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Forum Post: Noam Chomsky | Prerogatives of Power

Posted 8 months ago on Feb. 5, 2014, 3:23 p.m. EST by LeoYo (5797)
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Noam Chomsky | Prerogatives of Power

Wednesday, 05 February 2014 09:00 By Noam Chomsky, Truthout | Op-Ed

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/21671-noam-chomsky-prerogatives-of-power

As the year 2013 drew to an end, the BBC reported on the results of the WIN/Gallup International poll on the question: “Which country do you think is the greatest threat to peace in the world today?”

The United States was the champion by a substantial margin, winning three times the votes of second-place Pakistan.

By contrast, the debate in American scholarly and media circles is about whether Iran can be contained, and whether the huge NSA surveillance system is needed to protect U.S. security.

In view of the poll, it would seem that there are more pertinent questions: Can the United States be contained and other nations secured in the face of the U.S. threat?

In some parts of the world the United States ranks even higher as a perceived menace to world peace, notably in the Middle East, where overwhelming majorities regard the U.S. and its close ally Israel as the major threats they face, not the U.S.-Israeli favorite: Iran.

Few Latin Americans are likely to question the judgment of Cuban nationalist hero José Martí, who wrote in 1894 that “The further they draw away from the United States, the freer and more prosperous the [Latin] American people will be.”

Martí’s judgment has been confirmed in recent years, once again by an analysis of poverty by the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean, released last month.

The U.N. report shows that far-reaching reforms have sharply reduced poverty in Brazil, Uruguay, Venezuela and some other countries where U.S. influence is slight, but that it remains abysmal in others - namely, those that have long been under U.S. domination, like Guatemala and Honduras. Even in relatively wealthy Mexico, under the umbrella of the North American Free Trade Agreement, poverty is severe, with 1 million added to the numbers of the poor in 2013.

Sometimes the reasons for the world’s concerns are obliquely recognized in the United States, as when former CIA director Michael Hayden, discussing Obama’s drone murder campaign, conceded that “Right now, there isn’t a government on the planet that agrees with our legal rationale for these operations, except for Afghanistan and maybe Israel.”

A normal country would be concerned by how it is viewed in the world. Certainly that would be true of a country committed to “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind,” to quote the Founding Fathers. But the United States is far from a normal country. It has had the most powerful economy in the world for a century, and has had no real challenge to its global hegemony since World War II, despite some decline, partly self-administered.

The U.S., conscious of “soft power,” undertakes major campaigns of “public diplomacy” (aka propaganda) to create a favorable image, sometimes accompanied by worthwhile policies that are welcomed. But when the world persists in believing that the United States is by far the greatest threat to peace, the American press scarcely reports the fact.

The ability to ignore unwanted facts is one of the prerogatives of unchallenged power. Closely related is the right to radically revise history.

A current example can be seen in the laments about the escalating Sunni-Shiite conflict that is tearing apart the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and Syria. The prevailing theme of U.S. commentary is that this strife is a terrible consequence of the withdrawal of American force from the region - a lesson in the dangers of “isolationism.”

The opposite is more nearly correct. The roots of the conflict within Islam are many and varied, but it cannot be seriously denied that the split was significantly exacerbated by the American- and British-led invasion of Iraq. And it cannot be too often repeated that aggression was defined at the Nuremberg Trials as “the supreme international crime,” differing from others in that it encompasses all the evil that follows, including the current catastrophe.

A remarkable illustration of this rapid inversion of history is the American reaction to the current atrocities in Fallujah. The dominant theme is the pain about the sacrifices, in vain, of the American soldiers who fought and died to liberate Fallujah. A look at the news reports of the U.S. assaults on Fallujah in 2004 quickly reveals that these were among the most vicious and disgraceful war crimes of the aggression.

The death of Nelson Mandela provides another occasion for reflection on the remarkable impact of what has been called “historical engineering”: reshaping the facts of history to serve the needs of power.

When Mandela at last obtained his freedom, he declared that “During all my years in prison, Cuba was an inspiration and Fidel Castro a tower of strength. . [Cuban victories] destroyed the myth of the invincibility of the white oppressor [and] inspired the fighting masses of South Africa . a turning point for the liberation of our continent - and of my people - from the scourge of apartheid. . What other country can point to a record of greater selflessness than Cuba has displayed in its relations to Africa?”

Today the names of Cubans who died defending Angola from U.S.-backed South African aggression, defying American demands that they leave the country, are inscribed on the “Wall of Names” in Pretoria’s Freedom Park. And the thousands of Cuban aid workers who sustained Angola, largely at Cuban expense, are also not forgotten.

The U.S.-approved version is quite different. From the first days after South Africa agreed to withdraw from illegally occupied Namibia in 1988, paving the way for the end of apartheid, the outcome was hailed by The Wall Street Journal as a “splendid achievement” of American diplomacy, “one of the most significant foreign policy achievements of the Reagan administration.”

The reasons why Mandela and South Africans perceive a radically different picture are spelled out in Piero Gleijeses’ masterful scholarly inquiry “Visions of Freedom: Havana, Washington, Pretoria, and the Struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991.”

As Gleijeses convincingly demonstrates, South Africa’s aggression and terrorism in Angola and its occupation of Namibia were ended by “Cuban military might” accompanied by “fierce black resistance” within South Africa and the courage of Namibian guerrillas. The Namibian liberation forces easily won fair elections as soon as these were possible. Similarly, in elections in Angola, the Cuban-backed government prevailed - while the United States continued to support vicious opposition terrorists there even after South Africa was compelled to back away.

To the end, the Reaganites remained virtually alone in their strong support for the apartheid regime and its murderous depredations in neighboring countries. Though these shameful episodes may be wiped out of internal U.S. history, others are likely to understand Mandela’s words.

In these and all too many other cases, supreme power does provide protection against reality - to a point.

© 2014 Noam Chomsky

Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate

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[-] 4 points by LeoYo (5797) 8 months ago

As Trans-Pacific Partnership Falters, Opponents Go After Fence-Sitting Pols

Wednesday, 05 February 2014 13:39 By James Trimarco, Yes! Magazine | Report

http://truth-out.org/news/item/21683-as-trans-pacific-partnership-falters-opponents-go-after-fence-sitting-pols

Eric Ross spent much of the morning on Friday, January 31 standing on an overpass above Interstate 90 in Bellevue, Wash., holding a 30-foot-wide banner that read: "Stop Reichert's NAFTA. Flush the TPP. Vote No on Fast Track."

The "Reichert" called out in Ross' sign is Congressman Dave Reichert, R-Wash., and at issue is his active support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sprawling deal that would change the way international trade is conducted in 12 countries around the Pacific Rim, including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Vietnam, Peru, Australia, and Japan.

Opponents of the deal say that the TPP would roll back the gains of almost every people's movement, especially those concerned with labor and the environment. As opponents of the TPP frequently point out, the deal isn't just about trade: leaked sections of the text, which is not available to the public, reveal that the TPP would also lead to significant changes to policy areas such as intellectual property rights (especially on the Internet), the creation and enforcement of environmental protections, and the labeling and marketing of agricultural products.

Ross says he received wide support for his banner, judging by the number of honks he heard from the vehicles passing beneath. An organizer with the Vashon Island-based organization Backbone Campaign, he says that illustrates that the work he and others have done to educate the public about the TPP over the past few years is starting to pay off.

"For the past 18 months, it was negotiated with essentially no media coverage, and activists had to teach their own representatives what the TPP was," Ross said. "But it isn't as secret as it used to be."

All Eyes on Fast Track

On Friday, that secrecy took another hit as opponents gathered in more than 50 cities across North America in a noisy, colorful, continent-wide day of rallies, marches, and teach-ins. Events were held in New York, Toronto, and Mexico City, but smaller towns turned out as well. People marched and rallied in Red Deer, Alberta, held a press conference in Fresno, Calif., and protested in the downtown office of Republican Congressman Charlie Dent in Allentown, Pa.

The Allentown rally was intended to put pressure on Mr. Dent not to support Trade Promotion Authority. Also known as "fast track," this is special legislation that would allow the Trans-Pacific Partnership to move more quickly through the United States legislature. Lawmakers would get to vote yes or no on the deal, oncsie it is approved by the trade representatives of the 12 negotiating countries, but would be prevented from altering any of its specificities.

Critics of fast-track say that it harms democracy by putting unelected trade negotiators and corporate advisers in charge of trade policy, while specifically excluding input from elected representatives. Some call it unconstitutional, since the United States Constitution grants only Congress the right to make trade agreements.

Events on Friday showed a new focus on demanding that elected representatives commit to opposing fast-track legislation. The march and rally in San Francisco, for example, criticized California Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who has refused to state her position on the fast-track bill since it was introduced by Senator Max Baucus, D-Mont., on Jan. 9.

In Washington state, volunteers with the Backbone Campaign entered the offices of U.S. Representative Dave Reichert, a Republican who actively supports fast track through the "Friends of the TPP" caucus, and issued him a "spineless citation." Democrats Suzan DelBene, Dennis Heck, Derek Kilmer, and Rick Larsen also received "spineless citations" for taking no position on the issue, while fellow House Democrat Jim McDermott received a thank-you letter (with an illustration of a spine, of course). McDermott has pledged to oppose fast track.

Their positions matter because the TPP would almost certainly be approved if Senator Baucus' fast-track bill passes, Lynne Dodson, secretary-treasurer for the Washington State Labor Council, told the crowd gathered in Seattle on Friday.

"No trade deal has ever been defeated once it got to fast track," she said.

Cause for Celebration

Eric Ross told YES! that he saw Friday's gathering in Seattle's Westlake Center as more of a celebration than a protest because, after years of hard work, the TPP’s momentum appears to be breaking down.

Two major chapters of the document's text were published by Wikileaks in December and January, resulting in renewed and largely critical media coverage of the deal.

Next, right on the heels of the second leak, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters on Jan. 29 that he opposes fast-track legislation and might refuse to bring the bill to a vote.

That led writer David Cay Johnston to wonder whether fast track was now "dead:" "If Reid stands firm," he wrote in Al Jazeera, "it means new trade deals are likely to be worked out in the open, where the people and their elected politicians can debate the merits."

