Cost of War


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Updated: 1 day 18 hours ago

America's Top Intel Chief Says Israel's Attempt to Destroy Hamas Won't Fix the Problem

Sun, 07/27/2014 - 12:52
Lieutenant-General Michael Flynn says a more dangerous group could take its place.

Destroying Hamas would only lead to something more dangerous taking its place, a top Pentagon intelligence official warned on Saturday, as he offered a grim portrait of a period of enduring regional conflict.

The remarks by Lieutenant-General Michael Flynn, the outgoing head of the Defence Intelligence Agency, came as Israeli ministers signalled that a comprehensive deal to end the 20-day-old conflict in the Gaza Strip appeared remote.

Flynn disparaged Hamas for exhausting finite resources and know-how to build tunnels that have helped them inflict record casualties on Israelis. Still, he suggested that destroying Hamas was not the answer.

"If Hamas were destroyed and gone, we would probably end up with something much worse. The region would end up with something much worse," Flynn said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

"A worse threat that would come into the sort of ecosystem there something like ISIS," he said, referring to the Islamic State, which last month declared an "Islamic caliphate" in territory it controls in Iraq and Syria.

Flynn's comments about the conflict came during a gloomy, broader assessment of unrest across the Middle East, including in Syria and Iraq.

Flynn said bluntly: "Is there going to be a peace in the Middle East? Not in my lifetime."

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The Right’s New Enemy No. 1: How the Chamber of Commerce Became Toxic

Sun, 07/27/2014 - 12:43
Here's how any association with Tom Donohue's pro-business lobby became poisonous.

Rep. Kerry Bentivolio is a freshman House Republican who’s facing a primary challenger on Aug. 5. Yesterday afternoon, he pulled what some might call a “campaign stunt.” He returned, and made a big fuss about returning, a Chamber of Commerce “Spirit of Enterprise” award given by the top business lobby earlier this year. Not that it’s much of an award — the Chamber gave them to 205 members this year, and Bentivolio got one even though the Chamber has endorsed his primary opponent.

Bentivolio announced that “it is with great pride that I reject their award, and call on them to stand on the side of America, instead of on the side of China and corporate interests seeking to exploit people for profit.” His chief of staff was even more efficient: “The US Chamber is in the pocket of Communist China and big companies seeking cheap labor in the United States.” Bentivolio, according to the Washington Post, also “criticized the Chamber for supporting the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate last year.”

Invocations of “Communist China” are a time-tested sign that a close election is down the home stretch. What’s newer, though, is the toxicity of the Chamber of Commerce, one of the GOP’s most traditionally loyal allies.

The Chamber’s president and CEO, Tom Donohue, and its political director, Scott Reed, chose this election cycle to help “establishment” candidates against “Tea Party” insurgents — or, more accurately, to usher the most electable GOP candidates through their primaries, lest any “goofballs” blow the party’s chances of winning control of the Senate yet again. The effort has mostly worked, as the Chamber helped secure primary victories for its candidates in North Carolina, Kentucky, Iowa, South Carolina, Mississippi and elsewhere.

Until recently, it’s been better to be the primary candidate with the Chamber’s money, even though that comes with the risk of being labeled the “establishment” candidate and suffering a grass-roots backlash. But now it’s starting to look like the costs are outweighing the benefits.

Earlier this week, the Chamber endorsee, Rep. Jack Kingston, suffered a mildly surprising defeatin the Georgia Senate runoff against businessman David Perdue. The Chamber had spent millions for ads backing Kingston’s campaign. Kingston also had a lot of “Tea Party” support — although neither of the two runoff candidates grass roots’ top picks. And yet Perdue was able to pull it off. RedState’s Erick Erickson, a Georgian and a Kingston supporter, argued that Perdue’s final ad push to make Kingston “own” the Chamber endorsement put him over the top.

Every night for the last month on my show I’ve gotten the same concern on the phones, in emails, on twitter, on Facebook, etc. Kingston had the Chamber of Commerce’s endorsement. The Chamber of Commerce is bad on immigration. Therefore Kingston would be bad on immigration. In fact, his opponent and now the GOP nominee for the Senate in Georgia made a point to tell people that Kingston was the Chamber endorsed candidate. His closing argument in advertising made Kingston own the endorsement.

I tried pointing out that Kingston had consistently opposed amnesty, but it did not matter. After the Mississippi Senate primary, the conservative voters in Georgia were having none of it.

In the last two weeks, David Perdue made hay out of walking out of his meeting with the Chamber. He claimed the Chamber wanted him to vote with them 100% of the time. He would not.

That message resonated. Kingston was the career politician in the pocket of the Chamber and would pass amnesty.

But why are attacks against Chamber-endorsed candidates more effective now than they were earlier in primary season? Chalk it up to a couple of factors.

The first is something Erickson mentions: “After the Mississippi Senate primary, the conservative voters in Georgia were having none of it.” The Mississippi Senate primary, in which Sen. Cochran and his backers expanded the electorate to win the nomination, was the Chamber’s last big primary victory. And because of the way in which it was won — “stolen!” — it may, in fact, be the Chamber’s last big primary victory.

And then there’s immigration. If someone had suggested earlier this summer that the anti-amnesty fever among the Republican base would somehow run even hotter, it wouldn’t have seemed possible. And yet here we are! The border crisis, and belief among the GOP rank-and-file that the promise of impending “amnesty” are the “magnet” that’s drawing thousands of child migrants to the southern border, has made anything even approaching support for comprehensive immigration reform a complete no-go for Republican politicians. It was the border crisis that forced John Boehner to (officially) bury immigration reform legislation’s prospects for the indefinite future. As comprehensive immigration reform’s toxicity level — again, somehow — rose to previously unseen levels, so too did the Chamber’s for supporting it.

The Chamber is fortunate that its right-wing vilification didn’t reach this sort of status until late in the primary calendar, after it had already catalogued an impressive number of victories. But it may want to keep its opinions to itself, for a while, at least. Because if we’re not there yet, we’re nearing the bizarre reality where the Chamber’s endorsement, of candidates or legislation, is a kiss of death — among Republicans.

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Historic: New York Times Calls for Marijuana Legalization

Sun, 07/27/2014 - 12:11
“The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast."

The New York Times’ editorial board agrees with the majority of Americans that marijuana prohibition has got to end. In an editorial on July 26 titled “Repeal Prohibition, Again” the board outlined the many reasons to legalize the herb, drawing comparisons with the nation’s 13 years of failed alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and '30s. Following a "great deal of discussion ... inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws,” the board came to the conclusion that the federal government should repeal its 40-year ban on marijuana.

Marijuana has been criminalized as a “most dangerous” Schedule I drug for too long and the toll has been great. It is by far the most popular illegal substance: even President Obama acknowledges it’s less dangerous than alcohol, yet policing policies arrest people at alarming rates for mere possession of the plant, targeting low-income minorities. The Times editorial board noted that racist, mass-scale marijuana arrests were a factor in its decision to take a stand:

“The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.”

As a result of those racist policies, our prisons are overflowing with nonviolent drug law violators. American tax dollars, which pay to house, feed and clothe these prisoners, are filling the pockets of private prison tycoons who profit from keeping our prisons and jails filled to capacity.

Additionally, while the herb’s healing effects are recognized in the 23 states that have legalized medical marijuana, the federal government denies it has any medicinal qualities and blocks scientific research into its potential benefits. As the Times editorial points out, “on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.”

While the board did not take a side on the medical marijuana debate, other than deeming it a states' issue, it did cite “overwhelming” evidence that the risk of addiction and dependence from pot is low, “especially compared with alcohol and tobacco. Moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a risk for otherwise healthy adults. Claims that marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs are as fanciful as the ‘Reefer Madness’ images of murder, rape and suicide.”

The Times’ editorial is a historic step in the right direction, and a great boon to drug policy reformers who have worked for decades to highlight the many ways marijuana prohibition is illogical, harmful and unnecessary.  

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance commented on the groundbreaking editorial in a press release.

“This is of historic consequence — far bigger than most people assume. Some people in the country may perceive the Times editorial page as a liberal organ, but they should know that on this issue they've been cautious to a fault, even conservative. So for them to write what they did, at this juncture, demonstrated intellectual and moral clarity as well as courage.”

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6 Despicable Right-Wing Moments This Week: Fox News' Anti-Immigrant Hysteria

Sat, 07/26/2014 - 15:45
Brian Kilmeade wonders why 911 calls from Spanish speakers have to be answered.

1. Hannity invites Palestinian guest on his show and proceeds to yell at him the whole time.

Fox’s Sean Hannity’s position on the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza is that if you have any sympathy for Palestinians including civilians in Gaza, you sympathize with terrorists. Or maybe you are a terrorist. All the more so if you are a Muslim. And so, perhaps, it should not have been surprising when he invited Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of The Jerusalem Fund for Education and Community Development and its educational program, the Palestine Center, on his show in order to shout at him, and not let him speak.

The exchange, and we use the word 'exchange' loosely, went something like this:

“Is Hamas a terrorist organization?” Hannity asked.

 “Do I get to actually speak now?” Munayyer answered.

“You have to answer the question, it’s a simple yes or no question,” Hannity said.

“Sir, you invited me on here as a guest,” Munayyer said. He continued to try to speak, but Hannity wasn’t having it.

“I’m asking a question. Is Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel, is that a terrorist organization?” Hannity shouted. “That’s a yes or no question.”

“Thank you for your question, now I will provide an answer,” Muayyer said.

Hannity kept shouting. Somehow Munayyer could be heard saying:  “It’s very telling to me, and it should be telling to your viewers as well, that the moment you have a Palestinian voice on your program who begins to explain the legitimate grievances of the Palestinians, not just Hamas...”

Hannity cut off Munayyer, shouting at him to answer the question. At one point, Munayyer said that “the United States certainly considers Hamas a terrorist organization we all know that.”

“Is Hamas a terrorist organization? What part of this can’t you get through your thick head?” Hannity said.

Yeesh, rude much?

At the end of the exchange, Munayyer asked again if he would “get to say anything in this conversation.”

Hannity responded, “You had your chance, you didn’t say Hamas is a terrorist organization. Goodbye.”

That’s dialogue, Hannity style.

Watch the video here.

2. Michele Bachmann: Gays want to ‘freely prey on little children sexually.’ Oh, and she might run for president in 2016, yay!

Praise the Lord! Uber-Christian Michele Bachmann said this week she is contemplating a run for president in 2016. She said things like “Practice makes perfect,” since she tried this once before, raised lots of money and attended 15 debates. In February, she said that she didn’t think the country was ready for a woman president. Guess she changed her mind. Or maybe she just doesn’t remember saying that.

Because she does have some very important things on her mind, like her delusion that LGBT people are trying to make it legal to rape children in the U.S. and impose their “deviancy” on the entire country. She shared this hysterically insane view with a Christian radio show called Faith and Liberty.

Right Wing Watch also reported that Bachmann claimed that the “gay community” is taking steps to “abolish age of consent laws, which means we will do away with statutory rape laws so that adults will be able to freely prey on little children sexually. That’s the deviance that we’re seeing embraced in our culture today.”

Oblivious to the fact that she is inciting hate with these statements, she also said that “national hate crime laws” are a form of “tyrannical” oppression that liberals will use to silence Christians in this country. Self awareness is not her strong suit.

And of course, she’s upset with the Supreme Court for striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. When she’s president, things like that won’t happen, and marriage will only be between men and women, possibly multiple men and women, but definitely men and women.

3. ESPN commentator says women should take responsibility for being abused, and is then annoyed by the fact that women "misconstrue" his meaning.

Save a spot for ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith in the club for men who just don’t get it. The co-host of “First Take” rambled on about domestic violence this week and how deplorable it is, and eventually asked why women don’t take more responsibility when they are violently assaulted by their partners. He also voiced his bewilderment about why society doesn’t pressure women to “prevent the situation from happening,” and by “situation” he means being violently attacked by a male mate.


There was, of course, an uproar on the Internet, and that really pissed Smith off, because he thought he made it abundantly clear that he thinks it is totally wrong for men to lay hands on women.  Why was everyone focusing on the part of his monologue where he said: “We also have to make sure that we learn as much as we can about elements of provocation. Not that there’s real provocation, but the elements of provocation, you got to make sure that you address them, because we’ve got to do what we can to try to prevent the situation from happening in any way. And I don’t think that’s broached enough, is all I’m saying.”

That was all he was saying.

Still, in his eyes, people “misconstrued” his meaning by saying he was blaming women in some way when he laid out the classic abuser's argument that the victim somehow provoked the abuse. He composed quite a long tweet about how ANNOYED he was at that, and how he wasn’t BLAMING women for anything, proving just how much he continues not to get it.

Frankly, he felt a little provoked by it.

h/t Salon, Part. 1.

And Part 2

4. Fox & Friends does not think 9-1-1 should respond to calls from non-English speakers. 'Cause they might not be citizens.

Fox & Friends found a unique, and uniquely mean-spirited angle on the undocumented immigrant/unaccompanied minor story this week. Host Brian Kilmeade grilled a Texas official about providing emergency services to undocumented migrants. Kilmeade wondered if calls from immigrants have to be answered, "even though for the most part, when you get there, you realize they're not even American citizens."

