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Forum Post: American Democracy No Longer Works

Posted 5 years ago on April 15, 2014, 3:51 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5909)
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American Democracy No Longer Works

Monday, 14 April 2014 14:59
By The Daily Take, The Thom Hartmann Program | Op-Ed


Washington politicians don't give a damn about you or me. They only answer to billionaires and giant corporations. Thanks to forty years of Supreme Court decisions, American politics is no longer about the "will of We The People" - it's only about the money.

As a result, we longer have a functioning democracy in America.

Years of corporate-friendly Supreme Court decisions, like the decision in Citizens United, have rigged and corrupted American politics so badly that average hard-working Americans have little to no influence in Washington.

Instead, our "elected officials" are only answering to the wishes of the wealthy elite and private interest groups.

A study published in Perspectives on Politics by Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University finds that when the wealthy elite or powerful interest groups want a policy passed or not passed, Washington listens.

But, when We The People speak up and sound out about a particular policy or piece of legislation, Americans are right to be cynical.

In his dissent in Citizens United, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens pointed out that the Court's decision would lead to fewer and fewer people even bothering to show up to vote. He said from the bench:

"When citizens turn on their televisions and radios before an election and hear only corporate electioneering, they may lose faith in their capacity, as citizens, to influence public policy. A Government captured by corporate interests, they may come to believe, will be neither responsive to their needs nor willing to give their views a fair hearing. The predictable result is cynicism and disenchantment: an increased perception that large spenders call the tune and a reduced willingness of voters to take part in democratic governance."

He added that unlimited corporate and fat cat money would also scare the hell out of politicians themselves, so they'd do what the rich guys want and to hell with the average voter:

"To the extent that corporations are allowed to exert undue influence in electoral races, the speech of the eventual winners of those races may also be chilled. Politicians who fear that a certain corporation can make or break their reelection chances may be cowed into silence about that corporation."

And, four years later, we find that Stevens was totally right.

In their study, Gilens and Page write that, "Ordinary citizens...have little or no independent influence on policy at all."

They go on to say that the wealthy elite have, "a quite substantial, highly significant, independent impact on policy...more so than any other set of actors," while powerful interest groups do pretty well too, with, "a large, positive, highly significant impact on public policy."

Gilens and Page looked at a data set of over 1,700 policy issues over a twenty year period, and compared that data to public opinion surveys taken during the same time, that were broken down by income and support from interest groups.

In a functioning democracy, free from corruption and the money of private interest groups, you'd expect that as more and more average citizens approved of a policy or piece of legislation, lawmakers would be more and more likely to adopt that policy or piece of legislation.

But that's not the case anymore here in America.

Instead, according to Gilens and Page, as more and more average American citizens support a policy or piece of legislation, the probability of it being adopted by lawmakers in Washington stays the same. It doesn't matter if 10 percent of Americans support it, or 90 percent of Americans support it.

But the same can't be said for the interests of the wealthy elite.

That's because, as more and more members of the wealthy elite support a policy or piece of legislation, the likelihood that lawmakers in Washington adopt that policy or piece of legislation increases steadily.

And the same is true with well-funded special interest groups. The more special interest groups support a policy or piece of legislation, the greater the likelihood that lawmakers will adopt it.

You also see similar results when you break up Americans by income groups.

When more and more Americans in the bottom tenth percentile supported a particular policy or piece of legislation, the likelihood that it would be adopted by lawmakers stayed relatively the same.

But, as more and more Americans in the 90th income percentile or the even richer wealthy elite supported a policy or piece of legislation, the likelihood that it would be adopted by lawmakers increased dramatically.

When it comes to working class Americans, it doesn't matter if they're in the bottom 10th income percentile or the 50th income percentile: they're ignored by our politicians for the preferences of the wealthy elite.

The bottom line here is that the elites are getting what they want, while the rest of us aren't, because money has taken over our political process.

For the first time in American history, a majority of lawmakers in the House of Representatives are millionaires, and a startling number - at both the federal and state level - are being bankrolled by billionaires like the Koch brothers.

This isn't what the founders had in mind when they founded our once-great nation.

Thomas Jefferson once said that, "Those seeking profits, were they given total freedom, would not be the ones to trust to keep government pure and our rights secure. Indeed, it has always been those seeking wealth who were the source of corruption in government..."

The only other time in American history when the influences of money and corruption were as rampant as they are today was during the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, and that period of corruption directly led to the crash of 1896, the worst crash we have ever seen.

That crash brought on a massive populist revolt, which led to things like the direct election of senators, ballot initiatives in the states, and women gaining the right to vote.

If the current levels of corruption and greed in Washington remain unchecked, it's almost certain that we'll have another great crash, maybe as soon as 2016.

When that crash happens, let's get ready to react to it with another progressive populist revolt, and, like with the last progressive populist era, let's amend the Constitution, this time to say that money is not speech, and corporations aren't people.

Only then will the majority of Americans regain our democracy and political process, and make America great again.

This article was first published on Truthout and any reprint or reproduction on any other website must acknowledge Truthout as the original site of publication.



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[-] 6 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Obama's "No Tolerance" for Freedom of Speech Policy (or Lament for Sunshine Week)

Sunday, 04 May 2014 09:50
By Dr Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, Black Agenda Report | Op-Ed


The Obama Administration has once again earned the shameful reputation for being the most secretive and punitive administration against whistleblowers in the history of the republic. Last week, another case of the Obama Administration's insatiable appetite for secrecy was revealed via a April 21st memo from the Director of National Intelligence. This memo threatens members of the intelligence community with retaliation for any contact with reporters without the permission of their supervisor, even if the information is not classified. The memo stated:

“IC (intelligence community) employees… must obtain authorization for contacts with the media” on intelligence-related matters, and “must also report… unplanned or unintentional contact with the media on covered matters,” the Directive stated.

This escalating repression comes on top of its harsh sentencing of whistleblowers: Chelsea (Bradley) Manning—35 years for leaking the video Wikileaks dubbed 'Collateral Murder' of a deadly helicopter attack on a defenseless civilian population; 30 month imprisonment of former CIA agent John Kiriakou for exposing the US use of torture and waterboarding—while none of those responsible for the administration of torture have been tried; and forcing Edward Snowden to seek political asylum outside the US for exposing National Security Agency (NSA) excesses that include the unauthorized, universal invasion of planetary privacy.

Despite the recognition of Snowden's whistleblowing contribution earning him the prestigious George Polk Award and Pulitzers for those reporting it, the government has ratcheted up the pressure. Perhaps the silver lining of this story is that the government is still fretting about the reserve of moral and political courage its employees demonstrate as they continue to blow the whistle on government corruption.

For those inside Washington's secrecy circles the question remains as to what actions must be taken against the US public in general and federal government employees specifically to trigger their repentant silence. This government's history serves as prelude to what we can expect—the escalation of retaliation against and aggressive persecution of whistleblowers, despite the propaganda issuing from the “transparent” president—no need of a Freedom of Information Act request to see through the doublespeak.

Fear remains the favored tactic used by the government against its own employees. That fear is instilled by making obscene examples of individuals for breaching secrecy oaths. At the conclusion of Mr. Kiriakou's trial the US Attorney Neil McBride articulated the unofficial line of the US government:

“…today’s sentence should be a reminder to every individual who works for the government, who comes into the possession of closely held sensitive information regarding the national defense or the identity of a covert agent, that it is critical that that information remain secure and not spill out into the public domain or be shared with others who don’t have authorized access to it.”

This flies in the face of candidate Obama’s January 21, 2009 declaration:

“The way to make government responsible is to make it transparent so that the American people will know what decisions are being made and whether their interest are being well served…for too long there has been too much secrecy in this city… . Starting today every government agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not with those who seek to withhold information but those who seek to make it known…I will hold myself to a new standard of openness… Transparency and openness will be the touchstone of my administration and this presidency.”

The president talks the talk, whistleblowers walk the plank—while the authors, administrators and implementers of torture and felonious activities walk—under the protection of absolute immunity. The hypocrisy could not be more apparent. The message of retribution could not be clearer. The threats, however, are not empty. The memo threatens IC employees, found to communicate with “the media” with revocation of security clearance, termination of employment or possible criminal prosecution.

Sunshine Week is celebrated every year from March 15-21st. The progressive community needs to proclaim this week as manifestly our own and use it for public exposés of government policies that hinder, obfuscate and forbid citizens from exposing political and economic corruption. The government, after all, is the number one leaker of classified secrets when it makes them look good and the grim reaper for anyone who exposes their criminality. Sunshine Week should be a tribute to whistleblowers and civil rights activists who are the true champions of freedom of speech and have shown themselves prepared to make the necessary sacrifice to defend democracy.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Anatomy of a Murder: The Pentagon, Capitol Hill and Religious Liberty

Sunday, 04 May 2014 09:27
By Mikey Weinstein, AlterNet | Op-Ed


What would you do if you found out that a shocking murder plot was unfolding silently? What if this wasn’t just any murder, but the premeditated and carefully plotted unfolding of a terrifying scenario with nightmarish repercussions for every American citizen? What if the innocent victim was of vital importance to you, your family, and your country? Would you come to the protective defense of the victim? Or would you shrink back into the shadows marinated in trembling fear of possibly being harmed while dutifully standing up to such an injustice?

Unfortunately for all citizens of America, the murder victim in this case is the bedrock democratic guarantee of religious freedom rights, as mandated by the Constitution of the United States of America. In relation to the United States military, the deceased include numerous relevant Department of Defense (DoD) directives, regulations and instructions. Where are the lairs of those sinister perpetrators who are clearly complicit in this nefarious act of murder? Nowhere else but the United States Congress and the Pentagon.

What we’re referring to here is the planned participation and endorsement of a sectarian, exclusivist, fundamentalist Christian “National Day of Prayer” event held this past May 1st on Capitol Hill in the Cannon House Office Building. The event is being sponsored not only by Congressional legislators, but also by uniformed American military personnel… and the Pentagon has shown no sign of relenting in its shameful support of this fundamentalist Christian, big tent revival circus.

Despite all of the disingenuous criticism regarding “Obama’s war on religion,” the present administration can hardly be considered pristine guardians of religious liberty, especially not with respect to the United States military. Indeed, its approach can best be described as egregiously lackadaisical and, at worst, criminally complicit. Proof positive of this “homicidal” fiduciary failure is its deplorable allowance of the American military’s prominent participation in a Congressional “National Day of Prayer Task Force” (NDP Task Force) event.

Curious readers may be wondering: What actually is this “‘National Day of Prayer’ Task Force”? Well, my friends, let me explain. The National Day of Prayer (NDP) has been an annual observance of faith since 1952 when President Truman started it. One can be more than generous and say it is a “secular holiday”, as it is celebrated by Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Baha’i, pagans, Satanists… or one can call it “abhorrently unconstitutional,” as my dear colleague and Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) Senior Research Director Chris Rodda called it. Loosely construed, NDP is, arguably, supposed to be propagating a celebration of religious liberty and the freedom of Americans to pray or meditate in any manner that they see fit. Whatever NDP is, it most certainly is NOT a day to celebrate one religious tradition, to the exclusion of all other concepts spiritual or temporal.

Enter now that trojan horse of religious freedom-murdering criminals, the NDP Task Force. The NDP Task Force is the group organizing and broadcasting this garish Capitol Hill event under the following banner: “So that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Getting the picture now, my friends? The NDP Task Force’s reasons for existing can be summed up as the following: (1) evangelical, fundamentalist Christian proselytizing, (2) latter day “crusader”-indoctrination (3) theocracy-building in the U.S. armed forces, (4) federally-funded “spirituality molding,” (5) anti-LGBT discrimination, and (6) seethingly sectarian triumphalism and expectionalism on a universal scale of magnitude. This narrow, parochial, and sectarian purpose is irrefutably contemptible from the standpoint of the gentle religious tolerance and respect that was meant to be the mantra of the Truman-created NDP (sans the “Task Force” suffix).

Thus, the NDP Task Force is as markedly different from Truman’s NDP as, well, gunpowder is from baby powder.

This duplicitous Task Force is headed by Shirley Dobson, wife of anti-gay zealot and Focus on the Family founder James Dobson. The NDP event she has organized is despicably discriminatory, as its itinerary and organizing team is brazenly bereft, by specific design, of any role played by non-Christians. In fact, all NDP Task Force volunteers are mandatorily required to provide on their formal, official applications their “testimony” of their “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” Thus, for example, the only Jews permitted to participate in the NDP Task Force’s so-called “Judeo-Christian” events are Messianic Jews, or the so-called “Jews for Jesus” who share the NDP Task Force’s singular goal of converting all “disbelievers” by proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to their fellow Jews, as well as other non-fundamentalist Christians.

(Incidentally, just as this Op-Ed was going to press, the Dobsons appeared on Fox News’ “The Kelly File” to impotently rant about the tireless constitutional advocacy that MRFF has undertaken, to their dismay.)

Of course, these avariciously proselytizing, private Christian religious organizations are free to do whatever they’d like, where they like, provided it transpires in a time, place, and manner which wholly honors and complies with the law of our land. Of course, none of that bothers me, nor does it bother MRFF, the national civil rights organization of which I’m Founder and President. However, let me tell you what DOES bother the hell out of all of us. We do prepare to throw down and fight when Alabama Congressman Robert Aderholt officially sponsors this “Christian-only” proselytizing spectacle, and when good faith protests demanding Constitutional compliance at the Pentagon and Congress fall on absolutely deaf ears. These protestations only came, keep well in mind, AFTER 27 senior military and civilian officials at the Pentagon contacted our foundation for help to stop this utter travesty. They expressed shock, disbelief and alarm at this scandalous collaboration between the fundamentalist Christian NDP Task Force and the Pentagon.

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? (“Who will guard the guards?”). This quintessential and formidable question confronts us yet once again now that it’s long been clear that a cunning cabal of Congressional legislators, numerous fundamentalist Christian parachurch organizations (like the NDP Task Force) and a nontrivial number of top brass in our nation’s armed forces illicitly act on behalf of a theocratic-lusting fifth column which seeks to hijack our United States military. Needless to say, every American citizen should consider it their solemn duty to stand up and speak out against these bible-thumping bigoted bullies. They are on an unobstructed road and relentless campaign to erode, undermine, and raze to the ground our foundational Constitutional protections in the name of their twisted, supremacist, dominionist conception of so-called “religious liberty.”

Ladies and gentlemen, please help me and MRFF stop this murder of our priceless civil rights.

Don’t let our Pentagon and Congress assassinate our precious religious liberties by allowing this specious, sectarian pageant of fascistic, fundamentalist Christian hegemony, primacy and sovereignty to fatally stain our precious Constitutional freedoms.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 4 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

A Chief Justice in Alabama Won't Tolerate Non-Christian Lifestyles

Monday, 05 May 2014 10:30
By Kevin Mathews, Care2 | News Analysis


You wouldn’t believe the kind of things Roy Moore, Alabama’s Supreme Court Chief Justice, said at a Pastor for Life Luncheon this week. (Well, maybe you would, but that doesn’t make it any better.) A video of Moore’s speech on Raw Story shows the Chief Justice declaring the Christian faith the one true religion, while simultaneously belittling other faiths.

“Buddha didn’t create us, Mohammed didn’t create us, it was the God of the Holy Scriptures,” Moore said. “They didn’t bring the Koran over on the pilgrim ship. Let’s get real, let’s go back and learn our history. Let’s stop playing games.”

Furthermore, Moore – the highest judge in the state, mind you — derided “secular law” and said that the United States “lost its way” when it started removing God from governmental decisions and stopping prayer in schools and during political meetings. “You can’t be happy unless you follow God’s law,” Moore told the crowd.

How can a man who only respects his own religion be expected to protect the religious rights of others in his state? Similarly, how can a man who admittedly puts his faith above the nation’s laws be expected to interpret the law correctly?

Since it was an anti-abortion gathering, Moore shared plenty of controversial views on reproductive rights. Though same-sex marriage wasn’t the crux of his speech, Moore bemoaned the idea of two men marrying in a chapel, too.

This speech is hardly the first time Chief Justice Moore has shared these types of outspoken views. In February, he made headlines for writing letters to all 50 U.S. governors, begging them to implement a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. Alas, his requests seemed to largely fall on deaf ears.

Back in 2000, Moore was in the news for erecting a monument of the Ten Commandments inside the state judicial building. When a federal judge declared that it must be taken out, Moore refused to comply and state courts removed him from office for disobeying a higher court’s verdict. After nearly a decade hiatus, however, Moore ran for judge again in 2012 and won re-election thanks to Alabama’s conservative voter base. Thus far, he has not attempted to reinstall the Ten Commandments in his place of work.

Alabama residents who don’t prescribe to a strict Christian lifestyle best hope they don’t find themselves in front of the Supreme Court because Moore is admittedly biased. It’s a wonder how such a high-ranking judge could mistake Freedom of Religion for forcing everyone to live by the rules of his own religion.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 4 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Church and State in America: A Brief Primer

Monday, 05 May 2014 13:20
By Ira Chernus, History News Network | News Analysis


The Supreme Court has ruled, 5-4, that Greece, New York, can open its town meetings with a prayer, even though nearly all the prayers have contained distinctively Christian language. No doubt advocates and critics of the opinion are scouring American history, looking for proof that their view is correct.

