Saturday, May 14, 2011

Quoth this and that...

"Human beings will generally exercise power when they can get it, and they will exercise it most undoubtedly in popular governments under pretense of public safety." ~ Daniel Webster

"Republicans claim to hate government. Then they get elected and prove it." ~Bill Maher

"Man exists for his own sake and not to add a laborer to the State." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

"It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds." ~ Samuel Adams

"Never could an increase of comfort or security be a sufficient good to be bought at the price of liberty." ~ Hilaire Belloc

"If you think we are free today, you know nothing about tyranny and even less about freedom." ~ Tom Braun

"Once in power, those in power want to stay in power." ~ Spiderlegs

"We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty or profusion and servitude. If we run into such debt, as that we must be taxed in our meat and in our drink, in our necessaries and our comforts, in our labors and our amusements, for our calling and our creeds...[we will] have no time to think, no means of calling our miss-managers to account but be glad to obtain subsistence by hiring ourselves to rivet their chains on the necks of our fellow-sufferers... And this is the tendency of all human governments. A departure from principle in one instance becomes a precedent for [another]... till the bulk of society is reduced to be mere automatons of misery... And the fore-horse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression." ~ Thomas Jefferson

Obama Pushes for Increase in Domestic Oil Production

by: Margaret Talev, McClatchy Newspapers
Saturday 14 May 2011

Washington - President Barack Obama is responding to voter frustration over high gasoline prices and oil executives' criticism of his domestic drilling policies by announcing steps to "increase safe and responsible oil production here at home."

In his weekly Saturday address, the president reiterated that he's launched a task force to look at whether any fraud or market manipulation is contributing to gasoline costing more than $4 a gallon. He also renewed his call to eliminate oil companies' subsidies.

Democrats are pushing legislation to put $2 billion in annual tax breaks for the five largest oil companies instead toward deficit reduction. Republicans oppose the effort.

At the same time, Obama noted that U.S. oil production last year was at its highest level since 2003 and said: "I believe we should expand oil production in America, even as we increase safety and environmental standards."

He said he's taking several steps toward that end, including:
  • Directing the Interior Department to conduct annual lease sales in Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve
  • Creating a new inter-agency group to streamline Alaska drilling permits
  • Expediting evaluations of oil and gas in the mid- and south-Atlantic
  • Extending leases in Gulf of Mexico areas affected by last year's temporary moratorium after the BP oil spill
Two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House, noted that Republican lawmakers have supported some of the concepts Obama is now embracing. Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, however, remains "off the table," one official said.

Phil Flynn, an energy trader at PFG Best in Chicago, said what Obama is proposing is "going to open up some more lands for drilling, which is a positive." At the same time, Flynn said, "obviously it's a political move."

"The oil companies' executives' biggest complaint was 'Hey, we want to drill more but we've been thwarted by this administration,'" Flynn said. "It's a political response to that argument so that when he goes on the election trail he can say, 'Hey I opened this up.'

"On the one hand he looks like he's doing them a favor. But now he's going to frame it to say he's taking away tax breaks."

Flynn said the steps won't bring down prices overnight, but that if Obama could negotiate a deal that helps get the federal budget under control, it could have a quick impact. "If he got the budget under control, the U.S would not have to borrow as much money," he said. "That would make the dollar stronger and commodity prices lower."

U.S. oil production rose from 4.95 million bpd in 2008 to 5.36 million bpd in 2009, followed by 5.5 million bpd last year, even with the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The Energy Information Administration forecasts U.S. production to hold at that level this year and rise again next year, to 5.54 million bpd.

Obi-Wan Kenobi Is Dead, Vader Says

The Death of Obi-Wan Kenobi
Obi-Wan Kenobi Is Dead, Vader Says

Lord Vader announced the killing of Obi-Wan Kenobi at the Imperial Palace on Coruscant.
CORUSCANT — Obi-Wan Kenobi, the mastermind of some of the most devastating attacks on the Galactic Empire and the most hunted man in the galaxy, was killed in a firefight with Imperial forces near Alderaan, Darth Vader announced on Sunday.

In a late-night appearance in the East Room of the Imperial Palace, Lord Vader declared that “justice has been done” as he disclosed that agents of the Imperial Army and stormtroopers of the 501st Legion had finally cornered Kenobi, one of the leaders of the Jedi rebellion, who had eluded the Empire for nearly two decades. Imperial officials said Kenobi resisted and was cut down by Lord Vader's own lightsaber. He was later dumped out of an airlock.

The news touched off an extraordinary outpouring of emotion as crowds gathered in the Senate District and outside the Imperial Palace, waving imperial flags, cheering, shouting, laughing and chanting, “Hail to the Emperor! Hail Lord Vader!” In the alien protection zone, crowds sang “The Ten Thousand Year Empire.” Throughout the Sah'c district, airspeeder drivers honked horns deep into the night.

“For over two decades, Kenobi has been the Jedi rebellion’s leader and symbol,” the Lord of the Sith said in a statement broadcast across the galaxy via HoloNet. “The death of Kenobi marks the most significant achievement to date in our empire’s effort to defeat the rebel alliance. But his death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that the rebellion will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad.”

Obi-Wan Kenobi ’s demise is a defining moment in the stormtrooper-led fight against terrorism, a symbolic stroke affirming the relentlessness of the pursuit of those who turned against the Empire at the end of the Clone Wars. What remains to be seen, however, is whether it galvanizes Kenobi’s followers by turning him into a martyr or serves as a turning of the page in the war against the Rebel Alliance and gives further impetus to Emperor Palpatine to step up Stormtrooper recruitment.

In an earlier statement issued to the press, Kenobi boasted that striking him down could make him "more powerful than you could possibly imagine."

How much his death will affect the rebel alliance itself remains unclear. For years, as they failed to find him, Imperial leaders have said that he was more symbolically important than operationally significant because he was on the run and hindered in any meaningful leadership role. Yet he remained the most potent face of terrorism in the Empire, and some of those who played down his role in recent years nonetheless celebrated his death.

Given Kenobi’s status among radicals, the Imperial Galactic government braced for possible retaliation. A Grand Moff of the Imperial Starfleet said late Sunday that military bases in the core worlds and around the galaxy were ordered to a higher state of readiness. The Imperial Security Bureau issued a galactic travel warning, urging citizens in volatile areas “to limit their travel outside of their local star systems and avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations.”

The strike could deepen tensions within the Outer Rim, which has periodically bristled at Imperial counterterrorism efforts even as Kenobi evidently found safe refuge it its territories for nearly two decades. Since taking over as Supreme Commander of the Imperial Navy, Lord Vader has ordered significantly more strikes on suspected terrorist targets in the Outer Rim, stirring public anger there and leading to increased criminal activity.

When the end came for Kenobi, he was found not in the remote uncharted areas of Wild Space and the Unknown Regions, where he has long been presumed to be sheltered, but in a massive compound about an hour’s drive west from the Tatooine capital of Bestine. He had been living under the alias "Ben" Kenobi for some time.

The compound, only about 50 miles from the base of operations for the Imperial Storm Squadron, is at the end of a narrow dirt road and is roughly eight times larger than other homes in the area, which were largely occupied by Tusken Raiders. When Imperial operatives converged on the planet on Saturday, following up on recent intelligence, two local moisture farmers “resisted the assault force” and were killed in the middle of an intense gun battle, a senior Stormtrooper said, but details were still sketchy early Monday morning.

A representative of the Imperial Starfleet said that military and intelligence officials first learned last summer that a “high-value target” was hiding somewhere on the desert world and began working on a plan for going in to get him. Beginning in March, Lord Vader worked closely with a series of several different Admirals serving onboard the Death Star to go over plans for the operation, and on Friday morning gave the final order for members of the 501st Legion (known commonly as "Vader's Fist") to strike.

Kenobi and a group of his followers were eventually captured while fleeing the system, and taken aboard the Death Star, which was in the midst of surveying the recent environmental disaster on Alderaan. Darth Vader called it a “targeted operation,” although officials said four tie fighters were lost because of "mechanical failures" and had to be destroyed to keep them from falling into hostile hands.