The oh-so-fair-minded discussion was about how in Brooks County, Texas, immigrants are positively "bombarding" the police department with 911 calls. On the positive side, Kilmeade likes this because maybe those pesky immigrants are learning the hard way that crossing the border is no picnic. But on the other hand, can’t the emergency service people just ignore those calls?

To illustrate this humanitarian point, Fox & Friends aired two emergency calls from Spanish speakers who were both identified on-screen as "Immigrant." In one, a clearly distressed man asks for help for a cousin who he describes as turning blue. In the second, a man and a woman are telling the operator that they have not had access to water for a few days.

Why do you have to answer those? Kilmeade heartlessly wondered.

No joke, just a WTF is wrong with these people?

h/t mediamatters

5. Steve King: Obama not American because he was not raised with the “American experience.”

With the whole birther thing pretty much laid to rest except for the most out-there reality-refusers, like Donald Trump, xenophonic Obama haters must come up with another way to attack the president’s American-ness. Enter Steve King, the immigrant-hating, tea-partying Congressman from Iowa who has hit on another way to suggest the president is foreign.

“His vision of America isn’t like our version of America,” he told a crowd at an immigration reform rally this week, a crowd which, shall we say, was somewhat predisposed to disliking 1) immigrants; and 2) black presidents. “Now I don’t assert where he was born, I will just tell you that we are all certain that he was not raised with an American experience. So these things that beat in our hearts when we hear the National Anthem and when we say the Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t beat the same for him.”

Those three years Obama spent not living in America turned him into a furriner, all right.

And Steve King, who 'knows for a fact' that immigrants are just drug mules in disguise with their “cantaloupe calves” is also the world’s foremost expert on what makes the president’s heart beat.

6. Pat Robertson: Your son’s pregnant girlfriend is ‘stained.’

Ever the voice of compassion and reason, televangelist Pat Robertson urged parents whose son had impregnated his girlfriend not to kick her out, despite the fact that she is a “stained woman.”

So kind. And so modern.

Yes, Uncle Pat acknowledged. There was a time when people would have kicked out this "stained woman," and he was a bit nostalgic for that.  In an email, a viewer coincidentally also named Pat told the 700 Club preacher that he and his wife had allowed the unmarried couple to live in their house because they were expecting a baby. But Pat, the email writer, and his wife were very upset because they suspect the son and his “stained woman” were having sex in the house.

The horror. The fornicators.

“It seems like fornication to us,” he wrote. “What is the line for us to help but not enable continued sin? Are WE sinning by allowing them both to live in our house?”

Robertson was most sympathetic and just as upset as the writer that times have changed (about fifty years ago.)

“You know, the old thing was the little girl would show up on the doorstep with a baby, and the harsh father would slam the door in her face and say, ‘Go forth, you stained woman,’” Robertson said. “Look, that kid is going to be your grandchild, and it’s not a question of the fact that you’re now trying to keep them from having sex, they’ve already had sex, and they’re going to have a baby.”

Good that he cleared that up. Also, he was helpful on the definition of the word 'bastard,' which is what that kid is going to be.

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Israel's Control of Palestinian Lives Must Be Exposed in Current Grossly Unequal Conflict

Sat, 07/26/2014 - 14:34
My pet cat here in Gaza has more freedom than the Palestinians, such is the subhuman treatment meted out to them.

As Israeli air force bombs fell over Gaza City one recent evening, Snowy, the white cat that has charmed me into hosting him in my garden, ducked down in shock, as I did. Snowy is one of a growing population of cats in the Gaza Strip that help deter rodents in residential areas. Israel's grip on what is allowed in or out of Gaza includes restrictions on equipment and supplies essential for municipal hygiene services. Gaza has become a heaven for rats.

If Snowy understood human speech, I would have responded to his angry yowls of shock at the bombing by reminding him of the silver lining for him in Gaza. For years now, he has been unwittingly upgraded compared to the subhuman treatment of the people. Snowy may have to scavenge for food, but Israel has been rationing Gaza's supplies – and its aspirations for a dignified future – for years. As the cat freely roams around the neighbourhood, my movement in and out of Gaza is heavily restricted, when it exists at all.

The simmering cauldron that is Gaza has now boiled over, with horrifying consequences. But this is not a war of equals, as some suggest. Israel remains an occupying force that controls Palestinian lives against their will. Palestinians who do not enjoy the same opportunities, dignity and conveniences of civilian life as people in Israel cannot suddenly be considered as equals in a disproportionate conflict.

This is the third war on Gaza, and arguably the most vicious, in less than six years. When friends and family call from all over the world, including Israelis and Jewish friends of other nationalities, I am embarrassed to utter a single word of distress next to the tragedies that are unfolding all around us. I cannot forget footage of a young boy who whispered for water as he was perhaps dying on a stretcher with his abdomen torn open. Significant parts of the Gaza Strip have been for days out of water and electricity.

The proportion of children among civilian deaths remains at around 20% since the beginning of this war. This is surely an indicator of the lack of Israeli remorse or reconsideration of its military tactics for the past three weeks.

For years, Israel has not only shunned Gaza politically but has painted its people as aliens with whom no one outside could relate to any more. Israel's governments have unfairly indoctrinated their public that Gaza is a hostile place full of hostile people. It became permissible to level any degree of punishment on Gaza. While no unanimity prevails in Gaza on the firing of rockets towards Israel, a great deal of consensus exists that Gaza has been pushed too far, to a point where such actions are seen by more and more as a measure of last resort. Gaza got tired of being suffocated and pushed around without any hope for a better future.

Now, Israel is crushing Gaza in what it calls self-defence, but which feels to people here like an Israeli attempt to discipline us never to make the mistake that we are worthy of a decent and peaceful life. The mostly timid international community has been blinded to the cumulative effects of Israel's policy and has inadequately challenged its alienation and incarceration of Gaza. This failure to appreciate how explosive the underlying causes are sows the seeds for another round of violence.

The international community should be commended for either supporting recent Palestinian reconciliation or, at least, not standing in its way. However, it can no longer view itself as a spectator as the new Palestinian government of national consensus struggles to fend off Israeli threats and actions. Europe and the US are urged to be active participants in helping Palestinians succeed in advancing a government that aims, at least in part, to devise a political programme that builds bridges with the world.

In preparing for presidential and parliamentary elections, the Palestinian Authority is urged to add a prominent item to its ballot sheet. It is whether voters in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, support peaceful resolution with Israel. The results will only reiterate the obvious: Palestinians are not seekers of violence, but are aggressively and methodically pushed and cornered into it.

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Israel Is Not My Birthright

Sat, 07/26/2014 - 12:49
I was raised to think the country was ours by divine right. But this horror in Gaza has challenged even my deepest beliefs.

I’m writing this in my new baby niece’s room. I am here in Florida visiting my family because of this niece, this tiny pudgy innocent baby. We are Jewish, and it’s time for my niece to receive her Hebrew name in a sweet little ceremony at our longtime synagogue.

Last night I sat at the synagogue next to my 19-year-old daughter. I felt a swell of joy as the services began; I’d been away too long. I’d loved services as a child and teenager.

And then we hit the first mention of Israel as the Promised Land, and I burst into tears.

On the way to services, I’d caught up on Twitter a bit. I’d read about the Israeli missiles still falling on Palestine. I’d read about the outright murder of Palestinian children.

And I sat there and listened to the rabbi call Israel our Promised Land, and it broke something in me.

I am an American Jew of a certain age (40), and what that means is that I was raised to believe that Israel was ours by divine right.

It sounds ridiculous when you say it aloud. Especially because, like many of my generation of Jews, I’m not particularly religious. Many Jews my age slid into paganism, a sort of ambivalent agnosticism, or outright atheism; we are cultural Jews rather than religious Jews. And yet when I first spoke about the conflict between Israel and Palestine some years ago, I found that falling out of my mouth – that God promised us Israel. It’s ours because God said so.

My daughter, trying to comfort me after the services, said, “Maybe it is the Promised Land, just not right now.”

My daughter is an atheist. And the narrative got her, too.

The history we are taught in our Sunday school is that we were there first, and that therefore the Palestinians are occupying our land. How long ago were we there, though? And who, exactly, is we? I find myself using that we – “We need to stop bombing Palestine,” “we need to give land back,” but I am not Israeli. I have never been to Israel. This is how deep it runs, this idea of possession.

American Jewish teenagers get a free trip to Israel, paid for by a Jewish foundation. These are called Birthright trips.

My daughter went to Israel two years ago. Not on a Birthright trip, the very name of which raises the hairs on the back of my neck, that entitlement to land that others have lived on for generations. She went with my parents, who have gone many times before. She visited various landmarks; she took lots of pictures.

My daughter sat beside me last night at the synagogue, and I was acutely aware that she could not read Hebrew. Neither can my sister, and my husband lost the language right after his bar mitzvah, years ago.

I moved my finger beneath the words as I sang. I whispered to my daughter at opportune moments – this is the R, this is the L, here are the vowels.

Yud. Sin. Resh. Aleph. Lamed.


I hoped fervently that it would not happen, but it did – the rabbi spoke of those who hate Israel and hate the Jews, but did not speak of the Israeli army, which is burning children alive; did not condemn the hate of Israelis for Palestinians. He spoke of peace, but he spoke of peace as a thing to force on the Gaza strip, not a thing for both sides to work toward. I clutched my daughter’s hand, trying not to cry, thinking but we are killing children. Where is the peace in that action?

Who is we?

We. We are killing children, we are killing civilians, because we were told that God gave us this land, and half of us don’t even believe.

Our Birthright ™.

They, not we. Israeli soldiers burned a child alive the other day. This is not we, this is not us, this is not in my name. These are nightmarish actions taken by a government I have no real tie to, despite my childhood indoctrination, despite my name, despite my alleged birthright.

At services last night we spoke of peace, but no peace can come of this.

The answer to occupation is not more occupation.

The answer to genocide is not genocide.

I sat there clutching my sefer, wildly praying for true peace, for all of this to stop, and I can’t see it from here. I can’t see Israel backing off. I can’t see an end to the murder, and it horrifies me. I think no one can possibly be reading the Torah anymore because this is not what we were told to do, this is not how we were told to act, and if you believe Israel is yours because God says so, how can you ignore the rest of what he said?

The rabbi encouraged us to go to Monday’s pro-Israel rally, and my stomach turned.

I am naïve, I suppose. I know that I am heartbroken. I just want everyone to live.

Shin. Lamed. Mem. I trace the letters and teach my daughter the word for peace.


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Paul Ryan’s “Blame the Victim” Disease: How He Epitomizes A Horrible New Consensus

Sat, 07/26/2014 - 11:47
Much like coverage of domestic violence or bombs in Gaza, Paul Ryan's poverty plan has a very disturbing hallmark.

Because there’s no real way to dispute the fundamental moral bankruptcy of neoliberalism without it, the rhetorical trick of blaming the victim is never too far from the surface of American society, regardless of the subject. In pop culture, we hear it when ESPN blowhards indict women for their partners’ violence. In foreign policy, we see it when Wall Street Journal Op-Eds blame Palestinian children for the IDF’s bombs. And in the realm of domestic policy, the blame-the-victim logic is so widespread that I struggle to think of even one major political debate in which it isn’t being pushed by Republicans or Democrats. Often, it’s both.

Unsurprisingly, though, no single issue that attracts more widespread support for blaming the victim than poverty, where it’s often taken as a given that a person’s inability to provide herself with the material comforts of a modern life stems from her own shortcomings, rather than the failure of the social and economic system at large. Examples of this can be found in Republican-controlled state legislature initiatives across the country. But, as if to make the lives of everyone (besides the poor) easier, former vice presidential nominee and current House Republican leader Paul Ryan has put many of them together in his newest compendium of wonky Big Ideas, a “discussion draft” of supposedly anti-poverty measures called “Expanding Opportunity in America.”

Now, while Paul Ryan has previously and repeatedly mentioned his love of Ayn Rand, thecrackpot cult-leader and novelist who made it her life’s mission to turn a sociopathic degree of selfishness into a highbrow political ideology, it’s worth acknowledging upfront that his poverty “draft” is not nearly as Objectivist as his infamous budgets. Brian Beutler rightly notes that despite its many flaws, Ryan’s draft “proposes spending more taxpayer money on poor people” by expanding the earned income tax credit — something that Ayn Rand, despite the EITC’s market-oriented construction, would never do. Indeed, Ryan’s ideas for “expanding opportunity” are such a philosophical break with his earlier plans to redistribute income upward that some have persuasively claimed he has no choice but to disown them, make a clean break with his former self, or risk being totally intellectually incoherent. (He’s a politician, so I think I can guess which option he’ll take.)

But even if we acknowledge all of this, and even if we grant that a run-of-the-mill Republican is preferable to a delusional Objectivist, Ezra Klein and other non-conservative pundits are still going way too far when they argue, as Klein recently did, that lefties should embrace Ryan’s plan with open arms. Larger EITC or no, Ryan’s plan still rests on a rather fundamental misconception of the poor, one that centrists like Klein may share but that people who want to think of themselves as members of a leftist tradition stretching all the way back to the French Revolution never should: that those who suffer under the capitalist order have no one to blame but themselves.

