Cyprus mess shows just how unreformed the world banking system remains, almost five years after the global financial crisis began.
So, about Cyprus: You might wonder why anyone cares about a tiny nation with an economy not much bigger than that of metropolitan Scranton, Pa. Cyprus is, however, a member of the euro zone, so events there could trigger contagion (for example, bank runs) in larger nations. And there’s something else: While the Cypriot economy may be tiny, it’s a surprisingly large financial player, with a banking sector four or five times as big as you might expect given the size of its economy.
Why are Cypriot banks so big? Because the country is a tax haven where corporations and wealthy foreigners stash their money. Officially, 37 percent of the deposits in Cypriot banks come from nonresidents; the true number, once you take into account wealthy expatriates and people who are only nominally resident in Cyprus, is surely much higher. Basically, Cyprus is a place where people, especially but not only Russians, hide their wealth from both the taxmen and the regulators. Whatever gloss you put on it, it’s basically about money-laundering.
And the truth is that much of the wealth never moved at all; it just became invisible. On paper, for example, Cyprus became a huge investor in Russia — much bigger than Germany, whose economy is hundreds of times larger. In reality, of course, this was just “roundtripping” by Russians using the island as a tax shelter.
Unfortunately for the Cypriots, enough real money came in to finance some seriously bad investments, as their banks bought Greek debt and lent into a vast real estate bubble. Sooner or later, things were bound to go wrong. And now they have.
Now what? There are some strong similarities between Cyprus now and Iceland (a similar-size economy) a few years back. Like Cyprus now, Iceland had a huge banking sector, swollen by foreign deposits, that was simply too big to bail out. Iceland’s response was essentially to let its banks go bust, wiping out those foreign investors, while protecting domestic depositors — and the results weren’t too bad. Indeed, Iceland, with a far lower unemployment rate than most of Europe, has weathered the crisis surprisingly well.
Unfortunately, Cyprus’s response to its crisis has been a hopeless muddle. In part, this reflects the fact that it no longer has its own currency, which makes it dependent on decision makers in Brussels and Berlin — decision makers who haven’t been willing to let banks openly fail.
But it also reflects Cyprus’s own reluctance to accept the end of its money-laundering business; its leaders are still trying to limit losses to foreign depositors in the vain hope that business as usual can resume, and they were so anxious to protect the big money that they tried to limit foreigners’ losses by expropriating small domestic depositors. As it turned out, however, ordinary Cypriots were outraged, the plan was rejected, and, at this point, nobody knows what will happen.
My guess is that, in the end, Cyprus will adopt something like the Icelandic solution, but unless it ends up being forced off the euro in the next few days — a real possibility — it may first waste a lot of time and money on half-measures, trying to avoid facing up to reality while running up huge debts to wealthier nations. We’ll see.
But step back for a minute and consider the incredible fact that tax havens like Cyprus, the Cayman Islands, and many more are still operating pretty much the same way that they did before the global financial crisis. Everyone has seen the damage that runaway bankers can inflict, yet much of the world’s financial business is still routed through jurisdictions that let bankers sidestep even the mild regulations we’ve put in place. Everyone is crying about budget deficits, yet corporations and the wealthy are still freely using tax havens to avoid paying taxes like the little people.
So don’t cry for Cyprus; cry for all of us, living in a world whose leaders seem determined not to learn from disaster.
Ryan the Redistributionist
Wednesday, 13 March 2013 12:29 By Robert Reich,
“Who is going to end up making all the money in the end if Obamacare continues to be in place?” Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus growled Monday on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show. “It’s going to be the big corporations, right? And who gets screwed? The middle class.”
The Republican Party makeover is breathtaking. Now, suddenly, instead of accusing Democrats of being “redistributionists,” the GOP is posing as defender of the middle class against corporate America — and it’s doing so by proposing to do away with the most progressive piece of legislation in well over a decade.
Paul Ryan’s new budget purportedly gets about 40 percent of its $4.6 trillion in spending cuts over ten years by repealing Obamacare, but Ryan’s budget document doesn’t mention that such a repeal would also lower taxes on corporations and the wealthy that foot Obamacare’s bill.
According to an analysis by the non-partisan Tax Foundation, Obamacare redistributes income from the wealthy to the middle class. This is mainly because it hikes Medicare taxes on the top 2 percent (singles earning more than $200,000 and couples earning more than $250,000, including their investment income).
This year, for example, families in the top 1 percent will be paying about $52,000 more in Medicare taxes, on average, than they paid in 2012.
And where will the money go? Not to pay for the healthcare of poor families; most of them already receive Medicaid. The rich will be helping middle and lower-middle class Americans.
Obamacare also imposes some taxes and fees on insurance companies, drug makers, and manufacturers of medical devices. Here again, most of this will be borne by affluent Americans, who own most shares of stock (assuming the taxes and fees come out of corporate profits). And, again, beneficiaries are in the middle and lower-middle class.
In other words, Mr. Priebus has it exactly backwards. If Obamacare were repealed, who would end up making all the money? Big corporations and the wealthy. Who would get screwed? The middle class.
The rest of Ryan’s budget plan also runs counter to the new Republican thematic. Not only does it turn Medicare into vouchers (“premium support” in Republican-speak) whose value can’t possibly keep up with rising healthcare costs but it also dramatically reduces spending on education, infrastructure, and much else the middle class depends on.
Meanwhile, it redistributes upward, cutting the top tax rate for individuals down to 25 percent — a bigger tax cut for the top than even Mitt Romney proposed — and the corporate tax rate down to 25 percent, from 35 percent today.
Ryan would pay for these tax cuts by “closing tax loopholes,” but — where did we hear this before? — his budget doesn’t say which loopholes, or even hint at what it would do with rates on capital gains and dividends. Like Romney’s plan, it leaves all the heavy lifting to Congress.
The reality, of course, is that the only possible way Ryan could pay for his proposed tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations would be to raise taxes on the middle class.
Don’t expect the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, or other Republicans reading from the same talking points, to admit any of this.
But if you look at what they’re proposing rather than what they’re saying, the GOP isn’t really interested in balancing the budget at all. It’s out to redistribute income and wealth — to the best-off Americans, from everyone else.
If any party is into redistribution, it’s the Republicans. And Paul Ryan is leading the charge.
Prison Profiteers Are Neo-Slaveholders and Solitary Is Their Weapon of Choice
Monday, 18 March 2013 10:56 By Chris Hedges,
(Image: Prison fence via Shutterstock)If, as Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, “the degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons” then we are a nation of barbarians. Our vast network of federal and state prisons, with some 2.3 million inmates, rivals the gulags of totalitarian states. Once you disappear behind prison walls you become prey. Rape. Torture. Beatings. Prolonged isolation. Sensory deprivation. Racial profiling. Chain gangs. Forced labor. Rancid food. Children imprisoned as adults. Prisoners forced to take medications to induce lethargy. Inadequate heating and ventilation. Poor health care. Draconian sentences for nonviolent crimes. Endemic violence.
Bonnie Kerness and Ojore Lutalo, both of whom I met in Newark, N.J., a few days ago at the office of American Friends Service Committee Prison Watch, have fought longer and harder than perhaps any others in the country against the expanding abuse of prisoners, especially the use of solitary confinement. Lutalo, once a member of the Black Liberation Army, an offshoot of the Black Panthers, first wrote Kerness in 1986 while he was a prisoner at Trenton State Prison, now called New Jersey State Prison. He described to her the bleak and degrading world of solitary confinement, the world of the prisoners like him held in the so-called management control unit, which he called “a prison within a prison.” Before being released in 2009, Lutalo was in the management control unit for 22 of the 28 years he served for the second of two convictions—the first for a bank robbery and the second for a gun battle with a drug dealer. He kept his sanity, he told me, by following a strict regime of exercising in his tiny cell, writing, meditating and tearing up newspapers to make collages that portrayed his prison conditions.
“The guards in riot gear would suddenly wake you up at 1 a.m., force you to strip and make you grab all your things and move you to another cell just to harass you,” he said when we spoke in Newark. “They had attack dogs with them that were trained to go for your genitals. You spent 24 hours alone one day in your cell and 22 the next. If you do not have a strong sense of purpose you don’t survive psychologically. Isolation is designed to defeat prisoners mentally, and I saw a lot of prisoners defeated.”
Lutalo’s letter was Kerness’ first indication that the U.S. prison system was creating something new—special detention facilities that under international law are a form of torture. He wrote to her: “How does one go about articulating desperation to another who is not desperate? How does one go about articulating the psychological stress of knowing that people are waiting for me to self-destruct?”
The techniques of sensory deprivation and prolonged isolation were pioneered by the Central Intelligence Agency to break prisoners during the Cold War. Alfred McCoy, the author of “A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror,” wrote in his book that “interrogators had found that mere physical pain, no matter how extreme, often produced heightened resistance.” So the intelligence agency turned to the more effective mechanisms of “sensory disorientation” and “self-inflicted pain,” McCoy noted. [One example of causing self-inflicted pain is to force a prisoner to stand without moving or to hold some other stressful bodily position for a long period.] The combination, government psychologists argued, would cause victims to feel responsible for their own suffering and accelerate psychological disintegration. Sensory disorientation combines extreme sensory overload with extreme sensory deprivation. Prolonged isolation is followed by intense interrogation. Extreme heat is followed by extreme cold. Glaring light is followed by total darkness. Loud and sustained noise is followed by silence. “The fusion of these two techniques, sensory disorientation and self-inflicted pain, creates a synergy of physical and psychological trauma whose sum is a hammer-blow to the existential platforms of personal identity,” McCoy wrote.
After hearing from Lutalo, Kerness became a fierce advocate for him and other prisoners held in isolation units. She published through her office a survivor’s manual for those held in isolation as well as a booklettitled “Torture in United States Prisons.” And she began to collect the stories of prisoners held in isolation.
“My food trays have been sprayed with mace or cleaning agents, … human feces and urine put into them by guards who deliver trays to my breakfast, lunch, and dinner… ,” a prisoner in isolation in the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility at Carlisle, Ind., was quoted as saying in “Torture in United States Prisons.” “I have witnessed sane men of character become self-mutilators, suffer paranoia, panic attacks, hostile fantasies about revenge. One prisoner would swallow packs of AA batteries, and stick a pencil in his penis. They would cut on themselves to gain contact with staff nurses or just to draw attention to themselves. These men made slinging human feces ‘body waste’ daily like it was a recognized sport. Some would eat it or rub it all over themselves as if it was body lotion. … Prisoncrats use a form of restraint, a bed crafted to strap men in four point Velcro straps. Both hands to the wrist and both feet to the ankles and secured. Prisoners have been kept like this for 3-6 hours at a time. Most times they would remove all their clothes. The Special Confinement Unit used [water hoses] on these men also. … When prisons become overcrowded, prisoncrats will do forced double bunking. Over-crowding issues present an assortment of problems many of which results in violence. … Prisoncrats will purposely house a ‘sex offender’ in a cell with prisoners with sole intentions of having him beaten up or even killed.”
In 1913 Eastern State Penitentiary, in Philadelphia, discontinued its isolation cages. Prisoners within the U.S. prison system would not be held in isolation again in large numbers until the turmoil of the 1960s and the rise of the anti-war and civil rights movements along with the emergence of radical groups such as the Black Panthers. Trenton State Prison established a management control unit, or isolation unit, in 1975 for political prisoners, mostly black radicals such as Lutalo whom the state wanted to segregate from the wider prison population. Those held in the isolation unit were rarely there because they had violated prison rules; they were there because of their revolutionary beliefs—beliefs the prison authorities feared might resonate with other prisoners. In 1983 the federal prison in Marion, Ill., instituted a permanent lockdown, creating, in essence, a prisonwide “control unit.” By 1994 the Federal Bureau of Prisons, using the Marion model, built its maximum-security prison in Florence, Colo. The use of prolonged isolation and sensory deprivation exploded. “Special housing units” were formed for the mentally ill. “Security threat group management units” were formed for those accused of gang activity. “Communications management units” were formed to isolate Muslims labeled as terrorists. Voluntary and involuntary protective custody units were formed. Administrative segregation punishment units were formed to isolate prisoners said to be psychologically troubled. All were established in open violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, the U.N.’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Kerness calls it “the war at home.” And she says it is only the latest variation of the long assault on the poor, especially people of color.
“There are no former Jim Crow systems,” Kerness said. “The transition from slavery to Black Codes to convict leasing to the Jim Crow laws to the wars on poverty, veterans, youth and political activism in the 1960s has been a seamless evolution of political and social incapacitation of poor people of color. The sophisticated fascism of the practices of stop and frisk, charging people in inner cities with ‘wandering,’ driving and walking while black, ZIP code racism—these and many other de facto practices all serve to keep our prisons full. In a system where 60 percent of those who are imprisoned are people of color, where students of color face harsher punishments in school than their white peers, where 58 percent of African [American] youth … are sent to adult prisons, where women of color are 69 percent more likely to be imprisoned and where offenders of color receive longer sentences, the concept of colorblindness doesn’t exist. The racism around me is palpable.”
“The 1960s, when the last of the Jim Crow laws were reversed, this whole new set of practices accepted by law enforcement was designed to continue to feed the money-generating prison system, which has neo-slavery at its core,” she said. “Until we deeply recognize that the system’s bottom line is social control and creating a business from bodies of color and the poor, nothing can change.” She noted that more than half of those in the prison system have never physically harmed another person but that “just about all of these people have been harmed themselves.” And not only does the criminal justice sweep up the poor and people of color, but slavery within the prison system is permitted by the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States. …”
This, Kerness said, “is at the core how the labor of slaves was transformed into what people in prison call neo-slavery.” Neo-slavery is an integral part of the prison industrial complex, in which hundreds of thousands of the nation’s prisoners, primarily people of color, are forced to work at involuntary labor for a dollar or less an hour. “If you call the New Jersey Bureau of Tourism you are most likely talking to a prisoner at the Edna Mahan Correctional Institution for Women who is earning 23 cents an hour who has no ability to negotiate working hours or working conditions,” she said.
The bodies of poor, unemployed youths are worth little on the streets but become valuable commodities once they are behind bars.
“People have said to me that the criminal justice system doesn’t work,” Kerness said. “I’ve come to believe exactly the opposite—that it works perfectly, just as slavery did, as a matter of economic and political policy. How is it that a 15-year-old in Newark who the country labels worthless to the economy, who has no hope of getting a job or affording college, can suddenly generate 20,000 to 30,000 dollars a year once trapped in the criminal justice system? The expansion of prisons, parole, probation, the court and police systems has resulted in an enormous bureaucracy which has been a boon to everyone from architects to food vendors—all with one thing in common, a paycheck earned by keeping human beings in cages. The criminalization of poverty is a lucrative business, and we have replaced the social safety net with a dragnet.”
Prisons are at once hugely expensive—the country has spent some $300 billion on them since 1980—and, as Kerness pointed out, hugely profitable. Prisons function in the same way the military-industrial complex functions. The money is public and the profits are private. “Privatization in the prison industrial complex includes companies, which run prisons for profit while at the same time gleaning profits from forced labor,” she said. “In the state of New Jersey, food and medical services are provided by corporations, which have a profit motive. One recent explosion of private industry is the partnering of Corrections Corporation of America with the federal government to detain close to 1 million undocumented people. Using public monies to enrich private citizens is the history of capitalism at its most exploitive.”
Those released from prison are woefully unprepared for re-entry. They carry with them the years of trauma they endured. They often suffer from the endemic health problems that come with long incarceration, including hepatitis C, tuberculosis and HIV. They often do not have access to medications upon release to treat their physical and mental illnesses. Finding work is difficult. They feel alienated and are often estranged from friends and family. More than 60 percent end up back in prison.
“How do you teach someone to rid themselves of degradation?” Kerness asked. “How long does it take to teach people to feel safe, a sense of empowerment in a world where they often come home emotionally and physically damaged and unemployable? There are many reasons that ex-prisoners do not make it—paramount among them is that they are not supposed to succeed.”
Kerness has long been a crusader. In 1961 at the age of 19 she left New York to work for a decade in Tennessee in the civil rights struggle, including a year at Tennessee’s Highlander Research and Education Center, where Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. trained. By the 1970s she was involved in housing campaigns for the poor in New Jersey. She kept running into families that included incarcerated members. This led her to found Prison Watch.
The letters that pour into her office are disturbing. Female prisoners routinely complain of being sexually abused by guards. One prisoner wrote to her office: “That was not part of my sentence to perform oral sex with officers.” Other prisoners write on behalf of the mentally ill who have been left to deteriorate in the prison system. One California prisoner told of a mentally ill man spreading feces over himself and the guards then dumping him into a scalding bath that took skin off 30 percent of his body.
Kerness said the letters she receives from prisoners collectively present a litany of “inhumane conditions including cold, filth, callous medical care, extended isolation often lasting years, use of devices of torture, harassment, brutality and racism.” Prisoners send her drawings of “four- and five-point restraints, restraint hoods, restraint belts, restraint beds, stun grenades, stun guns, stun belts, spit hoods, tethers, and waist and leg chains.” But the worst torment, prisoners tell her, is the psychological pain caused by “no touch torture” that included “humiliation, sleep deprivation, sensory disorientation, extreme light or dark, extreme cold or heat” and “extended solitary confinement.” These techniques, she said, are consciously designed to carry out “a systematic attack on all human stimuli.”
The use of sensory deprivation was applied by the government to imprisoned radicals in the 1960s including members of the Black Panthers, the Black Liberation Army, the Puerto Rican independence movement and the American Indian Movement, along with environmentalists, anti-imperialists and civil rights activists. It is now used extensively against Islamic militants, jailhouse lawyers and political prisoners. Many of those political prisoners were part of radical black underground movements in the 1960s that advocated violence. A few, such as Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu Jamal, are well known, but most have little public visibility—among them Sundiata Acoli, Mutulu Shakur, Imam Jamil Al-Amin (known as H. Rap Brown when in the 1960s he was the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), Jalil Bottom, Sekou Odinga, Abdul Majid, Tom Manning and Bill Dunne.
Those within the system who attempt to resist the abuse and mistreatment are dealt with severely. Prisoners in the overcrowded Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Lucasville, Ohio, staged a revolt in 1993 after years of routine beatings, degrading rituals of public humiliation and the alleged murders of prisoners by guards. The some 450 prisoners, who were able to unite antagonistic prison factions including the Aryan Brotherhood and the black Gangster Disciples, held out for 11 days. It was one of the longest prison rebellions in U.S. history. Nine prisoners and a guard were killed by the prisoners during the revolt. The state responded with characteristic fury. It singled out some 40 prisoners and eventually shipped them to Ohio State Penitentiary (OSP), a supermax facility outside Youngstown that was constructed in 1998. There prisoners are held in solitary confinement 23 hours a day in 7-by-11-foot cells. Prisoners at OSP almost never see the sun or have human contact. Those charged with participating in the uprising have, in some cases, been held in these punitive conditions at OSP or other facilities since the 1993 revolt. Five prisoners—Bomani Shakur, Siddique Abdullah Hasan, Jason Robb, George Skatzes and Namir Abdul Mateen—involved in the uprising were charged with murder. They are being held in isolation on death row.
Kerness says the for-profit prison companies have created an entrepreneurial class like that of the Southern slaveholders, one “dependent on the poor, and on bodies of color as a source for income,” and she describes federal and state departments of corrections as “a state of mind.” This state of mind, she said in the interview, “led to Abu Ghraib, Bagram and Guantanamo and what is going on in U.S. prisons right this moment.”
As long as profit remains an incentive to incarcerate human beings and our corporate state abounds in surplus, redundant labor, there is little chance that the prison system will be reformed. It is making our corporate overlords wealthy. Our prisons serve the engine of corporate capitalism, transferring state money to private corporations. These corporations will continue to stymie rational prison reform because the system, however inhumane and unjust, feeds corporate bank accounts. At its bottom the problem is not race—although race plays a huge part in incarceration rates—nor is it finally poverty; it is the predatory nature of corporate capitalism itself. And until we slay the beast of corporate capitalism, until we wrest power back from corporations, until we build social institutions and a system of governance designed not to profit the few but foster the common good, our prison industry and the horror it perpetuates will only expand.
Barbara Boxer Triggers Outrage Over Proposal to Deploy National Guard in Public Schools
Critics on the left and right are speaking out.
December 26, 2012 |
Days after California’s liberal Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer gave an impassioned floor speech saying that big steps must be taken to stop gun violence that is killing 87 people a day across America, she proposed a bill to give governors power to deploy National Guard troops in public schools—or assign them to local police departments, freeing them to put police in schools.
“Is it not part of the national defense to make sure that your children are safe?” Boxer said at a press conference, where she unveiled the Save Our Schools Act. “The slaughter of the innocents must stop….”
“Of all the bad ideas I’ve heard in the aftermath of the Newtown murders, the worst comes from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, who wants to provide federal funds for states to send the National Guard into schools,” wrote the Chicago Tribune’s Steve Chapman:
“She quotes the Guard as saying it is ‘particularly well suited for domestic law enforcement support missions’ since it is ‘located in over 3,000 local communities.’ Putting Guard troops in each (or many) of them is about as sensible as putting them in every movie theater and shopping mall. It will cost money and divert the Guard from its customary purposes, requiring either an increase in its size or the sacrifice of other needs. Not to mention that school, statistically, is a very safe place for a child to be.”
No shortage of liberal writers noted that there was an armed guard at the Columbine, Colorado, high school where 15 students were killed in 1999.
Chapman’s response is part of a growing stream of criticism from the political left and right in the five days since the idea was introduced. But beyond the almost visceral reactions that sending armed officers into schools is inappropriate, or won’t work against assailants armed with military-level weaponry, or is federal overreach, there is a deeper danger.
Every time progressives have ceded some ground in the gun-control debate, the pro-gun right has used their pronouncements to move the center of the gun-control debate onto their side of the aisle.
A generation ago, liberal scholars looked at the history of the Second Amendment and concluded that the Constitution’s framers wanted an armed citizenry—as did Congress after the Civil War so ex-slaves could protect themselves. That uneasy finding gave the Right new momentum to legally fight and overturn gun laws, according to the very right-wing lawyers who triumphed in federal court.
Fast-forward to today: The NRA’s proposal to train and arm teachers in response to the Newtown grade school massacre has been widely ridiculed, yet on the same day one of the most liberal U.S. senators proposed a remedy not all that different, as it places people with arms in schools.
To be fair, Boxer called for other gun reforms right after the shooting, such as “taking the weapons of war and high-capacity clips off our streets,” ensuring local police are more involved in issuing gun permits, closing the gun-show loophole, and “keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.” Boxer closed by saying, “We need to keep our schools safe by utilizing all of the law enforcement tools at our disposal. We have failed our children and we have to stop worrying about our political skins.”
She then introduced the Save Our Schools Act, which would allow governors to deploy state National Guard troops in communities—whether to augment local police—or directly into public schools.
The reaction across the political spectrum has been varied but equally sharp. On the political right, the libertarian pro-gun crowd has said that Boxer’s proposal is an example of the worst kind of federal overeach, because further militarization of local police is what prompted the framers to write the Second Amendment.
“If you’ve been decrying the militarization of law enforcement, hold onto your hats boys and girls—because crap just got real,” wrote the pro-gun blog, UnitedLiberty.org.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Boxer’s idea is that it lends credibility to the notion that a more widely armed society is more immune to wanton gun violence.
A generation ago, a handful of liberal constitutional laws scholars wrote detailed and compelling analyses of the Second Amendment’s roots. The University of Texas’ Sanford Levinson’s readable history, The Embarassing Second Amendment, and more recent work by Yale Law School’s Akhil Reed Amar, reluctantly conclude that the U.S. Constitution’s framers, Congress and many states since then want “strong” gun rights.
The New York Times’ legal reporter Adam Liptak wrote in 2007 how these scholars and other liberals gave new intellectual ammunition to the pro-gun lobby to legally challenge and overturn local gun-control laws. He quoted pro-gun lawyers as crediting the liberal scholars’ more open-minded assessment with boosting their arguments in federal court.
It may be that Sen. Boxer is well aware of this legal history and knows that any new or overly broad gun-control laws will be struck down: i.e., the Second Amendment clearly empowers citizen militias, which implies having military-level weapons available to the public. And so, against the backdrop of an increasingly armed America, the solution that surfaces is placing deterrent force in public schools.
But by proposing this remedy on the same day the NRA proposed arming teachers, Boxer is lending credence to the NRA perspective that the only solution to gun violence is more guns. Progressives would like to believe that civilization is making forward progress beyond the need to have guns at the ready for every nightmare scenario. After all, it’s conservatives who take a dimmer view of human nature and dwell on evil.
CEOs Ring in New Year With Early Pay-Day Windfall to Beat Expiration of Bush Tax Cuts
Wednesday, 26 December 2012 11:14 By Danny Weil
Walmart President and CEO Mike Duke speaks at the company’s March, 2011 Sustainability Milestone Meeting. Duke has authorized early dividends to stockholders in anticipation of higher taxes next year while defending low wages for employees. (Photo: Walmart Corporate)
In anticipation of higher taxes on dividends, a number of corporations are paying out dividends early – even when they have to borrow to do so.
As the corporate-named “fiscal cliff” nears, hundreds of companies are busy paying out 2013 dividends in 2012, so CEOs and other major shareholders can avoid paying higher taxes when the Bush tax cuts expire. Under the Obama administration, taxes on dividends may increase from the current rate of 15 percent to as high as 43 percent.
Some companies, like Walmart, are moving up the payment of the quarterly dividends by a week, while other companies, like The Washington Post Company, are paying out the entire yearly dividend for 2013 in 2012 in their mad haste to avoid taxation. Some companies are even borrowing money to pay out dividends on earnings that have not even been earned yet. At least the banks are loaning to someone, even if it means the loan is used to dodge taxes.
To read more articles by Danny Weil and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.
What all these companies have in common is that the early dividend payments benefit a small number of insiders – from the Walton family at Walmart to Donald Graham and Warren Buffet at The Washington Post, to name a few.
Take Larry Ellison. CNBC recently reported that:
Larry Ellison is the latest corporate chief to benefit from the spate of special dividends or accelerated dividends announced in the fourth quarter. Oracle announced Monday it would pay more than $800 million in next year’s dividends this month.
Ellison’s share of the payout is $198.9 million, based on his ownership of 23 percent of the company’s stock.
Sheldon Adelson, the subject of criminal investigations by the US Department of Justice, will be receiving $1.2 billion in dividends from the Las Vegas hotel, The Sands. His tax savings will be over $300 million, certainly enough for him to bankroll another election or many other elections.
Carnival CEO Mickey Arison will receive about $89 million in early dividend pay outs.
Tom Frist, brother of Bill Frist, the former senator from Tennessee, will receive $300 million in early dividend payments from HCA. This is the same firm that paid a $1.7 million settlement for fraudulently billing Medicare, the same program these reactionaries say is broke.
Costco is borrowing $3.5 billion to pay out $3 billion in early dividends. It is borrowing the money because it has not actually earned what it plans to pay out in dividends.
The Washington Post Company will pay out about $70 million in early dividends which primarily benefits the Graham family and Warren Buffet. Buffet is the single largest shareholder, but he often gives his voting rights to Donald Graham. Ironically, “the sage from Omaha” has publicly stated that he should pay higher taxes. Moreover, The Post Company is paying out early dividends despite having negative cash flow of $75 million in the first 9 months of 2012.
These companies and many more are working assiduously to get dividends paid out early. John Collopy, who tracks Wisconsin stocks as director of research at Oshkosh-based Carl M. Hennig, an investment securities firm, said of the tax code which allows all of this dividend diversion: “I think it’s a very nice accommodation.”
Walmart will pay out about $1.34 billion in early dividends with roughly half of this amount going directly into the pockets of the Walton family. At the same time Walmart CEO Mike Duke has authorized the early dividends to stockholders, Duke is defending the low wages he pays his employees, reports the Huffington Post. This comes on the heels of the $18.7 million in executive compensation Duke received in 2010. According to the Huffington Post:
The CEO of Walmart Stores Inc. received a pay package in 2010 worth $18.7 million, a 4 percent dip from the year before, according to an Associated Press calculation, as the world’s largest retailer struggled to reverse a decline in a key revenue figure.
That literally hundreds of CEOs are authorizing dividend payments so they and their cadre of insiders can avoid paying taxes on the dividends they allocate to themselves demonstrates the greed prevalent on Wall Street. With no deterrent examples, like any arrests of banksters engaged in fraud, Wall Street and its surrogates and profiteers see no end in sight to their rapacious business plans.
It is especially appalling that many of the companies these CEOs captain derive significant amounts of their revenue from the federal government. HCA derives most of its revenues from the federal government through Medicaid and Medicare, two programs working people are told they simply must give up or receive benefits from later in life.
The Washington Post Company derives about half its revenue from the federal government through Title IV “loans” and “GI benefits,” which are supposed to assist students, but instead end up on Wall Street in the form of dividends and multi-million-dollar payouts to wealthy individuals.
It is likely the list of companies paying early dividends to avoid taxes also include those companies that received generous government bail-outs, and those companies that continue to profit off the illegal wars. It is unacceptable that these CEOs – Donald Graham and Tom First – who benefit from government largesse do not want to pay their fair share to support the government. This is because the government is their piggy bank and without it they could never continue the rackets that purport to be their companies.
It is also no small irony that the same cast of characters preaching debt reduction are helping themselves at the government trough to avoid paying taxes that could seed government coffers and shrink the debt. Instead, they are the usual suspects in running up government debt. While they talk about cutting “entitlements” they are busy serving themselves their own entitlements and assuring that the social safety net is replaced by the Dragnet.
In this season of supposed giving, apparently it never crossed the minds of these CEO Scrooges that they could have used this money to invest in their companies and hire returning war veterans and other unemployed and suffering Americans.
As author Andrew Gavin Marshall stated recently in an article for Truthout on the Trans-Pacific Partnership:
At the same time, state “interference” decreases in sectors that benefit the actual population, such as welfare, social services, pensions, healthcare, education, labor protections and so on. In the actual “free market,” these protections are dismantled, subjecting populations to “market discipline” quite unlike the large corporations and banks that receive direct protection against “market discipline.” The most obvious example of this is the post-2008 bank bailouts.
Yes, the 2008 bailout was a stunning example of corporate coddling, but so is the dividend diversion for it requires the government to aid and abet the depletion of tax revenue. These executives and their benefactors understand that the role of government is to regulate markets for the benefit of the corporations and banks, while forcing the rest of us to compete with each other in a race barreling toward the bottom. This is market monopolization for the elite and market punishment for working people.
The executives of these corporations are little more than modern day robber barons and scam artists who engage in the theft of government monies by using accounting tricks they have managed to lobby for to assure the tax code treats them like royalty. Congress has the power to claw-back these taxes; they could retroactively tax these ill-gotten dividend payments and prosecute the perpetrators of the scheme.
Of course they won’t: They need these companies and their “leaders” to pony up millions, if not billions, in campaign money for their political careers.
From Apocalypse to Dystopia
By MAUREEN DOWD
Published: December 22, 2012
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
WE’RE a little overwrought now.
The N.R.A. understands that. It’s as patient with us as a husband with a tremulous pregnant wife prone to crying jags.
This is just a passing meltdown. We’ll get ourselves back under control soon and things will return to normal.
For decades, when the public has grown more sympathetic to gun control after an attempted assassination or a spike in gun murders or a harrowing school shooting, Wayne LaPierre and his fellow N.R.A. officials have hunkered down to wait for the “emotional period” or “hysteria,” as they call it, to pass.
They rule in the back rooms on Capitol Hill and rein in panicked senators and congressmen who fret that they should support some measly legislation to pretend they are not pawns of the gun lobby.
They defend anyone owning anything with a trigger, reiterating that military-style semiautomatics are just uglier hunting guns.
While there were more heartbreaking funerals in Newtown, Conn., with long hearses carrying small bodies, LaPierre stepped to the microphone in Washington on Friday to present the latest variation of his Orwellian creed: Guns don’t kill people. Media kill people.
“Rather than face their own moral failings,” he said in high dudgeon, “the media demonize gun owners, amplify their cries for more laws, and fill the national media with misinformation and dishonest thinking that only delay meaningful action, and all but guarantee that the next atrocity is only a news cycle away.”
So it’s our fault.
LaPierre, who literally trembles when the omnipotent gun lobby is under siege, went ballistic painting a threatening picture of the dystopia that awaits if we don’t protect our schools from guns by putting guns in schools.
“The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters,” he said. “People that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can ever possibly comprehend them. They walk among us every single day, and does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school he’s already identified at this very moment?”
How many more copycat killers, he asked ominously, are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame?
On the day that 6-year-old Olivia Engel, who was going to play an angel in her church’s Nativity play, was buried, LaPierre heinously cloaked his refusal to consider any remedies to gun violence — not even better background checks — as tender concern for the 20 “little kids” shot in cold blood.
He kicked around the old whipping boy, violent video games, even though plenty of his four million members no doubt play violent video games. And he repeated his old saw: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Guns don’t kill people. Guns save people.
The press conference, where the press was not allowed to ask questions, played like an insane parody: a tightly wound lobbyist who earns a million or so a year by refusing to make the slightest concession on gun safety, despite repeated slaughters by deranged shooters with jaw-droppingly easy access to firearms.
LaPierre makes Charlton Heston look like Michael Moore. The N.R.A. vice president, who once called federal agents “jackbooted government thugs,” insists the solution to gun violence is putting police officers, or “armed good guys,” in every one of the nation’s 98,817 K-12 schools.
His logic is spurious. Hunters can have their guns without leaving Americans so vulnerable to being hunted by demented souls with assault rifles that can fire 45 rounds per minute.
And consider that in 1999 an armed sheriff’s deputy policing Columbine High School exchanged fire with the shooters, and still they killed 12 other students and a teacher. Mayor Michael Bloomberg accused LaPierre of “a shameful evasion.”
It’s hard to believe that the N.R.A. needed to go dark for a week after the Newtown shootings to cook up such a chuckleheaded arms race. And LaPierre made a worse case against himself than the media ever could. It’s shocking that the N.R.A. can’t even fake it better.
It didn’t try to mask its obdurate stance by putting forth a less harsh official — a woman who’s a mother and a hunter, for instance. Maybe it could have prompted a serious discussion about armed guards at schools if it had a less crazed presentation and less of an absolute vision that “guns are cool,” as David Keene, its president, says.
The 63-year-old LaPierre and the 67-year-old Keene, a cantankerous former Bob Dole adviser whose son went to prison for shooting at another driver in a road-rage fit, seemed as out-of-touch as Mitt Romney’s campaign and the rest of the white, macho Republican Party.
President Obama, who should have been alarmed that his re-election inspired a boom in gun sales, seems daunted at the prospect of taking on gun lovers, having handed the matter off to Joe Biden to study. The president seems to be setting the table for defeat. If only he had the visceral outrage of a Bloomberg. Who knows what could happen?
Meet Sen. Tim Scott: The Tea Party Lawmaker Who Wanted To Impeach President Obama And Kick Kids Off Food Stamps
By Scott Keyes on Dec 17, 2012 at 9:46 am
Tim Scott is America’s newest senator today after getting tapped by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) to fill the vacancy left by former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). DeMint announced this month that he was leaving the Senate to head up the Heritage Foundation, an arch-conservative think tank in Washington DC.
Though DeMint left big, controversial shoes to fill for Republicans, few conservatives will be disappointed with Scott’s record. Elected to Congress just two years ago in the Tea Party wave, Scott has already garnered headlines for his plan to impeach President Obama, his legislation to cut off union members’ children from food stamps, and his defense of Big Oil.
Here’s a quick look at Scott’s record:
- Floated impeaching Obama over the debt ceiling. As the debt ceiling debate raged in the summer of 2011 because of the intransigence of Tea Party freshmen like Scott, the nation inched perilously close to defaulting on its obligations. One option discussed by some officials to avoid that scenario was for the president to assert that the debt ceiling itself was an unconstitutional infringement on the 14th Amendment. However, Tim Scott told a South Carolina Tea Party group that if Obama were to go this route, it would be an “impeachable act.”
- Proposed a bill to cut off food stamps for entire families if one member went on strike. One of the most anti-union members of Congress, Scott proposed a bill two months after entering Congress in 2011 to kick families off food stamps if one adult were participating in a strike. Scott’s legislation made no exception for children or other dependents.
- Wanted to spend an unlimited amount of money to display Ten Commandments outside county building. When Scott was on the Charleston County Council, one of his primary issues was displaying the Ten Commandments outside the Council building. According to the Augusta Chronicle, Scott said the display “would remind council members and speakers the moral absolutes they should follow.” When he was sued for violating the Constitution and a Circuit Judge’s orders, Scott was unperturbed: “Whatever it costs in the pursuit of this goal (of displaying the Commandments) is worth it.”
- Defended fairness of giving billions in subsidies to Big Oil. Scott and his Republican allies in Congress voted repeatedly last year to protect more than $50 billion in taxpayer subsidies for Big Oil corporations. When ThinkProgress asked Scott whether it was fair to do that, especially at a time when oil companies are earning tens of billions in profit every quarter, the Tea Party freshman defended the industry: “fair is a relative word,” said Scott.
- Helped slash South Carolina’s HIV/AIDS budget. As a state representative, Scott backed a proposal to cut the state’s entire HIV/AIDS budget, despite the fact that South Carolina ranks in the top-third of reported AIDS cases. The cuts were ultimately included in the state’s budget, impacting more than 2,000 HIV-positive South Carolinians who needed help paying for their medication.
Greg Noth contributed research to this post.
NRA’s Bizarre Press Conference: ‘More Guns Now!’
In his first appearance since the Sandy Hook shootings, NRA leader Wayne LaPierre rolled out a program to help schools arm “good guys,” blaming gun-free school zones, video games and Obama for the tragedy.
December 21, 2012 |
After a week of hiding after the school massacre in the Sandy Hook community of Newtown, Conn., the National Rifle Association today broke its silence with an extraordinary press event in which Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre blamed everybody and everything but the gun culture it has fostered for the deaths of 20 children and seven adults last week at the hands of Adam Lanza.
As media swarmed into Washington, D.C.’s historic Willard Hotel for the NRA event, protesters led by CREDO Action, bearing signs that read “Stop the NRA,” gathered outside the hotel with the stated goal of delivering petitions signed by some 285,000 citizens that read: ”In the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the NRA must stand down and stop blocking Congress and the President from passing gun control legislation.”
Time was when the National Rifle Association was an organization for hunters and law enforcement officers, among its main aims public education on the safe use of firearms. But that was decades ago, before the NRA found more lucre in its current role trade association and lobby for manufacturers of firearms and ammunition, a business sector that, these days, shows no shame in being among the nation’s foremost merchants of death.
Paranoia Runs Deep
Given the paranoia in which right-wing leaders traffic, there’s a natural alliance between the arms merchants and the political right. Add to that the neo-libertarian ideology of much of the Tea Party movement, which opposes virtually all forms of government regulation, and you have a perfect confluence of interests that keeps conservative politicians of both parties in the NRA’s thrall, hungry for the campaign dollars the organization dispenses through its PAC, and fearful of its opposition at primary time.
At the press conference, LaPierre laid down, in no uncertain terms, that a ban on assault rifles or large-capacity magazines, such as that being suggested by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calf., is unacceptable. (Hear that Republicans? Don’t eventhink about voting for such a thing.) He complained that the media “demonized” gun-owners, and claimed that a ban on particular weapons such as assault rifles would do nothing to avert future tragedies.
LaPierre then went full-bore on the fear-mongering those on the right traditionally invoke in order to win converts. (It’s not for nothing that sales of assault rifles — particularly the AR-15 model used by Lanza — and high-capacity magazine clips havesoared since the massacre.)
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre calls for the arming of school personnel at Washington, D.C., press conference. Photo: A.M. Stan
From LaPierre’sprepared text:
How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame…A dozen more killers? A hundred? More? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?