In addition to Kenobi, two men and one wookiee were killed, one believed to be his young apprentice and the other two his couriers, according to an admiral who briefed reporters under Imperial ground rules forbidding further identification. A woman was killed when she was used as a shield by a male combatant, the Admiral said. Two droids were also reported missing.

“No Stormtroopers were seriously harmed,” Lord Vader said. “They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, I defeated my former master and took custody of his body.” Jedi tradition requires burial within 24 hours, but by doing it in deep space, Imperial authorities presumably were trying to avoid creating a shrine for his followers.

Lord Vader has denied requests to present photographs of the body, describing them as "too gruesome" for the general public.


"New Rules" Bill Maher: "I'm a non-Xian...just like most Xians."

George W. Bush: Time Traveler

Transparency Or Transparently Corrupt: What Kind Of Government Do We Want?

(I was extremely under the weather most of last week, so I'm catching up on blogging the many articles I wasn't able to post. Sorry if it gets overwhelming.--jef)

What Kind Of Government Do We Want?
By Cliff Schecter | Sourced from AlterNet
Posted at May 13, 2011
I had a client a few years back named Onvia. Onvia provided better and more timely information than the federal government, regarding where stimulus dollars were going and how they were being used:
The Obama administration promised openness regarding stimulus spending because many critics said the $787 billion package won congressional approval in February too quickly, and with too few safeguards.
Ryan Alexander, president of the Washington-nonprofit Taxpayers for Common Sense, thinks a free, private-sector Web site with a similar name — — does a better job of listing bid-ready federally funded projects that government entities are advertising or awarding nationwide.
People can log onto and learn, for example, that as of Sept. 5, Allegheny County was scheduled to receive the most stimulus-related money of any county in Pennsylvania — $775.8 million for 154 projects that include stimulus funding.
A few more clicks and that Web site reports that, as of Sept. 5, contractors could bid on 123 projects in Pittsburgh and two in Greensburg. The site lists each project's location; estimated cost; owner and type, such as PennDOT construction; and number of affiliated jobs.
As you can imagine, pressured to get better, to be more open and complete in the information the site provided. Because transparency begets more transparency, and open information is the only antidote to the instincts of both corporate and government entities to hide it behind walls, or firewalls.

Another open-data program with which I have worked is called City Forward. What are they doing? Simply allowing you to access, through "explorations," all sorts of data that lets you know how cities are spending their money, how they compare to other urban centers, and interact with reams of data to get a picture of how green they might be or how many jobs they might have lost. Do you want to know whether Baltimore or St. Louis is doing a more effective job fighting crime? Or whether landing the Olympics actually helps employment? Or what the impact of the recession has been on the "collar counties" of Chicago? Yup, as the kids say, there's an ap...or exploration, for that. And this can only be another positive development for honest and open government.

Yet, progress never comes without a fight.,,, and are sites that help the government operate more effectively and efficiently, saving taxpayer money and helping public oversight. They increase citizen knowledge of and involvement in the democratic process. launched a few years ago, then a few months later both New York and San Francisco introduced their own sites for detailed, city-specific data, and launched not too long after. A movement for open government was clearly been building momentum, and the popularity of data itself in other sectors continues to rise.

However, in the next few months, these open data sites are slated to be shut down due to budget cuts under consideration – the current annual budget of $37 million will be reduced to $2 million.
You know what happens when you do this. As The Sunlight Foundation (a non-profit, nonpartisan organization committed to improving access to government information by making it available online and by creating new tools and websites to enable individuals and communities to better access that information and put it to use) points out, this is what happens:
As the chairman of AAN, [former Senator Norm] Coleman knows who donated money to ad campaigns that favored conservative candidates. The public doesn’t.
As a non-lobbyist lobbyist, Coleman knows whose interests he represents before Congress. The public doesn’t. He can encourage his corporate clients at his new firm to contribute to ANN. He can decide the political races in which ANN will run ads. He can let his former Senate colleagues know that, either as a favor or as a threat, AAN will spend heavily for or against their re-election campaigns.
Efforts to uncover dark money contributions to elections through legislation failed. Even a modest effort by the Obama administration to require disclosure of dark money by government contractors is being met with vigorous opposition by groups representing corporate donors.
In an open letter to Congress last week, the Sunlight Foundation – offered this plea to lawmakers to not slash funding for the federal government’s transparency programs:

"An open and accountable government is a prerequisite for democracy. Keeping these programs alive would cost a mere pittance when compared to the value of bringing the federal government into the sunlight. As you consider the budget for the remainder of this year, please sustain funding for these vital transparency programs."

Will you sign the Sunlight pledge? I hope you will, because as Winston Churchill once said, democracy is the worst form of government...except for all the others."

Your Federal Government: Massive Insurance Company with an Army

By Kenneth J. Bernstein, AlterNet
Posted on May 14, 2011

... here’s the quick-and-dirty summary of what the federal government does: It’s a giant insurance company, mainly serving older people, that also has an army.

So writes Paul Krugman in his column--Seniors, Guns and Money-- today. Like most Krugman pieces, it is well worth reading.

I don\'t often write on Krugman, because I know others will.

But I am one of the leading (or bleeding) edge of the baby boomers - as I have noted, I turn 65 on the 23rd (although I will not retired from teaching for at least one more year). Thus Krugman was writing about me when he opined

And in case you hadn’t noticed, there will soon be a lot more seniors around because the baby boomers have started reaching retirement age.

Yes, we have.

I urge you to read the Krugman. I will touch on part of it. I will explore somewhat differently than does he.

First, Krugman does goes go after the 42 freshman Republicans who now want to "wipe the slate clean" so that they are not beaten up on for wanting to end Medicare. They are complaining about "Mediscare" tactics while conveniently forgetten their own use of scare tactics to get elected. Of course there is a difference - their support of the Ryan proposals would effectively end Medicare, while their rhetoric about "death panels" was flat out untrue. How nice to see them hoist by their own petard.

What is key is this:

Given the realities of the federal budget, a party insisting that tax increases of any kind are off the table — as John Boehner, the speaker of the House, says they are — is, necessarily, a party demanding savage cuts in programs that serve older Americans.

It is true that technically Social Security and Medicare are funded by separate streams, but while the former is effectively financially secure for the next few decades, the latter is badly underfunded, and its revenue stream will have to be addressed.

But then there is Medicaid. And this is critical. As Krugman notes,
... while Medicaid is often thought of as a poverty program, these days it’s largely about providing nursing care, with about two-thirds of its spending now going to the elderly and/or disabled.
He also calculates that in 2007 Seniors counted for roughly half of Federal spending.

Demographics present a problem. In that year, the ratio of seniors 65 plus to those of working age (20-64_ was 20.9 to 100. By 2020 that will rise to 27.5, and in another five years to 31.7.

Krugman also uses a rhetorical question from a Stanford professor who noted that the commitment of GDP to programs for seniors in 2007 was about 19-20%, as he argued for a freeze on spending on such programs.

Except there will be more of us. And medical costs continue to rise - here I note how much worse it would be without the changes we will see with Health Care reform, and how much better it would be with even more meaningful health care reform. We should remember that not only do Republicans want to slash support for programs for Seniors, they also want to gut health care reform.

Ultimately we will have to raise taxes to cover the additional costs for the bulge we baby boomers will impose upon the system. We already recognized that in Social Security, when what we and our employers have been paying in FICA was raised to provide a cushion for the impact as we reach retirement age.

But there is another issue, one upon which Krugman touches but does not explore thoroughly in the limited space of his column. That is the guns part of his title. There is a real question of whether our current pace of military commitment overseas, which goes far beyond Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, is affordable at all. It is certainly not affordable unless we are willing to pay for what we are doing. Those costs are not merely those of military operations, but also the future costs of care for our wounded warriors. It is immoral to commit men and women to harm\'s way without also committing the resources to care for them when they are injured in national service, and to pay for the operations in which they are engaged.

If the United States wishes to remain as significant a military presence overseas as Republicans insist, then Republicans should be willing to pay for that presence, and not by cutting other programs. Too many people are profiting from war and conflict without coming close to paying their share.