The TPP is also suffering from problems internal to its negotiations, which failed to meet the December 2013 deadline set for them by President Barack Obama. Talks in Singapore last December were bogged down over disputes about protections for agricultural products, among other issues, and no final agreement emerged.

In the wake of that failure, Japanese Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Akira Amari told reporters that negotiators should meet again this month.

"The upcoming meeting is very important," Amari said, "as it will be held before U.S. midterm congressional elections in November."

Amari's statements indicate that Japanese negotiators will push for a deal to be hammered out before stateside electioneering begins in the summer.

For opponents of the TPP, that means that the time to act is now. If Friday's events were any indication, this vibrant movement seems likely to build on the victories it's already earned.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5797) 8 months ago

The Zeitgeist of Tahrir and Occupy

Monday, 10 February 2014 13:33 By Ahmed R Teleb, Truthout | Op-Ed

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/21776-the-zeitgeist-of-tahir-and-occupy

On January 25, 2011, Egyptians shocked the world and themselves when tens of thousands besieged Tahrir (Liberation) Square in Cairo until Hosni Mubarak astonishingly resigned his 30-year rule on February 11. Nonplused, the demonstrators did not know how to follow through.

After months of organizing motivated by the Cairenes, New Yorkers invaded Manhattan's financial district to protest the rabid inequality they saw in America. They "occupied" Zuccotti Park on September 17, 2011, until evicted by police two months later. Despite knowing more about politics, perhaps because of it, they were stymied in attempts to find a new form of action that reproduced the impact of the Zuccotti occupation. These short-term failures, however, express a 21st Century spirit with long-lasting political effects. This spirit encompasses open communication, non-hierarchy, decentralization and direct participation.

"Our revolution is like Wikipedia..." Wael Ghonim

Out of respect for the sacrifices made by Egyptian protesters, it would be unfair to compare the January 25th Revolution with Occupy Wall Street. Tahrir Square is enormous, its events historic; Zuccotti Park is quite small, its events symbolic. Nevertheless, they share enough methods and goals that it is useful to see them together. Let's also not forget that Tahrir not only inspired Occupy and a global movement, but Egyptian protesters actually came to Zuccotti Park to show their support and sent media messages of solidarity to the Wisconsin State Capitol's "Walkerville" encampment in the summer of 2011.

One Cell Phone Picture

A single photograph ignited it all. Khaled Saeed was beaten to death by plainclothes police in broad daylight on June 6, 2010, outside a cafe in his Alexandria neighborhood, apparently for possessing evidence of a police crime. The snapshot of his disfigured face, taken by his brother at the morgue, went viral. Then, Wael Ghonim, a Google Mideast exec, started an instantly popular Facebook group "We Are All Khaled Saeed." He, in turn, paid for it with 11 days in secret detention and a share of beatings. The night of his release, he gave a galvanizing, emotional television interview just days before Mubarak stepped down.

The unprecedented massive protest against "torture, corruption, injustice and unemployment" was enabled, then, by the sacrifices made on the streets and the confluence of technologies that made sharing information on government behavior - and citizen outrage - possible: the mobile phone, the internet, Facebook and satellite television.

The impressiveness of that democratic revolution and the ever-increasing economic-political inequality in America triggered the New York and global occupy movement.

"America needs its own Tahrir." Adbusters Magazine

The idea behind Occupy Wall Street was to contest the alleged hijacking of social resources by a business (especially financial) oligarchy for private benefit. The occupiers shouted, "The market itself is a public space" and meant that it functions only with society's approval and government's support. Any market, like Wall Street, needs an authority to maintain a monetary system, a banking sector to operate it, a court system to enforce its contracts, and police power to protect property. Since all these are social-collective endeavors, the "99%" should have a say in how it runs. So they argued.

Rejection of Parties, Electoral Politics

"Bread, freedom and social justice," (rhyming nicely in Arabic) rang throughout Cairo and echoed months later in New York. Both movements wanted meaningful freedom, substantive democracy, and social justice - to nudge their countries closer to these goals. But that was only a beginning. Both eventually wanted to model, to be, something more than a petition.

The January 25th Coalition refused to become a political party and later would not endorse any of the newly formed Egyptian parties. It hoped, instead, to affect political discourse by remaining outside of electoral politics, its leaders outside of office. Occupy Wall Street also decided not to become a "party," unlike its right-of-center counterpart.

Democratic Party celebrities and union leaders visited and attempted to channel the protesters' ardor for their own causes. New York Congressman Charles Rangel, a millionaire in office since 1970 who receives 98% of his funding from large corporations and political action committees (PACs), attempted to win over OWS for the Democrats. In his own column, Paul Krugman attempted to spin the movement into a tacit endorsement of Barack Obama's second presidential campaign.

On the other hand, Michael Moore in the middle of Zuccotti Park remarked, "Those days are over," referring to endorsing candidates. He exaggerated only slightly when he continued, "This movement is going to create a new democratic economic system."

Occupy's position was that systemic financial corruption immensely benefits both Republicans and Democrats. The "profiteers" at the other end of "corrupt transactions" were clients or patrons of both parties. If one party breaks rank, it would lose a substantial amount of contributions and effectively cede an election to the other. So to the chagrin of Democrats, Occupy remained outside electoral politics.

Beyond their rejection of electoral politics, in the conduct of their "occupation," the movements were much alike. Employing consensus-based, non-hierarchical organization and volunteer services, they engaged in what some call performative politics or even "utopianism." On the one hand, they sought to model an ideal democratic society for the benefit of the broader public.

On the other, they sought to experience what participatory democracy would be like. The "People's Mic" for open, direct debate in general assemblies was mythologized. They wanted to see what they were never taught in civics class. What does it mean to deliberate? What does it "feel" like? In short, they wanted to "do it themselves."

But technology extended the "utopianism" past the communal feeling during the encampments and even beyond each movement itself.

Citizen Knowledge, Power

The technologies noted above that enabled the Jan 25th Revolution have also forever changed four aspects of modern society - giving a new meaning to "citizen power." Government is now the watched as much as it is the watcher. Information is now nearly free. Ideas are now liberated; e-books cannot be banned and blog-pamphlets cannot be confiscated. Citizen-citizen communication is now nearly instant and nearly free.

In effect, as outlined in Citizen Reviews and Brand Gov, there is a new "information market" on government behavior together with a new trust in collective intelligence. Markets work when open, large, fair and low transaction costs obtain.

Information once high cost and filtered through gatekeepers, like newspapers, became available instantly to almost everyone. Four such types are now readily accessible through Internet and social media: 1) information on the internal workings of government, especially through leaks 2) info about politicians, 3) info about other countries and their citizens' satisfaction, and 4) info about alternative political systems.

Social media together with other technologies have created a type of market in "citizen reviews" of government. This moment is a time of newly revealed improper government behavior the world over. Furthermore, the new information market puts "experts" of all kinds under scrutiny and exposes their ignorance on many matters, especially economic and political questions.

Due to this new visibility of corruption, trust in government is at an all-time low. Congress' approval rating hit near single digits in the fall of 2011, bottoming out at 5% in December 2013. Likewise, ruling parties in Europe and the Mideast are given little leeway, in terms of policy, by their opposition.

Citizens today are also more often comparing themselves to those in other countries. Migration remains extremely high despite poor economic outlooks. Through late 2013, there were 232 million migrants world-wide, according to the UN. Inside the US, a place that used to think itself beyond comparison, more and more people are looking to other countries for solutions to problems or models of reform, for example, health care or electoral systems.

One notices, for example, the new types of voting systems in place in localities as different as California, Minnesota, Maine, Vermont, Michigan and others. Such innovations favor changes not only within political parties themselves, but to the way they serve once elected.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5797) 8 months ago

Citizen Law

One of the principles of Occupy Wall Street was free access to information and culture. In January 2012 Congress attempted to authorize the FCC to shut down internet service providers not adequately protecting copyrighted materials, under two bills, SOPA and PIPA. The overwhelming response of "net-citizens" was a "No!" so loud that it immediately killed both bills. A similar measure was defeated in Europe the following summer.

In May 2013 Google's Larry Page decided to change google.ps's tagline from "Palestinian Territories" to "Palestine" - implicitly recognizing it as a state. Making the decision, he did not look at written international law or law decreed or enforced by states. He looked at what social institutions, like the UN and ICANN, had done regarding Palestine. Since they and other international actors, including states, had treated it as a state for all intents and purposes, Google would follow suit.

Both of these are examples of what is termed "sociological jurisprudence." Lawmakers and judges look not to what state actors have promulgated to find law but to what society itself is willing to enforce and what people are actually willing to obey. They illustrate the potential "citizen power" that could come in the legal arena.

Citizen Political Organizations

What followed Tahrir and Occupy went well beyond modeling of consensus politics or horizontal hierarchies. It was a global change in political thought I previously dubbed A New French Revolution, but is more properly a neo-Athenian revival - of direct and semi-direct control of government by "the people." Everything from participatory budgeting in Port Alegre and New York to citizen review panels in Oregon, to last year's events in Belgium were manifestations of the spirit that fueled Tahrir-Occupy. The last three years saw unprecedented citizen-led events.

In 2011, the nonpartisan "Healthy Democracy" in Oregon began its Citizens' Initiative Reviews, now supported by the Oregon Legislature. Juries of 24 randomly selected citizens spend five days deliberating the referenda on the ballot in time to report their findings in the Voters' Handbook. That summer, another "Deliberative Opinion Poll" was conducted in California with a randomly selected 400 volunteers to deliberate, alternately in plenary and small groups, on proposed referenda over a weekend. Its top six proposals were put on the California ballot.

In October 2012 Icelanders overwhelmingly approved, by a 68% super-majority, a constitution drafted by randomly selected, ordinary citizens. These 25 non-politicians deliberated over several weeks with public input via social media. Despite the overwhelming approval, Iceland's main political party blockaded it, preventing it from even coming to a vote in Parliament. But it remains an unprecedented example of direct democracy.

A year ago, during the political crisis between President Morsi and the opposition, similar citizen-centered ideas could have changed the tragic course of events. The impasse between the Brotherhood and National Salvation Front could have been avoided with a structural reform outlined in An Open Letter to the Brotherhood and the Opposition. It could have gratified Egyptians' thirst to participate, established a government inclusive of minority voices, and avoided the bloody coup.