And the fact is, that wouldn’t even begin to address the much larger and more lethal criminal class: Killers, robbers, rapists and drug gang members who have spread like cancer in every community in this country. Meanwhile, federal gun prosecutions have decreased by 40 percent — to the lowest levels in a decade.
Actually, crime rates among the sort of violent criminals named by LaPierre have dropped steadily in recent years, with a gain so small as to bestatistically insignificant over the last year. (There has been a rise in unarmed, so-called “simple assaults,” which raises violent crime figures overall.)
Using Tragedy to Sell More Guns
LaPierre went on to unveil the NRA’s gift to the nation, a program to arm school personnel called The National Shield. Apparently this is what organization leaders meant when, in a brief statement announcing the upcoming press conference on Tuesday, they promised: ”The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.” Flat-screen monitors that flanked the podium showed a graphic for the program, which appeared to be styled in the manner of the offerings on the Obama-era White House Web site.
“The NRA is going to bring all of its knowledge, dedication and resources to develop a model National School Shield Emergency Response Program for every school that wants it,” LaPierre said. “From armed security to building design and access control to information technology to student and teacher training, this multi-faceted program will be developed by the very best experts in their fields.”
Twice during his speech, LaPierre was interrupted by protesters from CODE PINK, each of whom stood at the front of the room, before the velvet-draped barrier, some four feet high, that appeared designed to protect the NRA speakers from the press. The podium was set back some 10 or 15 feet from the barrier, evoking the sense of paranoia that drives America’s gun culture.
The first sign, held up by a male protester, was a pink banner that read: “NRA KILLING OUR KIDS.” After unfurling it, he was escorted out of the room by security. About 10 minutes later, CODE PINK founder Medea Benjamin stepped with her own banner: NRA, BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS. Receiving the same treatment as the previous protester, Benjamin shouted as she was taken out the door by security personnel: “Ban assault weapons now!”
LaPierre never acknowledged the protesters, and simply returned to his prepared text after each interruption.
Although billed as a press conference, NRA President David Keene announced at the beginning that none of the speakers would take questions, before he introduced LaPierre, who simply delivered a speech rife with blame-laying — on everything from video games to gun-free school zones, including Quentin Tarantino and President Barack Obama, the latter of whom he said had cut the budget for school security. LaPierre went so far as to play a clip from a video game called “Kindergarten Killer,” which showed a cartoon child being shot in the head and spurting blood.
NRA security specialist scans room for potential disruptions. The barrier erected between press and the podium is seen in background.
Arming the Schools
Of gun-free school zones, LaPierre said: “Politicians pass laws for gun-free school zones. They issue press releases bragging about them.They post signs advertising them. And in so doing, they tell every insane killer in America that schools are their safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.”
He went on to blame politicians for the death of Sandy Hook School Principal Dawn Hochsprung, implying that she would have wielded a firearm had she been allowed to.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” LaPierre said. His use of the “good guy, bad guy” language was particularly offensive, since it is widely publicized that that was the language that teacher Kaitlin Roig used in talking to her first-graders during the massacre last Friday, as she hid them in a small bathroom. She told them that the good guys would be coming soon.
LaPierre then turned the podium over to Asa Hutchinson, a former congressmean and under secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, to outline the new NRA National School Shield program which seems designed, more than anything to sell more guns.
Flat-screen displays that flanked the podium at the Dec. 21, 2012, NRA press event were used to promote the association’s armed-schools program, and to show a clip from a violent video game. Photo: A.M. STAN
Hutchinson took pains to assure Tea Party followers that he was not advocating a new government program.
After Hutchinson’s presentation (transcript of his remarkshere), Keene returned to the podium to close the event, when a reporter began shouting a question, asking whether the NRA had sought a meeting with the White House. “As I indicated at the outset,” Keene said, “this is the beginning of a serious conversation, and we won’t be taking any questions today.” A conversation, it seems, in which only one side does the talking. Keene did say that the leaders would entertain questions from the media beginning on Monday. (LaPierre is scheduled to appear this Sunday on NBC’sMeet the Press.)
In the meeting room at the Willard where the press conference took place, the mood among journalists — even mainstream journalists — was one of incredulity. Journos marveled at how an event so tightly scripted could deliver such a tone-deaf message. But the truth is that NRA leaders aren’t looking for popularity among the general public — or even among their own members. As long as they keep their paymasters — the gun-makers — happy, that’s all they appear to care about. They’ve apparently bet that their fear-stoking will pay off in the halls of Congress, where lawmakers have long been loath to cross the lethal behemoth.
But this could be the moment when the NRA has finally jumped the shark; even gun-owners back closing the gun-show loophole that allows gun buyers to skip the background check required for firearm purchase at a store, if only they by their weapons at a gun show instead.
“Wayne LaPierre’s bizarre and quite frankly paranoid press conference today is a testament to just how extreme and out of touch the NRA’s leadership has become,” said Becky Bond, political director of CREDO in a written statement. “If teachers could stand up to a gunman with a semi-automatic assault weapon, then Congress can stand up to the NRA and its lobbyists. The NRA is clearly doubling down on its extreme agenda in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.”
Maddow: Newtown Residents Turn to Gun Control Activism in Wake of Tragic Shooting
The newly formed group, Newtown United, traveled to Washington D.C. today as the debate over gun safety continues.
December 19, 2012 |
Aside from prayer and therapy, some Newtown residents are turning to activism in the wake of the tragic shooting last Friday. These residents have formed Newtown United, a new advocacy group that headed to Washington D.C. this morning to meet with members of the Brady Campaign, one of the leading national gun safety organizations. The group’s members are mostly newly politicized by the shooting rather than long-time gun safety activists. Their mission: make sure nothing like these ever happens again.
Their trip comes as progressive groups across the country are mounting increasing pressure to reform the nation’s gun safety laws. In only the last 24 hours, more than 160,000 people signed a petition created by CREDO aimed at persuading the NRA to stop blocking gun safety legislation.
Watch Rachel Maddow’s coverage of the growing activism:
By Mary on
How the Right Has Twisted the 2nd Amendment
The 2nd Amendment was written to ensure security, but isn’t making us any safer.
December 15, 2012 |
Photo Credit: © Micha Klootwijk/ Shutterstock.com
The American Right is fond of putting itself inside the minds of America’s Founders and intuiting what was their “original intent” in writing the U.S. Constitution and its early additions, like the Second Amendment’s “right to bear arms.” But, surely, James Madison and the others weren’t envisioning people with modern weapons mowing down children in a movie theater or a shopping mall or now a kindergarten.
Indeed, when the Second Amendment was passed in the First Congress as part of the Bill of Rights, firearms were single-shot mechanisms that took time to load and reload. It was also clear that Madison and the others viewed the “right to bear arms” in the context of “a well-regulated militia” to defend communities from massacres, not as a means to enable such massacres.
The Second Amendment reads: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Thus, the point of the Second Amendment is to ensure “security,” not undermine it.
The massacre of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, on Friday, which followed other gun massacres in towns and cities across the country, represents the opposite of “security.” And it is time that Americans of all political persuasions recognize that protecting this kind of mass killing was not what the Founders had in mind.
However, over the past several decades, self-interested right-wing “scholarship” has sought to reinvent the Framers as free-market, government-hating ideologues, though the key authors of the U.S. Constitution – people like James Madison and George Washington – could best be described as pragmatic nationalists who favored effective governance.
In 1787, led by Madison and Washington, the Constitutional Convention scrapped the Articles of Confederation, which had enshrined the states as “sovereign” and had made the federal government a “league of friendship” with few powers.
What happened behind closed doors in Philadelphia was a reversal of the system that governed the United States from 1777 to 1787. The laws of the federal government were made supreme and its powers were dramatically strengthened, so much so that a movement of Anti-Federalists fought bitterly to block ratification.
In the political maneuvering to assure approval of the new system, Madison and other Federalists agreed to add a Bill of Rights to ease some of the fears about what Anti-Federalists regarded as the unbridled powers of the central government. [For details, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]
Madison had considered a Bill of Rights unnecessary because the Constitution, like all constitutions, set limits on the government’s power and it contained no provisions allowing the government to infringe on basic liberties of the people. But he assented to spell out those rights in the first 10 amendments, which were passed by the First Congress and ratified in 1791.
The intent of the Second Amendment was clarified during the Second Congress when the U.S. government enacted the Militia Acts, which mandated that all white males of military age obtain a musket, shot and other equipment for service in militias.
The idea was to enable the young country to resist aggression from European powers, to confront Native American tribes on the frontier and to put down internal rebellions, including slave revolts. There was nothing particularly idealistic in this provision; the goal was the “security” of the young nation.
However, the modern American Right and today’s arms industry have devoted enormous resources to twisting the Framers into extremist ideologues who put “liberties” like individual gun ownership ahead of all practical concerns about “security.”
This propaganda has proved so successful that many politicians who favor common-sense gun control are deemed violators of the Framers’ original intent, as essentially un-American, and face defeat in elections. The current right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has even overturned longstanding precedents and reinterpreted the Second Amendment as granting rights of individual gun ownership.
But does anyone really believe that Madison and like-minded Framers would have stood by and let deranged killers mow down civilians, including children, by using guns vastly more lethal than any that existed in the Revolutionary era? If someone had wielded a single-shot musket or pistol in 1791, the person might get off one volley but would then have to reload. No one had repeat-firing revolvers, let alone assault rifles with large magazines of bullets.
Any serious scholarship on the Framers would conclude that they were, first and foremost, pragmatists determined to protect the hard-won independence of the United States. When the states’-rights Articles of Confederation wasn’t doing the job, they scrapped it. When compromises were needed – even on the vile practice of slavery – the Framers cut the deals.
While the Framers cared about liberty (at least for white men), they focused in the Constitution on practicality, creating a flexible system that would advance the “general Welfare” of “We the People.”
It is madness to think that the Framers would have mutely accepted the slaughter of kindergarteners and grade-school kids (or the thousands of other American victims of gun violence). Such bloody insecurity was definitely not their “original intent.”
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It’s also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth.’
President Obama Speaks on the Shooting in Connecticut
Saturday, 15 December 2012 09:11 By President Barack Obama, The White House Website| Video and Transcript
President Barack Obama delivers a statement in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House regarding the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Dec. 14, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
President Obama made a statement from the Briefing Room on the shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut:
THE PRESIDENT: This afternoon, I spoke with Governor Malloy and FBI Director Mueller. I offered Governor Malloy my condolences on behalf of the nation, and made it clear he will have every single resource that he needs to investigate this heinous crime, care for the victims, counsel their families.
We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years. And each time I learn the news I react not as a President, but as anybody else would — as a parent. And that was especially true today. I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.
The majority of those who died today were children — beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. Among the fallen were also teachers — men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams.
So our hearts are broken today — for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children, and for the families of the adults who were lost. Our hearts are broken for the parents of the survivors as well, for as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know that their children’s innocence has been torn away from them too early, and there are no words that will ease their pain.
As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago — these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.
This evening, Michelle and I will do what I know every parent in America will do, which is hug our children a little tighter and we’ll tell them that we love them, and we’ll remind each other how deeply we love one another. But there are families in Connecticut who cannot do that tonight. And they need all of us right now. In the hard days to come, that community needs us to be at our best as Americans. And I will do everything in my power as President to help.
Because while nothing can fill the space of a lost child or loved one, all of us can extend a hand to those in need — to remind them that we are there for them, that we are praying for them, that the love they felt for those they lost endures not just in their memories but also in ours.
May God bless the memory of the victims and, in the words of Scripture, heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds.
The President also issued a proclamation honoring the victims of the tragedy, ordering U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff until sunset on December 18.
Don’t Be Afraid, Mr. President — You Can Take on the Gun Lobby
Barack Obama and his party have been too terrified of angering gun owners to realize they can win without them.
December 15, 2012 |
A grieving President Barack Obama wiped away tears and struggled to compose himself Friday as he mourned the dead in the Connecticut school shooting.
Photo Credit: AFP
There’s no disputing that the Democratic Party has regressed dramatically on the issue of gun violence over the past two decades. When a shooting rampage on the Long Island Railroad killed six people and injured 19 others in December 1993, Bill Clinton responded immediately by calling for specific legislative action to prevent future tragedies. Contrast that with the response of White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Friday to a question about whether the carnage in Connecticut might prompt President Obama to pursue gun control measures. “I’m sure there will be another day for discussion of the usual Washington policy debates,” Carney said, “but I don’t think today is that day.”
It can be hard to remember now, but well into the 1990s, national Democrats proudly associated themselves with gun control, championing laws that restricted access to deadly weapons. Under Clinton, the Brady Bill, which mandated a five-day waiting period for the purchase of handgun, was passed, and so was a ban on assault weapons. The 1996 Democratic Convention that nominated Clinton for a second term featured Jim and Sarah Brady as primetime speakers.
The years since then, however, have been marked by a steady and thus far enduring Democratic retreat on the issue, with the Second Amendment crowd now largely dictating the terms of public discussion and Democrats mainly trying to avoid their wrath. Consider Obama’s record on guns, which includes one achievement: a law making it easier to carry concealed weapons in national parks.
While the violent crime rate that fed the gun control zeal of the ’90s is much lower today, horrifying mass shootings seem to be on the rise. Six of the 12 deadliest sprees in American history have taken place just since 2007. In his own remarks Friday, delivered a few hours after Carney’s, Obama seemed to hint that the latest deadly outburst might actually shake him and his party from their defensive crouch on guns. “[W]e’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of politics,” the president said.
What that means is anyone’s guess right now. It appears that the Connecticut killer used several weapons, at least one of which would be illegal if the assault weapons ban – which the Republican Congress refused to reauthorize in 2004 – were still in effect. Obama is on the record supporting the ban’s reinstatement; might he now demand action? Or will he pursue other policy changes? Or maybe he’ll just end up doing what leaders of his party have done for more than a decade now: nothing.
The Democrats’ cowardice on guns traces back to the fateful election of 2000. Clinton, despite his aggressive pursuit of gun control measures, fared relatively well with rural gun-owning populations in his 1996 reelection campaign. But those same voters turned hard on Al Gore in ’00, shifting Kentucky, Missouri, West Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee to the Republican column. A victory in any one of those states – all of which Clinton carried twice – would have made Gore president. Democrats concluded that they’d scared off rural, lower-income white voters who had traditionally supported them – and that guns were the big reason why. A new consensus emerged: Gun control could no longer be a central component of Democratic messaging. So it was that John Kerry in 2004 and Obama in 2008 and 2012 did their best to ignore the issue. Kerry went so far as to embark on a goose hunt in rural Ohio just before Election Day.
In terms of political strategy, there’s been one obvious shortcoming to this approach: It hasn’t worked. Kerry did no better than Gore in West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas, and Obama has failed to win any of those states in two elections now. What’s more, there’s been no improvement in Democratic support among gun owners in any election since 2000. As Nate Cohn pointed out Friday, the lesson Democrats should be drawing from Obama’s two victories is that they can win nationally without the pro-gun vote. The Democratic coalition continues to evolve and grow, and the rural white voters who were key to its success generations ago have become a reliably Republican constituency.
What’s more, Democrats continue to be painted as the party of gun confiscators by the NRA and its allies. Even though there was nothing in Obama’s first term record for them to object to, the NRA bitterly fought his reelection this year, treating him as if he were Michael Douglas’ character in “The American President.” In other words, Democrats are already paying the political price that comes with being the gun control party. So if they believe in it, why not just say it – and act on it?
The answer typically provided to this question is that there are a number of Democrats in Congress from states with large gun-owning populations – think Joe Manchin and Jon Tester – and that the party’s current posture makes it possible for them to win. But a better way of understanding the success of these Democrats is that it’s come in spite of the national party’s reputation. Democrats like Manchin and Tester are already winning over voters who believe national Democrats want to take their guns away; this challenge will be exactly the same if national Democrats actually do start pursuing gun control again.
There were a few notable Democratc voices on Friday demanding that the party recommit itself to tackling gun violence. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a Long Island Democrat who entered politics in response to her husband’s death in the ’93 LIRR tragedy, said Friday that she will be pushing “full force” for new gun laws in Obama’s second term – and that she’s willing to “embarrass” the president if necessary.
McCarthy, it should be noted, was showcased by her national party when she first ran for Congress in 1996. Her story of turning her loss into a crusade for gun control was one with which Democrats very much wanted to be associated. As her congressional career progressed, McCarthy became lonely voice, on Capitol Hill and within the Democratic Party. But the spike in mass shootings has given her a new audience and an opportunity win new allies (and to win back old ones) – and to exert real pressure on Obama to get serious. We’ll know soon enough if Obama is really feeling the heat.
Big Money, ALEC and the Gun Agenda
Sunday, 16 December 2012 07:24 By Lisa Graves, PR Watch| News Analysis
n attendee sights a rifle at a booth during the National Rifle Association annual convention in St. Louis, April 14, 2012. (Photo: Daniel Acker / The New York Times)
“We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years,” President Obama said in response to horrifying shooting massacre of 20 little children and six of their educators in Connecticut.
“Whether it is an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago, these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods and these children are our children. And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics,” he noted.
“Meaningful action” has been thwarted, largely because of the power and wealth of the National Rifle Association (NRA). One of the key avenues it has used to exert its influence is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). For decades, the NRA has helped bankroll ALEC operations and even co-chaired ALEC’s “Public Safety and Elections Task Force,” where it secretly voted on bills alongside elected representatives. At ALEC’s annual meeting this summer, the NRA had the biggest booth at the convention in Salt Lake City and also underwrote a shooting event along with one of the largest sellers of assault weapons in the world.
Numerous bills to bar or impede laws that would help protect Americans from gun violence were drafted by the NRA and adopted by ALEC corporations and legislators as “models” for the rest of the country. And, dozens of these special interest bills have become law in states across the country. As a result of the NRA’s efforts, a city in Connecticut recently repealed the only ban in the state on carrying a concealed firearm. Allowing “concealed carry” has been a long-standing part of the NRA-ALEC agenda, passing in Wisconsin a year ago at the urging of Governor Scott Walker, who was given an award by the NRA for making this item law along with a version of the controversial ALEC-NRA “Stand Your Ground”/”Castle Doctrine” bill. A concealed carry law also was just passed last week in Michigan, along with the so-called “Right to Work” union-busting bill on ALEC’s corporate wish list.
Here is a review of the NRA-by-way-of-ALEC gun agenda:
- The retail sale of machine guns has been barred by federal law since the gangster era but, as uncovered by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), one year ago at ALEC’s “policy summit” in Arizona, the NRA obtained unanimous support from the corporate and lawmaker members of ALEC’s Task Force for “amending” ALEC’s “Consistency in Firearms Regulation Act” to expressly bar cities from banning “machine guns.” Other provisions of that bill prevent cities from banning armor-piercing bullets and from banning efforts to alter guns to make them more deadly if the state does not do so. It also bars cities from suing gun manufacturers for gun deaths based on the theory of liability used by governments to sue tobacco manufacturers for smoking deaths.
- In 2008, as noted by CMD, in the aftermath of the tragic massacre of students and professors by a heavily armed Virginia Tech student, ALEC adopted a model bill to remove state prohibitions of guns on college campuses and to allow students to bring guns to class.
- Also in 2008, as CMD has documented, ALEC also weighed in on litigation challenging a handgun ban in the city of Chicago. ALEC filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in that case, McDonald v. Chicago, on the same side as the NRA.
- In 2005, at an ALEC task force meeting co-chaired by Wal-Mart, corporate lobbyists and politicians voted to approve the NRA’s request that a law it spearheaded in Florida with ALEC members become a “model” for other states. That ALEC bill was misleadingly named the “Castle Doctrine,” but is also known as the “Stand Your Ground” or “Shoot First” or “Kill at Will” law. That Florida law, was initially invoked by law enforcement to prevent the arrest and prosecution earlier this year of high-school student Trayvon Martin’s killer. The law creates legal immunity for shooters claiming self-defense, going well beyond the reach of the traditional rights of self defense to create what some call a “license to kill.”
- CMD connected those dots and documented that the NRA’s lobbyist Marion Hammer pushed this bill through the Florida legislature in early 2005. She then brought the law to the closed door ALEC task force meeting in Texas that summer to become a priority for ALEC legislators. According to the NRA at that time, her pitch was warmly received and “unanimously” adopted by the private and public sector members at that meeting. The list of special interest reps attending that meeting is not publicly available, but it is known that the nation’s largest retailer of ammunition and long guns, Wal-Mart, was the corporate leader of that task force; earlier this year, Wal-Mart announced it was resigning from ALEC.
- Also around that time, ALEC pushed a variety of legislation to require reciprocity between states for “concealed carry” laws, laws that result in more people carrying concealed firearms in public places, as CMD has noted.
- In 2000, as CMD has reported, when Koch Industries was the chair of ALEC’s corporate board, ALEC’s crime task force adopted the “Defense of Free Market and Public Safety Resolution” as a national template for states across the country. That resolution was an effort to thwart law enforcement from using contracts — to buy firearms for police officers — to favor gun manufacturers that adhered to a code of conduct. As part of a lawsuit settlement, gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson (S&W) had agreed to penalize S&W retailers who sold guns that tended to end up used in crimes, barred S&W retailers from using the gun show loophole to avoid conducting criminal background checks on prospective buyers, and forbade dealers from releasing more than one handgun to a purchaser per day. It also required retailers to sell all of its handguns with mechanical trigger locks to help protect kids from accidentally killing themselves or others. ALEC’s resolution sought to bar states from rewarding S&W with contracts for police weapons or creating an incentive for other gun manufacturers to adopt similar voluntary codes of conduct.
- In 1995, ALEC promoted as model legislation a bill that would create state-based criminal background checks for firearms purchases different from the federal Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which established the National Instant Check criminal background check system at the FBI. As analyzed by CMD, ALEC’s bill expressly exempts firearms sales at gun shows from its background checks (creating a “gun show loophole”). It also exempts holders of “concealed carry” permits from a background check, even though the Brady Law attempts to protect the public through background checks regardless of whether a person had previously obtained a permit to carry a gun, such as from people who subsequently become fugitives or persons adjudicated to be mentally unstable.
- As CMD has shown, ALEC also strongly opposed the 1994 “Assault Weapons Ban,” which sought to expand the long-standing federal bar on fully automatic machine guns by preventing the purchase of rapid-firing “semi-automatic” assault-style weapons. Certain military-style firearms — such as the .223 Bushmaster rifle reportedly found at the scene of the Connecticut school massacre and similar to the one used in the sniper shootings that terrorized D.C. in 2003 — include versions for sale in the U.S. that were modified by manufacturers for the civilian market along with versions that allow three-shot bursts of fire with each pull of the trigger for law enforcement rather than their faster-firing military-style kin like the M4 or AK-47, in light of the federal assault weapons ban. The ban was allowed to expire during the George W. Bush administration, which had very close ties to the NRA.
The NRA’s gun agenda helps protect and expand the market for the firearms sold by the weapons companies that bankroll its multi-million dollar lobbying and influence operations. Although ALEC’s crime task force no longer officially exists, ALEC is doing nothing to undo the damage done through its many years of advancing the wish list of the gun industry through laws like “Stand Your Ground”/”Shoot First,” pushing for guns on college campuses, and even opposing government purchasers from rewarding codes of conduct by gun makers and sellers.
Three months after ALEC issued a PR statement that it was eliminating its Public Safety and Elections Task Force, the NRA announced that it would still be hosting its regular annual shooting event at ALEC’s summer convention, held in July of this year. For the past several years, on the Saturday of ALEC’s annual meeting, the NRA has regularly hosted an outing for ALEC legislators and lobbyists to go shooting together — with complimentary guns and ammo. July’s event was co-sponsored by Browning Arms Company, whose foreign parent company is one of the world’s largest sellers of machine guns, as noted by CMD.
“Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough,” said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder and co-chair of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. “We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership — not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today. This is a national tragedy and it demands a national response.”
Facts are still coming in about how the 20-year old shooter — who under Connecticut law is too young to possess the pistols he was found with — came to use the assault weapon fired repeatedly and rapidly in the assault on the school children, or why his mother (who was apparently also shot to death by him) reportedly brought or allowed such an arsenal of weapons into the home she shared with her son, who has been called “mentally ill.” But, some observers are pointing out the terrible coincidence of a knife attack that injured 22 students in China within a day of these 20 American school children being murdered in a matter of minutes by a gunman in Connecticut, which shows yet again that the ready availability of guns in the U.S. can be the difference between life and death. And easing access to deadly firearms has been a major part of the NRA/ALEC agenda, underwritten by ALEC corporations and advanced by ALEC politicians, for years and years.
The library of NRA/ALEC gun bills can be accessed here.
Four Ways to Stop Gun Violence
Saturday, 15 December 2012 10:41 By Benjamin Van Houten, Yes! Magazine| Op-Ed
(Photo: publik16 / Flickr)The nation is grieving after yet another fatal mass shooting. Aren’t there ways to curb this ongoing national tragedy?
The mass shooting in a Tucson shopping center on January 8, 2011—which left six dead and thirteen wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords—has once again turned the public spotlight on the epidemic of gun violence in America. Gun violence takes the lives of 30,000 Americans each year, and injures an additional 70,000, but victims’ families and friends, and, indeed, all of us are touched by this ongoing national tragedy.
Massacres like the one in Tucson and daily shootings around the country compel many to ask, “Can’t we do something about gun violence in America?” The answer, of course, is yes—beginning with changing the weak federal laws that allow almost anyone access to a wide variety of deadly weapons.
In Tucson’s aftermath, Americans are hungry for action: a recent bipartisan nationwide poll [pdf] confirmed that large majorities of Americans support a variety of innovative, common sense reforms. While political will may lag behind public opinion, it’s time to demand safer, less violent communities and to embrace the smart laws that can make them a reality. A good start would include federal adoption of the following proposals:
- Ban large capacity ammunition magazines. In Tucson, Jared Loughner was able to cause so much devastation in a matter of seconds because he used a handgun equipped with a large capacity ammunition magazine capable of holding 33 bullets. Large capacity magazines, some of which can hold up to 100 rounds, are the common thread uniting all of the major mass shootings in recent history [pdf], including those at Fort Hood, Columbine, and Virginia Tech. These magazines were prohibited under federal law until Congress allowed the 1994 assault weapons ban to expire in 2004. There’s simply no reason not to ban them again, and Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy and Senator Frank Lautenberg have courageously introduced legislation to do just that.
- Require a background check every time a firearm is sold.Many Americans assume that every person who wants to purchase a gun must first pass a criminal background check confirming that he or she isn’t prohibited from owning guns. If only that were the case. Under federal law, a prospective purchaser only has to undergo a background check when buying a gun from a licensed dealer. If a person buys a gun from a so-called “private seller”—as is the case in an estimated 40 percent of gun sales every year—no background check is federally required.Since 1994, the background check system has prevented nearly 1.8 million prohibited persons from purchasing firearms [pdf], while untold numbers of convicted criminals and mentally ill individuals have exploited the “private sale loophole” to gain access to guns. A recent undercover investigation by the City of New York showed just how easy it is to get a gun at a gun show, no questions asked. A background check requirement alone isn’t enough—more also needs to be done to ensure that the names of persons who are prohibited are appropriately entered into the system—but it would be a vital step in the right direction.
- Give ATF the resources it needs.A common refrain used to oppose firearms legislation is that “we should just enforce the laws that are on the books.” Although new laws are certainly needed, better enforcement is an important piece of reducing gun violence, which is why the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) needs to have the resources and leadership to effectively enforce existing federal firearms laws.For starters, it would be nice for ATF to have a boss. The agency has not had a permanent director in over four years. That’s an inexcusable leadership vacuum, and the Senate ought to promptly confirm President Obama’s nominee for ATF Director, Andrew Traver. Second, the Bureau should be given the resources to crack down on dishonest firearms dealers. A small number of unscrupulous gun dealers—by one estimate, only 1 percent of all licensed dealers—sell the majority of firearms recovered in crime scenes nationwide. ATF has the authority to perform an unannounced inspection on a dealer once a year; ATF has the resources, however, to perform an inspection, on average, only once every decade. As documented by the Washington Post late last year, that’s only one of the many resource limitations that are preventing ATF agents from more effectively preventing the widespread trafficking of crime guns.
- Improve access to funding and data for researchers. Congress has, time and again, succumbed to gun lobby pressure to obstruct research into the development of smart, effective policies to fight gun violence, stopping the flow of data as well as money. As the New York Times reported recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) once played a key role in supporting research into the public health concerns surrounding gun violence and the development of effective firearms laws. That was until Congress singled out guns in the CDC’s funding bill with language stating that, “None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control…may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”Researchers are also denied access to data tracing the origins of firearms recovered in crimes. Trace information helped academics and members of the public identify particularly problematic gun dealers and observe trends in the spread of crime guns until Congress, in what is known as the Tiahrt Amendment, imposed restrictions that now conceal trace data from public view. This data could provide a valuable resource for innovative policy reform; for example, a recent report from Mayors Against Illegal Guns used trace data to identify ten important state laws that can reduce the trafficking of illegal guns across state lines.
This list could go on, as the gaps in federal firearms laws are as many as they are glaring. Still, there’s reason to think that successfully reducing gun violence through the adoption of common sense gun policy is possible, and the evidence lies not at the federal level, but among the states. While too many states have done nothing to combat gun violence, state and local governments in California and New York, among others, continue to adopt innovative laws to protect public safety. In a recent publication, Legal Community Against Violence (LCAV) found that many of the states with the strongest gun laws also have the lowest gun death rates, while many states with the weakest gun laws have the highest gun death rates.
One conclusion seems inescapable. As the LCAV publication’s title puts it, Gun Laws Matter. With this knowledge, we’ll all be empowered to work toward a better, less violent future.
Supreme Court Takes Gay Marriage Case, But Don’t Hold Your Breath For An Epic Ruling
The Court could issue a ruling that allows states to decide on marriage equality.
December 7, 2012 |
Today, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a landmark case challenging the constitutionality of California’s ban on gay marriage. The California case, brought by Supreme Court superstars Ted Olson and David Boies, was designed from the beginning to obtain a bold, revolutionary ruling by the justices declaring gay marriage a constitutional right.
If Olson and Boies — who famously went head-to-head in the notorious Bush v. Gore case — win, it could mean that all bans on gay marriage, everywhere in the country, will be overturned. Gay and lesbian people from Beverly Hills to Bangor will finally enjoy an equal right to marry the person they love.
Yet don’t count on a game-changing decision too quickly. It’s more likely that Olson and Boies’ blockbuster will end with a whimper.
Olson and Boies are right that in the closely divided Court, the justices’ sentiments are with them. Four justices are likely to support marriage equality — Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan — and three justices equally certain to oppose it: Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito.
That leaves two potential swing votes: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Roberts is very firmly in the conservative camp on nearly every hot-button issue that comes before the Court. He’s voted with the right wing of the Court to strike down affirmative action plans, restrict access to abortion, deny victims of discrimination back pay and allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections. Given that track record, Roberts seems likely to vote to uphold bans on gay marriage.
But then there’s the Obamacare case. His vote to uphold President Obama’s healthcare law went against his typical pattern in controversial cases. No one knows why he cast his vote the way he did in that case — few legal experts give much credence to his argument that the law was a tax — but the most likely possibility is that Roberts sincerely worries about the institutional legitimacy of the court he shepherds. Roberts must know that long before his tenure as chief justice is up in 25 years or so, any decision by the court upholding bans on gay marriage will seem retrograde and foolish. That won’t stop Scalia and Thomas, but it might stop Roberts.
Kennedy is a Catholic appointed by President Ronald Reagan, so one might predict he’d be hostile to claims of gay marriage. Kennedy, however, voted in favor of equality in the Supreme Court’s two biggest gay rights cases of the past twenty years, Romer v. Evans and Lawrence v. Texas. The first case, from 1996, overturned a Colorado law that barred cities like Denver and Aspen from enacting anti-discrimination protections for gay and lesbian Americans. The second, from 2003, struck down a Texas ban on same-sex sodomy among consenting adults. The opinions in both cases were written by Kennedy.
Yet, even for Kennedy, gay marriage may be a bridge too far. And Olson and Boies’ case, despite being carefully and strategically crafted to goad the Supreme Court into ruling on the constitutionality of gay marriage nationwide, has a number of escape routes for Roberts and Kennedy.
There might even be some surprising reluctance from the left wing of the Court. Take Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There’s little doubt she’d like to strike down bans on gay marriage, but she may prefer to go slow. Ginsburg, who cut her teeth as a women’s rights advocate, has criticized Roe v. Wade, the abortion decision, for going too far too fast. She supports abortion rights but has argued that if the Court had issued a more narrow ruling in Roe, we might not have seen the tremendous backlash sparked by the decision. Abortion rights might well have grown through the political process instead.
Gay marriage is similar. There’s a risk of backlash from a bold opinion and, if the Court stays its hand, the political process is clearly trending towards allowing gay and lesbian Americans to marry.
One way the Court may skirt a bold ruling is procedural. The justices could rule that the case was not defended by the right party and remand the controversy to the lower courts. Usually when there’s a challenge to a state law — like California’s Proposition 8 — the state’s attorney general goes to court to defend it. In Olson and Boies’ case, however, California’s attorneys general and governors have steadfastly refused to defend the law, which they’ve argued is discriminatory. With no one else to defend the law, the trial court allowed the group that put Proposition 8 on the ballot to substitute for the state government.
This was controversial because the group doesn’t satisfy the usual requirement that a party to a case have an unusual, highly individualized interest in the case that’s different than the average citizen. Indeed, in a Supreme Court case decided not long ago, the justices suggested that initiative backers are not appropriate parties to defend a state law. So don’t be surprised if the justices declare that Olson and Boies’ case was never properly defended and remand it to the lower courts to try again.
Another out for the Court would be to allow gay marriage in California alone. Rather than issue a landmark ruling that mandates all states to permit gay individuals to marry, the Court could focus on the particular facts of Proposition 8. What’s different about California is that the state at one point allowed gay marriage. After the state Supreme Court held that California’s own constitution required marriage equality, approximately 18,000 gay and lesbian couples were married in the state. Proposition 8 changed California’s constitution to prohibit further gay marriages — effectively taking away a right that gay and lesbian citizens already had.
The justices might well rule that taking away a right is substantively different from refusing to extend a right in the first place, in which case the existing bans on gay marriage in other states will stand.
This latter approach was the one taken by the court of appeals in the Olson and Boies case. Even though written by legendary uber-liberal Stephen Reinhardt, who prides himself on being to the left of nearly every other federal judge in America, the court of appeals’ opinion carefully avoided declaring gay marriage a constitutionally protected right for all Americans. Reinhardt’s opinion hewed closely to the language and reasoning of Kennedy’s opinion in the Colorado case from 1996, saying the problem with California’s law was in how it was enacted.
If the Supreme Court takes either tack — turning back the challenge for procedural reasons or limiting its ruling to California — it will still be a victory for gay rights, even if it is less than Olson and Boies were originally hoping for. If the justices say Proposition 8′s backers weren’t appropriate parties, the case would be returned to the lower courts. California’s attorney general and governor, however, are certain to refuse to defend the law, which means a victory for Olson and Boies. Gay marriage would then be legal in California.
If the justices cabin their ruling to California alone, that too would allow California to begin allowing gay couples to marry. Either way, tens of thousands of LGBT people would gain the right to marry.
That would be a major victory for gay rights, though not the bold and revolutionary one Olson and Boies originally sought.
Adam Winkler is Professor of Law at UCLA and an expert on constitutional law. His book Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America, was published by W. W. Norton in September 2011.
Jon Stewart Begs, “Please Tell Me This Is Rock Bottom” After Republicans Thwart Treaty to Protect the Disabled
“How did that fail?” he cried.
December 6, 2012 |
Yesterday, 38 Republicans in the Senate blocked the U.S. from signing on to a U.N. Treaty that declares equal rights for people with disabilities, throwing Jon Stewart into a fit of rage.
“How did that fail?” he cried.
Stewart promptly renamed the news segment to: “Please Tell Me this Is Rock Bottom,” and the proceeded to ridicule the various reasons that “Republicans hate the United Nations more than they like people in wheelchairs.”
Yet, he ultimately ended up with a solution to the problem: add “delusional paranoia” to the list of disabilities to incentivize Republicans to sign on.
Welcome Back to the Dark Ages
Tuesday, 04 December 2012 07:03 By Paul Krugman, Krugman & Co. | Op-Ed
Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, talking with reporters in Washington after a committee meeting in November. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst / The New York Times)
Quite a few bloggers are having fun with Senator Marco Rubio’s bobbing and weaving in response to a question from GQ magazine during a recent interview:
GQ: How old do you think the Earth is?
Marco Rubio: I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. … I think parents should be able to teach their kids what their faith says, what science says. Whether the Earth was created in seven days, or seven actual eras, I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that. It’s one of the great mysteries.
As I like to say, the G.O.P. doesn’t just want to roll back the New Deal; it wants to roll back the Enlightenment. But here’s what you should realize: when Mr. Rubio said that the question of the Earth’s age “has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow,” he was dead wrong.
For one thing, science and technology education has a lot to do with our future productivity — and how are you going to have effective science education if schools have to give equal time to the views of fundamentalist Christians?
More broadly, the attitude that discounts any amount of evidence — and boy, do we have lots of evidence of the age of the planet! — if it conflicts with prejudices is not an attitude consistent with effective policy. If you’re going to ignore what geologists say because you don’t like its implications, what are the chances that you’ll take sensible advice on monetary and fiscal policy? After all, we’ve just seen how Republicans deal with research reports that undermine their faith in the magic of tax cuts: they try to suppress the reports.
I’m belatedly reading Chris Mooney’s “The Republican Brain”; if truth be told, I was afraid that the book would be too much red meat for my own predispositions, and wanted to keep my cool. But Mr. Mooney actually makes a very good point: the personality traits we associate with modern conservatism, above all a lack of openness, make the modern G.O.P. fundamentally hostile to the very idea of objective inquiry. If they want your opinion, they’ll tell you what it is; doubters of orthodoxy need not apply, and will in fact be persecuted.
So don’t laugh over Mr. Rubio’s young-Earth apologetics. If he, or anyone else from his party, wins in 2016, the joke will be on us.
How We Know the Earth Is Old
One thing that kind of tickles me about Mr. Rubio’s age-of-the-planet stuff is that it leads right to one of my favorite science stories — the founding of modern geology by James Hutton, part of the Scottish Enlightenment.
Mr. Hutton was, for a time, a farmer — and in that occupation, observing the process of erosion and the laying down of deposits of various materials, he realized that the landscape he saw around him could be explained by the same forces operating over immense periods of time, as long as you posited that there were other forces uplifting ancient sediments to form today’s geological features.
How could he know whether this theory was right? He made predictions; in particular, that in places you would find “angular uncomformities,” or striated bodies of sedimentary rocks from different eras that were tilted relative to each other. And, sure enough, he found them.
And once you accepted that the landscape we see was created by the same processes we see every day, you also had to accept the notion of a very ancient planet.
Why do I like this story so much? I think because it’s science of a kind everyone should be able to understand; it doesn’t rely on exotic instruments or hard math (not that there’s anything wrong with either of these), just on keen observation and an open mind.
Too bad that such open minds are so rare in America today, at least on one side of the spectrum.
Jon Stewart Rips into GOP’s White Male Situation
GOP appoints just one woman to chair a House committee.
December 5, 2012 |
Despite the GOP’s resounding loss at the presidential level of this year’s election, Republicans appears dead set on continuing the old discriminatory antics that have run the party into the ground.
The GOP’s appointment of only white men to the House committee chairs caused a flurry of outrage and confusion last week. It was a particularly devastating decision for the GOP to make because Romney’s defeat was widely viewed as the deathblow to the GOP’s old boys’ club.