In one sense, we are increasingly a nation in which selfishness is rationalized. You could hear that in the testimony of oil executives and the arguments on their behalf by Republicans who want to cripple the government by restricting its revenues and by Democrats such as Landrieu and Begich who as Senators from the oil patch seem to have a greater commitment to the energy companies than to the American people.

That is a failing of our society. It is one that should be addressed both by our religious and other moral institutions as well as by our public schools - of course some of the former distort and misread religious texts in order to justify selfishness and our public schools are in the process of being destroyed either so some can profit additionally or because some would rather impose training that excludes critical thinking, ignores the educational needs of minorities, and reduces America to profit motives and a Hobbesian world view where there is no Commons, no shared sacrifice (except of those in the military to protect their personal economic benefits).

My sense is that there is an opportunity right now to change the dialog. Americans reacted viscerally against the Republican proposals to slash Medicare. Too many still think that Medicaid is for other people, those "undeserving" poor people. But there are enough around who have already had to use it for their parents, there are increasing numbers who are realizing that given the disappearance of defined benefit pensions access to federal support for medical care becomes even more important.

I can only hope that those of us facing these issues that affect us directly do not so narrow our perspective that we fail to realize that to address our needs should require of us that we understand how many other needs there are in our society that the Republican approach would deliberately ignore.

Republicans do not want to pay taxes. Perhaps they do not want to receive benefits? Oh wait, THEIR benefits are fine, they just don\'t want to pay for those of anyone else. That includes not being willing to pay with their own bodies and those of their children in military misadventures that too often exist because we won\'t address other issues, such as our dependence upon petroleum increasingly derived from overseas. And no, more drilling at home and increasing fracking for natural gas does not solve the problem, it merely postpones the reckoning that is inevitable if we do not change our approach to energy and creates "collateral damage" that by itself should serve as an absolute bar to such an approach.

It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.

Four days after I turn 65 we should celebrate the 100th birthday of the man who offered those words, Hubert Humphrey. While I still work I am now entering the twilight of my life. I am able to keep working if I so chose, so I do not face the economic pressures so many of my generation will. One cannot realistically continue many kinds of work even to the age I now am, much less into one\'s 70s.

We have financial issues we need to address. How much of what we pay in taxes should be for guns, how much for Seniors, how much for all the rest of what government should do?

We also have moral issues to address. Who should pay, and how? What is our responsibility to those other than ourselves? What is our moral responsibility not to use our politics to try to turn one part of our society against another?

Krugman concludes by noting that the Democrats are telling the truth, not engaging in scare tactics:

Policy details aside, the G.O.P.’s rigid anti-tax position also makes it, necessarily, the enemy of the senior-oriented programs that account for much of federal spending. And that’s something voters ought to know.

I agree. They should know that.

They also should know that we need to rethink how all of our policies and politics interact. We should be aware of the consequences to those other than ourselves and our kith and kin.

There have been times when as a society we chose to act on a moral basis. Such actions gave women the vote, workers the right to unionize, minorities the right to equality in society. We recognized the need for oversight of our food and drug protections, regulation of railroads, providing for seniors with Social Security and Medicare, providing for the poor in many ways, including Medicaid. Remember, it was not so long ago that the largest portion of our poor were seniors.

Our politics should be moral. They should be about more than merely winning for its own sake.

And if our politics should be moral, so should our economics.

I am about to officially be a senior. Today I read Krugman. I had some additional thoughts.

Thanks for taking the time to read them.


"The Rich" Don't "Create Jobs" -- We Do!

By Dave Johnson | Sourced from Campaign for America's Future
 You hear it again and again, variation after variation on a core message: if you tax rich people it kills jobs. You hear about "job-killing tax hikes," or that "taxing the rich hurts jobs," "taxes kill jobs," "taxes take money out of the economy, "if you tax the rich they won't be able to provide jobs." ... on and on it goes. So do we really depend on "the rich" to "create" jobs? Or do jobs get created when they fill a need?

Here is a recent typical example, Obama Touts Job-Killing Tax Plan, written by a "senior fellow at the Cato Institute and chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth,"
Some people, in their pursuit of profit, benefit their fellow humans by creating new or better goods and services, and then by employing others. We call such people entrepreneurs and productive workers.
Others are parasites who suck the blood and energy away from the productive. Such people are most often found in government.
Perhaps the most vivid description of what happens to a society where the parasites become so numerous and powerful that they destroy their productive hosts is Ayn Rand’s classic novel Atlas Shrugged.
Producers and Parasites

The idea that there are producers and parasites as expressed in the example above has become a core philosophy of conservatives. They claim that wealthy people "produce" and are rich because they "produce." The rest of us are "parasites" who suck blood and energy from the productive rich, by taxing them. In this belief system, We, the People are basically just "the help" who are otherwise in the way, and taxing the producers to pay for our "entitlements." We "take money" from the producers through taxes, which are "redistributed" to the parasites. They repeat the slogan, "Taxes are theft," and take the "money we earned" by "force" (i.e. government.)

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner echoes this core philosophy of "producers" and "parasites," saying yesterday,
I believe raising taxes on the very people that we expect to reinvest in our economy and to hire people is the wrong idea,” he said. “For those people to give that money to the government…means it wont get reinvested in our economy at a time when we’re trying to create jobs.”
"The very people" who "hire people" shouldn't have to pay taxes because that money is then taken out of the productive economy and just given to the parasites -- "the help" -- meaning you and me...

So is it true? Do "they" create jobs? Do we "depend on" the wealthy to "create jobs?"

Demand Creates Jobs

I used to own a business and have been in senior positions at other businesses, and I know many others who have started and operated businesses of all sizes. I can tell you from direct experience that I tried very hard to employ the right number of people. What I mean by this is that when there were lots of customers I would add people to meet the demand. And when demand slacked off I had to let people go.

If I had extra money I wouldn't just hire people to sit around and read the paper. And if I had more customers than I could handle that -- the revenue generated by meeting the additional demand from the extra customers -- is what would pay for employing more people to meet the demand. It is a pretty simple equation: you employ the right number of people to meet the demand your business has.

If you ask around you will find that every business tries to employ the right number of people to meet the demand. Any business owner or manager will tell you that they hire based on need, not on how much they have in the bank. (Read more here, in last year's Businesses Do Not Create Jobs.)

Taxes make absolutely no difference in the hiring equation. In fact, paying taxes means you are already making money, which means you have already hired the right number of people. Taxes are based on subtracting your costs from your revenue, and if you have profits after you cover your costs, then you might be taxed. You don't even calculate your taxes until well after the hiring decision has been made. You don;t lay people off to "cover" your taxes. And even if you did lay people off to "cover' taxes it would lower your costs and you would have more profit, which means you would have more taxes... except that laying someone off when you had demand would cause you to have less revenue, ... and you see how ridiculous it is to associate taxes with hiring at all!

People coming in the door and buying things is what creates jobs.

 The Rich Do Not Create Jobs

Lots of regular people having money to spend is what creates jobs and businesses. That is the basic idea of demand-side economics and it works. In a consumer-driven economy designed to serve people, regular people with money in their pockets is what keeps everything going. And the equal opportunity of democracy with its reinvestment in infrastructure and education and the other fruits of democracy is fundamental to keeping a demand-side economy functioning.

When all the money goes to a few at the top everything breaks down. Taxing the people at the top and reinvesting the money into the democratic society is fundamental to keeping things going.

Democracy Creates Jobs

This idea that a few wealthy people -- the "producers" -- hand everything down to the rest of us -- "the parasites" -- is fundamentally at odds with the concept of democracy. In a democracy we all have an equal voice and an equal stake in how our society and our economy does. We do not "depend" on the good graces of a favored few for our livelihoods. We all are supposed to have an equal opportunity, and equal rights. And there are things we are all entitled to -- "entitlements" -- that we get just because we were born here. But we all share in the responsibility to cover the costs of democracy -- with the rich having a greater responsibility than the rest of us because they receive the most benefit from it. This is why we have "progressive taxes" where the rates are supposed to go up as the income does.

