You Won´t Believe The Truth About Fukushima The Japanese Government Is Hiding From The World

“But we’re told everything is okay.”

By Sophie McAdam

True Activist (11/19/14)

This special report from Vice should have the world´s attention. While the Japanese government (and mainstream media) continues to ignore the horror unleashed by the Fukushima nuclear plant tragedy, recent reports coming out of Japan paint a whole different picture. Yes, we should be freaking out.

Vice travel to Fukushima to see the nuclear plant, meet some locals, and interview experts. According to ex-politician Hiroshi Kawauchi: “The nuclear reactor has emitted airborne radioactive cesium levels that exceed the Hiroshima A-bomb by 168 times, but we´re always told everything is OK.” 168 times? The consequences for groundwater and seawater contamination, not to mention the food we eat and the air we breathe, are unimaginable and will get worse with each generation.

Fukushima has the potential to be a global nuclear catastrophe unlike anything we have ever seen before. The Japanese government has covered up the truth, putting residents at great risk for many generations to come. 90 million tonnes of radioactive water is leaking into the ground and the ocean. Another YouTube video showing latest reports from Fukushima this week paints a terrifying picture, although the mainstream press remains quiet.

Please share this short report to raise awareness and put pressure on Japan´s government and the UN to do something about Fukushima, the worst nuclear disaster in history, and one that affects the whole world.

Link to Story and 13-Minute Video

Posted in 2014-11-21, Newsletter | Tagged | Comments Off

Wake-up Call: How To Win Like Elizabeth Warren

By Stephanie Taylor
The Nation (11/20/14)

From the rubble of the 2014 election, a conversation has started about the future of the Democratic Party. Senator Elizabeth Warren is central to that conversation.

This week, we learned that Warren will be joining the Senate Democratic leadership as strategic policy adviser to the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. In this role — created specifically for her — she will help craft the party’s policies and priorities as well as serve as a liaison to progressive groups.

While there is some skepticism about the idea of a “liaison” to base Democratic voters, there is largely agreement that it is a good thing for the Democratic Party to follow her political footsteps. After all, she’s adored by big swaths of the Democratic electorate and the public at large. On the campaign trail this fall, she was welcomed with open arms in Kentucky, West Virginia, Michigan, and other reddish-purple states, drawing overflow crowds cheering on her message of tougher Wall Street regulation and kinder policies for working people.

The special sauce

But what is it that works about her? What is her special sauce? Other Democratic and progressive candidates ask me all the time how they can capture the intangible “it,” that Warren magic. Below, I’ve dissected her tactics and her policies, which are one and the same, to help candidates better understand how to tread her path.

Take, for example, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB); the idea that students should be able to borrow money for school at the same interest rate as banks can borrow money from the federal government; and the idea of adding basic banking — check-cashing, bill-paying, and small loans — to post office locations.

These proposals have a number of things in common. What’s Warren’s formula?

1. Propose big ideas. All of these proposals are big ideas, ambitious in scope, and intended to grapple with large-scale problems. These ideas are not nibbling around the edges. Sixty-eight million vulnerable Americans don’t have access to reliable, affordable banking services. Forty million Americans owe a collective $1.2 trillion in student loans. Many lives would be made better if these ideas were brought to life.

2. Be bold. A bold idea has an edge, an in-your-face attitude. A bold idea takes on a villain. The post office proposal, for example, would largely dismantle the scurrilous payday-lending industry, which is part of the larger institutional and structural system that keeps poor people poor. The CFPB was built to challenge credit agencies and swindlers. Implicit in the student-borrowing proposal is a subtle critique of the banking industry.

3. Adopt ideas from elsewhere. You don’t need to conceive of an idea from thin air. Borrow! (Attribute, but borrow!) Warren’s background as an academic may be what makes her so successful at this, because academics feel very comfortable borrowing and building on others’ ideas — in fact, it’s how the community moves its collective body of work forward.

The post office proposal is not new. In fact, nearly every developed nation in Europe and West Asia operates a postal banking system. But when Warren chose to embrace it, the proposal instantly became more serious, salient, and gained widespread attention because her position on the Senate Banking Committee gives her the ability to help make it happen.

Similarly, the idea of a government agency to protect consumers had floated around since the 1970s, and is even arguably rooted in the work of turn-of-the-century progressives like Florence Kelley. But it took Warren’s tireless advocacy to bring it to life.

4. Put muscle behind the idea. Warren becomes an advocate for her ideas and knows how to organize. She pushed relentlessly for the creation of the CFPB, fought to give it teeth, and built a large grassroots coalition to push for it when insiders thought it couldn’t be done. When she proposes new policy, she blogs about it. She speaks passionately about it on the Senate floor. She recruits colleagues to co-sponsor legislation. When Warren proposes an idea, you know she will keep pushing to make it a reality.

5. Act within the scope of your expertise. Warren is not proposing big ideas to address the climate crisis (although I don’t think anyone would complain if she did). She sticks to what she knows. She’s an expert in banking. She sits on the Banking Committee. She has carved out this area as her niche, and so her ideas have the gravitas of her expertise behind them. This gives them instant credibility.

6. Propose stuff that is popular. Polling shows that the proposal to add banking services to post offices is hugely popular. So is the proposal to allow students to borrow money at the same interest rate as banks. Propose ideas that you think people will like! There is a weird conventional wisdom in the Beltway that popular is bad. Popular is good. Be popular.

7. Be brave. After Senate Republicans refused to confirm her as the permanent head of the CFPB, Warren ran for Senate and defeated Scott Brown, one of their own. Zephyr Teachout won comparisons to Warren when she ran a gutsy primary campaign against Andrew Cuomo for New York governor. People like courage. They gravitate towards it.

8. Be independent. The day after Warren joined Senate leadership, the press leaked that she planned to oppose President Barack Obama’s choice for Treasury undersecretary, Wall Street investment banker Antonio Weiss. Speaking on background, one of her advisers told reporters that Warren had “growing concerns with the administration being loaded with so many appointees from Wall Street.” This independent streak — opposing the Democratic president when it is ideologically and politically important to do so — ironically gives her more power by making others sweat for her support. It gives her more leverage. It’s a game that conservative Democrats play well, and progressives often play poorly.

