Saturday / October 25, 2014

“Laura, at this stage I can offer nothing more than my word. I am a senior government employee in the intelligence community. I hope you understand that contacting you is extremely high risk … From now, know that every border you cross, every purchase you make, every call you dial, every cell phone tower you pass, friend you keep, … site you visit [and] subject line you type … is in the hands of a system whose reach is unlimited but whose safeguards are not. … In the end if you publish the source material, I will likely be immediately implicated. … I ask only that you ensure this information makes it home to the American public. … Thank you, and be careful. Citizen Four.”

– Edward Snowden, message to filmmaker Laura Poitras, director of “Citizenfour”.

(See “Inside Story”, below.)

Posted in 2014-10-25 | Tagged | Comments Off

Forget What The Bought-off Supreme Court Says…

Scan 3

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Scott Walker Has Failed Wisconsin And Minnesota Is The Proof

The most recent numbers show Minnesotans making $600 more per month, with wage growth over the past year more than doubling Wisconsin’s. That’s $7200 more per year.

 
 
By Jimmy Anderson
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (10/22/14)

Wisconsin and Minnesota have always been friendly rivals: Badgers versus Golden Gophers, Packers versus Vikings, brats versus hotdish. But a battleground has recently opened up in a new field: politics. You see, over the last four years, our sister states have gone in completely different directions. Where Wisconsin elected Scott Walker and gave Republicans control of the legislature, Minnesota has gone to the Democrats. And what has played out has been a competition between conservative and center-left policies to address the most difficult issues facing our two states.

It was after the Great Recession that both states faced some pretty daunting problems: high unemployment, huge deficits, and a sluggish economy. At its most dire, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was 9.2% and the state was facing a $3.6 billion budget deficit. At the same time, Minnesota was dealing with 8.3% unemployment and a $2.6 billion deficit.

To address the state’s budget problems, Walker and the Republican legislature made huge cuts to public education, shifted healthcare and pension costs to state employees, eliminated tax credits for low-wage workers, and cut healthcare. Walker then went on a tax cutting spree, significantly reducing taxes for the wealthy, arguing that it would stimulate the state economy.

The results have been lackluster at best. Wisconsin job growth has ranked at or near the bottom of the Midwest, personal income growth has been last in the Midwest and 44th nationally, and the budget is in shambles.

Walker likes to say that the state has a budget surplus, but to make such a claim requires some really irresponsible accounting. It’s the equivalent of showing off $100 in your wallet, claiming you’re flush with cash, but failing to mention the $2000 credit card bill you know is coming at the end of the month. It’s just not realistic.

Walker’s bumper sticker

The truth is we are falling behind. Our transportation budget has a $750 million hole in it, our healthcare budget is $760 million in the red, and that’s all on top of a $1.8 billion general budget deficit. Add it up and Walker has essentially taken a balanced budget and turned it into a deficit nearly as large as the one created by the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. That makes for a terrible bumper sticker.

Minnesota took a different approach to address their problems. Since the recession, Minnesota’s budget deficit ballooned from $2.6 billion to over $6 billion under a divided government unable to come to an agreement. After the 2012 election, Democrats took control of the legislature, and they set to work balancing the budget, but they did so by focusing on middle-class Minnesotans. They raised taxes on individuals making more than $250,000, they raised corporate taxes to prevent the wealthy from funneling money to themselves through their businesses, and they increased tobacco taxes.

To spur the economy, Minnesota Democrats cut taxes but focused the cuts so that only middle-class Minnesotans could take advantage of the savings. They also increased tax credits for renters, lowered property taxes, and capped local taxes, which regressively affected lower and middle class families. They also raised the minimum wage to $9.50 per hour and made it so it would automatically increase with inflation.

Minnesota smart

And rather than cutting services, Minnesota Democrats balanced the budget while increasing investments in the state. They increased spending on public education by $485 million and college education by $250 million. They also increased the state’s economic development fund by $89 million, which allowed for more job training, and grew the transportation budget by $59 million. And by accepting the funds from the Affordable Care Act, the state reduced health care spending by $50 million without losing any health care services.