Taxes Are The Lifeblood Of Democracy &The Prosperity That Democracy Produces

In a democracy the rich are supposed to pay more to cover things like building and maintaining the roads and schools because these are the things that enable their wealth. They actually do use the roads and schools more because the roads enable their businesses to prosper and the schools provide educated employees. But it isn't just that the rich use roads more, it is that everyone has a right to use roads and a right to transportation because we are a democracy and everyone has the same rights. And as a citizen in a democracy you have an obligation to pay your share for that.

A democracy is supposed have a progressive tax structure that is in proportion to the means to pay. We do this because those who get more from the system do so because the democratic system offers them that ability. Their wealth is because of our system and therefore they owe back to the system in proportion. (Plus, history has taught the lesson that great wealth opposes democracy, so democracy must oppose the accumulation of great, disproportional wealth. In other words, part of the contract of living in a democracy is your obligation to protect the democracy and high taxes at the top is one of those protections.)

The conservative "producer and parasite" anti-tax philosophy is fundamentally at odds with the concepts of democracy (which they proudly acknowledge - see more here, and here) and should be understood and criticized as such. Taxes do not "take money out of the economy" they enable the economy. The rich do not "create jobs, We, the People create jobs.

Corporate Demands, Federal ‘Reform,’ Keep Shifting Healthcare Costs to Workers

by Roger Bybee 
Despite its $14.2 billion in profits last year untouched by federal income taxes, General Electric is now demanding that its unionized workers accept a new high-deductible “Health Choice” health savings account plan.

GE’s demands are particularly obscene because it is sitting on $25 billion in savings and is threatening to close more U.S. plants, i.e. move more jobs to Mexico, China and elsewhere. And they're particularly dangerous because GE is modeling bad behavior for other corporations to emulate.

As UE-GE Conference Secretary Steve Tormey has said, “Nobody is more symbolic of the assault on workers than General Electric." The United Electrical workers union, one of a handful of unions now negotiating with GE, warned its members:
...numerous studies of these high-deductible plans...reveal that employees forced into plans like Health Choice are “significantly more likely to avoid, skip, or delay healthcare because of costs” than those with more comprehensive insurance. ...
What GE is really saying with Health Choice is that medical expenses are no longer primarily their responsibility, but that of GE employees.
But GE is only the latest entrant among employers trying to establish a new healthcare normal by thrusting heavy additional costs onto the backs of working families. And the much-trumpeted federal healthcare "reform" legislation may actually exacerbate this race to the bottom.

(Of course, public employers—like the state of Wisconsin, led by labor's arch enemy Gov. Scott Walker—have also been pushing to make public workers take up even more of the burden of healthcare costs. This despite the fact that, as David Cay Johnston has pointed out without managing to dent mainstream media coverage, public employees have always been paying 100 percent of their benefit costs. When they gained improvements in health and retirement benefits, they had to sacrifice on wage increases.)

How federal healthcare 'reform' helps drives the race to the bottom

The race to the bottom is, unfortunately, likely to be intensified as we get closer to fully implementing the Affordable Care Act in 2014. In fact, the ACA may well tend to establish a bare-bones, high-deductible policy as the new norm. The taxation of perversely mis-labeled “Cadillac” benefits has the very real potential of putting the squeeze on union-won healthcare benefits, especially in high-cost states.

Despite the efforts of AFL-CIO Richard Trumka and others to limit the damage created when the Obama administration suddenly adopted John McCain’s regressive idea of taxing better benefit plans to fund expanded healthcare coverage for the uninsured, it may not take long before fast-rising medical inflation pushes the dollar value of union-won health benefits up to the Cadillac level, as IUE-CWA Local 201 President Jeff Crosby has noted.

As Dr. David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler wrote recently,
The insurance required under the federal ACA is no better than Massachusetts’ bare-bones plans. And as employers emulate this inadequate coverage, the race to the bottom leaves an increasing number of Americans UNDER-insured. Public workers are just the latest group to see their coverage downsized.
What used to be called “health insurance” is now labeled “Cadillac coverage” – and reserved for those who drive Mercedes.
Himmelstein and Woolhandler remind us that the Democrats’ ACA plan was based on the Massachusetts model passed in 2006 with Gov. Mitt Romeny's signature, and whose “achievements” are much less than splendid. Bankruptcies caused by catastrophic medical costs, which account for over half of all bankruptcies, are still rising in Massachusetts, they state:
While only 4 percent of the state’s residents remain uninsured, much of the new coverage is so skimpy that serious illness leaves families with crushing medical bills.
For instance, the cheapest (and most commonly purchased) coverage available to a 56-year-old Bostonian through the state’s health insurance exchange costs $5,616. Yet, if you’re sick, the policy doesn’t start paying bills until you’ve paid a $2,000 deductible. And even after that you’re responsible for 20 percent of the next $15,000 in medical expenses.
Insurers try blackmail

By basing itself on the Massachusetts plan which keeps for-profit insurers as the parasitic middlemen at the core of the healthcare system, the ACA sacrificed the potential for comprehensive, high-quality benefits covered from the first dollar.

This potential has been underscored in the fight over retaining ACA’s requirement that 80 percent of premium revenue be used by insurers to provide healthcare and improve quality, freeing up 20 percent for profit, bureaucratic overhead, and sales and promotion.

No less than nine states are seeking waivers from the 80 percent requirement, falling prey to insurers’ blackmail demands. Insurers are threatening to stop selling individual coverage in a number of states unless they can spend, in several cases, just 65 percent on paying for healthcare and quality improvements.

Both the states and the Obama administration are petrified by this coercive technique. The Obama administration’s timid mentality was revealed in this statement by Robert Laszewski, a consultant to the health care industry and a former insurance executive. "The last thing the Obama administration wants is the Des Moines Register writing about 500 people who lost their health insurance in Iowa because of the Obama health plan," he chortled.

Single-payer destiny?

The emerging situation is not pretty. Major corporations and right-wing state governments are fighting furiously to shift more costs onto workers and their families. Instead of setting a new, higher standard, ACA effectively serves to reinforce a new lower standard of “acceptable” coverage. Given this, the limitations of the ACA may become very obvious very quickly both to the public and Congress.

There may even be a possibility that that the essential need for maximum-strength single-payer or “Medicare for all” healthcare system—unburdened by for-profit insurers—will become evident much faster than most have imagined. (Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) introduced  single-payer bills in Congress this week; Vermont has now passed its own single-payer system into law.)

Himmelstein and Woolhandler make the case concisely:
While the ACA can’t live up to its “affordable care” moniker, a single-payer reform could save $400 billion annually on administrative costs, enough to offer every American first-dollar, comprehensive coverage. While U.S. insurers fight tooth and nail against the 20 percent limit on overhead, Canada’s single-payer program runs for 1 percent.

US Middle Class Disappearing Into Abyss?

Friday, May 13, 2011 by RT America

As America's joblessness and poverty remain at a peak, RT delves deep into the sorrows of the country's middle class to find out if its future is doomed.

Confirmed Nuclear meltdown at Fukushima plant

One of the reactors at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant did suffer a nuclear meltdown, Japanese officials admitted for the first time today, describing a pool of molten fuel at the bottom of the reactor's containment vessel.

By Julian Ryall in Tokyo, 12 May 2011, London Telegraph

Engineers from the Tokyo Electric Power company (Tepco) entered the No.1 reactor at the end of last week for the first time and saw the top five feet or so of the core's 13ft-long fuel rods had been exposed to the air and melted down.

Previously, Tepco believed that the core of the reactor was submerged in enough water to keep it stable and that only 55 per cent of the core had been damaged.

Now the company is worried that the molten pool of radioactive fuel may have burned a hole through the bottom of the containment vessel, causing water to leak.

"We will have to revise our plans," said Junichi Matsumoto, a spokesman for Tepco. "We cannot deny the possibility that a hole in the pressure vessel caused water to leak".

Tepco has not clarified what other barriers there are to stop radioactive fuel leaking if the steel containment vessel has been breached. Greenpeace said the situation could escalate rapidly if "the lava melts through the vessel".

However, an initial plan to flood the entire reactor core with water to keep its temperature from rising has now been abandoned because it might exacerbate the leak. Tepco said there was enough water at the bottom of the vessel to keep both the puddle of melted fuel and the remaining fuel rods cool.