This is most obvious when you look at the portion of Ryan’s draft that has attracted the most scorn, the idea that poor people, if they want to use government programs, should sign a “contract” that would outline various steps and benchmarks they’d be responsible for — or else suffer the consequences of undefined “sanctions.” What kind of steps and benchmarks these are, Ryan doesn’t say, which is perhaps a gesture toward his belovedsubsidiarity (the Catholic belief that authority should be devolved as much as possible), albeit one that is particularly hollow within the context of a policy that quite literally would have government agents micromanaging poor people’s lives. The point is, however, that Ryan assumes poverty in America cannot be adequately addressed by doing seemingly obvious things like giving people money or creating well-paying jobs that tackle vital public needs, but that it instead requires the poor to learn from a government-provided surrogate parent how to wrest themselves free from that dreaded “tailspin of culture” Ryan’s previously warned us about.

Given that troublesome assumption, what explains the center’s positive response to Ryan’s latest? Coming from “reformicon” Reihan Salam, a longtime Ryan cheerleader, it’s not a surprise. Salam agrees that Ryan’s plan is paternalistic, but considers that one of its virtues. Not because Salam and Ryan think single mothers and people of color — who are disproportionately numerous among the poor — have something wrong with them, but simply because, according to Salam, “getting more money from the government doesn’t really make you less poor” (emphasis, and logic, his). Salam seems to think that while government assistance is premised on an arbitrary and unequal balance of power, meaning that the state could strip you of your guaranteed income or public job at a whim, the gainfully employed live in a land where workers and their bosses communicate on equal grounds and with mutual respect. If I thought the world worked that way, I’d probably assume those getting a raw deal from the market economy have something wrong with them as well.

The positive murmurs from Klein and other left-leaning centrists don’t come from any assumptions quite as ideological and blinkered as Salam’s. But to a significant degree, centrists like him also buy into Ryan and Salam’s blame-the-victim premise. To be fair, anyanti-poverty plan that doesn’t put neoliberalism squarely in the cross hairs is going to be guilty of this crime. Any proposal that assumes American workers have seen few economic gains since the mid-to-late 1970s because they lack the “new” economy’s requisite skills, or because public educators are not doing a good enough job, or because they cling too desperately to failing systems — like unions or guaranteed benefits — is saying, whether it admits it or not, that the victims of globalization and deregulation are themselves partly to blame. Plenty of Democrats, from President Obama on down, push at least one or all of these explanations when they’re discussing economic inequality and stagnant wages — so it’s no surprise to find Dem-friendly pundits like Klein doing so, too.

To get a sense of where this blame-the-victim consensus is likely to take us in the years to come, look no further than the ongoing education reform movement. Not every one of its goals are silly or misguided. (I’ve yet to come across an argument against weakening “last in, first out” that I found dispositive, for example.) But the overall idea behind the movement — that America’s middling test scores and poor kids’ trouble living the American Dream of social mobility are not the product of neoliberalism’s reliance on exploitation and inequality but instead underperforming teachers — blames the victims of poverty rather than the economic system itself. Not incidentally, well-to-do Americans on both sides of the aisle enthusiastically support the education reform movement, even if they differ on the particulars.

As far as I know, no one yet has tried to transfer Ryan’s poverty “contracts” into the educational sphere — but, as the cliché goes, all things in due time.

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A Pause in the Bombing by Israeli Forces — and the Ruins of Gaza Are Laid Bare

Sat, 07/26/2014 - 11:30
Repeated shelling has inflicted a terrible reality on Palestinians as they try to salvage something from shattered homes and lives.

n the dangerous streets around the hospital in Beit Hanoun, the buildings were, by and large, still standing on Friday afternoon. By Saturday morning, after a day of intense Israeli bombing and shellfire, the hospital in the northern Gaza town was standing in a sea of rubble, its walls pockmarked with gunfire and torn by shrapnel.

The skyline, until so recently regular and neat, had been transformed into something torn and ragged. The tops of a pair of minarets had been blown off, and the graves in a cemetery smashed to pieces. Houses, offices, apartment blocks and shops were collapsed or collapsing.

The bombs that hit these streets in the time between the Observer's two visits were visible, and sometimes audible, across the city as huge explosions sent up eruptions of grey smoke into the sky.

What happened here in Beit Hanoun, and in other neighbourhoods of Gaza hardest hit by the Israeli assault, will inevitably demand an explanation: whether the extremity of violence unleashed in these residential areas in recent days was proportionate, or if the destruction amounts to a war crime.

Those are questions for the days ahead. On Saturday, however, in the midst of a 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire, the concerns were more immediate ones, as thousands of Palestinian residents flocked back to their ruined neighbourhoods to see what remained.

As they came on foot and in cars, they were accompanied by fire engines, bulldozers and ambulances of the Red Crescent, whose crews by mid-afternoon had recovered 85 bodies, many of them partially decomposed, buried under the rubble of Gaza's most damaged neighbourhoods. Medical officials said yesterday that the death toll among Palestinians has passed 1,000.

If evidence were needed of the failure of diplomacy to end this war, the truce that allowed them to return safely for the first time in days was the only apparent outcome from the high-level mediation mission by US secretary of state John Kerry and UN chief Ban Ki-moon over the past week. Indeed on Saturday evening the week-long ceasefire they had hoped to negotiate as a precursor to a wider deal appeared as far away as ever.

In some places visited by the Observer whole blocks had been flattened, dozens of buildings at a time reduced to a moonscape from which the smell of death at times wafted.

We came across Mohammad Shaweish at the entrance to Beit Hanoun, sitting on one of his suite of cane furniture in a pink ground-floor room that had been ripped open to the street, an electricity pylon lying black and smouldering outside where it had been felled. His family occupied four homes on this corner, all gutted by the air strike that ripped off the outside walls.

"We escaped a week ago. We came back at just after eight when the truce started. We took refuge in one of the UN schools," he said as he climbed into the house of one of his relatives to retrieve pots and pans from the kitchen.

"My house, my house," said another man, hitting his head with his hand. Nothing, it seems, had escaped the flying pieces of white-hot metal thrown out by the bombs – not electricity cables, or cars left behind, not windows or doors.

Where Israeli tanks and bulldozers have been there are sandy roads pushed through gardens, parks and farmland, banks of dirt thrown up from where the tanks fired from.

Near the hospital a man leads a horse out of the ruins, a long streak of blood staining its hindquarters where it was struck by shrapnel. Elsewhere we come across donkeys and cattle killed where they were left tied up in the street, scorched, stomachs swelling with gas.

A group of men show us the home of the Shabat family, seven of whom died when it was flattened by a bomb.

As people search through the debris for their belongings, packing what they can in to taxis, trucks, rickshaws and donkey carts before fleeing the town, Israeli tanks stand by, their crews invisible inside. When one tank rumbles into life and changes its position, it triggers a panic in the crowded streets ahead of us, as cars attempt to reverse or make turns in the rubble.

But in this 12 hours of temporary truce, the Israeli tanks move only on the perimeter of the ruins, visible in the clouds of dust and exhaust they throw up, or as green moving shapes in the far distance.

It is hard to imagine that anyone who did not flee could have survived the attack, but a few did.

"We lived through a night of horror. The shelling was all around our house," says Hanan al-Zaanin, standing with four of her children outside their home.

In Quds Street, close to the hospital, a body is dug out of the rubble and carried past a row of demolished houses. Someone says it is a fighter. We drive on to Sikka Street, close to the Erez crossing, making frequent diversions for roads blocked by broken buildings. Here the sand berm of the Israeli border is visible to one side, and the concrete border wall ahead. Here there are more families sitting in the ruins of their homes or digging for what is left.

Zoheir Hamad is with his wife Umm Fadi next to a home that is little more than a few barely standing walls; the water pumping station next to them is also badly damaged.

A short distance away a damaged Israeli anti-mine vehicle sits in the road, bent and torn by an explosion. As we speak, a man passes, cradling the shape of a machine gun wrapped in a blanket, like an infant.

"We left at the beginning of the war," says Zoheir. "It is the first time that we have managed to come back." Umm Fadi adds: "We're staying in the UN school in Jabaliya. We came to get clothes for the children. But there is nothing left."

It is the phrase we hear throughout a long day: "Nothing left." And it is true. Whole areas that were once inhabited have been reduced to a landscape of earth and dust and broken shapes.

Although in places there is evidence fighting had taken place, what is hard to comprehend is the Israeli justification for the scale of the destruction, save destruction for its own sake in pursuit of a policy of collective punishment.

Ahead of likely international criticism over the scale of the destruction, some Israeli political figures were already trying to deny that the scale of the attacks was in any way disproportionate.

"There is no proof that any kind of gratuitous damage is being inflicted," said Israeli legislator Ofer Shelah of the centrist Yesh Atid party. He added that Israeli troops were "fighting with an enemy dug in within the civilian population, dug in underground or within the houses there … those are the consequences of such a fight".

Despite the truce, not everywhere was reachable. In two border areas, ambulances were unable to approach because tanks fired warning shots at the vehicles, the Red Crescent said.

And if Beit Hanoun is largely destroyed, Shujai'iya, an eastern neighbourhood of Gaza that has been shelled and bombed heavily for a week, is incomparably worse. The destruction appears to be concentrated on three areas – Mansoura Street, Baltaji Street and Nazaz Street.

In the midst of an area of rubble the size of two football pitches in the last of these, we meet three brothers standing on what was once the four-storey building in which their families lived in four apartments. Next to them is a bomb crater measuring 10 metres across and six metres deep.

Alaa Helou, 35, a carpenter, points to what is no longer there. "That was a two-storey house. There was three storeys and over there was four storeys high. We came to see our house. We thought it might have been damaged by a shell. But there is nothing left of it."

"We spent 20 years making our place nice," says his older brother. "We spent all of our money on our homes."

If there is something worse than the scenes of destruction, it is what is visible in the faces in Beit Hanoun and Shujai'iya. A man is led away down one street in Shujai'iya; staggering and blind with grief he his held up by two others. Women sit in the dust, crying.

We find 33-year-old Rifaat Suqr sitting outside his gutted house, a stunned look on his face. "It is like an earthquake hit this street," he says. "An earthquake."

Except that this was not an earthquake. This was the work of men.

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Thank You for Your Service: How One Company Sues Soldiers Worldwide

Sat, 07/26/2014 - 10:27
This company sues service members based anywhere in the world, no matter how much inconvenience or expense they incur.

Army Spc. Angel Aguirre needed a washer and dryer.

Money was tight, and neither Aguirre, 21, nor his wife had much credit history as they settled into life at Fort Carson in Colorado in 2010.

That's when he saw an ad for USA Discounters, guaranteeing loan approval for service members. In military newspapers and magazines, on the radio, and on TV, the Virginia-based company's ads shout, "NO CREDIT? NEED CREDIT? NO PROBLEM!" The store was only a few miles from Fort Carson.

"We ended up getting a computer, a TV, a ring, and a washer and dryer," Aguirre said. "The only thing I really wanted was a washer and dryer."

Aguirre later learned that USA Discounters' easy lending has a flip side. Should customers fall behind, the company transforms into an efficient collection operation. And this part of its business takes place not where customers bought their appliances, but in two local courthouses just a short drive from the company's Virginia Beach headquarters.

From there, USA Discounters files lawsuits against service members based anywhere in the world, no matter how much inconvenience or expense they would incur to attend a Virginia court date. Since 2006, the company has filed more than 13,470 suits and almost always wins, records show.

"They're basically ruthless," said Army Staff Sgt. David Ray, who was sued in Virginia while based in Germany over purchases he made at a store in Georgia.

Timothy Dorsey, vice president of USA Discounters, said the company provides credit to service members who would not otherwise qualify and sues only after other attempts to resolve debts have failed.

As for the company's choice of court, he said it was "for the customer's benefit." In Virginia, the company isn't required to use a lawyer to file suit. USA Discounters' savings on legal fees are passed on to the customer, he said.

"This company is committed to ensuring that the men and women who serve and sacrifice for our country are always treated with the honor and respect they deserve," Dorsey said.

The federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, or SCRA, was designed to give active-duty members of the armed forces every opportunity to defend themselves against lawsuits. But the law has a loophole; it doesn't address where plaintiffs can sue. That's allowed USA Discounters to sue out-of-state borrowers in Virginia, where companies can file suit as long as some aspect of the business was transacted in the state.

The company routinely argues that it meets that requirement through contract clauses that state any lawsuit will take place in Virginia. Judges have agreed.

"This looks like somebody who has really, really researched the best way to get around the entire intent of the SCRA," said John Odom, a retired Air Force judge advocate and expert on the SCRA.

Once a judge awards USA Discounters a judgment, the company can begin the process of garnishing the service member's pay. USA Discounters seizes the pay of more active-duty military than any company in the country, according to Department of Defense payroll data obtained by ProPublica.

Consumer advocates say the strategy cheats service members who may have valid defenses. It's "designed to obtain default judgments against consumers without giving them any real opportunity to defend themselves," said Carolyn Carter of the National Consumer Law Center.

To investigate USA Discounters' practices, ProPublica reviewed 70 of the company's contracts for service members and non-military borrowers, all of which had been filed in court. A reporter also identified 11 recent court cases against active-duty service members to examine their treatment.

The same courts in Norfolk and Virginia Beach are favored by two similar companies headquartered in the area - Freedom Furniture and Electronics and Military Credit Services - that offer high-priced credit to military clientele. Together with USA Discounters, the three companies have filed more than 35,000 suits since 2006.