9. Be bipartisan, but not for its own sake. Warren’s independence has allowed her to forge bipartisan partnerships. She has worked with Senators John McCain and Angus King to introduce a new Glass-Steagall Act, and collaborated productively on other banking issues with unlikely bedfellows David Vitter and Tom Coburn. But as Warren herself cautioned in a Washington Post editorial just after the election, “Before leaders in Congress and the president get caught up in proving they can pass some new laws, everyone should take a skeptical look at whom those new laws will serve.” In other words, avoid action for the sake of action. Avoid bipartisanship for the sake of bipartisanship. The point of bipartisan action, in the Warren playbook, is to advance meaningful policy — not just to do something, anything, no matter how empty or even harmful.

The road to 2016 starts today. Democrats in Congress have a choice. They can become less and less popular as they pursue tepid policies that seek to pacify everyone and please no one. Or they can tap deep into themselves — into the parts that are most courageous, most audacious, most good. They can pursue a road map that is both ideological and tactically advantageous. They will be surprised at the results.

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Posted in 2014-11-21, Newsletter | Tagged , | Comments Off

Elizabeth Warren: Enough Is Enough — The President’s Latest Wall Street Nominee

It’s time for the Obama administration to loosen the hold that Wall Street banks have over economic policy making.

By Elizabeth Warren
The Huffington Post (11/19/14)

I believe President Obama deserves deference in picking his team, and I’ve generally tried to give him that. But enough is enough.

Last Wednesday, President Obama announced his nomination of Antonio Weiss to serve as Under Secretary for Domestic Finance at the Treasury Department. This is a position that oversees Dodd-Frank implementation and a wide range of banking and economic policymaking issues, including consumer protection.

So who is Antonio Weiss? He’s the head of global investment banking for the financial giant Lazard. He has spent the last 20 years of his career at Lazard — most of it advising on international mergers and acquisitions.

That raises the first issue. Weiss has spent most of his career working on international transactions — from 2001 to 2009 he lived and worked in Paris — and now he’s being asked to run domestic finance at Treasury. Neither his background nor his professional experience makes him qualified to oversee consumer protection and domestic regulatory functions at the Treasury. As someone who has spent my career focused on domestic economic issues, including a stint of my own at the Treasury Department, I know how important these issues are and how much the people in Treasury can shape policies. I also know that there are a lot of people who have spent their careers focused on these issues, and Weiss isn’t one of them.

Corporate tax dodger

The second issue is corporate inversions. Basically, a bunch of companies have decided that all the regular tax loopholes they get to exploit aren’t enough, so they have begun taking advantage of an even bigger loophole that allows them to maintain their operations in America but claim foreign citizenship and cut their U.S. taxes even more. No one is fooled by the bland words “corporate inversion.” These companies renounce their American citizenship and turn their backs on this country simply to boost their profits.

One of the biggest and most public corporate inversions last summer was the deal cut by Burger King to slash its tax bill by purchasing the Canadian company Tim Hortons and then “inverting” the American company to Canadian ownership. And Weiss was right there, working on Burger King’s tax deal. Weiss’ work wasn’t unusual for Lazard. That firm has helped put together three of the last four major corporate inversions that have been announced in the U.S. And like those old Hair Club commercials used to say, Lazard isn’t just the President of the Corporate Loopholes Club — it’s also a client. Lazard moved its own headquarters from the United States to Bermuda in 2005 to take advantage of a particularly slimy tax loophole that was closed shortly afterwards. Even the Treasury Department under the Bush administration found Lazard’s practices objectionable.

The White House and Treasury have strongly denounced inversions, and rightly so. But they undercut their own position by advancing Mr. Weiss. Already Senator Grassley has denounced the move as hypocritical, and Senator Durbin has expressed his opposition to the nomination over the inversion issue. The Independent Community Bankers of America, which represents smaller banks from across the country, has opposed the nomination as well — only the second time in thirty years that they have publicly opposed a presidential nomination.

The response from the White House to these concerns has been two-fold. First, they say that Mr. Weiss was not involved in the tax side of the Burger King deal. But let’s speak plainly: This was a tax deal, plain and simple. It was designed to reduce Burger King’s tax burden, and Weiss was an important and highly-paid part of the team. Second, the White House claims that Mr. Weiss is personally opposed to inversions. Really? Did he work under protest, forced to assist this deal against his will? Did he speak out against tax inversions? Did he call out his company for profiting so handsomely from its tax loophole work? The claim of personal distaste is convenient, but irrelevant.

Wall Street control

Third, there’s the larger, more general issue of Wall Street executives dominating the Obama administration, as well as the Democratic Party’s, overall economic policymaking apparatus. I wrote about this problem a couple of months ago on The Huffington Post in more detail.

Here is what I wrote then:

Just look at the influence of one mega-bank — Citigroup — on our government. Starting with former Citigroup CEO Robert Rubin, three of the last four Treasury secretaries under Democratic presidents held high-paying jobs at Citigroup either before or after serving at Treasury — and the fourth was offered, but declined, Citigroup’s CEO position. Directors of the National Economic Council and Office of Management and Budget, the current Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve and the U.S. trade representative, also pulled in millions from Citigroup.

That’s what the revolving door looks like at just one Too Big to Fail Bank. What about others? The influence of Goldman Sachs in Washington has been much documented, including here at The Huffington Post. JPMorgan? Shortly before the [Eric] Cantor episode, another former member of Congress — Democrat Melissa Bean — took the same senior job at JPMorgan Chase previously held by Democrat Bill Daley before his recent service as White House Chief of Staff. Yes — this is just a single position at JPMorgan Chase, evidently reserved for the latest politician ready to cash in on Wall Street.

I could go on — and I will. Soon after they crashed the economy and got tens of billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts, the biggest Wall Street banks started lobbying Congress to head off any serious financial regulation. Public Citizen and the Center for Responsive Politics found that in 2009 alone, the financial services sector employed 1,447 former federal employees to carry out their lobbying efforts, swarming all over Congress. And who were their top lobbyists? Members of Congress — in fact, 73 former Members of Congress.