If they look with an unjaundiced eye, they'll quickly discover one basic principle: Whatever position you hold on this issue, you can find some support in our nation's history. So history alone cannot resolve the ongoing debate. But it can help inform the debate.

To understand that history we have to begin in the European Middle Ages, when the Roman Catholic Church held sway over the religious life of almost all western Europeans. Politically each area was usually ruled by a single a monarch. Since "Church" and "state" were both monolithic institutions, it made sense to talk about "church-state relations" quite literally.

In principle, both sides usually agreed that the state ruled over the affairs of this world and the church ruled over the affairs of the soul as it headed toward the next world. In practice, though, each side often tried to extend its power over the other.

When the Protestant reformation came along in the 16th century, it refuted the Catholic church's claim to control other-worldly affairs. But it did not challenge the basic idea that each area should have one secular ruler and one established church, and the two should live side by side, each respecting the other's domain. So tensions between church and state inevitably continued.

Since nearly all the early European colonists in what would become the United States were Protestants, they brought that Protestant view with them. Different denominations had majorities in the various colonies, and each had its own model of church-state relations.

But nearly everyone assumed that it could make sense for a colony to have one established church, which would have special privileges from and influence upon the colony. Most of the colonies did, in fact, have established churches.

By the early 1700s, though, the colonies were filling up with immigrants from different places who held different religious views. So the established churches everywhere had to tolerate dissent from the official religion, to a greater or lesser degree. At the same time, the colonies were experimenting with all sorts of different political structures.

Thus "church" and "state" were no longer monolithic entities as they had been in medieval times. Gradually, the term "church" became a code word for religion in general, including the many different religious beliefs and practices held by different groups and individuals. And the term "state" became a code word for the many various political structures -- town, city, county, colonial legislature, royal council, etc.

Things got more complicated in the 18th century as people found their identity based less in fixed social institutions and more in open-ended individual conscience. The Enlightenment philosophers taught that religion was a matter of private belief and individual relationship with God. They also taught that every individual was free to choose their own political views and that the state should base its policies on the will of the majority.

A large Christian revival movement called the Great Awakening reinforced the idea that religion is a matter of inner experience and personal relationship with God more than membership in a church. So the Enlightenment and the Awakening combined to promote individualism and the notion of religion as a private matter.

By the time of the American Revolution, then, there was a complex triangular structure, with private individuals, political institutions ("state"), and religious institutions ("church") all interacting. So the term "church-state relations" meant, more than ever, an endlessly complex set of changing relations among all the different forms of religious and political life.

But there was a growing belief in the colonies that the private individual had highest priority, that the main role of the state was to protect the individual's rights, including the right to decide on one's own religion.

The colonists who joined the Revolution against England all agreed on one thing: the English political system was a tyranny, and the Church of England was part of that tyranny. So there was growing fear of the very idea of an established church.

It was only natural, then, that the new United States would want to protect its citizens from an established church. So the first words of the Bill of Rights said that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

But there was no clear agreement then, as there is none now, about exactly what those words mean.

Some see the two clauses making two opposites points. "No law respecting establishment of religion" makes it illegal to force people to practice a religion; "no law prohibiting free exercise" makes it illegal to stop people from practicing religion. The "no establishment" clause protects the people and the government from religion. The "free exercise" clause protects religion from the government and the will of the majority.

But some say that both clauses actually make the same point: They both protect individuals from the federal government. The government cannot impose a religious institution on any individual, nor can the government restrict any individual's religious life. In fact some religious institutions supported the 1st amendment when it was ratified and refused to take any support from the government because they feared such support would entitle the government to impose controls upon them.

[-] 4 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

The debate about the meaning of the 1st amendment and the intentions of the founders still rages on because they did not bequeath to us any single consistent view on church and state. They all claimed to be Christian. But they had many different ideas of what it meant to be Christian. Each individual could hold what we might see as contradictory views and practices.

To take one important example: Thomas Jefferson created the image of a "wall of separation between church and state" and wrote powerfully about the need to protect the religious freedom of every individual. Yet in the Declaration of Independence he based the entire political philosophy of the new nation on the idea that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Without God, Jefferson's whole political philosophy makes no sense. Jefferson was also devoted to the teachings of Jesus, but only as he understood them; he even created his own version of the Gospels. Jefferson also supported, on occasion, legislation to create public prayer days and to punish people who broke Sabbath laws.

If we cannot expect logical consistency even from Thomas Jefferson, we certainly can't expect it from the founding fathers as a group.

The 1st amendment was the product of political compromise among the founders. So perhaps it is best to see it as the beginning of a conversation or debate about the relation of political and religious life. Perhaps many of the founders knew that all they could agree on was the need to continue the debate.

Though the founders disagreed on what it meant to be Christian, they all assumed that some version of what each one saw as the "basics" of Christianity was more or less necessary as a foundation of an orderly society. Most of them assumed that Christian values were the basis of political liberty.

Even those who were wary of Christian bias would probably have agreed with Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in the recent Greece case:

"Prayer is but a recognition that, since this nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond the authority of government to alter or define."

So most of the founders saw no contradiction between the federal government guaranteeing freedom of religion and the states having established churches that could get special privileges from government, provide prayers for political occasions, and dictate the teaching of religion in schools

But by the late 18th century all the states had so much diversity that the power of established churches was rapidly fading. Massachusetts was the last state to end its established church, in 1833. By the 19th century, then, Americans did not merely believe in the right to dissent from the dominant church. They assumed that there would no longer be any dominant church.

Yet the 19th century was dominated by one religious view: evangelical Christianity. Evangelicals emphasized individual experience as the basis of religion. So religion became, more than ever, a matter of individual choice, which led to the creation of many new churches. But the evangelical fervor also strengthened the idea that all Christians share basic values in common, and that these were the core values of the American way of life -- a view that would surface again in some 20th century Supreme Court decisions.

For evangelicals, the "wall of separation" meant that everyone was free to influence the government as much as possible according to their own version of Christian values, with the goal of making America the kingdom of God on earth. For some that meant causes we would consider liberal, like free public schools for all and the abolition of slavery. For some it meant causes that we would call conservative, like prohibition of alcohol and teaching the Bible in public schools. Many felt comfortable supporting all these reform movements.

From the 1840s on large waves of Catholic immigrants came to the U.S.. They learned to accept religious pluralism and reject the old Catholic tradition of one universal church for everyone. But they created their own schools, raising new questions about state support for religious education. These problems, like nearly all problems of church and state in the 19th century, were dealt with at the local and state levels.

After the Civil War, the 14th amendment made all states subject to rule by the federal constitution, opening the way for federal courts to apply the 1st amendment and rule on church-state issues. In 1879 the Supreme Court issued its first opinion directly dealing with church and state. It ruled that the government could forbid Mormons from practicing polygamy. The Court cited words written by Jefferson indicating that the wall of separation prevents the government only from controlling religious beliefs. But the government could forbid behaviors it deemed harmful to society.

However it was not until the 1940s that the Supreme Court began addressing the church-state question in earnest. By that time the federal government was playing a much larger role in the life of every American, while a slowly rising tide of secularism was undermining the notion of America as a Christian nation. For growing numbers of Americans, "the American way of life" meant a dedication to pluralism, diversity, and the fullest protection of individual rights. These factors combined to bring many issues related to religion before the Court.

In 1940 the Court took on the case of Jehovah's Witnesses who argued they should be able to go door to door without a state license. The Court agreed, declaring for the first time that the 1st amendment's "free exercise of religion" clause applied to local and state governments as well as the federal.

In the same year, though, a group of Jehovah's Witnesses argued that their children should not be required to salute the flag in school because it violated their free exercise of religion. The Court ruled against them. Then two years later, in an almost identical case, it ruled that the Jehovah's Witness children did not have to salute the flag.

Why the abrupt turnaround? There is some evidence that the Court was influenced by a wave of criticism of its first decision from scholars and newspapers, and also by dismay over a wave of anti-Jehovah's Witness prejudice after the first ruling. This case reminds us that the Court is never making its decision in some abstract realm of pure legal rationality. It is always, to some extent, a barometer of the climate of public opinion.

In the Everson case of 1947 taxpayers argued that their town, which paid for children's bus rides to public school, should not pay for Catholic children's bus rides to Catholic school. Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black penned a famous, stirring defense of the wall of separation, arguing that the 1st amendment's "no establishment of religion" clause applied to local and state as well as federal law. This became an accepted principle of later Court cases. Yet Black and the majority decided in favor of the Catholic children getting public money because it was going to them as individuals, not to the church.

This case, and the Court's reversal in the Jehovah's Witness cases, foreshadowed the history of church-state cases ever since then. There has been no consistent pattern, but rather what Justice Robert Jackson called a "winding, serpentine" wall of separation, full of all sorts of unpredictable twists and turns in the Court's views.

Vagueness often prevails. In the Lemon case of 1971, the Court ruled that no law may "have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion" and left it for later Courts to figure out what that means. Now the Court has added another contorted brick to that wall, by a 5-4 margin, as has so often been true in recent church-state cases.

The Court still reflects the climate of public opinion, which remains divided and uncertain about the proper relation of religious life to the body politic and the lives of individuals, or what we have come to call "church and state." So the debate initiated by the 1st amendment goes on -- which may be just what the founders intended.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

How God May Replace the US Constitution in Just Three Easy Steps

Saturday, 10 May 2014 10:23
By Robin Marty, Care2 | Op-Ed


We may have "one nation under God" in our pledge of allegiance (thanks a lot, President Eisenhower), but for most Americans the Unites States is first and foremost a secular nation, ruled by the constitution rather than the precepts of the Bible.

Not everyone is comfortable with that, however, and more and more we are seeing those people fight for the right to convert the country to the Biblical theocracy that they envision our founding fathers wanted. From creationist insertions into debates on state animals to endorsing the King James Bible as official state book, what used to be a subtle quest to convert God's law to the law of the land is becoming more blatant daily.

So how do we get from constitutional law to biblical law? All it takes is three easy steps, all completely dismissing the constitutional separation of church and state.

1) First the candidate campaigns at church: There's been an ongoing issue with churches allowing candidates to in essence campaign to their members, or church leaders advocating on behalf of certain candidates. As tax exempt entities, churches aren't allowed to get involved in political campaigns, and could lose their tax exempt status for violating that rule. But what happens when pastors themselves run for office? Well, in this case in North Carolina, it's hard to figure out where the sermon ends and the stump speech begins — especially when it comes to filling the donation plates.

"We're going to take an offering for Dr. Harris, for his coming and preaching, also for whatever you want to do otherwise for supporting him in this campaign," said Rev. Bill Saylor in a video after senate candidate Mark Harris spoke in his church. "I hope you will think about it. He has some materials in his car. If you would like to get more materials and pass them out and thereby get better known in this area, and then when the primaries come, you and all of your friends can vote for him. Amen?"

2) Next the candidates vow to support judges who believe in God, not the constitution. So what happens once someone who believes we should follow the Bible instead of the constitution is elected to office? He or she begins nominating people who believe the same thing. That's the goal in Iowa, where social conservative group The Family Leader held a candidate forum and made senatorial candidates one up each other on supporting biblical law. One candidate said he would only support judicial nominees who showed they had faith, because a "secular" worldview was likely to make them a bad judge, and another vowed to use "biblical standards as a 'litmus test' for nominees," according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

3) And then those judges uphold the Bible, instead. Now that your theocratic candidate has won, and he or she is only confirming "faith based" judges, you can bet those judges are going to uphold new, religious-based laws. Case in point: Alabama's Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Roy Moore, is already known for his battle to keep the 10 Commandments monument in the state house. Now he makes his intentions to rule based only on biblical law even more blatant with a decision that once more defines a person as having legal rights at the moment of conception. Why? Because God gives life, and God's law trumps all others. "From local to international, all law flows from the divine source: it is the law of God," writes Moore. "The law of nature and of nature's God binds all nations, states, and all government officials—from Great Britain to Germany to Alabama—regardless of positive laws or orders to the contrary."

There you go: use churches to support and endorse candidates, have those candidates only appoint and support religious judges, and then when biblically-based but unconstitutional bills are passed, you have the judges lined up to rule in favor of the laws staying in place.

Three easy steps to theocracy, coming soon to a state house near you.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Challenging Christian Hegemony in the United States

Wednesday, 21 May 2014 09:03
By Wendy Elisheva Somerson, Tikkun | Book Review


Living in the Shadow of the Cross

by Paul Kivel

New Society Publishers, 2013

Reading Paul Kivel’s groundbreaking book Living in the Shadow of the Cross is by turns invigorating and overwhelming for exactly the same reason—he is shining a spotlight on the often unnoticed but pervasive system of Christian domination in the United States. As a Jew living in a Christian-dominated culture, I found it simultaneously validating and devastating to read Kivel’s compilation of the extensive manifestations of Christian hegemony from the routine (our shared calendar and public holidays) to the less obvious (Christian influence on U.S. domestic and foreign policy).

Kivel sets up a 101-style study of Christian hegemony, which he defines as “the everyday, systematic set of Christian values, individuals, and institutions that dominate all aspects of US society.” Differentiating between individual people who identify as Christian (and may even be inspired to work for justice by an aspect of Christianity, such as liberation theology) and the structure of Christian dominance, Kivel deconstructs a system of power that benefits Christians and those who pass as Christian. Indeed, this system has become so invisible that it appears to be secular, and many folks who grew up Christian fail to notice where their cultural reference points originate.

Addressing the role of Christian allies in challenging Christian dominance, Kivel asks Christians to acknowledge the ways that they benefit from the dominant culture and then use their privilege to challenge institutional policies and to support the struggles of those who are not Christian. Similar to his anti-racist approach of asking white folks to grapple with white privilege, Kivel calls on Christians to accept, acknowledge, and strategically use their Christian privilege. However, unlike in his work on whiteness and male violence, as a Jew, Kivel is not coming from the dominant perspective. It will be interesting to see if his work inspires more critiques of Christian dominance from within Christianity.

While Kivel doesn’t single out leftist culture in this book, I am particularly excited for activists to begin deconstructing the role of Christian hegemony in our work because it feels like a missing piece in our analysis. In many leftist circles, rejecting religion is seen as a badge for one’s radical credentials. Many self-identified atheists who have rejected the Christianity that they grew up with heap scorn on “religion” without considering how non-Christian religions are positioned differently in U.S. culture. This rejection of religion is still framed by Christianity, whether or not individual Christians celebrate the solstice instead of Christmas.

By insisting on the importance of understanding Christian hegemony in all of our work, Kivel adds a layer of complexity to our thinking about movement work, particularly the Palestine solidarity movement. Kivel insists that we remember that the roots of the Israeli Occupation grew out of Christian Zionism, the belief among Christians that Jews need to be located in Israel in order for the second coming of Jesus Christ to occur. In the mid-nineteenth century, British Christian Zionists supported the Jewish Zionist movement because they wanted to set the stage for the second coming, to get the Jews out of England, and to create a British outpost in the Middle East. In recent times, the United States has come to replace Britain as the main source of economic support, but the impetus of Christian support for Zionism remains.

It is important for all of us involved in Palestine solidarity work to understand the role of Christian Zionism, but particularly important for Christian anti-Occupation activists. Far too often, the Occupation of Palestine gets framed as a conflict between Jews and Palestinians, which is not only inaccurate, but also erases the role of historical and current anti-Semitism and Christian dominance. If more Christians understood and worked against anti-Semitism, including Christian Zionism, it would exponentially strengthen our movements.

While Kivel does a good job creating an overarching explanation of Christian hegemony, I sometimes longed for more exploration of the complicated intersections between privilege and oppression in various forms of Christianity. In particular, I wonder about how Christian hegemony might play out for people whose religion was violently taken away from them and who then adapted Christianity order to meet their needs. For example, I would have loved to see Kivel address the role of the Black church in racial justice movements in the United States. But this desire for more analysis arises from what’s compelling about Kivel’s book: he creates a structure to analyze Christian hegemony, which we can interrogate and complicate as we integrate this analysis into our social justice work.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

The Last Lie of an Air Force Academy Cadet

Sunday, 11 May 2014 12:07
By Mikey Weinstein, AlterNet | Op-Ed


Very soon, cadets at the US Air Force Academy (USAFA) and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, as well as midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, will be marching to one of the happiest events of their lives: graduation. At USAFA, on the day before the actual stadium graduation, soon-to-be lieutenants literally march out of their squadron formations on the parade field in a “Flying Wedge Formation,” the inverse of how they marched into their squadrons almost four years earlier. It’s an exceedingly beautiful and emotional sight for parents, faculty, and staff. Later that day, squadrons hold “commissioning ceremonies.” There are a total of forty squadrons in the Cadet Wing/student body – at which a personally chosen officer administers the oath of office, “swearing them in” as USAF second lieutenants.

The oath of office is well known and traces its heritage to Washington’s oath written for the Continental Army. Unlike Washington’s oath, however, this oath contains four final words: “So Help Me God”. In practice, these four final words are “optional” for those who may object to adding them – consistent with Article Six of the Constitution, which bans any religious test for public office.