This week, House majority leader John Boehner tried to remedy the white male situation by appointing Representative Candace Miller to the position of House Administration Committee Chair. But, as Jon Stewart searingly points out, this post is really just the position of House Wife–a secretarial job that has been handed to the one woman on the committee.
Ironic or not? Watch his commentary to decide for yourself:
Iron Empires, Iron Fists, Iron Domes
Published: December 4, 2012
Josh Haner/The New York Times
Thomas L. Friedman
I went to synagogue on Saturday not far from the Syrian border in Antakya, Turkey. It’s been on my mind ever since.
Antakya is home to a tiny Jewish community, which still gathers for holidays at the little Sephardic synagogue. It is also famous for its mosaic of mosques and Orthodox, Catholic, Armenian and Protestant churches. How could it be that I could go to synagogue in Turkey on Saturday while on Friday, just across the Orontes River in Syria, I had visited with Sunni Free Syrian Army rebels embroiled in a civil war in which Syrian Alawites and Sunnis are killing each other on the basis of their ID cards, Kurds are creating their own enclave, Christians are hiding and the Jews are long gone?
What is this telling us? For me, it raises the question of whether there are just three governing options in the Middle East today: Iron Empires, Iron Fists or Iron Domes?
The reason that majorities and minorities co-existed relatively harmoniously for some 400 years when the Arab world was ruled by the Turkish Ottomans from Istanbul was because the Sunni Ottomans, with their Iron Empire, monopolized politics. While there were exceptions, generally speaking the Ottomans and their local representatives were in charge in cities like Damascus, Antakya and Baghdad. Minorities, like Alawites, Shiites, Christians and Jews, though second-class citizens, did not have to worry that they’d be harmed if they did not rule. The Ottomans had a live-and-let-live mentality toward their subjects.
When Britain and France carved up the Ottoman Empire in the Arab East, they forged the various Ottoman provinces into states — with names like Iraq, Jordan and Syria — that did not correspond to the ethnographic map. So Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Christians, Druze, Turkmen, Kurds and Jews found themselves trapped together inside national boundaries that were drawn to suit the interests of the British and French. Those colonial powers kept everyone in check. But once they withdrew, and these countries became independent, the contests for power began, and minorities were exposed. Finally, in the late 1960s and 1970s, we saw the emergence of a class of Arab dictators and monarchs who perfected Iron Fists (and multiple intelligence agencies) to decisively seize power for their sect or tribe — and they ruled over all the other communities by force.
In Syria, under the Assad family’s iron fist, the Alawite minority came to rule over a Sunni majority, and in Iraq, under Saddam’s iron fist, a Sunni minority came to rule over a Shiite majority. But these countries never tried to build real “citizens” who could share and peacefully rotate in power. So what you are seeing today in the Arab awakening countries — Syria, Iraq, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen — is what happens when there is no Iron Empire and the people rise up against the iron-fisted dictators. You are seeing ongoing contests for power — until and unless someone can forge a social contract for how communities can share power.
Israelis have responded to the collapse of Arab iron fists around them — including the rise of militias with missiles in Lebanon and Gaza — with a third model. It is the wall Israel built around itself to seal off the West Bank coupled with its Iron Dome antimissile system. The two have been phenomenally successful — but at a price. The wall plus the dome are enabling Israel’s leaders to abdicate their responsibility for thinking creatively about a resolution of its own majority-minority problem with the Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
I am stunned at what I see here politically. On the right, in the Likud Party, the old leadership that was at least connected with the world, spoke English and respected Israel’s Supreme Court, is being swept aside in the latest primary by a rising group of far-right settler-activists who are convinced — thanks, in part, to the wall and dome — that Palestinians are no threat anymore and that no one can roll back the 350,000 Jews living in the West Bank. The far-right group running Israel today is so arrogant, and so indifferent to U.S. concerns, that it announced plans to build a huge block of settlements in the heart of the West Bank — in retaliation for the U.N. vote giving Palestinians observer status — even though the U.S. did everything possible to block that vote and the settlements would sever any possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state.
Meanwhile, with a few exceptions, the dome and wall have so insulated the Israeli left and center from the effects of the Israeli occupation that their main candidates for the Jan. 22 elections — including those from Yitzhak Rabin’s old Labor Party — are not even offering peace ideas but simply conceding the right’s dominance on that issue and focusing on bringing down housing prices and school class sizes. One settler leader told me the biggest problem in the West Bank today is “traffic jams.”
I am glad that the wall and the Iron Dome are sheltering Israelis from enemies who wish to do them ill, but I fear the wall and the Iron Dome are also blinding them from truths they still badly need to face.
Being Spectacularly Wrong About the Election Won’t Be Enough to Pop the Republican Bubble
For each Republican who seems to have realized that there was an election last month, there are dozens who cling to their economic fantasies.
December 5, 2012 |
The rubbish that House Speaker John Boehner and other congressional Republicans keep dishing out about thefederal budget shows the multimedia “bubble” that envelops the GOP and its mouthpieces is pretty durable. Even after Mitt Romney’s loss at the hands of President Obama that “shocked” both the candidate and operators like Karl Rove, the “bubble” continues to blur their judgment even though a few them are jumping ship.
Although the election proved that the Republicans’ ideas of “self-deporting illegals,” stripping reproductive rights away from women, and labeling working people “moochers” were toxic to voters the “bubble” that stopped them from realizing this fact might be resilient. At the time of this writing there has been an uptick in Republican Representatives and Senators formally breaking with their former master, the unelected oligarch Grover Norquist, on his nihilistic anti-tax “pledge.” But for every Republican politician who seems to have realized that there was an election last month and the GOP’s bankrupt economic ideas were handily thrashed there are ten or twenty (or thirty) who still cling to their economic fantasies as securely as they cling to their guns and bibles.
The Fox News/Drudge/Talk Radio components of the GOP bubble are well known but the other media outlets also carry water for the Far Right’s prescriptions for economic health. When NBC’s David Gregory, that fountainhead of all things Beltway, held court recently with Maria Bartiromo and Jim Cramer on Meet the Press nary a peep was heard in setting the record straight when this money-honey tag team insisted “entitlements” were the driving force behind the soaring national debt. Like David Brooks and other right-wing opinion makers, Gregory, Bartiromo, and Cramer apparently believe in the old George W. Bush tactic that by repeating a Big Lie over and over again it will seep into the nation’s consciousness as somehow being “true.”
So before the liberals write the GOP’s obituary it would be wise to acknowledge the role other “bubbles” play in fortifying the Right’s ability to invent new and ingenious ways to get people to vote against their own self-interests (or at least see as “common sense” policies aimed at the budget deficit that undercut their economic well being).
Rather than one all-encompassing “bubble” that hermetically seals the Republicans inside their media universe there’s no shortage of other equally important “bubbles” that serve corporate power. These bubbles often overlap in influence and personnel and still possess the awe-inspiring ability to persuade public opinion on the problems of greatest magnitude facing the United States today.
Although it was amusing on election night to see Karl Rove on Fox News refuse to accept the reality of President Obama’s Ohio victory, we shouldn’t be too quick to draw totalizing conclusions from the Democratic victories.
We still have to contend with the Beltway Bubble that also has its own logic and culture. Each week we’re subjected to the spectacle of Washington Sunday talk shows where millionaire “hosts” interview millionaire politicians and pundits who interpret our politics and dispense their millionaire advice. This Beltway Bubble sets firm ideological limits on any debate and furthers the same worldview as does Fox News, Drudge, and Talk Radio, only with optics and atmospherics that seem slightly more erudite and “serious.”
And then there’s the One-Percent Bubble. This bubble also overlaps with the other two, but it has wider parameters. Mitt Romney handed the country a precious “gift” with his private disparaging at a billionaire fundraiser of “the 47 percent,” as well as with his sour-grapes recap of why he lost. Throughout the course of the 2012 campaign the Republican candidate revealed himself as being sealed off inside the One Percent Bubble. Like the Jamie Dimons and the Lloyd Blankfeins and the John Thains, these oligarchs effortlessly pass through each of the other bubbles, but also have access to a different world where toying around with American politics is just a hobby like horsey ballet dressage, never a matter of any real consequence to their privileged lives. The One Percent Bubble has been on display of late in the form of the ultra-elitist “Fix the Debt” group of privileged CEOs calling for working people to “lower their expectations,” forget about a comfortable retirement, affordable health care in old age, or college for their kids.
And let’s not forget the Think Tank Bubble. This bubble functions as a manufacturing center of terrible ideas that serve corporate power and the 1 percent. It too overlaps with the other bubbles but specializes in providing pseudo-intellectual heft to all manner of rotten public policy choices. The American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the CATO Institute, the Hudson Institute, and the dozens of other corporate funded right-wing think tanks construct their own universe that doesn’t bother with peer reviews from academia or anyone else associated with those dreaded outposts of liberal indoctrination: Universities. Some of these think tanks consciously cultivate a “bipartisan” veneer and even have “liberal” sounding prescriptions. The Think Tank Bubble gave us the idea that a rise in the retirement age is a good way to deal with the manufactured “crisis” in “entitlements.” Previously, this bubble has extolled the wisdom of deregulating the financial services sector and invading Iraq. Now these bubble boys have all manner of serious sounding “policy papers” and “studies” identifying the benefits to American society of shredding the safety net and imposing austerity. And why have they reached these conclusions? Because their corporate and billionaire sponsors want those conclusions.
So let’s not become too smug as we watch night after night Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert deconstruct the Fox News/Drudge/Talk Radio bubble when there are other bubbles that must be dealt with before the debate on our national priorities has a chance of becoming less polluted.
5 Dumbest Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories About the United Nations
Conservative fear-mongers claim a UN treaty ensuring rights for disabled people “undermines American sovereignty.”
December 4, 2012 |
The UN general assembly room.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The Republican Party successfully scuttled the prospect of the United States joining a United Nations treaty that would establish international standards for the rights of disabled people. The vote took place on December 4. The treaty “urges nations to strive to ensure that the disabled enjoy the same rights as their fellow citizens,” the Associated Press reports. But the GOP “objected to taking up a treaty during the lame-duck session and warned that the treaty could pose a threat to U.S. sovereignty.”
The GOP’s opposition to the treaty was reinforced by right-wing media freaking out over yet another United Nations effort. The pattern is well-established: take a UN treaty the US is thinking of signing, twist the language to make it seem nefarious, and then gin up hysterical opposition to it based on non-existent provisions in the treaty.
So here are five ways the right has jumped the shark over the UN.
1. Disability Treaty ‘Undermines American Sovereignty’
The latest example of the conservative freakout over the UN is the disability treaty being pushed around the world. Right-wing media have followed the playbook on this issue. On the conservative National Review’s Web site, writer Betsy Woodruff claimed that the disability treaty, named the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, would “potentially undermine American sovereignty.” A writer at the libertarian Cato institute said that if the US signed the treaty, it would take “away our national sovereignty on questions of how best to accommodate the disabled.”
None of this is true. As Media Matters notes, “U.S. law already meets the standards the treaty requests.” And the New York Times notes that “the treaty would have no power to alter or overrule United States law, and any recommendations that emerge from it would not be binding on state or federal governments or in any state or federal court.”
2. Agenda 21
“Agenda 21” is one of many United Nations documents that lay out a vision for the future. In this case, Agenda 21 is the name given to the UN’s non-binding plan for sustainable development. But given its clumsy name, it’s no surprise that right-wing fear-mongers would gin up hysteria over the plan.
Former Fox News star Glenn Beck has taken the lead on this, routinely sounding false alarms on Agenda 21. In June 2011, Beck said on Fox News that after “reading through the pages [of Agenda 21], it becomes clear ‘sustainable development’ is just a really nice way of saying ‘centralized control over all of human life on planet Earth.’” Beck also said, referring to the UN vision, that “once they put their fangs into our communities, they’ll suck all the blood out of it, and we will not be able to survive. Watch out.”
Now, Beck has published an entire book on the subject. His fictional book envisions a horrific future in which Agenda 21 has overtaken America.
3. UN Arms Trade Treaty
The global arms trade is deadly, violent and assists human rights abusers. So it makes sense that the UN would want to develop a treaty framework on this problem. But right-wing media, predictably, have tried to scuttle the prospect of the US signing on. They have taken to Fox News to air baseless theories about what the treaty may do.
On Fox News, Dick Morris said that President Obama was going to use the UN treaty to impose gun control in the U.S. This line of reasoning was boosted by Gun Owners of America executive director Larry Pratt, who said on Fox that the treaty “would completely work against what the Second Amendment is intended to do.”
What Fox has aired, however, has zero to do with the reality of the treaty–and even the conservative Heritage Foundation agrees. “I don’t regard that as within the bounds of possibility in the United States and secondly, because that is not what the text says,” said one Heritage fellow, referring to the right-wing meme that the UN treaty would lead to limitations on the Second Amendment.
4. John Bolton’s Crusade
John Bolton, a right-wing foreign policy voice in the GOP, deserves his own category for freaking out about the UN. In 1994, he told an audience that “there is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that’s the United States.”
These comments sparked controversy when George W. Bush nominated Bolton to serve as US ambassador to the United Nations. But Bolton did not stop just questioning why the UN existed. He also suggested that it wouldn’t matter if the UN building lost physical stories. “The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference,” Bolton said. Since leaving his post as ambassador, Bolton has continued to raise doubts about the UN.
5. Reparations for Climate Change
In December 2011, the UN convened in Durban, South Africa to try and hammer out a deal over climate change. The deal stipulated that countries were “to begin a new round of talks on a new agreement in the years ahead,” noted the Washington Post. There were some other provisions as well hammered out in Durban, including the creation of a global fund set up to help poor countries tackle climate change.
But Fox News wasn’t having any of that, despite the fact that climate change threatens the long-term viability of the planet. On Fox and Friends, legal analyst Peter Johnson claimed that the agreement in Durban would set up an “international climate court of justice.” There is no mention of such a court in the final draft of the UN agreement. Johnson also claimed that the agreement mandates that the West pay “reparations” for climate change — a claim that is entirely misleading.
A majority of Americans say that if the country goes over the fiscal cliff on Dec. 31, congressional Republicans should bear the brunt of the blame, according to a new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll, the latest sign that the GOP faces a perilous path on the issue between now and the end of the year.
While 53 percent of those surveyed say the GOP would (and should) lose the fiscal cliff blame game, just 27 percent say President Obama would be deserving of more of the blame. Roughly one in 10 (12 percent) volunteer that both sides would be equally to blame.
Those numbers are largely unchanged from a Post-Pew survey conducted three weeks ago and suggest that for all of the back and forth in Washington on the fiscal cliff, there has been little movement in public perception. The numbers also explain why Republicans privately fret about the political dangers of going over the cliff, while Democrats are more sanguine about such a prospect.
The blame question is all the more relevant because a near majority — 49 percent — of those polled expect the Dec. 31 deadline to pass without a deal, while 40 percent expect a deal to be cut. Perhaps indicative of which side believes it has the upper hand in the negotiations, 55 percent of self-identified Democrats believe there will be a deal, while just 22 percent of Republicans feel the same. Thirty-seven percent of independents expect a deal; 52 percent do not.
There also appears to be a disconnect between a general sense that going over the cliff would be bad for the country and an acknowledgement of what it would mean for peoples’ lives.
Roughly two-thirds of all Americans say that not meeting the Dec. 31 deadline would have “major” consequences for the U.S. economy, but just 43 percent believe that it would have a “major effect” on their personal finances — despite the fact that taxes would go up on the vast majority of the population on Jan. 1 if no deal can be reached.
Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll
Republicans are well aware of where the public seems ready to put the blame if no deal on the cliff is reached. It’s why House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) offered a counterproposal Monday to the one President Obama laid out last week. Simply letting stalemate stand for the next 10 to 14 days is unacceptable to Republicans who know they have to do everything they can to avoid the cliff — and the blame for it that seems likely headed their way.
Ailes tried to enlist Petraeus for White House bid: The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward reports that in the spring of 2011, Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes relayed a message to Gen. David H. Petraeus, urging him to run for president if he wasn’t offered the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The messenger, Fox News national security analyst Kathleen T. McFarland, discussed with Petraeus the possibility of Ailes resigning to run his bid and News Corp. head Rupert Murdoch bankrolling it, but Petraeus wasn’t interested in running. Ailes said Monday the message he sent to Petraeus “was more of a joke.” Petraeus at the time was commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He resigned last month as CIA director.
Bloomberg urged Clinton to consider succeeding him: New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) reportedly called Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton some months ago to encourage her to think about entering the 2013 race to succeed him as mayor of the nation’s largest city.
Clinton made clear she wasn’t interested, but the outreach underscores her popularity and the extent to which she is in demand, politically. The call’s revelation could also complicate relations between Bloomberg and presumptive candidate and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D), for whom the mayor has privately signaled support.
Smith, Wallingford considering bids to replace Emerson: Missouri Republican Party Executive Director Lloyd Smith and state Sen.-elect Wayne Wallingford (R) each released statements Monday saying they would consider running to replace Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R), who announced that she will resign next February. Smith is Emerson’s former chief of staff. Wallingford is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel. The 8th District party central committee will choose nominees for next year’s special election in the heavily Republican district.
Obama’s team is up with a campaign-style video making the case against tax cuts for the wealthy.
The Supreme Court has punted until Friday when it comes to taking up a gay marriage case.
Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer’s whereabouts are shrouded in secrecy.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) will keep a national profile despite stepping down as chairman of the Democratic Governors Association. O’Malley is considered a potential presidential contender in 2016.
Mitt Romney had some of the top-searched Google terms in 2012, but not in a good way.
Former House majority leader Dick Armey (R-Tex.) is parting ways with the tea party group FreedomWorks, and it doesn’t sound amicable.
Former Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen (D) says he is not planning to challenge Sen. Lamar Alexander (R).
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) says Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is feeding Democrats’ efforts to weaken filibuster rules.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) has no intention of running hard to the right to save his job.
Smart Politics notes, somewhat astoundingly, that states vote against their governor’s party for president more often than they vote for it.
Harvard’s Institute of Politics has posted audio files of last week’s election post-mortem, featuring top aides to the presidential candidates.
Businessman Martin Sepulveda (R) and retired Air Force lieutenant colonel Wendy Rogers (R) are considering challenging Rep.-elect Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) in 2014.
Obama is considering nominating Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour to be the next ambassador to the U.K. or France.
Newt Gingrich will appear on “Parks and Recreation.”
“Boehner, House GOP leaders offer ‘fiscal cliff’ counterproposal” — Lori Montgomery, Washington Post
“Criticized as Weak in Past Talks, Obama Takes Harder Line” — Peter Baker, New York Times
“Obama Plans for Climate Deal as Fiscal Cliff Talks Rage” — Kim Chipman, Bloomberg Businessweek
“Republican Doomsday Plan: Cave on Taxes, Vote ‘Present’” — Jonathan Karl, ABC News
“Pro-immigration conservative activists plan their strategy” — Peter Wallsten, Washington Post
Noam Chomsky: What the American Media Won’t Tell You About Israel
The savage punishment of Gaza traces back to decades ago.
December 3, 2012 |
The Israeli air force struck a UN building during the assault on Gaza in 2008-09.
Photo Credit: ISM Palestine/Wikimedia Commons
An old man in Gaza held a placard that read: “You take my water, burn my olive trees, destroy my house, take my job, steal my land, imprison my father, kill my mother, bombard my country, starve us all, humiliate us all, but I am to blame: I shot a rocket back.”
The old man’s message provides the proper context for the latest episode in the savage punishment of Gaza. The crimes trace back to 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled from their homes in terror or were expelled to Gaza by conquering Israeli forces, who continued to truck Palestinians over the border for years after the official cease-fire.
The punishment took new forms when Israel conquered Gaza in 1967. From recent Israeli scholarship (primarily Avi Raz’s “The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War”), we learn that the government’s goal was to drive the refugees into the Sinai Peninsula – and, if feasible, the rest of the population too.
Expulsions from Gaza were carried out under the direct orders of Gen. Yeshayahu Gavish, commander of the Israel Defense Forces Southern Command. Expulsions from the West Bank were far more extreme, and Israel resorted to devious means to prevent the return of those expelled, in direct violation of U.N. Security Council orders.
The reasons were made clear in internal discussions immediately after the war. Golda Meir, later prime minister, informed her Labor Party colleagues that Israel should keep the Gaza Strip while “getting rid of its Arabs.” Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and others agreed.
Prime Minister Levi Eshkol explained that those expelled could not be allowed to return because “we cannot increase the Arab population in Israel” – referring to the newly occupied territories, already considered part of Israel.
In accord with this conception, all of Israel’s maps were changed, expunging the Green Line (the internationally recognized borders) – though publication of the maps was delayed to permit Abba Eban, an Israeli ambassador to the U.N., to attain what he called a “favorable impasse” at the General Assembly by concealing Israel’s intentions.
The goals of expulsion may remain alive today, and might be a factor in contributing to Egypt’s reluctance to open the border to free passage of people and goods barred by the U.S.-backed Israeli siege.
The current upsurge of U.S.-Israeli violence dates to January 2006, when Palestinians voted “the wrong way” in the first free election in the Arab world.
Israel and the U.S. reacted at once with harsh punishment of the miscreants, and preparation of a military coup to overthrow the elected government – the routine procedure. The punishment was radically intensified in 2007, when the coup attempt was beaten back and the elected Hamas government established full control over Gaza.
Ignoring immediate offers from Hamas for a truce after the 2006 election, Israel launched attacks that killed 660 Palestinians in 2006, most of whom were civilians (a third were minors). According to U.N. reports, 2,879 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire from April 2006 through July 2012, along with several dozen Israelis killed by fire from Gaza.
A short-lived truce in 2008 was honored by Hamas until Israel broke it in November. Ignoring further truce offers, Israel launched the murderous Cast Lead operation in December.
So matters have continued, while the U.S. and Israel also continue to reject Hamas calls for a long-term truce and a political settlement for a two-state solution in accord with the international consensus that the U.S. has blocked since 1976 when the U.S. vetoed a Security Council resolution to this effect, brought by the major Arab states.
This week, Washington devoted every effort to blocking a Palestinian initiative to upgrade its status at the U.N. but failed, in virtual international isolation as usual. The reasons were revealing: Palestine might approach the International Criminal Court about Israel’s U.S.-backed crimes.
One element of the unremitting torture of Gaza is Israel’s “buffer zone” within Gaza, from which Palestinians are barred entry to almost half of Gaza’s limited arable land.
From January 2012 to the launching of Israel’s latest killing spree on Nov. 14, Operation Pillar of Defense, one Israeli was killed by fire from Gaza while 78 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire.
The full story is naturally more complex, and uglier.
The first act of Operation Pillar of Defense was to murder Ahmed Jabari. Aluf Benn, editor of the newspaper Haaretz, describes him as Israel’s “subcontractor” and “border guard” in Gaza, who enforced relative quiet there for more than five years.
The pretext for the assassination was that during these five years Jabari had been creating a Hamas military force, with missiles from Iran. A more credible reason was provided by Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, who had been involved in direct negotiations with Jabari for years, including plans for the eventual release of the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Baskin reports that hours before he was assassinated, Jabari “received the draft of a permanent truce agreement with Israel, which included mechanisms for maintaining the cease-fire in the case of a flare-up between Israel and the factions in the Gaza Strip.”
A truce was then in place, called by Hamas on Nov. 12. Israel apparently exploited the truce, Reuters reports, directing attention to the Syrian border in the hope that Hamas leaders would relax their guard and be easier to assassinate.
Throughout these years, Gaza has been kept on a level of bare survival, imprisoned by land, sea and air. On the eve of the latest attack, the U.N. reported that 40 percent of essential drugs and more than half of essential medical items were out of stock.
In November one of the first in a series of hideous photos sent from Gaza showed a doctor holding the charred corpse of a murdered child. That one had a personal resonance. The doctor is the director and head of surgery at Khan Yunis hospital, which I had visited a few weeks earlier.
In writing about the trip I reported his passionate appeal for desperately needed medicine and surgical equipment. These are among the crimes of the U.S.-Israeli siege, and of Egyptian complicity.
The casualty rates from the November episode were about average: more than 160 Palestinian dead, including many children, and six Israelis.
Among the dead were three journalists. The official Israeli justification was that “The targets are people who have relevance to terror activity.” Reporting the “execution” in The New York Times, the reporter David Carr observed that “it has come to this: Killing members of the news media can be justified by a phrase as amorphous as ‘relevance to terror activity.’ ”
The massive destruction was all in Gaza. Israel used advanced U.S. military equipment and relied on U.S. diplomatic support, including the usual U.S. intervention efforts to block a Security Council call for a cease-fire.
With each such exploit, Israel’s global image erodes. The photos and videos of terror and devastation, and the character of the conflict, leave few remaining shreds of credibility to the self-declared “most moral army in the world,” at least among people whose eyes are open.
The pretexts for the assault were also the usual ones. We can put aside the predictable declarations of the perpetrators in Israel and Washington. But even decent people ask what Israel should do when attacked by a barrage of missiles. It’s a fair question, and there are straightforward answers.
One response would be to observe international law, which allows the use of force without Security Council authorization in exactly one case: in self-defense after informing the Security Council of an armed attack, until the Council acts, in accord with the U.N. Charter, Article 51.
Israel is well familiar with that Charter provision, which it invoked at the outbreak of the June 1967 war. But, of course, Israel’s appeal went nowhere when it was quickly ascertained that Israel had launched the attack. Israel did not follow this course in November, knowing what would be revealed in a Security Council debate.
Another narrow response would be to agree to a truce, as appeared quite possible before the operation was launched on Nov. 14.
There are more far-reaching responses. By coincidence, one is discussed in the current issue of the journal National Interest. Asia scholars Raffaello Pantucci and Alexandros Petersen describe China’s reaction after rioting in western Xinjiang province, “in which mobs of Uighurs marched around the city beating hapless Han (Chinese) to death.”
Chinese president Hu Jintao quickly flew to the province to take charge; senior leaders in the security establishment were fired; and a wide range of development projects were undertaken to address underlying causes of the unrest.
In Gaza, too, a civilized reaction is possible. The U.S. and Israel could end the merciless, unremitting assault, open the borders and provide for reconstruction – and if it were imaginable, reparations for decades of violence and repression.
The cease-fire agreement stated that the measures to implement the end of the siege and the targeting of residents in border areas “shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the cease-fire.”
There is no sign of steps in this direction. Nor is there any indication of a U.S.-Israeli willingness to rescind their separation of Gaza from the West Bank in violation of the Oslo Accords, to end the illegal settlement and development programs in the West Bank that are designed to undermine a political settlement, or in any other way to abandon the rejectionism of the past decades.
Someday, and it must be soon, the world will respond to the plea issued by the distinguished Gazan human-rights lawyer Raji Sourani while the bombs were once again raining down on defenseless civilians in Gaza: “We demand justice and accountability. We dream of a normal life, in freedom and dignity.”
Dominance: The New Democratic Voting Base Is an Electoral Steamroller
Nominate Jeb Bush or Bobby Jindal. It doesn’t matter: The Electoral College now favors the Democrats.
December 1, 2012 |
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
Have the Democrats opened up a real Electoral College advantage over the Republicans?
I’m not talking about the illusion of an advantage that comes with winning consecutive elections. That might be the result of a streak in which the party is helped by favorable fundamentals, or it can be, as with Democratic majorities in the New Deal era, simply part of a national advantage. In either case, a party might win the same states every time, but — as Republicans discovered in 1992 — when those favorable conditions end, the apparent electoral “lock” disappears, too.
No, I’m talking about an Electoral College edge above and beyond the national vote. That’s not defined by which states went for which candidate; it’s found by looking at what would have happened in the Electoral College if an election had been tied in the national vote. To calculate it, assume uniform swing – that is, if swing state Ohio moves toward the Democrats, then liberal Vermont and conservative Utah will also move toward the Democrats by the same amount. In reality, the states don’t swing quite that equally, but they’re very close to it.
Usually, Electoral College advantages have been very small, and they flip back and forth between the parties – during the 2000 election, when George W. Bush wound up winning because of a very slim Electoral College advantage, polls throughout most of the contest actually showed a slight Electoral College edge for Al Gore. However, in the last two election cycles, Democrats have suddenly enjoyed a substantial bias in their favor.
In 2008, Barack Obama won the national vote by 7.3 percentage points; had John McCain improved in every state by exactly that much, Obama still would have prevailed in the Electoral College, with Colorado putting him over the top. The Democrats carried the Rocky Mountain state by 9 points, so the shift would still have given Obama the win – with 1.7 percentage points to spare. This year, Colorado was once again the tipping-point state, based on returns counted so far, and the Democratic edge in the Electoral College is 1.8 points.
That may not seem like a lot, but it’s actually a very big deal. Seven of last 47 elections were decided by margins under 2 percentage points. Two others were not far from that. To put it another way, 2 percentage points is just about the difference between an excellent campaign and a lousy one; it’s probably roughly the difference between having a good candidate and a poor one. So getting a 2-point edge going in is probably as large, or larger, than the difference between Bill Clinton and Michael Dukakis.
So it’s important. The question is where it comes from. So far, we don’t know. I’ll run through several possibilities, from the best for the GOP to the worst.
The best-case scenario for Republicans is that it’s just a random shuffle of the numbers. If that’s the case, it won’t continue in 2016. That’s possible! Random deviations from uniform swing happen all the time – could be the weather on Election Day, for all we know.
Next-best is that it’s something having to do with Barack Obama in particular. Perhaps, for example, Obama is losing worse than a generic Democrat would in solid Republican states, but otherwise basically getting the same swing any other Democrat would get. That would depress Obama’s national totals compared to swing state results, thus creating the Electoral College edge, and by definition it would be gone in the future once Obama is off the ballot.
Worse for Republicans would be if the Democratic Electoral College advantage is real – and produced by a Democratic advantage in the art of electioneering. There’s some evidence that Democrats simply had an across-the-board field operation advantage in the last two cycles. If that’s true, it’s presumably concentrated in swing states and could produce the observed effect by increasing Democratic turnout in those states. Unlike the first two possibilities, this one won’t go away on its own, but it is fundamentally fixable; after all, there’s no reason to believe that Democrats have some sort of inherent advantage in this area.
But that’s not going to work if the worst-case scenario turns out to be true.
It’s possible that the Democratic Electoral College advantage observed in both 2008 and 2012 is simply a consequence of demographics – that Democrats are currently scattered in such a way that, all else being equal, fewer Democratic votes are “wasted” (for example by winning California by a large amount) than Republican votes (such as they do in winning Texas by a large margin).
If that last one is the real reason – and it certainly might be – then there’s not much Republicans can do about it; it’s not as if they can convince lots of people from Utah to move to Colorado or get folks from West Virginia to move to Ohio.
Instead, it would mean that for however long the pattern lasts, Republicans will have a permanent disadvantage in presidential elections. That’s not unusual in American elections; Democrats right now appear to have a systematic disadvantage in both House and Senate elections due to how voters happen to be spread out – so, in a sense, a real Democratic advantage for the presidency only evens things out a bit.
It would, however, be a real change in how presidential elections have been fought for at least the last several decades. Republicans would be, in effect, starting every cycle two points behind. If it’s true – and I’m sure before long we’ll have reports from political scientists who have investigated each of the possibilities I suggested – then it’s a pretty big deal.
Organizing McDonalds and Walmart, and Why Austerity Economics Hurts Low-Wage Workers the Most
Monday, 03 December 2012 10:44 By Robert Reich
What does the drama in Washington over the “fiscal cliff” have to do with strikes and work stoppages among America’s lowest-paid workers at Walmart, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Domino’s Pizza?
Jobs are slowly returning to America, but most of them pay lousy wages and low if non-existent benefits. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that seven out of 10 growth occupations over the next decade will be low-wage — like serving customers at big-box retailers and fast-food chains. That’s why the median wage keeps dropping, especially for the 80 percent of the workforce that’s paid by the hour.
It’s also part of the reason why the percent of Americans living below the poverty line has been increasing even as the economy has started to recover — from 12.3 percent in 2006 to 15 percent in 2011. More than 46 million Americans now live below the poverty line.
Many of them have jobs. The problem is these jobs just don’t pay enough to lift their families out of poverty.
So, encouraged by the economic recovery and perhaps also by the election returns, low-wage workers have started to organize.
Yesterday in New York hundreds of workers at dozens of fast-food chain stores went on strike, demanding a raise to $15-an-hour from their current pay of $8 to $10 an hour (the median hourly wage for food service and prep workers in New York is $8.90 an hour).
Last week, Walmart workers staged demonstrations and walkouts at thousands of Walmart stores, also demanding better pay. The average Walmart employee earns $8.81 an hour. A third of Walmart’s employees work less than 28 hours per week and don’t qualify for benefits.
These workers are not teenagers. Most have to support their families. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median age of fast-food workers is over 28; and women, who comprise two-thirds of the industry, are over 32. The median age of big-box retail workers is over 30.
Organizing makes economic sense.
Unlike industrial jobs, these can’t be outsourced abroad. Nor are they likely to be replaced by automated machinery and computers. The service these workers provide is personal and direct: Someone has to be on hand to help customers and dole out the burgers.
And any wage gains they receive aren’t likely to be passed on to consumers in higher prices because big-box retailers and fast-food chains have to compete intensely for consumers. They have no choice but to keep their prices low.
That means wage gains are likely to come out of profits – which, in turn, would affect the return to shareholders and the total compensation of top executives.
That wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
According to a recent report by the National Employment Law Project, most low-wage workers are employed by large corporations that have been enjoying healthy profits. Three-quarters of these employers (the fifty biggest employers of low-wage workers) are raking in higher revenues now than they did before the recession.
McDonald’s — bellwether for the fast-food industry — posted strong results during the recession by attracting cash-strapped customers, and its sales have continued to rise.
Its CEO, Jim Skinner, got $8.8 million last year. In addition to annual bonuses, McDonald’s also gives its executives a long-term bonus once every three years; Skinner received an $8.3 million long-term bonus in 2009 and is due for another this year. The value of Skinner’s other perks — including personal use of the company aircraft, physical exams and security — rose 19% to $752,000.
Yum!Brands, which operates and licenses Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut, has also done wonderfully well. Its CEO, David Novak, received $29.67 million in total compensation last year, placing him number 23 on Forbes’ list of highest paid chief executives.
Walmart – the trendsetter for big-box retailers – is also doing well. And it pays its executives handsomely. The total compensation for Walmart’s CEO, Michael Duke, was $18.7 million last year – putting him number 82 on Forbes’ list.
The wealth of the Walton family – which still owns the lion’s share of Walmart stock — now exceeds the wealth of the bottom 40 percent of American families combined, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.
Last week, Walmart announced that the next Wal-Mart dividend will be issued December 27 instead of January 2, after the Bush tax cut for dividends expires — thereby saving the Walmart family as much as $180 million. (According to the online weekly “Too Much,” this $180 million would be enough to give 72,000 Wal-Mart workers now making $8 an hour a 20 percent annual pay hike. That hike would still leave those workers making under the poverty line for a family of three.)
America is becoming more unequal by the day. So wouldn’t it be sensible to encourage unionization at fast-food and big-box retailers?
Yes, but here’s the problem.
The unemployment rate among people with just a high school degree – which describes most (but not all) fast-food and big-box retail workers – is still in the stratosphere. The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts it at 12.2 percent, and that’s conservative estimate. It was 7.7 percent at the start of 2008.
High unemployment makes it much harder to organize a union because workers are even more fearful than usual of losing their jobs. Eight dollars an hour is better than no dollars an hour. And employers at big-box and fast-food chains have not been reluctant to give the boot to employees associated with attempts to organize for higher wages.
Meanwhile, only half of the people who lose their jobs qualify for unemployment insurance these days. Retail workers in big-boxes and fast-food chains rarely qualify because they haven’t been on the job long enough or are there only part-time. This makes the risk of job loss even greater.
Which brings us back to what’s happening in Washington.
Washington’s obsession with deficit reduction makes it all the more likely these workers will face continuing high unemployment – even higher if the nation succumbs to deficit hysteria. That’s because cutting government spending reduces overall demand, which hits low-wage workers hardest. They and their families are the biggest casualties of austerity economics.
And if the spending cuts Washington is contemplating fall on low-wage workers whose families are under the poverty line – reducing not only the availability of unemployment insurance but also food stamps, housing assistance, infant and child nutrition, child health care, and Medicaid – it will be even worse. (It’s worth recalling, in this regard, that 62 percent of the cuts in the Republican budget engineered by Paul Ryan fell on America’s poor.)
By contrast, low levels of unemployment invite wage gains and make it easier to organize unions. The last time America’s low-wage workers got a real raise (apart from the last hike in the minimum wage) was the late 1990s when unemployment dropped to 4 percent nationally – compelling employers to raise wages in order to recruit and retain them, and prompting a round of labor organizing.
That’s one reason why job growth must be the nation’s number one priority. Not deficit reduction.
Yet neither side in the current “fiscal cliff” negotiations is talking about America’s low-wage workers. They’re invisible in official Washington.
Not only are they unorganized for the purpose of getting a larger share of the profits at Walmart, McDonalds, and other giant firms, they’re also unorganized for the purpose of being heard in our nation’s capital. There’s no national association of low-wage workers. They don’t contribute much to political campaigns. They have no Super-PAC. They don’t have Washington lobbyists.
But if this nation is to reverse the scourge of widening inequality, Washington needs to start paying attention to them. And the rest of us should do everything we can to pressure Washington and big-box retailers and fast-food chains to raise their pay.
Filibuster Reform Looking More Likely
Will the Senate become more democratic?
November 30, 2012 |
As consideration of the “constitutional option” of a Senate rules change restricting the filibuster by a majority vote becomes serious, handicapping of individual senators is also getting underway. Thanks to the 2012 elections, Harry Reid could lose up to five members of his Caucus and still prevail. A breakdown by The Hill ‘s Alexander Bolton lists ten Democrats (including Indiana’s newly elected Joe Donnelly, who is apparently not on record at all on this subject) who are not publicly on board with a rules change that would ban filibusters on motions to proceed and require “talking filibusters” instead of filibustering by mere threat.
When you go through the list of holdouts, however, the number likely to buck Reid (who has himself reversed his position since the 2011 vote on a very similar Udall/Merkely/Harkin measure) begins to shrink. John Kerry, who has additional reasons to be a team player right now, is “leaning heavily” towards support. Jay Rockefeller says he’d prefer “radical over nothing.” Daniel Inouye’s doubts are only about the “talking filibuster” ban (entirely legitimate doubts, as Jonathan Bernstein keeps pointing out ). Diane Feinstein is similarly on board a ban on filibustering motions to proceed. Bill Nelson doesn’t like the “constitutional option,” but says “I’m supporting Harry Reid.” Max Baucus and Jack Reed seem entirely neutral at this point, which makes it unlikely they’d buck Reid and the Caucus and kill reform.
That leaves two Senate Democrats who voted against the 2011 bill and haven’t said anything indicating a change of position: Carl Levin and Mark Pryor. If they and Donnelly wind up being the only holdouts, then Reid would comfortably have the votes without any concessions to bring a Republican or two on board. And you’d figure Levin might be susceptible to some back-home Blue State pressure if push comes to shove.
It’s also possible, of course, that the proposal could be modified to solidify the Democratic vote, or that once Reid has the votes a deal could be struck with Republicans restricting filibusters without resorting to the “constitutional option.”
All in all, we’re a lot closer to filibuster reform than anyone might have expected until very recently. Whether the reforms under discussion will make a big difference in how the Senate operates is a different, and the ultimate, question.
What “Grand Bargainers” Simpson and Bowles Really Stand For
Thursday, 29 November 2012 13:20 By Bernie Sanders, Campaign for America’s Future| Op-Ed
Erskine Bowles. (Photo: New America Foundation / Flickr)
There has been a lot of discussion about Congress enacting a “grand bargain” during the lame duck session of Congress. Many members of Congress have talked about using the plan put forward by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles as an outline for a “balanced” approach to deficit reduction.