According to a report by the Institute for America’s Future, by the following year, the six biggest banks employed 243 lobbyists who once worked in the federal government, including 33 who had worked as chiefs of staff for members of Congress and 54 who had worked as staffers for the banking oversight committees in the Senate or the House.

In recent years, President Obama has repeatedly turned to nominees with close Wall Street ties for high-level economic positions. Jack Lew, who was a top Citigroup official, now serves as Treasury Secretary. The President’s choice for Treasury’s highest international position, Nathan Sheets, also comes from Citi. For the number two spot at the Federal Reserve, the President tapped Stanley Fischer, another former Citigroup executive. A Bank of America executive, Stefan Selig, was put in charge of international trade at the Commerce Department. The President’s two recent picks for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission — including his choice for Chairman — are lawyers who have spent their careers representing big financial institutions.

There’s plenty of financial expertise in this country. People with banking experience haven’t all flocked to the biggest banks; community banks and regional banks, along with smaller trading houses and credit unions, have some very talented people. Nor must every government official come from the financial sector; executives from other business areas, lawyers who have practiced in a wide range of fields, academics, financial advisers, non-profit employees, think-tank researchers, and people with experience elsewhere in government have deep wells of knowledge — and perspectives that sometimes differ from those who run Wall Street banks.

The over-representation of Wall Street banks in senior government positions sends a bad message. It tells people that one — and only one — point of view will dominate economic policymaking. It tells people that whatever goes wrong in this economy, the Wall Street banks will be protected first. That’s yet another advantage that Wall Street just doesn’t need.

I have voted against only one of President Obama’s nominees: Michael Froman, a Citigroup alumnus who is currently storming the halls of Congress as U.S. Trade Representative pushing trade deals that threaten to undermine financial regulation, workers’ rights, and environmental protections. Enough is enough.

It’s time for the Obama administration to loosen the hold that Wall Street banks have over economic policy making. Sure, big banks are important, but running this economy for American families is a lot more important.

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Posted in 2014-11-21, Newsletter | Comments Off

The Republicans’ “Screw You” Strategy

“Vote for me or I will kill your puppy.”

By Mark Fiore
Truth Dig 

A bit befuddled by the contradictory results of the recent midterm elections? You’re not alone. Mark Fiore’s latest animation is a hilarious critique of the American electorate’s decision to vote against its own interests and elect the party that’s mastered the “screw you strategy.” Watch the clip below, and scroll down to read Fiore’s take on the news behind the animation.

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Posted in 2014-11-21, Newsletter | Comments Off

IRS Seizes Woman’s Entire Bank Account Because She Deposited Money ‘suspiciously’

Agency’s expansive toolchest is described as that of a “financial police state;” targeting innocent Americans.

Police State USA (11/16/14)

ARNOLDS PARK, IOWA — A woman’s entire bank account was seized by the Internal Revenue Service — without so much as a criminal charge — because the agency claimed she deposited money “suspiciously.”

This is the plight of Carole Hinders, who has been running a Mexican restaurant for the last four decades. Accepting cash only from customers at the restaurant, she makes frequent cash deposits to her checking account.

As part of the federal government’s dragnet surveillance of the civilian population, everyone’s banking activities are monitored for “red flag” activities. One of these is frequent cash deposits totaling less than $10,000. Using this vague criteria, Ms. Hinders was thought to fit the profile of a financial criminal.

Acting on this red flag, the IRS seized Ms. Hinders’ entire checking account, containing roughly $33,000. This was done without a trial or a conviction, much less a criminal charge. She was afforded no presumption of innocence before being depleted of her wealth.

The robbery is considered legal, unfortunately, through a practice known as civil asset forfeiture. This practice involves the government confiscating cash, vehicles, land, or other property from suspected criminals — often without enough evidence to press criminal charges.

In this case, the IRS suspected that Ms. Hinders was “structuring” her deposits in strategic amounts in order to avoid federally mandated reporting that kicks in amounts greater than $10,000. The New York Times explained Ms. Hinders’ situation:

There is nothing illegal about depositing less than $10,000 cash unless it is done specifically to evade the reporting requirement. But often a mere bank statement is enough for investigators to obtain a seizure warrant. In one Long Island case, the police submitted almost a year’s worth of daily deposits by a business, ranging from $5,550 to $9,910. The officer wrote in his warrant affidavit that based on his training and experience, the pattern “is consistent with structuring.” The government seized $447,000 from the business, a cash-intensive candy and cigarette distributor that has been run by one family for 27 years.

There are often legitimate business reasons for keeping deposits below $10,000, said Larry Salzman, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice who is representing Ms. Hinders and the Long Island family pro bono. For example, he said, a grocery store owner in Fraser, Mich., had an insurance policy that covered only up to $10,000 cash. When he neared the limit, he would make a deposit.

Ms. Hinders said that she did not know about the reporting requirement and that for decades, she thought she had been doing everyone a favor.

Once targeted by the IRS, victims like Ms. Hinders are forced to either struggle toprove their innocence — a daunting task, especially with a seized bank account — or else cut losses and walk away from the money entirely.

The federal government began surveilling Americans’ banking activities under President Nixon with the The Bank Secrecy Act of 1970, which required that banks file “Currency Transaction Reports” to the IRS (specifically: FinCEN Form 112) on every individual who deposits or withdraws more than $10,000 in cash to or from a personal bank account on a given day. These reports indicate the financial activities that took place and include the individual’s bank account number, name, address, and social security number.

The financial dragnet was pitched to America as a way to catch tax evaders and money launderers. It actually marked the end of financial privacy and soon evolved into a tool used to harass innocent Americans. The IRS enjoyed a battery of new powers, which were increased several times thereafter.