Meanwhile, Tepco said on Wednesday that it had sealed a leak of radioactive water from the No.3 reactor after water was reportedly discovered to be flowing into the ocean. A similar leak had discharged radioactive water into the sea in April from the No.2 reactor.

Greenpeace said significant amounts of radioactive material had been released into the sea and that samples of seaweed taken from as far as 40 miles of the Fukushima plant had been found to contain radiation well above legal limits. Of the 22 samples tested, ten were contaminated with five times the legal limit of iodine 131 and 20 times of caesium 137.

Seaweed is a huge part of the Japanese diet and the average household almost 7lbs a year. Greenpeace's warning came as fishermen prepared to start the harvest of this season's seaweed on May 20.

Inland from the plant, there has been a huge cull of the livestock left inside the 18-mile mandatory exclusion zone with thousands of cows, horses and pigs being destroyed and some 260,000 chickens from the town of Minamisoma alone. The Environment ministry has announced, however, that it will attempt to rescue the thousands of pets that were left behind when residents were ordered to evacuate. At least 5,800 dogs were owned by the residents of the zone, although it is unclear how many remain alive, two months after the earthquake struck.

Trapped in Own Propaganda/Hippie Sacrament/Obama Pot Garden?(3 articles)

Hillary Clinton Needs a Mirror

One of the wishes that readers often express to me came true today (May 11). I was on the mainstream media. It was a program with a worldwide reach--the BBC World Service. There were others on the program as well, and the topic was Hillary Clinton’s remarks (May 10) about the lack of democracy and human rights in China.

I startled the program’s host when I compared Hillary’s remarks to the pot calling the kettle black. I was somewhat taken aback myself by the British BBC program host’s rush to America’s defense and wondered about it as the program continued. Surely, he had heard about Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo detainees, CIA secret torture prisons sprinkled around the world, invasion and destruction of Iraq on the basis of lies and deceptions, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya. Surely, he was aware of Hillary’s hypocrisy as she demonized China but turned a blind eye to Israel, Mubarak, Bahrain and the Saudis. China’s record is not perfect, but is it this bad? Why wasn’t the Chinese Minister for Foreign Affairs criticizing America’s human rights abuses and rigged elections? How come China minds its own business and we don’t?

These questions didn’t go down well. None of the other interviewees or guests thought that Hilary had made a good decision, but even the Chinese guests were not free of the common mindset that frames every issue from the standpoint that the West is the standard by which the rest of the world is judged. By pointing out our own shortcomings, I was challenging that standard. The host and other guests could not escape from the restraints imposed on thought by the role of the West as world standard.

What has happened to the West is that it can see itself and others only through the eyes of its own propaganda. There was a great deal of talk about China’s lack of democracy. As the BBC program was being broadcast, the news intruded that Greeks had again taken to the streets to protest the costs of the bailout of the banks and Wall Street--the rich--being imposed on ordinary people at the expense of their lives and aspirations. The Irish government announced that it was going to confiscate with a tax part of the Irish people’s pension accumulations. It simply did not occur to the host and other guests that these are not democratic outcomes.

It is a strange form of democracy that produces political outcomes that reward the few and punish the many, despite the energetic protests of the many.

Political scientists understand that US electoral outcomes are determined by powerful moneyed interests that finance the political campaigns and that the bills Congress passes and the President signs are written by these interest groups to serve their narrow interests. Such conclusions are dismissed as cynicism and do not alter the mindset.

While the program’s host and guests were indulging in the West’s democratic and human rights superiority, the American Civil Liberties Union was sending out a bulletin urging its members to oppose legislation now before Congress that would give the current and future Presidents of the United States expanded war authority to use, on their own initiative, military force anywhere in the world independently of the restraints imposed by the US Constitution and international law.

In other words, in the great American “democracy,” the president is to become a Caesar.


Living Free, Outside the Mainstream
The legalization of medical marijuana by means of a ballot initiative approved by 62 percent of Michigan voters in the 2008 election signaled the end of the drug war that's raged unchecked for almost a half-century without appreciable positive effect. Any fool can see that the use of recreational drugs by our citizens has not been diminished or in any way abated by the efforts of the legions of police, prosecutors, judges and jailers sworn to stop us from getting high.

In my last column I surmised that perhaps the War on Drugs wasn't really about drug use per se but was launched as an attack on certain sectors of our citizenry whose commitment to social change was seen as presenting a threat to the dominant order and the political, economic and cultural imperatives established as the foundation of corporate consumer society.

During the decade from 1965 to 1975, hippies turned their backs en masse on mainstream America and its perverse value system, refused to fight its wars, and attempted to create an alternative way of life based in sharing, tolerance and self-realization through collective effort and creative production. Their withdrawal from the reigning social contract presented a real challenge to the consumerist system and its operators: Until defecting to the hippie ideal, these young Americans had been expected to inherit and manipulate the machinery of exploitation and control devised by generations of rich white people to maintain their privileged existence at the top of the social order.

It's hard for people today to picture the world the hippies populated as our numbers grew from a few isolated pockets of bohemianism and weirdness in disparate parts of the country into a movement of millions of determined young white people demanding a new and better world for all Americans and a swift end to the militarism, racism, sexism, economic exploitation and banal popular culture at the core of the established order.

Hippies were united by their belief in personal freedom and its manifestation in the way they looked and acted and conducted their daily lives outside the social mainstream. As a general rule, hippies had long hair, wore funky clothes expressing their disdain for the consumer ideal, opposed the war in Vietnam and increasingly refused to join the armed forces, didn't have a real job and didn't want one, often embraced collective work for the common good and lived as equals in communes and creative groupings, actively appreciated diverse forms of artistic expression and lived with music at the exact heart of their lives.

Hippies loved to gather in the thousands at concerts in the parks where the bands played for free and the people danced and laughed and had a ball together over and over again. They also turned out in ever-increasing numbers for rallies and demonstrations in opposition to the war in Vietnam and in support of racial equality and social justice.

Hippie musicians created startling new forms and imaginative extensions of the African-American musical idioms introduced into their lives through the magic of repeated radio airplay of 45 rpm records by innovative artists such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, Ray Charles, James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye. But what bound hippies together above all else was marijuana as a component of everyday life. A hippie smoked weed, everybody knew that, and hippies smoked weed together, in every possible circumstance.

Despite the positive and progressive aspects of the hippie philosophy and the hippies' committed social practice in pursuit of its principles, despite the brilliance of their music and art forms, despite their heartfelt visions of a better world based in peace and love and social equality for all, hippies were demonized as criminal narcotics users to be apprehended, brought before the bar of justice, convicted and sent to prison or scrutinized by the narcotics police and courts for years as felonious probationers.

Nothing else the hippies did was against the law. Even our protests and demonstrations were protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Our lifestyle, our living and working arrangements, our music and cultural practices, our gatherings and public celebrations, however unusual or offensive to mainstream values, were well within the strictures of the law. Only our mass recreational, medicinal or spiritual smoking of marijuana — which we well knew was at the very least not a narcotic, and very possibly a beneficial natural healing resource with no discernible negative social effects — brought trouble with law enforcement and provided the police with a socially acceptable way to punish these renegades from the American Way whose very presence seemed to violate every established standard of normal behavior.

My own case exemplifies this. I was a socially active poet, performer, underground journalist, cultural organizer and community broadcaster who also spoke out for the legalization of marijuana starting in 1964 and actually smoked marijuana on a daily basis. I was arrested by the Detroit Narcotics Squad three times for possession and sales of narcotics — very small amounts of marijuana in fact — and served a total of five years probation, six months in the Detroit House of Correction, and 2-1/2 years of a 9-1/2- to 10-year prison sentence before my legal challenge to the constitutionality of Michigan's narcotics statutes eventually resulted, in 1972, with the existing law declared unconstitutional; marijuana was then removed from the narcotics category and possession of small amounts of marijuana reduced to a misdemeanor with a one-year maximum sentence.