Let’s talk about health care real quick. While Wisconsin rejected the Medicaid expansion and refused to create a health care marketplace under the Affordable Care Act, Minnesota took the expansion and created a marketplace. The result? Minnesota currently has the lowest health insurance rates in the country, the number of uninsured Minnesotans fell 41% cutting the uninsured rate from 8.2% to 4.9%, and the state’s health care budget is sound. On the other hand, Wisconsin’s uninsured rate is double Minnesota’s, it’s health care budget has a deficit of $760 million, and thousands of lower income Wisconsinites lost their health insurance when Walker pushed them off Badgercare. In fact, by rejecting the Medicaid expansion, Wisconsin is paying $150 million more to cover 85,000 fewer Wisconsinites. Looking at these results, it’s becoming more and more obvious that the Walker administration’s rejection of the Affordable Care Act is more about ideology than common sense.

More jobs in Minnesota

Now, according to the conservative mantra, with Minnesota raising taxes on the wealthy, increasing spending, boosting the minimum wage, and implementing Obamacare, the state should have turned into a black hole of enormous deficits, huge job losses, and rampant unemployment. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, during Walker’s tenure, Minnesota has blown Wisconsin out of the water when it comes to job growth. From March 2011 to March 2014, Minnesota has created 20,000 more jobs than Wisconsin. And the gap is widening even faster with Minnesota creating 14,000 more jobs than Wisconsinsince only July of this year. Minnesota’s unemployment rate, at 4.5%, is actually lower than it was before the recession and is currently a full point lower than Wisconsin’s.

$600 more in wages per month in Minnesota

And it’s not only jobs; the numbers also show that Minnesota outpaces Wisconsin when it comes to wages and personal income growth. Just looking at manufacturing jobs, the most recent numbers show Minnesotans making $600 more per month, with wage growth over the past year more than doubling Wisconsin’s. That’s $7200 more per year. Not exactly chump change.

And if there is any question as to whether Minnesota’s plan is working, just look at their budget. It was only a few months ago that Minnesota had the enviable problem of debating what to do with their $1.2 billion surplus. Let me repeat that: a $1.2 billion surplus.

Minnesota Democrats ultimately decided to do another $500 million in property tax cuts for the middle-class. They also increased the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, created tax credits for child care, lowered local taxes again, and provided more money for education, seniors, and healthcare. And they still had enough left over to put $150 million into the state’s rainy day fund, increasing the fund’s total amount to $617 million.

And here’s the kicker: even after increasing spending on education, healthcare, job development, environmental protection, seniors, services for the poor, and after two big tax cuts for the middle class, Minnesota is still expecting a $1.5 billion budget surplus come 2015.

So let’s review. Wisconsin cut education, cut healthcare, cut wages for state employees, cut services for the needy, increased taxes on the poor, and cut taxes for the rich. And after all that cutting, Wisconsin’s budget deficit is now in the billions, and Wisconsin trails Minnesota in job growth, unemployment, and wages. All this while Minnesota balanced its budget, increased spending on those services that Wisconsin cut, significantly reduced the tax burden for the middle class on two separate occasions, and is now looking at a $1.5 billion budget surplus for 2015. It’s no contest, it’s not even close.

But no matter how much better Minnesota is doing, I think we can all agree that brats are way better than their glorified casserole.

Link to Story

 

Posted in 2014-10-25, Newsletter | Tagged , | Comments Off

GOP Attorney General Candidate Schimel Lets Fellow Republican Off On Felony Sexual Assault Charges

What’s a little sexual assault when the perp is a  Republican legislator and campaign donor?

By Capper
Crooks & Liars (10/24/14)

Wisconsin Republicans have known for a long time that one of their own, Wisconsin State Representative Bill Kramer (R-Groperville) has a history of being inappropriate around women. Despite this knowledge, they still elected him to be the Assembly Majority Leader.

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That decision came back to bite them in the collective ass when Kramer was arrested and charged with two felony counts of second degree sexual assault. From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

In the parking lot of the High Tide, Kramer shoved the woman against a car, kissed her forcibly and put his hands up her shirt, according to the complaint.

“(The victim) states she continued to tell him ‘no and don’t’ as she turned her head away from him and pushed at his hands,” the complaint says.

The woman was “shocked, numb and not thinking clearly” and drove Kramer to another part of the parking lot. When they arrived, he locked the car doors, kissed her again, grabbed her groin and tried to look down her shirt, according to the charges.