In 2001, the USA PATRIOT Act expanded financial surveillance efforts to the so-called War on Terror. The Patriot Act was said to contain a “package of unconstitutional expansions of the financial police state,” according to one of bill’s few dissenters, Congressman Ron Paul of Texas. Among other things, the law prohibited bankers from informing customers that they had been reported to the IRS. Paul said the bill had “more to do with the ongoing war against financial privacy than with the war against international terrorism,”

Paul summarized his objections in a statement to Congress prior to the bill’s passage:

“Among the most obnoxious provisions of this bill are: expanding the war on cash by creating a new federal crime of taking over $10,000 cash into or out of the United States; codifying the unconstitutional authority of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to snoop into the private financial dealings of American citizens; and expanding the ‘suspicious activity reports’ mandate to broker-dealers, even though history has shown that these reports fail to significantly aid in apprehending criminals. These measures will actually distract from the battle against terrorism by encouraging law enforcement authorities to waste time snooping through the financial records of innocent Americans who simply happen to demonstrate an ‘unusual’ pattern in their financial dealings.”

The IRS has been steadily increasing its use of preemptive civil asset forfeiture — with agency seizures up 460% from 2005 to 2012, according to data from the Institute for Justice. Every year, scores of Americans are targeted by the IRS for dubious reasons and depleted of their wealth in the name of law enforcement and national security. The extensive federal powers are very aptly described as those found in a “financial police state,” not a free society.

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Posted in 2014-11-21, Newsletter | Comments Off

White House And Senate Democrats Torture Report Fight Erupts In Chaos

Rockefeller said that the administration itself is the one doing harm to the nation. “They’re doing enormous damage to the country,” he said.

 
The Huffington Post (11/20/14)

WASHINGTON — Before White House chief of staff Denis McDonough came to brief Senate Democrats on Thursday afternoon, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had a little pep talk with his flock. Every Tuesday, during the weekly caucus lunches, he said, you all gripe and moan about the White House. But then when the White House comes by, there’s never a peep.

The talk may not have been necessary. The White House’s briefing to Democrats on immigration Thursday erupted instead into a confrontation over the Senate’s classified torture report, Senate sources told The Huffington Post.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, waited for the immigration discussion to end and then pulled out a prepared speech that she read for five or six minutes, making the case for the release of the damning portrayal of America’s post-9/11 torture program.

“It was a vigorous, vigorous and open debate — one of the best and most thorough discussions I’ve been a part of while here,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who served as intelligence committee chair before Feinstein, was furious after the meeting, and accused the administration of deliberately stalling the report.

“It’s being slow-walked to death. They’re doing everything they can not to release it,” Rockefeller told HuffPost.

“It makes a lot of people who did really bad things look really bad, which is the only way not to repeat those mistakes in the future,” he continued. “The public has to know about it. They don’t want the public to know about it.”

As negotiations continue, Rockefeller said Democrats were thinking creatively about how to resolve the dispute. “We have ideas,” he said, adding that reading the report’s executive summary into the record on the Senate floor would probably meet with only limited success. “The question would be how much you could read before they grabbed you and hauled you off.”

Besides Rockefeller, Sens. Martin Heinrich (N.M.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Mark Udall (Colo.) and Mark Warner (Va.) all spoke up in defense of Feinstein, a source with knowledge of the situation said.

Senate Democrats have for years been pursuing an accounting of the acts committed in the name of the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks. Having finished preparing a 6,000-page report, Democrats are now locked in a struggle with the White House over releasing even a redacted summary.

Feinstein had hoped to release the summary during the summer, but has clashed with the White House over the use of aliases for CIA officials mentioned in the report.

Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats and sits on the intelligence committee, said there was a “good discussion” with McDonough on Thursday, but declined to get into specifics.

“I don’t know if you’d call it progress,” he told HuffPost.

Time is becoming a critical issue with regard to the report, as Republicans prepare to take control of the Senate in January. At that time, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) will replace Feinstein as head of the intelligence committee.

“I’m concerned that there’s not a whole lot of sand left in this hourglass,” said Heinrich. “Until this report is unclassified in a way that doesn’t expose people’s identity, but where you can understand the narrative, our work will not be done. And we’re not there yet.”

Heinrich, a member of the intelligence committee, compared the report to a story, arguing that it is impossible to follow without aliases or pseudonyms to guide a reader.

“If you take all the names out of a novel, it becomes very hard to understand that novel’s narrative arc,” he said. “We don’t need people’s real names, but we need to understand why decisions were made, what decisions were made and what the ramifications are.”

Feinstein declined to discuss the meeting with reporters Thursday. “I ain’t talkin’,” she said.

Rockefeller said the administration’s unwillingness to use aliases reflects a broader contempt for congressional oversight …

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Posted in 2014-11-21, Newsletter | Comments Off

Obama War On Terror Means Record Profits For War Profiteers: 12 Years Down, 20 To Go

Brasscheck TV (11/9/14)

The ongoing war on terror will never end. Too many people are making too much money to let it stop. We’re 12 years in to a projected 30 year battle. 30 years? May as well say forever. And we’ve pre-planned wars in other countries, too, just in case we start running out of Middle Eastern enemies to fight. And money to make. And people to kill.

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Posted in 2014-11-21, Newsletter | Comments Off

What A Long Ago, Uncensored Letter to M.L.K. Reveals About FBI & The Police State

By Beverly Gage
The New York Times (11/11/14)

The note is just a single sheet gone yellow with age, typewritten and tightly spaced. It’s rife with typos and misspellings and sprinkled with attempts at emending them. Clearly, some effort went into perfecting the tone, that of a disappointed admirer, appalled by the discovery of “hidious [sic] abnormalities” in someone he once viewed as “a man of character.”

The word “evil” makes six appearances in the text, beginning with an accusation: “You are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that.” In the paragraphs that follow, the recipient’s alleged lovers get the worst of it. They are described as “filthy dirty evil companions” and “evil playmates,” all engaged in “dirt, filth, evil and moronic talk.” The effect is at once grotesque and hypnotic, an obsessive’s account of carnal rage and personal betrayal. “What incredible evilness,” the letter proclaims, listing off “sexual orgies,” “adulterous acts” and “immoral conduct.” Near the end, it circles back to its initial target, denouncing him as an “evil, abnormal beast.”

The unnamed author suggests intimate knowledge of his correspondent’s sex life, identifying one possible lover by name and claiming to have specific evidence about others. Another passage hints of an audiotape accompanying the letter, apparently a recording of “immoral conduct” in action. “Lend your sexually psychotic ear to the enclosure,” the letter demands. It concludes with a deadline of 34 days “before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”

“There is only one thing left for you to do,” the author warns vaguely in the final paragraph. “You know what it is.”