Also in 2013, Belgium saw three significant citizen-led events. The Wallonia-Brussels Youth Parliament adopted a mock decree to turn Parliament's lower house into a "citizens' parliament" selected by lot. That same month, Laurent Louis, leader of a populist party, made a startling video announcement: He called for the dissolution of all political parties (including his own) and likewise the institution of a citizens' parliament. Best-selling Flemish author, David Van Reybrouck's newest book, Against Elections (Tegen Verkiezingen), quickly became a big seller. It urges his country to go beyond representative government and to eliminate (some) elections in favor of "lotting."

The 21st Century spirit that fueled Tahrir - that made these possibilities visible, palpable and global - appears not yet to have said all that it has to say.

January 25th's and Occupy Wall Street's political failure may in fact be their triumph. In demonstrating the inability of representative governments to meet the ambitions and ideals of the 21st Century mind, protestors in Cairo and in New York achieved a cultural coup. They educated the broader public about what is not possible within current political-economic structures and what alternative structures could be.

Moreover, their use of technology to democratize information and liberate ideas not only makes citizen outrage more recognized but also makes the alternatives generally available beyond geographical barriers. In effect, just as political innovation seems more urgent than ever (with the weak global economy, degrading environment, rapid change), it has also never been more likely.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 3 points by LeoYo (5797) 8 months ago

Fast Track to Income Inequality

Wednesday, 05 February 2014 09:35 By Lori Wallach, Campaign for America's Future | Op-Ed

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/21672-fast-track-to-income-inequality

Corporate interests were fiercely lobbying for President Obama to dedicate serious time in this State of the Union speech to pushing fast track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in order to try to overcome growing congressional and public opposition to both, but instead he made only a brief passing reference.

No doubt one explanation is that there is no upside to generating public debate: Poll after poll shows that Democrats, GOP and Independents oppose TPP and fast track. With almost no House Democratic support for fast track, a bloc of GOP “no” votes and public opposition making congressional phones ring off the hook, we can expect much of the president’s push for fast track to occur under the radar.

But also the White House had come under considerable pressure from congressional Democrats and base groups not to raise these issues, given the stark conflict with the main theme of Obama’s speech. Implementing TPP – a NAFTA-on-steroids with 11 nations – would undermine Obama’s efforts to battle income inequality.

The day after the speech, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made public his opposition to fast track, sending an important signal to Democrats that preserving Congress’ constitutional trade authority is the right thing to do even when a Democratic is in the White House. And, his statement helped solidify the sense among U.S. TPP negotiating partners that the administration’s blithe promises that fast track was easy and forthcoming may not be quite accurate.

But the major fight over fast track is in the House. Fast track is a revenue measure and thus must start in the House. The GOP leaders are seeking the needed bloc of Democratic votes to ensure passage of the Rep. Dave Camp- Sen. Max Baucus fast track bill introduced two weeks ago.

That bill went in without a single House sponsor, but the corporate and White House pressure campaign is gearing up. Their goal is to find 40-50 Democrats votes to combine with GOP support. GOP votes alone cannot pass fast track because tea party opposition to fast track is peeling away some GOP votes. Bottom line: our goal is to ensure the House GOP leadership can never count anything close to 217 votes.

A letter released last week signed by a stunning array of more than 550 Democratic base organizations reiterates the perverse situation. Despite widespread early opposition to fast track from many congressional Democrats and Democratic base groups, and consensus from economists that our trade policies increase income inequality, Obama is asking for Congress to delegate fast track authority to him.

The extraordinary trade authority, which Congress has refused to grant for 15 of the past 20 years, would suspend normal congressional procedures for consideration of the controversial TPP, which Obama hopes to sign soon. Who supports TPP and fast track? The corporate lobby that worked its butt off to defeat Obama’s re-election.

Meanwhile, last week’s letter was signed by a veritable who’s who of the organizations that worked their tails off to elect Obama and/or who provide his policy initiatives the support to pass: from MoveOn and CREDO to the AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; United Auto Workers; Teamsters; Carpenters; United Steelworkers; American Federation of Teachers, and the Communications Workers of America to the Sierra Club, 350.org, and Greenpeace to the National Farmers Union, National Consumers League, Public Citizen and TransAfrica – and the policy shops of the Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians and numerous Catholic orders. The letter is notable for the number of signatory organizations that have not been involved in past “trade” fights.

This gets to the major policy collision that only adds to the incongruity of the political situation: The TPP would worsen income inequality. Yup, the main theme of Obama’s State of the Union address has been widely advertised to be his battle against growing American income inequality. But economists of all stripes agree that U.S. trade policy has been a major contributor to growing inequality. A study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which supports the TPP, has estimated that as much as 39 percent of the observed growth in U.S. wage inequality is attributable to trade trends – and more recent studies put the figure higher.

A surprising addition to that chorus: Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich, who urged his massive Facebook following to battle fast track and TPP, which he called NAFTA-on-steroids. “[T]his massive deal [TPP] would further erode the jobs and wages of working and middle-class Americans while delivering its biggest gains to corporate executives and shareholders.”

The letter, organized by the Citizens Trade Campaign, shows the political muscle behind the campaign to make sure TPP is not fast-tracked: “After decades of devastating job loss, attacks on environmental and health laws and floods of unsafe imported food under our past trade agreements, America must chart a new course on trade policy. To accomplish this, a new form of trade authority is needed that ensures Congress and the public play a much more meaningful role in determining the contents of U.S. trade agreements…”

And, it was notable that not all of the congressional GOP stood and cheered the president’s State of the Union reference to fast track. Already several dozen Republican House members have announced their opposition to new fast track powers for Obama. A conservative grassroots campaign is gearing up against fast track and TPP.

What could unite the A-Z of the Democratic base and conservative grassroots activists? Um, could be the 20 devastating years of damage by the North American Free-Trade Agreement experienced by American workers and communities across the political spectrum. Fast Tracking NAFTA-on-steroids is a hard sell after NAFTA fueled an explosion of the U.S. trade deficit with Mexico and Canada to $181 billion by 2012, resulting in a net American loss of one million jobs. And it is not news that NAFTA increased income inequality by transforming the composition of jobs available to the 63 percent of American workers without college degrees from higher wage manufacturing to low-wage service sector.

And, then there is the inconvenient mess of Obama’s only major trade deal to date, the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. That deal was premised on the same NAFTA model as the TPP. In his 2011 State of the Union, Obama promised the pact would expand U.S. exports to Korea. In the pact’s first year, exports dropped 10 percent, imports soared and the U.S. trade deficit with Korea grew 37 percent, equating to a net loss of approximately 40,000 more U.S. jobs.

Will President Obama choose to mount what will need to be a massive campaign to overcome widespread opposition to fast track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership? And probably fail even so?

Or, will he choose to focus his efforts on reducing income inequality for millions of Americans?

It remains to be seen what his legacy will be. But one thing is clear: President Obama can’t have it both ways.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5797) 8 months ago

No Fast Track to TPP: Fix NAFTA First

Saturday, 15 February 2014 10:24 By Dave Johnson, Campaign for America's Future | News Analysis

http://truth-out.org/news/item/21888-no-fast-track-to-tpp-fix-nafta-first

The big corporations and the Obama administration are trying to push through a giant new trade treaty that gives corporations even more power, and which will send even more jobs, factories, industries and money out of the country. This is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and they are pushing something called “fast track” in Congress to help push it through.

We have to stop this, and we should take the momentum we have generated in our push-back on this to demand Congress and President Obama instead fix NAFTA first. Then fix all of our trade relationships to help working people on all sides of our borders.

TPP, Fast Track And NAFTA

There has been a lot of news about the upcoming TPP trade agreement. The agreement is being negotiated in extreme secrecy in a corporate-dominated process that appears to be leading to an agreement that would give corporations even more power than they already have. Now there is a push to pass a process called fast track through Congress in order to enable the large corporations to strong-arm TPP into law mobilized organizations around the country to sound the alarm.

Those resisting this TPP/Fast Track effort have put out a lot of good, solid information detailing the problems that previous trade agreements have caused. For example Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch issued a report, “NAFTA at 20: One Million U.S. Jobs Lost, Mass Displacement and Instability in Mexico, Record Income Inequality, Scores of Corporate Attacks on Environmental and Health Laws“. This report compared the promises with which NAFTA was sold to the results we can measure 20 years later. Some of the effects of NAFTA that are highlighted in the report include: a $181 billion U.S. trade deficit with NAFTA partners Mexico and Canada, one million net U.S. jobs lost because of NAFTA, a doubling of immigration from Mexico, larger agricultural trade deficits with Mexico and Canada, and more than $360 million paid to corporations after “investor-state” tribunal attacks on, and rollbacks of, domestic public interest policies.

The data also show how post-NAFTA trade and investment trends have contributed to: middle-class pay cuts, which in turn contributed to growing income inequality; U.S. trade deficit growth with Mexico and Canada 45 percent higher than with countries not party to a U.S. Free Trade Agreement, U.S. manufacturing and services exports to Canada and Mexico that have grown at less than half the pre-NAFTA rate.

Former Michigan Congressman and Democratic Whip David Bonior made these points in a recent New York Times op-ed titled “Obama’s Free-Trade Conundrum“: In 1993, before NAFTA, the United States had a $2.5 billion trade surplus with Mexico and a $29 billion deficit with Canada. In 2012, the combined NAFTA trade deficit was $181 billion, even as the share of that deficit made up of oil imports dropped 22 percent. The companies that took the most advantage of NAFTA — big manufacturers like G.E., Caterpillar and Chrysler — promised they would create more jobs at their American factories if NAFTA passed. Instead, they fired American workers and shifted production to Mexico. A 1997 Cornell University study ordered by the NAFTA Commission for Labor Cooperation found that as many as 62 percent of union drives faced employer threats to relocate abroad, and the factory shutdown rate following successful union certifications tripled after NAFTA. [S]ince NAFTA’s implementation, the share of national income collected by the richest 10 percent has risen by 24 percent, while the top 1 percent’s share has shot up by 58 percent. American workers without college degrees had most likely lost more than 12 percent of their wages to NAFTA-style trade, even accounting for the benefits of cheaper goods. This means a loss of more than $3,300 per year for a worker earning the median annual wage of $27,500.