On Thursday, it was reported that Kramer entered into a plea deal, swapping out the felonies for two misdemeanor counts. He now faces a relative slap on the wrist:

Just days ahead of a scheduled jury trial, state Rep. Bill Kramer (R-Town of Waukesha) Thursday pleaded no contest to reduced charges of two misdemeanor counts of fourth-degree sexual assault.

Kramer entered the plea during what was to have been a status conference on the case, stemming from felony sexual assault charges filed in March against the former No. 2 lawmaker in the Assembly.

Assistant District Attorney Debra Blasius said her office will recommend three years of probation, with a variety of conditions, including nine months in jail with work-release privileges.

Kramer, 49, will not have to register as a sex offender, but must undergo a sex offender assessment and any recommended treatment. Sentencing is set for Nov. 25 before Reserve Judge Neal Nettesheim.

By avoiding a felony conviction, Kramer will be able to serve the remainder of his term in the Assembly, which ends in January. He is not seeking re-election this fall.

The District Attorney for Waukesha County, where Kramer received this plea deal, is none other than Brad Schimel, the Republican candidate for Wisconsin Attorney General. I’m sure that the fact that Kramer had given Schimel a $500 campaign contribution had absolutely nothing to do with the very lenient plea deal.

Schimel’s generosity goes beyond the fact that Kramer is facing much lighter consequences. Not only does Kramer get to stay on the job through the end of the year, getting paid for doing nothing, but Kramer is able to keep his lucrative pension and other benefits.

Apparently the Republican mantra of being tough on crime does not apply to other Republicans.

ADDENDUM: To make things even worse for the poor woman, her boss is US Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin. RoJo and his chief of staff knew of the assault when she told him ,but did nothing to help her.

Link to Story

Posted in 2014-10-25, Newsletter | Comments Off

Bust: Colorado’s Marijuana Experiment Has A Bitter Aftertaste

By Charles Lane
The Washington Post (10/23/14)

LoDo Wellness Center, which calls itself the largest marijuana dispensary in the trendy Lower Downtown (“LoDo”) area, is a mellow place, decorated with Oriental rugs, sofas and statues of Buddha.

Yet there’s a moment of mild tension when you arrive: Staff members politely insist on proof that you are either older than 21 and eligible to shop in the “retail” area or older than 18 with a doctor-approved “red card” for access to the private “medical” area. The latter is on the other side of a door marked “must remain locked at all times.”

The atmosphere is part speakeasy, part pharmacy and — incongruously — part candy store. At the retail counter, you’ll find not just smokable dope but also myriad “edibles” infused with tetrahydrocannabinol (the main active ingredient in marijuana) that are outwardly indistinguishable from ordinary cookies, gummy worms and lemon drops.

LoDo epitomizes the quirks, contradictions and unanticipated consequences that characterize — or, some say, bedevil — Colorado’s 10-month-old experiment with legal marijuana.

Second thoughts

There’s been no surge in crime or drug abuse, nor is there a big movement to repeal the measure voters approved in 2012. Still, second thoughts are evident in everyday conversations here as well as recent polls. A USA Today survey this month found that roughly half of likely Colorado voters disapprove of legalization in hindsight and think the state has not done a good job regulating the burgeoning industry.

Edibles are the big issue. Coloradans have been astonished at the array of delicious THC delivery systems: candy, sodas, even, at LoDo, spiced peanuts soaked in marijuana oil. Edibles account for 45 percent of the legal marijuana market, according to the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce. Given that Colorado adopted legalization on an adults-only basis, this doesn’t sit well with a lot of parents.

The actual health risks, as opposed to the risk of underage usage, are unclear. Still, bad reactions to THC-laced treats have landed several children and adults in the emergency room and possibly led to two deaths. Consequently, the state tightened rules on labeling and dosage. Like other purveyors, LoDo now sells edibles in childproof containers. Yet standardization of packaging and THC dosage is, at best, a work in progress.

Tax bonanza? Not so much

Legal pot in Colorado was supposed to be a major new source of tax revenue. Early returns are underwhelming. The state legislature’s budget office originally forecast $67 million for the 2014-2015 fiscal year; it subsequently marked that down to $47 million.