My writings and public activities, however offensive or disturbing to guardians of the social order, were constitutionally protected. But my use of marijuana as a righteous component of daily life branded me as a criminal — a felon — subject to the brutal invasion of my life itself by the criminal justice system and its enforcers in uniform or plainclothes.

I'm out of space for this installment, but with your permission I'll continue to pursue this line of thought here in seeking a full understanding of the destructive impact of the War on Drugs on harmless marijuana smokers and on the fabric of our social order itself. Our lives — and our national life as well — have suffered immeasurably from the imposition and unbridled growth of the police-state mechanism that's been built up on our backs.

Me, I've been sick of this shit for all of my adult life, and I just hope I'll live long enough to see the War on Drugs dead and buried and the full range of its punitive apparatus dismantled and finally discredited once and for all.


Obama Never Promised You a Pot Garden
Drug-policy-reform advocates are complaining bitterly that they have been double-crossed by Barack Obama. "What's Behind the Obama Administration's About Face Regarding Medical Marijuana?" asked Paul Armentano of NORML in the Huffington Post May 5. 

"Obama's Sudden, Senseless Assault on Medical Marijuana," was the headline on a piece by Scott Morgan, associate editor of According to Morgan, "Recent months have brought about what can only be described as the rapid collapse of the Obama Administration's support for medical marijuana." 

This is way wrong. There is nothing "sudden" or unprecedented about the DEA raids and other oppressive measures emanating from the Department of Justice. And neither Obama nor the DOJ ever expressed unambiguous support for medical marijuana. It was the reform honchos themselves who misread and misrepresented Administration policy. How could they? And why did they?

On Counterpunch we characterized Obama's approach as "fakes left, goes right" from the start. We provided a chronology of Administration actions and statements regarding marijuana, that is worth reading in its entirety if you promise to come back. 

Two days after Obama's inauguration, DEA agents raided a South Lake Tahoe cannabis dispensary run by a wheelchair-bound activist named Ken Estes. They took five pounds of herb and a few thousand dollars. "A typical rip-and-run," is how Estes described it. 

There was a certain poetic injustice to Ken Estes being the feds' first target of the Obama era. A working-class dude with courage enhanced by his disability, Estes used to run a dispensary in Berkeley. When the city gave him the boot for being located too near a school, the three other dispensary owners did not come to his defense. They tsk-tsked about Estes' operation being "too loose," in contrast to their own fine, upstanding establishments. To paraphrase Pastor Niemoller, "When they came for Ken Estes..." 

On Feb. 3, 2009, DEA squads raided four dispensaries in the Los Angeles area. On Feb. 11 DEA agents participated in a raid on the MendoHealing Co-op's grow in Fort Bragg. 

JeanMarie Todd, who was detained, reported: "I saw two DEA agents amongst the sheriff's deputies, so I said, 'I thought Obama had called off these raids.' A deputy replied, 'We haven't gotten the message.'"

Like Ken Estes, MendoHealing's David Moore got zero support from the leaders of the medical cannabis industry in Northern California. He had once offended them by lowering prices at the MendoHealing dispensary in San Francisco. So, "When they came for David Moore..." 

On Feb. 25 Attorney General Attorney Eric Holder and Acting DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart held a press conference to bemoan drug-related violence in Mexico. The presence of Leonhart indicated that the new Administration was going to continue fighting the War on Drugs in the same old ways. (Holder had the perfect pretext for replacing her that week. Rachel Maddow had revealed that Leonhart spent $123,000 of public funds on a charter flight to Colombia instead of using a plane from DEA's huge fleet.)

Ignoring the significance of the Administration keeping Leonhart at DEA, the reform honchos seized on Holder's vague, meaningless response to an unexpected question about the raids on medical marijuana providers, to claim that he opposed them! The Marijuana Policy Project posted a video clip headlined "Holder Says 'No More DEA Raids' in Press Conference." But Holder never spoke those words! The phonies at MPP just made it up! 

At another press conference March 18 Holder told reporters that Justice Department "policy is to go after those people who violate both federal and state law. To the extent that people do that and try to use medical marijuana laws as a shield for activity that is not designed to comport with what the intention was of the state law, those are the organizations, the people, that we will target. And that is consistent with what the president said during the campaign."

Reform leaders again claimed a big win and some reporters fell for it. "Today's comments clearly represent a change in policy out of Washington," Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance told the Los Angeles Times. The New York Times ran a piece headlined "Dispensers of Marijuana Find Relief in Policy Shift" that quoted Nadelmann (son of a rabbi) saying that the feds now recognize state medical marijuana laws as "kosher."

On March 23, US District Court Judge in California, George Wu, postponed the sentencing of Charles Lynch —a Morro Bay dispensary operator who by all accounts had sought to comply with state law— and asked the US Attorney to provide a written statement elucidating Administration policy. A definitive response came from H. Marshall Jarrrett, director of the office that oversees all U.S. Attorneys:
"In response to your request, the Office of the Deputy Attorney General reviewed the facts of this case to determine whether the prosecution of Mr. Lynch comports with the Department of Justice's policies with respect to marijuana prosecutions. Based on the facts of this case, the Office of the Deputy Attorney General concurs with your office that the investigation, prosecution, and conviction of Mr. Lynch are entirely consistent with Department policies as well as public statements made by the Attorney General. Accordingly, you should seek to proceed with the sentencing recommendations which your office has filed with the court."
Our piece about the Jarrett letter in Counterpunch April 21 was headlined "No More Ambiguity: Obama's DOJ Backs Prosecution of Medical Marijuana Providers."  It began: "It's official —under Barack Obama, the Department of Justice will not restrain federal prosecutors targeting medical marijuana providers. Any lingering hopes that the new Administration would implement change in this area were blasted April 17 when U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien forwarded to District Judge George Wu a letter from DOJ clarifying ObamAdmin policy..." 

The Administration gave drug-policy reformers another occasion to cheer (but not a real reason to cheer) in October '09 when David Ogden, the second-highest official at DOJ, issued a formal "Memorandum for Selected United States Attorneys on Investigations and Prosecutions in States Authorizing the Medical Use of Marijuana." 

We reported at the time that the Ogden memo "restated the mixed messages Attorney General Eric Holder had sent out verbally."  But to this day —at least through May 5, when Paul Armentano cited it— reformers contend that the toothless memo was meant to restrain U.S. attorneys like Joe Russoniello (who had been advising his counterparts that all dispensaries are illegal under state law because profits are being made). 

The Ogden memo made it clear than any dispensary was, as Russoniello put it, "fair game" for the DEA. "Prosecution of commercial enterprises that unlawfully market and sell marijuana for profit continues to be an enforcement priority of the Department," wrote Ogden. How can law enforcement determine if a given business is making a profit without raiding the premises, seizing their books and computers, their cash on hand, and their herb?   We slugged our report, "With wins like this…"

Why did the pro-cannabis reformers misinterpret and misrepresent Obama Administration policy so consistently and for so long? Why did Ethan Nadelmann afix his "kosher" seal to Obama's baloney?  Wishful thinking is not a good enough excuse. Political leaders owe the rank-and-file accurate information and analysis. Obviously it is advantageous for fund-raising purposes to report success, and this was certainly a factor.  But it wasn't just their own interests that the reform honchos were advancing with false claims of Administration support.

Above all, the honchos were serving the interests of Cannabis-industry entrepreneurs eager to attract customers and investors. Starting in the fall of 2008, the line "Obama is going to let it happen," induced countless thousands of people to visit pro-cannabis doctors and then their local dispensaries.  The most successful California dispensary operators developed franchising ventures and pitched investors, using Obama's alleged hands-off approach as part of their pitch.  "Money that was sitting on the sidelines came in after the election," is how one of them summarized the boom that continued through 2009 and well into 2010,
It peaked that fall when Eric Holder warned that if California voters passed a legalization initiative, the feds would "vigorously enforce" federal law to block its implementation. Holder's threat turned the tide against Prop 19, making it seem like a futile and costly gesture of defiance instead of a practical source of revenue for the insolvent state. In the same period, federal threats forced Oakland to back away from (ecologically disasterous) plans for four big industrial grow ops. 