Jeff Faux of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), in “NAFTA’s Impact on U.S. Workers,” laid out the four ways NAFTA hurt US workers:

By establishing the principle that U.S. corporations could relocate production elsewhere and sell back into the United States, NAFTA undercut the bargaining power of American workers, which had driven the expansion of the middle class since the end of World War II. The result has been 20 years of stagnant wages and the upward redistribution of income, wealth and political power.

NAFTA affected U.S. workers in four principal ways. First, it caused the loss of some 700,000 jobs as production moved to Mexico. … Second, NAFTA strengthened the ability of U.S. employers to force workers to accept lower wages and benefits. As soon as NAFTA became law, corporate managers began telling their workers that their companies intended to move to Mexico unless the workers lowered the cost of their labor. …

Third, the destructive effect of NAFTA on the Mexican agricultural and small business sectors dislocated several million Mexican workers and their families, and was a major cause in the dramatic increase in undocumented workers flowing into the U.S. labor market. This put further downward pressure on U.S. wages…

Fourth, and ultimately most important, NAFTA was the template for rules of the emerging global economy, in which the benefits would flow to capital and the costs to labor.

NAFTA has done harm to our economy and our jobs. But it is hardly just NAFTA that is hurting us – using the NAFTA template for other trade deals like our trade deal with China have compounded the damage. (The 2012 Korea-U.S. trade agreement has already cost 40,000 jobs and increased our trade deficit by $5.8 billion.)

The resulting loss of millions and millions of jobs, tens of thousands of factories, entire industries and continuing, enormous, humongous trade deficits now in the vicinity of $500 billion a year have done and are doing tremendous economic damage. This is wiping out our middle class and contributing to (if not being the major cause of) the terrible inequality that is tearing the country apart.

The public instinctively understands that these one-sided, giant-corporation-favoring trade deals have harmed the country and hurt many people’s ability to make a decent living. To the public “NAFTA” is shorthand for all of them. This is why TPP is called “NAFTA on steroids” by the opposition: It cuts to the point.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5797) 8 months ago

We Have Waited

President Obama understood this during in the 2008 campaign when he promised over and over again to renegotiate NAFTA.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PF9gpvI2UfU&feature=player_embedded

But then, just after taking office, he said we would have to wait. A February 20, 2009 Washington Post report, “NAFTA Renegotiation Must Wait, Obama Says,” tells the story:

President Obama warned on Thursday against a “strong impulse” toward protectionism while the world suffers a global economic recession and said his election-year promise to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement on behalf of unions and environmentalists will have to wait.

We have waited. We have waited and waited. It is February 2014 and we have been waiting for five years. And by some coincidence jobs and the economy have not really recovered – and not at all for regular, working people. But instead of renegotiating NAFTA and other agreements to fix the problems that are sending jobs, factories, entire industries and $500 billion a year out of the country, we instead see the administration pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and fast track, which we all know will just make things worse.

The poor economy, decline of the middle class and incredible level of inequality have raised awareness that these trade deals have hurt us. Even with a near-complete media “blackout” of news about TPP and fast track, more and more people are “getting it” that the past trade agreements have driven wages down.

A recent poll asking the public their opinion of the fast track legislative push found “strong opposition,” “with a strong majority of Americans indicating their belief that trade agreements make the country worse off.” Sixty-two percent say they oppose fast track versus 28 percent who say they favor it. Also from the poll’s press release:

In households where a voter either owns or works for a small business, the verdict is clear: 64 percent say they expect TPP to hurt more than help small business.

On wages and jobs, the environment and food safety, voters clearly believe that TPP will make things worse. By a 35 point margin, voters believe that TPP would make things worse in terms of American wages (56-21). By a 30 point margin, voters believe that TPP would make things worse environmentally, not better (48-18). Among voters under age 35, 54 percent say that TPP would have an adverse environmental impact. A full 63 percent believe that TPP would make U.S food safety worse.

The public “gets it.” People “get it” that big companies have been using “NAFTA-style” trade agreements to cross democracy’s borders to escape democracy’s regulation and decent wages. People “get it” that big companies have been using these “trade” agreements to drive down wages here, pressuring people to accept concessions or lose their job and pressuring communities to give tax concessions.

The last thing people want is any more of this. And in our country decisions should be based on what the people want.

Fix NAFTA First

Once again we are rushing to do more of something that hurts the country, because it benefits a few people who have tremendous political influence. This time, instead of pushing through yet another job-killing treaty that enriches the billionaires at the expense of the rest of us, let’s stop. Take a breath. Take control of the process. Then continue the momentum and understanding this fight has generated to demand our leaders actually fix some problemsbefore rushing to make things worse. This time.

It is not only the wrong time to bring fast track up for a vote in Congress, it is time to scrap the TPP agreement. Instead we need to fix NAFTA first.

Fix NAFTA first. It is time to renegotiate NAFTA and set it up as a new kind of trade template that works for the 99 percent here and in other countries. Then fix the rest of the trade regime and make it work for We, the People instead of a very few wealthy people.

Trade is a good thing, but not the way we have been doing it. Trade done right can lift people on all sides of all borders. It can and does increase prosperity. But the way the giant corporations have captured and rigged the current negotiating process is hurting our country – and the rest of the world. It is creating terrible inequality and terrible economic imbalances around the globe.

What should trade-done-right look like? That’s for another post. But here is a hint: In an agreement negotiated by a democracy, wouldn’t it be a trade violation to threaten to move someone’s job out of the country if they ask for a raise or don’t accept a wage cut?

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5797) 8 months ago

The Day We Fight Back: Activism Sweeps the Internet with Global Action Against Mass Surveillance

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 10:04 By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! | Video Interview

Nearly a decade after the George W. Bush administration’s warrantless spying program came to light, the issue of mass government surveillance has again sparked a global outcry with the disclosures of whistleblower Edward Snowden. Leaks of National Security Agency files have exposed a mammoth spying apparatus that stretches across the planet, from phone records to text messages to social media and email, from the internal communications of climate summits to those of foreign missions and even individual heads of state. Today privacy advocates are holding one of their biggest online actions so far with "The Day We Fight Back Against Mass Surveillance." Thousands of websites will speak in one voice, displaying a banner encouraging visitors to fight back by posting memes and changing their social media avatars to reflect their demands, as well as contacting their members of Congress to push through surveillance reform legislation. The action is inspired in part by the late Internet open-access activist Aaron Swartz, who helped set a precedent in January 2012 when more than 8,000 websites went dark for 12 hours in protest of a pair of controversial bills that were being debated in Congress: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). The bills died in committee in the wake of protests. We discuss today’s global action with Rainey Reitman, activism director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and co-founder of the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

TRANSCRIPT

http://truth-out.org/news/item/21815-the-day-we-fight-back-activism-sweeps-the-internet-with-global-action-against-mass-surveillance

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5797) 8 months ago

NSA Whistleblower: USA Freedom Act Will Not Go Far Enough to Protect Civil Liberties

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 11:00 By Jessica Desvarieux, The Real News Network | Video Interview

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/21818-nsa-whistleblower-usa-freedom-act-will-not-go-far-enough-to-protect-civil-liberties

More at The Real News

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=JMOsrXBQwFo

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

On Tuesday, protesters from all over the world are gathering to support reforms to mass surveillance. They are calling it the Daily Fight Back. Organizers say more than 4,000 organizations and websites have pledged to support the day of action.

This comes on the heels, of course, of leak after leak from Edward Snowden, who's revealing how much the U.S. government is actually spying on its own citizens.

Now joining us to get into all this is Kirk Wiebe. He's a former NSA senior intelligence analyst and an NSA whistleblower who worked for the NSA for more than 32 years.

Thanks so much for joining us, Kirk.

J. KIRK WIEBE, FMR. SENIOR INTELLIGENCE ANALYST, NSA: It's good to be with you, Jessica.

DESVARIEUX: So, Kirk, a large part of this demonstration is calling for Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act, which would basically end the bulk collection of Americans' phone records. Can you just give us some more details of what this bill entails? And what do you make of the legislation?

WIEBE: Jessica, it really--I have to be brutally honest here. It's window dressing. There's not much here to hang hopes on that we're going to have an honestly brokered process here in terms of mass surveillance.

One of the features of this effort is to put an advocate in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, FISA court, if you will, to represent the rights of the people. That gives me little comfort. This is one individual who has to interpret what NSA tells them, and NSA is very capable of engaging in what we call technospeak, and I'm not sure anyone knows what they're talking about sometimes. So I get minor comfort from that.

Stopping of bulk collection is a good step. That's good.

Now, I have to see the details, because stopping the one and still allowing the other--I'm not sure what the other is and how NSA's going to select targets from the data to pursue on a one-by-two-by-three basis in a narrowly focused way, how that's going to work. We haven't seen that language yet. But increased reviews, a advocate for privacy, this gives me little comfort.

You know, people don't realize NSA has essentially operated illegally--and when I say that, I mean unconstitutionally--for 60 percent of its existence, since it was first formed, up to the present. In other words, it's been far more legal than legal. And anyone who believes simple little window-dressing steps like this is going to make a difference is really going to be grossly disappointed, and we're going to be right back in this mess again.

The only thing that's going to fix this, Jessica, is direct access into NSA's databases by an independent group of hackers, techie types, people like Snowden who know how to get into a network and look at things and verify that the data they're collecting and what they're doing with it complies with the laws of the Constitution of the United States.

DESVARIEUX: Also, Kirk, we should mention that this bill was proposed by Democratic Vermont senator Patrick Leahy and Wisconsin Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner. And Sensenbrenner, he was actually a big advocate for the Patriot Act. So now that he's coming back and saying we need to be regulating the NSA and other surveillance tactics more, what do you make of this? Some people might see this as just very political, that if your party's in power, civil liberties don't matter, and if they're not, then you should be really advocating for them.

WIEBE: Well, you're absolutely right. And what--I would be hopeful if even one person in Congress of some stature and wisdom would arise and say, look--and I think maybe Rand Paul and a few others have said this--but the government has no right whatsoever to collect the data from innocent people. We have a process called probable cause under the Fourth Amendment that is dictated and followed by our judicial system. It's the way we have done law for 200-plus years. That is what is right. And we must adhere to those principles, or, regardless of politics, somebody's going to get into power and misuse this immensely powerful capability for their own political reasons.