However “optional” those last four words may be, legally speaking, the pressure to say them can be literally overwhelming. Large cue cards for all oath administrators not only include those words, but they’re also usually highlighted in a bold, all-caps font. Unless the cadet specifically asks the administrator in advance to omit those jarringly theologically inspired words, they will certainly be said – as sure as the sun sets in the west. This leaves the non-believing cadet the only option of either NOT repeating them – which runs the very real risk of ostracism or being perceived as “disrespecting the administrator” – or stating something that counters their core personal beliefs.

Whether the cadet pre-arranges the omission or just opts not to repeat it, the die is fully cast: ALL in attendance immediately know that the omitting cadet is “different,” publicly proclaiming non-membership in the monotheistic supermajority. In the minds of many, this is tantamount to moral and spiritual inferiority, as well as a lack of the necessary and sufficient religious qualities that America expects of its military leaders. Having witnessed this abortive pause before, I can tell you that it is terribly chilling. It would be as if someone next to you sat down abruptly DURING the national anthem, specifically ignoring “…and the home of the brave!”

Recently, dozens of USAFA cadets notified the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) to express their sharp concern about rumors that each squadron’s commissioning would include “confidential informants” (CIs) to record and report any who choose to omit the “four words.” Most of those who have reached out to MRFF are practicing Christians themselves, just not of the fundamentalist caliber. These cadets fear that offenders’ names will be passed like black balls at a fraternity induction to future military bases and supervisors through the vast and byzantine network of fundamentalist Christian organizations that illicitly pervade the ranks of the armed forces, e.g., Officers Christian Fellowship, Navigators, Campus Crusade for Christ’s Military Ministries. These cadets are legitimately afraid that their careers could be fatally stunted before they even get off the ground – having no recourse because they remain in the dark regarding the identity of the CIs and their contacts. To be branded as a “not-Christian enough” troublemaker before one even reports to their first duty assignment can have an enormously disheartening impact on these newly-minted, shiny, and (hopefully) idealistic models of the Air Force Core Values of Integrity, Service, and Excellence.

What to do? Ironically, for the sake of saving one’s face and gaining “moral” or “ethical” legitimacy in the eyes of their peers and superiors, these cadets must lie. They convince themselves that taking a stance on principal is just not worth it: “How can I serve and change things for the better – for enhanced inclusiveness and true respect – if I can’t even make it to my first assignment without a black mark? It’s just a little lie. No one really needs to know my religious views anyway. They clearly WANT me to lie—look at that cue card. Do what everyone else is doing… Screw it!”

Our civil rights foundation, MRFF, doesn’t want you to lie – but we understand why you feel like you might have to. As you’re marching to your graduation parade and look over your shoulder at the “Core Values Ramp,” we don’t want you to start your commissioned service by violating the FIRST of those values (“Integrity”) on your FIRST day as a lieutenant—even if it seems that’s what the Air Force wants you to do. They’ve made clear, through Air Force Instruction 1-1 and myriad DoD regulations, that it’s improper for commanders to use their power to coerce religious practice or promote a particular religious viewpoint. Nevertheless, now the same officers tasked with enforcing these regulations are unceremoniously breaking them by putting unbearable pressure on you to break your word. The pressure becomes agonizing as its application becomes a public affair. Why not lie then, since your superiors also lied?

Please don’t. You’ll see enough lies, calumny, and disingenuous glad-handing post-graduation and in the course of your service. You’ll see others use their lies as stepping-stools to even greater and far more perilous lies, as was the case with the falsified nuclear missile launch officer tests and so many other sad instances. If you do lie, then we beg you to make this your LAST lie. After graduation, you’re a commissioned military leader. Rinse yourself of this original sin, and stand up for the Constitution and your fellow airmen. You may have stained your character by lying once, but if you allow yourself to repeat these lies and make it a habit, you are officially a part of the problem – and that is something that we can’t tolerate.

Why? Well, because it’s not actually merely a “problem”, it’s a national security threat. Thus, we urge you: please don’t.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Donors, Friends of Governors Often Get State Supreme Court Nod

Sunday, 04 May 2014 11:01
By Rachel Baye, The Center for Public Integrity | News Analysis


When Justice Champ Lyons retired from the Alabama Supreme Court, the election was still almost two years away, so it was up to then-Gov. Bob Riley to name a replacement. He didn’t look far.

Riley chose Jim Main, his close friend for 40 years, 25 of which Main served as Riley’s personal attorney. Riley’s wife, Patsy, was in Main’s wedding. Main served in Riley’s administration, first as senior counsel to the Republican governor and later as finance director.

Jim and Gale Main also supported Riley’s political ambition, having contributed $7,500 to Riley’s first gubernatorial campaign and $2,000 during the second campaign, state records show.

Judicial elections are frequently criticized for allowing high-rolling campaign donors to influence the judges deciding major cases — but the judicial appointment process is no panacea either.

According to a Center for Public Integrity investigation, appointments to the states’ top courts are often based on who you know at least as much as on what you know. After examining the appointment process in dozens of states, the Center found: Even in states where there are elections, like Minnesota and Texas, judges time their retirements so that the governor, rather than voters, can pick a replacement. Contributions by aspiring judges are common. In addition to Alabama, in New York, one appointee and his wife gave $60,000 to the campaign of Gov. George Pataki. Appointing cronies is common, as former friends and political advisers are often chosen over potentially superior candidates with no such connections.

Critics say friendships and a history of political support should not be factors when a governor is choosing the most qualified candidate for a state’s highest court — the job should go to the most qualified candidate, period.

How it works

Ironically, when states first began electing judges in the mid-1800s, they did so out of “the concern that gubernatorial appointments gave rise to cronyism,” explained Charles Geyh, a law professor at Indiana University.

Over the past few decades, states have begun returning to appointment systems. Some states, seeking a compromise between elections and appointments, do both: Judges are appointed, then run unopposed in retention elections to keep their seats.

In 26 states, judges reach the states’ highest appellate courts through appointment by the governor. In an effort to avoid cronyism, in most of these states a nominating commission — whose members are appointed by the governor, state legislative leaders, state bar associations or high court judges — generates a list of names from which the governor can choose.

Each state’s process varies slightly. In some states, the governor’s nomination must also be confirmed by state legislators, similar to the federal process where judges are confirmed by the U.S. Senate. In California, the governor makes an appointment that is later confirmed by a three-member commission. In Massachusetts, the governor can reject the list of nominees and ask for more.

In two states, Virginia and South Carolina, the legislature appoints judges to the state supreme courts.

In the other 22 states, supreme court justices are initially elected to the bench. But when a justice steps down mid-term in 20 of these states, the governor gets to appoint a replacement.

In several of these states, judges have a tendency to step down before the end of their term.

All in the timing

In Texas, for example, supreme court justices are elected every six years. But of the nine justices currently on the court, Republican Gov. Rick Perry has appointed six whose predecessors stepped down before election time.

In Minnesota, another election state, six of the court’s current seven justices were initially appointed, again thanks to judges retiring before their terms expire.

The practice allows the governor to appoint someone with similar ideological leanings, avoiding the risk that voters might choose a candidate who is hostile to the governor’s legislative agenda.

A sitting judge almost always prevails.

“One of the things the studies show is that incumbency is the biggest advantage of all. It’s bigger than money,” said Geyh. Once appointed, incumbents are “almost undefeatable later on.”

Alabama Justice Main stood for election in 2012 unopposed.

Main said money had nothing to do with his appointment. He was chosen, he said, because both Lyons and Riley were familiar with his work.

“Both of them had a good opportunity to evaluate my strengths and weaknesses as a lawyer, and they both knew that I planned to run for Justice Lyons’ seat when he retired anyway,” Main said. “It wasn’t a secret that I wanted to be on the Supreme Court.”

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Cash for gavels?

Dozens of current state supreme court justices have been political contributors to the governors who appointed them, according to records.

Among state supreme court judges who contributed the most was New York Court of Appeals Judge Robert Smith. Between April 1999 and October 2002, Smith and his wife Dian gave $60,000 to former Gov. Pataki’s campaign, state records show. They also gave $51,000 to the state Republican Party.

In November 2003, Pataki chose Smith from a list of seven people recommended by the state’s nominating commission to fill a vacancy on the state’s highest court.

Smith was a trial lawyer from Manhattan. He had argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, but he had no experience as a judge, unlike three of the other names on the nominating commission’s list, so Pataki’s choice surprised observers at the time.

Smith declined to comment, and Pataki did not respond to requests for comment. But at the time of the appointment, Pataki insisted that he wasn’t aware of Smith’s political leanings before nominating him. At Smith’s confirmation hearing in 2004, he told a Senate committee that he “never got anything except courtesy in exchange for contributions.”

Two years later, then-Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, appointed attorney Brent Appel to the Iowa Supreme Court. Appel had never been a judge, but he gave roughly $30,000 to Vilsack’s campaign between May 2000 and May 2003.

David Wiggins, appointed by Vilsack to the court in 2003, gave nearly $19,000 to Vilsack’s campaigns, together with his wife, Marsha.

Wiggins and Appel declined to comment for this story.

Vilsack, now secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was limited to picking from among the three names Iowa’s nominating commission offered to him, said spokesman Matthew Paul.

“When choosing among three candidates given to him, Governor Vilsack always chose whom he believed to have the most extensive legal knowledge and an absolute commitment to fairness,” Paul said in a written statement.

Even in states where a nominating commission gives the governor a list of names and the state senate has to confirm the governor’s choice, governors still manage to get allies on the bench.

In Hawaii, for example, former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle appointed Mark Recktenwald to the Hawaii Supreme Court in 2009. Recktenwald had made nine contributions to her campaign, totaling $7,500, between 2002 and 2006, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Recktenwald "had an established record of public service that was well known to Governor Lingle," Hawaii court spokeswoman Tammy Mori said in an emailed statement. Before his appointment, Recktenwald's experience in state government included three years in Lingle's cabinet as the director of the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

Political soulmates get gavel

Governors also frequently seek out political allies when making judicial appointments.

In 2010, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, had overstepped his executive authority when he tried to cut state agency budgets without legislative approval.

University of Minnesota law professor David Stras filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case supporting Pawlenty’s side. Eight days after Pawlenty lost, he named Stras to fill a vacancy in the Minnesota Supreme Court. Simultaneously, Pawlenty promoted to chief justice then-Associate Justice Lorie Gildea, who had also supported Pawlenty’s legal argument.

State Democrats criticized the appointments as rewards to his political supporters.

“Stras gets it wrong from a legal point of view, but nonetheless gets promoted by getting appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court,” said David Schultz, an adjunct professor at Hamline University and the University of Minnesota Law School. “Just the timing and having done that brief do suggest that it was rewarding someone just for advocating the correct party line for the governor.”

A representative for Pawlenty did not respond to requests for comment, and a representative of Stras and Gildea declined to comment.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been accused of playing politics by NOT appointing justices.

New Jersey Supreme Court justices are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate. At the end of a seven-year term, the justices must be reappointed. It has been traditional for governors to reappoint sitting justices unless there is evidence of unethical behavior.

But in 2010, Christie did not reappoint Justice John Wallace Jr., who was originally appointed by Democratic Gov. Jim McGreevey. Since then, each of Christie’s nominees to the court has been part of a battle between the Republican governor and the Democrat-controlled state Senate.

A Christie spokesman referred to the governor's past statements that the New Jersey Supreme Court had "overstepped its role."

"Even before I officially became governor, I made clear it was my intention to reshape the court," Christie said at a press conference in August. "That is the right and the prerogative of any governor, Republican or Democrat. It is how our judicial system is set up."

Now the court’s liberal chief justice, Stuart Rabner, is believed to be at risk. Rabner’s term ends in June.

New Jersey State Bar Association President Ralph Lamparello warned that Christie’s maneuvers put the independence of the state supreme court at risk, especially if judges at all levels of the state judiciary start changing their votes out of concern for their job security.

“You don’t remake the court by getting rid of good judges and justices,” Lamparello said.

He compared the New Jersey court to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Obviously for a Republican to appoint [Justice Antonin] Scalia or [Justice Clarence] Thomas, they obviously side with the political beliefs of the then-president, but can you imagine saying, ‘I’m a Democratic president now, and Scalia, you’re off the Court’?” he asked. “That’s not the way to run a republic.”

Friends of the guv

Many governors have made a habit of appointing to the bench not just their political allies, but people who were formerly on their payroll.

In 2008, for example, Pawlenty appointed Christopher Dietzen, who served as Pawlenty’s lawyer during his 2002 campaign for governor and defended him against a campaign finance violation charge that year.

A representative for Dietzen declined to comment.

Perry appointed his chief of staff, Jeffrey Boyd, to the Texas Supreme Court in 2012. Boyd is on the ballot for the first time this year. Boyd said the fact that Perry was familiar with his work was a major factor in Perry’s decision to appoint him to the court.

He first met Perry when he was working in the state attorney general’s office, before Perry was governor.

“When Gov. Perry became governor there were a few occasions when I interacted with him, and his senior staff,” he said.

When Perry’s campaign was sued by 2006 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Bell, Boyd said he was brought on to offer some advice. Five years later, he became Perry’s general counsel, eight months after that, his chief of staff, and a little over a year after that, a supreme court justice.

A representative for Perry did not respond to requests for comment.

“The whole system is built around the likelihood that governors and other appointing authorities will choose people they know, people who have supported them,” said Stephen Gillers, an expert in judicial ethics at the New York University School of Law. “It’s not purely meritocratic. It never has been and never will be.”

The advocacy group Common Cause advocates for appointments, rather than elections, but policy counsel Stephen Spaulding recognizes that neither system is perfect.

“Judicial elections are rife with opportunities for special interests,” he said. “At the same time, there’s a concern that there can be chummy, smoke-filled, back-room deals that are cut to appoint justices that are equally friendly to outside special interests.”

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 2 points by WSmith (2698) from Cornelius, OR 5 years ago

Democracy CAN'T Work When THE PEOPLE Don't Vote & Big Money Does!

Get out the Vote in November!

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Democracy CAN'T Work When It Doesn't Even Exist And THE PEOPLE Are Confined To Voting For Unaccountable Big Money Backed Candidates!

When you vote for Big Money candidates, you vote for Big Money!

Get out the means to empowering THE PEOPLE to Vote on the issues THEMSELVES http://occupywallst.org/forum/omni-organizing-municipal-national-initiatives/ at Anytime they feel the need to or at the very least Refuse To Vote For Big Money http://occupywallst.org/forum/freeda-free-democracy-affidavits/ !


[-] 0 points by WSmith (2698) from Cornelius, OR 5 years ago

OUR AWOL participation disables our democracy!!!

[-] 4 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

We don't have a democracy!!!

We have a popular aristocracy in which members of the corporate aristocracy are put into office by popular election.

To be a democracy, we have to have control over the legislative process either directly or through the elected representatives.

We have no direct control to engage in national initiatives.

We have no direct control to engage in national referendum.

We have no direct control to engage in the national recall of mis-representatives.


We never have! We can't get back what we've never had.

A representative republic is not a democracy. A democracy is the rule (kratos) of the people (demos), not the rule of the unaccountable, class conscious, business oriented, representatives. That's an aristocracy. The mere existence of voting does not equate to being a democracy. Students in a classroom allowed to vote on whether or not to take an exam on a Friday or the following Monday does not make the classroom a democracy. Democracy in any situation requires the overall CONTROL of the Voters to be the RULE of the People.

OUR IGNORING of these FACTS prevents us from finally establishing a democracy as had been attempted at the end of the 1800s. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_direct_democracy_in_the_United_States#Progressive_Era

Democracy Is The Solution http://occupywallst.org/forum/democracy-is-the-solution/ , not further patronization and promotion of electoral politics in service to the corporate aristocracy. That patronization is already a PROVEN failure.



"Economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism."

"When a majority – even a very large majority – of the public favors change, it is not likely to get what it wants. In our 1,779 policy cases, narrow pro-change majorities of the public got the policy changes they wanted only about 30% of the time. More strikingly, even overwhelmingly large pro-change majorities, with 80% of the public favoring a policy change, got that change only about 43% of the time."

"When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it."

"If, then, control of the people over the organs of their government be the measure of their republicanism, and I confess I know no other measure, it must be agreed that our governments have much less of republicanism than ought to have been expected; in other words, that the people have less regular control over their agents, than their rights and their interests require."

Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Taylor dated May 28, 1816.

"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free." http://occupywallst.org/forum/none-are-more-hopelessly-enslaved-than-those-who-f/

[-] 1 points by WSmith (2698) from Cornelius, OR 5 years ago

Your enthusiastic diatribe suggests that our American representative democracy having problems is news or something special.

Everything, especially forms of government, has problems. Is this news to you? If exercised, our democracy is one of the best, but our negligence has allowed it to descend into oligarchy or plutocracy. Luckily it's resilience is very responsive to returned-renewed participation.

What I don't hear from you naysayers, both-samers, eternal whiners and unicorn chasers are solutions, viable solutions.

Not Voting and merely complaining exacerbates the problems with our neglected and exploited democracy, it also aids and abets the tyranny of the 1%. If you have an idea for a better form of government, you're withholding it, but I'd love to hear it.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Your reply in claiming there's such a thing as an 'American representative democracy' exposes both your dishonesty and your rejection of an actual democracy inclusive of the 99%.