Officials with Freedom and Military Credit Services did not respond to repeated phone calls and e-mails.

USA Discounters opened its first store in 1991 in the Hampton Roads metropolitan area, where more than 70,000 military personnel are stationed.

Many sailors start their careers at the sprawling Naval Station Norfolk, "bringing their pay and their naiveté," said Dwain Alexander, a senior civilian attorney with the Navy in Norfolk.

USA Discounters, which is privately owned, now has 31 locations, including seven free-standing jewelry stores that go by the name Fletcher's Jewelers.

While the company does not exclusively lend to service members, it has a location just a short drive from each of the country's 11 largest military bases.

The company's showrooms are packed with bedroom sets, TVs and tire rims, but that's not the main draw. "You're not selling the furniture. You're not selling the appliances," said one former sales employee. "You're selling our financing program." The former employee, and others quoted in the story, spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared USA Discounters could adversely affect future employment.

Younger soldiers such as Aguirre are drawn in by the guaranteed credit - something not offered by cheaper big-box stores. "A lot of the time, this would be the first time they get a paycheck over $1,000," said a former store manager.

The company can confidently extend credit to such customers, former employees said, because the loans are almost always repaid through the military's allotment system. Part of the service member's paycheck automatically goes to the company every month.

Despite the company's name, USA Discounters' items sometimes come at a substantial markup. An iPad Mini, for example, last year sold at USA Discounters for $699 when Apple's retail price was $329.

On top of these costs, the loans typically are layered with fees for a warranty and a program that cancels the debt under certain circumstances. The plans are optional, but are included on the vast majority of loans, former employees said.

Dorsey, the USA Discounters executive, said the company's cost of purchasing goods was higher than big-box retailers with greater buying power. As for the add-ons, he said they are clearly disclosed as optional. The company's typical interest rate is "less than 20 percent," he said.

The final tally on the loans can be staggering for some young service members. In 2009, Army Pvt. Jeramie Mays, then 26, walked into the USA Discounters near Fort Bliss in Texas to buy a laptop before being deployed to Iraq. He chose a model that typically retailed for $650. At USA Discounters, it sold for $1,799. On top of that came $458 in add-ons. After another $561 in interest charges, Mays walked out owing $2,993 in payments over 23 months, according to a copy of his contract.

For Aguirre, it was only later, when he and his wife tried to get their finances under control, that he realized just how much he owed. The total loan amount is clearly listed on all USA Discounters' contracts, but customers often don't grasp how long they'll be paying, said a financial counselor who advises soldiers and sailors.

The military generally provides credit counseling for young service members. But for some, the allure is too great, particularly when the companies bill themselves as military friendly. "After the horse is out of the barn, there's not a lot you can do about it," said Lynn Olavarria, the financial readiness program manager at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

Aguirre said he was told by his superiors that his struggles with debt have kept him from being promoted.

Late last year, after he had fallen far behind on his loan, he got a notice in the mail. USA Discounters was suing him in a Virginia court, more than 1,500 miles away. When he didn't show up, the company won a judgment of $8,626.

On every active-duty service member's contract ProPublica examined, just below various disclosures, it says the buyer "is subject to the jurisdiction of the state courts of the COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA." To receive financing, customers must agree.

Such a demand is "abusive" and is not typically found in contracts involving consumers, said Carter of the National Consumer Law Center. The Federal Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits such suits if they are filed by a third party, such as a law firm. Because USA Discounters uses a company employee to file its debt collection suits, the law doesn't apply.

Dorsey said if customers ask to be sued elsewhere, the company will honor their requests, despite the contract. The clause is only included in the contracts of service members, according to ProPublica's review.

Gene Woolard, the chief judge of Virginia Beach General District Court, said under state law, the terms of a contract are binding.

If a defendant can't afford to travel to Virginia to contest a suit, "you can't do much about that," he said. And while he's sympathetic to debtors, Woolard said, "That's not a legal defense." Norfolk Chief Judge S. Clark Daugherty declined to respond to questions.

Court records show USA Discounters has obtained judgments in 89 percent of the suits it has filed in Norfolk's and Virginia Beach's courts since 2006.

Dorsey said the high success rate is to be expected - the customers owed money they hadn't paid. "[I]t is not surprising that they do not appear in collections proceedings in court - in any state in which we file," he said.

As for the federal law protecting active-duty service members, its requirements are easily met by USA Discounters. If a service member can't be located, the law requires a 90-day delay. Once that passes, the way is clear to obtain a judgment. If a service member doesn't appear in court, an attorney is appointed to represent the defendant. But the law does not specify what that lawyer must do.

In Virginia courts, the creditor can suggest the attorney to be appointed. USA Discounters appears to request the same lawyer for all its cases involving service members. In each of the 11 cases ProPublica examined, the court appointed Tariq Louka of Virginia Beach.

In response to written questions, Louka said that he represents "in the range of 300-400" service members each year. His primary duty, he said, is to inform his clients they have a right to request a delay, which he does by mail. "MY ONLY OBLIGATION IS TO REVIEW YOUR RESPONSE AND REQUEST AN ADDITIONAL STAY OR CONTINUANCE IF I FEEL IT IS APPROPRIATE GIVEN YOUR ANSWERS," his letters say in capital letters.

USA Discounters said that it had no business relationship with Louka or his firm.

Armed with judgments, creditors can attempt to garnish borrowers' wages or bank accounts. As of January 2014, 230 service members were involuntarily paying USA Discounters a portion of their pay, Department of Defense data shows. Altogether, those service members have paid more than $1.4 million to the company.

Next on the list of most active creditors were the two other local companies, Military Credit Services and Freedom, which together had seized the pay of 92 service members for a total of $289,000 as of January, according to the data.

USA Discounters also aggressively pursues funds in service members' bank accounts. Mays, the Army private who signed the nearly $3,000 contract for a laptop, said he initially stopped payment after the computer broke in Iraq. But other financial pressures, mainly costs associated with the care of his disabled mother, eventually made him decide to file for bankruptcy, he said.

Before he could, he was deployed to Germany and Afghanistan.

USA Discounters brought suit against him while he was in Germany. After winning a judgment, he said, the company sought to seize both his pay and funds in his credit union account. The action froze his account for several weeks, Mays said.

Mays, currently based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, said that for most of last January, he could not withdraw funds. "Trying to take care of two kids and my mother and myself on nothing doesn't help," he said. Around the same time, he finally filed for bankruptcy. His debt with USA Discounters was discharged last March, protecting any assets from seizure.

Dorsey of USA Discounters declined to respond without written, signed waivers from customers. Reached recently, Mays said he was in training and would not have an opportunity to provide a waiver. Other USA Discounters' customers either had their waiver rejected as incomplete by the company or could not provide one because of personal circumstances.

In Virginia, court judgments on debts can remain in force for decades. Court records show USA Discounters pursues debts for years, regardless of whether a service member has retired, or where he or she might live.

While in the Army, Sgt. LaShonda Bickford and her then-husband racked up an enormous debt with the company. After they fell behind, USA Discounters won a judgment in Virginia for $15,747. The 2011 judgment has continued to grow at the contract's interest rate of 18 percent, as Virginia law allows, and by late 2013, the debt stood at $21,291.

Every two weeks, USA Discounters gets about a quarter of her paycheck from a medical transport company, which pays Bickford about $27,000 a year. What's left barely supports Bickford, now divorced, and her 6-year-old son.

"It's a stretch to do everything I need to do every month," she said. Assuming the garnishment continues, Bickford has at least three more years of stretching ahead of her. "It's hard, it really is."

Have you been sued over a debt? You can help our reporting by filling out our questionnaire or email

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VIDEO: Bill Maher to Neil deGrasse Tyson: 'Republicans Dislike You Because You're a Scientist and Black'

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 20:45
If there is anything right-wingers hate, it's a smart black man who says humans are insignificant.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist who hosts the hit show "Cosmos," was a guest on Bill Maher's "Real Time with Bill Maher" on HBO Friday night, and Tyson received standing ovation. Rare for a scientist, Maher joked.

But Tyson, of course, has his critics, including the right-wingers at the National Review, who put Tyson on the cover of their print magazine recently with the coverline, "Smarter Than Thou."

Why don't they (meaning Republicans) like you? Maher wondered.

Then he answered his own question by saying, "I think they don’t like you because you’re a scientist, and a black one, and you’re smarter than they are."

Tyson thought it might have something to do with the glorification of "nerd culture" and how people in that world generally vote democratic. But Maher is pretty sure racial jealousy plays a major part, as with Obama.

The other thing that galls the right is how scientists are always pointing out how insignificant human life is, and how random. "That offends them," Maher said.

"Sure, insignificance can be depressing, but there’s another way of looking at it," Tyson replied. "We’re connected genetically to a tree. That's cool."

Maher was skeptical: "C’mon, they have problems with apes."

Tyson insisted that our interconnectedness with the universe was practically spiritual. "We should celebrate that, not be pissed off by that."

Tyson went on to clear up some other misconceptions, like the recent CNN hysteria about solar flares practically hitting earth and wiping out all humanity.

"The sun is gurgling place," he explained, using more words than that..

"Talk slower," Maher said, trying to keep up.

"Sometimes it burps up plasma. Sometimes they head towards earth. When they collide with the earth’s atmosphere, it sets it aglow. Everytime you see the northern lights, we have just been slammed by a plasma pie."

"That damn CNN. Always trying to scare me," Bill said.

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! also appeared on the show, making trenchant points about U.S. foreign policy and how the military option should be taken off the table. "Just do the opposite of what Dick Cheney says," she suggested. She and Tyson seemed in full agreement that the death penalty, such as the torturous execution in Arizona this week, should also be taken off the table.

See the Tyson segment here:


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John Kerry Fails to Secure Gaza Ceasefire as Efforts For Truce Continue

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 19:00
Netanyahu's ministers and Hamas turn down plan, though 12-hour 'pause' agreed for Saturday.

The US failed to secure agreement on a ceasefire to end 18 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza on Friday night but insisted that efforts were continuing to arrange a humanitarian truce in time for a Muslim holiday early next week.

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said he was confident of a breakthrough despite a reported decision by Israel's cabinet to reject the proposed terms. Israeli officials later announced a 12-hour "pause" from 8am on Saturday, Haaretz newspaper reported. Hamas was said to have agreed, according to al-Quds TV.

But in one of a flurry of contradictory moves, Israel's defence minister also warned that the army was preparing to expand ground operations in the coastal enclave, where the offensive has already claimed 850 Palestinian lives, three-quarters of them civilians.

Hamas has also signalled its opposition to the terms of the US ceasefire plan, which it deemed too favourable to Israel.

Its leader, Khaled Meshaal, has insisted on an end to the siege of Gaza; Israel on an end to cross-border attacks. The gap between the two sides remains wide.

"We are working toward a brief seven days of peace," Kerry said in Cairo. "Seven days of a humanitarian ceasefire in honour of Eid in order to be able to bring people together to try to work to create a more durable, sustainable ceasefire for the long run.

"The basic outline is approved by everyone. People believe that if the structures are right, a ceasefire is right. But it obviously has to be in ways that either side feels prejudiced." Israel, he said, "had some opposition to some concepts."

From Cairo, Kerry will fly to Paris, where he will meet officials from France, the UK and EU as well as Turkey and Qatar – two countries with influence over Hamas. "The whole world is watching tragic moment after tragic moment unfold and wondering when everyone is going to come to the their senses," he said.

Underlining the scale of the crisis, Unrwa, the UN refugee agency, said 160,000 people were now seeking shelter at its facilities. Palestinian militants again fired rockets from Gaza, triggering sirens across southern and central Israel, including at the main airport. No injuries were reported, with the Iron Dome interceptor system knocking out many of the missiles.

Israel army radio reported that Binyamin Netanyahu and his cabinet had been divided over the wisdom of accepting Kerry's proposal, which was supported by the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon. Hawkish ministers were said to favour widening the ground operation in Gaza and warning against any gain for Hamas.

Under the US plan, Israeli troops could stay behind after a ceasefire to continue destroying cross-border tunnels. A week-long truce would be followed by talks on more permanent arrangements, under Egyptian supervision.

General Sami Turgeman, head of Israel's southern command, said his forces needed more time to destroy the tunnels. Hinting at the growing pressure for a ceasefire, he said: "We know that there are other timetables that can affect us, and we will use all the time that we have at our disposal." Turgeman said Hamas fighters were in poor shape and were finding it harder to launch rockets into Israel.

At least five West Bank deaths on Friday followed a big demonstration on Thursday night at the Qalandiya checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah, in which 10,000 demonstrators marched in solidarity with Gaza.

Two men were shot dead by Israeli troops and about 250 people injured, mostly from gunshots.

"Ambulances were coming every minute," said a doctor in the hospital's emergency department. "We have seen this before but not since the intifada," he said, referring to the last Palestinian uprising.

Israel announced that an army reservist had been killed in Gaza, bringing to 34 the number of soldiers lost since its ground offensive began.

Gaza officials said Israeli strikes killed 55 Palestinians on Friday, including the head of media operations for Hamas and his son.

The Israeli military said that one of its soldiers who had been missing since a battle in Shujai'iya on Sunday was dead.