When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received this letter, nearly 50 years ago, he quietly informed friends that someone wanted him to kill himself — and he thought he knew who that someone was. Despite its half-baked prose, self-conscious amateurism and other attempts at misdirection, King was certain the letter had come from the F.B.I. Its infamous director, J. Edgar Hoover, made no secret of his desire to see King discredited. A little more than a decade later, the Senate’s Church Committee on intelligence overreach confirmed King’s suspicion.

Since then, the so-called “suicide letter” has occupied a unique place in the history of American intelligence — the most notorious and embarrassing example of Hoover’s F.B.I. run amok. For several decades, however, only significantly redacted copies of the letter were available for public scrutiny. This summer, while researching a biography of Hoover, I was surprised to find a full, uncensored version of the letter tucked away in a reprocessed set of his official and confidential files at the National Archives. The uncovered passages contain explicit allegations about King’s sex life, rendered in the racially charged language of the Jim Crow era. Looking past the viciousness of the accusations, the letter offers a potent warning for readers today about the danger of domestic surveillance in an age with less reserved mass media.

The F.B.I.’s entanglement with King began not as an inquiry into his sex life but as a “national security” matter, one step removed from King himself 

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Posted in 2014-11-21, Newsletter | Comments Off

7 Countries Where Americans Can Study At Universities, In English, For Free (Or Almost Free)

By Rick Noak
The Washington Post (10/29/14)

Since 1985, U.S. college costs have surged by about 500 percent, and tuition fees keep rising. In Germany, they’ve done the opposite.

The country’s universities have been tuition-free since the beginning of October, when Lower Saxony became the last state to scrap the fees. Tuition rates were always low in Germany, but now the German government fully funds the education of its citizens — and even of foreigners.

Explaining the change, Dorothee Stapelfeldt, a senator in the northern city of Hamburg, said tuition fees “discourage young people who do not have a traditional academic family background from taking up study.  It is a core task of politics to ensure that young women and men can study with a high quality standard free of charge in Germany.”

What might interest potential university students in the United States is that Germany offers some programs in English — and it’s not the only country. Let’s take a look at the surprising — and very cheap — alternatives to pricey American college degrees.

Germany

Germany’s higher education landscape primarily consists of internationally well-ranked public universities, some of which receive special funding because the government deems them ”excellent institutions.” What’s more, Americans can earn a German undergraduate or graduate degree without speaking a word of German and without having to pay a single dollar of tuition fees: About 900 undergraduate or graduate degrees are offered exclusively in English, with courses ranging from engineering to social sciences. For some German degrees, you don’t even have to formally apply.

In fact, the German government would be happy if you decided to make use of its higher education system. The vast degree offerings in English are intended to prepare German students to communicate in a foreign language, but also to attract foreign students, because the country needs more skilled workers.

Finland

This northern European country charges no tuition fees, and it offers a large number of university programs in English. However, the Finnish government amiably reminds interested foreigners that they “are expected to independently cover all everyday living expenses.” In other words: Finland will finance your education, but not your afternoon coffee break.

France

There are at least 76 English-language undergraduate programs in France, but many are offered by private universities and are expensive. Many more graduate-level courses, however, are designed for English-speakingstudents, and one out of every three French doctoral degrees is awarded to a foreign student.

“It is no longer needed to be fluent in French to study in France,” according to the government agency Campus France. The website studyportals.euprovides a comprehensive list of the available courses in France and other European countries.

Public university programs charge only a small tuition fee of about 200 dollars for most programs. Other, more elite institutions have adopted a model that requires students to pay fees that are based on the income of their parents. Children of unemployed parents can study for free, while more privileged families have to pay more. This rule is only valid for citizens of the European Union, but even the maximum fees (about $14,000 per year) are often much lower than U.S. tuition fees. Some universities, such as Sciences Po Paris, offer dual degrees with U.S. colleges.

Sweden

This Scandinavian country is among the world’s wealthiest, and its beautiful landscape beckons. It also offers some of the world’s most cost-efficient college degrees. More than 900 listed programs in 35 universities are taught in English. However, only Ph.D programs are tuition-free.

Norway

Norwegian universities do not charge tuition fees for international students. The Norwegian higher education system is similar to the one in the United States: Class sizes are small and professors are easily approachable. Many Norwegian universities offer programs taught in English. American students, for example, could choose “Advanced Studies for Solo Instrumentalists or Chamber Music Ensembles” or “Development Geography.”

But don’t expect to save money in Norway, which has one of the world’shighest costs of living for expats.  And be careful where you decide to study. “Winters in general are quite different in different parts of the country, with the north having hard, arctic winters, and the southwest mostly having mild, wet average European winters,” the Norwegian Center for International Cooperation in Education notes.

Slovenia

About 150 English programs are available, and foreign nationals only pay an insignificant registration fee when they enroll. Slovenia borders Italy and Croatia, among Europe’s most popular vacation destinations. However, Times Higher Education, a weekly magazine based in London, did not list one Slovenian university in its recent World University Ranking.

Brazil 

Some Brazilian courses are taught in English, and state universities charge only minor registration fees. Times Higher Education ranks two Brazilian universities among the world’s top 400: the University of Sao Paulo and the State University of Campinas. However, Brazil might be better suited for exchange students seeking a cultural experience rather than a degree.

“It is worth remembering that most of USP activities are carried out in Portuguese,” the University of Sao Paulo reminds applicants on its website.

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Posted in 2014-11-21, Newsletter | Tagged | Comments Off

Dept. Of Much Needed Humor — Biden Tossed Out Of Car Passing By White House

The Onion (11/20/14)

WASHINGTON—At approximately 2 a.m. Thursday morning, White House sources confirmed that Vice President Joe Biden was forcibly pushed out the rear door of a moving 1980 Lincoln Town Car onto the curb outside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“Whoa, those hombres were not fucking around,” said Biden, assuring a small group of onlookers that he was fine as he climbed to his feet and dusted himself off. “Being in the hole 50-large ain’t no joke, but no need to worry about me. Not the first time I’ve had my ass in a sling. And if there’s anything Diamond Joe knows, it’s how to rake in some quick green.”