Your dishonest diatribe of blaming the victims for neglecting something they have never even had while claiming not to have heard of any viable solutions http://occupywallst.org/forum/omni-organizing-municipal-national-initiatives/ exposes your sorry support of the corporate aristocracy.

By advocating continued voting for the corporate aristocracy you advocate the tyranny of the 1%.

From my previous reply

You know what a democracy is.

You know the U.S. government has never been a democracy.

You know that no amount of electoral voting can change anything http://www.princeton.edu/~mgilens/Gilens%20homepage%20materials/Gilens%20and%20Page/Gilens%20and%20Page%202014-Testing%20Theories%203-7-14.pdf


You know from Thomas Jefferson's own words to John Taylor in 1816 that this is how it has always been.

And you know that actual democracy http://occupywallst.org/forum/omni-organizing-municipal-national-initiatives/ is the solution.

Of course, what we never hear from any people like you is any support for organizing an actual democracy for the 99% or even support for a voter enforced accountability of representatives http://occupywallst.org/forum/freeda-free-democracy-affidavits/ . You just push the same old support of unaccountable corporate backed representatives who serve the same old 1% you claim to be against. It's because of people like you that people in Seattle will have to resort to actual democracy to overcome the obstruction of elected officials who have colluded with big business to neuter the passing of a $15 minimum wage http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/05/seattle-minimum-wage-socialist-councillor-class-warfare .

Democracy works! Advocating the electoral politics of the corporate elite, doesn't!

But you know that already though you still try to pretend otherwise.

No one on this forum is being fooled by you nor have ever been.

[-] 0 points by WSmith (2698) from Cornelius, OR 5 years ago

? ? Improvements ? ? Solutions ? ? Better Options ? ?

Bernie Sanders says Vote, EVERYBODY VOTE, just not for Cons!

2010 Never EVER Again!

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

You saw the Improvements http://occupywallst.org/forum/freeda-free-democracy-affidavits/ .

You saw the Solutions http://occupywallst.org/forum/omni-organizing-municipal-national-initiatives/ .

So you've seen the Better Options.

Bernie Sanders can vote on national legislation affecting everyone. Can you? Can any of the 99%? What are you doing to make that happen? What are you doing besides eternally whining about people not voting for your preferred brand of the 1% representatives while chasing the unicorn of voting for those representatives in hopes that they will magically decide to ignore their corporate funders to suddenly represent the interests of the People? Because until the 99% can control their elected representatives or vote on the legislation that affects them, NO ONE CAN VOTE on anything that makes a difference and 2010 will happen over and over again with every other swing of the duopoly pendulum bringing us ever closer to complete corporate control.

[-] 0 points by WSmith (2698) from Cornelius, OR 5 years ago

Sorry, allowing 1%-Cons to have our government is precisely why we are in this oligarchic-plutocratic mess. Fortunately our democracy is resilient enough to recover but it requires the participation of the American People. And if you think it can't get worse, that both parties are the same, that resistance is futile, I give you the destruction and retrogression of the 1%-Con years of Nixon, Raygun and Cheney-W!

We have the lowest Voter turnout and the highest 1%-Corporate usurpation in the world ~ that's why we are in this mess. The 1% have Americans mushroomed and crabbed, but if we wake up and fight back we can turn the table (and the 1% knows this even if the 99% doesn't). And we have a lot of electorate dereliction and 1% entrenchment to deal with. They have the gun$ but we have the numbers. But more disengagement and surrender will only make this tyranny worse! And that 1%-Cons are no longer acting covertly to sabotage the country only foretells what we are in for if 1%-Cons seize Congress and the WH veto pen!

Wake up People!

2010 Never EVER Again!!

Unite and Win!!

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

No, having a constitution established by an aristocracy is why we are in this mess. That constitution doesn't allow the American people to participate. That constitution doesn't allow for a national democracy. We have the lowest voter turn out due to decades of betrayal by both parties and their domineering exclusion of third party alternatives. People know that both parties serve the corporate interests. People know that there's nothing constitutionally established that they can do about it. 2010 happened because in 2008, one party had the White House, the Senate, and the House, and that well within 2 years that party had betrayed the trust of all the people who had voted them into office on the great Hope that there would finally be Change.

Democrats will never vote Republicans out of office. Republicans will never vote Democrats out of office. But both Democrats and Republicans will always serve the corporate interests who fund their campaigns and it's obvious that no amount of voting for either one of those parties will ever change that. Ignoring that fact, ignoring the pursuit of an actual democracy to continue in the blind support of the electoral unicorn is an ongoing surrender to the rule of the 1%.

[-] -1 points by WSmith (2698) from Cornelius, OR 5 years ago

What is wrong with you? Don't you remember, don't you know just recent history? 1%-Cons just gave us two bogus wars for oil and MIC profits and collapsed our economy conducting the biggest bank heist in human history!

Things can get worse, much worse, the 1%-Cons are by no means finished, they will never be finished, they are completely insane with greed and tyranny. And they have the people in the dark and fighting each other.

There are plenty of things that need changes in our government, our economy and of course the constitution. Plenty! But, although most of the 99% don't realize it, we are in a fucking war, a class war waged by the 1% against us, and this is no time to iron out the wrinkles, we are fighting for survival. No changes for the good of the people will occur if we don't survive to demand them! You cannot imagine a single strategy or tactic of tyranny and oppression that 1%-Cons have not tried or will try and use against us. We are literally fighting to hold onto what little control and defense we still have.

We can stop them, we could even exclude many of them, but we have to PARTICIPATE!

The 1% is banking ~ literally Citizens United bankrolling ~ on our disengagement, apathy and surrender. Don't give it to them!

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

What is wrong with you? You never respond to any of the facts presented. You only go on and on with your dead rhetoric of support for the status quo while pretending that only one side of the coin is the problem.

Things are always getting worse because of people accepting the status quo and never seeking the solution.

Holding politicians accountable http://occupywallst.org/forum/freeda-free-democracy-affidavits/ is not ironing out a wrinkle, it is a necessity.

Empowering the People to PARTICIPATE on a national level http://occupywallst.org/forum/omni-organizing-municipal-national-initiatives/ in approving or rejecting the legislation to affect them (just as has been done in Switzerland since 1891) is not ironing out a wrinkle, it is a necessity.

Without a single change to the Constitution, the People throughout the municipalities of the country can bring about national legislative change without reliance upon a single politician. They already have that power. They only need to realize it and simply be organized to exercise it.

The facts



will never disappear. Electoral politics have never worked. That's why at the end of the 1800s the process began for 24 states of the Union to establish themselves as democracies. The solution is already in operation at the state level. The solution is already in operation at the municipal level. The solution need only be implemented at the national level. Pursuing democracy is the solution. Ignoring the pursuit of democracy is consent to 1% tyranny.

[-] 1 points by MattLHolck (16833) from San Diego, CA 5 years ago

omit party names from public news

[-] 1 points by WSmith (2698) from Cornelius, OR 5 years ago

omit sights on guns

[-] 2 points by WSmith (2698) from Cornelius, OR 5 years ago

Democracy works great and wonderfully when people participate.

Despite the Republocon RW 1%-MSM propaganda (which is supposed to be illegal) we have a viable democracy if we Get the fuck out and Register and Vote this November!

[-] 0 points by mdonelly (324) from Mineola, NY 5 years ago

Yes by all means, vote Democratic if you think it makes a difference. It would be a cold day in hell before I voted for another Clinton though.

[-] -1 points by WSmith (2698) from Cornelius, OR 5 years ago

If Clinton is the choice, she'd be far, worlds, universes better than a 1%-Republicon!!!

Republicons are owned and controlled by the 1%, they are a cult.

Dems are at the mercy of both a non-Voting majority and a 1% Big-Money strong arm.

OUR VOTER NEGLIGENCE is responsible for and perpetuates this dilemma.

[-] 1 points by mdonelly (324) from Mineola, NY 5 years ago

My days of voting for the 'possible' better of two crappy corporate & banking owned candidates are long over.

[-] -2 points by WSmith (2698) from Cornelius, OR 5 years ago


WE still have to live here and raise children!!

2010 Never EVER Again!!


[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

US Nearing Approval of Next Generation of Herbicide-Resistant Crops

Sunday, 04 May 2014 11:24
By Carey L. Biron, Inter Press Service | Report


Washington - Two key federal agencies here are in the final stages of approving a new herbicide-resistant crop “system” that would constitute the second phase of genetically engineered agriculture, following an announcement this week.

To date, the only herbicide-resistant plants approved in the United States have been related to Monsanto’s Roundup Ready system. This system uses six crops genetically engineered to withstand the herbicide Roundup, also produced by Monsanto, a U.S.-based company.

Yet use of Roundup Ready crops has been so widespread in the United States over the past decade and a half that farmers have increasingly found themselves battling weeds that have evolved resistance to the herbicide’s key ingredient, glyphosate.

According to an industry survey released last year, the amount of U.S. farmland infested with glyphosate-resistant weeds has almost doubled since 2010, to more than 61 million acres, with half of U.S. farmers reporting glyphosate-resistant weeds in their fields in 2012.

In response, Dow AgroSciences, another U.S. company, has produced a new set of crops that have been genetically engineered to be resistant to both glyphosate and another chemical, 2,4-D, known most notoriously as half of the infamous Vietnam War-era defoliant Agent Orange. The company says approval could bring in a billion dollars in revenues.

“The Dow proposal would be the first major product of the next generation of genetically engineered crops,” Bill Freese, a senior policy analyst with the Centre for Food Safety, a watchdog group here, told IPS.

“It’s advertised as a solution to the problem of glyphosate-resistant weeds, but in fact the weeds will rapidly evolve resistance and become more difficult to control – leading to what we call the pesticide treadmill. As we’ve seen with Roundup Ready, these systems are extremely good at fostering resistant weeds.”

On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) opened a 30-day public comment period on Dow’s application, specifically on its specialised use of 2,4-D. The other agency in charge of deciding on the application, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), has already given its provisional approval for the new cops, which include a corn plant and two types of soybean.

In announcing the start of this final phase of the regulatory process, the EPA was clear in the rationale behind Dow’s product, which is known as Enlist Duo. (An EPA fact sheet is available here.)

“Weeds are becoming increasingly resistant to glyphosate-based herbicides and are posing a problem for farmers,” the agency said in a statement. “If finalized, EPA’s action provides an additional tool to reduce the spread of glyphosate resistant weeds.”

Indeed, it appears that additional tools may soon abound. According to the Center for Food Safety’s Freese, nine of the 14 applications for genetically engineered crops currently pending before U.S. regulators are for herbicide-resistant varieties.

Sixfold increase

Critics are warning of a spectrum of concerns around Dow’s application, particularly regarding the impacts of increased use of 2,4-D. This compound is already in use, with U.S. farmers currently using around 26 million pounds per year.

Yet according to the USDA’s own estimates, this usage would likely jump by more than sixfold following the approval of Enlist Duo, perhaps resulting in some 176 million pounds used per year. That would constitute higher U.S. use than any pesticide other than glyphosate.

Even at the comparably low usage of 2,4-D of recent years, worrying health effects are already being seen. According to public health advocates, 2,4-D has been linked to increases in non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Parkinson’s disease, as well as heightened risk of birth defects among the children of farm workers who apply 2,4-D.

“The herbicide itself is in various ways more toxic than glyphosate, leading to cancer, lower sperm counts, liver disease and other problems. And it’s still contaminated with dioxins,” Paul Achitoff, an attorney with Earthjustice, a legal advocacy group, told IPS.

“Remarkably, you have government regulators openly admitting that, due to previous deregulations, you already have 60 million acres of glyphosate resistance, and now they want to address this by increasing the use of a toxic chemical. And so far, Congress has just yawned!”

Impact could also be significant for both nearby agriculture and environmental systems. 2,4-D has been shown to be highly volatile, tending to drift easily on the wind or to enter groundwater via runoff.

Given that the compound is specifically designed to be lethal to any broad-leafed plant, the impact of a sixfold increase in the use of 2,4-D would likely be significant. The EPA and the National Marine Fisheries Service have both found that the even relatively low use of 2,4-D of recent years is likely already having a negative impact on endangered species.

Agricultural crossroads

In a public letter released earlier this year, 144 “farm, food, health, public interest, consumer, fisheries, and environmental organizations” called on the federal government to reject the Dow proposal, warning that U.S. agriculture is at a “crossroads”.

“One path leads to more intensive use of old and toxic pesticides, litigious disputes in farm country over drift-related crop injury, still less crop diversity, increasingly intractable weeds, and sharply rising farmer production costs,” the letter stated. “This is the path American agriculture will take with approval of Dow’s 2,4-D corn, soybeans and the host of other new herbicide-resistant crops in the pipeline.”

Yet the implications of the biotechnology revolution in agriculture go well beyond the United States. Although genetically engineered crops first took root in the U.S., this approach has since spread across the globe, in developing and developed countries alike – though the U.S. regulatory system continues to be more lax on the issue than in other countries.

At times these new technologies are contextualised as an important opportunity to increase yields, particularly in adverse environments, and thus to combat hunger and strengthen food security. But the Center for Food Safety’s Freese says this is whitewash.

“The rhetoric is about biotech feeding the world, but really it has no place in developing countries. Most poor farmers can’t afford this type of product in the first place,” he notes.

“Biotech is not a humanitarian endeavour. It’s about promoting pesticide use by industrial farmers in developed countries.”

Freese says his office will likely push the EPA to extend its public comment period for Enlist Duo, given what he dubs the significance of the regulator’s decision. Dow is currently hoping to have its new crops in the ground by next year.

Visit IPS news for fresh perspectives on development and globalization.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Brown's Bittersweet Legacy

Friday, 02 May 2014 10:56
By Emily Schwartz Greco and William A Collins, OtherWords | Op-Ed


What a bittersweet 60th anniversary: On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling declared “separate but equal” school systems inherently unconstitutional.

After making great progress toward integrating public schools, our nation reversed course. Resegregation gradually replaced integration as a leading educational indicator over the past 25 years.

In fact, public schools are more segregated today than they’ve been since 1968, says Gary Orfield a UCLA professor and the Civil Rights Project’s co-director.

It’s not just the South. New York State is the nation’s worst offender in terms of African-American segregation, followed by Illinois and Michigan. Latino segregation, which the federal government only began tracking in 1968, “has steadily deteriorated ever since,” Orfield explained in an interview.

“I feel kind of heartsick” about the Brown ruling’s anniversary, he said, noting that Latino segregation is worse in California than anywhere else.

The resegregation of American public schools may come as a shock to anyone familiar with the increasing diversity of American children. As of 2012, just over half of our kids under 5 were people of color for the first time since English colonists decimated the Native American population. Back in 1970, nearly four out of five public school pupils were white.

Meanwhile, Kansas is planting the seeds of another potential solution. In March, its Supreme Court ordered the state’s lawmakers to make school funding more equitable and stop short-changing the education of poor children.

Thanks to the case’s circumstances, Kansas can’t ask the federal Supreme Court to overturn this ruling. Otherwise, the conservative majority might further sully the legacy of the 1954 ruling, named for Oliver L. Brown, one of the 13 parents of 20 African-American children who joined a class action lawsuit because they wished to enroll their kids in Topeka’s whites-only elementary schools.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for a breakthrough to ripple across the nation. First, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority just endorsed Michigan’s ban on affirmative action.

Second, educational inequality gets way less attention than our collective anxiety that American kids don’t learn enough.

Whether the crusade of the moment is “No Child Left Behind,” “Race to the Top,” or forcing teachers to embrace the Common Core, school systems are frantically measuring progress with tests of all kinds. This unquenchable thirst for data interferes with actual learning by making students spend endless hours getting ready to take tests.

Here’s one thing that most education experts agree would actually help improve the prospects of at-risk students: making quality preschool education available to them. President Barack Obama is on it, urging Congress to allocate $75 billion in federal funding over a decade to cover the cost of providing free top-notch preschool to all children whose families earn up to 200 percent of the poverty line.

How are lawmakers responding? By letting this proposal languish. They’re too busy worshipping at the altar of austerity to even think about it. And few local school systems have the money or the inclination.

That leaves it up to the states to pay for pre-kindergarten. Many are moving in that direction, especially Connecticut, Missouri and Hawaii. But getting the job done isn’t easy.

So far, Oklahoma is the only state boasting quality and universally available preschool. Elsewhere, when most children born into lower-income households get tossed into kindergarten at the ripe old age of five, they’re ill-prepared to meet increasingly tough standards. Starting at that point, the data collectors start recording, measuring, and decrying their shortcomings.

If Oklahoma can do it, why can’t the rest of the country? Or the federal government?

Still, even the best preschools are no panacea.

“High-quality pre-K is incredibly important but not a lifetime inoculation against poverty,” Orfield explains.”You have to follow up and not put kids in extremely segregated schools.”

After the geniuses who drummed up the testing cult move on, you can bet they’ll find a new educational obsession. And so it will go until that golden day when we agree that all children deserve access to a high-quality and equal education.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

How Did Canada's Middle Class Get So Rich?

The Atlantic By Derek Thompson April 22, 2014 1:57 PM

America's middle class has been richest in the world for decades, but as David Leonhardt and Kevin Quealy write in the Times' new site The Upshot, we've lost that distinction to our neighbors from the north.