"Oron Shaul is defined as 'a soldier killed in action whose burial site is unknown'," said an Israel Defence Forces statement. The soldier was in an armoured vehicle ambushed by Palestinians.

The bodies of six other infantrymen were recovered but Shaul's fate had been unclear. If Hamas is holding Shaul's body, that may give the group leverage in bargaining for the release of prisoners which it is demanding as part of a ceasefire deal.

Unrwa issued a strongly worded statement about the Israeli military when a team including an international weapons expert visited the school at Beit Hanoun which came under attack on Thursday, causing at least 15 deaths and 200 injuries.

"The aim of the visit to the site was to survey the scene in the aftermath of the incident," Unrwa said.

"The Israeli army had been notified in advance about the composition of the team, the time and purpose of the visit. The mission had to be cut short and the team was forced to leave the area after gunfire around the school. We again underline our call for an immediate and comprehensive investigation."

Violence in the Palestinian territories was echoed in neighbouring Jordan, where about 2,000 people demonstrated in Amman after Friday prayers, chanting: "We sacrifice our blood and souls for you, Gaza" and "Bomb and destroy Tel Aviv." Protests were held in the northern cities of Zarqa and Irbid as well as in the south, in Karak.

In Iran hundreds of thousands of people took part in nationwide rallies in solidarity with Palestinians. Images showed demonstrators holding banners, such as one reading "Stop killing babies in Gaza". A group of demonstrators set fire to Israeli flags and carried puppets of Israeli and American officials.

In Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Hezbollah, said: "This is the most critical period in the region's history since the rape of Palestine."

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Why People Are Organizing to End U.S. Empire

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 17:31
The U.S. empire economy no longer serves us — as it fades, we must choose our path forward.

World history is filled with empires, e.g. the Roman and Byzantine empires, the European colonial empires, various ancient Iranian empires, the Arab Caliphate and Ottoman Empire, the Soviet Union to name a few. These historic empires have one thing in common: they no longer exist. As the lifecycle of empire wanes, rather than being a benefit to the home country, sustaining empire becomes more expensive than it is worth.

While the US economy and military remain the largest in the world, the economy is faltering and losing its vitality. Chalmers Johnson, a CIA analyst who became a critic of the agency and author of a series on US Empire, writes:

 “Thirty-five years from now, America's official century of being top dog (1945-2045) will have come to an end; its time may, in fact, be running out right now. We are likely to begin to look ever more like a giant version of England at the end of its imperial run, as we come face-to-face with, if not necessarily to terms with, our aging infrastructure, declining international clout, and sagging economy.”

The US began as a colony of European empires, especially of England, and then evolved into its own North American Empire. Thomas Jefferson called the United States an “empire of Liberty” when he purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803.  As “Manifest Destiny” took root, the US stole land of Indigenous peoples, appropriated Texas and Oregon and then went onto California. The Mexican War and Texas cessation took 55% of Mexico’s pre-1836 territory including lands in present day California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming as well as Texas through its cession from Mexico.

The modern US Empire has its roots in the Spanish-American War when the US occupied Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines and in the two World Wars. Since World War II, the United States has been a growing global imperial power at war—somewhere—every year.  Seymour Melman wrote in March of 2003: “Now, at the start of the twenty-first century, every major aspect of American life is being shaped by our Permanent War Economy.” This has been a prime cause of the hollowing out of the domestic economy.

Rather than fixing the infrastructure, which the American Society of Civil Engineers ranks in its annual report card as a D+, the federal government’s  “financing is lavished without stint to promote every kind of war industry, and foreign investing by U.S. firms.”  As Seymour points out “there is no public ‘space’ for dialogue on how to improve the quality of our lives. Such topics are subordinate to ‘how to make war.’”

Economy and Empire

An empire must keep its client states happy as well as its transnational corporations profitable. This has resulted in a foreign policy designed for corporate interests and foreign oligarchs. The Wikileaks documents show US secrecy often hides crimes, abuses and unethical behavior linked to corporate interests; it also hides actions of a government that operates not for the public interest but for the profits of transnational corporations; and that is why secrecy is often unnecessary.  We see this most glaringly in the rigged trade agreements being negotiated in secret except for hundreds of corporate advisers who work with the US Trade Representative in writing the agreements.

The flood of migrants coming from Central America is blowback from US foreign policy in the region. Just as NAFTA undermined the Mexican economy, Central American trade agreements have done the same for that region. Further, US support for brutal governments who impoverish their people and support for coups against governments that try to create greater equity have made these nations very difficult to live in. Even US drug policy adds to the misery in these countries.  People desperate to survive come North in the hopes of finding a better life.  While some cities, most recently Vancouver, seek to become sanctuary cities that protect immigrants, the Obama administration takes the approach of criminalization and deportation.

Not only does Empire foreign policy undermine the federal budget, with 55% of discretionary spending going to the military, but it also undermines the US economy as jobs are shipped overseas and corporations hide trillions of dollars in assets overseas to avoid paying taxes (See, for example, this article, Boycott Walgreens: The Tax-Dodger On The Corner). Empire economics does not serve the workers in the US or abroad and does not serve the security of people as safety nets are shredded due to austerity.

The cost of war has escalated. Just one weapons system, the F-35, a fighter jet that has been grounded because it does not work, has cost $49 billion per year since the program begin in 2006. Hayes Brown of Think Progress made a list of what that money could have been spent on instead. It could have bought a mansion for every homeless person or fed every school child in the US, funded every humanitarian crisis or provided global security through the UN or provided funding to rebuild America.

The economic impact of Empire policy is going to take a new turn as nations become allies outside of US influence. This week was the beginning of an alternative to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) officially launched the BRICS Development Bank. This comes at the same time that 78 nations have called for a new era where there is respect for the sovereignty of nations and policies that seek economic, environmental and social justice. Many nations of the world are fighting back against US hegemony.

Empire Economy Causing Unrest

Not only are governments challenging US dominance, but people are fighting back as well. A wave of revolts, not only in the US but around the world, against big finance capitalism that allows transnational corporations to dominate the world economy has the power structure, including bankers, on heightened alert. The US military has been spending tens of millions since 2008 in the Minerva Project studying how protest movements develop and go viral.  This week we learned the military was studying how to control emotions by manipulating social media. We also learned that spy agencies also have tools to manipulate social media in order to control people.

And, we see their fear in the harsh way they handle protests against Empire policies. Last week in Syracuse, a nonviolent protester against drones and grandmother of three, Mary Anne Grady Flores, was sentenced to one year in jail.  You can see video of her moving sentencing speech here.  After her sentencing, another drone protester was convicted and is also facing a year in jail. Flores was released on bail pending appeal, but 7 subsequent drone protesters were hit with heavy bail after they were arrested.

The Empire advocates should be afraid. Earlier this year a war was stopped when people united to oppose the attack on Syria. Currently, the Israelis cannot hide their war crimes, even if the media does not report them. We are developing our own media tools that can stop and expose the realities of wars.

The former Assistant Secretary of Treasury Paul Craig Roberts reviews the realities of the failing US economy, piercing the veil of false media reporting on a non-existent “recovery” and tying it to the Empire economy, asking:

“In view of this reality, why is Washington pushing its puppet in Kiev toward war with Russia? Why is Washington pushing NATO to spend more money and build more bases on which to deploy more troops in the Baltics and Eastern Europe, especially when Washington’s contribution will be the largest part of the cost? Why is Washington re-entering the Middle East conflict that Washington began by inciting Sunni and Shia against one another? Why is Washington constructing new naval and air bases from the Philippines to Vietnam in order to encircle China?

“If Washington is this unaware of its budget constraints and its financial predicament, it cannot be long before Americans experience economic catastrophe.”

The Arc of US Empire Shows Decline

The last 100 years of Empire and imperialism brought the US great wealth, creating the largest economy in the world which the IMF values as $17 trillion or one-quarter of the global economy. Today, the US economy is struggling with high unemployment, record numbers of Americans dropping out of the job market, large trade deficits and declines in many measures of standard of living. At the same time, other countries, most notably China, India, Brazil and Russia, are beginning to challenge the US.

As noted earlier, these countries along with South Africa joined together to create the BRICS development bank to challenge the World Bank and IMF, which are dominated by the US and its western allies.  This may be the most important challenge to US economic dominance since 1945 especially when combined with bilateral agreements between countries that omit the US dollar, weakening its position as the reserve currency of the world.

Alfred W. McCoy, author of Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State, convened a global working group of 140 historians to consider the fate of the US as an imperial power. He predicts four scenarios for the future of the United States, all leading to the end of Empire. 

First on the list is economic decline. He writes that “three main threats exist to America’s dominant position in the global economy: loss of economic clout thanks to a shrinking share of world trade, the decline of American technological innovation, and the end of the dollar's privileged status as the global reserve currency.” The scenario ends with:

“After years of swelling deficits fed by incessant warfare in distant lands, in 2020, as long expected, the U.S. dollar finally loses its special status as the world's reserve currency.  Suddenly, the cost of imports soars. Unable to pay for swelling deficits by selling now-devalued Treasury notes abroad, Washington is finally forced to slash its bloated military budget.  Under pressure at home and abroad, Washington slowly pulls U.S. forces back from hundreds of overseas bases to a continental perimeter.  By now, however, it is far too late.”

The second is fear of oil shock by the leadership which explains the US’ current extreme energy extraction boom even though it threatens the environment and public health. McCoy writes that the waning economic power of the United States has caused it to lose control of the world’s oil supplies.  In 2010, he pointed out that while the US was still a gas guzzler, “China became the world's number one energy consumer this summer, a position the U.S. had held for over a century.” 

Further he emphasized the rising power of Iran and Russia, two countries the US is belligerent with, saying that by 2025 they will “control almost half of the world's natural gas supply, which will potentially give them enormous leverage over energy-starved Europe. Add petroleum reserves to the mix and, as the National Intelligence Council has warned, in just 15 years two countries, Russia and Iran, could ‘emerge as energy kingpins.’” Competing with them through extreme energy extraction, under the “all of the above” energy strategy, will come at tremendous cost to the ecology of the US and the planet.

The third scenario is what our last article on Empire examined: Military Misadventure. McCoy writes: “Counterintuitively, as their power wanes, empires often plunge into ill-advised military misadventures. … These operations, irrational even from an imperial point of view, often yield hemorrhaging expenditures or humiliating defeats that only accelerate the loss of power.” He points to the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, with war threatened in Pakistan.

McCoy describes how with the US military “stretched thin from Somalia to the Philippines and tensions rising in Israel, Iran, and Korea, possible combinations for a disastrous military crisis abroad are multifold.” Since writing this, the US military is stretched even thinner with more military crisis areas, e.g. Libya, Syria, the Ukraine and Russia unfolding. Each could grow into a wider conflict.  

The final scenario is World War III in the Asian Pacific which he described as having previously been “America’s Lake,” but which is now challenged by China.  The US fears China as, he notes, “the Pentagon reported that Beijing now holds ‘the capability to attack… [U.S.] aircraft carriers in the western Pacific Ocean’ and target ‘nuclear forces throughout… the continental United States.’”

The Wikileaks cables that were produced after McCoy’s article further describe the fears of the US as a declining world power in the face of China. A March 24, 2009 State Department cable describes a meeting between Secretary of State Clinton and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd held in Washington, DC. During the meeting Clinton complained about how difficult it was to take action against China asking “How do you deal toughly with your banker?” Rudd says Australia was playing close attention to China and building up its Navy in response. He urged the US and its allies to pull China into US-dominated structure of state relations, “while also preparing to deploy force if everything goes wrong.”

No doubt this conversation was one of many that led to Obama’s Asian Pivot and the increased focus on negotiating the China-less Trans-Pacific Partnership thus encircling China militarily and economically. McCoy, writing prior to these policy changes, predicts vast resources being spent on the full “spectrum in all dimensions of the modern battlespace.” He describes this including not just traditional military weapons but “a new digital network of air and space robotics, advanced cyberwarfare capabilities, and electronic surveillance.” All of this preparation for conflict with China comes at the expense of the faltering domestic economy and indebted federal budget.

These scenarios describe the decline of US Empire and each has the potential for tremendous negative effects on the domestic economy as the decline occurs. McCoy finds that “every significant trend points toward a far more striking decline in American global power by 2025 than anything Washington now seems to be envisioning.”

How quickly do empires unravel?  McCoy writes a warning:

“Despite the aura of omnipotence most empires project, a look at their history should remind us that they are fragile organisms. So delicate is their ecology of power that, when things start to go truly bad, empires regularly unravel with unholy speed: just a year for Portugal, two years for the Soviet Union, eight years for France, 11 years for the Ottomans, 17 years for Great Britain, and, in all likelihood, 22 years for the United States, counting from the crucial year 2003.” (Note: the year of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.)

Creating a Different Future

Of course, it does not have to be this way. The people of the United States can educate themselves about these realities and mobilize to force the government to take a very different course. Chalmers Johnson presents a different vision:

“If, however, we were to dismantle our empire of military bases and redirect our economy toward productive, instead of destructive, industries; if we maintained our volunteer armed forces primarily to defend our own shores (and perhaps to be used at the behest of the United Nations); if we began to invest in our infrastructure, education, health care, and savings, then we might have a chance to reinvent ourselves as a productive, normal nation.”