Let me take this opportunity to tell you a little about Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles and what their plan would do.
As many of you know, Alan Simpson is a former conservative Republican Senator from Wyoming who has wanted to cut Social Security benefits for decades.
Here are just a few of the rude, inaccurate, and derogatory statements that Alan Simpson has made about Social Security:
- On August 24, 2010, Alan Simpson wrote in an e-mail to the head of the Older Women’s League: “And yes, I’ve made some plenty smart cracks about people on Social Security who milk it to the last degree. You know ‘em too. It’s the same with any system in America. We’ve reached a point now where it’s like a milk cow with 310 million tits! Call when you get honest work!”
- On Friday, May 6, 2011, Alan Simpson told the Investment Company Institute, that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme”, “not a retirement program.” Simpson went on to say that Social Security “was never intended as a retirement program. It was set up in ‘37 and ‘38 to take care of people who were in distress — ditch diggers, wage earners — it was to give them 43 percent of the replacement rate of their wages. The [life expectancy] was 63. That’s why they set retirement age at 65.”
- On June 19, 2010, Alan Simpson said: “Social Security was never a retirement. It was set up to take care of poor guys in the depression who lost their butts who were getting butchered.”
Erskine Bowles has been a board member of Morgan Stanley since 2005 and made a fortune as a Wall Street investment banker as many of you know.
However, you may not know that Erskine Bowles made the following statement in 2011 at the University of North Carolina: “Paul Ryan is honest, he is straightforward, he is sincere. And the budget that he came forward with is just like Paul Ryan. It is a sensible, straightforward, honest, serious budget and it cut the budget deficit just like we did, by $4 trillion.”
You may also be unaware that Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson endorsed Congressman Charles Bass (R-NH) against progressive Democrat Ann McClane Kuster.
In their endorsement of Rep. Bass, Bowles and Simpson wrote: “Charlie supported a plan that demonstrated it is possible to raise revenues for deficit reduction through pro-growth tax reforms that reduce tax rates for individuals and businesses. Likewise, it is possible to reform entitlement programs … He is a brave leader who deserves the thanks of everyone who really cares about our nation’s future.”
Rep. Bass voted for the Paul Ryan budget that every Democrat in the Senate has voted against. In contrast, Kuster, who went on to defeat Rep. Bass, has said: “Let me be clear: I will never cut Social Security and Medicare benefits. My Tea Party opponent will.”
Even more distressing, in my opinion, is the belief that the Simpson-Bowles plan is a “balanced approach” to deficit reduction that we should be using as a model.
Here are the major elements of the Simpson-Bowles plan that I believe the Democratic Caucus should strongly oppose:
1. Cutting Social Security benefits for current retirees. The Simpson-Bowles plan would reduce Social Security benefits for current retirees by using a “chained-CPI” to determine cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs). According to the Social Security Administration, enacting a chained CPI would cut Social Security benefits by $112 billion over 10 years meaning that the average Social Security recipient who retires at age 65 would get $560 less a year at age 75 and would get $1,000 less a year at age 85 than under current law.
Two-thirds of senior citizens rely on Social Security for more than half of their income, and the average Social Security benefit today is about $1,200 a month. At a time when seniors haven’t received a Social Security COLA in two out of the last three years as the price of prescription drugs and healthcare have gone up, the Simpson-Bowles plan would make it harder for today’s average senior citizen to make ends meet.
2. Cutting veterans’ benefits. Not only would enacting a chained-CPI be harmful to senior citizens, it would also make substantial cuts to the VA benefits of more than 3 million veterans. The largest cuts in benefits would impact young, permanently disabled veterans who were seriously wounded in combat. According to the Social Security Administration, permanently disabled veterans who started receiving VA disability benefits at age 30 would see their benefits cut by more than $1,300 a year at age 45; $1,800 a year at age 55; and $2,260 a year at age 65. That would be simply unacceptable.
3. Raising the retirement age to 69 years. Increasing the retirement age to 69 would reduce lifetime Social Security benefits for workers by about 13 percent. This would be particularly harmful to construction workers, nurses, factory workers and other labor intensive jobs. According to the Center for Economic Policy and Research, 45 percent of workers who are 58 years of age and older work in physically demanding jobs or jobs with difficult working conditions. Moreover, older Americans have a higher rate of long-term unemployment than any other age group.
4. Cutting Social Security benefits for middle class workers. According to the Social Security Administration, all of the Social Security policy changes in Bowles-Simpson would cut average annual Social Security benefits for middle-income workers (with average annual lifetime earnings of between $43,000 and $69,000) by up to 35 percent.
5. Reducing tax rates for the wealthy and large corporations. The Simpson-Bowles plan would significantly reduce income tax rates for the wealthiest Americans and largest corporations to between 23 and 29 percent — even lower than the top rate of 35% under the Bush tax cuts. Simpson and Bowles claim that some $1.2 trillion in revenue would be increased under their proposal by eliminating or reducing tax expenditures, such as the mortgage interest deduction, and the tax exclusion on employer health insurance and pension plans. However, a March 22, 2012 Congressional Research Service report has suggested that federal income tax rates could be reduced by no more than two percentage points under a realistic scenario of reducing tax expenditures in order to be deficit neutral, and could not reduce the deficit.
The President and almost all Democrats have supported repealing the Bush tax breaks for the top two percent. That means that the top individual income tax rate would be increased from 35 percent to 39.6 percent – the same level under President Clinton when over 22 million new jobs were created. We should eliminate corporate tax loopholes and tax breaks for the wealthy — and use this revenue to reduce the deficit and create jobs, not to lower tax rates.
Other harmful provisions in the Simpson-Bowles plan include:
- Increasing the regressive gas tax by 15 cents starting next year;
- Increasing premiums for Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program;
- Increasing interest rates on student loans;
- Increasing co-payments for middle class veterans receiving health care through the VA;
- Cutting 450,000 jobs in the federal workforce and private companies under contract with the federal government;
- Eliminating or limiting the exclusion of taxation on employer provided health insurance and pensions;
- Encouraging companies to ship jobs to China and other low wage countries by adopting a “territorial” tax system allowing corporations to evade U.S. income taxes by establishing subsidiaries overseas;
- Increasing taxes on low-income workers making between $10,000 to $20,000 a year by 14.5% in 2021 by moving to a chained-CPI; and
- Reducing the number of Americans eligible for Medicaid, SSI, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, WIC, Head Start, LIHEAP, the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Refundable Child Credit, and the Savers’ credit by shifting to a chained-CPI.
Those are the major elements of the Simpson-Bowles plan. If enacted, they will cause major economic pain to virtually every American, while lowering tax rates for millionaires, billionaires and large corporations even more than President Bush.
For all of these reasons, I hope you will join me in opposing the Simpson-Bowles approach to deficit reduction.
Stephen Colbert Mocks Absurd Fox News Piece About the Sexual Revolution and Non-Existent ‘War on Men’
Is the lack of marriageable men all women’s fault? Obviously not–but watch Colbert to see for yourself.
November 29, 2012 |
But who’s fault is the discrepancy?
Last night, Stephen Colbert teamed up with his buddy at Fox News, Suzanne Venker, to explain why the sisters are doing it to themselves.
With biting irony, Colbert praises Venker’s argument, which claims that since the sexual revolution “men haven’t changed much …. but women have changed dramatically. In a nutshell, women are angry. They’re also defensive.”
Plus, as Colbert can testify firsthand, men want to work out of the house, pushing paper for the Man while crammed into a tiny cubicle.
“What man wants the woman to provide the money while the man stays home to do what? Witness his child take the first steps? I’ve witnessed people walk before, and frankly babies aren’t that good at it,” said Colbert.
Is the lack of marriageable men all women’s fault? Obviously not–but watch Colbert to see for yourself:
President Obama is the target of more than 30 death threats a day. (photo: Peter Kramer/AP)
The Most Threatened President in History
By Nathaniel Patterson, Causes
27 November 12
SECRET SERVICE SAYS THE NUMBER OF THREATS AGAINST THE PRESIDENT IS OVERWHELMING
resident Barack Obama is the target of more than 30 potential death threats a day and is being protected by an increasingly over-stretched Secret Service. He is the most threatened President in history.
Since the President took office in 2008, the rate of threats against the president has increased 400% cent. Some threats to the President have been publicized, including the well known alleged plot by white supremacists in Tennessee to rob a gun store, shoot 88 black people, decapitate another 14 and then assassinate the first black president in American history.
Most however, are kept under wraps because the Secret Service fears that revealing details of them would only increase the number of copycat attempts.
According to the U.S. Secret Service agents, their goal is to immediately respond to any direct threat against the president, the first family, the vice president, or visiting heads of state. Agents are then responsible for determining the credibility of the threat.
Each time there is a threat, the Secret Service consults with the Protective Intelligence Division in Washington, D.C., to decide how far an investigation is going to go. If a federal arrest takes place, it will lead to the most serious or extreme of the end results.
Recently, when Anton Caluori, 31, allegedly emailed the FBI on the morning of August 21st to say he would “kill the president,” a Secret Service agent was immediately dispatched to his residence. According to the Department of Justice, Caluori was armed with multiple weapons, making his threat not only credible, but viable.
“This case had all the troubling ingredients: threats of violence and explosive devices, multiple weapons with hundreds of rounds and even brandishing of a weapon at law enforcement,” said U. S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. Caluori was subsequently arrested and charged in federal court with making a threat against the president and assault of a federal agent. If convicted, he could face up to 25 years in prison. He is scheduled to appear in federal court in Seattle Monday for a detention hearing.
Recent national events are a stark reminder that the Secret Service has to take these threats of death or violence seriously. While the Secret Service says they take every threat against the president seriously, not all will end in arrest. Threats will come our way from high school students, even junior high school students in the way of prank type calls. There are threats on Twitter and on Facebook and other social sites that allow such comments, but they have to look at them all. People need to know that any type of threat against the president is a violation of federal law.
The Secret Service says that many of those who make such threats are mentally ill, and it is the goal of the Secret Service to find them help. It can be “sobering,” they said, when agents show up at their door.
According to the Secret Service, the president is the most threatened person in the U.S., regardless of political party.
The President is not made aware of all threats against him, however, because as the Secret Service says, “the sheer number would be overwhelming and, frankly, distracting.”
Why Obama Must Avoid “Centrist” Solutions with the GOP and Set a Bold Course for Washington to Follow
From the debt to drones to the war on drugs, we can’t have middle-of-the-road compromises — we need bold positions
November 28, 2012 |
Appearing on CNN, retiring Senator Joe Lieberman gave voice to the conventional wisdom: “In my opinion the last two years, 2011-12, have been the least productive and most partisan and uncompromising in my 24 years here.” For Lieberman, like much of establishment D.C. — both political and media — being a “moderate” or a “centrist” or a “pragmatist” is synonymous with the ability to “get things done.” Yet, according to the AP, this year’s election resulted in “a thinning of pragmatic, centrist veterans in both parties,” and that “among those leaving are some of the Senate’s most pragmatic lawmakers, nearly half the House’s centrist Blue Dog Democrats and several moderate House Republicans.”
As William Hoagland of the Bipartisan Policy Center put it, “This movement away from the center, at a time when issues have to be resolved from the middle, makes it much more difficult to find solutions to major problems.”
It’s the sort of boilerplate quote that’s found in virtually every piece about our current political landscape, a sentiment so common that we barely even notice it anymore. But we should, because it’s also the real problem in a nutshell: the assumption, unexamined and taken as gospel by most of Washington, that the solutions to our major problems are somehow to be magically found by splitting the difference in the middle. It’s the result of an old left-right way of thinking that is increasingly outdated. Arthur Schlesinger, who coined the phrase “the vital center” more than half a century ago to describe the common ground between fascism and communism, later lamented that the phrase had been reduced to signify nothing more than the “middle of the road.” In fact, many of the problems we’re facing were created by just the sort of bipartisan compromise rhapsodized about by much of the media. For instance, as proof of how much less “moderate” — and thus further away from “solutions” — the Senate is supposedly going to be, the AP cites the victory of “one of the most liberal members,” Elizabeth Warren, over “moderate Scott Brown.”
But moderates like Scott Brown are why we’re still looking for a way to ensure that no banks are too big to fail, and that taxpayers will never again be on the hook for the gambling of our financial institutions. In fact, after burnishing his “moderate” credentials by voting for the 2010 Wall Street reform bill, “moderate Scott Brown” set about weakening its provisions and opening up loopholes for the banks. It’s why Simon Johnson wrote that Brown was sometimes referred to as an “ATM for the bankers.”
It’s just one example of many, from the Iraq War to the repeal of Glass-Steagall, of how dangerous it is to equate bipartisan agreement with good policy. All those “moderates” whose departure Lieberman and many in the media are now mourning were there in the last Congress, and yet, as Lieberman notes, it was the “least productive and most partisan and uncompromising” Congress he’d ever seen.
What we need isn’t faux pragmatism, but real principles — like being devoted to protecting taxpayers instead of being devoted to ensuring that the banks can continue to act like casinos. And yet, somehow, it’s Elizabeth Warren who represents a threat to finding solutions? The bold leadership we need from Harry Reid is to resist being browbeaten by the financial industry and its well-funded lobbyists (many of whom will no doubt be former “centrist” colleagues), and to put Elizabeth Warren on the committee where she can do the most good: the banking committee.
This is the time for both Congress and the White House to be bold. The beginning of a new Congress, right after an election and as far as we can be from the midterms, is the best time to go big. After the 2004 election, in which President Bush was reelected with almost exactly the same margin and vote totals as President Obama, Bush declared, “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.” Unfortunately, he happened to spend it on many wrong things (helped out, of course, by many “moderate” Democrats). But that was exactly the right attitude — and one President Obama should adopt. As Bill Maher put it, “There’s no third term, Mr. President, so you may as well throw caution to the wind, ’cause it’s not like we’re using it to produce energy.” Because “if not now, when?”
President Obama still has the opportunity to be a transformational president, but only if he spends his second term finally unleashing the audacity that propelled his presidency in the beginning. With Obama’s final campaign now over, whatever excuses the cautious, thinly-sliced political calculations provided for inaction on many important causes no longer apply. For example: gun control. After each mass shooting, the president always speaks beautifully — but very generally — about the issue of violence. “We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence,” he said at the memorial following the Tucson shooting. “We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.” But there have been more than 60 multiple shootings since Tucson.
And yet, the only major thing Obama did regarding access to guns in his first term was to actually increase it, signing a bill to allow people to bring loaded firearms into national parks and on Amtrak trains. During the campaign, the issue was only brought up in the second debate, in which the president said, “Part of [the solution] is seeing if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced.” Which, of course, caused the NRA to go into overdrive, running ads about Obama’s Supreme Court appointments. But, as HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery wrote at the time, “the fact that the NRA is bashing Obama on his court appointments, and not on his legislative record, reflects the reality that he has done next to nothing on gun control since becoming president.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, sponsor of the 1994 assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, plans on reintroducing it in the new Congress. Support from the White House would be one way to “lessen the prospects of violence in the future.”
Another issue on which it would be great to see stepped-up second-term leadership is the drug war. Back in July, Marc Ambinder wrote that, according to his sources, President Obama was going to “pivot” to the drug war in his second term. “From his days as a state senator in Illinois,” wrote Ambinder, “Obama has considered the Drug War to be a failure, a conflict that has exacerbated the problem of drug abuse, devastated entire communities, changed policing practices for the worse, and has led to a generation of young children, disproportionately black and minority, to grow up in dislocated homes, or in none at all.” If that’s true, the president has been pretty successful at keeping his beliefs about the drug war to himself. As HuffPost’s Nick Wing wrote in July, Obama’s “recent policy moves have not shown a particular interest in reflecting that worry” — policy moves like a Justice Department crackdown on medical marijuana and continued prosecutions for possession.
But now that Colorado and Washington state have legalized pot, the president will have a significant opportunity to “pivot” to acting on his belief that the drug war has been a failure. “Since those anti-drug war principles are now enshrined in Colorado’s constitution, only the feds can stop this Rocky Mountain state — if they so choose,” writes David Sirota. “But will they?” Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette recently introduced a bill that would exempt states from the federal ban on possessing or using small amounts of marijuana. Presidential support of this bill could be the beginning of the end of America’s disastrous drug war that has destroyed so many lives.
In fact, President Obama has it in his power to stop the ongoing destruction of many of those lives. In the past, he has spoken out against mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes and the disparity between sentences for crack and cocaine. These policies have helped increase the number of federal prisoners to over 200,000, and the number of Americans under some form of correctional supervision to six million, which Adam Gopnik calls ”the moral scandal of American life.”
And yet President Obama has pardoned only 22 people so far, as Melissa Harris-Perry noted in an open letter to the turkey Obama pardoned for Thanksgiving. “Cobbler,” she wrote, “maybe you can scratch out a letter to the White House asking the president to show as much mercy to humans in his second term as he has shown to poultry in his first.” And of those few Obama has pardoned, only one was actually still in jail at the time. At this point in his presidency, George W. Bush had pardoned 37 people. FDR pardoned 600 by the end of his first term and 2,800 over his three terms.
There were certain issues on which, as Jonathan Turley put it, the administration went into “radio silence” in the hope of solidifying the support of his base, only to backtrack after the election. One of these is privacy. Last year, Sen. Patrick Leahy introduced a digital privacy bill that would protect people’s email against warrantless intrusions by authorities. But soon after Election Day, the Justice Department massaged the bill to allow for 22 federal agencies to access your email, Facebook content, tweets and more, all without a warrant. These changes have led Leahy to say he won’t support his own bill, scheduled to come up for a vote this Thursday.
Whatever happens with the bill, the changes don’t bode well for the idea that the administration, now freed from reelection fears of being called “soft on crime,” might want the creation of modernized civil liberties safeguards to be one of its legacies. “The control of the security establishment over both White House and Congress appears now completely unchecked and unabashed,” writes Turley. “After securing reelection, President Obama wasted no time in returning to his prior record of disregarding privacy and civil liberties concerns.”
Technology is, of course, changing our political landscape. And as the fight over digital privacy shows, old left-right paradigms like being “soft” or “tough” on crime are inadequate for the challenges we face in this new frontier. This is true in foreign policy, as well, as the issue of how and where to use drones becomes more and more important. This is yet another issue where a second term presents Obama with the opportunity to lead. Clearly, the ability to attack using unmanned weapons and without putting American personnel in harm’s way isn’t going away. But without bold leadership, some of our core principles might — at the same time that we are undermining our long-term security.
According to the New York Times, in the weeks before the election, the White House was hastily writing“explicit rules” for targeted killing, just in case Romney won — since the administration didn’t want a Republican to enjoy the same unaccountable power it has given itself during its first term. “There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands,” said one source.
However, mounting evidence shows their confidence in their own use of “the levers” might be unwarranted. For instance, because of the use of drones in Yemen, “Al Qaeda is actually expanding” there, says Gregory Johnsen, author of The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al Qaeda and America’s War in Arabia. As one Yemeni told Johnsen, “Each time they kill a tribesman, they create more fighters for Al Qaeda.”
To James Traub, “there is a real danger that around the world drone warfare will come to be seen as the dark arts of the Obama administration, as torture and ‘rendition’ were for President George W. Bush.” He suggests that, as a New Year’s resolution, Obama “level with the American people about what it is that drones should and should not do, who they do and do not target, where they should and should not be used.”
Obama has ended one war (Iraq) and pledged to end another one (Afghanistan) by the end of 2014, but to Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations, this expanding and seemingly limitless use of drones represents “America’s Third War” — one that, unlike the other two, Obama has greatly expanded. This one is his, not Bush’s. And it’s one that has killed nearly 3,400 people so far, 13 percent of whom are civilians. “What was once considered an immediate response to an exceptional threat to the United States,” writes Zenko, “is now a permanent and institutionalized feature of U.S. foreign policy.”
Obviously, there are many challenges facing our country today, but they are not going to be solved through middle-of-the-road, split-the-difference compromises. That’s how many of the challenges were created, or allowed to grow unfettered, in the first place. Big problems require big solutions. I’m not suggesting that compromise is never needed, but compromise is the final step in a negotiation, not the first one. The first one is for leaders with strong convictions to fight for them. If gun violence is an issue you’re passionate about then, like Senator Feinstein, you’ll be more likely to keep at it until you find allies across the aisle. Same with Senator-elect Warren’s passion for creation of a banking system that doesn’t take advantage of the middle class.
The starting point for the incoming Congress and the returning president should be rooted in principle. The pragmatic solutions will follow.
Watch: Bill O’Reilly-Loving Climate-Denier Breaks Down After Watching Documentary ‘Chasing Ice,’ Vows to Stop Climate Change
The new documentary “Chasing Ice” is life changing. Here’s why.
November 27, 2012 |
Every now and then something comes along that can turn even the staunchest climate change denier into someone who finally sees the truth. Today that something is Chasing Ice , a moving documentary about a photographer trying to record the images of a fast-changing planet before it’s too late.
The most recent believer is a 59-year-old woman who is interviewed leaving a showing of Chasing Ice . She explains that she is a lover of Bill O’Reilly and kicked people out of her home for saying they believe in climate change. She’s told everyone she knows that climate change is a hoax. But after watching Chasing Ice , she’s a changed woman. In the interview she appears shaken and near tears as she describes how she now wishes to do all she can to stop climate change. Here’s her confession:
We need more showings of Chasing Ice and more women like this who are able to own up to their mistakes and work to make them right (and hopefully turn off Fox News in the process). Last week five new reports were released that show we’re on track for catastrophic climate change (I’ve got a break down of them here ) and for the next few weeks, world leaders will be meeting in Doha to continue the doomed routine of figuring out who will take responsibility and who will take action. There is little hope that the kind of agreement that emerges, if any, will be of the scope needed to truly make a difference in curbing greenhouse emissions.
So where does that leave us? Do we have time to change one Fox News viewer’s mind at a time? The international community has managed nothing meaningful in a decade and they’re stymied in part by our own country’s utter unwillingness to challenge the fossil fuel industry. Obama had done some, but not enough, and a verdict on the Keystone XL pipeline hangs in the balance — and with it, potentially the fate of the planet. So in fact, right now, we need regular people — regardless of how they vote or from which station they get their news — to begin taking action and demanding political responsibility.
In an interview last week with Osha Gray Davidson, author of Breaking Clean , Davidson chronicles how Germany went from 6 percent renewable energy in their country’s portfolio in 2000 to 26 percent today (and they’re headed to 80 percent by 2050). The key, he learned while traveling around the country, was citizens breaking free from large energy corporations that refused to change and igniting a clean energy revolution that went from the grassroots to the halls of power. In the process, they made everyone in Germany able to participate in the financial rewards of switching from dirty to clean energy.
The U.S currently gets 6 percent of its energy from renewables but Davidson says we have the capacity to hit 80 percent by 2050, too. How do we get there? Stop complaining about big corporations and start actually working to get stuff done, he says. And of course, we should continue the public education until the complacent ones are moved to action and the climate deniers are laughed back into their caves or they are finally able to see the bright light of reality.
For more information about Chasing Ice and how to see it, check out the website.
John Stewart Injects a Dose of Laughter into Walmart Workers’ Protests
The king of sarcasm turns his scathing coverage to the year’s most important labor battle.
November 28, 2012 |
Last night, John Stewart sarcastically went after the “greedy, hourly, slightly over the federal poverty line” WalMart protesters, who turned out by the thousands on Black Friday to demand pay increases and workplace benefits.
Watch the rest of his tongue-in-cheek coverage:
The GOP’s Voter Suppression Strategy
How voter ID laws inspired progressive voters to fight stronger and turn out in higher numbers.
November 26, 2012 |
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/withGod
In a little-noticed yet significant development on election day, Minnesota voters defeated a constitutional amendment that would have required them to present a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot. It was the first time voters had rejected a voter ID ballot initiative in any state.
In May 2011, a poll showed that 80 percent of Minnesotans supported a photo ID law. “Nearly everyone in the state believed a photo ID was the most common-sense solution to the problem of voter fraud,” says Dan McGrath, executive director of Take Action Minnesota, a progressive coalition that led the campaign against the amendment. “We needed to reframe the issue. We decided to never say the word ‘fraud.’ Instead we would only talk about the cost, complications and consequences of the amendment.” According to the coalition, the photo ID law would have disenfranchised eligible voters (including members of the military and seniors) dumped an unfunded mandate on counties and imperiled same-day voter registration. On election day, 52 percent of Minnesotans opposed the amendment.
The amendment’s surprising defeat has ramifications beyond Minnesota. “There’s been an assumption of political will for restricting the right to vote,” says McGrath. “No, there’s not.” The amendment backfired on the GOP. “Voter ID did not drive the conservative base to turn out in the way that Republicans thought it would,” adds McGrath. “Instead, it actually inspired progressive voters, who felt under siege, to fight stronger and turn out in higher numbers.” The minority vote nearly doubled in the state, compared with 2008. Minnesota was a microcosm of the national failure of the GOP’s voter suppression strategy.
After the 2010 election, in more than a dozen states Republicans passed voting restrictions aimed at reducing the turnout of Obama’s “coalition of the ascendant”—young voters, African-Americans and Hispanics. The strategy didn’t work as intended. Ten major restrictive voting laws were blocked in court over the past year, and turnout among young, black and Latino voters increased as a share of the electorate in 2012 compared with 2008. The youth vote rose from 18 to 19 percent, and the minority vote increased from 26 to 28 percent; both went heavily for Obama.
A backlash against voter suppression added to this increased youth and minority turnout. “When they went after big mama’s voting rights, they made all of us mad,” said the Rev. Tony Minor, Ohio coordinator of the African American Ministers Leadership Council. The black vote rose in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia, while the Latino vote grew in Florida, Colorado and Nevada. “There were huge organizing efforts in the black, Hispanic and Asian communities, more than there would’ve been, as a direct result of the voter suppression efforts,” says Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions, a Latino polling and research firm.
In late September, Project New America, a Denver center-left research group, tested more than thirty messages on “sporadic, less likely voters who lean Democratic” (which included young, black and Hispanic voters) to see what would motivate them to vote. “One of the most powerful messages across many different demographics was reminding people that their votes were important to counter the extremists who are kicking people off of voter rolls,” the group wrote in a post-election memo.
The increase in voter turnout among these key demographics, however, doesn’t mean that voter suppression laws did not have an impact or would not have decided the election outcome if the race had been closer. Court rulings and voter education efforts limited the damage but didn’t stop it. A flood of horror stories poured in during early voting and on election day: voters waiting in line for seven hours in Florida, wrongly turned away for lack of photo ID in Pennsylvania, improperly forced to cast provisional ballots in Ohio. The day after the election, 600,000 early votes and provisional ballots remained uncounted in Arizona, most of them in heavily Latino Maricopa County. According to Hart Research Associates, black and Hispanic voters were two to three times more likely than whites to wait more than thirty minutes to cast their ballot.
In-person early voting declined in Florida because of fewer early voting hours, compared with 2008. Florida voter registration dropped by 14 percent because of the twelve months in 2011–12 when the state shut down voter registration drives. The 1-866-Our-Vote hotline received more than 9,000 calls from Pennsylvanians on election day, many from voters wrongly told by poll workers that a photo ID was required in order to vote. Twice as many voters in Philadelphia as in 2008 had to cast provisional ballots because their names were missing from voter rolls. Of all the swing states, Pennsylvania had the sharpest drop in voter turnout, down by more than 7 percent from 2008, which could be attributable to confusion over its suspended voter ID law.
The 2012 election was a case study in how not to run an election. New voting restrictions and confusion over recent court decisions exacerbated problems lingering since 2000: broken voting machines, an antiquated voter registration system, ungodly lines, misinformed poll workers and partisan election officials.
Obama’s ad-lib on election night about long lines at the polls—“by the way, we have to fix that”—energized the movement for election reform. There are smart proposals in Congress, including the Voter Empowerment Act, but it’s unclear what the follow-through will be. The Help America Vote Act of 2002, a response to the 2000 fiasco in Florida, did little to remedy the nation’s election problems. For example, the US Election Assistance Commission, created by HAVA to help states run their elections, has no commissioners, executive director or general counsel, and hasn’t met publicly since 2011. Last year in Congress, Republicans tried to abolish the agency; Democrats have done little to resurrect it. Before Congress tries to pass sweeping election reform, it should take the baby step of getting an election commission back up and running.
Despite Romney’s defeat, GOP-controlled states appear likely to press ahead with new voting restrictions. In Florida, for instance, Governor Rick Scott put his secretary of state—who supported controversial voting restrictions and an ill-considered voter purge—in charge of determining what went wrong with the election. He should start by interviewing his boss. Until conservatives start courting the increasingly diverse electorate, voter suppression will continue to be the party’s main response to demographic change.
The GOP’s war on voting is far from dead. Just three days after the election, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a conservative challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which compels parts or all of sixteen states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to clear election-related rule changes with the federal government. The case will likely be heard early next year. Veteran Court watchers believe the five conservative justices are prepared to overturn Section 5, which Attorney General Eric Holder has called the “keystone of our voting rights.”
Voter suppression attempts over the past two years prove that Section 5 is still needed. Of the nine states covered fully by it, six have passed new voting restrictions since 2010. “The states that passed discriminatory voting laws were disproportionately covered by Section 5,” says Wendy Weiser, director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice. The Justice Department successfully objected to restrictive voting laws in Florida, South Carolina and Texas under Section 5 this election cycle. And despite clear evidence of its necessity, the landmark act is under attack: it has been challenged more in the past two years than in the previous forty-five years combined, according to Columbia University Law School professor Nate Persily.
Only a Supreme Court divorced from reality—which this Court may well be—would review the record on voting rights since Congress overwhelmingly reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006 and conclude that a key pillar of the law is no longer needed. If anything, Section 5 should be expanded to include states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Losing Section 5 would greenlight the very kind of voter suppression that proved so unpopular in 2012.
GOP’s Domination Was Only Temporary
Thursday, 22 November 2012 00:00 By Paul Krugman, Krugman & Co. | Op-Ed
(Image: CartoonArts International / The New York Times Syndicate)
James Fallows says something I’ve been thinking, too: “For the first time in my conscious life, the Democratic Party is now more organized and coherent, and less fractious and back-biting, than the Republicans,” the correspondent for The Atlantic wrote in a recent online article. “It is almost stupefying to imagine that.”
Indeed. It actually started during primary season, when — as too many have forgotten — the Republican field seemed (and was) dominated by ridiculous figures. President Obama almost revived the Democrats’ old image with his bobble in the first debate, but he and his party pulled it back together. The Democratic campaign was professional, while the Republicans acted like the Keystone Kops. Karl Rove’s image has changed from terrifying master of politics to overpaid crybaby.
But I’d go even further: the Democrats now look like the natural party of government. President George W. Bush had already established a reputation for being unable to get anything right in the actual business of governing; all that was supposedly left was political prowess, and now that’s gone too. And even the news media have, I think, begun to notice that the United States isn’t the “center-right” country of fantasy: we’re a diverse nation, ethnically and otherwise, in which a lot of liberal ideas have become perfectly mainstream.
Still, hubris and all that: this newly effective coalition could be shattered if taken for granted.
And you know what could really produce the kind of dispirited base that was supposed to doom Mr. Obama in 2012? A sellout on key Democratic values as part of a Grand Bargain on the deficit. If, say, Mr. Obama raises the retirement age in return for vague promises on revenue (promises that would be betrayed at the first opportunity) or if he appoints a deficit scold to a major economic post, it could all fall apart.
Death by Epistemology
Josh Marshall, the editor of Talking Points Memo, recently had an interesting discussion — partly with his readers, but also with himself — about the Great Republican Polling Debacle. It seems hard to believe even now, but all the stories indicate that the Republican Party went into Election Day in a state of complete delusion. It wasn’t just the Fox News viewers. It wasn’t just the Romney people. The whole party, base and establishment both, believed that it knew a truth hidden from almost every nonpartisan polling outfit, and that a big victory was virtually assured. As Josh’s readers said, at one level this makes perfect sense. The modern G.O.P. is very much into denial of inconvenient truths, whether those inconvenient truths involve climate change or macroeconomics.
Why shouldn’t we expect a party that still believes in supply-side economics after the Clinton boom and the Bush bust to engage in voodoo polling too?
And yet Republicans retained for a long time a fearsome reputation for political prowess. How can these be reconciled?
I know that I’m not alone in believing that a large part of the answer is that they were never actually that good; they were just lucky. Remember, Mr. Rove almost blew the 2000 election by wasting time on a triumphal tour — and Al Gore would have been elected with ease if it weren’t for hanging chads, felon purges and a partisan Supreme Court.
With one exception, the G.O.P. lost the popular vote in every presidential election since 1988. And 2004 was a “khaki election,” driven by war talk — better yet for the G.O.P., an election driven by talk of the “war on terror,” where voters had no way of telling how things were going other than the Bush administration’s own boasts of victory.
Suppose Sept. 11 hadn’t happened. I think you can make a good case that Republicans would have lost Congress in 2002 and the White House in 2004, and nobody would ever have talked about the permanent Republican majority and all that.
The big question, however, is 2010 — which will have a long legacy, because it gave Republican statehouses the chance to gerrymander a major advantage in the House. My guess is that it was a very contingent event: bad luck for Mr. Obama on the business cycle, compounded by his own team’s mistakes, plus a weirdly ineffective defense of health-care reform. But I’m sure we’ll have a lot more serious analysis in the months to come.
Deadly Fires in Factories Supplying Walmart, H&M and Tesco Killed Hundreds, Spark Massive Protests
Garment workers staged mass protests on Monday to demand an end to “deathtrap” labour conditions after Bangladesh’s worst-ever textile factory fire.
November 26, 2012 |
Bangladeshi firefighters stand in a burned out bulding as they try and control a fire that broke out at a garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka on November 26
Garment workers staged mass protests on Monday to demand an end to “deathtrap” labour conditions after Bangladesh’s worst-ever textile factory fire, as a new blaze sparked fresh panic and terror.
Ahead of the first of a series of mass funerals for the 110 victims, survivors of Saturday night’s blaze joined several thousand colleagues to block a highway and march in the manufacturing hub of Ashulia.
“Workers from several factories have left work and joined the protest. They want exemplary punishment for Tazreen’s owners,” said Dhaka police chief Habibur Rahman, referring to a plant near the capital where the blaze broke out late Saturday.
Police said Ashulia’s more than 500 factories who make apparel for top global retailers such as Walmart, H&M and Tesco declared a wild-cat “holiday”, fearing that the protests could worsen and turn into large-scale unrest.
“Most workers are in shock. They want to see safety improvements to these deathtrap factories,” Babul Akter, head of a garment union, told AFP.
The protesters chanted a series of slogans, including a demand for Tazreen’s bosses to be brought to justice.
Local police chief Badrul Alam said officers had opened a murder investigation as a result of criminal negligence. Two government inquiries and the police investigation are trying to establish if the owners were to blame for the fire.
“We won’t spare anyone,” Alam promised as the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced a day of mourning for the dead, many of whom stitched clothes for international brands. All factories will also be closed on Tuesday.
Dozens of workplace fires have killed more than 600 employees in Bangladesh’s booming garment industry since 2006, but none of the owners have so far faced prosecution for poor safety conditions.
Firefighters battled for several hours to contain the weekend blaze, which broke out on the ground floor of the nine-storey Tazreen Fashion plant 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of Dhaka, trapping over 1,000 workers.
Witnesses told how panicked staff, most of them women, cried for help and several leaped to their deaths from upper floors as they tried to escape.
Preparations have been made for the mass burial of the bodies of 59 workers who cannot be identified.
Their remains, most of which were burnt beyond recognition, will be laid to rest at a state graveyard in a southern suburb of Dhaka.
“We are keeping the DNA samples of the dead workers so that we can identify their relatives for compensation,” said Dhaka district police commissioner Yusuf Harun who said the death toll was now 110.
Even before the first burials, a new blaze at a 12-storey building housing four factories sparked new scenes of panic as workers rushed to safety.
The latest fire caused widespread damage at the plant on the outskirts of Dhaka, but no casualties were reported after rescue teams searched the building for workers feared to have suffocated in toxic black fumes.
“Most workers broke grilles in the upper floor and escaped to a safe location at an adjacent building,” Dhaka district deputy commissioner of police Nisharul Arif told AFP.
Bangladesh has emerged as the world’s second-largest clothes exporter with overseas garment sales topping $19 billion last year, or 80 percent of national exports.
The sector is the mainstay of the poverty-stricken country’s economy, employing 40 percent of its industrial workforce, but work conditions are often basic and safety standards low.
Christian Group Says Demon Sex Makes You Gay
A Christian magazine warns that homosexuality is caused by sex with demons. And that’s just the beginning.
November 21, 2012 |
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
The reigning scientific consensus on sexual orientation is that it’s an inherited, biological trait, but that’s just because scientists don’t know how to party. A far sexier explanation has been offered up by Christian magazine Charisma, which conducted its own investigation into the origins of homosexuality to reveal the real culprit: sex with demons.
“Can demons engage in sexual behaviors with humans?” the magazine asks. Why yes, they can! At least according to the article’s primary source, a former stripper-turned-ministry leader named Contessa Adams. Adams shares her decades-long struggle with demon sex, sparing no horrible, sexy detail:
These spiritual rapists, as Adams describes them in her book, Consequences, often prey on people by performing sexual acts through nightmares and erotic dreams. Some people become so dependent upon these demonic experiences that they actually look forward to them.
“Anybody that has been attacked by them will tell you … they’re worried [that] they could not find that pleasure with mortal people,” says Adams, who claims she was once possessed by sexual demons.
The two most identifiable sexual demons are the incubus, which is a male sexual demon that traditionally assaults women, and the succubus, which is a female sexual demon that assaults men. Sometimes they also lure people into homosexual behavior.
Adams says the succubus spirit that used to attack her confused her so much that she contemplated becoming a lesbian.
Then God came along and ruined everything, I mean saved her, putting her on the path to righteousness and helping others who are (naked) wrestling with their own sex demons.
But demons aren’t just about getting laid. They’re wreaking havoc all over the place, in addition to the mischief they’ve wrought on confused Christian genitalia.
The primary demon fighter in the modern Christian world is the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), a global network of Charismatic Christian ministries devoted to Dominionism, the idea that they must take over public institutions in order to save America and the world from … demons (and gays, of course). NAR is ridiculous, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t powerful, with millions of followers worldwide and domestic and international political relationships ranging from Senator Sam Brownback, Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich to heads of state in Uganda.
Bruce Wilson, who’s reported on the movement for years, tells Alternet, “for the apostles and prophets of the New Apostolic Reformation, demon powers, and also divine curses — incurred by human unfaithfulness to God’s plan, are at the root of virtually any and all conceivable misfortunes, from crime trends, drops in the stock market, and declining SAT scores, to headaches and dandruff. I mean that literally.”
The movement broke into mainstream political coverage a few times in recent years: once, when reporters obtained footage of a bizarre ceremony involving Sarah Palin, and also during the interminable Republican primary when Rick Perry, long-rumored to have wrestled a few sexy gay demons himself, hosted a massive prayer rally organized by two NAR ministries.
NPR reported at the time that the Perry rally was modeled on the prayer events of the Call, a NAR group founded by apostle Lou Engle. As Rachel Tabachnik, who’s done extensive reporting on NAR, told NPR, “The apostles teach what’s called ‘strategic level spiritual warfare’ [because they believe that the] reason why there is sin and corruption and poverty on the Earth is because the Earth is controlled by a hierarchy of demons under the authority of Satan.”
Here are just a few places you might encounter Satan’s minions.
The last thing Detroit needs is a large-scale demonic invasion. Fortunately, all the people of Detroit had to do to beat back the forces of hell was join the New Apostolic Reformation movement’s giant prayer-a-thon.