At press time, witnesses confirmed seeing Biden walking out of the Oval Office with Rembrandt Peale’s 1823 portrait of George Washington tucked into his jacket.

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Posted in 2014-11-21, Newsletter | Comments Off

Friday / November 21, 2014

“[F]reedom isn’t free. It shouldn’t be a bragging point that “Oh, I don’t get involved in politics,” as if that makes you somehow cleaner. No, that makes you derelict of duty in a republic. Liars and panderers in government would have a much harder time of it if so many people didn’t insist on their right to remain ignorant and blindly agreeable.” 

– Bill Maher

Posted in 2014-11-21 | Tagged | Comments Off

Civics 101: Secret Law Has No Place In America

“It is a fundamental principle of American democracy that laws should not be public only when it is convenient for government officials to make them public. They should be public all the time, open to review by adversarial courts, and subject to change by an accountable legislature guided by an informed public. If Americans are not able to learn how their government is interpreting and executing the law then we have effectively eliminated the most important bulwark of our democracy. That’s why, even at the height of the Cold War, when the argument for absolute secrecy was at its zenith, Congress chose to make US surveillance laws public. Without public laws, and public court rulings interpreting those laws, it is impossible to have informed public debate. And when the American people are in the dark, they can’t make fully informed decisions about who should represent them, or protest policies that they disagree with. These are fundamentals. It’s Civics 101. And secret law violates those basic principles. It has no place in America.” 

― Sen. Ron Wyden

 

Posted in 2014-11-20, Newsletter | Comments Off

NY Times Report Documents Metastasizing Of The Police State Of America

One can no longer speak in terms of the US as a country that is moving towards becoming a police state. We are living in a police state.

 
 
By David Lindorf
Nation of Change (11/19/14)
 

The latest news on the burgeoning police state in the US — a page-one investigative report in the New York Times disclosing that at least 40 agencies of the US government from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Supreme Court (!) are using undercover agents to spy on and even to entrap law-abiding American citizens — suggests that we have passed the tipping point.

One can no longer speak in terms of the US as a country that is moving towards becoming a police state. We are living in a police state.

The Times reports that IRS personnel have been going undercover posing as accountants and even as physicians to root out tax fraud, that the Supreme Court has been dispatching some of its guards (all of whom have been trained in undercover work) “dressed down” in civilian clothes to mingle with protesters (notably abortion-rights activists) to spy on people simply exercising their First Amendment rights outside the court building, that the USDA sends out agents posing as Food Stamp recipients to try and entrap shop-owners to commit Food Stamp fraud, and that even NASA and the Smithsonian Institution have undercover operatives. Undercover cops and agents are assuming the identities of teachers, doctors, journalists and even priests.

Occupying army

This information has to be put together with the rampant militarization of local police forces, who have become an occupying army, and with the proliferation of spying activities by state and local police agencies, encouraged by the establishment by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security of myriad “Joint Anti-Terrorism Strike Forces, and of 76 so-called Fusion Centers. These latter are totally unregulated operations that meld the spying activities of state and local cops and the myriad three-lettered intelligence units of the federal government, as well as private corporate security units, with no specific agency assuming oversight responsibility.

I used to scoff at the wild-eyed claims made by people on the right and left who said that we were living in a police state. Having lived for a year and a half in China, where a police state has been operating now for 65 years, and having visited police states in Eastern Europe during the days of the Soviet Union, I have seen and experienced what life is like when the police, secret and overt, run rampant, and I knew the US was not like those places.

Blissful ignorance 

I’ve changed my mind, though. The only difference I see now, knowing what we know about the breadth and depth of police activity in the US, between what’s happening here and what happens in places where police states have long existed, is that in long-standing police states, everyone knows they are being watched and are subject to arbitrary arrest, while here in the US, many Americans remain blissfully ignorant of what has happened to their vaunted freedoms.

You don’t know you are in a newly established police state until you deliberately or inadvertently cross a line. That’s why we still have people in this country thanking people in uniform for “defending our freedom,” when we’ve actually already lost them (in no small part thanks to the state of perpetual war our politicians have been orchestrating).

Even in China, I didn’t realize the extent of the police state there until I once made a trip to the countryside to visit a peasant village at the invitation of a Chinese friend who was a lawyer and vice director of a local radio station. The day I arrived at his city on a flight from Hong Kong, while having dinner at my friend’s house, a police officer came to his apartment door. This cop, a former law student of my friend’s, said he had come to warn his old teacher that as a foreigner I could not stay the night at his house, and that I’d have to go instead to a designated hotel. He also said I would need to go to a meeting at the Public Security Bureau the next morning. He urged my friend to “be careful.”

I left after dinner, checked into the specified hotel, and sure enough, the next morning, a uniformed officer from China’s ministry of state security came to my room and politely escorted me to headquarters. As I walked into the building, I saw, to my surprise and dismay, my friend seated in another room, across a table from another officer. I was brought into the main office, a well-appointed room with comfortable lounge chairs and a glass-topped tea table. A ranking officer came in and politely offered me tea and cigarettes. Then he began asking me why I was in town.

I explained that I had met my friend in the US when he was a visiting legal scholar, and had shown him and his family around the region, and that he was now returning the favor to me, showing me around his home town. He said, “But you are planning to go out and visit a village in the countryside, aren’t you?”

I replied that I was, and said that I did not believe that this was a restricted area.

He said, “But you are a journalist.”

I agreed, but noted that I had just recently spent a year as a teacher at Shanghai’s Fudan University at the invitation of the Chinese central government’s Ministry of Education, and that during that whole year I was in the country as a “friend of China” on a regular visa. I added that I was currently in China not to write an article as a journalist, but as a tourist visiting a Chinese friend. I added for good measure that I was surprised that there was any concern about a foreigner seeing what great strides were being made in reforming agriculture and increasing peasant incomes.

He was not satisfied. He said if I was a journalist, then I must have a journalist’s visa in China. (This was not correct. Both before and after this incident, I have traveled to China on a tourist visa with no difficulty.)