Melman argues that to achieve this “We must come to grips with America's State Capitalism and its Permanent War Economy. Failing that, there is no hope for any constructive exit.” Johnson does not see this scenario as likely, but it is up to us to make it likely, to recreate the world as we want it to be. The crisis of American Empire is an opportunity for a new course of action that can save us, and the world.

There has been more than 100 years of people seeking to end war as a means of solving conflicts between nations and peoples.  A new campaign, World Beyond War, is seeking to organize a global movement to end war. They are raising money for a billboard campaign that will build on the opposition to war, teach that ‘war cannot end war’ and let people know there is a movement for them to join.

While ending war and US Empire would be monumental changes, they seem reasonable when we look at the predicament of the United States: the economy is failing, the world is looking for alternatives to the US dollar, the US military has not won a major war since World War II and is stretched thin around the globe, the cost of military equipment has skyrocketed, the traditional energy supply is uncertain and risky, the people and nations around the world are revolting and public opinion in the US opposes war and militarism. 

On a positive note, as we write this the US House of Representatives just voted in a bipartisan landslide 370 to 40, to require the President to come to Congress to get authorization to renew the war in Iraq. Last year a war in Syria was stopped when it became clear Congress would not support it – after citizen pressure. We have more power than we realize.

Now is the time to build our power and use it. Let’s organize to end Empire and militarism and create an alternative democratized economy that puts the needs of people and the planet first.

This is Part II of a series on Empire. Part I: U.S. Empire Reaches A Breaking Point Time to End It

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This article is produced by Popular Resistance in conjunction with AlterNet.  It is a weekly review of the activities of the resistance movement. 

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The Extreme Measures Republicans Will Take to Avoid Raising Taxes

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 16:11
The GOP's latest antics on the federal highway trust fund show what a stubborn misdirected bunch they are.

By the time you read this, Congressional Republicans will have overwhelmingly voted to violate one of their most cherished guiding principles: A service should be paid for by those who use the service. If we don’t fully pay for services, Republicans usually insist, markets can’t work effectively. We undervalue and overuse services, resulting in wasteful overspending.

All of which makes the debate about renewing and replenishing the months-long federal highway trust fund so revealing. This spring Republicans made clear their position: No new taxes. Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), speaking for himself and his party declared, “I do not support, and the House will not support, billions of dollars in higher taxes to pay for more spending” on transportation.

Camp’s position might be reasonable if he and his fellow Republicans were at the same time willing to abide by another of their basic principles: Live within your budget. If you don’t have the money, don’t spend it. In this instance, if drivers are unwilling to pay the road budget then cut federal highway spending by 28 percent, which would reduce overall national road spending by about 7 percent.

But Republicans don’t want to cut road expenditures. They just don’t want drivers to pay. The result has been months devising strategies to divert money from other sources. In May, in a memo to rank and file House Speaker John Beohner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) insisted they had come up with a perfect “way to ensure continued funding of highway projects in a fiscally responsible manner.” They would make up the highway-financing gap by eliminating Saturday postal delivery! To ensure that the roads are adequate for delivering the mail they will no longer deliver the mail.

Eventually Republicans decided that sacrificing the post office to ensure that drivers could use the roads more cheaply was politically unworkable.

By now I know many readers are asking, “What about Democrats?” After all, the House proposal was passed by a bipartisan vote of 367-55. True. But Democrats swear no fealty to the proposition that all services should, whenever possible, be fully paid by users. They believe I should pay for the public library even if I don’t use it. I should pay for the public park even if I don’t use it. They believe these are public goods available always to all. Republicans, or at least Republicans circa 2014 don’t seem to believe there are public goods.

Certainly some aspects of roads may be considered public goods. Even those who don’t drive may need them to deliver fire or police protection or ambulance services. Which would argue that some part of the road budget could justifiably come from the general public purse.

But the Republicans don’t make that argument. And if they did they would have to confront the fact that there are public costs as well as public benefits to roads. The environmental damages caused by driving, for example, far outweigh the taxes paid at the pump. To redress these damages some propose raising the gas tax by $1 or $2 per gallon or more. Republicans refuse to even entertain the notion. If they are so ideologically hidebound that they won’t even require drivers to pay for their roads, how could they possibly ask them to pay for the actual damages caused by their driving?

Republican have not always been willing to so quickly violate basic conservative economic principles. Prior to l956 highways were financed directly from the federal Treasury. Then in 1956, at the insistence of Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower the Highway Trust Fund was established with revenue generated from a dedicated fuel tax. The original tax was 3 cents per gallon. Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush each raised the tax by 5 cents per gallon. In 1993 President Clinton raised it by a little over 4 cents. And there, at 18.4 cents per gallon, it has remained for the last 21 years.

In 2008 the highway trust fund experienced a shortfall, a result of reduced driving due to sky-high oil prices. Congress made up the shortfall with $8 billion from general funds. In 2009 and 2010 Congress again supplied general funds.

The hope was that eventually Congress would develop a long term funding plan that would include a gas tax increase. In 2013 none other than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supported such a move. The Republicans would have none of it.

Washington Republicans are not the only ones violating the user pays principle. The Tax Foundation estimates that overall state and local governments finance only 32 percent out of user fees. Federal funding brings this total up to 50 percent. The rest comes out of general funds. In the case of cities the majority comes from property taxes.

Recently states, Republican as well as Democrat have begun raising gas taxes. Eighteen states currently impose a gasoline sales tax whose revenue rises with gas prices or pegs the tax to the rate of inflation. But 16 states have not raised their gas taxes for two decades or more. Recently Wyoming raised its gas tax for the first time in 16 years. New Hampshire hiked its gas tax for the first time in 23 years. But states and cities have a long way to go before they could consider their transportation funding mechanisms self-sustaining.

By the time you read this, Congress may have jimmy rigged a temporary solution to the highway funding shortfall. Which means we get to have the same debate again next year. Perhaps Republicans will propose slashing food stamps or Medicare or Pell grants. Anything to avoid having to require those who use the roads to pay for the roads.

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5 Signs of Madness in the Media This Week: Tom Friedman Compares Gaza Disaster to Broadway Edition

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 14:53
Disturbing coverage, with a hat tip to NYT's skewed Israel coverage.

The mainstream and right-wing media continues to be a bubbling pot of overblown hysteria and wild propaganda against the public interest. Here are some of the more disturbing episodes from this week, from the war on Clintons to the New York Times unbending PR-blitz for Israel. 


War, war, war, planes shot from skies, gore in the Middle East, nothing deters our faithful scribes from serving up reheated delicacies off the putrefying banquet that is Clintoniana.  Is it too much to hope that if we get the salacious stuff out of the way now, we won't have to put up with four —or god forbid,  eight — years of it under a President HRC? Delving deep into the “Who Cares” Files, Lloyd Grove over at the Daily Beastly scans the L section of the index in Daniel Halper’s "Clinton, Inc." book.

Turns out Monica blew off an opportunity to do a commercial wearing a blue gap dress on which she spills International Delight Coffee Creamer, with the comment, “Oh no , not again.” Grove plucked seamy lines from that squirm-inducing, Barbara Walters pitch letter to Monica, and shared it in all its “simpering sycophancy and self-celebration, garnished by veiled threat."  From Grove’s long gloss: “It is no crime to sell your story,” Walters wrote to Lewinsky in November 1998, “but I don’t have to tell you what public opinion will then be: You will be viewed as an opportunist. ‘We have known it all along,’ the critics will say. ‘This is the kind of person Monica Lewinsky is.’…But beyond the payment, I fully believe that no one else could possibly do the kind of interview that I could do. It isn’t only my own reputation for fairness and integrity. It is also that you and I have a trust and respect for each other that will permeate the screen.”       

Mining the same rich vein, scribes at the New York Daily News trolled advance pages of a memoir by journalist Lucinda Franks to find a 1999 interview in which Hillary blamed Bill’s philandering ways on Virginia Kelly’s child abuse — details of which are never shared. The story ran on the front page of Gotham’s left-leaning tabloid


Last week, New York Times' Tom Friedman road-tested themes that he will either use in his next book or his next Davos speech, maybe both. In a column called "Order Versus Disorder, Part 2", he put Gaza in global context. Clearly, Israel is on the side of order according to Friedman. But he also claimed that Israel’s action is original and a sign of things to come.

“I’ve argued for a while now that it is always useful to study the Israeli-Arab conflict because it is to the wider war of civilizations what Off Broadway is to Broadway. A lot of stuff starts there and then goes to Broadway. So what’s playing Off Broadway these days? The Israeli-Arab conflict has become a miniature of the most relevant divide in the world today: the divide between the “world of order” and the “world of disorder.”

Putting aside the appropriateness of using a Broadway show metaphor for the unfolding carnage, his theme is just plain wrong.  The Israeli show isn’t based on an original screenplay at all. In excusing a massive Palestinian civilian death toll as acceptable collateral damage, and aiming for total civil society breakdown, the Israelis are merely producing a lower-budget version of that 2003 American blockbuster called Shock and Awe.


Traditionally, its coverage of Israel has been sympathetic, to say the least, and when the Times is even slightly off message on that nation, staunchly pro-Israel New Yorkers beat up on it. As the body count approached 32 dead Israelis and 718 dead Palestinians (do the math, 1 Israeli = 22.4 Palestinians), the paper of record decided to go in-depth on Page One on how Israeli society might react to a single missing Israeli soldier.

In "A Blast, A Fire and an Israeli Soldier Goes Missing," Jerusalem embeds Kershner and Rudoren,  cinematically recount the disappearance of IDF Sgt. Oron Shaul, in Gaza. 

“It was around 1 a.m. when the decades-old Israeli armored personnel carrier rumbled into the Gaza Strip on Sunday and headed for Shejaiya, a Hamas stronghold on the eastern edge of Gaza City. Seven soldiers were crammed inside, including Sgt. Oron Shaul, 21, from the Golani infantry brigade … .”  

A few paragraphs in, the story explains why this particular incident – tragic, yes – deserved this level of attention, at this time: “Capturing an Israeli soldier — or even withholding a soldier’s remains — can have a powerful impact on Israeli society, more in some ways than death.”  

Putting this unfortunate editorial decision in context:  It’s hard to imagine a Times story going in depth with such dramatic relish from inside the other side, and with a topic sentence like this: “Killing a Palestinian can have a powerful impact on Palestinian society.”


Down in Fortress Texas, Prince Ricky, camo-clad on a speedboat on the Rio Grande, pulled a demonstrably untrue “fact” about murderous illegal aliens out of his hat a few weeks ago. He said of 203,000 “illegal aliens” who had crossed the border in the last five years, they committed 3,000 homicides and 8,000 sexual assaults.

To combat the incoming criminals (who might be using the undocumented children as a ruse), Prince Ricky mobilized 1,000 Texas National Guard troops as a “force multiplier” to a “surge” in state Department of Public Safety officers patrolling the borders of the Lone Star State.

The Austin Statesman subjected those figures to “politifact” check and found them, umm, wanting in veracity. The site consulted a criminologist at John Jay College in NYC, who examined FBI Uniform Crime Statistics for Texas and calculated that from 2008 through 2012, 3,903 persons were arrested on homicide charges in the state. If Perry is right, that would mean almost every homicide committed in the state of Texas was committed by an undocumented immigrant.

Not one to attend to fact-checks pumped out of liberal institutions like colleges, Rush Limbaugh recycled the number for his minions, in a report this week on how the White House was sending a team down to the border.

“Now, if Obama's team of experts — if they get back alive, 'cause, I mean, that news that Governor Perry had last night? I mean, 203,000 people in the last five years were booked into jail. That's not the total number that came across. That's just the number came across ended up in jail— and of those 203,000, 3,000 homicides, 8,000 sexual assaults.”

5. RIGHT-WING SCHOOL PROPOGANDA Republican Florida state senator Alan Hayes plans to introduce a bill that would make Dinesh D'Souza's soon to be released  "docudrama," America: Imagine a World Without Her, required viewing for students in the state’s 1,700 Florida public high schools and middle schools. The Hollywood Reporter broke that story. Among the stunts in the film, which proposes that Americans are under attack by their own government, the former conservative whiz kid-turned-dingbat interviews the President’s Kenyan half-brother George Obama, but insists he’s not a wink-wink, Birther.

We look forward to the sequel, “Florida: Imagine a State Where School children are Force-fed Rightwing Claptrap.”


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How I Overcame My Soul-Crippling, Deep-South Addiction to Whiteness in 5 Steps

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 10:00
In Mississippi, the drug of choice is racial superiority. But there are ways to kick the habit.

I am a Mississippian as well as my family’s most notorious drunk. But six years into sobriety, I discovered that alcohol wasn’t my only addiction. Even more insidious was my soul-crippling dependence upon whiteness. I couldn't get through the day without seven or eight stiff shots of feeling superior. That began to change when I decided to write novels about Mississippi. I knew very little outside the white-bubble in which I was raised, and therefore was blind to the story of nearly half the population. Only after interviewing hundreds of black Mississippians, listening to their stories, did I begin to fathom the immensity of the lie behind my superiority and the real cost of my addiction.

Will my home state, which I dearly love, ever overcome its addiction to racism? The recent nasty fight that gave Sen. Thad Cochran a narrow victory in the GOP primary runoff election over tea party favorite Chris McDaniel was fueled with accusations by Cochran that his opponent had ties to the KKK. That's just the latest indication that the Deep South is still sick with racial bile.