In 2010, Engle held a prayer rally in Detroit. Engle, who seems to know how to move tickets, warned Detroit’s citizenry, “If we actually have the Call and you don’t sustain prayer ongoing you open a vacuum for demons seven times worse to come in … if black and white can’t move together in prayer and sustain it, forget it — let’s not even go there, you get demons seven times worse.”
The goal was to convert the state’s Muslims to Christianity. In a YouTube clip filmed prior to the rally Engle explained that the prayers would send Jesus into Muslims’ dreams, which sounds like way less fun than a visit from a sex demon.
2. The Financial Markets
For obvious reasons, it doesn’t seem like a giant stretch that financial markets are run by evil demons, but still — here’s a theory on global financial instability, outlined by Bruce Wilson:
Van Nuys, California-based megachurch pastor Jack Hayford, current head of sex scandal-embroiled GOP Senator John Ensign’s religious denomination, has endorsed a theory proposing that a supernatural mechanism drove down Japanese stock market prices during the early 1990s: the Japanese emperor’s alleged sexual intercourse with a “sky goddess” who, according to the theory, might be a succubus.
3. Inside Your Head
C. Peter Wagner, influential NAR leader, blamed demons for his headaches, writing in a 1996 book called Confronting the Powers:
“Beginning in the early ’70s I suffered severe headaches for 10 consecutive years. It was so bad that at one point I had no relief from pain at all for 70 days and 70 nights. No available painkiller could stop the headaches. Then in 1983, John Wimber received a rhema word from God that the root cause of my headaches had been a demon and that I was to drive it out myself rather than ask someone else to do it for me. I obeyed. I cast out the demon in the name of Jesus, and I have not suffered any such headaches since that day.”
4. Among Native Americans
Territorial demons are standing in the way of the mass evangelization of Native Americans, according to NAR teaching (chronicled in a glossary on Talk 2 Action, a blog that tracks the extreme religious right). Getting them out of the way involves atoning for past mistreatment of native populations with apology events and also breaking invaluable artifacts. Rachel Tabachnik explains;
The apologies appear quite sincere and result in multiethnic and multicultural partnerships. However, the process of reconciliation is for the purpose of taking “Christian dominion” over other religions, ethnic groups, and belief systems. It requires renouncing of former cultural practice and artifacts which can not be absorbed in evangelical practice, as demonic. The Transformations videos reenact a number of examples of destruction of native artifacts, and leaders have claimed that their prayers resulted in spontaneous destruction of buildings and icons of other religious practices.
5. Your Towns and Cities, the Entire World
The main strategy Charismatic Christianity has brought to demon-fighting is so-called spiritual warfare or spiritual mapping. The idea is to find demon-infested geographic locations and pray the evil spirits away. According to Bruce Wilson, “Prayer-walkers pray for unknown city residents and they are also encouraged to map and and take notes on alleged ideological enemies, who are held to be under demon influence.”
Occasionally this involves the following questionable use of public resources, as Wilson writes, “Components of the prayer-walking and demon-deliverance ideology are being incorporated into the police practices of Orlando, Florida and Peoria, Illinois, in novel and factually challenged efforts that partner local Christian churches with police departments of those cities; teams of church members, with police backup for safety, walk high-crime areas and try to pray down violent crime and murder rates.”
But why stop there? Bruce Wilson has documented the massive global effort of the international Transformation network, linked to the larger NAR project. Characteristically, participants in the ITN believe homosexuality is caused by demons that must be eradicated. “The ITN is one of several global efforts operating under the ‘transformation’ brand, that are re-engineering along theocratic lines cities and even entire nations.” writes Wilson.
They have taken a particular interest in Uganda. “For the Transformation movement, which claims homosexuals are possessed by demons and that prayer and faith healing have cured thousands of HIV and AIDS cases in the nation, Uganda is a prototype.”
“For over a year ITN representatives have been at work to setting up a training network spanning approximately 14,000 evangelical churches in Uganda, and ITN’s head Africa representative states.”
Grover Norquist Warns Dems, GOP: Anti-Tax Pledge Will Hold
The anti-tax zealot says Republicans will not cave, and won’t be fooled by Democrats into raising taxes.
November 25, 2012 |
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Garsya
Grover Norquist has a warning for anyone who thinks the influential anti-tax advocate has lost power in Washington.
“No one is caving,” the head of the Americans for Tax Reform told the Wall Street Journal, in a wide-ranging weekend interview.
Norquist — who built his power by getting hundreds of House Republicans and Congressional candidates to sign a pledge vowing to never raise taxes — has been perceived to be on the defensive since House Speaker John Boehner and even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested they would be open to new revenues in a compromise to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff.”
In the weeks since the election, as talks centered around a compromise, fear of violating Norquist’s pledge appeared to diminish.
But Norquist insists that the power dynamic has not changed, despite the re-election of President Obama and the apparent willingness of the GOP leadership to work with him to head off mandatory defense spending cuts and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts.
“For 20 years Democrats have tried over and over to trick Republicans into breaking the pledge. It hasn’t happened. This isn’t my first rodeo,” Norquist told the Journal.
“Nothing has changed on the chess board since Barack Obama agreed to extend all the Bush tax cuts two years ago. Exactly the same players. Republicans still control the House and Democrats still control the White House and the Senate.”
Norquist admits that a few politicians who signed his pledge are now having “impure thoughts,” worried that Republicans will be blamed for running the country over that “fiscal cliff.” However, he adds, “the media keeps interviewing the same five or so Republicans in Congress who want to cut a deal.”
He’s urging his troops to hold tight: “Even more than getting more revenues, (Democrats) want Republican fingerprints on tax increases so they can smash Republicans in the next series of elections.”
Three Things You Need To Know About The New Obamacare Rules
There’s more to be worked out, but here’s a quick look at the highlights so far.
November 21, 2012 |
Photo Credit: AFP
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a slew of important new Obamacare rules and regulations this week, continuing a widely expected post-election effort to successfully implement President Obama’s landmark health care reform law by 2014.
In a call with reporters, CMS and HHS outlined the new proposed rules, which instruct insurers, providers, and governmental institutions on how they must proceed in implementing Obamacare measures — ranging from a ban on discriminating against Americans with pre-existing medical conditions to public wellness initiatives such as coverage for employees’ gym use. Here are the three most important things you need to know about the new rules:
1) Insurers will be prohibited from discriminating against Americans with pre-existing conditions. Long considered one of the health insurance industry’s most odious practices, refusing to extend coverage to Americans suffering from a pre-existing medical condition will soon be a thing of the past. The first of CMS’s proposed rules mandates that insurance companies will need to base their premium rates solely on an individual’s age, family size, geography, and history of tobacco use — preventing discrimination against Americans for any other reason, such as their gender or their chronic illnesses. The rule will also set strict limits on how much insurers can vary the premiums they charge Americans based on these factors, marking an end to gender rating practices that charged women more than men for the same medical services. This will be a boon to the over 120 million Americans who suffer from a pre-existing condition in one form or another.
2) State exchanges will establish a standard of “essential health benefits” that every plan will be required to cover. Obamacare will require the plans offered under state-wide health insurance exchanges in 2014 to clear federal benchmarks across ten “essential health benefit” categories, including access to maternal care, mental health services, preventative health care, and prescription drug coverage. These assured benefits — which are supposed to reflect the level of coverage offered by a typical employer-sponsored plan — will help correct for spotty coverage that does not actually meet Americans’ medical needs. CMS’s proposed rule requires state exchanges to offer to the same level of coverage as a statewide benchmark health plan of the state’s choosing. If a state’s chosen benchmark plan does not cover all of Obamacare’s required benefit categories — for instance, by not offering mental health services — then the federal government will intervene and supplement that plan so that it does meet the health law’s coverage requirements. The rule also creates standards for prescription drug coverage so that such coverage actually meets Americans’ health care needs and prohibits health plans from designing their benefits in a way that discriminates against certain groups of Americans.
3) Wellness programs will help promote public health and curb health care costs. The last of the three proposed rules is joint guidance from HHS, the Treasury, and the Department of Labor regarding sponsorship of workplace wellness programs. Obamacare encourages preventative health initiatives and a transition from “sick care” to actual “health care” in an effort to both improve Americans’ quality of life and lower national health spending. Under the proposed rule, employers are encouraged to continue both participatory and health-contingent wellness programs — such as subsidizing the cost of employees’ fitness center memberships or enrolling employees in tobacco-cessation programs — in exchange for federal rewards.
These rules will give states more clarity as they move forward in implementing the Affordable Care Act. Although many Obamacare details must still be worked out — particularly regarding the statewide insurance exchanges — the reform law has madeenormous strides in the last year that will result in a fairer, more accessible, and more affordable American health care system that is a marked improvement over the pre-Obamacare era. “It’s important to remember what this market looked like back in 2009… We were definitely headed in the wrong direction,” HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said on the conference call.
Glenn Beck Has the Paranoid Conspiracy World Cowering with “Agenda 21″
Dystopic novel is a sleight-of-hand technique to keep the public focused on bogeymen, while the pillaging of the middle class continues unabated.
November 23, 2012 |
When the Corporate Elite tells us we need to be afraid of something, they almost always expect to make some money off our fear.
From the same people who brought us the “Ground Zero Victory Mosque,” FEMA concentration camps, and every single George Soros conspiracy theory, comes a brand new hyper-paranoid threat-to-America’s-sovereignty that, they say, should scare the hell out of all of us.
It goes by the name of Agenda 21, which just so happens to be the title of Glenn Beck’s new dystopic novel.
Billed as, “more frightening than anything Orwell could have envisioned,” Beck’s Agenda 21 paints a disturbing picture of America following the implementation of the United Nation’s Agenda 21, which is actually a real life UN initiative, though not nearly as nefarious as Beck would have us all believe.
The book’s tagline reads: “This used to be called America. Now it is just ‘the Republic.’ There is no president. No congress. No freedom.”
Over at GlennBeck.com you can watch a movie trailer made specifically for the book featuring grizzled Americans lined up on the streets in a post-Soviet winter landscape reeking of desperation, waiting for tiny morsels of food to be parceled out by “the authorities.” Reminiscent of both Nazi concentration camps and the Book of Revelation, everyone’s foreheads are tattooed with identification numbers – and in homage to Sarah Palin’s “death panels,” one scene in the trailer depicts an emaciated, scraggly-haired old man loaded on to a conveyor belt and sent into a burning furnace.
Of course, this is all fiction. Whether you like him or not, Beck has made a fortune off sensationalism – and more recently televangelism – and this book will tap into a wellspring of paranoia on the fringe Right that will undoubtedly make a lot more money for multimillionaire Mr. Beck himself.
But whether Beck really believes in his depicted Agenda 21 future for America isn’t all that important. What’s important is that a lot of other powerful people do believe in it. To them, there’s nothing fictional at all when it comes to Agenda 21.
On October 11th this year, the Georgia state Capitol building hosted a four-hour briefing for Republican state senators on the issue of…Agenda 21. It was emceed by a man named Field Searcy who, according to MotherJones, is a local Conservative activist, whose Tea Party leadership was revoked after endorsing birther and truther conspiracy theories. But on that day, Searcy had the attention of his state’s most powerful lawmakers – including the Republican Party’s Senate Majority Leader, Chip Rogers – to warn them of President Obama’s wicked plot to use Agenda 21 to hand the United States off to the United Nations.
Searcy told the Georgia Republicans, and later spoke of it on the Thom Hartmann Radio Program, that President Obama is using a mind control procedure known as the “Delphi Technique” to slowly condition Americans to submit to the control of the United Nations’ Agenda 21, which will, according to Searcy, force mass migrations of Americans out of the countryside and into the cities, while handing over control of our rural lands to an international, one-world government.
The goal of the presentation was to influence Georgia lawmakers to follow in the footsteps of Tennessee and Kentucky Republican lawmakers who’ve already passed legislation to block Agenda 21 from being implemented in their states. In fact, earlier this year Republican Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers introduced legislation in Georgia to do just that.
Also on the “Fear Agenda 21″ bandwagon is newly-elected Tea Party Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz. He devoted an entire section of his website, TedCruz.org, to Agenda 21 fearmongering. Under the title, “Stop Agenda 21: The Constitution should be our only ‘Agenda,” Cruz writes:
“The originator of this grand scheme is George Soros, who candidly supports socialism and believes that global development must progress through eliminating national sovereignty and private property… Agenda 21 attempts to abolish ‘unsustainable’ environments, including golf courses, grazing pastures, and paved roads. It hopes to leave mother earth’s surface unscratched by mankind. Everyone wants clean water and clean air, but Agenda 21 dehumanizes individuals by removing the very thing that has defined Americans since the beginning—our freedom.”
Oh no! Not the golf courses! Luckily for the golfing community, Ted Cruz is headed to the United States Senate to stop George Soros and the UN from confiscating Augusta National.
Though, hopefully, someone will notify Cruz, perhaps by removing his tinfoil hat, that the United Nations has no interest whatsoever in turning Augusta National into a sustainable bio-dome. Likewise, hopefully someone will tell Mr. Field Searcy that the UN has no interest in forcibly removing Americans from the country-side, either.
Concerns coming from the Right about American sovereignty in the face of the United Nations aren’t anything new.
It’s true that FDR pushed the idea after World War Two, and Democratic President Harry Truman signed us up for the UN in 1945, and it’s also true that in signing up for the United Nations, the United States surrendered a small amount of our sovereignty, inasmuch as we can no longer unilaterally declare war on another nation – unless they attack us first – without getting the approval of the UN. Of course, this is true of every other nation in the UN as well. The UN was created to promote world peace, an idea that doesn’t sit well with the neocons and chickenhawks.
But, here’s what Agenda 21 really is. Standing for “Agenda 21st Century,” it’s a completely non-binding UN agreement that aims to address climate change and inequality by calling on local and federal governments, NGOs, and businesses, to develop plans to create more sustainable environments in their respective nations. The UN believes that by working together, and giving financial assistance to developing nations to promote sustainable living, wealth disparities can be reduced, indigenous populations can be protected, and the deterioration of ecosystems around the globe can be reversed.
If you ask the environmentalists who are growing more and more concerned with a warming, crowded planet what they think of Agenda 21, they’ll say it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Especially after new reports by the UN about record levels of greenhouse gases and the atmosphere, and a report by the World Bank on the global economic impacts of a planet that’s 7-degrees warming by 2100 as a result of climate change.
But, as you’d expect from a plan to reduce poverty worldwide and use resources and land in more eco-friendly ways, wealthy oil barons and banksters are opposed to it. When people, governments, or organizations talk about things like sustainable energy, corporate responsibility, and educating the world’s children, billionaires like the Koch brothers get a little uneasy.
So, right-wingers have employed their best charlatans in America, people like Glenn Beck, to reinvent Agenda 21 as something completely different: a nefarious plot by communist globalists to force redistribution of wealth and confiscation of private property, and ultimate devour American sovereignty. Or, according to Glenn Beck, an Orwellian takeover to purge the nation of its sick and elderly.
And it just so happens that legislation passed in Tennessee and Kentucky to block Agenda 21 comes straight from model legislation produced by the notoriously loony, yet well-funded, John Birch Society. The Koch Brothers dad, Fred Koch, who had no problem with state-controlled economies when he made his fortune working with Joe Stalin in the Soviet Union, was one of the founding members of the Jon Birch Society back in 1958.
The UN has provided right-wing fear mongers a lot of grandstanding opportunities over the years, but the UN has never lived up to their warnings that it’s coming to destroy America. Most people think of it as a toothless international body that’s been hijacked by the United States to protect its own interests and the interests of its allies.
And while the Bircher billionaire class continues to fret over the UN, they stay silent over the actual threat to our nation’s sovereignty in the form of the World Trade Organization, which has enforced free trade agreements through international courts that have overturned laws passed by our elected Congress and signed by our elected President. For example, laws banning the importation into the United States of poisonous additives to gasoline, products made by child labor, and tuna caught at the expense of dolphins have all been overturned by the “one-world government” that is the WTO.
Yet, not a peep from the same wealthy elite who are warning us about Agenda 21. That’s because there’s a lot of money to be made in so-called Free Trade, and not so much to be made in promoting sustainable living.
The same is true of why Glenn Beck isn’t writing a book about the $67 trillion global shadow banking system, which is extremely dangerous to our sovereign economy – yet making billions of dollars for banksters.
The point is, this latest scheme by the Corporate Elite to scare the hell out of all of us with Agenda 21 is just like every other scare tactic by the Corporate Elite – it’s meant to distract us. It’s a sleight-of-hand technique to keep us focused on bogeymen, while their ranks of Texas oilmen, outsourcing CEOs, and Wall Street banksters carry out the true destruction of the United States of America: the pillaging of the Middle Class at home and the construction of a WTO-style one-world corporate government to promote unfettered capitalism and free trade everywhere on the planet.
And in the process, useful quacks like Glenn Beck and Field Searcy can make a lot of money feeding the paranoid, Fox News-watching masses their latest conspiracy theories.
Pat Robertson Admits He Blew The Election Prediction He Got From God
According to Robertson, God wasn’t wrong. He just didn’t hear him right.
November 23, 2012 |
Photo Credit: dno1967b on Flickr
In January, televangelist Pat Robertson told 700 Club viewers that in his annual New Year’s “conversation” with God, the Almighty had revealed to him who the next president would be . Up through Election Day, Robertson harshly criticized President Obama and the Democratic Party while praising Mitt Romney . Then, Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network predicted a GOP sweep, leaving Robertson utterly confounded by Obama’s victory .
Today, responding to a question from a viewer who wondered why her business is struggling since she thought God told her it would be successful, Robertson admitted that he sometimes misses God’s message. “So many of us miss God, I won’t get into great detail about elections but I sure did miss it, I thought I heard from God, I thought I had heard clearly from God, what happened?” Robertson replied, “You ask God, how did I miss it? Well, we all do and I have a lot of practice.”
No Thanks for Thanksgiving
Instead, we should atone for the genocide that was incited — and condoned — by the very men we idolize as our ‘heroic’ founding fathers.
November 21, 2012 |
One indication of moral progress in the United States would be the replacement of Thanksgiving Day and its self-indulgent family feasting with a National Day of Atonement accompanied by a self-reflective collective fasting.
In fact, indigenous people have offered such a model; since 1970 they have marked the fourth Thursday of November as a Day of Mourning in a spiritual/political ceremony on Coles Hill overlooking Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, one of the early sites of the European invasion of the Americas.
Not only is the thought of such a change in this white-supremacist holiday impossible to imagine, but the very mention of the idea sends most Americans into apoplectic fits — which speaks volumes about our historical hypocrisy and its relation to the contemporary politics of empire in the United States.
That the world’s great powers achieved “greatness” through criminal brutality on a grand scale is not news, of course. That those same societies are reluctant to highlight this history of barbarism also is predictable.
But in the United States, this reluctance to acknowledge our original sin — the genocide of indigenous people — is of special importance today. It’s now routine — even among conservative commentators — to describe the United States as an empire, so long as everyone understands we are an inherently benevolent one. Because all our history contradicts that claim, history must be twisted and tortured to serve the purposes of the powerful.
One vehicle for taming history is various patriotic holidays, with Thanksgiving at the heart of U.S. myth-building. From an early age, we Americans hear a story about the hearty Pilgrims, whose search for freedom took them from England to Massachusetts. There, aided by the friendly Wampanoag Indians, they survived in a new and harsh environment, leading to a harvest feast in 1621 following the Pilgrims first winter.
Some aspects of the conventional story are true enough. But it’s also true that by 1637 Massachusetts Gov. John Winthrop was proclaiming a thanksgiving for the successful massacre of hundreds of Pequot Indian men, women and children, part of the long and bloody process of opening up additional land to the English invaders. The pattern would repeat itself across the continent until between 95 and 99 percent of American Indians had been exterminated and the rest were left to assimilate into white society or die off on reservations, out of the view of polite society.
Simply put: Thanksgiving is the day when the dominant white culture (and, sadly, most of the rest of the non-white but non-indigenous population) celebrates the beginning of a genocide that was, in fact, blessed by the men we hold up as our heroic founding fathers.
The first president, George Washington, in 1783 said he preferred buying Indians’ land rather than driving them off it because that was like driving “wild beasts” from the forest. He compared Indians to wolves, “both being beasts of prey, tho’ they differ in shape.”
Thomas Jefferson — president #3 and author of the Declaration of Independence, which refers to Indians as the “merciless Indian Savages” — was known to romanticize Indians and their culture, but that didn’t stop him in 1807 from writing to his secretary of war that in a coming conflict with certain tribes, “[W]e shall destroy all of them.”
As the genocide was winding down in the early 20th century, Theodore Roosevelt (president #26) defended the expansion of whites across the continent as an inevitable process “due solely to the power of the mighty civilized races which have not lost the fighting instinct, and which by their expansion are gradually bringing peace into the red wastes where the barbarian peoples of the world hold sway.”
Roosevelt also once said, “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.”
How does a country deal with the fact that some of its most revered historical figures had certain moral values and political views virtually identical to Nazis? Here’s how “respectable” politicians, pundits, and professors play the game: When invoking a grand and glorious aspect of our past, then history is all-important. We are told how crucial it is for people to know history, and there is much hand wringing about the younger generations’ lack of knowledge about, and respect for, that history.
In the United States, we hear constantly about the deep wisdom of the founding fathers, the adventurous spirit of the early explorers, the gritty determination of those who “settled” the country — and about how crucial it is for children to learn these things.
But when one brings into historical discussions any facts and interpretations that contest the celebratory story and make people uncomfortable — such as the genocide of indigenous people as the foundational act in the creation of the United States — suddenly the value of history drops precipitously and one is asked, “Why do you insist on dwelling on the past?”
This is the mark of a well-disciplined intellectual class — one that can extol the importance of knowing history for contemporary citizenship and, at the same time, argue that we shouldn’t spend too much time thinking about history.
This off-and-on engagement with history isn’t of mere academic interest; as the dominant imperial power of the moment, U.S. elites have a clear stake in the contemporary propaganda value of that history. Obscuring bitter truths about historical crimes helps perpetuate the fantasy of American benevolence, which makes it easier to sell contemporary imperial adventures — such as the invasion and occupation of Iraq — as another benevolent action.
Any attempt to complicate this story guarantees hostility from mainstream culture. After raising the barbarism of America’s much-revered founding fathers in a lecture, I was once accused of trying to “humble our proud nation” and “undermine young people’s faith in our country.”
Yes, of course — that is exactly what I would hope to achieve. We should practice the virtue of humility and avoid the excessive pride that can, when combined with great power, lead to great abuses of power.
History does matter, which is why people in power put so much energy into controlling it. The United States is hardly the only society that has created such mythology. While some historians in Great Britain continue to talk about the benefits that the empire brought to India, political movements in India want to make the mythology of Hindutva into historical fact.
Abuses of history go on in the former empire and the former colony. History can be one of the many ways we create and impose hierarchy, or it can be part of a process of liberation. The truth won’t set us free, but the telling of truth at least opens the possibility of freedom.
As Americans sit down on Thanksgiving Day to gorge themselves on the bounty of empire, many will worry about the expansive effects of overeating on their waistlines. We would be better to think about the constricting effects of the day’s mythology on our minds.
A Failed Experiment
Published: November 21, 2012
In upper-middle-class suburbs on the East Coast, the newest must-have isn’t a $7,500 Sub-Zero refrigerator. It’s a standby generator that automatically flips on backup power to an entire house when the electrical grid goes out.
Damon Winter/The New York Times
Nicholas D. Kristof
In part, that’s a legacy of Hurricane Sandy. Such a system can cost well over $10,000, but many families are fed up with losing power again and again.
(A month ago, I would have written more snarkily about residential generators. But then we lost power for 12 days after Sandy — and that was our third extended power outage in four years. Now I’m feeling less snarky than jealous!)
More broadly, the lust for generators is a reflection of our antiquated electrical grid and failure to address climate change. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave our grid, prone to bottlenecks and blackouts, a grade of D+ in 2009.
So Generac, a Wisconsin company that dominates the generator market, says it is running three shifts to meet surging demand. About 3 percent of stand-alone homes worth more than $100,000 in the country now have standby generators installed.
“Demand for generators has been overwhelming, and we are increasing our production levels,” Art Aiello, a spokesman for Generac, told me.
That’s how things often work in America. Half-a-century of tax cuts focused on the wealthiest Americans leave us with third-rate public services, leading the wealthy to develop inefficient private workarounds.
It’s manifestly silly (and highly polluting) for every fine home to have a generator. It would make more sense to invest those resources in the electrical grid so that it wouldn’t fail in the first place.
But our political system is dysfunctional: in addressing income inequality, in confronting climate change and in maintaining national infrastructure.
The National Climatic Data Center has just reported that October was the 332nd month in a row of above-average global temperatures. As the environmental Web site Grist reported, that means that nobody younger than 27 has lived for a single month with colder-than-average global temperatures, yet climate change wasn’t even much of an issue in the 2012 campaign. Likewise, the World Economic Forum ranks American infrastructure 25th in the world, down from 8th in 2003-4, yet infrastructure is barely mentioned by politicians.
So time and again, we see the decline of public services accompanied by the rise of private workarounds for the wealthy.
Is crime a problem? Well, rather than pay for better policing, move to a gated community with private security guards!
Are public schools failing? Well, superb private schools have spaces for a mere $40,000 per child per year.
Public libraries closing branches and cutting hours? Well, buy your own books and magazines!
Are public parks — even our awesome national parks, dubbed “America’s best idea” and the quintessential “public good” — suffering from budget cuts? Don’t whine. Just buy a weekend home in the country!
Public playgrounds and tennis courts decrepit? Never mind — just join a private tennis club!
I’m used to seeing this mind-set in developing countries like Chad or Pakistan, where the feudal rich make do behind high walls topped with shards of glass; increasingly, I see it in our country. The disregard for public goods was epitomized by Mitt Romney’s call to end financing of public broadcasting.
A wealthy friend of mine notes that we all pay for poverty in the end. The upfront way is to finance early childhood education for at-risk kids. The back-end way is to pay for prisons and private security guards. In cities with high economic inequality, such as New York and Los Angeles, more than 1 percent of all employees work as private security guards, according to census data.
This question of public goods hovers in the backdrop as we confront the “fiscal cliff” and seek to reach a deal based on a mix of higher revenues and reduced benefits. It’s true that we have a problem with rising entitlement spending, especially in health care. But I also wonder if we’ve reached the end of a failed half-century experiment in ever-lower tax rates for the wealthy.
Since the 1950s, the top federal income tax rate has fallen from 90 percent or more to 35 percent. Capital gains tax rates have been cut by more than half since the late 1970s. Financial tycoons now often pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries.
All this has coincided with the decline of some public services and the emergence of staggering levels of inequality (granted, other factors are also at work) such that the top 1 percent of Americans now have greater collective net worth than the entire bottom 90 percent.
Not even the hum of the most powerful private generator can disguise the failure of that long experiment.
How FOX News Is Destroying the GOP
An unhealthy relationship explains why Republicans are in trouble.
November 21, 2012 |
News Corporation Chief Rupert Murdoch, seen here in 2011, said that News Corp. would donate $1 million to help victims of superstorm Sandy in New York and New Jersey, and urged other firms to follow suit.
Poor Mitt Romney has become a Republican punching bag as leaders within the party denounce his post-election comments about how President Obama won re-election by promising government-funded “gifts” to minority groups and young voters. As Republicans jab Romney though, they’re missing the larger, more pressing point: They don’t have a Mitt Romney problem. They have a Fox News problem.
Romney’s “gifts” put-down echoed the infamous claim Romney made during the campaign that 47 percent of Americans see themselves as “victims” and are overly dependent on the government. With the campaign concluded, lots of fellow Republicans now feel free to bash Romney:
• “It’s nuts,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
• “I absolutely reject what he said,” announced Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
• “When you’re in a hole, stop digging. He keeps digging,” complained Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
Though prominent conservatives are now lashing out at the former presidential candidate, the truth is Fox News has loudly championed the divisive philosophy behind Romney’s “47 percent” and “gifts” comments for months and practically authored them for the Republican candidate. Last week Fox talkers cheeredRomney’s “gifts” post-election critique, treating it as a universal truth. (According to Fox Business host Stuart Varney, Obama was ”buying votes with taxpayer money. Handouts all over the place.”)
And it’s not just a Fox News problem. Republicans have an even more expansive right-wing media problem (television, radio, Internet, etc.), which now doubles as the face and voice of the GOP and which celebratesthe kind of toxic “47 percent” and “gifts” rhetoric that’s being condemned within the party. The far-right press is convinced Obama won re-election by “offering” voters a “check” in exchange for their support.
As Media Matters noted:
Fox host Bill O’Reilly said that voters feel economic anxiety and just “want stuff,” while Fox host Eric Bolling said Obama is a “maker versus taker guy.” Fox contributor Monica Crowley said that the election showed that “more people now are dependent on government than not.” Rush Limbaugh compared the president to Santa Claus, saying that “small things beat big things” in the election and “people are not going to vote against Santa Claus.”
In fact, O’Reilly and Limbaugh rushed to take credit for Romney’s “gifts” comments last week, since both of them had been pushing the “maker vs. taker” narrative in the wake of Romney’s election loss.
The split over Romney’s “gifts” remark highlights the larger divide within the conservative movement between two distinct camps: activists and politicians who want to get more Republicans elected vs. right-wing media players who want to grow their audience.
Note that after the Republican flop on Election Day, talk radio’s Laura Ingraham dismissed conservative hand-wringers who worried about the political future by stressing that “talk radio continues to thrive while moderate Republicans like John McCain and to some extent Mitt Romney continue to lose presidential elections.” That’s how hosts like Ingraham view the political landscape. That’s how they determine success and failure, not by tallying the wins and losses posted by Republicans candidates, but by counting up the number of radio stations that carry their syndicated show.
The same is true with Daily Caller editor Tucker Carlson. Asked why the conservative media completely failed in their attempt to “vet” Obama, who easily won re-election despite four years of hysterical, far-right claims about him, Carlson told BuzzFeed his publication’s work had been a success because traffic to the site was up. (Carlson also blamed the “legacy media” for being hostile to his site’s supposed “journalism.”)
I’m sure that’s comforting news to RNC leadership. And I’m sure the Daily Caller chasing inane, anti-Obama conspiracy theories for the next four years will put the Republican Party on firm footing for 2016.
For now, it’s easy to blame Romney. That’s what losing parties often do after an election, they pile-on the vanquished candidate. The part that would take some guts and fortitude would be calling out the right-wing media that are generating the type of hate rhetoric that Romney embraced and routinely used during the campaign.
Republicans won’t because they’re intimidated by the right-wing media’s power. That’s why New Jersey Governor Chris Christie quickly got on the phone with Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch after Murdochtweeted that Christie, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and his bipartisan appearances with Obama, needed to re-endorse Romney or “take the blame” for the president’s re-election.
Murdoch: Jump! Republicans: How high?
That unhealthy relationship is the reason why, when it comes to the simple question of whether America is divided between “makers and takers,” and if the 62 million Americans who voted for Obama represent a decaying nation of moochers in search of handouts, there’s a wide gulf within the conservative movement. The right-wing media consider the claim to be a central tenet, while Republican leaders think saying it out loud is completely batty and a prescription for an electoral losing streak.
So yes, those are conspicuous handcuffs the GOP is wearing: Fox News has hijacked the party’s communications apparatus and is pushing the type of paranoid, blame-the-voter rhetoric that loses elections, and the type of rhetoric Romney’s now being blamed for. But the GOP can’t turn it off. In fact, most Republicans can’t even work up enough courage to ask Fox News to turn down the volume.
Unwilling to acknowledge the GOP’s future poses a long-term media problem (the topic is not to be discussed), Republicans pretend they have a short-term Romney one.
Why Fracking May Ruin Your Thanksgiving
Cranberry growers and the fracking industry are fighting for the same resources and tearing one state apart in the process.
November 19, 2012 |
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/© sarsmis | View Portfolio
This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.
My, how things have changed since the Pilgrims tasted their first cranberries in their Plymouth colony! Until 1816, cranberries were a thoroughly wild food; something gathered, not grown. But the discovery that allowed us to cultivate cranberries – adding a thick layer of sand on the soil where they grow – is now creating trouble in cranberry country. As it turns out, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, requires the same sort of sand as cranberries.
Nodji VanWychen, a third-generation cranberry grower in Warrens, WI, explains that cranberries require three elements to grow well: acidic peat soil topped with six to 10 inches of sand, and a reliable source of water. Although growers refer to their cranberry fields as “bogs” or “marshes,” the fields are not flooded yearround. Growers only flood their marshes during the harvest and again during the winter.
Massachusetts used to dominate cranberry production, but Wisconsin has taken over in recent decades, now producing 60 percent of the world’s cranberries. “We have been the number-one state in the nation for 18 consecutive years,” VanWychen says proudly. “And it is the number-one fruit crop in the state of Wisconsin. So it’s big business to the state, not only with the value of the crop but the amount of jobs that are developed… It’s a real economic gain to the areas where cranberries are grown.”
VanWychen’s marsh is located in Monroe County, home to the largest number of cranberry growers in Wisconsin. But in the last few years, the sand that makes the area right for cranberries has attracted a number of sand mining companies, eager to supply sand to the fracking industry.
Fracking is a controversial method of mining natural gas by pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals deep into the earth to break up rock formations and release the natural gas trapped within them. Sand is essential to keep the fissures in the rocks open and to allow the natural gas to escape. Specifically, fracking requires “frac sand,” sand made of round, strong granules of nearly pure quartz – exactly the kind of sand found throughout a large portion of Wisconsin.
Currently, four sand mines and one processing plant are already operating in Monroe County, with three more mines in development and two more proposed. Several mines span hundreds of acres, and the largest site, a mine and processing plant in Tunnel City, sits on over 1,000 acres.
Sand mining is such big business, according to Monroe County dairy farmer Joel Greeno, that mining companies will pay $25,000 per acre for land that would normally sell for $3,000 per acre. His family has farmed in this area since 1872 and he worries that their time is almost up. His cousin recently turned down an offer to sell his farm to a sand mining company for $2 million. “At what point will he stop saying no and sell the family farm as a sand mine?” Greeno wonders.
A sand mine has moved in near a farm that used to belong to Greeno’s grandfather. The mines will dig 400 to 500 deep holes as they mine sand over the next few decades. “That’s gonna be a lot of tons of Wisconsin missing,” Greeno says. He worries for the future of the area’s cranberry marshes: “How long does the water stay in the cranberry marshes before it migrates into an open sand mine?”
Other complaints about the sand mines include increased truck traffic, noise and glaring lights, destruction of Wisconsin’s bucolic rural scenery, and most seriously, air and water pollution. The silica dust particles that blow around the sand mines have been linked to cancer in occupational settings.
Sand mining has also poisoned community relations in the small Wisconsin towns that produce the cranberries Americans enjoy on Thanksgiving. Greeno accuses the sand mines of “pitting neighbor against neighbor and friends against friends.” He cites a farmer who sold his farm to a nearby cranberry grower because he did not want the sand mines to have it. But unbeknownst to him, the cranberry grower had already done a deal with a sand mine behind his back, and the land went to the sand mine anyway.
“All the little townships up there, the town boards are fighting, and the residents are mad,” says Greeno. “The sand mines come in then and write the town boards checks for a couple hundred thousand.” For example, a blog that opposes the Tunnel City mine accuses the mining company Unimin of paying more than $2 million for land owned by the town chair’s relatives. The progressive blog Blue Cheddar quotes a Wisconsin resident who called a payment from a sand mining company “hush money.”
With the quick rise of Wisconsin’s frack sand boom, both regulators and residents were taken by surprise. Regulations designed for the enormous open-pit mines were not in place when the mining companies showed up, and the Department of Natural Resources simply lacks the staff to deal with the silica dust particles from the new mines. According to Greeno, “A lot of the sand mines were already here buying land before anybody really knew what was going on.” Residents did not have time to form an opposition before the mines came into their towns.
But now, residents are starting to get organized. The town of Grant just passed a six-month moratorium on sand mines to hold off a proposed 800- to 1,200-acre sand mine by the corporation U.S. Silica. The town of Angelo also passed a six-month moratorium, but that is coming to an end on December 31 and the town has not yet decided on its way forward.
At the same time, the sand mining industry is organizing, forming the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association (WISA), a lobbying and public relations group that says it will “self-regulate” its members. “Self-regulation” is a common corporate tactic to stave off government regulation. Unlike government regulation, corporate self-regulation is not enforceable.
The battle for land and sand in Wisconsin’s cranberry country will continue to rage on for several Thanksgivings to come, most likely. And the fight ought to remind us of what we are most thankful for this time of year: not cranberries, but loving families and healthy, happy communities that are free of the fighting and backstabbing that Wisconsin’s sand mining boom has spawned.
It’s Simple: Cutting the Deficit Will Kill Jobs and Hurt Growth; Taxing the Rich Won’t
We’ve got to stop obsessing about the deficit.
November 21, 2012 |
Photo Credit: Songquan Deng/ Shutterstock.com
I wish President Obama and the Democrats would explain to the nation that the federal budget deficit isn’t the nation’s major economic problem and deficit reduction shouldn’t be our major goal. Our problem is lack of good jobs and sufficient growth, and our goal must be to revive both.
Deficit reduction leads us in the opposite direction — away from jobs and growth. The reason the “fiscal cliff” is dangerous (and, yes, I know – it’s not really a “cliff” but more like a hill) is because it’s too much deficit reduction, too quickly. It would suck too much demand out of the economy.
But more jobs and growth will help reduce the deficit. With more jobs and faster growth, the deficit will shrink as a proportion of the overall economy. Recall the 1990s when the Clinton administration balanced the budget ahead of the schedule it had set with Congress because of faster job growth than anyone expected — bringing in more tax revenues than anyone had forecast. Europe offers the same lesson in reverse: Their deficits are ballooning because their austerity policies have caused their economies to sink.
The best way to generate jobs and growth is for the government to spend more, not less. And for taxes to stay low – or become even lower – on the middle class.
(Higher taxes on the rich won’t slow the economy because the rich will keep spending anyway. After all, being rich means spending whatever you want to spend. By the same token, higher taxes won’t reduce their incentive to save and invest because they’re already doing as much saving and investing as they want. Remember: they’re taking home a near record share of the nation’s total income and have a record share of total wealth.)
Why don’t our politicians and media get this? Because an entire deficit-cutting political industry has grown up in recent years – starting with Ross Perot’s third party in the 1992 election, extending through Peter Petersen’s Institute and other think-tanks funded by Wall Street and big business, embracing the eat-your-spinach deficit hawk crowd in the Democratic Party, and culminating in the Simpson-Bowles Commission that President Obama created in order to appease the hawks but which only legitimized them further.
Most of the media have bought into the narrative that our economic problems stem from an out-of-control budget deficit. They’re repeating this hokum even now, when we’re staring at a fiscal cliff that illustrates just how dangerous deficit reduction can be.
Deficit hawks routinely warn unless the deficit is trimmed we’ll fall prey to inflation and rising interest rates. But there’s no sign of inflation anywhere. The world is awash in underutilized capacity As for interest rates, the yield on the ten-year Treasury bill is now around 1.26 percent – lower than it’s been in living memory.
In fact, if there was ever a time for America to borrow more in order to put our people back to work repairing our crumbling infrastructure and rebuilding our schools, it’s now.
Public investments that spur future job-growth and productivity shouldn’t even be included in measures of government spending to begin with. They’re justifiable as long as the return on those investments – a more educated and productive workforce, and a more efficient infrastructure, both generating more and better goods and services with fewer scarce resources – is higher than the cost of those investments.
In fact, we’d be nuts not to make these investments under these circumstances. No sane family equates spending on vacations with investing in their kids’ education. Yet that’s what we do in our federal budget.