At any rate, after a long back and forth on this, he announced that we were friends and that we’d be going to lunch at a restaurant owned by his bureau. We walked out to a waiting limo, and there I met my friend and his wife, who had also been brought in. We got in the car and my friend leaned over and told me that everything was fine — we were to be allowed to go to the village, but just could not spend the night there as I had once hoped to do.

At the extravagant lunch, it was all pats on the back and rounds of rice wine with the police in attendance, and talk of “our good American friend.” Then we parted, with the police taking the check and waving us on the way in their limo.

Afterwards, I told my friend I did not want to make the trip to the countryside. I said going would be putting him and his family at risk, as the police were clearly uptight about it, and I didn’t want to be responsible for any trouble for him. He insisted he knew what he was doing and that everything was fine. He did note that they’d taken his passport, but assured me that it would be returned to him when we came back as promised from our run-out to the village the next day.

He finally convinced me and we went, and spent a very enlightening and enjoyable day with a family he had lived with for a year during the Cultural Revolution, when his cadre parents had been attacked by Red Guards as “rightists.”

The following day, after our trip, I left for Nanjing and then went on by train to Shanghai, where I visited with friends. When I returned to my home in Hong Kong, a week later, I called this friend to see how he was. I got his wife on the phone, who told me he was in the hospital, recovering from serious injuries caused by a police beating. It seems as soon as I had left, he was arrested, beaten by several thug cops who broke his cheekbones and caused massive bruising around his groin from kicking him repeatedly. He was also fired from his post at the radio station.

Eventually, he left China, earned a US law degree, and then later returned, after using his Chinese law school connections to have his case “rectified”. But he told me while he was meeting with a high-ranking security official in Beijing who had been a law-school classmate, he was shown my file, which included, apparently, virtually every article I had written about China over perhaps five years’ time.

He also learned that I had been surreptitiously tailed after my visit to him, all through Nanjing and Shanghai, so that every person I met, including former students I had taught in Shanghai, was identified.

It was a truly daunting realization that if I visited China, whether as a tourist or as a journalist, even without an official “handler,” I would be potentially putting everyone I spoke with or met with at risk, or at least in the cross-hairs of the police state.

Never thought the same thing could happen here

It never occurred to me back then in the 1990s that such a state of affairs could exist in my own country, and yet it appears, on the basis of the latest Times report, put together with what we know now about the extent of NSA monitoring of all our communications, that it does exist. There is every reason to believe that the US Post Office is monitoring our mail, that the NSA is monitoring our phone calls and our internet usage, and even that local police are keeping tabs on our comings and goings. And even if they are not, we have to operate as if they were, because they can and could be.

This is what makes a police state so insidious. Once you know that it exists, and that it is monitoring people, one would be crazy not to assume that the possibility is that each of us could be one of those who are targeted for such attention.

As a journalist, this is terribly threatening, not so much for myself, but for those I might want to interview as sources. Just as my eye-opening trip to China showed me that while I might be protected from harassment or physical [assault] as a US citizen, those Chinese people I talked to or befriended are not, I have to assume that unless I take extreme caution in how I meet people or communicate with people when working on a sensitive story involving someone who is a whistleblower, I am likely to be putting such contacts in jeopardy in today’s America.

Two personal examples of how deeply embedded the police state has become here:

A year ago, I was driving into New York City, late to an event. I came through the Holland Tunnel into lower Manhattan, part of what was a crush of traffic. Finding myself in the wrong lane for making a right turn onto Canal Street, I signaled to a cop in front of my car who was directing traffic, asking if he could help me cross over one lane and make my turn. He looked at me, nodded, and then said, casually, “How’s the traffic down in Philly?” I made my turn, and then suddenly asked my wife, “How in hell did he know we were from Philly? Our car only has a license plate on the back!” (I don’t know the answer, but New York City has more security cams than any other place in America, particularly in lower Manhattan.) Also, I heard from a friend whose husband has advanced dementia, that she had taken him to a crowded market on Manhattan’s lower West Side. Attempting to buy something, she turned away from him for a moment and then found him missing. In a panic, she approached a police officer, who asked her if she had a photo of him. She did, on her cell phone. He texted that photo to a command center and minutes later got word that her husband had been spotted at an intersection nearby. This happened in minutes! I had read that at the urging of nervous bankers during the Occupy Movement, Mayor Bloomberg and the banks had installed a high-tech monitoring system throughout lower Manhattan, that was including face-recognition technology. Here its power was being demonstrated!

Clearly we are being watched.

The latest Times article also shows that every American is now at risk too, not just journalists and protesters. If the government feels free, or even becomes enthusiastic about using undercover officers in every agency to engage in entrapment, people will have to worry about what they say to anyone. Routine behavior like watering a lawn at night during a draught alert, doing a home roof repair without a permit, or sharing a friend’s “joint” in a private setting could lead to an arrest — especially if you happen to have enemies in a local community. Routine conversations, particularly about politics, could be viewed as subversive and be passed on to employers.

And that, I’ve learned, is one of the worst things about police states. Sure, it’s terrible that the full power of the state can be brought to bear to crush heretics, rebels and outsiders. But in a police state, those in authority at any level — in schools, police departments, planning commissions, courts, health departments and other offices — can also make use of the apparatus of the police state for more petty and vindictive purposes, to harass and humiliate and punish those against whom they have personal grudges. In a state like China, or the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany), we know such abuses are or were commonplace. They will become so here too in the new Police State of America.

That I can predict with absolute confidence.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” On that basis, the US has in recent decades fallen very far from any greatness it may have once had. But it can also be said that a nation’s freedom can be measured by how free its people are and feel to be to criticize, protest and organize against its ruling elites. Most of us, including those of us who are critics of the Establishment, may still feel that we are free to act, but we must note the terrible lengths to which this government is going to repress political activists like Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Edward Snowden, and others, journalists like James Risen, Glenn Greenwald and Barrett Brown, or Internet activists like the late Aaron Swarz. The list of people being hounded and persecuted by the US police state is far too long to publish.

Suffice to say if police repression can happen to the people on that list, it can happen to all of us.

The only way to end a police state is to call it out and to stand against it.