Optimistic projections assumed users of medical marijuana, legal in the state since 2000, would switch to recreational marijuana, to avoid the hassle and cost of seeing a doctor. Instead, the number of red cards has increased slightly because medical pot is far more lightly taxed, and hence roughly 40 percent cheaper, than recreational. For heavy users, that adds up. LoDo distributes advertisements for $55 red-card consultations at the Canna Health Clinic; “pay less in taxes,” they urge.

In economic parlance, this is known as “regulatory arbitrage.” The failure to have anticipated it makes the continuation of medical pot “the biggest challenge” for the new system, according to Sam Kamin, a professor at the University of Denver law school.

Meanwhile, millions in marijuana revenue may be refunded anyway, under Colorado’s unique constitutional provision that requires the government to give back money when state revenue growth exceeds the rate of inflation plus population growth

No one knows exactly what to do about that or many other issues that have cropped up — such as the persistence of the untaxed black market or how to measure the impairment of pot-using motorists.

Colorado could eliminate the medical-recreational distinction. If the latter is available, why keep the former? But then people would have to admit that the vast majority of “medical” usage is, and always was, recreational. The likes of Canna Health Clinic would be put out of business, too.

Regulatory capture

As for edibles, the state public health department told a state pot advisory panel on Monday to ban them, except for lozenges and oils, noting a “definite risk to children.” The cannabis industry quickly shot that idea down; it appears pot growers and retailers have already achieved a measure of “regulatory capture.”

The industry’s alternative is clearer labeling. That could backfire, too. “A stamp would just help [kids] find it,” LoDo employee Liza Baker told me, citing conversations with middle school teachers she knows.

None of this proves Colorado’s brave new world is worse than the status quo ante; there were high costs to pot prohibition, too. Every regulatory dilemma for legal pot is analogous to those facing alcoholic beverages or cigarettes.

Still, what’s impressive — and, for other states, instructive — about this libertarian project is that it hinges on well-informed, impartial government regulation, free of undue special-interest influence, about which libertarians are ordinarily and properly skeptical.

Colorado may yet achieve that. For now, though, the system still seems a little half-baked.

Link to Story

Posted in 2014-10-25, Newsletter | Comments Off

Citizenfour: Inside Story Of NSA Leaker Edward Snowden Captured In New Film By Laura Poitras

“Your victimization by the NSA system means that you are well aware of the threat that unrestricted, secret abilities pose for democracies. This is a story that few but you can tell.”  – Edward Snowden

 
 
Democracy Now! (10/13/14)

“At this stage I can offer nothing more than my word. I am a senior government employee in the intelligence community. I hope you understand that contacting you is extremely high risk … This will not be a waste of your time.” This was one of the first messages Edward Snowden wrote to filmmaker Laura Poitras beginning an exchange that helped expose the massive surveillance apparatus set up by the National Security Agency.

Months later, Poitras would meet Snowden for the first time in a Hong Kong hotel room. Poitras filmed more than 20 hours of footage as Snowden debriefed reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill. That footage — most unseen until now — forms the backbone of Poitras’ new film, “Citizenfour.” She joins us to talk about the film and her own experience with government surveillance. The film is the third installment of her 9/11 trilogy that also includes “My Country, My Country” about the Iraq War and “The Oath” about the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Poitras’ NSA reporting contributed to a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service awarded to The Guardian and The Washington Post.

We also speak with Jeremy Scahill, who appears in the film reporting on recent disclosures about NSA surveillance from a new, anonymous government source. Scahill, along with Poitras and Greenwald, founded The Intercept, a new media venture to continue investigating whistleblower leaks.

30+-Minute Video

Posted in 2014-10-25, Newsletter | Comments Off

Krugman: Plutocrats Against Democracy. Plutocrats Against YOU!

The truth is that a lot of what’s going on in American politics is, at root, a fight between democracy and plutocracy. And it’s by no means clear which side will win.

By Paul Krugman
New York Times (10/23/14)

It’s always good when leaders tell the truth, especially if that wasn’t their intention. So we should be grateful to Leung Chun-ying, the Beijing-backed leader of Hong Kong, for blurting out the real reason pro-democracy demonstrators can’t get what they want: With open voting, “You would be talking to half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than $1,800 a month. Then you would end up with that kind of politics and policies” — policies, presumably, that would make the rich less rich and provide more aid to those with lower incomes.