Remember, that's why we want to do it right. Trust is one thing. But just as Reagan told Gorbachev, we can trust, but we need to verify. Congress can trust, but it needs to verify that NSA's doing what it says it's doing.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. And we have groups from all different spectrums, the political spectrum, supporting this--right-wing groups, leftists. But I want to ask you, though, Kirk, about the real root issue here, 'cause you have those who argue that it's essentially the U.S. government's role in the world as a hegemon; being what is happening right now, we have to really change our policies and our role in the world. What do you make of that argument?

WIEBE: I don't--we can still be that powerful source of justice, of helping people defend themselves from threat. We can still do that. And that's a service we can provide to the world. But we have to do it honestly and we have to do it with integrity. And again I point to the Constitution and the Fourth Amendment. We cannot go looking at people's information if we do not have probable cause, a suspicion that they are involved in wrongful behavior. It is wrong to do. And if we are to garner the support of the world, the respect of the world, we need to ensure we adhere to that principle.

DESVARIEUX: So if you believe that the U.S. should have that role of being the global leader, how could they be doing a better job of protecting civil liberties and protecting themselves from imminent attacks?

WIEBE: It goes to how NSA is actually doing the analysis process, in terms of its networks, databases, computers, how they're aligned, and how they are using people to do the analytic job. I don't think it's very efficient, the way that it's currently set up. It's designed to find needles in haystacks.

And what we need is equipment that will find the needles for you and bring them to your attention. And this is possible in this modern day and age of IT, information technology. We call them business rules [incompr.] can tell through software, equipment, and systems to do certain things, and it can produce those things.

You know, all these communications that NSA's collecting, Jessica, are not routed and handled and stamped and connected by people. It's all done by machine, by computers, if you will. NSA has to make better use of their computers to find those needles than what it's currently doing, and they'll have a much more efficient process.

DESVARIEUX: Alright. Kirk Wiebe, thank you so much for joining us.

WIEBE: My pleasure.

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

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5797) 8 months ago

US Plummets in Global Press Freedom Rankings

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 12:52 By Josh Stearns, Free Press | Report

http://truth-out.org/news/item/21821-us-plummets-in-global-press-freedom-rankings

After a year of attacks on whistleblowers and digital journalists and revelations about mass surveillance, the United States plunged 13 spots in the group’s global press freedom rankings to number 46.

Reporters Without Borders writes that the U.S. faced “one of the most significant declines” in the world last year. Even the United Kingdom, whose sustained campaign to criminalize the Guardian’s reporters and intimidate journalists has made headlines around the world, dropped only three spots, to number 33.* The U.S. fell as many spots as Paraguay, where “the pressure on journalists to censor themselves keeps on mounting.”

Citing the Justice Department’s aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers, including its secret seizure of Associated Press phone records, the authors write that “freedom of information is too often sacrificed to an overly broad and abusive interpretation of national security needs, marking a disturbing retreat from democratic practices. Investigative journalism often suffers as a result.”

The threats facing newsgathering in the U.S. are felt by both longstanding journalists like New York Times national security reporter James Risen, who may serve jail time for refusing to reveal a source, and non-traditional digital journalists like Barrett Brown.

Brown is a freelance journalist who has reported extensively on private intelligence firms and government contractors. He now faces more than 100 years in jail for linking to stolen documents as part of his reporting, even though he had no involvement in the actual theft.

The United States’ new press freedom ranking comes on the heels of a new and dangerous campaign against Glenn Greenwald and other journalists who have reported on the documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

In recent weeks, high-ranking members of the intelligence community and members of Congress have called NSA journalists “accomplices” to Snowden’s leaks, and accused them of trafficking in stolen goods. And as Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation points out, these comments are only the most recent in a long line of attacks.

In 2012, after a series of high-profile journalist arrests at Occupy protests, the United States dropped 27 places in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, landing in 47th place. The following year saw some progress as the U.S. climbed back up to 33rd place, but the last year has erased those gains.

The Reporters Without Borders study makes it clear that the struggles for freedom of expression and freedom of the press are global in scope, and deeply connected across borders. “Countries that pride themselves on being democracies and respecting the rule of law have not set an example,” the authors write.

Our press freedom ranking is important not just as a measure of the democratic health of our press, but also because hostility toward the press at home can legitimize threats to journalists abroad. We have to work in our communities and in Washington to fight for policies that protect all acts of journalism.


*It’s worth noting, as many have on Twitter, that the ranking of the U.S. versus the U.K. raises some questions. The threats to journalists and the intimidation of sources in the U.S. are deeply troubling, as is the impact of mass surveillance on press freedom.

However, the U.K.’s surveillance efforts mirror those of the U.S. and the U.K. government’s response to the Guardian’s reporting on these issues has been far more aggressive.

Since publishing the first reports on Edward Snowden’s leaks, British authorities have placed the Guardian under immense pressure, forcing it to move its NSA reporting almost entirely to its U.S. headquarters. Under threat of legal action, Guardian journalists were forced to destroy computers containing the Snowden documents. Using an anti-terrorism statute, authorities detained journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner and seized his electronics at Heathrow Airport. And Parliament dragged Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger in to testify on his patriotism and love of country.

We should be concerned about press freedom in both the U.S. and the U.K. regardless of what the numbers say, and understand how intertwined anti-press freedom efforts are in both countries.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5797) 8 months ago

Is the TPP Dead? Have We Won?

Wednesday, 05 February 2014 09:12 By Dennis Trainor Jr, Popular Resistance | Video Interview

http://truth-out.org/news/item/21668-is-the-tpp-dead-have-we-won

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89LqVrEopkc&feature=player_embedded

Note from Kevin Zeese: The social movement opposed to the TPP has done an excellent job stopping the current version of fast track introduced by Sen. Max Baucus. This week Baucus will be confirmed as the new US ambassador to China and Sen. Ron Wyden will take his place. This creates a new risk. Sen. Wyden is a believer in corporate trade agreements. His constituents call him a “Free Traitor.” He has said he did not support the Baucus bill but we understand he may be working on a ‘new and improved’ fast track. This could be the greatest risk that we face in stopping fast track and stopping the TPP. We need to be clear to all members of Congress NO FAST TRACK is acceptable. The Constitution has the appropriate balance between Congress and the president. We need the full checks and balances of Congress over ObamaTrade. So get ready for the next round - NO FAST TRACK is acceptable.

An interview with Kevin Zeese, organizer with Flush the TPP and Popular Resistance.

It has been 20 years since NAFTA, (North American free Trade agreement) went into effect with the promise of more equality, more jobs, and a better, more prosperous and peaceful world for all of us.

Given that NAFTA has contributed to a world that is a negative image of what was sold to us, it is no surprise that the global elite and the Obama administration have been negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership in secret.

While the corporately controlled mainstream media ignore the implications of the TPP story, independent media and activists have come together as part of a growing movement of movements to organize, educate, and resist the fast track authority so important ant to the Obama administration.

Have we won? Is the TPP dead?

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5797) 8 months ago

Food Fights, Corporate Trade Agreements, and States' Rights: Democracy or Corporatocracy?

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 13:04 By Ronnie Cummins, Organic Consumers Association | Report

http://truth-out.org/news/item/21822-food-fights-corporate-trade-agreements-and-states-rights-democracy-or-corporatocracy

Along with campaigns against fracking and climate change, perhaps the largest and most dynamic grassroots movement in North America today is the anti-genetic engineering, Millions Against Monsanto food movement.

Last May and October, as part of a global “March Against Monsanto,” over a million protestors, many for the first time, marched and picketed in hundreds of cities and towns across North America, calling for mandatory labels or bans on GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms).

In Mexico, a massive coalition of over 300 urban, rural and indigenous organizations have successfully mobilized public opinion and the Federal courts to ban, at least temporarily, the commercial planting of Monsanto’s genetically engineered corn and other GMOs.

In Canada, the Canadian Biotechnology Action Movement (CBAN), the organic food community and environmental groups are protesting against the spread of GM corn, canola, soy and sugar beets, and suing the government over the legalization of a new, highly controversial, genetically engineered salmon that threatens the livelihoods of traditional fishing and indigenous communities.

Meanwhile in the U.S., the heartland of genetic engineering and industrial/chemical agriculture, a growing corps of organic and natural health activists, utilizing state and county ballot initiatives, grassroots legislative lobbying, consumer boycotts and street protests, have forced Monsanto, the biotech industry, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) to go the defensive.

USA Food Fight over GMOs Intensifies

Confronted in the U.S. with the inevitability of mandatory state GMO food labeling laws—laws that will likely, as in Europe, drive GMOs off supermarket shelves—industrial food and biotech corporations are in a panic. After being forced to spend $70 million, and then barely defeating (51-49%) two citizen ballot initiatives in California and Washington State, Big Food and biotech’s front group, the GMA is facing criminal charges in Washington State for illegally laundering over $11 million in campaign donations. The GMA engaged in this blatant money laundering to shield its members, Big Food Inc. and their brands, including Coca-Cola (Honest Tea and Odwalla), Pepsi (Frito-Lay and Naked Juice), General Mills (Cheerios, Muir Glen, Cascadian Farm), Kellogg’s (Kashi), Kraft, Dean Foods (Horizon, White Wave), from consumer wrath and marketplace boycotts over the GMO labeling issue.

Sensing defeat in upcoming ballot initiatives and legislative labeling battles in Vermont, Oregon and other states, the GMA and the factory farm lobby recently tried to insert a controversial clause into the 2013-18 Farm Bill. The “King Amendment,” named for its author, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), would have taken away the long-established right of states to regulate agricultural production practices in their jurisdictions, likely undermining future mandatory labeling of GMOs, and meat and other products produced on factory farms. A massive coalition of animal welfare, organic and anti-GMO networks, supported by numerous state legislators and state Attorney Generals, led by the Humane Society of the U.S., (HSUS) helped convince the U.S. Senate to kill the King Amendment in January. A similar anti-consumer, anti-right-to-know Farm Bill amendment to nullify mandatory “Country of Origin” labeling for meat, fish, produce and nuts failed at the same time.