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Posted in 2014-11-20, Newsletter | Tagged | Comments Off

You Are Not A Loan: It’s Time To Bring Student Debt Down To Zero

(Editor’s Note: Hey progressives, here’s an idea to get behind: free education, pre-K through college. No more student debt! — Mark L. Taylor)

 
By Astra Taylor
The Guardian (11/18/14)

The American higher education system is broken: between predatory student lenders, rapacious for-profit colleges, skyrocketing tuition rates and the number of people taking on a lifetime’s worth of debt before they can legally drink, the current system is not sustainable. Instead of providing a ladder to a better life, higher education too often reinforces class- and race-based disparities. And our government is not doing anything to provide relief to students even in the most egregious cases. What we really need is a revolution.

Hobbled by $1.2 trillion in debt

Individually, debt can be overwhelming and isolating. Together, given the fact Americans collectively owe over $1.2tn in student loans, we may be able to overwhelm and transform the system. It’s time to believe in power in numbers: You are not a loan.

I’m part of the Debt Collective, a new group associated with the Rolling Jubilee, the debt-buying and -abolishing campaign that emerged out of Occupy Wall Street. Our campaign has brought us in contact with thousands of students who are distressed and outraged by what is happening not just at for-profit lending factories like Corinthian Colleges Inc, but inside the faulty, overpriced American education system more broadly. To date, our small, scrappy, all-volunteer initiative has provided more direct relief to current and former Corinthian students than state and federal agencies combined. But our work on behalf of every US college student – and would-be college student – is just beginning.

For instance, on Election Day, Debt Collective organizers joined Mackenzie Vasquez, Latonya Suggs, Christopher Miller and half a dozen other former students of Everest College (a for-profit school owned by Corinthian) to a rare public hearing on student debt. “Corinthian profits from poverty,” Vasquez said from behind the dais in Washington. “They sold me a dream and gave me a nightmare.”

Suggs, a single mother from Cincinnati who dreams of being a lawyer, handed over her graduation cap in protest. Miller, an Army veteran whose chest was festooned with medals, looked education undersecretary Ted Mitchell in the eye and asked, “Do you have any honor and dignity?”

Private colleges of corruption

Despite mounting evidence of malfeasance at the Corinthian chain and various criminal probes and lawsuits, over half a million students remain on the hook. They’re expected to make timely debt repayments – even though the company tricked them into signing the dotted line – and potential enrollees are still being encouraged to max out their eligibility for federally-backed student loans. For-profit colleges enroll only about 12% of America’s college students, but they take in over a quarter of all federal financial aid, or around $33bn a year. Those grants and loans line the already fat pockets of executives and investors at the expense of students who get worthless degrees and stuck in a debt trap, bound by compound interest.

The US government should discharge all student debt for people who went to Corinthian’s for-profit colleges and their ilk – and it could. Thanks to the Higher Education Act, the Department of Education (DOE) has the discretionary power to erase all federal student debt associated with Corinthian schools, and it doesn’t need permission from a dysfunctional Congress to do so. But the DOE is acting like a debt collector for an unscrupulous lender instead of helping swindled students.

Dismiss the debts

Everyone should be incensed – and not just those students who have been preyed upon by for-profits. For-profits are often presented as the sole “bad apples” in the higher education system, but they are not the outliers that higher education apologists make them out to be. All student debtors deserve a jubilee.

Regardless of the type of school they attend – for-profit, non-profit, public, even online – Americans are graduating in the red. The average US college graduate is burdened by nearly $30,000 in debt, and millions are in default on their student loans. And while individuals are set to lose nearly 20% of their lifetime wealth to college loans, the DOE stands to make a profit of $127bn from college lending over the next decade.

Even Elizabeth Warren doesn’t go far enough

There’s a lot of handwringing about student debt in Washington, but there has been little to no meaningful action. Elizabeth Warren has called for interest rate reductions; President Obama signed an executive order capping payments on federal student debt at 10% of a borrower’s income; there have been some piecemeal attempts to curb the criminal behavior at for-profit schools by strengthening so-called “gainful employment” rules.

These superficial reforms might be better than nothing, but they barely treat the symptom of insidious American loan practices, let alone cure the disease of massive disinvestment in public education at all levels.

Meanwhile, Germany just made tuition free at all public universities – anything less, representatives insisted, would be “unjust”. That’s the kind of big-picture change we need in the US. Our volunteer efforts would become irrelevant, as they are in every other wealthy democratic country that provides public healthcare and education to its citizens.

Time for free education

A real vision of free higher education would resonate with young people, but change won’t come from Democrats on high, no matter how reasonable debt relief and affordable, tuition-free universities may be – and no matter how appealing such a platform might seem to an untapped voting bloc. And even though existing laws might permit it, predatory loans from scam schools won’t be discharged without a mass social movement that puts pressure on elites and scares them silly.

That is the fight we need to wage together: it’s just not about stopping tuition and interest rates for higher education from getting higher. The goal is lowering the bar to zero, so everyone can afford a chance to learn.

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Posted in 2014-11-20, Newsletter | Tagged | Comments Off

Rachel Maddow Slams Democrats Over Keystone XL Pipeline: ‘What On Earth Were They Thinking?!’

By Catherine Taibi
The Huffington Post (11/19/14)

It’s not often you see MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow get angry with Democrats, but when she does, she gets really, really mad.

Maddow tore into the Democratic party Tuesday night, particularly Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), for wasting the “last precious time” left before Republicans take control of the Senate on the Keystone XL pipeline bill. The bill, which fought to authorize the building of an oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, failed to pass by a single vote on Tuesday .

“The Democrats can spend this lame duck period in the Senate however they want,” she said. “They decided to spend it voting on the Keystone pipeline.”

Maddow slammed the strange logic of Sen. Landrieu for pushing so hard to pass the Keystone bill, which her opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), also supports — essentially “leading the fight” to pass a bill supported by the challenger to her re-election bid.

“What on Earth were they thinking?!” Maddow said. “How is this even, conceivably, by any stretch of the imagination, a constructive use of time by the Democrats? ”

All this did, Maddow concluded, was “put a spotlight on Democrats inability to get something done for one of their own members.”

“Woohoo!” she shouted. “Was it fun for you too?”

Link to Story and 4-Minute Video

Posted in 2014-11-20, Newsletter | Comments Off