Canada is officially home to the richest middle class on the planet, according to figures crunched from the Luxembourg Income Study Database. Here's the last 30 years of America's dwindling income advantage in a handy chart.

How did we lose the lead? The authors blame three broad factors: (1) Canada's education attainment is outpacing the U.S. and most of the world; (2) American middle-class market wages aren't keeping up with overall economic growth; and (3) Other governments are doing more to redistribute income to poorer families in other countries, particularly in western and northern Europe.

One word that doesn't appear in the article, however, is housing. The U.S. is emerging from a catastrophic collapse of the housing market that obliterated household wealth for millions of middle-class families. Canada, however, is in the midst of a delirious housing boom and a personal debt craze that reminds some economists of the U.S. market exactly a decade ago (before you-know-what happened).


[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Wolves of Wall Street: Financialization and American Inequality

Wednesday, 23 April 2014 10:32
By Colin Gordon, Dissent | News Analysis

It's no secret by now that the recent spike in American inequality, and the gains rapidly accruing to those at the upper end of the income distribution ladder, are driven in large part by "financialization"—the growing scale and profitability of the financial sector relative to the rest of the economy, and the shrinking regulation of its rules and returns. The success or failure of the financial sector has a disproportionate impact on the rest of the economy, especially when the combination of too much speculation and too little regulation starts inflating and bursting bubbles. And its returns flow almost exclusively to high earners. An overcharged finance sector, in other words, breeds inequality when it succeeds and when it fails.


[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Knowledge Is Crime in Washington: Kidnapping, Torture, Assassination and Perjury Are Not

Monday, 21 April 2014 10:41
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch | News Analysis

How the mighty have fallen. Once known as “Obama’s favorite general,” James Cartwright will soon don a prison uniform and, thanks to a plea deal, spend 13 months behind bars. Involved in setting up the earliest military cyberforce inside U.S. Strategic Command, which he led from 2004 to 2007, Cartwright also played a role in launching the first cyberwar in history -- the release of the Stuxnet virus against Iran’s nuclear program. A Justice Department investigation found that, in 2012, he leaked information on the development of that virus to David Sanger of the New York Times. The result: a front-page piece revealing its existence, and so the American cyber-campaign against Iran, to the American public. It was considered a serious breach of national security. On Thursday, the retired four-star general stood in front of a U.S. district judge who told him that his “criminal act” was "a very serious one" and had been “committed by a national security expert who lost his moral compass." It was a remarkable ending for a man who nearly reached the heights of Pentagon power, was almost appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and had the president’s ear.

In fact, Gen. James Cartwright has not gone to jail and the above paragraph remains -- as yet -- a grim Washington fairy tale. There is indeed a Justice Department investigation open against the president’s “favorite general” (as Washington scribe to the stars Bob Woodward once labeled him) for the possible leaking of information on that virus to the New York Times, but that's all. He remains quite active in private life, holding the Harold Brown Chair in Defense Policy Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as a consultant to ABC News, and on the board of Raytheon, among other things. He has suffered but a single penalty so far: he was stripped of his security clearance.

A different leaker actually agreed to that plea deal for the 13-month jail term. Nearly three weeks ago, ex-State Department intelligence analyst Stephen E. Kim pled guilty to “an unauthorized disclosure of national defense information.” He stood before U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who offered those stern words of admonition, and took responsibility for passing classified information on the North Korean nuclear program to Fox News reporter James Rosen in 2009.

Still, someday Cartwright might prove to be unique in the annals of Obama era jurisprudence -- the only Washington figure of any significance in these years to be given a jail sentence for a crime of state. Whatever happens to him, his ongoing case highlights a singular fact: that there is but one crime for which anyone in America’s national security state can be held accountable in a court of law, and that’s leaking information that might put those in it in a bad light or simply let the American public know something more about what its government is really doing.

If this weren't Washington 2014, but rather George Orwell’s novel 1984, then the sign emblazoned on the front of the Ministry of Truth -- “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength” -- would have to be amended to add a fourth slogan: Knowledge is Crime.

Seven Free Passes for the National Security State

With Cartwright as a possible exception, the members of the national security state, unlike the rest of us, exist in what might be called “post-legal” America. They know that, no matter how heinous the crime, they will not be brought to justice for it. The list of potentially serious criminal acts for which no one has had to take responsibility in a court of law is long, and never tabulated in one place. Consider this, then, an initial run-down on seven of the most obvious crimes and misdemeanors of this era for which no one has been held accountable.


[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

The Selective Subservience System

Sunday, 20 April 2014 12:41
By Michael Murry, The Contrary Perspective | Op-Ed


The government of the United States still demands that all American males between the ages of 18 and 24 register for military conscription – i.e., the Draft – even though that same government maintains that no such system of military conscription any longer exists. To enforce this Draft Registration, various penalties accrue to those young men who decline to submit. So, despite whatever the U.S. Government says to the contrary, our elected officials certainly seem intent on bringing back military conscription. They only await a suitable “opportunity.”

The intent here simply reeks of intimidation. The U.S. Government, in effect, says to the young men of America: “Even though we do not choose to conscript you now, we know where to locate you and we have every right to draft you if we should choose — and you have no right whatsoever to resist.” In recognition of this rank intimidation by our own government, I choose to call this crude threat to life and liberty “The Selective Subservience System.”

As a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. military during a period of coercive conscription, I say that under no circumstances should the youth of the United States ever allow the Draft to blight their lives and hopes for the future as it did with so many of my generation. Those who wish to start for-profit wars should themselves march away to fight them – and at their own expense. Leave the rest of us alone. We’ve done enough already. Yet we keep hearing ugly noises coming from various quarters insisting that the all-volunteer military doesn’t “represent” American society and that it makes resort to needless and pointless wars all too easy.

Well, to this I say that the same working poor who fought in Vietnam forty years ago fights today in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. So, obviously, those who designed the Selective Subservience System have managed to excuse themselves from the fighting and dying in any event, whether by conscripting the ignorant and desperately poor into military service or by “selling” this same class of persons on all the “benefits” of serving in the all-volunteer military. The unimpressed and justifiably cynical refer to this marketing and propaganda strategy as “The Poverty Draft.” Make enough Americans miserably poor and destitute and a sufficient number of them will join the U.S. military as the least bad alternative from among only awful choices.

I never thought that one positive thing ever came from America’s devastating War on Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos), except that 18-year-old citizens could finally vote. That latent threat of massive political involvement by the young, more than anything else except grinding poverty and lack of economic opportunity, explains today’s so-called “professional” — or mercenary — military establishment. Even worse, though, if we add dogmatic religious superstition (i.e., GAWD) and belligerent nationalism (i.e., “country”) to economic deprivation, we get a “Crusader” military establishment that destroys and kills not just for a meager monthly pay check, a few meals per day, the promise of some future educational assistance, and some cheap trinkets to wear on the uniform, but for “salvation” and “glory.” What a toxic combination of every conceivable horror. The “terrible worm in his iron cocoon” has returned from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries to again devastate huge swaths of the earth in the name of two monstrous abstractions covering for a simple but corrosive venality.

George Orwell explained it all quite simply: The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact. … The primary aim of modern warfare … is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living.

The U.S. military, despite what it says of its own “ideals” or “ethics” of “service,” exists to squander of our national resources so that these will not go towards improvement of the general American society. The U.S. military, like the vast prison system, in fact exists to keep the plutocratic oligarchy at the apex of the economic pyramid and the masses at the base of the pyramid mired in poverty and ignorance. Hence the incessant, blaring refrain of “patriotism” and “national security,” celebrated officiously by priests and kings throughout history, virtually guaranteed to terrify and subjugate the people into sullen, passive subservience.

Fortunately, only one half of one percent of the American people want anything to do with this kind of “service.” As Private Jessica Lynch explained her own situation: “I joined the army to get out of Palestine, West Virginia, where I couldn’t even get a job at Walmart.” The U.S. military had so little actual fighting to do against the Iraqi “army” that it had to invent a heroic fable around this one poor girl who got lost and shot up and eventually rescued by some Iraqi doctors. Lights! Camera! Action!

Only one thing explains why the U.S. has suffered “just” 6,000 dead in its recent decade of debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan: namely, the absence of a Draft. Had conscription existed, that total would surely have exceeded ten times as many. The cheaper the human life available to it, the more of that life the U.S. military will squander. So No Draft. Not Now. Not Tomorrow. Never. The self-styled “Best and the Brightest” (or today’s “Worst and the Dullest”) can take it from here all by themselves.

If America had a sensibly scaled military establishment geared to the defense of the territorial United States, then the fifty state militias and a small cadre of full-time professionals would adequately serve the need. America doesn’t have too few soldiers. It has too many “wars.” But America does not have a sensible or responsive government. It consists largely of power-hungry sociopaths who use the U.S. military as a weapon against the very citizenry that military claims to serve and protect.

It’s way past time for some serious demobilizing of the wasteful, money-laundering military-industrial-corporate-political-media beast.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

The Business Interests Behind America's Costly Medical Care

Friday, 18 April 2014 09:29
By Dr. Philip Caper, Bangor Daily News | Op-Ed


The United States spends far more on medical care than other wealthy countries, due mostly to higher prices for health care goods and services. There is a reason for this. In U.S. politics, social progress comes at a high price if it threatens business interests.

In 1965, at the insistence of the American Medical Association, Lyndon B. Johnson agreed to insert language into the Medicare law that prohibited the government from interfering in the practice of medicine, and assuring doctors that they would continue to receive their usual, customary and reasonable fees.

In creating the Medicare prescription drug benefit in 2003, Congress inserted a provision prohibiting Medicare from negotiating prices for drugs to placate pharmaceutical companies, costing the government billions of dollars.

In 2009, with the Affordable Care Act, the political price paid for expanding access to federally funded health care was coercing young and healthy Americans to buy private health insurance and directing billions of federal dollars to subsidies for private insurance companies. Not satisfied with that, pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers insisted on weakening cost controls. Even the modest tax on medical devices and supplies included to help pay for the law is very likely to be repealed, with support from both parties, to mollify medical device manufacturers.

The complexity of the ACA and the poor quality of some of the most popular coverage has created new business opportunities. Accounting firms are now jumping into the fray, offering their services as tax advisers and consultants to help folks navigate their way through the ACA maze. The ongoing shift in the burden of health-care costs from insurance companies to individuals through larger out-of-pocket payments creates new opportunities for banks to offer credit card services for medical debt, often at usurious levels of fees and interest. All of this further raises health-care costs.

Unlike most other wealthy countries, the U.S. lacks any central mechanism to constrain overall health-care spending. This has led us instead to rely on piecemeal, half-hearted and largely ineffective regulation of fees by Medicare, and micromanagement of medical decision-making by private insurers at a level unheard of, and that would not be tolerated in other wealthy countries.

Those attempts at health care cost control have failed.

When government requires individuals and businesses to purchase private health insurance, it must also assure that insurance costs remain affordable, or the law will unravel. The federal government will soon have to abandon its "hands off" approach to restraining the overall costs of medical care. Every country that has moved toward making health care a human right as a matter of public policy has quickly turned its attention to ways to control its overall costs, private as well as public.

We're already seeing more attention being paid by government, the media, and professional organizations not only to the prices charged by health-care providers, but to ways to restrain the use of unnecessary services and administrative costs, fraud, waste and abuse, and preventing illness in the first place. It should come as no surprise that Medicare data about payments to doctors has recently been released showing some very large payouts, and huge variations across the country. Although this data is incomplete and should be treated cautiously, it raises troubling questions.

The ACA is a work in progress. There is almost universal agreement that it has to be fixed, but plenty of disagreement about how to fix it. The architects of the law anticipated that likelihood. Section 1332 of the ACA provides great latitude for future experimentation by states, beginning in 2017. It allows them to discard most of the ACA's key requirements if they can come up with something better at no additional cost.

Vermont has already taken a number of important steps toward replacing the ACA with a single-payer system. Such a system would allow them to expand coverage to everybody, reduce total spending, and restrain the growth of future health-care costs to a sustainable level through budgeting.

Earlier this month, the Maine Legislature passed a resolve by a wide bipartisan margin that takes the first step toward following Vermont's example. The handwriting is on the wall. If the Legislature is unable to effectively deal with this problem, we in Maine can always express ourselves through a ballot initiative.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

The Pay's the Thing: How America's CEOs Are Getting Rich Off Taxpayers

Thursday, 17 April 2014 09:06
By Susan Holmberg, Next New Deal | News Analysis


Income inequality will continue to rise unless we close the performance pay loophole and curb the growth of executive compensation.

It’s proxy season again, and we will soon be deluged with news profiles of CEOs living in high style as our ongoing debate on CEO pay ramps up. Last week, the floodgates opened when the New York Times released its annual survey of the 100 top-earning CEOs. Lawrence Ellison from Oracle Corporation led the list again with over $78 million in mostly stock options and valued perks, an 18 percent drop in pay from last year. Poor Larry.

Rising CEO pay has been a hugely contested issue in the U.S. since the early 20th century, particularly in the midst of economic downturns and rising inequality (these two often go together). Because the numbers are just so staggering, most of the current debate focuses on the rapid rise in CEO pay over the past four decades. While executive pay remained below $1 million (in 2000 dollars) between 1940 and 1970, since 1978 it has risen 725 percent, more than 127 times faster than worker compensation over the same period.

With any luck, ascendant French economist Thomas Piketty and the English-language release of his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century will build much-needed momentum in D.C. to institute reforms that address our CEO pay problem. This is a major driver of America’s rising income inequality, which is the central focus of Piketty’s magnum opus. One reform in particular that is critical to slowing down the growth of CEO pay and its costly impact on our economy is closing the performance pay tax loophole.

Inspired by compensation guru Graef Crystal’s bestseller on corporate excesses and skyrocketing executive pay, then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton elevated CEO pay as a core issue of his 1992 campaign with a pledge to eliminate corporate tax deductions for executive pay that topped $1 million. Clinton was successful only in part; his policy did become part of the U.S. tax code as Section 162(m), but it came with a few unfortunate qualifiers, namely the exception for pay that rewarded targeted performance goals, or “performance pay.”

The logic of performance pay comes from Chicago-school economists Michael C. Jensen and Kevin J. Murphy, who published a hugely influential piece in the Harvard Business Review in the early 1990s that argued executive pay should align CEO interests with what shareholders care about, which is higher stock prices. Otherwise known as agency theory, this idea has profoundly shaped the executive pay debate and is arguably the primary reason the performance pay loophole made it into the tax code.

Once Section 162(m) became law, what do you suppose happened next? Predictably, companies started dispensing more compensation that qualified as performance pay, particularly stock options. Median executive compensation levels for S&P 500 Industrial companies almost tripled in the 1990s, mainly driven by a dramatic growth in stock options, which doubled in frequency.

Most of us think of skyrocketing CEO pay as simply a moral problem. However, economists like Piketty and my Roosevelt Institute colleague Joseph Stiglitz have been expounding about the havoc that rising income inequality wreaks on our economy (and democracy). When middle-class wages stagnate, consumer demand diminishes, which has tremendous spillover effects in terms of investment, job creation, tax revenue, and so forth. That particular set of problems relates to how much CEOs are paid. But there are also costly problems with the structure of CEO pay, i.e. what they’re paid with.

Performance pay can (and has) made executives very wealthy, very quickly, which creates incentives for shortsighted, excessively high-risk, and occasionally fraudulent decisions in order to boost stock prices. What kind of effect does this behavior have on the economy at large? Think mortgage crisis and subsequent global financial meltdown. Performance pay also diminishes long-term business investments. According to William Lazonick, in order to issue stock options to top executives while avoiding the dilution of their stock, corporations often use free cash flow for stock buybacks rather than spending on research and development, capital investment, and increased wages and new hiring.

All this and Americans get the bill. Beyond the innumerable costs we’ve borne from the recent economic crisis, the Economic Policy Institute calculated that taxpayers have subsidized $30 billion to corporations for the performance pay loophole between 2007 and 2010. According to a recent Public Citizen report, the top 20 highest-paid CEOs received salaries totaling $28 million, but had deductible performance-based compensation totaling over $738 million. Assuming a 35 percent tax rate, that’s a $235 million unpaid tax bill. The Institute for Policy Studies calculated that during the past two years, the CEOs of the top six publicly held fast food chains “pocketed more than $183 million in performance pay, lowering their companies’ IRS bills by an estimated $64 million.”

Congress is long overdue to close the performance pay loophole. The Supreme Court just made that harder. Thanks to Citizens United and now the McCutcheon decision, the same CEOs who are benefitting from the loophole are much freer to draw upon the corporate coffers to donate big money to politicians to maintain these loopholes.

Nevertheless, there is potential for getting it done. Senators Blumenthal (CT) and Reed (RI) have introduced the Stop Subsidizing Multi-Million Dollar Corporate Bonuses Act (S. 1476), which would finally end taxpayers’ subsidies to CEOs by closing the performance pay loophole and capping the tax deductibility of executive pay at $1 million. In the House, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) has introduced a companion bill, HR 3970.