It’s not that we haven’t had our share of interventions. I was thirteen in 1964 during Freedom Summer. That’s when hundreds of Yankee college students intent upon registering blacks to vote showed up at our door uninvited to let us know how far our disease had progressed. They kept after us even after we murdered three of them, Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney. But like the Civil War, Reconstruction, Brown Vs. Board of Education, and the Ole Miss riots with the Federal Troops, we chose denial over recovery.

Of course we attempt to appear in control of our racism by following the law. On paper, blacks can vote, live where they like, have better shot at jobs, run for office and get elected, go to school with whites (at least the few whites who haven’t fled to segregated private academies), and they can’t be refused service for the color of their skin. They can live mostly without the fear of white violence. 

But white superiority lives on, because our hearts were never committed to recovery.

Unlike the rest of the former Confederacy, these changes didn’t come because we saw reason or had a change of heart or even acted out of our own economic best interests. The Federal Government had to intervene, sometimes with guns, to force us to change our ways—we would never have done so voluntarily. This only increased our resentment and our commitment to get even.

It shows itself today in any measurement of public or individual welfare. Mississippi is fiftieth at anything that has to do with quality of life—income, health, lifespan. education, public services—you name it. If we’re not last, it’s only because Alabama put in overtime that year.

Why, after centuries living side by side with black folks, can’t we get it right?

To defeat any effort aimed at the welfare of the general public in Mississippi, all one has to do is claim that the effort is going to dilute one’s stash of whiteness by disproportionately benefiting blacks. It’s the easiest way to get poor whites to vote against their own self-interest. During the depression era, Mississippi refused funds to train farm workers to operate tractors because blacks would be allowed to develop those same skills. Today, it’s health coverage, educational initiatives, voting rights, public services of any sort. The objections offered are frequently couched in terms of economics, fraud or local autonomy. But those aren’t the real reasons. Just like the Civil War, it’s about protecting the purity of our drug of choice, whiteness.

It will be a while before the majority of Mississippi whites see blacks as true “fellow citizens,” deserving of the same kind of government patronage and quality of life we ourselves feel entitled to. I don’t think this attitude is limited to Mississippi, of course, but if there’s a skid row of racism, it’s us. Everything in Mississippi is seen through the lens of race. We can’t approach the simplest of questions without knowing who’s white and who’s black. And whatever the question, more often than not, blacks are viewed as the problem, the burden or the threat. Always have been, since that day they were brought over in chains. I believe there will be a polygamous gay marriage officiated by the head of the Mississippi Southern Baptist Convention before the average white Mississippian admits that the Civil War had anything to do with the evils of slavery or that things weren’t better under Jim Crow.

I’m not saying that breaking an addiction is easy. It’s tough, especially with so many enablers like the GOP, right-wing media, and the history textbook editors over in Texas telling students that our cravings are justified—even virtuous.

But, if you happen to hit bottom, there is hope. Recovery is possible. I’m not the best example, I still struggle. But I’ll share my first five steps with you:

1) I came to believe that I am powerless over my racism. I’ll always be a racist, and might as well stop pretending otherwise. Voting Democrat or watching Oprah won’t cure me. It goes too deep.

2) I came to accept that racism was a gift of love. No evil person made me a racist. Racism was given to me by those whom I love the most, because they wanted me to feel special. Nor am I evil because I accepted the gift. But I today I will be responsible.

3) I admitted that it feels good.I enjoy the privileges of whiteness. As soon as I stop pretending otherwise, then I can begin spreading it around.

4) I seek out other recovering whites and listen to their stories. It’s important to find a way out of the right-wing noise machine. Stop listening to those who try to incite the anger and fear that drives my craving.

5) I continually share my story. Not about how I used to be a racist, but how I still struggle with racism, day by day.

Denial will be your biggest enemy. Become familiar with common rationalizations, such as: Yankees are just as bad. Blacks are worse racists than whites. It’s about heritage, not hate. Slavery wasn’t so awful. I loved our maid like a mother. I read The Help.

You will develop your own list. Mine’s inexhaustible. But remember, even if they were all true, that’s doesn’t change the fact that I’m an addict. I crave whiteness every day.

Why should you change? A lot of reasons: emotional healing, creating a stronger nation, increased capacity to love, ensuring a brighter future for our children.

Mississippi may be last in many things, but we’re first in one: we’re the most religious. It would seem, then, the most important reason to get sober is for the eternal state of our souls.

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A New Wave of Wacko Evangelicals Swept GOP Primaries—and Could Win Several Seats in Washington

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 09:11
Mega churches fuel a dangerous new wave of political activism.

A Southern Baptist Pastor claiming dangerous and crazy things like the notion that there is a homosexual plot to sodomize children, and that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to Muslims is so common that it barely registers as newsworthy these days. What should be catching the attention of even the most jaded news editors, however, is that a Southern Baptist Pastor who actually said exactly these aforementioned things has just won his GOP primary race for a seat in the U.S. Congress. Say hello to Tea Party Republican Jody Hice.

In the coming 2014 election, Hice will be the official Republican nominee to replace outgoing Georgia Congressman Paul Broun. Hice believes gay people have a secret plot to seduce and sodomize America’s sons, thinks same-sex marriage is akin to bestiality and incest, and compares abortion to the genocide waged by Hitler. Broun (R-GA) has endorsed Hice, which is unsurprising given it was Broun who once claimed, “Evolution and embryology and the big Bang theory are all lies straight from the pit of Hell.”

Pastor Hice has a long history of delivering hateful and homophobic laden sermons from the pulpit. He has struck out at those who oppose harmful “gay conversion therapy,” and by banning it “we are enslaving and entrapping potentially hundreds of thousands of individuals in a lifestyle that in reality they are not.”

If Pastor Hice were an anomaly, this would be the start and end of this story. Unfortunately for those who cherish America’s secular traditions, he’s not. Alarmingly, he is one face in a sea of evangelical Christian faces swept to primary electoral victories this year on the back of religious conservative activism, and by that I mean political activism drummed up by the success and growth of America’s mega-churches.

While polls show a decline in America’s religiosity, and with millennials shunning the religious enthusiasm of their parents, the mega-church movement is neither dying nor slowing. A 2013 report shows that churches with weekly attendances of 2,000 or more grew in 46 states.

"With each passing year, mega-churches are more in both number and size and the ones at the top of the list are larger than the ones at the top of the list in previous years," Warren Bird, director of research and intellectual capital development for Leadership Network, told The Christian Post.

According to Bird, there are currently 1,650 established mega-churches in the country, many of which draw a sizeable percentage of young adults. And now these asylums for the easily led are being led to the altar of radical theocratic, political ideals – and its sponsor – the Republican Party.

In a number of GOP primary races, candidates with close ties to a mega-church have upset their more fancied establishment opponents. Including Pastor Hice, four candidates with mega-church backing have won decisive primaries.

“People generally like their pastor, and in politics it’s always good to be liked by voters,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon.

Another mega-church supported candidate to triumph is Oklahoma Representative James Lankford, who recently won a primary in the special election to succeed retiring U.S. Senator Tom Coburn.

Lankford is a graduate of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, who believes life begins at the moment of fertilization. From 1996 to 2009, Lankford was the student ministries and evangelism specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, and was the program director for the largest Christian camp in the U.S. Indeed, Jesus camp comes to Washington.

The Republican National Committee said it was Lankford’s visibility among evangelicals that helped him defeat his much-favored opponent. Notably, should Lankford win in November, he will become the only full-time religious leader in the U.S. Senate.

In North Carolina’s 6th District, Baptist Mark Walker defeated the highly regarded son of one that state’s most powerful politicians by more than 6,000 votes in a GOP runoff. The RNC said it was Walker’s leadership role at Lawndale Baptist Church, which has a membership of several thousand that proved decisive.

Walker is considered such a religious extremist that even his Tea Party colleague and primary opponent called him an extremist, which is like al-Qaeda calling ISIS radical. Walker’s Democrat Party rival warns, “Walker’s extremism has blinded him from the issues that matter…Mark Walker will be a voice only for the most extreme segment of our society.”

In Alabama, the 4,000-member congregation of Briarwood Presbyterian Church propelled Gary Palmer to victory in a GOP runoff in Alabama’s 6th District, to replace retiring Rep. Spencer Bachus. After securing the nomination, Palmer thanked those who helped his campaign become a success.

"This entire campaign was built on prayer, sustained by prayer and tonight was delivered by prayer," he said.

All of the above is more of what we have seen in this country for the past three decades: Christian dogmatism used to hail and marshal the mystical inerrancy of the free market and the benevolence of unregulated capitalism. The evangelicals of these mega-churches have been used as reliable ballot box lever pullers for our corporate overlords since the election of Ronald Reagan.

If these hapless radicals in prayer have tuned in at any stage since 1980, they’ll realize they’re unlikely to receive what they hope for in return for their vote.

In his political tome What’s the Matter With Kansas, Thomas Frank writes that the trick by the rich to dupe the predominantly working and middle class Christian right into voting for their political party never wears off.

“Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes. Vote to make our country strong again; receive deindustrialization. Vote to screw those politically correct college professors; receive electricity deregulation. Vote to get government off our backs; receive conglomeration and monopoly everywhere from media to meatpacking. Vote stand tall against terrorism; receive Social Security privatization. Vote to strike a blow against elitism; receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our lifetimes, in which workers have been stripped of power and CEOs are rewarded in a manner beyond imagining.”

For the Republican Party, the growth of the nation’s mega-churches, allows them an opportunity to perform the same trick to a new audience.

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New Poll Reveals Sharp Generational Divide in Attitudes Towards Israeli Assault on Gaza

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 09:11
Gallup finds men approve of Israeli's actions more than women, and older Americans more than younger.

A new Gallup poll has revealed some surprising results in American's attitudes toward the current crisis in Gaza, and whether Israeli actions there are justified. One poll showed that Americans in general see Israel as much more justified in its use of violence than Hamas is. And the proportion of those who approve of Israel's actions compared with those who do not is about the same as it was during the last major conflagration between Israel and the Palestinians 12 years ago. The polling organization surveyed about 1,000 Americans.

As Jeffrey Jones, who summarized the poll for Gallup, put it:

Americans are divided in their views of whether Israel's actions against the Palestinian group Hamas is "mostly justified" or "mostly unjustified," but they widely view Hamas' actions as mostly unjustified. Those results are similar to what Gallup measured 12 years ago during another period of heightened Israeli-Palestinian violence, and they are consistent with Americans' generally more positive views of the Israelis than of the Palestinians.

The numbers are strikingly similar. On 2002, 44 percent of those polled said Israel's actions were justified, and just 17 percent saw Palestinian actions as justified. This was before the rise of Hamas, and Palestinians were mostly resisting the occupation with suicide bombers. In 2014, 42 percent of Americans see Israel's use of force as justified, while just 11 percent see those of Hamas (mostly rocket fire) as justified.

But there were big divides between the parties (65 percent of Republicans approve of Israel's actions; while just 31 percent of Democrats do); between the genders (51 percent of men approved of Israel's actions compared with 33 percent of women); and between the races. (50 percent of whites see Israel's actions as justified compared with 25 percent of non-whites.)

Perhaps the biggest discrepancy was between the age groups. Put simply, the older you are, the more likely you are to approve of Israeli actions. Here's how it breaks down:

Higher educational levels tended to mean more favorable views of Israel.

Gallup does not offer much interpretation of these numbers, and some will surely see evidence of Israel's massive P.R. machine in the results. 

Jones concludes:

Americans are generally pessimistic about the Israelis and Palestinians being able to settle their differences and live in peace, and while the escalated tensions between the two sides have been a major news story the last two weeks, the American public does not view it as any more serious than past conflicts.

Americans continue to exhibit more positivity toward Israel than the Palestinians, but also stop short of saying Israel's actions in the current situation are justified.

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Union Stands Up for Principle Against Kochs' Attempt to Buy off Criticism on Race and Voter Suppression

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 08:25
AFSCME ends a partnership over a controversial donation.

Rush Limbaugh attacked them as “lunatics” running a “plantation” for black “slaves.” Another right-winger claimed a “white” union president was out to hurt “disadvantaged black youth,” even though the union president in question is black.

It’s no surprise AFSCME’s decision to end its partnership with United Negro Colllege Fund, in the wake of UNCF accepting a $25 million contribution from the Koch brothers to establish a “Koch Scholars” program, as well as participating in their annual right-wing strategy summit, has conservatives trashing the influential public sector union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. It fits their favorite story line: Liberals are the real racists.

But even some non-wingnuts have piled on. The Root’s Keli Goff blasted the decision as “progressive intolerance,” insisting the Kochs’ support of public sector union busting “has nothing to do with educating African-American students.” That’s led to renewed interest in AFSCME’s move, which president Lee Saunders announced two weeks ago.

In a letter to UNCF president Michael Lomax, AFSCME’s Saunders called the Kochs “the single most prominent funders of efforts to prevent African-Americans from voting.” Lomax’s appearance at the Koch brothers’ annual summit, where they plot conservative strategy – this year’s focus was taking back the Senate in 2014 — was “a betrayal of everything the UNCF stands for.” Members of AFSCME, a union that supports Democrats with money and people power, voted unanimously to back Saunders’ decision at their annual convention in Chicago last week.