So Mr. Leung is worried about the 50 percent of Hong Kong’s population that, he believes, would vote for bad policies because they don’t make enough money. This may sound like the 47 percent of Americans who Mitt Romney said would vote against him because they don’t pay income taxes and, therefore, don’t take responsibility for themselves, or the 60 percent that Representative Paul Ryan argued pose a danger because they are “takers,” getting more from the government than they pay in. Indeed, these are all basically the same thing.

That pesky democracy thing

For the political right has always been uncomfortable with democracy. No matter how well conservatives do in elections, no matter how thoroughly free-market ideology dominates discourse, there is always an undercurrent of fear that the great unwashed will vote in left-wingers who will tax the rich, hand out largess to the poor, and destroy the economy.

In fact, the very success of the conservative agenda only intensifies this fear. Many on the right — and I’m not just talking about people listening to Rush Limbaugh; I’m talking about members of the political elite — live, at least part of the time, in an alternative universe in which America has spent the past few decades marching rapidly down the road to serfdom. Never mind the new Gilded Age that tax cuts and financial deregulation have created; they’re reading books with titles like “A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic,” asserting that the big problem we have is runaway redistribution.

This is a fantasy. Still, is there anything to fears that economic populism will lead to economic disaster? Not really. Lower-income voters are much more supportive than the wealthy toward policies that benefit people like them, and they generally support higher taxes at the top. But if you worry that low-income voters will run wild, that they’ll greedily grab everything and tax job creators into oblivion, history says that you’re wrong. All advanced nations have had substantial welfare states since the 1940s — welfare states that, inevitably, have stronger support among their poorer citizens. But you don’t, in fact, see countries descending into tax-and-spend death spirals — and no, that’s not what ails Europe.

Still, while the “kind of politics and policies” that responds to the bottom half of the income distribution won’t destroy the economy, it does tend to crimp the incomes and wealth of the 1 percent, at least a bit; the top 0.1 percent is paying quite a lot more in taxes right now than it would have if Mr. Romney had won. So what’s a plutocrat to do?

Black magic

One answer is propaganda: tell voters, often and loudly, that taxing the rich and helping the poor will cause economic disaster, while cutting taxes on “job creators” will create prosperity for all. There’s a reason conservative faith in the magic of tax cuts persists no matter how many times such prophecies fail (as is happening right now in Kansas): There’s a lavishly funded industry of think tanks and media organizations dedicated to promoting and preserving that faith.

Another answer, with a long tradition in the United States, is to make the most of racial and ethnic divisions — government aid just goes to Those People, don’t you know. And besides, liberals are snooty elitists who hate America.

A third answer is to make sure government programs fail, or never come into existence, so that voters never learn that things could be different.

Getting you out of the voting booth

But these strategies for protecting plutocrats from the mob are indirect and imperfect. The obvious answer is Mr. Leung’s: Don’t let the bottom half, or maybe even the bottom 90 percent, vote.

And now you understand why there’s so much furor on the right over the alleged but actually almost nonexistent problem of voter fraud, and so much support for voter ID laws that make it hard for the poor and even the working class to cast ballots. American politicians don’t dare say outright that only the wealthy should have political rights — at least not yet. But if you follow the currents of thought now prevalent on the political right to their logical conclusion, that’s where you end up.

The truth is that a lot of what’s going on in American politics is, at root, a fight between democracy and plutocracy. And it’s by no means clear which side will win.

Read the Rest: Plutocrats Against Democracy – NYTimes.com.

Posted in 2014-10-25, Newsletter | Comments Off

Canada, At War for 13 Years, Shocked That ‘A Terrorist’ Attacked Its Soldiers

A country doesn’t get to run around for years wallowing in war glory, invading, rendering and bombing others, without the risk of having violence brought back to it.