Frontline Battles in Oregon

In Oregon, where a decisive GMO labeling ballot initiative will go before voters in November 2014, and several counties have proposed GMO bans, the battle lines have been clearly drawn. Threatened by 2014 ballot initiatives in four counties calling for the banning of genetically engineered crops, the Governor and pro-biotech legislators, in October 2013, rammed through a last-minute provision designed to strip counties and local communities of the right to ban or restrict the growing of GMO crops. SB 633, dubbed the “Oregon Monsanto Protection Act” by critics, is part of the final 2013 state appropriations bill. Specifically, SB 633 prohibits local governments from enacting or enforcing any measures that “regulate agricultural, flower, nursery and vegetable seeds or their products.”

Jackson County, Ore., which had already qualified a GMO ban initiative for the May 2014 ballot prior to the passage of SB 633, was exempted from the Monsanto Protection Act. As a result, Jackson County will be at the center of a crucial community rights vs. corporate rights battle in May.

But Jackson County may not be going it alone. Angered by Monsanto and agribusiness stomping on their traditional community rights, residents in three other Oregon counties—Benton, Lane, and Josephine—are attempting to place initiatives on the ballot that would nullify the Oregon Monsanto Protection Act, and affirm that community rights, not corporate rights, should be sovereign under the law.

A similar battle over community rights and home rule is unfolding in Hawaii, where a grassroots-powered Kauai county ordinance has placed heavy restrictions on GMOs and pesticide corporations, and where Hawaii County (Kona) has passed an outright ban on new GMO crops. Six counties in the U.S. have now banned the planting of GMOs—four in California (Mendocino, Marin, Trinity, and Santa Cruz); one in Washington State (San Juan County); and one in Hawaii (Kona). In addition, a number of cities and towns in Maine, Colorado and California have banned genetically engineered crops.

[-] 2 points by LeoYo (5797) 8 months ago

Industry Fights Back against Community Rights Movements

Approximately 1,000 counties in the U.S. have explicit authority in their state constitution to allow and uphold citizen ballot initiatives. Fearing that more and more counties will launch these initiatives, factory farm and biotech interests in at least a dozen states have passed so-called “Right-to-Farm” legislation designed to protect the interests of corporate agribusiness, over those of local citizens. And in Hawaii and Jackson County, Ore., where there are active initiatives in play, the biotech industry and the Farm Bureau are now pouring money into campaigns to defeat those initiatives.

In late 2013, the powerful GMA began lobbying the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and now Congress to eliminate states’ rights to pass GMO labeling laws on GMOs. The GMA, according to leaked documents, is pleading with the FDA to derail the growing anti-GMO movement with “voluntary” federal labeling, make-believe safety monitoring, and legalization of the widespread industry practice of fraudulently advertising and labeling GMO-tainted foods as “natural” or “all natural”—steps so outrageous that even FDA bureaucrats appear stymied, given the present level of public anger and concern.

Compounding their reputation as ruthless bullies, the biotech industry and GMA lobbyists continue to threaten states like Vermont, New Hampshire, Maryland, and Oregon with expensive lawsuits if they dare pass GMO labeling laws.

While heavily-armed St. Louis police were arresting “Occupy Monsanto” protestors outside corporate headquarters, and a shareholder resolution was introduced for the company to support GMO labeling, the embattled CEO of Monsanto, Hugh Grant, sheepishly admitted to investors on January 28, “We simply haven’t engaged enough at the level we should have with all of our audiences, and for that, we apologize… we need to do more.”

In the same week, Wired magazine and Mother Jones both reported that Monsanto is apparently giving up on marketing new gene-spliced vegetable and grain crops (except for dicamba-resistant soybeans and RNAi corn), opting instead for high-tech, and less controversial “marker assisted” crossbreeding.

Other major biotech corporations such as Syngenta, Bayer, Dow, BASF, and Dupont are following this same path, investing the bulk of their research and development in marker-assisted breeding, rather than genetic engineering. As Mother Jones and Wired explain, Monsanto spokespersons admit that they have no new gene-spliced vegetables under development, reverting “instead to good old-fashioned crossbreeding, the same technology that farmers have been using to optimize crops for millennia."

Crushing Local Democracy with Corporate Trade Agreements

Fearing the spread of citizen activism, ballot initiative and community rights ordinances, major food corporations and biotech firms, joined by Big Pharma, multinational banks, and the fossil fuel industry, have been single-mindedly lobbying for approval of several new sweeping, secretly-negotiated international trade agreements, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA). These agreements, full of anti-consumer and anti-worker provisions, also grant multinational corporations the sovereign right to nullify local, state and national food labeling, food safety, Fair Trade, Buy Local, labor rights, indigenous, and environmental protection laws. In an unprecedented demonstration of North American and international solidarity and online/grassroots action, a broad coalition of anti-GMO, environmental, Fair Trade, and labor activists seem to have derailed the TPP and TAFTA, at least for the moment, preventing President Obama from ramming the TPP through Congress, utilizing so-called “Fast Track” authority.

From the activist standpoint, the recent victories on the GMO and TPP “fast track” fronts are welcome news. A critical mass of millions of people, informed, determined and united—online and on the ground, locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally—are proving, through collective action, that “we the people” can indeed battle, and at times, defeat the Corporatocracy and its indentured politicians, PR flacks and media minions.

The growing strength of this “Movement of Movements” provides hope in desperate times, that by aggressively framing issues, capitalizing on divisions among the elite, utilizing the power of social media, building broad coalitions, carrying out boycotts, mobilizing street protests, and engaging in direct democracy tactics that bypass corrupt federal government officials and politicians (by using county and state ballot initiatives), the global grassroots can begin to overcome the dictatorship of Monsanto and the Corporatocracy.

The broader hope is that this embryonic Movement of Movements can rise to the occasion and continue to win over the hearts and minds of the majority, addressing, not only crucial issues of food and farming and public health, but also related life or death issues such as climate change, economic justice, and militarism.

But to do this we must connect the dots between the different struggles, not only struggling for the right to know whether the food we are eating is genetically engineered or factory-farmed, but for democracy, health and sustainability on all fronts. Without campaign finance reform, without breaking the stranglehold of large corporations and the wealthy over the media, the federal government and the judiciary, there can be no democracy. Without dismantling the bloated infrastructure of the military-industrial complex and bringing to heel the Shadow Government of the CIA and NSA, there can be no liberty, nor the financial resources to address our life or death issues.

Without challenging the outrageous legal doctrine of “corporate personhood,” whereby corporations have more rights than the people, Americans and people everywhere will remain disenfranchised.

And without restoring and maintaining a balance of powers between nation states and transnational corporations; nation states and indigenous communities; federal governments, states and local home rule counties and municipalities; there can be no republic. Only a Corporatocracy, an unholy alliance and dictatorship of indentured politicians, media minions, and profit-at-any-cost corporations—driving us headlong toward climate catastrophe and economic collapse.

The battle to build a 21st Century democracy and overthrow the Corporatocracy is a battle we cannot afford to lose.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5797) 8 months ago

If Obama Orders the CIA to Kill a US Citizen, Amazon Will Be a Partner in Assassination

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 12:16 By Norman Solomon, Norman Solomon's Blog | News Analysis

http://truth-out.org/news/item/21820-if-obama-orders-the-cia-to-kill-a-us-citizen-amazon-will-be-a-partner-in-assassination

President Obama is now considering whether to order the Central Intelligence Agency to kill a U.S. citizen in Pakistan. That’s big news this week. But hidden in plain sight is the fact that Amazon would be an accessory to the assassination.

Amazon has a $600 million contract with the CIA to provide the agency with “cloud” computing services. After final confirmation of the deal several months ago, Amazon declared: “We look forward to a successful relationship with the CIA.”

The relationship means that Amazon -- logoed with a smiley-face arrow from A to Z, selling products to millions of people every week -- is responsible for keeping the CIA’s secrets and aggregating data to help the agency do its work. Including drone strikes.

Drone attacks in Pakistan are “an entirely CIA operation,” New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti said Tuesday night in an interview on the PBS NewsHour. He added that “the Pakistani government will not allow the [U.S.] military to take over the mission because they want to still have the sort of veneer of secrecy that the CIA provides.”

The sinister implications of Amazon’s new CIA role have received scant public attention so far.

As the largest Web retailer in the world, Amazon has built its business model on the secure accumulation and analysis of massive personal data. The firm’s Amazon Web Services division gained the CIA contract amid fervent hopes that the collaboration will open up vast new vistas for the further melding of surveillance and warfare.

Notably, Amazon did not submit the low bid for the $600 million contract. The firm won the deal after persuading the CIA of its superior technical capacities in digital realms.

Amazon is now integral to the U.S. government’s foreign policy of threatening and killing.

Any presidential decision to take the life of an American citizen is a subset of a much larger grave problem. Whatever the nationality of those who hear the menacing buzz of a drone overhead, the hijacking of skies to threaten and kill those below is unconscionable. And, as presently implemented, unconstitutional.

On Feb. 11 the Times reported that the Obama administration “is debating whether to authorize a lethal strike against an American citizen living in Pakistan who some believe is actively plotting terrorist attacks.” In effect, at issue is whether the president should order a summary execution -- an assassination -- on his say-so.

The American way isn’t supposed to be that way. The “due process of law” required by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution is not supposed to be whatever the president decides to do.

A free and independent press is crucial for confronting such dire trends. But structural factors of corporate power continue to undermine the potential of journalism. The Washington Post is a grim case in point.

Six months ago, Jeff Bezos -- the CEO and main stakeholder of Amazon -- bought the Post. But the newspaper’s ongoing CIA-related coverage does not inform readers that the CIA’s big contract with Amazon is adding to the personal wealth of the Post’s sole owner.

This refusal to make such conflict-of-interest disclosures is much more than journalistic evasion for the sake of appearances. It’s a marker for more consolidation of corporate mega-media power with government power. The leverage from such convergence is becoming ever-less acknowledged or conspicuous as it becomes ever-more routine and dominant. After e-mail correspondence with me about the non-disclosure issue in early January, the executive editor of the Washington Post, Martin Baron, declined to answer questions from media outlets on the subject. On Jan. 15 -- when I delivered a RootsAction.org petition under the heading “Washington Post: Readers Deserve Full Disclosure in Coverage of CIA,” signed by 30,000 people, to the newspaper’s headquarters -- Baron declined to meet with me or designate any employee to receive the petition. Clearly the Post management wants this issue to go away.