“This is not a Democrat or Republican issue,” Saunders told Salon, in his first interview since the fracas. “It’s an issue of right and wrong.”

Still, the critics keep coming. Just this week, in the right-wing Daily Caller, Raynard Jackson called it “a stunning move that should anger every black in America.” In the  backyard of Koch-critic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Las Vegas Review Journal called the decision “ridiculous,” complaining that “Democrats and their supporters are quick to and fond of accusing conservatives and Republicans of being racists, but when Republican supporters such as the Kochs aim to demonstrate otherwise, a government employee union responds by causing direct harm to blacks.” The Review Journal is a conservative paper, but the African-American newspaper South Florida Times, which is not, likewise insisted “AFSCME must restore UNCF funding,” though it called Lomax’s decision to join the Koch summit “a mistake.”

It should be noted that AFSCME has always said it would continue the scholarship program for students of color it began with UNCF, but will find different partners.

Clearly the controversy, which involves two venerable organizations, has African-Americans on both sides of the issue. Founded by Mary McLeod Bethune and others in 1944, the UNCF offers scholarships to black students and funds important but embattled historically black colleges and universities. AFSCME, the union Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was supporting when he was assassinated in Memphis in 1968, now has its first black president, Saunders, and African-Americans make up 15 percent of its membership.

“It was a very difficult decision for me to make as an African-American,” says Saunders, the AFSCME leader who first approached former UNCF president Bill Gray with the notion of partnering on a scholarship program for students of color interested in labor movement careers, more than 10 years ago. Saunders says he personally raised money for UNCF for years.

He adds that if the Kochs had donated $25 million to UNCF “and said ‘here it is, do what you want to do with it,’ maybe we would have taken a different tack. Maybe I would have swallowed it.” But Lomax’s participation in the Kochs’ annual summit made the union draw “a line in the sand,” he said.

Michael Lomax did not respond to requests for comment. In an earlier statement about the controversy he said: “While I am saddened by AFSCME’s decision, it will not distract us from our mission of helping thousands of African-American students achieve their dream of a college degree and the economic benefits that come with it.” In an interview with Education Week about some UNCF supporters’ opposition to taking the Koch money, he argued “I think that Washington’s partisanship has really poisoned the thinking of some people all across the country.” Koch spokesperson Melissa Cohlmia told AP the Kochs “have devoted their lives to advancing tolerance and a free society — where every individual is judged on his or her individual merits and they are free to make decisions about their lives.”

According to reporting in the Nation by Lauren Windsor, who obtained a “confidential” draft meeting agenda and spoke to participants, the summit Lomax attended drew Republican luminaries including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate candidates Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Cory Gardner of Colorado — three close races that are crucial to GOP hopes of taking back the Senate – along with 2016 presidential hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio. No Democratic officeholders or candidates were included in the annual confab, which took place this year at the St. Regis Monarch Bay Resort in Dana Point, California.

Titled “American Courage: Our Commitment to a Free Society,” an early panel featured David Koch and longtime political partner Richard Fink, with whom he set up the right-wing Mercatus Center, holding forth on “Saving America: Our Fight to Advance Freedom and Reverse the Country’s Decline.” A dinner and then a morning panel showcased the notorious Charles Murray, who has long posited the “intractable” and probably genetic intellectual inferiority of African-Americans (and, more recently, low-income white people) and preached that government programs worsen poverty by destroying the work ethic and marriage habits of the poor.

In a four-session panel titled “The Foundation for Progress,” Lomax was featured in “Part One: Drive the National Conversation,” alongside Richard Fink and two Koch Industries executives. A session on how to “Advance in the States” featured Americans for Prosperity’s Teresa Oelke; Mitch McConnell headlined the final session, “Free Speech: Defending First Amendment Rights.”

UNCF’s decision to accept Koch funding was controversial even before AFSCME’s move, and some African-Americans have raised questions similar to Saunders. On NewsOneNow, Roland Martin hosted a discussion on the Kochs’ donation last month that turned into a polite but sharp debate between Lomax and progressive economist Julianne Malveaux, the former president of Bennett College for Women, the oldest historically black women’s college.

Expressing gratitude for UNCF’s support, Malveaux nonetheless questioned the “strings” attached to the Kochs’ gift: $18.5 million of $25 million is to create a “Koch Scholars” program, for “exemplary students” who want to study “how entrepreneurship, economics, and innovation contribute to well-being for individuals, communities, and society.” Koch organizations get two of five seats on that scholarship selection committee.

Lomax noted that $4 million of the grant is unrestricted support to HBCUs, and he invited Malveaux to come speak to the Koch Scholars. She replied: “I’d rather be on the selection committee,” and went on: “They’re using it to say ‘we support black people’ when the truth is that they don’t, they fund voter suppression.”

Beyond the details of the “Koch Scholars” program, or Lomax’s role in the Kochs’ right-wing summit, is the question of the role of Koch-demonized labor unions in the black community. African-American workers are more likely to be represented by a union than other workers, and labor leaders were among the earliest supporters of the modern civil rights movement (the famous 1963 March on Washington was also a “march for jobs and justice,” initially catalyzed by African-American labor luminary A. Philip Randolph). Black men have the highest rate of union membership of any group, at 14.8 percent compared with 11.9 percent of white men. In the 10 biggest metro areas, black workers are 42 percent more likely to be union members than workers of other races, according to Stephen Pitts of the University of California-Berkeley Labor Center.

Pitts’ study found black workers are 30 percent more likely than other groups to be employed in the public sector, which AFSCME represents. Those black public sector workers also make roughly 25 percent more than black workers in overall workforce – in part because public workers are more likely to be represented by unions, 35 percent vs. 7 percent in the private sector.

“The Koch brothers want a government-free society,” Saunders says. “Public service has enabled African-Americans to move into the middle class, but the Kochs are trying to dismantle that.”

The backlash against AFSCME’s decision on the right has led progressives to come out in support of the union in the last few days. “We believe that AFSCME is doing what is right for its members who the Koch brothers have targeted and is working in the interests of students of color who attend not only UNCF Institutions, but all institutions of higher learning,” Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network said in a statement. (Saunders is on its board.) Color of Change’s Rashad Robinson agreed, insisting that the Kochs, who “spend their lives advancing an agenda that puts our communities in harm’s way, will never give us enough money in the name of charity to overturn their agenda.”

Saunders says, once again, that critics are wrong when they insist AFSCME is taking scholarships away from black students. He promises the union will continue its scholarship program for students of color.

“We’re going to find another partner, or do it ourselves,” he promised.  “We’re committed to that.” He went on: “We agree with the mission of UNCF 100 percent. But the question is, are we going to be sold off to the highest bidder? I just think that’s wrong. We can’t be bought.”


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Wealth in America Is Getting Increasingly Dynastic — We Should Be Ashamed of That

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 07:36
Forbes magazine's list of 'America's Richest Families' is a sign of democratic decline.

For more than 30 years, Forbes magazine has been publishing a list of the 400 richest Americans. These annual celebrations of wealth are often accompanied by text emphasizing entrepreneurship. Readers are supposed to come away with the conclusion that these tycoons earned their treasure.

Now, in a move that says a great deal about where American society is headed, Forbes has published its first ranking of America’s Richest Families. No longer is the individual striver being venerated; now we are supposed to marvel at the compilation of 185 families with accumulated wealth of at least $1 billion. Forbes, unselfconsciously using a phrase that could have been penned by ruling class analyst William Domhoff, headlines the feature “Dominant Dynasties.”

Perhaps a bit uneasy about glorifying financial aristocracies, Forbes writes: “One thing that stands out is how many of the great fortunes of the mid-19th century have dissipated. The Astors and the Vanderbilts, the Morgans and the Carnegies, none make the cut.”

The fact that not all 150-year-old family fortunes have survived hardly makes the United States a model of economic egalitarianism. Forbes has to admit that the du Ponts, whose wealth dates back two centuries, are still high on the list (to the tune of $15 billion), as are the Rockefellers ($10 billion). The magazine chose to put on its cover members of the sixth and seventh generations of the Mellon dynasty, whose wealth is pegged at $12 billion.

Even among the newer fortunes, many go back several generations. Few of the listed families include living founders. In some cases family members are living of off the success of their forebears; in other cases, they have built on the achievements of their parents and grandparents. Yet in all cases they have benefited from a tax system that increasingly favors inherited wealth.

That tilt dates back to initiatives taken by the man responsible for the fortune enjoyed by the individuals on the Forbes cover: Andrew Mellon (illustration). As Secretary of the Treasury in the 1920s he unabashedly pushed for reductions in income and estate tax rates, even though as one of the country’s richest men he had a great deal to gain personally from those cuts.

Aside from the questions relating to the perpetuation of class structure, there is the issue of where the fortunes came from in the first place. That subject cannot be avoided when the family at the very top of the list, the Waltons, enjoys wealth estimated at $152 billion thanks to their affiliation with a retail empire built on cheap labor, union-busting and a variety of other sins.

The Kochs, number two with $89 billion, have grown rich through the exploitation of fossil fuel-based industries that are threatening the planet, as did the Rockefellers and many others on the list. The du Pont fortune was originally based on gunpowder and was later enhanced by inventions that included dangerous chemicals such as perfluorinated compounds (used in Teflon) linked to serious health and environmental problems.

Lower down on the list is the Steinbrenner fortune ($3.1 billion), which is based not only on the absurd appreciation in the value of the New York Yankees but also from a shipping business whose interests were furthered by illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon in the 1970s. There’s also the Lindner fortune ($1.7 billion), which was built in part by Carl Lindner’s close association with the junk bond empire of the felonious Michael Milken.

Balzac is credited with the statement that “behind every great fortune is a great crime.” Further research will be required to know if that is true of all the entries on the Forbes list, but there are no doubt plenty of examples. And along with any specific crimes is the offense against democracy generated by the unbridled accumulation of intergenerational wealth.

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Krugman Divulges Real Reason Conservatives Freak Out About California Success Story

Fri, 07/25/2014 - 07:26
Right-wingers just hate when promised catastrophes don't materialize.

Paul Krugman feels terribly sorry for conservatives who predict doom whenever taxes are raised slightly, and social programs are delivered, and then, lo and behold, the promised catastrophe does not materialize. You'd think they'd scurry away, tails between legs, issuing mea culpas and feeling horrible about themselves.

In Friday's column he discusses California, the "left coast," where Governor Jerry Brown had the audacity to push through a modestly liberal agenda of higher taxes and spending, a higher minimum wage, and enthusiastic implementation of Obamacare.

The horror, conservatives said. As Krugman writes:

A representative reaction: Daniel J. Mitchell of the Cato Institute declared that by voting for Proposition 30, which authorized those tax increases, “the looters and moochers of the Golden State” (yes, they really do think they’re living in an Ayn Rand novel) were committing “economic suicide.” Meanwhile, Avik Roy of the Manhattan Institute and Forbes claimed that California residents were about to face a “rate shock” that would more than double health insurance premiums.

Well, darned if the catastrophe didn't happen. Krugman offers numbers, as he usually does, to bolster his case:

If tax increases are causing a major flight of jobs from California, you can’t see it in the job numbers. Employment is up 3.6 percent in the past 18 months, compared with a national average of 2.8 percent; at this point, California’s share of national employment, which was hit hard by the bursting of the state’s enormous housing bubble, is back to pre-recession levels.

On health care, some people — basically healthy young men who were getting inexpensive insurance on the individual market and were too affluent to receive subsidies — did face premium increases, which we always knew would happen. Over all, however, the costs of health reform came in below expectations, while enrollment came in well above — more than tripleinitial predictions in the San Francisco area. A recent survey by the Commonwealth Fund suggests that California has already cut the percentage of its residents without health insurance in half. What’s more, all indications are that further progress is in the pipeline, with more insurance companies entering the marketplace for next year.

And, yes, the budget is back in surplus.

But does the stubborn right flank ever examine the actual results, search their souls and reconsider their positions? Ha! Instead they just try to downplay the good news. California is not adding jobs as fast as Texas, they say. Gotta be the tax rates. 

Krugman's answer to that:

For the big difference between the two states, aside from the size of the oil and gas sector, isn’t tax rates. it’s housing prices. Despite the bursting of the bubble, home values in California are still double the national average, while in Texas they’re 30 percent below that average. So a lot more people are moving to Texas even though wages and productivity are lower than they are in California.

And while some of this difference in housing prices reflects geography and population density — Houston is still spreading out, while Los Angeles, hemmed in by mountains, has reached its natural limits — it also reflects California’s highly restrictive land-use policies, mostly imposed by local governments rather than the state. As Harvard’s Edward Glaeser has pointed out, there is some truth to the claim that states like Texas are growing fast thanks to their anti-regulation attitude, “but the usual argument focuses on the wrong regulations.” And taxes aren’t important at all.

The lesson of the California comeback is a familiar one, but it bears repeating. "You should take anti-government propaganda with large helpings of salt," Krugman writes. "Tax increases aren’t economic suicide; sometimes they’re a useful way to pay for things we need. Government programs, like Obamacare, can work if the people running them want them to work, and if they aren’t sabotaged from the right. In other words, California’s success is a demonstration that the extremist ideology still dominating much of American politics is nonsense."

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