There are many policy ideas for how to curb skyrocketing CEO pay. Piketty and his colleague Emmanuel Saez argue for a much higher income tax rate for top incomes. (The growth rate of CEO pay was at its lowest when the U.S. had confiscatory tax rates for the very rich.) In the current political climate, a more viable step toward slowing the growth of CEO pay and the damage it does to our economy is to, at long last, close the performance pay loophole. It should never have been there in the first place.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Want to See Where Your Taxes Go?

Thursday, 17 April 2014 09:13
By Robin Claremont, OtherWords | Report


The National Priorities Project (NPP) has done the work for you.


(Source: National Priorities Project)

Millions of Americans file their federal income tax returns by April 15 each year with no idea what the government actually does with all that money.

This is surprising, considering that individuals are our nation’s primary bill payers. Income taxes paid by individuals account for 46 percent of all federal tax revenues, which are projected to be $3.34 trillion in 2015. Other tax revenue comes from payroll taxes paid jointly by workers and employers, accounting for 32 percent; and corporate income taxes paid by businesses, which make up 13.5 percent.

Given how much taxpayers collectively contribute to our nation’s revenue stream, it goes without saying that we should be able to influence how the government spends that money. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. The federal government doesn’t make it easy to find out where your tax money goes.

That’s why the National Priorities Project (NPP) has done the work for you.

Using a customized tax receipt calculator, you can find out exactly how the federal government spent each penny of your 2013 taxes. Look up your tax receipt right now – is your money going where you think it should?

[Read the rest of this post on the Campaign for America's Future's blog, from where this is cross-posted with permission.]


This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Economic Update: "Tax Injustices"

Thursday, 17 April 2014 09:54
By Richard D Wolff, Economic Update / Truthout | Radio Program


Updates on how inequality persists across generations; the nonsense of "taxes are job killers"; governor uses tax revenues to prevent unionization in a private enterprise. Major discussion of state and local taxes in the US; the economics of paying executives very high incomes; and the privatization of public services. Response to listener's question on recent Medicare report on oversize payouts to doctors.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

In Many Cities, Rent Grows Out Of Reach

The New York Times By SHAILA DEWAN April 14, 2014 5:04 PM


MIAMI — For rent and utilities to be considered affordable, they are supposed to take up no more than 30 percent of a household’s income. But that goal is increasingly unattainable for middle-income families as a tightening market pushes up rents ever faster, outrunning modest rises in pay.

The strain is not limited to the usual high-cost cities like New York and San Francisco. An analysis for The New York Times by Zillow, the real estate website, found 90 cities where the median rent — not including utilities — was more than 30 percent of the median gross income.

In Chicago, rent as a percentage of income has risen to 31 percent, from a historical average of 21 percent. In New Orleans, it has more than doubled, to 35 percent from 14 percent. Zillow calculated the historical average using data from 1985 to 2000.

Nationally, half of all renters are now spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to a comprehensive Harvard study, up from 38 percent of renters in 2000. In December, Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan declared “the worst rental affordability crisis that this country has ever known.”

Apartment vacancy rates have dropped so low that forecasters at Capital Economics, a research firm, said rents could rise, on average, as much as 4 percent this year, compared with 2.8 percent last year. But rents are rising faster than that in many cities even as overall inflation is running at little more than 1 percent annually.

One of the most expensive cities for renters is Miami, where rents, on average, consume 43 percent of the typical household income, up from a historical average of just over a quarter.

Stella Santamaria, a divorced 40-year-old math teacher, has been looking for an apartment in Miami for more than six months. “We’re kind of sick of talking about it,” she said of herself and fellow teachers in the same boat. “It’s like, are you still living with your mom? Yeah, are you? Yeah.” After 11 years as a teacher, Ms. Santamaria makes $41,000, considerably less than the city’s median income, which is $48,000, according to Zillow.

Even dual-income professional couples are being priced out of the walkable urban-core neighborhoods where many of them want to live. Stuart Kennedy, 29, a senior program officer at a nonprofit group, said he and his girlfriend, a lawyer, will be losing their $2,300 a month rental house in Buena Vista in June. Since they found the place a year ago, rents in the area have increased sharply.

“If you go by a third of your income, that formula, even with how comfortable our incomes are, it looks like it’s going to be impossible,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Part of the reason for the squeeze on renters is simple demand — between 2007 and 2013 the United States added, on net, about 6.2 million tenants, compared with 208,000 homeowners, said Stan Humphries, the chief economist of Zillow.

That trend is continuing as young people and doubled-up families move out on their own. “They’re creating a lot of incremental demand,” Mr. Humphries said. But new households rarely plunge straight into homeownership, especially given that mortgages are much harder to obtain than they were before the financial crisis. “The expectation is that when they strike out into their own units they’ll be moving into rental as opposed to the owner side,” he said.

And as rents head higher in the tightest markets, many are discovering that living on their own is proving unaffordable, forcing them to double up again. Arturo Breton, a 37-year-old waiter in Miami Beach, said that after years living on his own, he was joining forces with a roommate who works as a manager at J. C. Penney. “I’ve come down to the conclusion that in this country, it’s easier for two people to pay the rent than for one person,” he said.

For many middle- and lower-income people, high rents choke spending on other goods and services, impeding the economic recovery. Low-income families that spend more than half their income on housing spend about a third less on food, 50 percent less on clothing, and 80 percent less on medical care compared with low-income families with affordable rents, according to a new report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. And renters amass less wealth, even non-housing wealth, than homeowners do.

The problem threatens to get worse before it gets better. Apartment builders have raced to build more units, creating a wave of supply that is beginning to crest. Miami added 2,500 rental apartments last year, and 7,500 more are expected in the next two years, according to the CoStar Group, a real estate research firm.

But demand has shown no signs of slackening. And as long as there are plenty of upper-income renters looking for apartments, there is little incentive to build anything other than expensive units. As a result, there are in effect two separate rental markets that are so far apart in price that they have little impact on each other. In one extreme case, a glut of new luxury apartments in Washington has pushed high-end rents down, even while midrange rents have continued to rise.

“Increasing the supply is not going to increase the number of affordable units; that is a complete and utter fallacy,” said Jaimie Ross, the president of the Florida Housing Coalition. “People say if there really was a great need, the market would provide it; the market would correct itself. Well, the market has never corrected itself and it’s only getting worse.”

Money for affordable housing has dried up at a time when it is needed most. Federal housing funds, in a form now known as HOME grants, have been cut in half over the last decade. The percentage of eligible families who receive rental subsidies has shrunk, to 23.8 percent from 27.4 percent, the Harvard study found. And Florida, which like other states faced large budget shortfalls after the financial crisis, has raided its housing trust fund, funded by a real estate transfer tax, for several years running. This year, the Legislature has proposed restoring at least part of the money.

Cities have been left to address the problem on their own, with some granting exceptions to their own zoning laws to allow for things like micro-apartments. Miami has allowed some variances to its urban plan for projects like Brickell View Terrace, which will have 176 units in a prime location near a Metrorail station. Ninety of the units will be affordable for people making 60 percent of the median income, 10 for people making less, and the rest will be market rate.

But a seemingly insatiable demand for luxury condos in Miami, created in part by wealthy Latin Americans, has caused land prices to soar, making affordable housing projects harder to build anywhere close to downtown. Moving farther out is cheaper, but the cost savings on housing can be quickly wiped out by transportation costs. A 2012 study by the Center for Housing Policy found that Miami was the most expensive metropolitan area in the country when housing and transportation costs were combined.

In many markets, buying a home is considerably cheaper than renting, and Miami is no exception. But many people are shut out of buying because their income is too low, they don’t qualify for a mortgage or they are burdened by other debt. In 2008, a quarter of rental applicants were still paying off student loans, according to CoreLogic, but as of last fall half of them were doing so.

Steve Gunn, 25, the marketing director for a Miami real estate brokerage firm, said he could certainly afford an apartment on his salary of $52,500 — if he weren’t paying more than $800 a month in student loan debt. Instead, he commutes 90 minutes to work. From his mother’s house.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Why Aren't We Putting US Agencies on Trial for Financing El Chapo's Drug War?

Tuesday, 15 April 2014 09:11
By Gabriel M Schivone, The Guardian | News Analysis


"This American system of ours," shouted the famed gangster Al Capone in a 1930 interview. "Call it Capitalism, call it what you like – gives to each and every one of us a great opportunity if we only seize it with both hands and make the most of it."

Since those untouchable days, Chicago officials have awarded "Public Enemy No 1" status to only one other person: cartel billionaire Joaquín Guzmán Loera, better known – now to the world over – as "El Chapo".

Nearly seven weeks ago, of course, El Chapo was captured by US and Mexican authorities after 13 years on the lam. Having achieved a cultural stature akin to that of a Bond villain, his capture naturally got all the limelight – while his US backers went more or less unmentioned.

But nearly seven weeks before an overnight capture at a beach resort, the Mexican newspaper El Universal reported how US agencies had armed and financed El Chapo's Sinaloa criminal empire for at least 12 years. That link has been substantiated by DEA and Justice Department court testimonies, and even US agents confirmed the financing had been approved by high-ranking officials and federal prosecutors. But the American media barely reported how entrenched the American government has become in the Mexican drug trade.

Instead, we got photos of agents leading a shackled Guzman, his head bowed by one of the marines' gloved hands gripping his neck, toward a US Blackhawk helicopter that would shuttle him off to a high-security prison.

"The choice of news organizations to not make the connection reflects a choice [of] what media would like for us to remember and would like for us to forget," said Crystal Vance Guerra, a Latin American studies scholar at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. She asked: Why don't we hold these agents and agencies to the same judgment as organized crime?

As we wait for the biggest gangster trial in years, why, indeed, aren't we putting American intelligence and drug agencies on trial for financing a drug war?

The latest instalment of the "war on drugs" has killed 100,000 people since its official declaration by Mexican President Filipe Calderon and US President George W Bush in 2006. During this period, the US-El Chapo partnership was reportedly never closer: under the deal, Washington allowed El Chapo's Sinaloa cartel to carry on business as usual while top Sinaola members, for their part, provided information on their rivals. DEA agents met with their informants more than 50 times, El Universal reported, as the agents offered their whisperers immunity.

American patronage goes well beyond stoking the largest and most powerful of the Mexican cartels (Sinaloa), as well as the most heinous (Golfo and Los Zetas). The US also openly armed and financed even bigger players in this game – Mexico's state and security forces. Just as the US-El Chapo relationship was at its closest, the Bush administration signed into law the Merida Initiative, a huge militarization package to Mexico under the "war on drugs" Between 2008 and 2012, President Obama increased security aid under the plan – for helicopters, armored vehicles, surveillance equipment and police training programs – totalling $1.9bn.

As US authorities surely knew by this time, appearances were deceiving on Mexico's counter-narcotics battlefield, awash with stockpiles of American guns and money. Drug arrests of cartel associates amounted to less than 2% of over 50,000 arrests made in the first four years of the Bush-Calderon partnership. As unflagging Mexican journalist Anabel Hernandez showed in her 2013 book, Narcoland, Mexico's government wasn't fighting to stop a drug trade industry – it were fighting for what the industry had to offer. Shattering popular misconceptions about the drug wars, Hernandez concluded:

[T]he biggest danger is not in fact the drug cartels, but rather the government and business officials that work for them and fear exposure.

The US played a leading role in creating the cartel underground in the first place. Joint US-Mexican military forces carried out brutal scorched-earth incursions in Mexico as early as 1976, ostensibly targeting small, rural poppy and marijuana farmers but actually destroying mostly poor communities caught in the middle. This enforcement-based approach hardened farmers into reactionary elements that relocated to major cities and eventually formed the federated Sinaloa-led cartels.

The American-made monster modeled itself off its creator. Today, more and more drug cartel-tycoons are investing in "legitimate" business enterprises expanded by US-based free trade. In Mexico alone, free trade agreements mandated a flood of US agribusiness imports that displaced 2.3m jobs in the agricultural sector; the average wage dropped severely while the commercial sector and the informal economy grew exponentially.

While actors both small-time (cartel) and big-time (government and corporate) claim to "make the most" of the American dream, those who end up suffering the most are the poor, women and undocumented migrants in the Mexico, Central America and the US. The amalgamation of the criminal ring that enriched El Chapo with US business interests therefore shows capitalism at its worst: a race for wealth free of moral or ethical considerations.

Officially, El Chapo's judgments are currently underway in Chicago, because the authorities there believe they have the strongest case to extradite the former public enemy for trial. The government of Mexico, however, will not consider extradition to the US without first trying El Chapo in Mexican courts.

But when the time comes, shouldn't El Chapo's US backers – the high-ranking US officials responsible for inciting and directing cartel violence – face prosecution, too?

We have long glamorized the lives of high-profile criminals, in everything from civil rallies to popular TV shows to entire musical genres. Cartels are the public demon so many of us love to hate. But a public focus on them essentially deflects attention from the way in which other players – like the US government – are not only complicit, but even run the show.

As the filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro Gómez once observed, "You can have a main character be the hero, but almost invariably the star is going to be the villain." He could easily have been talking about the larger-than-life media depictions of Al Capone in the 1930s. Or the media frenzy around El Chapo Guzman.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.


[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Affirmative Action Ruling Will Further Racial Inequality

Thursday, 24 April 2014 10:48
By Anton Woronczuk, The Real News Network | Video Report


More at The Real News


Bruce Dixon: The Supreme Court decision furthers institutional advantages of whites under the guise of colorblindness.


ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore.

The Supreme Court has upheld a ban on affirmative action in admission policies at the University of Michigan. The decision was made on space six-to-two vote and adds Michigan to seven other states who ban race as a factor in college admissions.

Here to discuss this is Bruce Dixon. Bruce is the managing editor of the Black Agenda Report.

Thanks for joining us, Bruce.


WORONCZUK: So, Bruce, let's put this in the history of recent Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action policies and racial inequality.

DIXON: Well, what the Supreme Court has done here is a couple of things. On the one hand, they've done a sort of 21st-century Plessy v. Ferguson on this. Plessy v. Ferguson, of course, was the decision more than 100 years ago now that ratified and made legal segregation in all kinds of public places and conveyances.

And as a result of these decisions that we've got here, the military and corporations are going to be free to retain their affirmative action programs, because, of course, the military needs black admirals and black generals. They're all over Africa and they're all over the Third World, invading things and subverting things. Corporations have to sell their goods and steal the resources of oil and timber and whatnot around the world, so they too need black and brown and women's faces. But in all the institutions that are directly accountable to white American voters, the Supreme Court has enabled those institutions to set aside affirmative action programs and to continue to give whites preferential treatment as long as they can do it under the guise of color blindness. And in that way they've made this a political football. And so they can pretend that they're just succumbing to the will of the people. But, of course, when we're talking about social forces that are already in motion, already in play, neutrality is choosing a side too.

WORONCZUK: Now, let me read you a quotation from Sonia Sotomayor's dissent. She wrote, quote, "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination."

So how has this history of discrimination in the U.S. prevented students of color and minorities from having access to things like higher education?

DIXON: Our ruling class and our nativeborn [racists] here have proved very genius at devising ways to privilege white people and to punish minorities in the realm of education. We've got standardized tests, which purport to measure student achievement or IQ or whatever but almost invariably favor students from families with higher incomes. We've got the tests that firemen and policemen are given around the country, and especially with fire departments around the country. Fire stations have been a haven for working-class white men to get privileged jobs and to maintain these preferences generation after generation, even after the cities around them have turned a majority black and Latino. So there are just endless numbers of ways to subvert any attempts at equality.

And the Supreme Court and the rest of the U.S. establishment has embraced the hypocritical notion that race-conscious remedies to racism are racism themselves or something that they call reverse racism. So the Supreme Court has just embraced that entire corrupt piece of reasoning and made this a political football and made anything that's accessible to white voters immune from claims of racial justice and claims that it ought to be dealt out equally.

WORONCZUK: Now, I've read in response to the decision that some have argued that we need to move away from race-based policies and, affirmative action and more towards class and income-based forms of affirmative action, basically arguing that it's class and not race that's the determining factor here. What would you say in response to that argument?

DIXON: That would have a lot of merit if race were not so awfully and totally intertwined with class, as it is in the United States. Race is often a stand-in for class, and sometimes class is a stand-in for race. And the people who say that, the forces who say that, are definitely not advocates of the right of lower-class black people to get people public educations. You know. So this is just totally hypocritical and a way to avoid accountability for racial discrimination. It's also a totally hypocritical construct to suppose that race-based memories to discrimination are racism themselves, but it is a hypocritical construct that a large portion of the white American polity has embraced. So be it.

WORONCZUK: Bruce Dixon, managing editor of Black Agenda Report. Thank you so much for joining us.

DIXON: Thank you for having me.

WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Privatized Suffering

Thursday, 24 April 2014 10:14
By John Steppling, John Steppling's Blog | Op-Ed

"And here it becomes evident, that the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an over-riding law. It is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him."

-Karl Marx

"Dehumanization, which marks not only those whose humanity has been stolen, but also (though in a different way) those who have stolen it, is a distortion of the vocation of becoming more fully human. This distortion occurs within history; but it is not an histori­cal vocation. Indeed, to admit of dehumanization as an historical vocation would lead either to cynicism or total despair".