What's happening in recent months —the threatening letters from US attorneys to state officials, the tax audits of dispensaries, banks refusing to handle dispensary accounts, etc.— is an escalation, not a change of policy.  It's a surge, to use the term the Drug Warriors undoubtedly used when they planned it.  And you can bet they did plan it  —that there were meetings involving DEA, and Joe Califano's Prohibitionist think tank at Columbia University, and strategists from Johnson & Johnson, just as there had been after Prop 215 passed in '96... It's got all the earmarks of an orchestrated campaign.

Obama Administration Targets Antiwar Activists

Frozen Bank Accounts and Free Speech in the USBy RON JACOBS

In Palestine, Israel and its surrogates round up residents every day, putting them away for indeterminate amounts of time. The recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas makes it likely that these arrests will increase while Tel Aviv contrives to destroy that agreement. After all, it was less than a week after the agreement was announced that Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that Fatah and the Palestinian Authority could choose peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. If this statement doesn't make it clear that Israel will do whatever it feels necessary to prevent a united Palestinian liberation movement, then its history of "divide and conquer" tactics against that movement certainly does.

Most readers are familiar with the military campaigns and siege by Israel against the Palestinians in Gaza. Fewer, however may be aware of the systemic campaign of arrest and detention carried out in the West Bank. According to Sahar Francis in the web journal Electronic Intifada, "The last year has witnessed continuing mass arrest campaigns....and the detention of high-profile protest organizers and leaders from the popular committees." Many of those arrested are held on so-called secret evidence that neither the arrestees or their defense are allowed to see. The reasons for the arrests of these organizers are the same as the reasons it opposes the Fatah-Hamas agreement: Israel fears a united and popular resistance against its occupation. Simultaneously, these arrests and detentions isolate the organizers and paint them into the same corner as those Israel and the West call terrorists.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Federal Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and Attorney General Eric Holder are ramping up their attempts to indict and prosecute a number of antiwar and Palestinian support activists in the Midwest. Most recently, the U.S. government (via the Treasury Department) froze the bank accounts of the Arab-American Action Network's Executive Director Hatem Abudayyeh and his wife, Naima. Neither of these individuals have been charged with a crime. However, both were part of the series of sweeps conducted in late 2010 by the FBI and US Justice Department against antiwar activists in the Midwest. These raids were conducted under the aegis of the PATRIOT Act and the Effective Death Penalty and Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996. Both of these laws intentionally obscure the differences between expressing support for popular struggles in other nations and providing "material support." Of course, it is only activists supporting popular struggles opposed by the United States that face the possibility of prosecution. Those that give millions to Israel, the so-called rebel movements in Libya and other armed groups supported by Washington are hailed as supporters of freedom, much like those that traded cocaine for guns to support the contras in Nicaragua. Indeed, these latter endeavors are not only cheered but assisted by the federal government itself.

The driving force behind the subpoenas and accompanying harassment in the Midwestern cases is US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. Of course, he would not have gone forward with the raids and grand juries without the support of US Attorney General Eric Holder. Fitzgerald is perhaps best known as the prosecutor in the Valerie Plame case that resulted in the conviction of former Vice President Cheney's aide Scooter Libby. However, Fitzgerald has prosecuted several other high-profile cases including the corruption cases of Illinois governor Dan Ryan and Rod Blagojevich. Fitzgerald's prosecutions have been marked by a heavy reliance on circumstantial evidence and a prosecutorial interpretation of the defendants' conversations and statements --a fact that has aroused some criticism. Of course, when one is interpreting political statements and associations, such interpretations easily open themselves to misunderstanding and suppositions based on the prosecutor's own politics and fears. For example, one could easily share a speaker's platform at a rally or meeting with a political organizer from a group whose only point of solidarity is that Israel's occupation is wrong and so is Washington's support of that occupation. This sharing of the podium does not condone a wholesale endorsement of every group that share the opinion regarding the occupation. However, the laws currently defining "material support" can be interpreted as meaning exactly that by a Justice Department intent on doing its part to destroy the Palestine solidarity movement. Fitzgerald's previous reliance on circumstantial evidence to make his cases makes him the ideal prosecutor to go after political activists whose primary act is speaking out in favor of groups actively opposed to the foreign policy of the United States.

As of this writing (May 10, 2011), the assets of the Abudayyeh family remain frozen. This means that they can not buy groceries and pay their bills. The sheer pettiness of this act reminds this writer of similar actions taken by Tel Aviv against various Palestinians. In a May 9, 2011 press release from the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, they wrote: "The Midwest activists have been expecting indictments for some time. The freezing of the Abudayyeh family's bank accounts suggests that the danger of indictments is imminent."

Mark Twain once wrote:
“It is by the fortune of God that, in this country, we have three benefits: freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and the wisdom never to use either.” 
These folks have used their freedoms of thought and speech and are now being attacked by the government for doing so. Should these indictments come down, anybody interested in the first amendment should do whatever is in their power to oppose them. This entire case is nothing but an exercise in political persecution designed to silence those who have moved beyond their comfort zones to challenge a foreign policy based on murder, lies and greed.

UPDATE. The Committee to Stop FBI Repression released a statement Tuesday May 10, 2011 regarding the Abudayyeh's acounts. Part of the statement read "In a strange turn of events, the bank admitted today that they shut down the accounts, stating they no longer want to provide banking services to the Abudayyeh family. Simultaneously, TCF management informed the Abudayyehs today that they were issuing them a check for the value of their accounts....

Michael Deutsch, attorney for the family, said, “In my opinion, the bank did not act out of the blue. I suspect that the FBI and U.S Attorney investigation caused the bank to overreact and illegally freeze the Abudayyehs’ banking accounts that had been there for over a decade.”

In response to the seizing of the couple’s accounts, people across the country called the offices of US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago, and those of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) demanding the return of their money and an end to the repression.

A Code Pink activist from Washington, D.C., called Fitzgerald’s office and was told, “We’ve received hundreds of calls.” The OFAC office was bombarded as well, and journalists from a National Public Radio affiliate, Al Jazeera and other agencies contacted them for an explanation."

Mobs & Power in the US/US Corp. Press in Its Fall (2 articles)

Viva la Muerte!

In his masterpiece, Crowds and Power, Elias Canetti proposed that one of our primal fears is of unwanted contact with strangers. Out in public places, he observed, to be touch, jostled, even brushed against, can trigger something akin to panic.

In an increasingly urbanized world such a phobia could be paralyzing (and for some people, is) absent the psychic mechanism Canetti also proposed that we possess and that compensates for this primal fear by allowing our sense of individual identity to dissolve, merging with the strangers around us in a collective persona.

In its positive forms this defense mechanism is responsible for the phenomenon of good-natured crowds at sporting events and along parade routes. In its destructive manifestation this defense mechanism is the driving force behind the sudden and unpredictable formation of mobs.

In our own history there are numerous examples of this destructive kind of crowd formation. Between 1890 and 1920, lynch mobs were responsible for murdering some 3,000 people – and those are only the cases that we know about. The New York City Draft Riots of 1863 lasted three days, resulted in the deaths of numerous innocent victims, and were only quelled when federal troops were commandeered from the front to restore order.

For most of history, mobs have formed spontaneously, dissipating their energy once they have achieved their immediate end of destroying property and/or harming or killing human beings, then disbanding as quickly as they form.

But one of the most sobering lessons of the 20th Century is the discovery that, under the right circumstances – the rise of skillful demagogues, the control of the organs of mass media by those demagogues – it's possible to generate a sustained mob mentality, and to direct its demonic energy toward specific, hellish goals.

Political science offers numerous definitions of fascism, but none strike us as definitive. That's because fascism is not simply a political ideology like Soviet-style Communism; that is to say, fascism is not just the product of reason gone awry.

Fascism is, essentially, the modern nation state as mob rule, with a national mob mentality constantly stirred up by the state with inflammatory rhetorical attacks directed against scapegoats – Jews, Blacks, immigrants, homosexuals, socialists, Muslims or whichever other group happens to bears the brand of The Other in a given culture.