 

(Editor’s Note: This article came out just hours before the shooting attack in Ottawa. This article needs and deserves a careful reading. — Mark L. Taylor)

By Glenn Greenwald
The Intercept (10/22/14)

In Quebec on Monday, two Canadian soldiers were hit by a car driven by Martin Couture-Rouleau, a 25-year-old Canadian who, as The Globe and Mail reported, “converted to Islam recently and called himself Ahmad Rouleau.” One of the soldiers died, as did Courture-Rouleau when he was shot by police upon apprehension after allegedly brandishing a large knife. Police speculated that the incident was deliberate, alleging the driver waited for two hours before hitting the soldiers, one of whom was wearing a uniform. The incident took place in the parking lot of a shopping mall 30 miles southeast of Montreal, “a few kilometres from the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean, the military academy operated by the Department of National Defence.”

The right-wing Canadian government wasted no time in seizing on the incident to promote its fear-mongering agenda over terrorism, which includes pending legislation to vest its intelligence agency, CSIS, with more spying and secrecy powers in the name of fighting ISIS. A government spokesperson asserted “clear indications” that the driver “had become radicalized.”

In a “clearly prearranged exchange,” a conservative MP, during parliamentary “question time,” asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper (pictured above) whether this was considered a “terrorist attack”; in reply, the prime minister gravely opined that the incident was “obviously extremely troubling.” Canada’s Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney pronounced the incident “clearly linked to terrorist ideology,” while newspapers predictably followed suit, calling it a “suspected terrorist attack” and “homegrown terrorism.” CSIS spokesperson Tahera Mufti said “the event was the violent expression of an extremist ideology promoted by terrorist groups with global followings” and added: “That something like this would happen in a peaceable Canadian community like Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu shows the long reach of these ideologies.”

Western bewilderment and selective blindness

In sum, the national mood and discourse in Canada is virtually identical to what prevails in every Western country whenever an incident like this happens: shock and bewilderment that someone would want to bring violence to such a good and innocent country (“a peaceable Canadian community like Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu”), followed by claims that the incident shows how primitive and savage is the “terrorist ideology” of extremist Muslims, followed by rage and demand for still more actions of militarism and freedom-deprivation. There are two points worth making about this:

First, Canada has spent the last 13 years proclaiming itself a nation at war. It actively participated in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and was an enthusiastic partner in some of the most extremist War on Terror abuses perpetrated by the U.S. Earlier this month, the Prime Minister revealed, with thesupport of a large majority of Canadians, that “Canada is poised to go to war in Iraq, as [he] announced plans in Parliament [] to send CF-18 fighter jets for up to six months to battle Islamic extremists.” Just yesterday, Canadian Defence Minister Rob Nicholson flamboyantly appeared at the airfield in Alberta from which the fighter jets left for Iraq and stood tall as he issued the standard Churchillian war rhetoric about the noble fight against evil.

It is always stunning when a country that has brought violence and military force to numerous countries acts shocked and bewildered when someone brings a tiny faction of that violence back to that country. Regardless of one’s views on the justifiability of Canada’s lengthy military actions, it’s not the slightest bit surprising or difficult to understand why people who identify with those on the other end of Canadian bombs and bullets would decide to attack the military responsible for that violence.

That’s the nature of war. A country doesn’t get to run around for years wallowing in war glory, invading, rendering and bombing others, without the risk of having violence brought back to it. Rather than being baffling or shocking, that reaction is completely natural and predictable. The only surprising thing about any of it is that it doesn’t happen more often.

Fairy tales of the west

The issue here is not justification (very few people would view attacks on soldiers in a shopping mall parking lot to be justified). The issue is causation. Every time one of these attacks occurs — from 9/11 on down — Western governments pretend that it was just some sort of unprovoked, utterly “senseless” act of violence caused by primitive, irrational, savage religious extremism inexplicably aimed at a country innocently minding its own business. They even invent fairy tales to feed to the population to explain why it happens: they hate us for our freedoms.

Those fairy tales are pure deceit. Except in the rarest of cases, the violence has clearly identifiable and easy-to-understand causes: namely, anger over the violence that the country’s government has spent years directing at others. The statements of those accused by the west of terrorism, and even the Pentagon’s own commissioned research, have made conclusively clear what motivates these acts: namely, anger over the violence, abuse and interference by Western countries in that part of the world, with the world’s Muslims overwhelmingly the targets and victims. The very policies of militarism and civil liberties erosions justified in the name of stopping terrorism are actually what fuels terrorism and ensures its endless continuation.