But, as I wrote to Baron last month, it’s all too convenient -- and implausible -- for the Washington Post to claim that there would be “no direct relevance of the [Amazon-CIA] cloud services contract to coverage of such matters as CIA involvement in rendition of prisoners to regimes for torture; or in targeting for drone strikes; or in data aggregation for counterinsurgency.”

The surveillance state and the warfare state continue to converge. The Washington Post does not want us to insist on journalistic disclosure. Amazon does not want us to insist on moral accountability. President Obama does not want us to insist on basic constitutionality. It would be a shame to oblige any of them.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5797) 8 months ago

Outta Sight, Outta Mind: What Producers Don't Want You to Know About How Your Clothes Are Made

Tuesday, 11 February 2014 09:53 By Anne Elizabeth Moore and Melissa Mendes, Truthout | Graphic Journalism

This installment of "Our Fashion Year," our year-long look at international gender, labor, and cultural production (click here for "Fast Fashion," "Let's Go Shopping" and "The Business of Thrift" with Julia Gfrörer, and Mendes' previous strips, "Zoned" and "Red Tape") - Melissa Mendes' last on this series - brings us inside the places that make our clothes. The often complicated interplay between national governments and the garment industry isn't pretty, by any means (as Anne Elizabeth Moore reported from Cambodia in January), which is why apparel manufacturers and garment-exporting countries alike often prefer that the factories are kept out of sight and out of mind.

As always, an archive of our previous strips is located here http://truth-out.org/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=2467:ladydrawers . In next month's strip, by Anne Elizabeth Moore and Ellen Lindner, we'll talk directly to the workers in garment factories around the world.

http://truth-out.org/news/item/21782-outta-sight-outta-mind-what-producers-dont-want-you-to-know-about-how-your-clothes-are-made

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5797) 8 months ago

The Accessories to War Crimes Are Those Paid to Keep the Record Straight

Tuesday, 11 February 2014 10:24 By John Pilger, Truthout | Op-Ed

http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/21787-the-accessories-to-war-crimes-are-those-paid-to-keep-the-record-straight

The BBC's "Today" program is enjoying high ratings, and the Mail and Telegraph are, as usual, attacking the corporation as left-wing. Last month, a single edition of "Today" was edited by the artist and musician P.J. Harvey. What happened was illuminating.

Polly Harvey's guests caused panic from the moment she proposed the likes of Mark Curtis, an historian rarely heard on the BBC, who chronicles the crimes of the British state; and the lawyer Phil Shiner and journalist Ian Cobain, who reveal how the British kidnap and torture; and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and myself.

There were weeks of absurd negotiation at Broadcasting House about ways of "countering" us and whether or not we could be allowed to speak without interruption from "Today's" establishment choristers. What this brief insurrection demonstrated was the fear of a reckoning. The crimes of Western states like Britain have made accessories of those in the media who suppress or minimize the carnage.

The Faustian pacts that contrived a world war a century ago resonate today across the Middle East and Asia: from Syria to Japan. Then, as now, cover-up was the principal weapon. In 1917, Prime Minister David Lloyd George declared: "If people knew the truth, the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don't know and can't know."

On Polly Harvey's "Today" program I referred to a poll conducted by Comres last year that asked people in Britain how many Iraqis had been killed as a result of the 2003 invasion. A majority said that fewer than 10,000 had been killed: a figure so shockingly low it was a profanity.

I compared this with scientific estimates of "up to a million men, women and children (who) had died in the inferno lit by Britain and the US." In fact, the range is from less than half a million to over a million. John Tirman, principal research scientist at the MIT Centre for International Studies, who has examined all the credible estimates, told me that an average figure "suggests roughly 700,000." He pointed out that this excluded deaths among the millions of displaced Iraqis, up to 20 percent of the population.

The day after the Harvey program, "Today" "countered" with Toby Dodge from the LSE, a former adviser to General David Petraeus, one of the architects of the disasters in both Iraq and Afghanistan, along with Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a former Iraqi "national security adviser" in the occupation regime, the man who led Saddam Hussein to his lynching.

These BBC-accredited "experts" rubbished, without evidence, the studies and reduced the number of dead by hundreds of thousands. The interviewer, Mishal Husain, offered no challenge to their propaganda. They then "debated" who was responsible. Lloyd George's dictim held; culpability was diverted.

But for how long? There is no question that the epic crime committed in Iraq has burrowed into public consciousness. Many recall that Shock and Awe was the extension of a murderous blockade imposed for 12 years by Britain and the US and suppressed by much of the "mainstream" media, including the BBC. Half a million Iraqi infants died as a result, according to Unicef. I watched children dying in hospitals denied basic pain-killers.

Ten years later, in New York, I met the senior British official responsible for these "sanctions." He is Carne Ross, once known in the UN as "Mr. Iraq." He is now a truth-teller. I read to him a statement he had made to a parliamentary selection committee in 2007: "The weight of evidence clearly indicates that sanctions caused massive human suffering among ordinary Iraqis, particularly children. We, the US and UK governments, were the primary engineers and offenders of sanctions and were well aware of the evidence at the time, but we largely ignore it and blamed it on the Saddam government. [We] effectively denied the entire population a means to live."

I said to him: "That's a shocking admission."

"Yes, I agree," he replied. "I feel ashamed about it ..." He described how the Foreign Office manipulated a willing media. "We would control access to the foreign secretary as a form of reward to journalists. If they were critical, we would not give them the goodies of trips around the world. We would feed them factoids of sanitized intelligence, or we'd freeze them out."

In the buildup to the 2003 invasion, according to studies by the University of Wales and Media Tenor, the BBC followed the Blair government's line and lies and restricted airtime to those opposing the invasion. When Andrew Gilligan famously presented a dissenting report on "Today," he and a director-general were crushed.

The truth about the criminal bloodbath in Iraq cannot be "countered" indefinitely. Neither can "our" support for the medievalists in Saudi Arabia, the nuclear-armed predators in Israel, the new military fascists in Egypt and the jihadist "liberators" of Syria, whose propaganda is now BBC news. There will be a reckoning - not just for the Blairs, Straws and Campbells, but for those paid to keep the record straight.

Copyright, Truthout.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5797) 8 months ago

Washington's Military Aid to Israel: Fake Peace Process, Real War Process

Monday, 10 February 2014 09:05 By Chase Madar, TomDispatch | News Analysis

http://truth-out.org/news/item/21759-washingtons-military-aid-to-israel-fake-peace-process-real-war-process

We Americans have funny notions about foreign aid. Recent polls show that, on average, we believe 28% of the federal budget is eaten up by it, and that, in a time of austerity, this gigantic bite of the budget should be cut back to 10%. In actual fact, barely 1% of the federal budget goes to foreign aid of any kind.

In this case, however, truth is at least as strange as fiction. Consider that the top recipient of U.S. foreign aid over the past three decades isn’t some impoverished land filled with starving kids, but a wealthy nation with a per-head gross domestic product on par with the European Union average, and higher than that of Italy, Spain, or South Korea.

Consider also that this top recipient of such aid -- nearly all of it military since 2008 -- has been busily engaged in what looks like a nineteenth-century-style colonization project. In the late 1940s, our beneficiary expelled some 700,000 indigenous people from the land it was claiming. In 1967, our client seized some contiguous pieces of real estate and ever since has been colonizing these territories with nearly 650,000 of its own people. It has divided the conquered lands with myriad checkpoints and roads accessible only to the colonizers and is building a 440-mile wall around (and cutting into) the conquered territory, creating a geography of control that violates international law.

“Ethnic cleansing” is a harsh term, but apt for a situation in which people are driven out of their homes and lands because they are not of the right tribe. Though many will balk at leveling this charge against Israel -- for that country is, of course, the top recipient of American aid and especially military largesse -- who would hesitate to use the term if, in a mirror-image world, all of this were being inflicted on Israeli Jews?

Military Aid to Israel

Arming and bankrolling a wealthy nation acting in this way may, on its face, seem like terrible policy. Yet American aid has been flowing to Israel in ever greater quantities. Over the past 60 years, in fact, Israel has absorbed close to a quarter-trillion dollars in such aid. Last year alone, Washington sent some $3.1 billion in military aid, supplemented by allocations for collaborative military research and joint training exercises.

Overall, the United States covers nearly one quarter of Israel’s defense budget -- from tear gas canisters to F-16 fighter jets. In their 2008-2009 assault on Gaza, the Israeli Defense Forces made use of M-92 and M-84 “dumb bombs,” Paveway II and JDAM guided “smart bombs,” AH-64 Apache attack helicopters equipped with AGM-114 Hellfire guided missiles, M141 “bunker defeat” munitions, and special weapons like M825A1 155mm white phosphorous munitions -- all supplied as American foreign aid. (Uniquely among Washington’s aid recipients, Israel is also permitted to spend 25% of the military funding from Washington on weapons made by its own weapons industry.)

Why is Washington doing this? The most common answer is the simplest: Israel is Washington’s “ally.” But the United States has dozens of allies around the world, none of which are subsidized in anything like this fashion by American taxpayer dollars. As there is no formal treaty alliance between the two nations and given the lopsided nature of the costs and benefits of this relationship, a far more accurate term for Israel’s tie to Washington might be “client state.”

And not a particularly loyal client either. If massive military aid is supposed to give Washington leverage over Israel (as it normally does in client-state relationships), it is difficult to detect. In case you hadn’t noticed, rare is the American diplomatic visit to Israel that is not greeted with an in-your-face announcement of intensified colonization of Palestinian territory, euphemistically called “settlement expansion.”