Finally, the biggest driver of future deficits is overstated — rising health-care costs that underlie projections for Medicare and Medicaid spending. The rate of growth of health-care costs is slowing because of the Affordable Care Act and increasing pressures on health providers to hold down costs. Yet projections of future budget deficits haven’t yet factored in this slowdown.
So can we please stop obsessing about future budget deficits? They’re distracting our attention from what we should be obsessing about — jobs and growth.
Maddow Debunks the Post-Election Myths Spun by Paul Ryan and Other GOP Liars
Watch as she dismisses the GOP’s revisionist history.
November 21, 2012 |
Last night, Rachel Maddow took on the vast disconnect between what actually happened during the 2012 presidential election and the “things people are saying about the election that are not true, but make people feel better to say them anyway.”
The Giant Lie Trotted Out by Fiscal Conservatives Trying to Shred Social Security
Fiscal conservatives are using the life expectancy argument to justify gutting social security.
November 19, 2012 |
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Trying to convince the public to cut America’s best-loved and most successful program requires a lot of creativity and persistence. Social Security is fiscally fit, prudently managed and does not add to the deficit because by law it must be completely detached from the federal operating budget. Obviously, it is needed more than ever in a time of increasing job insecurity and disappearing pensions. It helps our economy thrive and boosts the productivity of working Americans. And yet the sharks are in a frenzy to shred it in the upcoming “fiscal cliff” discussions.
The most popular red herring Social Security hustlers have unleashed into the waters of public discourse has grown into such a massive whale of a lie that liberals frequently subscribe to it. The idea goes like this: We need to somehow “fix” Social Security because people are living longer – “fix” in this context being a code for “cut.” Two groups stand to benefit in the short-term from such a scheme: the greedy rich, who do not want to pay their share in taxes, and financiers, who want to move towards privatizing retirement accounts so they can collect fees. As for the masses of hard-working people who have rightfully earned their retirement, the only “fix” is the fix they will be in if already modest benefits are further reduced.
Here are five clear reasons why the life expectancy argument is nonsensical, counterproductive and based on a pack of lies.
1. Social Security’s original designers considered rising life expectancy.
On our red-herring tour, let’s start with the oft-repeated claim that the original designers of the program did not consider rising life expectancy in their calculations. Fortunately, public records pertaining to the lengthy and detailed discussions of the Roosevelt administration’s Committee on Economic Security (CES), tasked with constructing proposals for Social Security, are available for anyone to see. It is absolutely clear from the record that the designers knew that the number of people over the age of 65 was going to increase and that people were going to live longer.
There were differences – as there are now – on exactly how to project this demographic shift, but the idea that a growing rate of older folks taking payouts was bound to happen was a topic of intense scrutiny. Consider the Old Age Security Staff Report, dated January 1935:
“At the time of the last Census (1930) there were six and a half million people 65 years of age and over in the United States. They constituted 5.4% of the population. As a result of a declining birth rate in this country, which manifested itself about 1820 and persisted from that time, the ratio of aged persons has shown a continuous growth from the date. The increase was very slow for 40 years, more rapid from 1860 on, and noticeably accelerated between 1920 and 1930. The latter was due to a rather sharp decline in birth rate which set in about 1920. This decline is expected to persist, moreover, and will of course produce a correspondingly sharp increase in the ratio of the aged to the population as a whole. The recent improvement in mortality rate makes its contribution to this situation.”
That’s right: Not only did the designers know full well that a larger population of older folks was coming, they actually made projections based on that assumption well into the future. They even produced this handy table which projects that increase all the way up to 1980, anticipating a 140 percent increase in the 60 years following 1920:
Ratio of Aged General Population: 1860 – 1980 (By Decades)
|1890||3.9 (74%)||1950*||7.7 (140% increase)|
*This forecast includes survivors of assumed net immigration of 100,000 annually in years 1935-1939 inclusive, and 200,000 annually in 1940 and thereafter. There will be more than twice as many aged in 1960 as there were in 1930.
2. Life expectancy gains since 1935 have been modest.
Another popular argument for cutting Social Security by raising the retirement age assumes a vast difference in human longevity between 1935 and today. You’ll hear this group of hustlers claiming that life expectancy for Americans was less than 62 years in 1935, and now it’s more than 77 years, so the program must be inadequate. Alan Simpson of the infamous Simpson-Bowles Commission, who ought to know better since he has been weighing in on Social Security policy, is a fan of this line of argument. Clearly, Simpson has not bothered to read the actual public record on Social Security, or he is knowingly lying.
Here’s the truth of the matter: The early figure was based on life expectancy at birth. That is a vastly different matter from projecting how long people will live after they reach the age of 65 and start collecting benefits. In the 1930s, there was much higher infant mortality, and children died much more frequently from diseases that are now preventable through immunization. Because our parents’ and grandparents’ generations had a high rate of early death, the life expectancy at birth in 1930 was indeed less than 62 years. But here’s the catch: Social Security is funded by the workers who collect the benefits, along with their employers. Obviously, if you die as a child, you are not going to collect benefits. So the significant measure is not how long you’re going to live after you are born, but rather how long you’re going to live once you hit 65.
In reality, the average life expectancy once a person has reached the age 65 has increased only a modest five years on average since 1940. Makes a big difference in how you look at retirement:
|Table 1: Life Expectancy for Social Security|
|Year Cohort Turned 65||Percentage of Population Surviving from Age 21 to Age 65||Average Remaining Life Expectancy for Those Surviving to Age 65|
So let’s be clear. Workers who reach the age of 65 today are only living five years longer than their parents. The designers of the program were fully aware of this possibility when they calculated the retirement age and they constructed the program accordingly.
3. The Greenspan Commission already raised the retirement age two years.
Back in 1983, just as Reagan was ushering in the destructive era of supply-side economics, the Social Security hustlers conspired to raise a great hue and cry about the program, which led to the creation of the Greenspan Commission. The Commission looked at the future increase in retired Baby Boomers and also considered increases in overall life expectancy. The result? People like me who were born after 1960 will have to wait until they’re 67 to collect full benefits. If you’re younger than 52, two years of your retirement were taken away in the name of “permanently fixing Social Security.” For those a bit older you’ve had one year shaved off.
The Greenspan Commission demanded raising the payroll tax, cutting benefits and gradually raising the retirement age on future retirees. After these changes were enacted, Social Security accumulated enormous surpluses in its trust funds. As economist Robert Reich has explained, until 2012, Social Security took in more payroll taxes than it paid out in benefits and lent the surpluses to the rest of the government. The only reason the program took in less than it paid out in 2010 was due to the Wall Street-driven financial crash. But guess what? Social Security is so well-designed that the interest paid on government bonds more than made up for that difference.
1983 is a long time ago, and because the full increase in retirement age has not yet affected retirees (that experiment is waiting for those under 52) it’s easy for the Social Security hustlers to pretend that it never happened. But it did, and we do not yet know the social impacts of that decision. Since the people who had their Social Security cut are likely to suffer from increased job insecurity and a lack of traditional pensions, we may expect that the impact will not be pleasant for future retirees, excluding the very wealthy.
The Social Security hustlers have already gambled with our future, and now, using the excuse of the recession, they have committed themselves to doing it again.
4. Longevity gains have gone mostly to high earners.
Exhaustive research has clearly demonstrated that income inequality leads to poorer health among people who are not well-off, and that gains in life expectancy have primarily gone to high income workers. A report in the New York Times, “Gap in Life Expectancy Widens for the Nation” explains that while longevity for the whole country has gone up, affluent people have gained more, and this has cause a widening gap in life span:
…Gopal K. Singh, a demographer at the Department of Health and Human Services, said “the growing inequalities in life expectancy” mirrored trends in infant mortality and in death from heart disease and certain cancers….
Dr. Singh said last week that federal officials had found “widening socioeconomic inequalities in life expectancy” at birth and at every age level.
In the same NYT report, Nancy Krieger, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, rejects the idea that such a gap is somehow inevitable as better and more expensive medical treatment becomes available:
“The recent trend of growing disparities in health status is not inevitable,” she said. “From 1966 to 1980, socioeconomic disparities declined in tandem with a decline in mortality rates.”
The creation of Medicaid and Medicare, community health centers, the “war on poverty” and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 all probably contributed to the earlier narrowing of health disparities, Professor Krieger said.
Income inequality is notably awful in the US, and according to the centrist Brookings Institute, our life expectancy is predictably lower than that of other industrialized countries. Our ranking among the 34 countries in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development is a shameful 27. Of the 21 large OECD countries with the highest incomes, America finishes “dead last.”
Life expectancy among the less educated and those with lower incomes has actually dropped. New research shows that between 1990 and 2008, white women lacking a high school diploma lost a shocking five years of life, while their male peers lost three years.
Under these circumstances, it’s clear that raising the retirement age is a direct assault on those at the lower rungs of the economic ladder, women in particular, and that it would only serve to increase income inequality even further and diminish the chances of long life among anyone but the rich.
5. Life expectancy rises are likely to slow in the future.
The Social Security hustlers like to make wild predictions that life expectancy will grow in the future at a rapid rate and that our children and grandchildren will be living up to 10 years longer than we do. As we’ve seen, when you’re talking about life expectancy after age 65, gains since Social Security was originally designed are only five years—and those gains are largely among the well-off.
The truth is that there’s not much reason to think that giant increases in life expectancy are going to happen for the vast majority of people – even the more affluent.
A report in the Washington Post shows that contrary to popular belief, we’ve actually seen average life expectancy among all Americans take a small dip in recent years:
Those born in 2008 can only expect to live to be 77.8 years old, down from 77.9 years for those born in 2007, according to an annual preliminary analysis of data conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics.
Yes, there have been steady increases since 1975, but it’s also true that there were drops between 1992 and 1993 (75.8 to 75.5) and between 2004 and 2005 (77.5 to 77.4). Federal budget projections assume Baby Boomers will live much longer than their parents, thanks to new drugs, improved medical care and so on. But not so fast. Factors including obesity, cancer, increased cardiovascular problems, and even higher rates of suicide, could slow or actually reverse the longevity trend.
Justin Denny of Rice University warns that it would be a mistake to base projections in longevity gains of the current century based on the last one. Unfortunately, that’s just what the trustees who estimate the future solvency of the U.S. Social Security retirement program have been doing.
In conclusion: cutting Social Security by raising the retirement age is nothing but a trick meant to fool us into thinking that there’s something wrong with a program that keeps millions of American retirees out of poverty. To even consider such a scheme in a time of widespread suffering is one of the most shameful outcomes of the Great Recession. Social Security is efficient, well-managed, and is not undergoing any crisis.
You will be hearing lots of convincing-sounding rhetoric on this topic in upcoming weeks –often from Democrats – including the notion that we should be means-testing Social Security for longevity among high-income earners. That plan plays into the mythology that the program is somehow broken and needs to be “fixed.” It also plays into the game of fiscal conservatives who know full well that means testing will diminish support, which is why they have been ardently pushing it for 50 years. It’s yet another red herring. Social Security is not contributing to the deficit, and if — and that’s a big if — a tweak is needed down the road, we can easily accomplish that by raising the cap on payroll taxes, which stands just above $100K. In reality, there is absolutely no sound justification for doing anything now. The bottom line is raising the retirement age and making changes based on longevity does not pass the test of morality, logic, or sound economics
Top 10 Myths About Israel’s Attack on Gaza
These misconceptions are spread by the American media.
November 19, 2012 |
1. Israeli hawks represent themselves as engaged in a ‘peace process’ with the Palestinians in which Hamas refuses to join. In fact, Israel has refused to cease colonizing and stealing Palestinian land long enough to engage in fruitful negotiations with them. Tel Aviv routinely announces new, unilateral house-building on the Palestinian West Bank. There is no peace process. It is an Israeli and American sham. Talking about a peace process is giving cover to Israeli nationalists who are determined to grab everything the Palestinians have and reduce them to penniless refugees (again).
2. Actions such as the assault on Gaza can achieve no genuine long-term strategic purpose. They are being launched to ensure that Jewish-Israelis are the first to exploit key resources. Rattling sabers at the Palestinians creates a pretext for further land-grabs and colonies on Palestinian land. That is, the military action against the people of Gaza is a diversion tactic; the real goal is Greater Israel, an assertion of Israeli sovereignty over all the territory once held by the British Mandate of Palestine.
3. Israeli hawks represent their war of aggression as in ‘self-defense.’ But the UK
Israeli chief rabbi admitted on camera that that the Gaza attack actually ‘had something to do with Iran.’
4. Israeli hawks demonize the Palestinians of Gaza as “bad neighbors” who don’t accept Israel. But 40% of the people in Gaza are refugees, mostly living in refugee camps, from families in pre-1948 Palestine that had lived there for millennia.
They were expelled from what is now Israel in the 1948 Zionist ethnic cleansing campaign. Israelis are now living in their homes and farming their land, and they were never paid any reparations for the crimes done to them.[pdf] “Israel’s failure to provide reparations to Palestinian refugees over the past six decades is in blatant violation of international law.” Israel does not accept Palestine’s right to exist, even though it is constantly demanding that everyone, including the displaced and occupied Palestinians, recognize Israel’s right to exist.
5. Israeli hawks and their American clones depict Gaza as a foreign, hostile state with which Israel is at war. In fact, the Gaza strip is a small territory of 1.7 million people militarily occupied by Israel (something in which the UN and other international bodies concur). Israelis do not allow it to have a port or airport, nor to export most of what it produces. Palestinians cannot work about a third of its land, which is reserved by Israel as a security buffer. As an occupied territory, it is covered by the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 on the treatment of occupied populations by their military occupier. Indiscriminate bombing of occupied territories by the occupier is clearly illegal in international law.
6. Israeli hawks see themselves as innocent victims of bewildering Palestinian rage from Gaza. But Israel not only has kept Palestinians of Gaza in the world’s largest outdoor penitentiary, they have them under an illegal blockade that for some years aimed at limiting their nutrition without altogether starving them to death. I wrote earlier:
“The food blockade had real effects. About ten percent of Palestinian children in Gaza under 5 have had their growth stunted by malnutrition. A recent report [pdf] by Save the Children and Medical Aid for Palestinians found that, in addition, anemia is widespread, affecting over two-thirds of infants, 58.6 percent of schoolchildren, and over a third of pregnant mothers. “
If any foreign power surrounded Israel, destroyed Haifa port and Tel Aviv airport, and prevented Israeli exports from being exported, what do you think Israelis would do? Oh, that’s right, it is rude to see both Palestinians and Israelis as equal human beings.
7. Israeli hawks demonize the Palestinian residents of Gaza as followers of Hamas, a party-militia of the Muslim religious right. But half of Palestinians in Gaza are minors, who never voted for Hamas and cannot be held collectively responsible for that party.
8. Israeli hawks justify their aggression on the Palestinians on grounds of self-defense. But Israel is a country of 7.5 million people with tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, helicopter gunships and F-16s and F-18s, plus 400 nuclear warheads. Gaza is a small occupied territory of 1.7 million which has no heavy weaponry, just some old guns and some largely ineffectual rockets. (Israelis cite hundreds of rockets fired into Israel from Gaza in 2012; but until Israel’s recent attack they had killed not a single Israeli, though they did wound a few last March when fighting between Palestinians and Israelis escalated.) Gaza is a threat to Israel the way the Transkei Bantustan was a threat to Apartheid South Africa. As for genuine asymmetrical threats from Gaza to Israel, they could be dealt with by giving the Palestinians a state and ceasing the blockade imposed on them, or in the worst case scenario counter-terrorism targeted at terrorists rather than indiscriminate bombing campaigns.
9. Israeli hawks maintain that they were provoked into the attack. But actually Ahmad Jabari, the Hamas leader the Israelis assassinated earlier this week, had been engaged in talks with the Israelis about a truce. Assassinations achieved by the ruse of openness to peace talks are guarantees of no further peace talks.
10. Although most American media is a cheering section for the Likud Party,in fact the world is increasingly done out with Israel’s aggressiveness. Boycotts and sanctions will likely grow over time, leaving Israeli hawks with a deficit…
8 Terrible Bosses Who Screwed Over Their Workers Because Obama Was Re-Elected
Some employers are threatening their workers’ job security for bogus Obama-related reasons.
November 16, 2012 |
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
Most of us have had a terrible boss or two in our day, but right now thousands of Americans find themselves with a very special kind of bad boss: one who uses Obama’s election as an excuse to threaten to cut their hours, roll back their benefits, slash their wages or fire them outright. Much of this worker abuse centers on the new law that businesses with 50 or more employees must offer workers healthcare options by 2014. Jon Stewart noticed this recent post-election “trend” and issued a strong judgment:
Guys, I get it. Providing healthcare benefits to employees costs money, and as a group you tend to prefer things that do not cost that [money]…. But own your layoffs and your policies. Let’s stop pretending that suddenly, with this election, bosses have been transformed into reluctant assholes. Obamacare is just the latest excuse to wriggle out of the social contract [that’s existed] for many years.
Below is a list of some of the employers who are threatening their workers’ job security in the name of Obamacare — and other bogus Obama-related rationales. (There are a few restaurants you might want to avoid if you care about the health and well-being of low- and middle-class workers.)
1. Denny’s/Dairy Queen franchise threatens “Obamacare surcharge,” reduced employees hours.
John Metz, who owns Hurricane Grill & Wings and dozens of Denny’s and Dairy Queen franchises, has threated to slash his workers’ pay and impose an “Obamacare surcharge” at his restaurants.
“If I leave the prices the same, but say on the menu that there is a 5 percent surcharge for Obamacare, customers have two choices. They can either pay it and tip 15 or 20 percent, or if they really feel so inclined, they can reduce the amount of tip they give to the server, who is the primary beneficiary of Obamacare,” Metz told the Huffington Post. “Although it may sound terrible that I’m doing this, it’s the only alternative. I’ve got to pass the cost on to the consumer.”
Terrible, yes. The only alternative, not so much.
2. Red Lobster and Olive Garden parent company may rely on more part-time workers.
Darden Concepts, the parent corporation of Red Lobster and Olive Garden, may start using more part-time workers who would likely not be eligible for employee-sponsored health insurance plans, according to Salon’s Natasha Lennard, who cites a report by MSNBC’s Ned Resnikoff:
[T]he company overall could come to rely more on part-time workers. Those new employees would likely not enjoy the same health benefits that all employees currently do. “Today we offer health care to all of our employees,” said Rich Jeffers, [a spokesperson for Darden]. But under the Affordable Care Act, which sets minimum standards for the health care being provided, “we can’t offer that.”
It’s appalling that Darden would cut health insurance offerings in response to a law that should boost healthcare coverage, but it’s not all that surprising; Darden has a long history of terrible labor practices.
3. Papa John’s CEO plans to slash workers’ hours so he doesn’t have to cover them.
Like Darden, Papa John’s has a horrible labor track record (it’s one of the nation’s 50 biggest low-wage employers), and its CEO would rather cut employees’ hours than comply with the Affordable Care Act rules. ABC reports that CEO John Schnatter said he wants all his employees to have health insurance, but “it was likely that some franchise owners would reduce employees’ hours in order to avoid having to cover them.”
Laura Clawson of the Daily Kos has some strong words for Schnatter and his ilk:
You know who I don’t take seriously when they say they really want everyone to have health insurance and it’s a shame Obamacare isn’t the right way to insure more people? People who run businesses where only a third of workers are insured.
That’s right, even now, Papa John’s only insures one in three of its employees. Hard to take a guy like that too seriously when he talks about insuring workers.
Schnatter also says he’ll increase the price of his pizzas by 10 to 14 cents to cover Obamacare-related costs — though it appears that the cost should really only go up by 3 or 4 cents per pie. I don’t know about you, but I would gladly pay an extra 4 cents (hell, even 14 cents, if that’s what you say, Mr. Schnatter!) if that meant the person making my pizza wasn’t getting screwed out of affordable healthcare access.
4. Applebee’s New York CEO says he’ll ax jobs because of Obamacare.
Zane Tankel, the CEO of Applebee’s New York restaurants, is another so-called “job creator” who’s threatened to fire employees and freeze hiring. As he told Fox Business News, “We’ve calculated it will be some millions of dollars across our system. So what does that say — that says we won’t build more restaurants. We won’t hire more people — exactly the opposite of what the president says.” Sorry, but that’s on you, Mr. Tankel.
When asked if he would start relying more heavily on part-time workers, he said, “I’m sure all our people are watching this right now, so I don’t want to make any commitments one way or another. I just want to say we’re looking at it, we’re evaluating it, if it’s possible to do without cutting people back, I’m delighted to do it. But that also rolls back expansion, it rolls back hiring more people, and in a best-case scenario we only shrink the labor force minimally.”
5. Small business owner in Georgia says he fired workers who voted for Obama.
The Huffington Post reports that a man identified as the owner of an aviation services company told CSPAN he had fired two full-time employees and cut other workers’ hours to avoid covering them under Obamacare.
“Yesterday I called all my part-time employees in and said because Obama won I was cutting their hours from 30 to 25 a week so I would not fall under the Obamacare mandate,” said the man, who identified himself only as Stu. “I had to lay two full-timers off to get under the 50-person cap.”
But even worse, he said, “I tried to make sure that the people I had to lay off voted for Obama.”
If true, that’s not only immoral, it’s illegal. So we certainly hope not.
6. Las Vegas businessman says he laid off 22 employees after election night.
Another business owner who chose only to identify himself by his first name (I wonder why?) called into a Las Vegas radio station saying he had fired 22 of his 114 workers after it became clear that Obama had won re-election. Here’s what he said, via the local CBS affiliate:
“I explained to [my employees] a month ago that if Obama gets in office that the regulations for Obamacare are gonna hurt our business, and I’m gonna have to make provisions to make sure I have enough money to cover the payroll taxes, the additional health care I’m gonna have to do, and I explained that to them and I said you do what you feel like in your heart you need to do, but I’m just letting you know as a warning this is things I have to think of as a business owner.”
“Well unfortunately, and most of my employees are Hispanic — I’m not gonna go into what kind of company I have, but I have mostly Hispanic employees — well unfortunately we know what happened and I can’t wait around anymore, I have to be proactive. I had to lay off 22 people today to make sure that my business is gonna thrive and I’m gonna be around for years to come. I have to build up that nest egg now for the taxes and regulations that are coming my way. Elections do have consequences, but so do choices. A choice you make every day has consequences and you know what, I’ve always put my employees first, but unfortunately today I have to put me and my family first, and you watch what’s gonna happen.”
He also said that while he would “never tell them which way to vote,” he “did explain as a business owner that I have always put my employees first.”
By firing them? Right. Okay.
7. Builder of “Queen of Versailles” mansion told employees that Obama re-election “threatens their jobs.”
David Siegel, who built himself the largest house in the country (and then lost it rather spectacularly, as depicted in the documentary The Queen of Versailles), is another rotten business owner who threatened his workers in the weeks leading up to the election.
In early October Siegel sent a letter to the employees of his Florida-based company, Westgate Resorts, warning them that if Obama won, their jobs would be in jeopardy. Here’s one choice excerpt, via Gawker:
In spite of all of the challenges we have faced, the good news is this: The economy doesn’t currently pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job however, is another four years of the same presidential administration. Of course, as your employer, I can’t tell you whom to vote for, and I certainly wouldn’t interfere with your right to vote for whomever you choose. In fact, I encourage you to vote for whomever you think will serve your interests the best.
However, let me share a few facts that might help you decide what is in your best interest.
In short: I’m not telling you who to vote for; I’m just saying that if you vote for Obama in this swing state, you can kiss your job goodbye!
It’s worth noting that, according to Gawker, “Siegel has publicly claimed credit for George W. Bush defeating Al Gore, saying ‘I had my managers do a survey on every employee [8,000 total]. If they liked Bush, we made them register to vote. But not if they liked Gore.’”
What’s worse, Siegel’s letter wasn’t even original; it was adapted from a chain email that had been going around for years. It is, however, hilarious in its Evil Villain tone. You should really read the whole thing.
8. Coal company lays off 160 workers because of Obama’s “war on coal.”
Coal company Murray Energy announced the Friday after the election that it had laid off 160 of its workers because the majority of voters cast their ballot “in favor of redistribution, national weakness and reduced standard of living and lower and lower levels of personal freedom.”
Here’s more of the statement from CEO Robert Murray, via CNN:
“The American people have made their choice. They have decided that America must change its course, away from the principals [sic] of our Founders,” Murray said in the prayer, which was delivered in a meeting with staff members earlier this week.
“Lord, please forgive me and anyone with me in Murray Energy Corporation for the decisions that we are now forced to make to preserve the very existence of any of the enterprises that you have helped us build.”
The Lord may forgive him, but if I were Robert Murray I’d be more worried about my newly out-of-work employees forgiving me for axing their jobs.
Even before Obama was re-elected, Murray closed an Ohio plant, blaming the Obama administration’s “war on coal.”
New Findings Show Communities of Color Face the Worst Impacts From Dirty Coal Plants
The NAACP found that the six million people living within three miles of our 378 plants have an average per capita income of $18,400 per year; 39 percent are people of color.
November 16, 2012 |
Photo Credit: AFP
Coal plants place a disproportionate burden on poor and largely minority communities, exposing residents to high levels of pollutants that affect public health, according to a new report led by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The report ranks all 378 coal-fired power plants in the United States according to a plant’s impact on the health, economics and environment of nearby communities. People living near coal plants are disproportionately poor and minorities, the report found; the six million people living within three miles of those 378 plants have an average per capita income of $18,400 per year; 39 percent are people of color.
“The message arising from this report is simple: These polluting, life-compromising coal plants must be closed,” the NAACP concluded in its report, Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People.
Coal plants are large emitters of mercury, lead, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon dioxide – a potent greenhouse gas. Along with contributing to climate change, pollution from coal plants is linked to asthma attacks, heart problems, and other diseases.
The report also found that not all coal plants are equal. The impacts of some plants on the public health of nearby communities are measurably worse than others, the authors said. And more often than not, the most offending plants are located in poor and largely minority communities.
The NAACP report gave 75 coal plants a “failing” grade on their environmental justice scorecard and found that those plants were responsible for a heavy pollution burden: 14 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions and 13 percent of all nitrogen oxide emissions from all U.S. power plants came from those 75 power plants, according to the report.
The four million people living near those 75 “failing” plants are even poorer and more isolated communities of color. The average per capita income within three miles of the 75 failing plants is $17,500 and nearly 53 percent of the people are minorities, the analysis found.
“It’s very easy right now to talk about climate change as something that is theoretical, to talk about the dirtiness caused by coal plants as something that is aesthetic” said NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous. “But when you … actually meet with people in these communities, the stories that they tell you – about their children’s lives being diminished, about older people in the communities lives being shortened by the presence of these plants – are disturbing.”
Illinois topped the “failing” list with nine coal plants found to disproportionately harm the poor and communities of color. Illinois is also home to the worst offending coal plant on the list: Crawford Generating Station in Chicago, Ill, a 597-megawatt plant built in 1958 and operated by Edison International. The plant closed in August.
Two other Midwestern states, Indiana and Michigan, each had five plants on the “failing” list.
“To our indigenous people, this is a life-and-death issue,” said Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, who noted that tribal people in the Midwest continue to struggle with mercury contamination in their fish-heavy diets.
The Southeast also has its share of coal-fired problems: Virginia has five plants on the failing list, followed by North Carolina with four, then South Carolina and Florida with three apiece.
Closing the 75 “failing” plants on the NAACP list would decrease U.S. electricity by about 8 percent, but would drop the number of Americans living within three miles of a coal plant by 67 percent, according to the report.
Some of the plants on the list, like Chicago’s Crawford plant, have closed or are slated to close in the next few years.
“We have been doing work, we are doing work, and we will continue to do work on our plants,” said Susan Olazarria, spokesperson for Midwest Generation, the subsidiary owner of the Crawford plant. Olavarria noted that Midwest Generation already has a fleet of coal plants that meet federal mercury emissions standards that don’t go into effect for years.
The Environmental Protection Agency, under the Obama administration, has throttled the coal-powered electricity industry, proposing the first-ever limits on carbon dioxide from power plants and also seeking a 91 percent cut in mercury emissions by 2016. The rules, proposed in March, would apply to all new power plants but are so steep that coal-fired power plants could only meet the standard by capturing and storing some of their carbon dioxide emissions – a practice too costly to be used commercially today. Natural gas plants can meet the proposed standard without additional equipment.
Coal today provides about 45 percent of the nation’s electricity, a declining share that the EPA projects will slide below 30 percent by 2035.
The GOP’s Listening Problem
Friday, 16 November 2012 10:32 By Eugene Robinson, Washington Post Writers Group | Op-EdWashington, DC -
I know it’s early, but I have a sinking feeling the Republican Party is taking all the wrong lessons from last week’s election. Short-term, that’s a boon for Democrats. Long-term, it’s a problem for the country.
The GOP should be listening to reasonable voices such as that of Newt Gingrich. Yes, I used the words “reasonable” and “Gingrich” in the same sentence. He has occasional moments of lucidity, and one came on the “Today” show when he said Republicans “need to stop, take a deep breath and learn.”
“I was wrong last week, as was virtually every major Republican analyst,” Gingrich said. “And so, you have to stop and say to yourself, ‘If I was that far off, what do I need to learn to better understand America?’”
The voices the party should ignore include those claiming that House Republicans, by retaining their majority, won some sort of mandate to continue pushing a radical conservative agenda. And yes, Gingrich has made this argument as well. The fog lifts, the fog descends.
A mandate for the GOP? Don’t make me hurt myself laughing. The ideological hero and policy guru of the House Republican caucus, Paul Ryan, couldn’t even carry his hometown of Janesville, Wis. (And Mitt Romney, by the way, lost all of his various home states.)
Look, President Obama won 332 electoral votes to 206 for Romney. Much has been written about the demographic shifts that threaten the GOP’s future, but there has been less acknowledgement of an obvious fact about the present: Voters preferred Obama’s policies to Romney’s.
Obama campaigned on a pledge not to extend the Bush tax cuts for households making more than $250,000. He said umpteen times that he will insist on a “balanced approach” to taming the deficit, involving new revenues as well as spending cuts. At this point, if you woke the president from a sound sleep in the middle of the night and thrust a microphone in his face, the first words out of his mouth might be “balanced approach.”
Polls show this is what voters want. The election proved this is what voters want. But I fear some Republicans are convincing themselves that their “mandate” requires further obstructionism of the kind we’ve seen in the last two years. House Speaker John Boehner may want to make a deal, but his caucus may not let him.
Some conservatives even seem tempted to listen to the delusional post-game analysis coming from Romney and Ryan. This is the way to ridicule and ruin.
Ryan said the problem was that he and Romney lost by big margins in “urban” areas — which I take as a synonym for “places where minorities live.” But Republicans always lose in the inner cities. It’s the vote-heavy suburbs, such as Virginia’s Fairfax County, where Romney and Ryan failed to connect.
Romney, in a conference call with big-money supporters, offered a variation on his “47 percent” hypothesis, which really does seem to be the way this benighted man sees the world. In Romney’s view, Obama won only because he succeeded in bribing specific groups of voters with what amount to monetary “gifts.”
“With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift,” Romney said. “Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-age women.”
And as for Obamacare: “You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity — I mean, this is huge. … Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus.”
It doesn’t occur to Romney that Republicans might have countered this alleged gift-giving with a health care reform plan of their own, other than “go to the emergency room.” If the GOP is really this obtuse, Democrats may win the next few elections without having to break a sweat. And that’s the danger I hope we avoid.
Don’t get me wrong: I want progressive candidates to win those elections. But parties without meaningful competition become flabby, lazy, unresponsive. Democratic candidates shouldn’t win by default, and neither should progressive ideas. A smart, creative, reality-based conservative movement is ultimately good for the liberal cause — and good for the country.
Step out of the echo chamber, Republicans. There’s a big country out there, and it’s trying to tell you something. For the sake of party and nation, try listening.
Bernie Sanders in a Fiery Speech: Do Not Cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid
The progressive stalwart says we can’t balance the budget on the backs of the poor.
November 16, 2012 |
A coalition of lawmakers led by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders joined yesterday to demand there be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid made during deficit reduction deals.
Deficit reduction is a serious issue, but it must be done in a way that is fair. We must not balance the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children or the poor.
Sanders also explained why Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit, as it is independently funded by payroll tax.
Bill Moyers & Naomi Klein: How Climate Change Is an Historic Opportunity for Progressives
Klein explains to Moyers why we’ve got to “dream big.”
November 16, 2012 |
Naomi Klein, author of the international bestseller The Shock Doctrine, says the tragic destruction of Hurricane Sandy can also be the catalyst for the transformation of politics and our economy. She’s been in New York visiting the devastated areas — including those where “Occupy Sandy” volunteers are unfolding new models of relief — as part of her reporting for a new book and film on climate change and the future, and joins Bill to discuss hurricanes, climate change, and democracy. “Let’s rebuild by actually getting at the root causes. Let’s respond by aiming for an economy that responds to the crisis both [through] inequality and climate change,” Klein tells Bill. “You know, dream big.”
Full text of the transcript below the video:
BILL MOYERS: If you’ve been curious about why New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg endorsed Barack Obama for re-election, just take another look at the widespread havoc caused by the Frankenstorm benignly named Sandy. Having surveyed all this damage Bloomberg Business Week concluded: “It’s Global Warming, Stupid: If Hurricane Sandy doesn’t persuade Americans to get serious about climate change, nothing will.”
Well it was enough to prompt President Obama, at his press conference this week, to say more about global warming than he did all year.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I am a firm believer that climate change is real, that it is impacted by human behavior and carbon emissions. And as a consequence, I think we’ve got an obligation to future generations to do something about it.
BILL MOYERS: But he made it clear that actually doing something about it will take a back seat to the economy for now. He did return to New York on Thursday to review the recovery effort on Staten Island. Climate change and Hurricane Sandy brought Naomi Klein to town, too. You may know her as the author of “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” Readers of two influential magazines to put Naomi Klein high on the list of the 100 leading public thinkers in the world. She is now reporting for a new book and documentary on how climate change can spur political and economic transformation. She also has joined with the environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben in a campaign launched this week called “Do the Math.” More on that shortly…. First, congratulations on the baby.
NAOMI KLEIN: Thank you so much.
BILL MOYERS: How old now?
NAOMI KLEIN: He is five months today.
BILL MOYERS: First child?
NAOMI KLEIN: My first child, yeah.
BILL MOYERS: How does a child change the way you see the world?
NAOMI KLEIN: Well it lengthens your timeline definitely. I’m really immersed in climate science right now because of the project I’m working on is related to that. So you know there are always these projections into the future, you know, what’s going to happen in 2050? What’s going to happen in 2080? And I think when you’re solo, you think, “Okay, well, how old will I be then?” Well, you know, and now I’m thinking how old will he be then, right? And so, it’s not that– but I don’t like the idea that, “Okay, now I care about the future now that I have a child.” I think that everybody cares about the future. And I cared about it when I didn’t have a child, too.
BILL MOYERS: Well, I understand that but we’re so complacent about climate change. A new study shows that while the number of people who believe it’s happening has increased by, say, three percentage points over the last year, the number of people who don’t think it is human caused has dropped.
NAOMI KLEIN: It has dropped dramatically. I mean, the statistics on this are quite incredible. 2007, according to a Harris poll, 71 percent of Americans believed that climate change was real, that it was human caused. And by last year, that number went down to 44 percent. 71 percent to 44 percent, that is an unbelievable drop in belief. But then you look at the coverage that the issue’s received in the media. And it’s also dropped dramatically from that high point. 2007, you know, this was this moment where, you know, Hollywood was on board. “Vanity Fair” launched their annual green issue.
And by the way, there hasn’t been an annual green issue since 2008. Stars were showing up to the Academy Awards in hybrid cars. And there was a sense, you know, we all have to play our part, including the elites. And that has really been lost. And that’s why it’s got to come from the bottom up this time.
BILL MOYERS: But what do you think happened to diminish the enthusiasm for doing something about it, the attention from the press, the interest of the elite? What is it?
NAOMI KLEIN: I think we’re up against a very powerful lobby. And you know, this is the fossil fuel lobby. And they have every reason in the world to prevent this from being the most urgent issue on our agenda. And I think, you know, if we look at the history of the environmental movement, going back 25 years to when this issue really broke through, you know, when James Hansen testified before Congress, that–
BILL MOYERS: The NASA scientist, yeah.
NAOMI KLEIN: Exactly, our foremost climate scientist, and said, “I believe it is happening. And I believe it is human caused.” That was the moment where we could no longer deny that we knew, right? I mean, scientists actually knew what well beforehand. But that was the breakthrough moment. And that was 1988. And if we think about what else was happening in the late ’80s? Well, the Berlin Wall fell the next year. And the end of history was declared. And, you know, climate change in a sense, it hit us at the worst possible historical moment. Because it does require collective action, right? It does require that we, you, regulate corporations. That you get, you know, that you plan collectively as a society. And at the moment that it hit the mainstream, all of those ideas fell into disrepute, right? It was all supposed to be free market solutions. Governments were supposed to get out of the way of corporations. Planning was a dirty word, that was what communists did, right? Anything collective was a dirty word. Margaret Thatcher said, “There’s no such thing as society.”
Now if you believe that, you can’t do anything about climate change, because it is the essence of a collective problem. This is our collective atmosphere. We can only respond to this collectively. So the environmental movement responded to that by really personalizing the problem and saying, “Okay, you recycle. And you buy a hybrid car.” And treating this like this could or we’ll have business-friendly solutions like cap and trade and carbon offsetting. That doesn’t work. So that’s part of the problem. So you have this movement that every once in a while would rear up and people would get all excited and we’re really going to do something about this. And whether it was the Rio Summit or the Copenhagen Summit or that moment when Al Gore came out with Inconvenient Truth, but then it would just recede, because it didn’t have that collective social support that it needed.
And on top of that, you have, we’ve had this concerted campaign by the fossil fuel lobby to both buy off the environmental movement, to defame the environmental movement, to infiltrate the environmental movement, and to spread lies in the culture. And that’s what the climate denial movement has been doing so effectively.
BILL MOYERS: I read a piece just this week by the environmental writer Glenn Scherer. He took a look and finds that over the last two years, the lion’s share of the damage from extreme weather, floods, tornadoes, droughts, thunder storms, wind storms, heat waves, wildfires, has occurred in Republican-leaning red states. But those states have sent a whole new crop of climate change deniers to Congress.
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, someone’s going to have to explain Oklahoma to me, you know?
BILL MOYERS: My native state.
NAOMI KLEIN: My sister lives in Oklahoma. And, you know, it is so shocking that James Inhofe, the foremost climate denying senator is from the state that is so deeply climate effected. There was something, actually, I was– last year I covered the Heartland Conference, which is the annual confab for all the climate deniers. And James Inhofe was supposed to be the keynote speaker. And the first morning of the conference, there was lots of buzz. He’s the rock star among the climate deniers. Inhofe is coming, he’s opening up this conference, right? And the first morning the main conference organizer stands up at breakfast and lets loose the bad news that James Inhofe has called in sick and he can’t make it.
And it turns out that he had gone swimming in a lake filled with blue-green algae, which is actually a climate-related issue. When lakes get too warm, this blue-green algae spreads. And he had gone swimming. And he had gotten sick from the blue-green algae. So he actually arguably had a climate-related illness and couldn’t come to the climate change conference. But even though he was sick, he wrote a letter from his sickbed just telling them what a great job he was doing. So the powers of denial are amazingly strong, Bill. If you are deeply invested in this free-market ideology, you know, if you really believe with your heart and soul that everything public and anything the government does is evil and that, you know, our liberation will come from liberating corporations, then climate change fundamentally challenges your worldview, precisely because we have to regulate.