Fascism's intentional harnessing of the defense mechanism that drives the formation of crowds explains fascism's allure, at least to some, which is the opportunity to unburden one's isolated, individual sense of self by identifying completely with the exhilarating collective energy of the "Volk." It is this dynamic that renders fascism, by whatever name, irredeemably irrational and destructive.

Thus institutionalized, and married to the apparatus, organizational power and armed might of the modern nation state, the mob energy harnessed by fascist regimes in the last century came very close to destroying the civilized world as we know it and could only be stopped by massive organized violence inflicted upon those regimes by other advanced nation states.

This critical mob mentality component of fascism also explains why countries do not "slide" into fascism, as some warn is happening in the United States; mobs do not form slowly. They gel, they materialize, they appear instantaneously, almost magically, with little or no forewarning.

In his speech this past week to military personnel, Barak Obama announced that the targeted assassination of Osama bin Laden reflected "The essence of America, the values that have defined us for more than 200 years" and that, furthermore, these values are "stronger than ever."

He was dead right, though not in the way he intended. The manner in which bin Laden's death was carried out reflects at least one face of American values as did, even more dramatically, the deprave celebrating that erupted in the wake of his killing in cities and on college campuses around the country.

From the extrajudicial execution of a dehumanized enemy to the choice of "Geronimo" as code name for Osama bin Laden to those outbursts of jubilation, the killing of The World's Most Wanted Man does indeed connect to those American values responsible for the country's history of violent racism, imperialism, repression, militarism, and near-genocide of the indians.

And those post-assassination victory celebrations were not analagous at all to the outpouring of relief and joy that accompanied the end of World War II. Bin Laden's extermination did not spare millions of Americans from the prospect of going off to fight in a global war or from the equally harrowing prospect of watching one's child, husband or brother being marched to the front.

The killing of OBL ended nothing, except his life. The celebrations were not about victory. They were about death. They were celebrations of death. Those dancing in the street were acting out their own version of the motto of the Falange – i.e., fascist -- movement during the Spanish Civil War. "Viva la Meurte."

Long live Death.

The time is not yet ripe for the clock to strike Midnight in America, but it won't take much to push us over the edge. Another major terrorist attack on the "Homeland." Another financial crisis on the scale of the most recent one, which could easily be triggered by the failure to raise the federal debt ceiling. The appearance on the scene of a skillful demagogue with the organizational ability to marshal a mass movement and an unslakable thirst for politcal power.

Even now, egged on by the rightwing demagogues already among us and bankrolled by rightwing billionaires plotting in undisclosed locations, the American mob longs to shake its collective fist and cry out for vengeance and blood in a hoarse collective voice.

Long live Death! And long live the Death of Democracy!


Does It Matter?
Portrait of the US Press in the Hour of Its Fall

I once shot at Donald Trump, property magnate and possible Republican candidate for the presidency, with a small green plastic frog that squirted water. It was at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner at the Washington Hilton in about 1994. His chunky form was an easy target as he walked between the tables, though he was clearly mystified by his sudden wetness. I heard him mutter: “Even in New York they don’t spit at me.”

I had gone to the dinner with my friend Nina Burleigh, an author and journalist, then working for People magazine. Male guests in tuxedos and women in formal dresses sat at round tables in the Hilton’s gloomy and cavernous hall. Nina recalls: “The White |House dinner can be boring and one must bring one’s own entertainment. I believe those frogs would still make it past the metal detectors at the Hilton. I think we hit or aimed at Janet Reno [then attorney-general] as well.”

I remembered the incident when watching on television President Obama deride Trump at the most recent White House Correspondents’ dinner 14 years after we squirted him with the frogs. The reason for Obama’s jabs was Trump’s successful campaign to get the president to publish his long-form birth certificate proving that he was born in the US and not in Kenya and was therefore eligible to occupy the White House. Obama was full of snide remarks about Trump, after his victory on the birth certificate question, suggesting that Trump now move on to the big serious issues like aliens landing or whether the moon landing was faked. In the end Trump glowered sullenly as he sat at the Fox table.

The White House Correspondents’ dinner has always been a gruesome affair with journalists, celebrities and politicians in unseemly embrace. The president addresses the throng in a spirit of phony self-deprecation and lumbering jocularity which is often reported, as were Obamas’s jibes at Trump, as subtle and witty barbs.

It is curious to see the dinner with its embarrassing rituals go on year after year regardless of the state of American journalism. US newspapers and television networks have famously been in a state of deepening crisis in the last few years. But the Arab Awakening has been a watershed in this decline. It was CNN’s reporting of the first Gulf War from Baghdad in 1991 that made it the channel that presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers and journalists around the world had to watch. Back in 2003, CNN and the US networks still had the most ample coverage of the start of the war in Iraq. But since the start of the Arab Awakening even the White House has reportedly been watching al-Jazeera English to find out what was happening (though the BBC has not been far behind).

It is depressing how swiftly the corps of American foreign correspondents has shrunk over the last five years. Papers like the Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer and Boston Globe, which once had a full roster of reporters, no longer do so. US television networks that used to rent whole floors of hotels, to the envy of non-American broadcasters, are now down to a single journalist to cover a story. At least one US network did not send a single correspondent to report the uprising in Tunisia in January that began the capsizing of the regional political status quo.

Does it matter? In one sense it obviously does, since there are fewer effective journalists in the business. The drop in their numbers would be more evident if so many Arab countries in turmoil like Syria and Yemen had not banned reporters from obtaining entry visas. The consequences of more limited journalistic resources being deployed is also masked by the use of YouTube, photographs taken on mobile phones, and conversations with eyewitnesses on satellite phones.

This sort of evidence is powerful but easier to manipulate than it looks. Governments that kick out foreign correspondents may breathe a sigh of relief without realizing that they have created a vacuum of information that can easily be filled by their enemies. Thus much of the reporting of demonstrations, arrests, shootings and killings in Syria now comes courtesy of opponents of the regime.

It is difficult to feel much sympathy for governments whose abortive attempts at censorship make them vulnerable to hostile propaganda, but it does make it very difficult to verify what is going on. For instance, at the end of February I was in Tehran where exile websites reported that there were continuing street demonstrations. I could see none of these though there were plenty of black-helmeted riot police. Local Iranian stringers for foreign publications had mostly had their press credentials suspended so they could not write.

“In any case,” one of the stringers complained to me, “the news agenda for Iran is now being set by exiles and, if we report that nothing much is happening, nobody will believe us.” On YouTube I noticed one video of a demonstration in Tehran that had supposedly taken place in February showing all the men in shirts and without jackets, though the temperature in the Iranian capital was only a couple of degrees above freezing. I suspected that the video had been taken at the height of the Iranian protests in the summer of 2009.

This is not to say that flickering films of atrocities by the Syrian security forces are not true, but collection and control of such information by the exiled opposition, makes it impossible to judge the extent of the violence.

It is naïve to be too nostalgic about the passing of the age when the US dominated the foreign news media. What made CNN’s coverage so distinctive in 1991 was that Peter Arnett, their correspondent in Baghdad, was prepared to take a sceptical approach to US government claims about the accuracy of its bombing and the identity of its victims. CNN lost its critical edge over the years, while network correspondents, often privately critical about US government policy, were prevented by their bosses in New York from straying too far from conventional political wisdom

The press has always been more dependent on the powers-that-be than it likes to admit. American journalists outside Washington often express revulsion and contempt at the slavish ways of the Washington press corps. But it is difficult to report any government on a day-to-day basis without its cooperation, cooperation that can be peremptorily withdrawn to bring critics into line. Also, contrary to every film about journalism, people tend not to admit voluntarily to anything that might do themselves damage. Woodward and Bernstein learned about Watergate almost entirely from secondary sources such as judges, prosecutors and government investigative agencies which could force witnesses to come clean by threatening to put them in jail.

The media is often credited or blamed for an independent sceptical spirit which it seldom shows in reality. In wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan effective media criticism has tended to follow rather than precede public opinion. Even then it usually needs important politicians to be standing on the same side of the fence. The Afghan war is unpopular in the US, but there is no effective anti-war movement because the Democrats, once so critical of the Iraq war, are now in the White House and, if Obama goes on being presented with targets as vulnerable as Trump, are likely to stay there.