-Paulo Freire

I have been thinking on the way the vast majority of the U.S., at least the majority of white and educated (even if badly) people seem unable to think in any terms but those of the most simplistic and reductive. I am always, for example, stunned that ANYONE, could feel anything but repulsion toward Hillary Clinton. From her earliest days as a Goldwater girl, to young and only semi competent lawyer in Little Rock where she defended utility companies and Coca Cola, to her final grotesque incarnation as assassin. Her gleefull cackling on CBS TV when the topic of assassination came up is among the more chilling public displays of inapproprate visible sadism in US political history. And still...and still, the ogre marches on and in her toxic wake swim countless female voters shrieking defense of 'bad ass Hillary'. Now, is this just the product of watching TV news, and news-tainment, and Hollywood film and TV? I think largely it is. But there are other things at work.

There is a race divide I suspect (I've not looked at poll numbers) with regard to Hillary. There is something lurking within the Hillary phenomenon that links directly to white quasi-feminism, the sort that never gives a thought to the mothers and daughters in Iraq or Syria, or Haiti or Venezuela. The narrative of U.S. politicians as war criminals is suppressed. It is, effectively, censored. A culture now tells itself stories about conquest, and revenge. Revenge even for small offenses. And those who extract revenge are applauded. I used Hillary Clinton to start a discussion of this topic because she is obviously an emotionally unwell person. I remember how George Bush pere used to have that strange habit of de-linking what he was saying from his gestures. If he were saying come here, he would be waving goodbye. Hillary has something like that in her the odd cadences of her extemporaneous speech. Her laughter (cackle) is never timed right, as if these laughs and smiles were spasms of some sort, not genuine amusement. But that American politicians are pathological should be fairly obvious, and yet it is not. John Kerry? John McCain? Susan Rice? Joe Biden? Obama? Tom Coburn and Mario Rubio?. Step back and look at these figures as human beings. They look unwell. Not physically sick, but emotionally. They look actually insane.

One of the more surprising things encountered in day to day life is how so many Americans retain a default belief in institutional authority. In other words, the tendency is for people to believe what they are told, if the voice is institutional, or already a voice of authority. The sense that, well, its the New York Times, they couldn't just, you know, lie. Where does this come from? This belief in authority. In institutions. One might say, well, most people who have to work learn quickly to distrust their superiors. Yet that logic rarely extends to elected officials, even if, in a seperate conversation those same people will say, oh, well, all politicians lie. There are these wide compartmentalized belief systems, and they dont interface. The narratives of power, in news, in Hollywood, are about structural integrity. If someone does something corrupt, they will be punished. Eventually. Still, often the idea of punishment is not the driving force behind these narratives. It is the pleasure of identification with power. If, if if only I could powerful one day! So on the one hand, a populace cynically expresses how corrupt politicians are, and at the same moment defend the greatness of their country, will go vote for Hillary, or Mitt, or whoever, and will argue until blue in the face why Kerry is better than Bush, or Obama better than Mitt. How do these contradictions co-exist? Well, part of it is the distance now created between the images on screens, on computers, plasma tv, movie theatres, and iPhone, etc. That is one world. A world in which a narrative is played out. The real world (sic), the non screen world, is one of shopping and branding and lifestyle choices. On the screens, "important" political figures do important political things. They burn up brown people, saving them. They burn up black and yellow people, to save them. The arrest poor people, to protect society. They lead the backward people of Africa, and Asia and South America toward prosperity. And now, of Eastern Europe, and in these global screen narratives crowds will appear. Crowds only appear to fight oppression!! Cheer the crowd. Cheer cheer. I will support their right to fight oppression. What does it mean to say "support"? Means little more than I will watch this crowd more than that crowd, on one of my screens. At home. At home where I have shopped wisely to create an effective brand-of-self.

Gilbert Mercier wrote recently:


[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Oligarchy USA

Tuesday, 22 April 2014 09:27
By Karen Garcia, Sardonicky | Op-Ed


It is a truth universally acknowledged that the rich have an outsized influence on politics. There have been signs and symptoms of misanthropic wealth pestilence all over this land. Premature deaths, one in five children in poverty, the worst income disparity since the Gilded Age, the highest incarceration rate on the planet. It's just that it couldn't be absolutely, scientifically established that a plague of oligarchs has descended upon us, chewed us up, digested the nutritious bits, and upchucked the rest.

Until now, that is. The pathology report is in, folks. At long last, we have irrefutable proof that the one indispensable nation has been subsumed by a bona fide oligarchy, leading to regressive tax policies, cuts in social programs, and capture of the mass media by corporate interests. Benjamin Page, the Northwestern University academic who proved one year ago that the ultra-rich have an outsized influence on policy, has just published a new paper with a Princeton colleague that makes the death of democracy official.

So, do we let the embalming and the dirge commence, or can we go all Dr. Frankenstein on the carcass and attempt to reanimate it?

Of course, the corpse has been rotting away for quite some time now. We've been sickened by the stench for decades, despite the cheery and unrelenting death denialism propaganda from the corporate media and political snake oil salesmen. We've been taught to equate citizenship with consumerism, a booming stock market with a healthy economy. We've been brainwashed into viewing politics a tribalistic spectator sport, and universal human rights as a lottery that we all must enter for that slim-to-none chance to win.

The powerful are able to maintain the con because, as serendipity would have it, the economic elites and the regular schlubs often want the same things. For instance, since rich and poor alike favor marriage equality, gay rights policies are on the ascendant. After all, the wealthy are gay as often as the poor. CEOs might make more than 700 times the salary of the average minimum-wager, but they have gay relatives in probably the same proportions.

Andrew Cuomo, New York's fiscally conservative governor, probably never would have championed marriage equality in his state without the approval of his Wall Street backers. President Obama also "evolved" on the issue when his LGBT donors threatened to withhold their own considerable financial support of his re-election bid.

As the report's authors note, "Ordinary citizens... might often be observed to 'win' (that is, to get their preferred policy outcomes) even if they had no independent effect whatsoever on policy making, if elites (with whom they often agree) actually prevail."

Among the other findings of Page and Martin Gilens:

Economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence. Our results provide substantial support for theories of Economic Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism.

When a majority – even a very large majority – of the public favors change, it is not likely to get what it wants. In our 1,779 policy cases, narrow pro-change majorities of the public got the policy changes they wanted only about 30% of the time. More strikingly, even overwhelmingly large pro-change majorities, with 80% of the public favoring a policy change, got that change only about 43% of the time.

When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.

The authors also indirectly scoff at the standard blame-the-victim canard that we citizens get the government we deserve either by not voting, or voting against our own economic interests. Um -- if you accept the findings of this study (which I do) you can vote early, you can vote often, you can vote for your own interests till the cows come home, and it still won't do you a damn bit of good. They conclude:

Perhaps economic elites and interest group leaders enjoy greater policy expertise than the average citizen does. Perhaps they know better which policies will benefit everyone, and perhaps they seek the common good, rather than selfish ends, when deciding which policies to support. But we tend to doubt it. We believe instead that – collectively – ordinary citizens generally know their own values and interests pretty well, and that their expressed policy preferences are worthy of respect Moreover, we are not so sure about the informational advantages of elites. Yes, detailed policy knowledge tends to rise with income and status.

Surely wealthy Americans and corporate executives tend to know a lot about tax and regulatory policies that directly affect them. But how much do they know about the human impact of Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps, or unemployment insurance, none of which is likely to be crucial to their own well-being? Most important, we see no reason to think that informational expertise is always accompanied by an inclination to transcend one's own interests or a determination to work for the common good. All in all, we believe that the public is likely to be a more certain guardian of its own interests than any feasible alternative.

Amen to that. Wealth does not necessarily correlate with intelligence, nor poverty with stupidity.

The rich, as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, are different from you and me. Yeah, retorted Ernest Hemingway -- they have more money.

And don't forget the power of their influential fascist jackboots pressing down ever more sadistically upon the neck of democracy's corpse. The rich are too stupid to realize that gluttonous feasting upon the diseased, the dying and the dead is harmful to their own health. Those ivory towers they build upon the weak foundations of an overflowing graveyard will soon tumble and fall.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Sixteen for '16 - Number 9: A Living Minimum Wage

Tuesday, 22 April 2014 13:15
By Salvatore Babones, Truthout | Op-Ed


In this series, sociologist Salvatore Babones previews 16 topics that should be on every progressive's agenda for 2016.

In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama embraced the movement for a $10.10 minimum wage. Two weeks later, he went even further, issuing an executive order that set $10.10 an hour as the minimum wage for all federal contractors, effective January 1, 2015.

As President Obama put it in his SOTU address, this executive order requires "federal contractors to pay their federally funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour - because if you cook our troops' meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn't have to live in poverty."

This new federal contractor minimum will be indexed to inflation going forward. The statutory minimum wage that applies to all American employers is not indexed to inflation. As a result, its real value has declined steeply over the years.

Does the president's $10.10 an hour represent a fair wage? Maybe. A living wage? Hardly. No one can really support a family on minimum wage employment, even if the minimum is raised to $10.10 an hour. At $10.10 an hour, it's hard even to support yourself.

The problem isn't just the low wage. Few minimum wage workers can find full-time employment; few minimum wage workers are able to find work year-round, and all workers get sick sometimes, or have to care for sick children, or (God forbid) need a day off.

But in the end, the problem is the low wage. The proposed $10.10 minimum isn't based on any real analysis of what it costs to live in 21st century America. It is carefully calibrated to meet the sensitive political criterion of raising families out of poverty.

It has been very carefully calibrated indeed. The current 2014 federal poverty threshold for a family of three is $19,790 a year.(1) The current Federal Reserve inflation target is 2 percent inflation per year. (2) Since the federal poverty thresholds are indexed to inflation, the anticipated poverty threshold for 2015 is $20,186 a year for a family of three.

At $10.10 an hour a person working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year - minus 10 unpaid federal holidays - would earn $20,200 a year, exactly $14 more than the poverty threshold. Ten dollars an hour wouldn't do it. Not even $10.09. You need exactly $10.10 an hour to pass the threshold. (3)

So the magic number of $10.10 an hour lifts the spouse and (one) child of a full-time, year-round worker out of poverty. The president's executive order indexes the $10.10 minimum wage for federal contractors to inflation, so no worker on a federally-funded project need ever live in poverty again.

It's all very neat, and of course there's nothing wrong with a modest raise for some of the worst-paid victims of government outsourcing. But make no mistake: It is modest. And it does not represent a living wage.

The problem is that the federal poverty threshold of $19,790 a year is calibrated to supply a "subsistence" living wage for a family of three in 1963, updated to reflect increases in food prices until 1969, and thereafter updated to reflect increases in prices overall based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). (4)

Our current official poverty thresholds thus represent the standard of living that prevailed more than half a century ago.

At the time, the poverty threshold was linked to the CPI in 1969, 12.1 percent of Americans lived under the poverty line. Today, the equivalent figure is 15.0 percent. (5) A greater proportion of Americans live in poverty today than did 45 years ago.

It is important to stress that the 1969 poverty thresholds and today's poverty thresholds are the same thresholds. We use the same standards for poverty determination as we did in 1969. The thresholds have been updated for inflation, but they have not been updated to account for any improvements in living standards since the 1960s.

The fact that the proportion of Americans living in 1969-style poverty is higher now than it was in 1969 is all the more shocking when you consider that real US national income per person (adjusted for inflation) has more than doubled since 1969.(6)

If the poverty rate has gone up at the same time as total income per person has more than doubled, you can bet that something is wrong. That something is the minimum wage.

In 1969, the minimum wage for most private sector workers was $1.60 an hour.(7) That is equivalent to $10.24 in today's money, adjusted for inflation using the CPI. The actual federal minimum wage today is only $7.25 an hour - and has been since 2009.

The president's preferred minimum wage of $10.10 an hour would come close to restoring the minimum wage that prevailed in 1969, adjusted for inflation. But 1969 was a long time ago. More than 60 percent of Americans alive today were born after 1969. (8)

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

If the minimum wage had grown in lock-step with growth in national income per person since 1969, it would have reached $16.88 an hour in 2013. (9)

Assuming that GDP per capita continues to grow at a modest 2.5 percent per year in 2014 and 2015, the equivalent figure for 2015 would be a minimum wage of $17.73 an hour.

That's quite a bit higher than President Obama's proposed increase to $10.10 in 2015.

The $17.73 an hour figure is not some kind of socialist dream number pulled from thin air. It is the minimum wage we would have today if we had indexed the minimum wage to overall economic growth all those years ago.

A $17.73 an hour minimum wage would be a living wage for the 2010s. In fact, it is almost exactly equal to the $15 living wage demanded by the 2012-2013 fast food industry protests, once you add in 10 paid sick days, 10 paid vacation days, and 10 paid holidays.

The 2012-2013 fast food protests were coordinated by community groups like Fast Food Forward in New York and Fight for 15 in Chicago, with support from the Service Employees International Union and other pro-worker organizations.

Only one city in the country has actually passed a $15 minimum wage law: SeaTac, Washington, home of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The law does not apply to all industries, and due to a legal dispute, currently does not apply to the airport itself.

No other jurisdiction in the country has mandated a $15 living wage, but the current situation is not all gloom and doom. In line with the president's plea to increase the minimum wage for all workers, Connecticut and Maryland have raised their minimum wages to $10.10 an hour, effective in 2017 and 2018, respectively. California is due for an increase to $10 an hour in 2016.

In fact, 20 states currently have minimum wages that are higher than the nationwide federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.(10) Many cities also have minimum wage laws, including San Francisco ($10.74, indexed to inflation), Santa Fe ($10.66, indexed to inflation), and Washington, DC ($8.25, rising to $11.50 in 2016).

But the federal minimum wage remains stuck at $7.25 an hour; the president's executive order raising the minimum to $10.10 an hour in 2015 only applies to federal contractors, and no one believes that a living wage of $15 an hour is politically realistic anywhere except tiny SeaTac, Washington.

Politics aside, the $7.25 minimum wage is a national disgrace, and even $10.10 an hour is inadequate to carry the "progressive" label. Progressive policies must do more than restore gains made in the last century and since lost. Progressive policies must move our country forward toward liberty and justice for all.

There is no liberty in the freedom to be exploited, and there is no justice in exploitation. There is no law of economics that says that the market wage must be a living wage. But a democratic society can and should have laws that are higher and nobler than the laws of economics.

Long before Barack Obama was born, an earlier president giving an earlier State of the Union address looked "forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms": freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

President Franklin Roosevelt died 70 years ago. He did more than any other president to save American freedoms from the twin threats of depression and dictatorship. He maintained that the four freedoms were "no vision of a distant millennium" but a "definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation."

Roosevelt's two "freedoms of" we have. They are liberties that we all take for granted. No politician, conservative or progressive would ever question Americans' freedom of speech and freedom of worship.

Roosevelt's two "freedoms from" we still lack. They are calls for justice that have gone completely unheeded for the last 40 years. And a living wage is the cornerstone of both freedom from want and freedom from fear.

The "distant millennium" of which Roosevelt spoke has come and gone, and many Americans still live in want of a decent income and in fear of losing their low-wage jobs. President Obama's call for a $10.10 minimum wage is better than nothing, but it is hardly a call for justice.

A living wage for all - that would be justice. And if President Obama can get us to $10.10 an hour, the next President should forget about indexing it to inflation. A minimum wage indexed to inflation would mean a 1969 poverty wage for the rest of eternity.

A living wage means a minimum wage that rises to meet the higher living standards of each new generation. It must be a living threshold, not a dead hand of the past freezing real wages for all eternity. The progressive agenda should include a truly living minimum wage benchmarked not to 1969 or 2016 but to our hopes for a brighter future still to come.


  1. Department of Health and Human Services, 2014 Poverty Guidelines, 2014 Poverty Guidelines for the 48 Contiguous States and the District of Columbia.

  2. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Monetary Policy Press Release, January 25, 2012.

  3. Somewhat amusingly, the president's speechwriters did not bother to factor in a minor adjustment due to the fact that the calendar year actually consists of 52 weeks plus one day (two in leap years).

  4. Gordon M. Fisher, 1992, The Development of the Orshansky Thresholds and Their Subsequent History as the Official US Poverty Measure, United States Census Bureau.

  5. Bureau of the Census, Historical Poverty Tables - People, Table 2: Poverty Status of People by Family Relationship, Race, and Hispanic Origin, 1959 to 2012.

  6. Calculation based on BEA, National Income and Product Accounts, Table 7.1.

  7. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, History of Federal Minimum Wage Rates Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 1938-2009.

  8. Calculation based on Bureau of the Census, Age and Sex Composition in the United States: 2012, Table 1.

  9. Calculation based on BEA, National Income and Product Accounts, Table 7.1.

  10. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division, Minimum Wage Laws in the States - January 1, 2014.

    Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Government Is Now a Protection Racket for the 1%

Tuesday, 22 April 2014 10:35
By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, Moyers & Company | Video Essay


A new report shows that top CEOs were paid 331 times more than the average US worker in 2013. At the same time, the poorest fifth of Americans paid an average tax rate of 11 percent while the richest one percent contributed half that rate at state and local levels. In this essay, Bill reflects on the forces that are causing inequality to skyrocket, why it matters and where we’re headed in the future.

Government Is Now a Protection Racket for the 1%

The evidence of income inequality just keeps mounting. According to “Working for the Few,” a recent briefing paper from Oxfam, “In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.”