We have to plan. We can’t leave everything to the free market. In fact, climate change is, I would argue, the greatest single free-market failure. This is what happens when you don’t regulate corporations and you allow them to treat the atmosphere as an open sewer. So it isn’t just, “Okay, the fossil fuel companies want to protect their profits.” It’s that it’s that this science threatens a worldview. And when you dig deeper, when you drill deeper into those statistics about the drop in belief in climate change, what you see is that Democrats still believe in in climate change, in the 70th percentile. That whole drop of belief, drop off in belief has happened on the right side of the political spectrum. So the most reliable predictor of whether or not somebody believes that climate change is real is what their views are on a range of other political subjects. You know, what do you think about abortion? What is your view of taxes? And what you find is that people who have very strong conservative political beliefs cannot deal with this science, because it threatens everything else they believe.
BILL MOYERS: Do you really believe, are you convinced that there are no free-market solutions? There’s no way to let the market help us solve this crisis?
NAOMI KLEIN: No, absolutely the market can play a role. There are things that government can do to incentivize the free market to do a better job, yes. But is that a replacement for getting in the way, actively, of the fossil fuel industry and preventing them from destroying our chances of a future on a livable planet? It’s not a replacement.
We have to do both. Yes, we need these market incentives on the one hand to encourage renewable energy. But we also need a government that’s willing to say no. No, you can’t mine the Alberta tar sands and burn enough carbon that you will have game over for the climate as James Hansen has said.
BILL MOYERS: But I’m one of those who is the other end of the corporation. I mean, we had a crisis in New York the last two weeks. We couldn’t get gasoline for the indispensable vehicles that get us to work, get us to the supermarket, get us to our sick friends or neighbors. I mean, the point I’m trying to make is we are all the fossil fuel industry, are we not?
NAOMI KLEIN: You know, we often hear that. We often hear that we’re all equally responsible for climate change. And that it’s just the rules of supply and demand.
BILL MOYERS: I have two cars. I keep them filled with gasoline.
NAOMI KLEIN: But I think the question is, you know, if there was a fantastic public transit system that really made it easy for you to get where you wanted to go, would you drive less? So I don’t know about you, but I, you know, I certainly would.
BILL MOYERS: I mean, I use the subways all the time here.
NAOMI KLEIN: And if it was possible to recharge an electric vehicle, if it was as easy to do that as it is to fill up your car with gasoline, you know, if that electricity came from solar and wind, would you insist, “No, I want to fill my car with, you know, with dirty energy”? No, I don’t think you would. Because this is what I think we have expressed over and over again. We are willing to make changes. You know we recycle and we compost. We ride bicycles. I mean, there there’s actually been a tremendous amount of willingness and goodwill for people to change their behavior. But I think where people get demoralized is when they see, “Okay, I’m making these changes, but emissions are still going up, because the corporations aren’t changing how they do business.” So no, I don’t think we’re all equally guilty.
BILL MOYERS: President Obama managed to avoid the subject all through the campaign and he hasn’t exactly been leading the way.
NAOMI KLEIN: He has not been leading the way. And in fact, you know, he spent a lot of time on the campaign bragging about how much pipeline he’s laid down and this ridiculous notion of an all of the above energy strategy, as if you can, you know, develop solar and wind alongside more coal, you know, more oil, more natural gas, and it’s all going to work out in the end.
No, it doesn’t add up. And, you know, I think personally, I think the environmental movement has been a little too close to Obama. And, you know, we learned, for instance, recently, about a meeting that took place shortly after Obama was elected where the message that all these big green groups got was, “We don’t want to talk about climate change. We want to talk about green jobs and energy security.” And a lot of these big green groups played along. So I feel–
BILL MOYERS: You mean the big environmental groups?
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, big environmental groups went along with this messaging, talking about energy security, instead of talking about climate change, ’cause they were told that that wasn’t a winnable message. I just think it’s wrong. I think it’s bad strategy.
BILL MOYERS: He got reelected.
NAOMI KLEIN: He got, well, he got reelected, but you know what? I think he, I think Hurricane Sandy helped Obama get reelected.
BILL MOYERS: How so?
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, look at the Bloomberg endorsement that came at the last minute. I mean, Bloomberg endorsed Obama because of climate change. Because he believed that this was an issue that voters cared enough about that they would, that Independents would swing to Obama over climate change, and some of the polling absolutely supports this, that this was one of the reasons why people voted for Obama over Romney was that they were concerned about climate change and they felt that he was a better candidate on climate change.
The truth was, we didn’t have a good candidate. We had a terrible, terrible candidate on climate change, and we had a candidate on climate change who needs a lot of pressure. So I feel more optimistic than I did in 2008, because I think in 2008 the attitude of the environmental movement was, “Our guy just got in and we need to support him. And he’s going to give us the legislation that we, that we want. And we’re going to take his advice. And we’re going to be good little soldiers.”
And now maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I think that people learned the lesson of the past four years. And people now understand that what Obama needs or what we need, forget what Obama needs, is a real independent movement with climate change at its center and that’s going to put pressure on the entire political class and directly on the fossil fuel companies on this issue. And there’s no waiting around for Obama to do it for you.
BILL MOYERS: Why would you think that the next four years of a lame duck president would be more successful from your standpoint than the first four years, when he’s looking to reelection?
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, I think on the one hand, we’re going to see more direct action. But the other strategy is to go where the problem is. And the problem is the companies themselves. And we’re launching the “Do the Math” tour which is actually trying to kick off a divestment movement. I mean, we’re going after these companies where it hurts, which is their portfolios, which is their stock price.
BILL MOYERS: You’re asking people to disinvest, to take their money out of, universities in particular, right? This is what happened during the fight against apartheid in South Africa and ultimately proved successful.
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, and this is, we are modeling it on the anti-apartheid divestment movement. And the reason it’s called “Do the Math” is because of this new body of research that came out last year. A group in Britain called “The Carbon Tracker Initiative.” And this is, you know, a fairly conservative group that addresses itself to the financial community. This is not, you know, sort of activist research. This is a group that identified a market bubble and were concerned about this meant to investors. So it’s a pretty conservative take on it. And what the numbers that they crunched found is that if we are going to ward off truly catastrophic climate change, we need to keep the increase, the temperature increase, below 2 degrees centigrade.
NAOMI KLEIN: The problem with that is that they also measured how much the fossil fuel companies and countries who own their own national oil reserves have now currently in their reserves, which means they have already laid claim to this. They already own it. It’s already inflating their stock price, okay? So how much is that? It’s five times more. So that means that the whole business model for the fossil fuel industry is based on burning five times more carbon than is compatible with a livable planet. So what we’re saying is, “Your business model is at war with life on this planet. It’s at war with us. And we need to fight back.”
So we’re saying, “These are rogue companies. And we think in particular young people whose whole future lies ahead of them have to send a message to their universities, who, and, you know, almost every university has a huge endowment. And there isn’t an endowment out there that doesn’t have holdings in these fossil fuel companies. And so young people are saying to the people who charged with their education, charged with preparing them for the outside world, for their future jobs, “Explain to me how you can prepare me for a future that with your actions you’re demonstrating you don’t believe in. How can you prepare me for a future at the same time as you bet against my future with these fossil fuel holdings? You do the math and you tell me.” And I think there’s a tremendous moral clarity that comes from having that kind of a youth-led movement. So we’re really excited about it.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean rogue corporations? You’re talking about Chevron and Exxon-Mobil and BP and all of these huge capitalist or institutions.
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, rogue corporations, because their business model involves externalizing the price of their waste onto the rest of us. So their business model is based on not having to pay for what they think of as an externality, which is the carbon that’s spewed into the atmosphere that is warming the planet. And that price is enormous. We absolutely know that the future is going to be filled with many more such super storms and many more such costly, multibillion-dollar disasters. It’s already happening. Last year was– there were more billion-dollar disasters than any year previously. So climate change is costing us. And yet you see this squabbling at, you know, the state level, at the municipal level, over who is going to pay for this
NAOMI KLEIN: The public sector doesn’t have the money to pay for what these rogue corporations have left us with, the price tag of climate change. So we have to do two things. We have to make sure that it doesn’t get worse, that the price tag doesn’t get higher. And we need to get some of that money back, which means, you know, looking at issues like fossil fuel subsidies and, you know, to me, it’s so crazy. I mean, here we are post-Hurricane Sandy. Everyone is saying, “Well, maybe this is going to be our wakeup call.” And right now in New York City, the debate is over how much to increase fares in public transit. And they want to, the Metro Transit Authority wants to increase the price of riding the subway, you know, the price of riding the trains, quite a bit. And so how does this make sense? We’re supposedly having a wakeup call about climate change. And we’re making it harder for people to use public transit. And that’s because we don’t have the resources that we need.
BILL MOYERS: You’ve been out among the areas of devastation. Why?
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, for this book I’m currently writing about climate change and a documentary to go with it, so we were filming in the Rockaways, which is one of the hardest-hit areas and Staten Island and in Red Hook. And also in the relief hubs, where you see just a tremendous number of volunteers organized by, actually, organized by Occupy Wall Street. They call it Occupy Sandy.
BILL MOYERS: Really?
NAOMI KLEIN: Yes. And what I found is that people are—the generosity is tremendous, the humanity is tremendous. I saw a friend last night, and I asked her whether she’d been involved in the hurricane relief. And she said, “Yeah, I gave them my car. I hope I get it back. If you see it, tell me.” So people are tremendous.
BILL MOYERS: This means–
NAOMI KLEIN: So one of the things that you find out in a disaster is you really do need a public sector. It really important. And coming back to what we were talking about earlier, why is climate change so threatening to people on the conservative end of the political spectrum? One of the things it makes an argument for is the public sphere. You need public transit to prevent climate change. But you also need a public health care system to respond to it. It can’t just be ad hoc. It can’t just be charity and goodwill.
BILL MOYERS: When you use terms like “collective action,” “central planning,” you scare corporate executive and the American Enterprise Institute and The Heritage Foundation because they say you want to do away with capitalism.
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, first of all, I don’t use a phrase like “central planning.” I talk about planning, but I don’t think it should be central. And one of the things that one must admit when looking at climate change is that the only thing just as bad or maybe even worse for the climate than capitalism was communism. And when we look at the carbon emissions for the eastern bloc countries, they were actually, in some cases, worse than countries like Australia or Canada. So, let’s just call it a tie. So we need to look for other models. And I think there needs to be much more decentralization and a much deeper definition of democracy than we have right now.
BILL MOYERS: Decentralization of what, Naomi?
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, for instance, you know, if we think about renewable energy, well, one of the things that’s happened is that when you try to get wind farms set up, really big wind farms, there’s usually a lot of community resistance that’s happened in the United States. It’s happened in Britain. Where it hasn’t happened is Germany and Denmark. And the reason for that is that in those places you have movements that have demanded that the renewable energy be community controlled, not centrally planned, but community controlled. So that there’s a sense of ownership, not by some big, faceless state, but by the people who actually live in the community that is impacted.
BILL MOYERS: You’ve written that climate change has little to do with the state of the environment, but much to do with the state of capitalism and transforming the American economic system. And you see an opening with Sandy, right?
NAOMI KLEIN: I do see an opening, because, you know, whenever you have this kind of destruction, there has to be a reconstruction. And what I documented in “The Shock Doctrine” is that these right-wing think tanks, like the ones you named, like the American Enterprise Institute or the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, they historically have gotten very, very good at seizing these moments of opportunity to push through their wish list of policies.
And often their wish list of policies actually dig us deeper into crisis. If I can just– if you’ll bear with me, I’ll just give you one example. After Hurricane Katrina, there was a meeting at the Heritage Foundation, just two weeks after the storm hit. Parts of the city were still underwater. And there was a meeting, the “Wall Street Journal” reported on it. And I got the minutes from the meeting.
The heading was 31 free market solutions for Hurricane Katrina. And you go down the list and it was: and don’t reopen the public schools, replace the public schools with vouchers. And drill for oil in ANWAR, in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, more oil refineries. So what kind of free market solutions are these, right?
Here you have a crisis that was created by a collision between heavy weather (which may or may not have been linked to climate change, but certainly it’s what climate change looks like) colliding with weak infrastructure, because of years and years of neglect. And the free market solutions to this crisis are, “Let’s just get rid of the public infrastructure altogether and drill for more oil, which is the root cause of climate change.” So that’s their shock doctrine. And I think it’s time for a people’s shock.
BILL MOYERS: People’s shock?
NAOMI KLEIN: A people’s shock, which actually we’ve had before, as you know, where, you know, if you think about 1929 and the market shock, and the way in which the public responded. They wanted to get at the root of the problem. And they wanted to get away from speculative finance and that’s how we got some very good legislation passed in this country like Glass-Steagall, and much of the social safety net was born in that moment. Not by exploiting crisis to horde power for the few and to ram through policies that people don’t want, but to build popular movements and to really deepen democracy.
BILL MOYERS: Well, the main thesis of “Shock Doctrine,” which came out five years ago before the great crash was that disaster capitalism exploits crises in order to move greater wealth to the hands of the fewer and fewer people. You don’t expect those people to change their appetites do you or their ways do you, because we face a climate crisis?
NAOMI KLEIN: I don’t expect them to. I wrote “The Shock Doctrine” because I believe that we, I believed at the time that we didn’t understand this tactic. We didn’t understand that during times of crisis certain sectors of the business world and the political class take advantage of our disorientation in order to ram through these policies. And I believed, at the time, that if we understood it, you know, if we had a name for it, if we had a word, a language for it, then the next time they tried it, we would fight back. Because the whole tactic is about taking advantage of our disorientation in those moments of crisis. And the fact that we often can become childlike and look towards, you know, a supposed expert class and leaders to take care of us. And we become too trusting, frankly, during disasters.
BILL MOYERS: It used to be said that weather, now global warming, climate change, was the great equalizer. It affected rich and poor alike. You don’t think it does, do you?
NAOMI KLEIN: What I’m seeing. And I’ve seen this, you know–I’ve been tracking this now for about six years, more and more, there’s a privatization of response to disaster, where I think that wealthy people understand that, yes, we are going to see more and more storms. We live in a turbulent world. It’s going to get even more turbulent. And they’re planning. So you have, for instance private insurance companies now increasingly offer what they call a concierge service. The first company that was doing this was A.I.G. And in the midst of the California wildfires about six years ago, for the first time, you saw private firefighters showing up at people’s homes, spraying them in fire retardant, so that when the flames came, this house would stay. This mansion, usually, would be standing and the one next door might burn to the ground. So this is extraordinary. Because we would tend to think of, you know, firefighting. This is definitely, you know, a public good. This is definitely something that people get equally. But now we’re finding that even that there’s even a sort of two-tiering of protection from wildfires.
BILL MOYERS: Yeah, there was even a short-lived airline in Florida I read about that offered five-star evacuation service in events of hurricanes.
NAOMI KLEIN: After Hurricane Katrina a company in Florida saw a market opportunity. And they decided to offer a charter airline that would turn your hurricane into a luxury vacation. That was actually the slogan. They would let you know when a hurricane was headed for your area. They would pick you up in a limousine, drive you to the airport, and whisk you up. And they would make you five star hotel reservations at the destination of your choice. So, you know, why does a hurricane have to be bad news after all?
BILL MOYERS: And this kind of privatization is what you wrote about in “Shock Doctrine,” that privatization of resources, monopolization of resources by the rich, in times of crisis, further divide us as a society
NAOMI KLEIN: Absolutely. And, you know, one of the things about deregulated capitalism is that it is a crisis creation machine, you know? You take away all the rules and you are going to have serial crises. They may be economic crises, booms and busts. Or there will be ecological crises. You’re going to have both. You’re just going to have shock after shock after shock. And the more, the longer this goes on, the more shocks you’re going to have.
And the way we’re currently responding to it is that with each shock, we become more divided. And the more we understand that this is what the future looks like, the more those who can afford it protect themselves and buy their way out of having to depend on the public sector and therefore are less invested in these collective responses. And that’s why there has to be a whole other way of responding to this crisis.
BILL MOYERS: You wrote recently that climate change can be a historic moment to usher in the next great wave of progressive change.
NAOMI KLEIN: It can be and it must be. I mean, it’s our only chance. I believe it’s the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. And we’ve been kidding ourselves about what it’s going to take to get our emissions down to the extent that they need to go down. I mean, you talk about 80 percent lowering emissions. I mean, that is such a huge shift.
And I think that’s part of the way in which, and I don’t mean to beat up on the big environmental groups, because they do fantastic work. But I think that part of the reason why public opinion on this issue has been so shaky is that it doesn’t really add up to say to the public, you know, “This is a huge problem. It’s Armageddon.” You know, you have “Inconvenient Truth.” You scare the hell out of people. But then you say, “Well, the solution can be very minor. You can change your light bulb. And we’ll have this complicated piece of legislation called cap and trade that you don’t really understand, but that basically means that companies here can keep on polluting, but they’re going to trade their carbon emissions. And, you know, somebody else is going to plant trees on the other side of the planet and they’ll get credits.”
And people look at that going, “Okay, if this was a crisis, wouldn’t be we be responding more aggressively? So wouldn’t we be responding in a way that you have, we’ve responded in the past during war times, where there’s been, you know, that kind of a collective sense of shared responsibility?” Because I think when we really do feel that sense of urgency about an issue, and I believe we should feel it about climate change, we are willing to sacrifice. We have shown that in the past. But when you hold up a supposed emergency and actually don’t ask anything of people, anything major, they actually think you might be lying, that it might not really be an emergency after all. So if this is an emergency, we have to act like it. And yeah, it is a fundamental challenge. But the good news is, you know, we get to have a future for our kids.
Obama Calls Out GOP on Benghazi Smears, Pushes House on Middle-Class Tax Break
The president addressed climate change, immigration and job creation, and issued a warning to two top GOP senators.
November 14, 2012 |
Photo Credit: whitehouse.gov screen shot
In yet another demonstration of the changed tone he debuted in his election-night victory speech, President Barack Obama, in his first press conference since winning re-election, both challenged his opponents to act in the interest of the overwhelming majority of Americans, and castigated two high-profile senators for launching a media campaign against the possible nomination of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to head the State Department when Hillary Clinton leaves the post. He also dinged his former rival for the presidency, Mitt Romney, with faint praise.
Asked by ABC News’ Jonathan Karl to respond to calls from Senators John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-Ga., for a “Watergate-style investigation” into the events surrounding the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the president’s expression hardened as he addressed the media campaign the two have waged against Rice. Republicans have targeted Rice because of statements she made on the Sunday talk shows following the attack that it appeared to be a spontaneous action triggered by the same anti-Islam video that set off a mob in Egypt that same week.
After first praising Rice for her work as the U.S. representative to the U.N., Obama, speaking in the East Room of the White House (video here), issued a dare to the two senators.
“If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me — and I’m happy to have that discussion with them,” Obama replied. “But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous…when they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me.”
The implication was that the two were focusing on Rice because she’s a woman. (She’s also African American.)
Obama went on to say that he has not decided who should replace Clinton if, as expected, she resigns as secretary of state, but wouldn’t hesitate to nominate Rice if he thought she was the best person for the job.
The exchange is significant because Obama’s new, sterner tone reflects not only the broader latitude any president has in a second term, but also the post-election makeup of the Senate. The Republicans took a shellacking in the 2012 elections, with the Democrats making a net gain of two seats despite an electoral advantage for the Republicans, who had only 10 seats up for election, compared to the Democrats’ 23.
Asked whether he intended to enlist Romney’s help in shaping policy on the economy, the president noted that he admired some things about the former Massachusetts governor’s record. “I do think he did a terrific job running the Olympics,” Obama said. “And you know, that skill set of trying to figure out how do we make something work better applies to the federal government.” Romney once boasted of getting more federal help for the Salt Lake City Olympics he oversaw than any other Olympics held on U.S. soil. Much of that money was invested in roads and infrastructure, with labor provided by union workers.
Climate Change and Immigration
Fielding a question from Lori Montenegro of Telemundo, Obama named comprehensive immigration reform as a priority, as well as passage of the DREAM Act, which would allow a path to citizenship for people who were raised in the U.S. by parents who were undocumented immigrants.
“This has not historically been a partisan issue,” Obama said of comprehensive immigration reform. “We’ve had President Bush, John McCain and others who have supported comprehensive immigration reform in the past. So we need to seize the moment… And in fact, some conversations, I think, are already beginning to take place among senators and congressmen and my staff about what would this look like.” He said that he expected to see a bill introduced not long after his inauguration.
Obama also called for action on climate change, and in response to a question from New York Times reporter Mark Landler, said he was looking at ways to get started quickly. However, he said, he intended to undertake a national education campaign on the problem, noting “regional differences” in attitudes about the issue.
“There’s no doubt that for us to take on climate change in a serious way would involve making some tough political choices, and you know, understandably, I think the American people right now have been so focused and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth that, you know, if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody’s going to go for that. I won’t go for that.
“If, on the other hand,” he continued, “we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that’s something that the American people would support.”
In his opening remarks, Obama discussed his vision for economic recovery — “jobs and growth” — which he described as a mix of investments in infrastructure, clean energy and other technologies, as well as research and development overall, while “reducing our deficit in a balanced and responsible way.”
His lack of specificity may leave some progressives nervous, especially when it comes to all the noise Republicans continue to make about the nation’s broadest safety-net programs: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. But if the aim truly is to open a negotiation as Congress faces the consequences of its deal on last year’s debt-ceiling legislation — that they would hammer out a deficit-reduction deal or face a slew of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts — any vagueness could simply be strategy for enticing the Republicans to lay out a plan rather than simply opposing the president.
Recalling the debt-ceiling battle of 2011, when House Republicans opposed a revenue-raising measure that would have allowed the Bush-era tax cuts to expire on the wealthiest Americans — which led Obama to go along with the extension of tax cuts for the top 2 percent of income-earners — CNN’s Jessica Yellin asked Obama why the American people and Congress should believe “you won’t cave again.”
“But what I said at the time is what I meant, which is this was a one-time proposition,” Obama replied. “And you know, what I have told leaders privately as well as publicly is that we cannot afford to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. What we can do is make sure that middle-class taxes don’t go up.”
The president then reiterated the challenge he issued last Friday to House Republicans: to support a bill that has already passed the Senate to extend those tax cuts only to the first $250,000 earned by a family. “We can do that next week,” Obama said.
Obama knows it’s highly unlikely that House Speaker John Boehner would dare to recommend the president’s proposal to his members, especially in the current lame duck session. What the president is doing is revealing to the rest of America the obstructionist nature of the GOP Congress. He’s basically saying, if you guys hate any kind of tax increase on anybody, and Democrats hate the idea of a tax increase on people who are not rich, why don’t we agree not to raise taxes on people who aren’t rich?
In calling the question, he lifts the curtains on the dynamics between the parties, showing how Republicans oppose him simply on principle. And that creates a setting in which, if the Republicans refuse to budge and the massive spending cuts of the debt-ceiling deal consequently take place, the GOP is clearly the problem.
Asked by Fox News’ Ed Henry how he envisioned the mandate he won by virtue of his re-election, Obama said, “With respect to the issue of mandate, I’ve got one mandate. I’ve got a mandate to help middle-class families and families that are working hard to try to get into the middle class. That’s my mandate. That’s what the American people said. They said, work really hard to help us.
He spoke of the people he met on the campaign trail, including small business-owners who stayed open during the recession by not taking a salary, and young activists in “disadvantaged communities” working to improve their lot.
“When you talk to these folks,” Obama said, “you say to yourself, man, they deserve a better government than they’ve been getting.”
Fiscal Cliff Scare Talk Follows Shock Doctrine Script
The “Fiscal Cliff” is not a cliff and the language itself is intended to scare people.
November 13, 2012 |
Photo Credit: Borja Andreu/Shutterstock.com
Anyone who has read The Shock Doctrine understands exactly what this “Fiscal Cliff” scare is.
If you have already read The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein you have probably been rolling your eyes at all this “Fiscal Cliff” scare talk. “Here they go again” you’re thinking… If you haven’t read the book, you should. You really, really should.
The Phony “Fiscal Cliff” ScareAt the end of the year the Bush tax cuts expire. When this happens tax rates will rise modestly to where they were when Clinton was President. Also at the end of the year budget “sequestration” occurs. This means that the various cuts Congress approved to end the debt ceiling “crisis” will begin to phase in. (Remember, the debt-ceiling “crisis” was when Republicans refused to allow the country to honor its debts, holding the economy hostage, unless they got deep budget cuts in the things We the People do for each other.)
That’s it. That’s the “crisis.” All of the people who had been hysterical about the budget deficit “crisis” are now hysterical that taxes will go up and spending will go down. Go figure. Maybe — just maybe — I shouldn’t even say it — these “serious people” weren’t … serious … when they said they were worried about the deficit. You see, the hysteria now is because tax rates at the top will go up (cutting the deficit), and because a big part of those budget cuts (cutting the deficit) is military spending. Unfortunately the sequestration also cuts important things that help a lot of people and our economy. But these cuts do not take place all at once (a “cliff”), they will be phased in over time, and the Congress can act at any time to halt any of these cuts.
The “Fiscal Cliff” is not a cliff and the language itself is intended to scare people. The name itself is designed to create panic, evoking disaster imagery of people and the economy falling off a cliff. It is the latest manufactured “crisis” and we are all supposed to be terrified and demand immediate and extreme solutions.
Again, the very people screaming loudest about deficits are the people who passed tax cut after tax cut, and military spending increase after military spending increase, and started war after war. Then these same “serious people” terrify the public, telling them that budget deficits will lead to the destruction of the country — and soon. After a decade of screaming “9/11,” “9/11,” noun verb “9/11,” they screamed “deficit, deficit, deficit.” Now they scream, “fiscal cliff, fiscal cliff, fiscal cliff.”
Then after the public is suitably stirred up and terrified they offer “solutions” they say are necessary to cut the scary deficit (that they caused, for this purpose).
And the fixing all has to happen right now, in the “lame duck” Congress,before those new legislators We, the People elected can take office.
The “Grand Bargain”The “serious people” are pushing for a “grand bargain” that they say will “solve” the “deficit problem” “once and for all.”
Of course, nothing in any “grand bargain” can bind the Congress, and any part of this “grand bargain” can and will be undone by Congress at the earliest opportunity.
The outline of this “bargain” involves “tax reform” and “getting a handle on entitlements.” Tax “reform” does not involve raising tax rates on the wealthy, it “reforms” taxes by getting rid of various deductions andlowering tax rates. “Getting a handle on entitlements” means cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps and the rest of the things that We, the People do for each other — the things we are entitledto as citizens in a democracy.
(Note — Social Security by law can not and does not contribute to the deficit — they just threw it in because it is “in crisis.” The Social Security “crisis” is that under certain economic projections its funding might run a bit short many years down the road. Compare this possible future shortfall to the huge, vast, bloated, enormous military budget which, unlike Social Security, has no separate funding mechanism and runs 100% short every year. But that is not a “crisis.”)
So a fix for a budget problem caused by cutting taxes, massively increasing military spending and crashing the economy will be “solved” by … not fixing those things. Once again the income and wealth of the country will be shifted away from We, the People and upward to the same 1% who have been benefiting from everything in our economy since the election of Ronald Reagan and the disaster-capitalism formula: cut taxes, raise military spending, then use the resulting deficits to scare people into accepting extreme “solutions.” Rinse and repeat.
The Shock DoctrineThe Shock Doctrine is a book by Naomi Klein that describes a “disaster capitalism” strategy used by wealthy and powerful people to take advantage of crises — even causing crises — to herd people into accepting “solutions” to those crises that really just enrich the 1% at the expense of the rest of us.
In times of crisis (real or perceived) the public is in a state of shock, distracted and ready to grasp at straws to get out of the panic. This is the perfect time for “serious people” to come in and offer pre-planned “solutions.” These solutions usually involve privatizing public institutions and wealth, cutting public services, cutting taxes on the rich, seizing property, lowering wages and pensions … well, just look at Europe’s “austerity” and you get the picture.
This shock-doctrine disaster capitalism model has become standard practice. We see this happening over and over again: crises occur or are manufactured, the media whips people into a panic, and then the “solution” is introduced. The solution involves a “reform” that transfers wealth or institutions into a few private hands.
The Real Problem And Real SolutionWe have a jobs problem, not a deficit problem. The best way to deal with the deficit is to put Americans back to work. The real job creators are working people with money in their wallets. We can’t cut our way to growth. These are not just slogans, these are solutions to real problems.
We need to invest in our economy, restoring and modernizing our infrastructure, retrofitting our homes and buildings to be more energy efficient, upgrading our public schools and universities, and fighting to create the manufacturing ecosystems for the new industries of the future,. All of these investments create jobs while they are underway, and pay off by improving our economy for the long term.
Inoculate yourself by reading The Shock Doctrine. Inoculate your friends by telling them about the book, and how this game works, over and over again.
“Nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes.” — Republican Majority Leader Tom Delay, 2003
The Political Economy of Obama’s Re-Election
Wednesday, 14 November 2012 00:00 By Richard D Wolff,
(Photo: Ruth Fremson / The New York Times)The Right just suffered a defeat, the middle continues to weaken amid elusive economic recovery and the resurgent Left in Europe grows and strengthens. Many conditions for resurgence of OWS or its reincarnation are in place.
Capitalism’s crises, especially when deep and long-lasting like today’s, polarize its politics. Left and right are reinvigorated by improved opportunities to advance their respective economic agendas. The middle, long in power and deeply complicit with capitalism, gets blamed for the crisis and its social costs. The resurgent right uses the crisis to advance classic demands on behalf of business and the rich for yet more wealth, income, and freedom from government regulation and taxes. The resurgent left uses the crisis to argue that capitalism’s injustice, inefficiency and waste show the need for transition beyond it. The middle tries to hold on, hoping that capitalism’s intrinsic instability, its recurring cycles, will produce an upturn before the people abandon the middle. Such an upturn could “stabilize” politics, undermine the appeal of the Left and Right, and be credited to the middle’s policies. This struggle of right, left and middle provides an entry point into the political economy of Obama’s re-election.
Political polarization caused by capitalist crises is clearest today in the economy most damaged, so far. Greece’s two main parties of the middle alternated power for decades, but they suddenly dropped to a combined 35 percent of the vote in the 2012 elections. Left and right parties surged into sudden political prominence. They are winning mass support as people abandon the political middle. They resent the crisis and bailouts chiefly of banks, corporations, stock markets and the rich. They hate austerity policies that shift the costs of crisis and bailouts onto them by cutting public jobs, services and supports just when they are most needed.
A parallel drama unfolds in the US. The crisis since 2007 produced a resurgent right in the tea parties. They blamed the crisis on poor people abusing credit, immigrants abusing US law and institutions and governmental economic interventions. A few criticized Wall Street, but quieted when reminded about the Right’s chief financiers. Thus the resurgent right married social concerns (oppositions to abortion, birth control, gun control, church-state separation, etc.) to enthusiastic support for capitalism.
Tea party members expressed that marriage by reviving old tirades against “socialism.” They secured financing not only by carefully avoiding any critique of capitalism, but also by insisting that capitalists would resume prosperity and growth if freed of government regulations and taxes. The right sought to use the crisis to advance the classic capitalist agenda of maximizing wealth, income and freedoms for the corporate elites and the richest 1 percent to 10 percent of individuals.
The Left in the US lacks the Right’s financing opportunities. It also inherits the last 50 years of state persecutions and corporate attacks that destroyed once-strong political parties (populist, socialist and communist) and labor unions’ former militancy, size and power. A resurgent left slowly and arduously re-gathers people and resources to organize itself into a social force. Occupy Wall Street (OWS) thus emerged only years after the tea parties in the US, and after a resurgent left arose in Europe. OWS was far less organized and financed than either of them. Its nonetheless astonishing growth demonstrated the vulnerability of the middle (traditional Republican and Democratic establishments) and the powerful potential of a new left.
The middle, as servant/guarantor of capitalism, fundamentally opposes an anti-capitalist left. The middle likewise fears that the Right’s program could generate a popular backlash threatening capitalism. Occupying the middle in US politics (as traditional Republicans and Democrats always have), Obama’s job is to protect the economic status quo and manage crisis turbulence like a steady pilot. He works to undermine the appeal and/or organizations of both resurgent right and left while waiting/hoping for the capitalist cycle’s next upturn. Upturns happen when wages and costs fall far enough to offer profit opportunities that induce capitalists to invest again.
Obama offers “hope and wait” for an upturn while not significantly increasing taxes or regulations for corporations and the rich. That is what the political middle does. Obama’s slight increase in regulation (e.g. Dodd-Frank) and merely talking about raising the richest individuals’ tax rates further galvanized the Right and its financing. Obama had taken such small steps to counteract left accusations that the costs of crisis and bailouts were being shifted onto average people through mass unemployment, home foreclosures and austerity policies. Crises polarize by making the political middle increasingly difficult to hold.
Because of the tea parties’ size and financing, Obama tried to accommodate, moderate and compromise more than repress them. That cost him the enthusiasm of his supporters since 2008. Because of the ultimately greater threat of OWS’s mass appeal and because the OWS organization and financing were weak, Obama repressed more than accommodated it (coordinated mayors bulldozed encampments, police harassed, etc.). That produced a deeper enmity whose consequences will soon unfold.
The resurgent right captured control of a significant portion of the Republican Party. It forced the Romney campaign to waver between middle and right. Thereby the Right’s interpretation of the causes and cures for the economic crisis became the major challenge to the middle. While Romney wavered, Obama championed the middle. Meanwhile, a repressed OWS (and others such as the Green Party) could not make candidates contend with interpretations of the crisis as the product of a capitalism sacrificing the 99% for the benefit of the 1%.
The 2012 election thus tested what the resurgent right could achieve when functioning as a massively-funded, major component of Romney’s campaign. Obama’s victory shows that the Right lost to the middle; too many voters rejected its analyses and programs. Without a seriously contending left, the 2012 majority preferred the middle, despite having lost confidence in it continuously since 2008.
The crisis continues and may worsen over the next year or two. The economic decline that helped produce OWS has deepened (e.g. average real weekly wages fell 2.5 per cent from October 2010 to October 2012). The Right just suffered a defeat. The middle weakens further as economic recovery remains elusive. The resurgent left in Europe grows and strengthens. Many conditions for resurgence of OWS or its reincarnation are in place.
Hopes for Obama’s Second Term
Bill Moyers gets post-election insight from veteran journalist James Fallows.
November 12, 2012 |
BILL MOYERS: During the final weeks of the campaign I found some welcome diversion from all the political rhetoric and ads by reading the latest book from James Fallows, he’s one of our most informed and prolific journalists. The title is “China Airborne.” It’s about why more than two-thirds of the new airports under construction today are being built in China — and what this tells us of the Chinese determination to modernize and innovate, and how their ambition is going to impact America’s role in the world and our lives. It’s a book I hope official Washington is reading.
For 40 years as a national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, James Fallows was based in Washington — covering politics and culture — while also traveling and living in Asia, including several years in Japan and China.
Once the chief speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter, and editor of U.S. News and World Report, he’s received both the National Book Award. You can read his blog at TheAtlantic.com.
by Kirsten Gillibrand | November 09, 2012
This week saw a historic election for women, both on the ballot and at the ballot box. Women knew what was at stake and showed up at the polls in 2008-level numbers, making up 53% of the electorate. Not only were women decisive in re-electing President Obama to a second term, but they helped usher in a record number of women into the halls of Congress.
In 2012, a record number of women were off the sidelines and running for Congress. 184 women were on the ballot on Tuesday and it’s looking likely that we’ll see women’s representation in Congress rise from under 17% to almost 19% with a record 81 women elected to the House (and counting) and 20 elected to the U.S. Senate.
Included in that group are Mazie Hirono in Hawaii, who will be the first Asian-American woman — and the first Buddhist — Senator. We’ll also have Tammy Baldwin, the U.S. Senate’s first openly gay member. And it’s worth noting that Hirono in Hawaii, Baldwin in Wisconsin, Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota are all the first women to serve in the U.S. Senate from their respective states.
This wave of women was disproportionately Democratic, powered by an electorate galvanized behind President Obama (women supported him 55%-44%) and Democratic Senate candidates in support of the expansion of economic opportunity for women as well as access to health care and trust in women to make their own health decisions. Single women in particular turned out for Democrats, making up 23% of the electorate (up from 20% in 2008,) 67% of whom voted for President Obama.
When I started Off The Sidelines to encourage women to make their voices heard in their communities and participate in politics, whether by voting or running for office themselves, one of the goals was to increase the number of women in elected office. More women means more diverse views that represent a wider swath of the electorate. Women bring different experiences and perspectives to bear on decision making, so I truly believe that as more women are elected, the better the outcomes will be for everyone.
To that end, I was proud to be able to help raise more than $1 million for women candidates all over the country this cycle, including many who won including our 4 new female Democratic Senators elect, House candidates and Iraq War veterans Tulsi Gabbard in Hawaii and Tammy Duckworth in Illinois, as well as New York’s first female Asian-American member of the House, Grace Meng.
But I’m also so impressed and proud of the women who didn’t win this time. Running for office isn’t easy but I believe it’s essential that more women — win or lose — get off the sidelines and get in that ring. I was heartened that in three states, including in my own race, women were the nominees for Senate of both parties. The more women that run for office today, will inspire more of our young women and girls to do so in the future so we can one day get to 51% representation.
And maybe we’ll even see more states like New Hampshire, which, on Tuesday, became the first state to elect an all women Congressional delegation along with Governor-elect Maggie Hassan!.
This is what history looks like.
The Vatican Hates Gays
Its latest claim, that gay marriage causes polygamy, is as absurd as it is offensive. Where does it stop?
November 12, 2012 |
George Alencherry (left) of India receives his cardinal’s hat from Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican. Observers say Saturday’s consistory could increase the chances of the next pope being Italian.
In light of stunning, sweeping gains for marriage equality not just in last week’s United States elections but in France and Spain, it was inevitable that the men in long dresses and funny hats would get their dander up. But what’s most laughably ridiculous about the Vatican’s latest outburst against LGBT rights is that it just can’t let go of one of the oldest, dumbest arguments against them in the world.
In an editorial this weekend, Vatican chief spokesman Father Federico Lombardi — the guy who thinks the Church’s widespread sexual abuse crisis needs to be viewed within, I’m not even kidding, “the more general context of secularization” — affirmed that “monogamous marriage between a man and woman is an achievement of civilization.” And then he added, “If not, why not contemplate also freely chosen polygamy and, of course, not to discriminate, polyandry?” Why not? If two men can pledge their love in a legally recognized union, who’s to stop a woman from marrying a wedge of cheese, right? I mean, where does it end?
Father Lombardi isn’t the first person with a head full of faulty logic to trot out the “This slope! It’s just so darn slippery!” argument, of course. Last month, U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert declared, when pressed about same-sex unions on a campaign stop, “You know, we don’t have polygamy and bigamy and all of these things in, in the federal government. It’s the states that take care of that.” She lost the election, by the way.
And why limit the comparing same-sex unions to polygamy? Why not any crazy-ass combination at all? In September, Australian senator Cory Bernardi resigned after remarking, “The next step, quite frankly, is having three people or four people that love each other being able to enter into a permanent union endorsed by society – or any other type of relationship … There are even some creepy people out there … [who] say it is OK to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step? In the future, will we say: ‘These two creatures love each other, and maybe they should be able to be joined in a union’? I think that these things are the next step.” And last year, in a piece called “If same-sex marriage, why not polygamy?” in the American Conservative, Rod Dreher facetiously argued, ”Why, for example, should a brother and sister who have agreed to undergo sterilization as a condition of their marital union be denied the right to marry, if that is their wish?” That right there is the template for How These People Think. Civil rights? What’s next? Dogs and cats, living together! Mass hysteria!