Washington also provides aid to Palestine totaling, on average, $875 million annually in Obama’s first term (more than double what George W. Bush gave in his second term). That’s a little more than a quarter of what Israel gets. Much of it goes to projects of dubious net value like the development of irrigation networks at a moment when the Israelis are destroying Palestinian cisterns and wells elsewhere in the West Bank. Another significant part of that funding goes toward training the Palestinian security forces. Known as “Dayton forces” (after the American general, Keith Dayton, who led their training from 2005 to 2010), these troops have a grim human rights record that includes acts of torture, as Dayton himself has admitted. One former Dayton deputy, an American colonel, described these security forces to al-Jazeera as an outsourced "third Israeli security arm." According to Josh Ruebner, national advocacy director for the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation and author of Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace, American aid to Palestine serves mainly to entrench the Israeli occupation.

A Dishonest Broker

Nothing is equal when it comes to Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip -- and the numbers say it all. To offer just one example, the death toll from Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s 2008-2009 assault on the Gaza Strip, was 1,385 Palestinians (the majority of them civilians) and 13 Israelis, three of them civilians.

And yet mainstream opinion in the U.S. insists on seeing the two parties as essentially equal. Harold Koh, former dean of the Yale Law School and until recently the top lawyer at the State Department, has been typical in comparing Washington’s role to “adult supervision” of “a playground populated by warring switchblade gangs.” It was a particularly odd choice of metaphors, given that one side is equipped with small arms and rockets of varying sophistication, the other with nuclear weapons and a state-of-the-art modern military subsidized by the world’s only superpower.

Washington’s active role in all of this is not lost on anyone on the world stage -- except Americans, who have declared themselves to be the even-handed arbiters of a conflict involving endless failed efforts at brokering a “peace process.” Globally, fewer and fewer observers believe in this fiction of Washington as a benevolent bystander rather than a participant heavily implicated in a humanitarian crisis. In 2012, the widely respected International Crisis Group described the “peace process” as “a collective addiction that serves all manner of needs, reaching an agreement no longer being the main one.”

The contradiction between military and diplomatic support for one party in the conflict and the pretense of neutrality cannot be explained away. “Looked at objectively, it can be argued that American diplomatic efforts in the Middle East have, if anything, made achieving peace between Palestinians and Israelis more difficult,” writes Rashid Khalidi, a historian at Columbia University, and author of Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.

Evasive Silence

American policy elites are unable or unwilling to talk about Washington’s destructive role in this situation. There is plenty of discussion about a one-state versus a two-state solution, constant disapproval of Palestinian violence, occasional mild criticism (“not helpful”) of the Israeli settlements, and lately, a lively debate about the global boycott, divestment, and sanction movement (BDS) led by Palestinian civil society to pressure Israel into a “just and lasting” peace. But when it comes to what Americans are most responsible for -- all that lavish military aid and diplomatic cover for one side only -- what you get is either euphemism or an evasive silence.

In general, the American mediatends to treat our arming of Israel as part of the natural order of the universe, as beyond question as the force of gravity. Even the “quality” media shies away from any discussion of Washington’s real role in fueling the Israel-Palestine conflict. Last month, for instance, theNew York Times ran an article about a prospective “post-American” Middle East without any mention of Washington’s aid to Israel, or for that matter to Egypt, or the Fifth Fleet parked in Bahrain.

You might think that the progressive hosts of MSNBC’s news programs would be all over the story of what American taxpayers are subsidizing, but the topic barely flickers across the chat shows of Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, and others. Given this across-the-board selective reticence, American coverage of Israel and Palestine, and particularly of American military aid to Israel, resembles the Agatha Christie novel in which the first-person narrator, observing and commenting on the action in calm semi-detachment, turns out to be the murderer.

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5797) 8 months ago

Strategic Self-Interest and Unconditional Military Aid

On the activist front, American military patronage of Israel is not much discussed either, in large part because the aid package is so deeply entrenched that no attempt to cut it back could succeed in the near future. Hence, the global BDS campaign has focused on smaller, more achievable targets, though as Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund, an advocacy group, told me, the BDS movement does envision an end to Washington’s military transfers in the long term. This makes tactical sense, and both the Jerusalem Fund and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation are engaged in ongoing campaigns to inform the public about American military aid to Israel.

Less understandable are the lobbying groups that advertise themselves as “pro-peace,” champions of “dialogue” and “conversation,” but share the same bottom line on military aid for Israel as their overtly hawkish counterparts. For instance, J Street (“pro-Israel and pro-peace”), a Washington-based nonprofit which bills itself as a moderate alternative to the powerhouse lobbying outfit, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), supports both “robust” military aid and any supplemental disbursements on offer from Washington to the Israeli Defense Forces. Americans for Peace Now similarly takes the position that Washington should provide “robust assistance” to ensure Israel’s “qualitative military edge.” At the risk of sounding literal-minded, any group plumping for enormous military aid packages to a country acting as Israel has is emphatically not “pro-peace.” It’s almost as if the Central America solidarity groups from the 1980s had demanded peace, while lobbying Washington to keep funding the Contras and the Salvadoran military.

Outside the various factions of the Israel lobby, the landscape is just as flat. The Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank close to the Democratic Party, regularly issues pious statements about new hopes for the “peace process” -- with never a mention of how our unconditional flow of advanced weaponry might be a disincentive to any just resolution of the situation.

There is, by the way, a similar dynamic at work when it comes to Washington’s second biggest recipient of foreign aid, Egypt. Washington’s expenditure of more than $60 billion over the past 30 years ensured both peace with Israel and Cold War loyalty, while propping up an authoritarian government with a ghastly human rights record. As the post-Mubarak military restores its grip on Egypt, official Washington is currently at work finding ways to keep the military aid flowing despite a congressional ban on arming regimes that overthrow elected governments. There is, however, at least some mainstream public debate in the U.S. about ending aid to the Egyptian generals who have violently reclaimed power. Investigative journalism nonprofit ProPublica has even drafted a handy “explainer” about U.S. military aid to Egypt -- though they have not tried to explain aid to Israel.

Silence about U.S.-Israel relations is, to a large degree, hardwired into Beltway culture. As George Perkovich, director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told the Washington Post, “It’s like all things having to do with Israel and the United States. If you want to get ahead, you don’t talk about it; you don’t criticize Israel, you protect Israel.”

This is regrettable, as Washington’s politically invisible military aid to Israel is not just an impediment to lasting peace, but also a strategic and security liability. As General David Petraeus, then head of U.S. Central Command, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2010, the failure to reach a lasting resolution to the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians makes Washington’s other foreign policy objectives in the region more difficult to achieve. It also, he pointed out, foments anti-American hatred and fuels al-Qaeda and other violent groups. Petraeus’s successor at CENTCOM, General James Mattis, echoed this list of liabilities in a public dialogue with Wolf Blitzer last July:

“I paid a military security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel, and that [alienates] all the moderate Arabs who want to be with us because they can’t come out publicly in support of people who don’t show respect for the Arab Palestinians.”

Don’t believe the generals? Ask a terrorist. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks now imprisoned at Guantanamo, told interrogators that he was motivated to attack the United States in large part because of Washington’s leading role in assisting Israel’s repeated invasions of Lebanon and the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians.

The Israel lobby wheels out a battery of arguments in favor of arming and funding Israel, including the assertion that a step back from such aid for Israel would signify a “retreat” into “isolationism.” But would the United States, a global hegemon busily engaged in nearly every aspect world affairs, be "isolated" if it ceased giving lavish military aid to Israel? Was the United States "isolated" before 1967 when it expanded that aid in a major way? These questions answer themselves.

Sometimes the mere act of pointing out the degree of U.S. aid to Israel provokes accusations of having a special antipathy for Israel. This may work as emotional blackmail, but if someone proposed that Washington start shipping Armenia $3.1 billion worth of armaments annually so that it could begin the conquest of its ancestral province of Nagorno-Karabakh in neighboring Azerbaijan, the plan would be considered ludicrous -- and not because of a visceral dislike for Armenians. Yet somehow the assumption that Washington is required to generously arm the Israeli military has become deeply institutionalized in this country.

Fake Peace Process, Real War Process

Today, Secretary of State John Kerry is leading a push for a renewed round of the interminable American-led peace process in the region that has been underway since the mid-1970s. It’s hardly a bold prediction to suggest that this round, too, will fail. The Israeli minister of defense, Moshe Ya’alon, has already publicly mocked Kerry in his quest for peace as “obsessive and messianic” and added that the newly proposed framework for this round of negotiations is “not worth the paper it’s printed on.” Other Israeli high officials blasted Kerry for his mere mention of the potential negative consequences to Israel of a global boycott if peace is not achieved.

But why shouldn’t Ya’alon and other Israeli officials tee off on the hapless Kerry? After all, the defense minister knows that Washington will wield no stick and that bushels of carrots are in the offing, whether Israel rolls back or redoubles its land seizures and colonization efforts. President Obama has boasted that the U.S. has never given so much military aid to Israel as under his presidency. On January 29th, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted unanimously to upgrade Israel’s status to “major strategic partner.” With Congress and the president guaranteeing that unprecedented levels of military aid will continue to flow, Israel has no real incentive to change its behavior.

Usually such diplomatic impasses are blamed on the Palestinians, but given how little is left to squeeze out of them, doing so this time will test the creativity of official Washington. Whatever happens, in the post-mortems to come there will be no discussion in Washington about the role its own policies played in undermining a just and lasting agreement.

How much longer will this silence last? The arming and bankrolling of a wealthy nation committing ethnic cleansing has something to offend conservatives, progressives, and just about every other political grouping in America. After all, how often in foreign policy does strategic self-interest align so neatly with human rights and common decency?

Intelligent people can and do disagree about a one-state versus a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. People of goodwill disagree about the global BDS campaign. But it is hard to imagine what kind of progress can ever be made toward a just and lasting settlement between Israel and Palestine until Washington quits arming one side to the teeth.

“If it weren’t for U.S. support for Israel, this conflict would have been resolved a long time ago,” says Josh Ruebner. Will we Americans ever acknowledge our government's active role in destroying the chances for a just and lasting peace between Palestine and Israel?

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here

[-] 1 points by LeoYo (5797) 8 months ago

Death by Metadata: Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald Reveal NSA Role in Assassinations Overseas

Monday, 10 February 2014 12:32 By Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! | Video

http://truth-out.org/news/item/21779-death-by-metadata-jeremy-scahill-and-glenn-greenwald-reveal-nsa-role-in-assassinations-overseas

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