PewOur now infamous one percent own more than 35 percent of the nation’s wealth. Meanwhile, the bottom 40 percent of the country is in debt. Just this past Tuesday, the 15th of April — Tax Day — the AFL-CIO reported that last year the chief executive officers of 350 top American corporations were paid 331 times more money than the average US worker. Those executives made an average of $11.7 million dollars compared to the average worker who earned $35,239 dollars.

As that analysis circulated on Tax Day, the economic analyst Robert Reich reminded us that in addition to getting the largest percent of total national income in nearly a century, many in the one percent are paying a lower federal tax rate than a lot of people in the middle class. You may remember that an obliging Congress, of both parties, allows high rollers of finance the privilege of “carried interest,” a tax rate below that of their secretaries and clerks.

And at state and local levels, while the poorest fifth of Americans pay an average tax rate of over 11 percent, the richest one percent of the country pay — are you ready for this? — half that rate. Now, neither Nature nor Nature’s God drew up our tax codes; that’s the work of legislators — politicians — and it’s one way they have, as Chief Justice John Roberts might put it, of expressing gratitude to their donors: “Oh, Mr. Adelson, we so appreciate your generosity that we cut your estate taxes so you can give $8 billion as a tax-free payment to your heirs, even though down the road the public will have to put up $2.8 billion to compensate for the loss in tax revenue.”

All of which makes truly repugnant the argument, heard so often from courtiers of the rich, that inequality doesn’t matter. Of course it matters. Inequality is what has turned Washington into a protection racket for the one percent. It buys all those goodies from government: Tax breaks. Tax havens (which allow corporations and the rich to park their money in a no-tax zone). Loopholes. Favors like carried interest. And so on. As Paul Krugman writes in his New York Review of Books essay on Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, “We now know both that the United States has a much more unequal distribution of income than other advanced countries and that much of this difference in outcomes can be attributed directly to government action.”

Recently, researchers at Connecticut’s Trinity College ploughed through the data and concluded that the US Senate is responsive to the policy preferences of the rich, ignoring the poor. And now there’s that big study coming out in the fall from scholars at Princeton and Northwestern universities, based on data collected between 1981 and 2002. Their conclusion: “America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened… The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” Instead, policy tends “to tilt towards the wishes of corporations and business and professional associations.”

Last month, Matea Gold of The Washington Post reported on a pair of political science graduate students who released a study confirming that money does equal access in Washington. Joshua Kalla and David Broockman drafted two form letters asking 191 members of Congress for a meeting to discuss a certain piece of legislation. One email said “active political donors” would be present; the second email said only that a group of “local constituents” would be at the meeting.

One guess as to which emails got the most response. Yes, more than five times as many legislators or their chiefs of staff offered to set up meetings with active donors than with local constituents. Why is it not corruption when the selling of access to our public officials upends the very core of representative government? When money talks and you have none, how can you believe in democracy?

Sad, that it’s come to this. The drift toward oligarchy that Thomas Piketty describes in his formidable new book on capital has become a mad dash. It will overrun us, unless we stop it.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

One in Three US Deaths Would Be Avoided if US Income Distribution Was the Same as Most European Countries

Tuesday, 22 April 2014 09:23
By Joshua Holland, Moyers & Company | Interview


In 2009, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published a study that revealed what seems to be a shocking truth: those who live in societies with a higher level of income inequality are at a greater risk for premature death.

Here in the United States, our high level of income inequality corresponds with 883, 914 unnecessary deaths each year. More specifically, the report concluded that if we had an income distribution more like that of the Netherlands, Germany, France, Switzerland — or eleven other wealthy countries — every year, about one in three deaths in the US could be avoided.

Put that into perspective. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), tobacco, including second-hand smoke, causes approximately 480,000 deaths every year, and in 2010, traffic accidents killed 33,687 people and 31,672 others died of gunshot wounds.

The mechanism by which a bullet or a car crash kills is readily apparent. Inequality is lethal in ways that are less obvious. It’s a silent killer – a deadly plague that we, as a society, tend not to acknowledge.

In Divided: The Perils of Our Growing Inequality, a new book edited by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston, Stephen Bezruchka, a former emergency room physician who is now a professor of public health at the University of Washington, explains the connection. (An excerpt from his chapter titled “Inequality Kills” can be read at Boston Review.)

This week, BillMoyers.com asked Bezruchka about the relationship between inequality and mortality. Below is a transcript of our conversation that’s been lightly edited for clarity.

Joshua Holland: The US is among the richest countries in the world. Before we get into the issue of inequality, how do we stack up when it comes to health outcomes?

Stephen Bezruchka: What we seem to be very good at in this country is dying young. That is, if you look at the average length of life, 35 to over 50 countries do better than we do. The CIA World Factbook counts countries with tiny populations such as Gibraltar and Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic, and it comes up with 50. If you take only significant countries, like the UN rankings, then we were 34th in life expectancy in 2011, meaning the citizens of 33 countries have longer average lives. It’s quite startling.

And we not only die younger than people in all the other rich countries; by some measures our overall health is actually on a par with poor countries.

Holland: What’s the link between the very high levels of inequality we see right now and our short average life spans?

Bezruchka: Studies over the last 40 years have demonstrated a very strong link between economic inequality in countries and their health status. So, for example, a meta-analysis — that is, a study putting all the studies on inequality together — by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and published in the British Medical Journal concluded that about one death in three can be attributed to America’s high level of inequality. So if you accept the hypothesis, it’s the leading killer.

Holland: This is the only wealthy country without a universal health insurance scheme. Or, if you want to be an optimist about Obamacare, you could say that our universal health insurance scheme is in its infancy. How can we be sure that it’s inequality leading to these poor outcomes, rather than other factors like a lack of access to health care?

Bezruchka: I worked as a clinical doctor for 35 years, as an emergency room physician. So I was the person of last resort. And I can tell you that medical care is a small player in producing good health in societies.

Certainly no more than 10 percent of our health is related to the provision of medical services. Medical care is very good at treating illness and injury, but a lack of medical care is not what causes that illness and injury. That’s something else, and a lot of that relates to inequality.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Holland: What about lifestyle factors? We often hear that Americans are making unhealthy choices — we’re too fat, or we smoke too much, or we drink too much. That would seem to let the systemic issues you’re talking about off the hook.

Bezruchka: Let’s consider what I call the Health Olympics, the ranking of countries by length of life. As I said, we were 34th in 2011. If you look at the countries ahead of us and ask, “out of all those countries, which one has the smallest proportion of men smoking — is it Japan, the longest-lived country?” Well, no, as a matter of fact, out of all the countries on that list, Japan has the highest percentage of men smoking. Close to half of all Japanese men smoke. It used to be almost 80 percent but they’ve been trying to eliminate smoking. And only 20 percent of American men smoke. So Japanese men smoke at twice the prevalence that we do, and yet they’re among the longest-lived. That’s not to say the fact that half of Japanese men smoke is the reason for their good health. But it suggests we have to look at other factors, and smoking is the most obvious and egregious example that I can use to portray that. But the same thing is true for diet and exercise and all the behavioral things we do.

The behaviors that really matter for our health include a range of social connections and family support. The studies and meta-analyses show they’re way more important than smoking and exercise and those kinds of things. And in American society, the economic gap that divides us also limits the range of support that we have. Basically, in a more unequal society, there’s less caring and sharing, and that’s what really matters for your health.

Holland: And you write that there’s a key period in our lives that has a huge impact on our long-term health. Can you tell me about that?

Bezruchka: Studies show that roughly half of our health as adults has been programmed in the first thousand days after conception. In other words, it’s the nine months in the womb, and the next two years after that which are critical for writing the software in our biology that will determine how healthy we’re going to be. So societies that privilege those first thousand days are healthier than societies that neglect them.

What do I mean by privilege or neglect? There are only three countries in the world that don’t have a paid maternity leave policy. One of those countries is Papua New Guinea, half of a big island north of Australia. The second country is Liberia, in West Africa. And you can guess the third. We do not have a federal paid maternity leave policy. All the other countries do, except for those other two. We’re in a league with two countries that aren’t very healthy, and our medical care system isn’t going to bail us out.

All the other rich countries have paid perinatal leave policies, meaning if you’re a working woman and pregnant, you get to take as many as 18 weeks off work with pay.

So what do the healthier countries do? Sweden spends more public money on the first year of life than in any subsequent year. We spend our public money on people my age and older. And what does Sweden do to spend so much money in the first year of life? In Sweden, it is mandatory to take a year’s maternity/paternity leave at full pay — if you have a baby, the mother and father have to take a combined year off. If the mother takes the whole year, then the father’s got to take three months. That’s at full pay. The Swedish government pays you during that period of time, not your employer.

Then, the second year is optional — you can take it off to nurture a baby at 80 percent pay.

In the third year of life, if you want to go back to work, you can put your child in a public daycare center that’s essentially free. And to work in a public Swedish daycare center, you have to have an advanced degree in play. Because what’s daycare all about? It’s about socializing the kids. You need experts.

Contrast that with our expectations — we require only somebody who will work at minimum wage and doesn’t have a recent history of child sexual abuse. That’s all we ask of our daycare workers. So we get what we pay for. We compromise the first thousand days and then we spend a fortune on medical bills later on.

Holland: You write in the excerpt at Boston Review, “There is a dose-response relationship, meaning more inequality leads to worse health.” What are the specific mechanisms that make that the case?

Bezruchka: What happens is those lower down the economic ladder experience more stress. Their lives are much more stressful, and they secrete more stress hormones until they’re burned.

Stress is our twenty-first century tobacco. As we understand more about stress biology and the impact it has on our lives, we are going to have to wage a campaign to reduce the amount of stress in our lives. In one survey, people in the US reported the fourth highest levels of stress in the world. That’s true despite all our smartphones and gadgets and conveniences and the ease of everyday life. It’s incredibly stressful for those who own all these gadgets, but the ones on the bottom suffer the most stress. Surveys of stress hormones find that they have the highest levels and they have the worst health outcomes. So the bigger the gap between the rich and the poor, the greater the stress on those lower down, and the higher you are up the economic ladder, the better off you are.

The interesting thing is that there’s no privileged subpopulation in the United States that has really excellent health. The Institute of Medicine’s “Shorter Lives, Poor Health Report” said clearly, on page three, that even those of us who are white-skinned, college educated and in upper income brackets — and exhibit all the right behaviors — die younger than our counterparts in the other rich countries. And it’s inequality that’s killing us.

Holland: We also work around 30 percent more hours, on average, than the citizens of other wealthy countries, which obviously leads to more stress.

You call poor health outcomes resulting from economic inequality, “structural violence.” Can you explain your use of that term?

Bezruchka: Sure. When we hear the word ‘violence,’ we think of collapsing towers in New York, or you think of somebody with an AR-15 mowing down children in a school. That’s behavioral violence. But if inequality is killing us—one death in three, as I intimated—it’s like an odorless, colorless, highly toxic gas that we’re just not aware of. And it kills us from the usual diseases: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure. It’s the structure of our society, the gap between the rich and the poor, that creates the inequality that kills us from all the usual diseases. And that term came about in about 1969, in the Journal of Peace Research, and they called it ‘structural violence.’

Structural violence kills far more people than the behavioral variety. That’s what we need to change.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 0 points by beautifulworld (22910) 5 years ago

"Student Loan Borrowers' Costs To Jump As Education Department Reaps Huge Profit"


"The U.S. Department of Education is forecast to generate $127 billion in profit over the next decade from lending to college students and their families, according to the Congressional Budget Office."

All that profit while students and their parents suffer, saddled under huge amounts of debt they can't possibly pay back comfortably.

The first sentence of the article above, "Washington politicians don't give a damn about you or me." couldn't be more true. Something is wrong here, people!

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

The Sad, Slow Death of America's Retail Workforce


The Atlantic By Derek Thompson April 15, 2014 8:00 AM

Retail sales just notched their best month since 2012 and the industry has added almost one million jobs since 2010. But the rosy headline stats obscure a more complex and potentially troubling story in retail—particularly for its employees.

The business of selling stuff is becoming much more efficient. Sales-per-employee have gone from $12,00 to $25,000 in the last two decades. That means that even as consumers spend more, we need fewer workers to stock shelves and process orders.

One reason retail has become so efficient is that more of it is happening across Internet cables rather than across registers. E-commerce is gobbling up one percentage point of total sales every two-and-a-half years. Call it the Amazon Effect.

And then there's the Walmart Effect. As I've reported, one Walmart worker replaces about 1.4 local retail workers, so that a county sees about 150 fewer jobs in the years after a Walmart opens its doors. Combined with the Amazon effect, this has dramatically reduced our need for retail workers to sell things, and so retail's share of the labor force, which peaked in the late 1980s, has been declining ever since.

This isn't the end of retail. But it is the end of some retail.

According to data obtained by The Atlantic from EMSI, the retail industry gained about 49,000 jobs between 2001 and 2013, which means it grew by exactly 0.32 percent. Which means it didn't grow.

But the major action is at the bookends of this graph below, which shows employment growth in the largest retail subcategories. Department stores, like JCPenney, lost more than 200,000 jobs this century. But supercenters like Walmart, which operates in more than 3,200 domestic locations, added half a million (often lower-paying) jobs.

The death of the salesmen isn't a uniform trend. It's spiky. Supercenters nearly doubled their total employment this century. But music stores, photo stores, computer stores, and book stores have been crushed. These used to be services you needed a store to buy. Now they're apps.

Retail is already a famously low-income industry. According to the Fed, real hourly earnings for retail workers has actually decreased since 2007, the year the recession struck. The upshot is that we're seeing a large industry stricken by the rise of the Internet, which is growing fastest into supercenters like Walmart that pay regularly low, if not minimum, wages to its employees. For consumers, there's never been a better time to buy stuff. It's not such a happy story for the people on the shopping floor and behind the counters.

[-] 2 points by beautifulworld (22910) 5 years ago

So, who is making all the money? Where are all the profits going? Seems to me human beings should be working much less and getting paid much more these days. Our governments, around the world, should stop the hoarding of profit at the top and allowing the wealthy and corporations to run off with all of the economy's wealth. It's inhumane and unsustainable. There is enough to go around. The economic system should work for the masses, not the tiny few.

In the press recently has been an argument that, hey, if you raised the price of the Big Mac at McDonald's by just 20 cents, or if you raised the Mac and Cheese price in WalMarts's by a penny or two, workers could get so much more! That argument makes me so angry! Hey, why don't the greedy shareholders of McDonald's and the greedy Walton family and other shareholders of WalMart take that much less in profit? Why don't they share with the workers? What would be the big deal of that? Do these people really need to hoard the extreme amounts the way they do?

It's all too much sometimes. Pure greed is the biggest problem we have to cope with.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

"Hey, why don't the greedy shareholders of McDonald's and the greedy Walton family and other shareholders of WalMart take that much less in profit? Why don't they share with the workers?"

Because they don't have to. It's not in the general nature of human beings to care for others they don't closely interact with. If it were, the masses would never allow or contribute to the power and abuses of the few.

[-] 2 points by beautifulworld (22910) 5 years ago

Well, they would have to if the government protected the general welfare of the people, like it is supposed to, and forced the greedy bastards to share. Capitalism is a man-made economic system that can be controlled, changed, tweaked, and profits can be limited in many different ways, through redistribution by use of taxation, by social welfare programs, and even by the creation of an entirely new economic system that puts all people first, over profit.

[-] 5 points by LeoYo (5909) 5 years ago

Government is composed of those "greedy bastards" who therefore protect their own class interests while the people continue to elect them to office rather than elect less publicized alternatives who have their welfare in mind http://occupywallst.org/forum/seattles-socialist-councilwoman-to-accept-less-tha/ or apply affidavits to ensure that elected candidates support the people's specific interests. http://occupywallst.org/forum/free-democracy-amendment/

Without reliance upon unaccountable politicians, the people of every municipality could vote to have a minimum wage that keeps up with inflation and corporate executive pay that is limited to a specific multiple of the lowest wage paid. If organized, the people themselves could accomplish this for themselves. It could be called O.M.N.I. which would infer the inclusiveness of 'All'.





Such a truly democratic organizational endeavor could greatly accomplish nationwide social reform in subduing the power of the corporations and even ridding politics of the influence of money. Such a democratic organizational endeavor would truly manifest government of the people, by the people, for the people while transcending the divisive nature of the duopoly and partisan politics in general.

[-] 1 points by beautifulworld (22910) 5 years ago

Well said, Leo.

[+] -4 points by WSmith (2698) from Cornelius, OR 5 years ago


[-] 5 points by beautifulworld (22910) 5 years ago

Oh, right. You are all for corporations controlling your economy and political system.

[-] -3 points by WSmith (2698) from Cornelius, OR 5 years ago

No, poor bunny, I'm really not.

But what's the use explaining to you.

[-] 3 points by beautifulworld (22910) 5 years ago

You're really not, but you kind of are. No need to explain.

[+] -4 points by WSmith (2698) from Cornelius, OR 5 years ago


Same bitches, #FLAG!!#

[-] 0 points by shadz66 (19985) 5 years ago

Hmmm ! Get real numpty !! Here's THE MAJOR reason why ''American democracy no longer works'' :

multum in parvo ...