To those who think a loving union between two people is like having a compound full of sister wives or whatever, let me humbly suggest you dial it down a bit. As Andrew Sullivan long ago pleaded, ”Spare us this bizarre point that no new line can be drawn in access to marriage — or else everything is up for grabs and, before we know where we are, men will be marrying their dogs. It is intellectually laughable.” In a Washington Post essay last month, Emory University religion and law scholar John Witte Jr. explained — using evidence and science! — that nature suggests polygamous arrangements produce “rivalry and discord in the home,” in which “children have to work hard to get attention, affection and resources which are dissipated.” He added, “Women and children of modern polygamy are often poorly educated, impoverished, and chronically dependent on welfare.” Polygamy produces scarcity and competition. Same-sex relationships don’t. Maybe that’s why there’s no huge polygamy pride parade every June.
Nobody expects the Catholic Church, with its long-standing history of fear and animosity toward gays, as well as its sneaky track record of blaming them for its own most despicable crimes, to go all rainbow flag in the imminent future. Opening hearts and changing old norms is going to take a whole lot of time and incredible effort. But it’s encouraging that here in the U.S., it was Catholics who helped push Barack Obama toward victory last week, defeating Mitt Romney by 50 to 47 percent. Catholics who believe in marriage equality – oh, and the reproductive rights of our fellow citizens.
So while here at home bishops may rail “against all forms of its weakening” matrimony, and back at the Vatican they may try to instill fear that equal rights will lead to an outbreak of harems, those of us here in the land called Reality aren’t sweating it. Frankly, if you’re looking for a reason for opposing marriage equality and the basic rights and dignity of your fellow humans, you might as well just stick with, “I don’t know, it just makes me feel icky, I guess.” Same-sex marriage doesn’t lead to polygamy. And, guess what? It doesn’t erode hetero unions either. And if you want to suggest otherwise, by all means, look up from your lazy reasoning and just try to prove it.
Now that President Obama has secured a second term, the official Washington speculation machine — and, no, that doesn’t actually exist (or does it?) — has turned to the heavy turnover expected in his Cabinet.
While only Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made clear she plans to leave early in the Obama second term, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has also clearly suggested he is on his way out, and Attorney General Eric Holder has been noncommittal of late about his future plans. CIA Director David Petraeus’ stunning resignation on Friday creates another high-profile opening (although not a Cabinet-level position) for the president to fill.
While those inner Cabinet jobs will draw the lion’s share of attention, it’s likely there will be more turnover in secondary Cabinet positions too, if for no other reason than the Obama Cabinet has seen historically low levels of turnover in the first term. One example: The Commerce Department has lacked a top official since the resignation of John Bryson following a car accident in June.
Below is a baseline handicapping of who might step into the major Cabinet jobs when they come open. Remember: The choice is ultimately up to Obama and no one else, which makes much of the talk about whom he might pick decidedly speculative. But, that’s never stopped us before! Away we go!
* State: Following in the footsteps of Clinton, one of the best-known and most well-respected politicians/diplomats in the world, is no easy task. (Clinton continues to play somewhat coy about what she’ll do after State but has left little doubt she’s leaving as the country’s top diplomat.) Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry clearly pines for the job, but to pick Kerry would mean a special election to replace him in the Bay State in early 2013 with soon-to-be former senator Scott Brown (R) lurking. Democrats’ surprising gains in the Senate may give Obama the wiggle room to pick Kerry — special election be damned! — but it’s clearly a consideration. Other names mentioned include U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.
* Treasury: Given the still-struggling state of the economy, Obama’s pick to succeed Geithner could well be the most important one he makes heading into a second term. White House chief of staff Jack Lew seems to have the inside track, but if he is chosen, Obama would have to find a new chief — his fourth during his time in office. Former Clinton Administration official — and two-time failed North Carolina Senate candidate — Erskine Bowles appears to be a rising choice thanks to his work on the eponymous debt commission.
* Justice: Holder’s unwillingness to commit to a future in the Cabinet coupled with the stress that comes with being among the most high profile — if not the highest profile — member of any Cabinet has led many to conclude he is on his way out. If that happens, Department of Homeland Security’s Janet Napolitano would badly want the job and has a resume — elected to two terms as governor of Arizona, former state attorney general — that would strongly recommend her. Of course, putting Napolitano at Justice would create another opening at DHS for the president to fill. Other names mentioned include Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. Aides to Patrick and Whitehouse both deny their bosses want the job but that, of course, is standard operating procedure in the Cabinet shuffle.
* Defense: Leon Panetta split time during Obama’s first term — serving as CIA Director and then Secretary of Defense. There’s widespread speculation that he wants to return to his native California sometime in the early(ish) part of 2013. If Panetta does head west, two names are regarded as the leading replacements: former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. If Flournoy is the pick, she would be the first female Secretary of Defense ever. (For more on Flournoy, read Emily Wax’s 2011 profile of her.)
Obama wins Florida: Florida was officially called for Obama on Saturday, officially handing him a 332-206 electoral vote win.
The call wasn’t surprising, given Obama held a small but firm lead in Florida ever since Election Day, but it does mean he swept basically every tossup state in the country on Tuesday and has a sizable Electoral College win to show for it.
Obama came just 33 electoral votes shy of his 2008 showing, when he also carried Indiana, North Carolina and one electoral vote in Nebraska.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) says Republicans lost because they didn’t explain what they’re for.
Bill Kristol becomes the latest conservative to call for Republicans to budge on taxes.
Top Obama adviser David Axelrod says he likes what he’s hearing from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) says she got no advance notice of Petraeus’s resignation and admission of an affair.
Sources tell ABC that Petraeus has told people close to him that his affair with Paula Broadwell started after he left the army in August 2011.
Former congressman Jay Inslee (D) was declared the winner of the Washington state governor’s race on Saturday.
Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) trails by more than 2,000 votes in the final count from Florida’s 18th district, a margin that is outside the bounds for a recount. But his campaign is still exploring legal avenues.
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s (D-Ill.) plea deal could include jail time and his resignation.
“FBI probe of Petraeus triggered by e-mail threats from biographer, officials say” — Sari Horwitz and Greg Miller, Washington Post
“The Sins Of General David Petraeus” — Michael Hastings, BuzzFeed
“Christian Right Failed to Sway Voters on Issues” — Laurie Goodstein, New York Times
Watch Bill Maher on Election 2012: ‘White People Vote For White People Like It’s Going Out Of Style’
The comedian takes on the GOP’s demographics problem.
November 12, 2012 |
Everyone’s talking about the Republican Party’s problem with every voter who isn’t an old, white male, and Bill Maher has a great take on the issue on HBO.
“White people vote for white people like it’s going out of style,” said Maher, during his “New Rules” segment. “And like most things white people do, it’s going out of style.”
Watch the full clip below:
MSNBC Making Moves Against Fox, While Right-Wingers Revolt Against Conservative Media
The downfall of Fox may be the story of the election.
November 12, 2012 |
Sean Hannity, one of the Fox News channel’s more strident conservative voices.
The big media story of the week continues to be the seeming implosion of the Fox News channel after its on-air talent’s refusal to acknowledge Obama’s lead, then victory, in the polls. The network’s mishaps have made it a laughingstock, while rival network MSNBC just keeps growing.
During Mr. Obama’s first term, MSNBC underwent a metamorphosis from a CNN also-ran to the anti-Fox, and handily beat CNN in the ratings along the way. Now that it is known, at least to those who cannot get enough politics, as the nation’s liberal television network, the challenge in the next four years will be to capitalize on that identity.
MSNBC, a unit of NBCUniversal, has a long way to go to overtake the Fox News Channel, a unit of News Corporation: on most nights this year, Fox had two million more viewers than MSNBC.
But the two channels, which skew toward an audience that is 55 or older, are on average separated by fewer than 300,000 viewers in the 25- to 54-year-old demographic that advertisers desire. On three nights in a row after the election last week, MSNBC — whose hosts reveled in Mr. Obama’s victory — had more viewers than Fox in that demographic.
“We’re closer to Fox than we’ve ever been,” said Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, who has been trying to overtake Fox for years. “All of this is great for 2013, 2014 to keep building.”
Just as interesting is the critique of Fox from within the conservative movement, particularly younger conservatives like Ross Douthat, who have had enough with the “bubble.”
Today, a story in POLITICO features Douthat and a bunch of young conservatives scolding their elders for buying into the myths Fox perpetuates, and not finding other ways to reach the public:
And this, say next-generation Republicans, is where cocoonism has been detrimental to the cause.
The tension between the profit- and ratings-driven right — call them entertainment-based conservatives — and conservatives focused on ideas (the thinkers) and winning (the operatives) has never been more evident.
The latter group worries that too many on the right are credulous about the former.
“Dick Morris is a joke to every smart conservative in Washington and most every smart conservative under the age of 40 in America,” said Douthat. “The problem is that most of the people watching Dick Morris don’t know that.”
The egghead-hack coalition believes that the entertainment-based conservatives create an atmosphere that enables flawed down-ballot candidates, creates a cartoonish presidential primary and blocks needed policy reforms, and generally leave an odor on the party that turns off swing voters.
It even fosters an atmosphere in which there’s a disconnect with the ostensible party leaders.
Even big-ticket donors have bought into this disconnect, surrounding themselves with Fox news, talk radio and their “apocalyptic” vision, along with the party rank and file.
In the Washington Post, there’s a profile of Beth Cox, a member of the GOP faithful who personally bought into the bubble–and is devastated by what she sees.
She turned on her computer and pulled up an electoral map that she had filled out a few days before the election. She had predicted the outcome twice — once coming up with a narrow Romney win and once more with a blowout.
Virginia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin: all red.
Everything in her version of America had confirmed her predictions: the confident anchors on Fox News; the Republican pollsters so sure of their data; the two-hour line outside her voting precinct, where Romney supporters hugged and honked for her handmade signs during a celebration that lasted until the results started coming in after sundown. Romney’s thorough defeat had come more as a shock than as a disappointment, and now Cox stared at the actual results on her computer and tried to imagine what the majority of her country believed.
Cox recognized that much of the blame lay at her own party’s feet:
She blamed some of the divisiveness on Republicans. The party had gotten “way too white,” she said, and she hoped it would never again run a presidential ticket without including a woman or a minority. The tea party was an extremist movement that needed to be “neutralized,” she said, and Romney’s campaign had suffered irreparable damage when high-profile Republicans spoke about “crazy immigration talk and legitimate rape.”
America: Love It Or Be Left Behind
Obama can only do so much: Angry older whites have to decide if they want to secede from our multiracial future.
November 11, 2012 |
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/miker
The most delusional and divisive claim about President Obama’s election victory came, not surprisingly, from the disgraced Karl Rove, who told Fox News on Thursday that Obama “succeeded by suppressing the vote.” Make no mistake: Rove was talking about the white vote. Earlier that day Real Clear Politics writer Sean Trende had written a piece wondering about “disappearing” white voters, claiming white voter turnout had dropped significantly, by roughly 7 million votes, as whites rejected both parties. Since blacks, Latinos and Asians increased their turnout, as did women and young people, Rove couldn’t be talking about anybody but whites, and particularly older white men.
A quick reality check: Republican pollster Bill McInturff immediately debunked claims of disappearing voters of any color, reminding analysts that as always two days after a presidential election, many votes remained to be counted. The Thursday after the 2008 contest only 58% of the electorate had “turned out;” turnout climbed a bit above 62 percent when all the votes were tallied. In the end, turnout may be down this year, and it may well be mainly among whites, perhaps because of Hurricane Sandy. But to call that voter “suppression,” in the face of genuine voter suppression efforts by Rove’s own party – shortening early voting periods, attempts at repressive voter ID laws – is just another example of the shameless capacity to degrade, project and flat-out lie that is Turd Blossom’s singular political brand – a brand that has, God willing, been terminally tarnished.
But Rove’s wail about “suppressed” white voters reflects his party’s broader outrage that the supposed “permanent Republican majority” he tried to build on the back of Kevin Phillips’s “emerging Republican majority” of the late 60s – the one that used racial appeals to make whites, especially the white working class, its cornerstone – no longer exists. Whites only made up 72 percent of the 2012 vote, down from 77 percent in 2010, and even Romney’s 59 percent of white voters, up from John McCain’s 57 percent, couldn’t make him president anymore.
Republicans will not go gently into that bad night, and thus we are hearing a range of reality-denying reactions, some of them flat out crazy. We’ve seen Rove’s deranged explanation for his party’s shellacking by what John Judis and Ruy Teixiera identified a decade ago as “the emerging Democratic majority:” Obama suppressed the white vote, Rove insists, primarily by running a negative campaign against Romney (John Kerry would like a word with you, Boss Rove). Let’s walk through a few others:
Obama’s emerging Democratic majority consists of slackers and moochers who just want things.
“People feel that they are entitled to things and which candidate, between the two, is going to give them things?” Bill O’Reilly said during his Tuesday self-pity party. “The white establishment is now the minority….The demographics are changing. It’s not a traditional America anymore.” A majority of Americans, O’Reilly opined, “want stuff. And who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it, and he ran on it.”
The self-satirizing Ann Coulter declared “It’s over. There’s no hope if takers outnumber makers,” reprising the failed VP nominee Paul Ryan’s Ayn Randian depiction of the American divide. Rush Limbaugh declared, “I went to bed last night thinking we’re outnumbered. I went to bed last night thinking we’ve lost the country. I don’t know how else you look at this…Conservatism, in my humble opinion, did not lose last night. It’s just very difficult to beat Santa Claus,” continuing the theme of the Obama coalition going to the polls for handouts.
That “the white establishment” built the modern social welfare state (albeit mostly for white people) is lost on O’Reilly, Coulter, Limbaugh and their ilk. That whites make up the vast majority of “takers” is likewise lost on them. But not on uber conservatives like Charles Murray, or the National Review’s dyspeptic hater Mark Steyn. “The fact is a lot of pasty, Caucasian, non-immigrant Americans have also shifted,’ and are very comfortable with Big Government, entitlements, micro-regulation, Obamacare and all the rest — and not much concerned with how or if it’s paid for,” Steyn wrote Wednesday.
No doubt a lot of the “pasty” folks Steyn talked about voted for Mitt Romney, since the red states are the new welfare queens, sucking more from Big Government than they provide in taxes. Don’t expect white GOP voters to process that contradiction in the early stages of grief, however.
The emerging Democratic majority can’t provide Obama a mandate without more white voters.
It’s not only GOP hacks who are saying stupid things about the white vote. Two days before the election Politico’s Mike Allen and Jim VandeHai declared that Obama’s problem with whites might make it hard for him to be the president of all America. “It’s possible,” the pair intoned darkly, that Obama “will get a lower percentage of white voters than George W. Bush got of Hispanic voters in 2000″ (he didn’t). Then they lowered the boom:
“A broad mandate this is not.”
Really? Let’s review. Obama won 93 percent of African Americans, 71 percent of Latinos and an astonishing 75 percent of Asian Americans, a group that used to split between parties. He won a majority of Catholics, Jews and Muslims as well as the religiously non-affiliated (he only lost white Protestants.) He won women and young people. The only group he lost was white people, and particularly older white people and extremely particularly older white men.
Does Obama have really have a problem attracting broad support? Or would the problem belong to the stubborn minority bloc that won’t vote for him, no matter what he does? Do the math, lads.
Unfortunately, it’s not just GOP hacks or their admirers at Politico who are making a version of this argument. In The New Republic before the election, the perennial booster of the white working class bloc William Galston complained that Obama had rejected Bill Clinton’s transformational, transracial appeal for a transactional, racial/interest group pitch:
For young people, lower rates on student loans. For Latinos, announce a non-legislative version of the Dream Act. For gays and lesbians, endorse same-sex marriage. For single women, pick a fight over contraception with the Catholic Church and run a national convention in which the centrality of abortion rights startled even seasoned observers. Bill Clinton’s mantra—safe, legal, and rare—is a distant memory. In its place: “Julia.”
As someone who tends to agree that Democrats shouldn’t write off the white working class entirely, I’m flummoxed by Galston’s pitch. For a guy who seems to think bread and butter issues should be more prominent than cultural ones, he apparently can’t see bread and butter issues if they’re targeted to certain newer members of the Democratic coalition. Lower interest on student loans, the DREAM act, no-cost contraception and health screenings, and even to an extent gay marriage are also economic issues. Galston might also note that the president did best with his cherished white working class voters in Rust Belt states where he delivered for them with the auto bailout and tougher moves on China. In Ohio, one of the states that helped to give Obama his second term, the president only lost white men by 10 percentage points, and he pulled even among white men with incomes under $75,000. (He won flat out won working class white women in Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa).
When did nominal Democrats decide politics shouldn’t be about delivering “stuff,” anyway? What a patrician view of self-government. We pull together to do things we can’t do alone. For most of us, at some times in our lives, that involves getting “stuff” – help with college, or health care, or becoming citizens – that we can’t do alone. Or maybe it’s not “stuff” when it goes to white men?
Even more disappointing Tom Edsall, who normally is smart about class politics, took to the New York Times to lament Obama’s committed appeal to women:
Obama’s decision to devote huge blocks of time and resources to winning the votes of women may backfire, accentuating Democratic liabilities as the party of race and gender preferences and accelerating defections among men. …. Forget race and gender for a moment: focusing on any particular demographic group is likely to revive the image of the Democratic Party as a collection of “special interests” seeking advantage, rather than a coalition supportive of a broader policy agenda. There is some evidence that the strategy of courting women may have done more to alienate males than to win over females. Obama’s tactics vis-à-vis women also risk the loss of some support among economically liberal but socially conservative Catholic voters who find the focus on contraception and abortion – under the rubric of women’s rights – problematic.
Again, Obama won Catholics, although I can’t find information that breaks out white Catholics, which is all certain centrists care about. And again, I care about Catholics as well as the white working class; those are my people. The very smart Ruy Teixiera recently called me an “old-fashioned New Deal liberal” in the New Republic, and I’m fine with that. I do believe in the centrality of economic issues to building a diverse governing coalition. But it saddens me that Edsall and Galston don’t see the extent to which women’s issues – from the contraception mandate to choice to of course pay equity – are also economic issues, and economic issues that help their families, including their husbands if they have them.
Democratic Party centrists and white working class boosters are going to have to catch up with demographic and economic reality if they don’t want to be left behind with Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh. I say that respectfully. But with some concern.
Analysts concerned about the depressed, disappearing or increasingly Republican white vote – and I’m sometimes one of them – aren’t necessarily wrong. We should always care about those who are left out. But looking at the election results, I’ve reached some limit in my capacity to offer advice about how to win over the white voters who continue to reject Obama. The uber-rich and the Galtian weirdos don’t worry me; there aren’t many of them. I care more about the economically marginal who are for some reason anxious about racial change, but I’m not sure much can be done for them.
When I reviewed Pat Buchanan’s last book a year ago, “Suicide of a Superpower,” I marveled that Nixon’s best strategist of the white working class, who went on to work with Ronald Reagan and do some of the same things for him, was reaching the end of his life feeling like a failure, because despite his best efforts to advance the interests of white people, they’d be a minority in the not too distant future. I felt bad for Buchanan, a little, I really did. I can’t really imagine deciding that the America I love is dying if its traditions and its heartbeat pulse within people who maybe look different from me. But that’s how Buchanan feels.
I think whites like Buchanan are a small minority, but there are more of them than I thought. The Next America Project does a lot of great polling on racial issues and found that whites who fear racial change favored Romney 2-1; whites who welcomed it went for Obama 3-2. And for those who think the GOP can solve its demographic issues with a little immigration reform: a later poll found that whites who fear immigrants went for Romney 9-1. (So good luck making a little nip and tuck to your immigration policies, GOP.)
These are the people who back in the 1960s became the self-appointed guardians of American identity, the definers of American exceptionalism, whose tribalism was captured by the old snarl: “America: Love it or Leave It,” one of the signs carried by the Hard Hat Rioters of 1970 as they beat up anti-war activists (which I write about it my book.) But maybe it’s time to say to them: “America: Love it or be left behind.”
I love this country, but would never say “love it or leave it.” It’s not in the liberal nature to issue ultimatums like that, or to define American identity unilaterally. But I think the people who are so angry about the Obama years, who want to take their country back (as if it belonged only to them) do have to face reality: if they don’t love the America that’s being born, that’s reflected in the Obama coalition, they’re going to be left behind. They don’t have to get out, but they’ll be increasingly unhappy living here. That’s their choice. I’ll go on looking for ways to reach out to people who seem genuinely not to understand that there’s a place for them here, to help shepherd them to our common future. The hundreds of Ole Miss kids who burned Obama-Biden signs and spewed racial epithets election night? They’re on their own.
I was moved by Jonathan Capehart’s column Friday, where he featured an African-American reader trying to fight the media’s lazy generalizations about “white voters” as a bloc united against the president.
“I really worry about not recognizing the ‘white guys’ who did vote for Obama and made a difference in the election,” the self-described middle-age, upper-income, highly curious and vocal African American woman from Colorado wrote. “I know tons of them of all ages, income levels, political persuasions and sexual orientations. Just think it is short-sighted if we don’t acknowledge [them], starting with the campaign team.”
I agree with her; there are millions of those guys. There are millions more, however, who disagree. They’re exiling themselves from their own country. How sad for them.
Shameless Disaster Capitalism: How Companies Are Already Planning to Get Rich Off Superstorm Sandy
Yes that’s right: this catastrophe very likely created by climate change—a crisis born of the colossal regulatory failure to prevent corporations from treating the atmosphere as their open sewer—is just one more opportunity for more deregulation.
November 12, 2012 |
Photo Credit: AFP
Less than three days after Sandy made landfall on the East Coast of the United States, Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute blamed New Yorkers’ resistance to big-box stores for the misery they were about to endure. Writing on Forbes.com, he explained that the city’s refusal to embrace Walmart will likely make the recovery much harder: “Mom-and-pop stores simply can’t do what big stores can in these circumstances,” he wrote.
And the preemptive scapegoating didn’t stop there. He also warned that if the pace of reconstruction turned out to be sluggish (as it so often is) then “pro-union rules such as the Davis-Bacon Act” would be to blame, a reference to the statute that requires workers on public-works projects to be paid not the minimum wage, but the prevailing wage in the region.
The same day, Frank Rapoport, a lawyer representing several billion-dollar construction and real estate contractors, jumped in to suggest that many of those public works projects shouldn’t be public at all. Instead, cash-strapped governments should turn to “public private partnerships,” known as “P3s.” That means roads, bridges and tunnels being rebuilt by private companies, which, for instance, could install tolls and keep the profits.
Up until now, the only thing stopping them has been the law—specifically the absence of laws in New York State and New Jersey that enable these sorts of deals. But Rapoport is convinced that the combination of broke governments and needy people will provide just the catalyst needed to break the deadlock. “There were some bridges that were washed out in New Jersey that need structural replacement, and it’s going to be very expensive,” he told The Nation. “And so the government may well not have the money to build it the right way. And that’s when you turn to a P3.”
Ray Lehmann, co-founder of the R Street Institute, a mouthpiece for the insurance lobby (formerly a division of the climate-denying Heartland Institute), had another public prize in his sights. In a Wall Street Journal article about Sandy, he was quoted arguing for the eventual “full privatization” of the National Flood Insurance Program, the federal initiative that provides affordable protection from some natural disasters—and which private insurers see as unfair competition.
But the prize for shameless disaster capitalism surely goes to right-wing economist Russell S. Sobel, writing in a New York Times online forum. Sobel suggested that, in hard-hit areas, FEMA should create “free trade zones—in which all normal regulations, licensing and taxes [are] suspended.” This corporate free-for-all would, apparently, “better provide the goods and services victims need.”
Yes that’s right: this catastrophe very likely created by climate change—a crisis born of the colossal regulatory failure to prevent corporations from treating the atmosphere as their open sewer—is just one more opportunity for more deregulation. And the fact that this storm has demonstrated that poor and working-class people are far more vulnerable to the climate crisis shows that this is clearly the right moment to strip those people of what few labor protections they have left, as well as to privatize the meager public services available to them. Most of all, when faced with an extraordinarily costly crisis born of corporate greed, hand out tax holidays to corporations.
Is there anyone who can still feign surprise at this stuff? The flurry of attempts to use Sandy’s destructive power as a cash grab is just the latest chapter in the very long story I have called The Shock Doctrine. And it is but the tiniest glimpse into the ways large corporations are seeking to reap enormous profits from climate chaos.
One example: between 2008 and 2010, at least 261 patents were filed or issued related to “climate-ready” crops—seeds supposedly able to withstand extreme conditions like droughts and floods; of these patents close to 80 percent were controlled by just six agribusiness giants, including Monsanto and Syngenta. With history as our teacher, we know that small farmers will go into debt trying to buy these new miracle seeds, and that many will lose their land.
When these displaced farmers move to cities seeking work, they will find other peasants, indigenous people and artisanal fishing people who lost their lands for similar reasons. Some will have been displaced by foreign agribusiness companies looking to grow export crops for wealthy nations worried about their own food security in a climate stressed future. Some will have moved because a new breed of carbon entrepreneur was determined to plant a tree farm on what used to be a community-managed forest, in order to collect lucrative credits.
In November 2010, The Economist ran a climate change cover story that serves as a useful (if harrowing) blueprint for how climate change could serve as the pretext for the last great land grab, a final colonial clearing of the forests, farms and coastlines by a handful of multinationals. The editors explain that droughts and heat stress are such a threat to farmers that only big players can survive the turmoil, and that “abandoning the farm may be the way many farmers choose to adapt.” They had the same message for fisher folk inconveniently occupying valuable ocean-front lands: wouldn’t it be so much safer, given rising seas and all, if they joined their fellow farmers in the urban slums? “Protecting a single port city from floods is easier than protecting a similar population spread out along a coastline of fishing villages.”
But, you might wonder, isn’t there a joblessness crisis in most of these cities? Nothing a little “reform of labor markets” and free trade can’t fix. Besides, cities, they explain, have “social strategies, formal or informal.” I’m pretty sure that means that people whose “social strategies” used to involve growing and catching their own food can now cling to life by selling broken pens at intersections, or perhaps by dealing drugs. What the informal social strategy should be when super storm winds howl through those precarious slums remains unspoken.
For a long time, climate change was treated by environmentalists as a great equalizer, the one issue that affected everyone, rich or poor. They failed to account for the myriad ways by which the superrich would protect themselves from the less savory effects of the economic model that made them so wealthy. In the past six years, we have seen the emergence of private firefighters in the United States, hired by insurance companies to offer a “concierge” service to their wealthier clients, as well as the short-lived “HelpJet”—a charter airline in Florida that offered five-star evacuation services from hurricane zones. “No standing in lines, no hassle with crowds, just a first class experience that turns a problem into a vacation.” And, post-Sandy, upscale real estate agents are predicting that back-up power generators will be the new status symbol with the penthouse and mansion set.
It seems that for some, climate change is imagined less as a clear and present danger than as a kind of spa vacation; nothing that the right combination of bespoke services and well-curated accessories can’t overcome. That, at least, was the impression left by the Barneys New York pre-Sandy sale—which offered deals on Sencha green tea, backgammon sets and $500 throw blankets so its high-end customers could “settle in with style”. Let the rest of the world eat “social strategies, formal or informal.”
So we know how the shock doctors are readying to exploit the climate crisis, and we know from the past how that would turn out. But here is the real question: Could this crisis present a different kind of opportunity, one that disperses power into the hands of the many rather than consolidating it the hands of the few; one that radically expands the commons, rather than auctions it off in pieces? In short, could Sandy be the beginning of a People’s Shock?
I think it can. As I outlined last year in these pages, there are changes we can make that actually have a chance of getting our emissions down to the level science demands. These include relocalizing our economies (so we are going to need those farmers where they are); vastly expanding and reimagining the public sphere to not just hold back the next storm but to prevent even worse disruptions in the future; regulating the hell out of corporations and reducing their poisonous political power; and reinventing economics so it no longer defines success as the endless expansion of consumption.
These are approaches to the crisis would help rebuild the real economy at a time when most of us have had it with speculative bubbles. They would create lasting jobs at a time when they are urgently needed. And they would strengthen our ties to one another and to our communities— goals that, while abstract, can nonetheless save lives in a crisis.
Just as the Great Depression and the Second World War launched populist movements that claimed as their proud legacies social safety nets across the industrialized world, so climate change can be a historic moment to usher in the next great wave of progressive change. Moreover, none of the anti-democratic trickery I described in The Shock Doctrine is necessary to advance this agenda. Far from seizing on the climate crisis to push through unpopular policies, our task is to seize upon it to demand a truly populist agenda.
The reconstruction from Sandy is a great place to start road testing these ideas. Unlike the disaster capitalists who use crisis to end-run democracy, a People’s Recovery (as many from the Occupy movement are already demanding) would call for new democratic processes, including neighborhood assemblies, to decide how hard-hit communities should be rebuilt. The overriding principle must be addressing the twin crises of inequality and climate change at the same time. For starters, that means reconstruction that doesn’t just create jobs but jobs that pay a living wage. It means not just more public transit, but energy efficient affordable housing along those transit lines. It also means not just more renewable power but democratic community control over those projects.
But at the same time as we ramp up alternatives, we need to step up the fight against the forces actively making the climate crisis worse. Regardless of who wins the election, that means standing firm against the continued expansion of the fossil fuel sector into new and high-risk territories, whether through tar sands, fracking, coal exports to China or Arctic drilling. It also means recognizing the limits of political pressure and going after the fossil fuel companies directly, as we are doing at 350.org with our “Do The Math” tour. These companies have shown that they are willing to burn five times as much carbon as the most conservative estimates say is compatible with a livable planet. We’ve done the math, and we simply can’t let them.
We find ourselves in a race against time: either this crisis will become an opportunity for an evolutionary leap, a holistic readjustment of our relationship with the natural world. Or it will become an opportunity for the biggest disaster capitalism free-for-all in human history, leaving the world even more brutally cleaved between winners and losers.
When I wrote The Shock Doctrine, I was documenting crimes of the past. The good news is that this is a crime in progress; it is still within our power to stop it. Let’s make sure that this time, the good guys win.
Iran, Climate Change and a Bipartisan Agenda
Saturday, 10 November 2012 11:46 By Ravi Katari, New Left Project| News Analysis
Election Day finally arrives in America and whichever candidate emerges victorious will inherit a presidency that is sure to be a decisive one given what is at stake. To the careful observer of US political trajectory, two issues stand out as the most consequential in regards to the security and wellbeing of not only the domestic population, but the rest of the world as well. These are anthropogenic global warming and uranium enrichment in Iran. The first issue is significant due to its uncontroversial implications for human catastrophe if left unchecked. The second, because of the financial and social burdens of possible military escalation which, given the players involved, could trigger nuclear disaster. The ambiguous manner in which these subjects are treated in the public arena reveals much about the intentions behind current policy.
Challenging conventional wisdom about climate change
Most Americans that step outside and/or watch TV know that these are major issues. However, the reasons for their importance are often omitted from public discussion as was made clear in the recent presidential debates. Moreover, President Obama’s virtual silence on the climate issue has upset many now disillusioned by the failure of actions to match the clean energy sentiments he voiced in 2008.
Furthermore, climate skepticism is given an unusual level of prominence in US press by international standards as revealed by a recent study published by an Oxford University researcher. The study, which compared articles from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal to equivalent newspapers in Brazil, China, France, India, and the UK, concluded that there is “evidence for seeing a greater presence in the US media of the sort of scepticism [sic] which strongly attacks the scientific legitimacy of climate change policy proposals compared to all the other five countries.”
Action on climate change is further constrained by the political context within which mainstream politicians operate. Writing in the New York Times, Scott Shane recently observed that “in the current fiscal environment, promising an ambitious effort to reduce poverty or counter global warming might imply big new spending, which is practically and politically anathema.” As Shane writes, “any candidate troubled by how the United States lags behind its peers in health or education has plenty of advisers and consultants to warn him never to mention it on the stump”.
Despite the silence from politicians and the steady stream of propaganda from the climate denial front, a recent report published by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication found that a large majority (74%) of the American population agree that global warming is affecting weather in the United States. Furthermore, this number is up by 5 points since Spring 2012. In other words, unusually warm months and frequent droughts are not passing unnoticed. The problem is that the connection to human activity is not being made as often as it should be. Recent Pew polling shows that 42% of Americans acknowledge the human origin of global warming (incidentally, the numbers are 18% and 63% for Romney and Obama supporters respectively). The data indicate that though people are recognizing that the weather is becoming increasingly abnormal, they hesitate to draw anthropogenic conclusions despite the scientific consensus.
This comes as less of a surprise, however, when we consider the power of the interests driving the debate. An American Petroleum Institute strategy memo famously published in the New York Times in 1998: “Victory will be achieved when average citizens ‘understand’ (recognize) uncertainties in climate science…[and] media coverage reflects balance on climate science and recognition of the validity of viewpoints that challenge the current ‘conventional wisdom’”. This is still the strategy of Big Oil today. Take, for example, a report on climate change authored by Patrick Michaels of the Cato Institute in October 2012. Some of its “key findings” include “Impacts of observed climate change have little national significance;” “Sea level rises caused by global warming are easily adapted to;” “Policies enacted by the developed world will have little effect on global temperature” (10). The Cato Institute was co-founded by Charles Koch, CEO of Koch Industries Inc., an industry giant in oil refining and associated manufacturing. He and his brother, David, remain major shareholders at Cato. Furthermore, the author Pat Michaels admitted to 40% of his work being funded by the petroleum industry in a CNN interview with Fareed Zakaria.
Subverting Iranian autonomy
So even though everybody’s frightened about bizarre weather events, our leaders and media outlets encourage uncertainty and confusion. In other words, you might be worried about the future, but you have to deal with your own assumptions about what the problem really is. On the other hand, uncertainty is not the tactic of choice when it comes to the Iran problem and the very real possibility of war. A singular perspective dominates: that Iran’s enrichment program is for the sole purpose of building a bomb to use against Israel or facilitate terrorism against the West. This undoubtedly terrifying prospect has become a dogma of U.S. (and Israeli) policymakers.
This dogma, however, remains unconfirmed and questionable despite several investigations. A Reuters release in March put it succinctly: “The United States, European allies, and even Israel generally agree on three things about Iran’s nuclear program: Tehran does not have a bomb, has not decided to build one, and is probably years away from having a deliverable nuclear warhead”. Even Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta conceded to the Senate Budget Committee that “our intelligence makes clear that they haven’t made the decision to develop a nuclear weapon.” All of this is consistent with Iran’s repeated claims that their enrichment program is solely for civilian objectives and that it is well within its right to pursue such a program as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and member of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Regardless, the hardliners insist that possessing offensive capacities is the eventual goal.
Why would they pursue nuclear weapons? Here we can make educated guesses by looking at the available data. A survey of Arab public opinion published in March 2012 revealed that a large majority believes Israel and the United States to be the greatest threats to peace while only 5% believed Iran to be most threatening. Furthermore, they opine that since Israel, the chief harasser of Iran, itself possesses nuclear weapons, then Iran, too, has a right to possess them.
The idea that Iran would seek to possess a nuclear weapon as a deterrent and neutralizer of Western belligerence is not particularly novel and is understandable given the constant hostility perceived by the regional population. As recently pointed out by Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian, the security and autonomy afforded by nuclear weapons is what is most unsettling to US policymakers. The idea that Iran would use them offensively is highly implausible from a strategic standpoint. Doing so would surely invite a military retaliation on a scale that would certainly dwarf the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if Iran survived as a nation, a regime change would undoubtedly occur.
Regardless, the US and Israel have repeatedly threatened to attack if Iran does not scale down its enrichment program In both countries, threats of unilateral action are in sharp opposition to public opinion showing how dismissive state leaders have become: 70% in the U.S. and 61% in Israel. Furthermore, 51% of Americans oppose a military strike even with UN authorization. Perhaps the most notable finding, however, is that the percentage of Americans that consider Iran’s nuclear program a threat has dropped 22 percentage points since its peak in 2002. Not only does the public not want war, the number of people convinced that Iran’s enrichment program is a threat has been steadily declining. The reason could be that Iran’s behavior has not been particularly hostile since 2002. As it happens, we find in some cases that their lack of hostility is actually met with confusion and apprehension by US/Israeli elites.
A recent New York Times article is particularly revealing: “Israel’s defense minister [Ehud Barak] said Tuesday that the country had interpreted Iran’s conversion of some enriched uranium to fuel rods for civilian use as evidence that Iran had delayed ambitions to build a nuclear weapon”. Note that Iran’s conversion to fuel rods is in perfect agreement with what they have repeatedly claimed to be doing: enriching uranium for civilian purposes in accord with the Non-Proliferation agreements. However, Barak’s interviewer soon after wrote in The Daily Telegraph that “Iran’s decision to convert much of its stockpile of 20 per cent enriched uranium into harmless fuel rods” suggests that Ayatollah Khameini could be “more cautious than we think” and “is nervous and feeling the pressure.” Perhaps by accident, he appears to violate US/Israeli dogma when he wonders whether “the ultimate destination of Iran’s nuclear programme [is] still an open question?” (20).
What is the Supreme Leader of Iran “feeling the pressure” of? It goes unspoken that the US is already waging war with Iran through cyber attacks and economic sanctions that have devastated the country. Though it has become increasingly clear that Tehran will not budge, the population continues to take the beating. The annual inflation rate is over 20%—possibly even double that—while food prices and unemployment have skyrocketed. In a recent letter to the New York Times, an Israeli citizen writes: “These sanctions are affecting at least 50 million women and children” and asks, with reason, “Isn’t this a form of collective punishment that might be considered a war crime under the Geneva convention?”.
Clearly the US will go to great lengths to prevent an autonomous, secure Iran. To understand why autonomy in the Middle East is so threatening a prospect, we must consider the importance of regional control to the US. Relinquishing control would enable independent development and/or allow adjacent super powers – Russia and China – to become the primary enforcers and thereby increase their global influence. Further, nuclear security would grant the current Iranian regime more control over its own energy resources which could be used to effectively compete with US clients in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It is in this context that Israel serves its most useful function as a U.S. satellite presence in the region. Its high-tech industry, strategic location, and cultural orientation are what make it “our natural ally.” And as long as Iran is perceived to pose an “existential threat” to the United States’ enforcer in the Middle East, the hawks will not put down the drum.
The war games cannot continue
The election campaign and especially the presidential debates have made clear how necessary mythology and illusion are to economic security. If the reality of anthropogenic global warming were to become a national truism, then we may begin to question the value of our military exploits in the Middle East. Both candidates want to take steps to ensure the flow of oil and profits into US pipelines but neither want to discuss the irreversible damage further military conflict and carbon-intensive activity could do to the economy and to the environment. Obviously the U.S. cannot relinquish its influence in the region and thereby forfeit its substantial leverage over adjacent superpowers. However, a multilateral diplomatic solution to this obvious dilemma simply will not be discussed or considered.
By focusing on the “threat” posed by Iran, the United States political apparatus is able to channel public concern in a way that justifies aggressive tactics. As long as the population is sufficiently misinformed and fearful about Iran’s nuclear program, then our military presence in the region can be scaled up conveniently — given a fitting pretext — without significant domestic opposition which is absolutely critical at this time to challenge the oil-based destruction of the environment.
More broadly, it appears that the only rational course of action is substantial public activism to redirect government intervention – not only to promote growth in the clean energy sector, but also to reign in the military-industrial complex behind fossil fuels. Though government has historically been complicit in escalating the climate-petroleum doom cycle (e.g. military exploits in the Middle East), it is the only mechanism by which the public can initiate change. To accomplish this, the propaganda campaigns against Iran and anthropogenic global warming need to be properly understood so that the right steps can be taken to circumnavigate them avoid disaster.
In this respect, Hurricane Sandy and its associated tragedies have been a slap in the face to the American people. Consequently, a recent BusinessWeek cover story titled “It’s Global Warming, Stupid” acknowledged the “success of climate deniers in framing action on global warming as inimical to economic growth,” but noted that “the US can’t afford regular Sandy-size disruptions in economic activity”. This is sadly and undoubtedly true not just for the US, but for all nations and all of humanity.