If you want to be a country that spends more than a decade proclaiming itself at war and bringing violence to others, then one should expect that violence will sometimes be directed at you as well. Far from being the by-product of primitive and inscrutable religions, that behavior is the natural reaction of human beings targeted with violence. Anyone who doubts that should review the 13-year orgy of violence the U.S. has unleashed on the world since the 9/11 attack, as well as the decades of violence and interference from the U.S. in that region prior to that.

Second, in what conceivable sense can this incident be called a “terrorist” attack? As I have writtenmany times over the last several years, and as some of the best scholarship proves, “terrorism” is a word utterly devoid of objective or consistent meaning. It is little more than a totally malleable, propagandistic fear-mongering term used by Western governments (and non-Western ones) to justify whatever actions they undertake. As Professor Tomis Kapitan wrote in a brilliant essay in The New York Times on Monday: “Part of the success of this rhetoric traces to the fact that there is no consensus about the meaning of ‘terrorism.’”

But to the extent the term has any common understanding, it includes the deliberate (or wholly reckless) targeting of civilians with violence for political ends. But in this case in Canada, it wasn’t civilians who were targeted. If one believes the government’s accounts of the incident, the driver waited two hours until he saw a soldier in uniform. In other words, he seems to have deliberately avoided attacking civilians, and targeted a soldier instead – a member of a military that is currently fighting a war.

Again, the point isn’t justifiability. There is a compelling argument to make that undeployed soldiers engaged in normal civilian activities at home are not valid targets under the laws of war (although the U.S. and its closest allies use extremely broad and permissive standards for what constitutes legitimate military targets when it comes to their own violence). The point is that targeting soldiers who are part of a military fighting an active war is completely inconsistent with the common usage of the word “terrorism,” and yet it is reflexively applied by government officials and media outlets to this incident in Canada (and others like it in the UK and the US).

Elastic definition

That’s because the most common functional definition of “terrorism” in Western discourse is quite clear. At this point, it means little more than: “violence directed at Westerners by Muslims” (when not used to mean “violence by Muslims,” it usually just means: violence the state dislikes). The term “terrorism” has become nothing more than a rhetorical weapon for legitimizing all violence by Western countries, and delegitimizing all violence against them, even when the violence called “terrorism” is clearly intended as retaliation for Western violence.

This is about far more than semantics. It is central to how the west propagandizes its citizenries; the manipulative use of the “terrorism” term lies at heart of that. As Professor Kapitan wrote yesterday in The New York Times:

Even when a definition is agreed upon, the rhetoric of “terror” is applied both selectively and inconsistently. In the mainstream American media, the “terrorist” label is usually reserved for those opposed to the policies of the U.S. and its allies. By contrast, some acts of violence that constitute terrorism under most definitions are not identified as such — for instance, the massacre of over 2000 Palestinian civilians in the Beirut refugee camps in 1982 or the killings of more than 3000 civilians in Nicaragua by “contra” rebels during the 1980s, or the genocide that took the lives of at least a half million Rwandans in 1994. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some actions that do not qualify as terrorism are labeled as such — that would include attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah or ISIS, for instance, against uniformed soldiers on duty.

Historically, the rhetoric of terror has been used by those in power not only to sway public opinion, but to direct attention away from their own acts of terror.

At this point, “terrorism” is the term that means nothing, but justifies everything. It is long past time that media outlets begin skeptically questioning its usage by political officials rather than mindlessly parroting it.

Link to Story 

 

Posted in 2014-10-25, Newsletter | Comments Off

Democracy Now Interviews Jeremy Scahill About Blackwater Convictions

Democracy Now! (10/23/14)

A federal jury has returned guilty verdicts against four Blackwater operatives involved in the 2007 massacre at Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. On Wednesday, the jury found one guard, Nicholas Slatten, guilty of first-degree murder, while three other guards were convicted of voluntary manslaughter: Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard. The jury is still deliberating on additional charges against the operatives, who faced a combined 33 counts. The operatives were tried for the deaths of 14 of the 17 Iraqi civilians who died when their Blackwater unit opened fire. We speak to Jeremy Scahill, author of the best-selling book “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.” His most recent article published by The Intercept is “Blackwater Founder Remains Free & Rich While His Former Employees Go Down on Murder Charges.”

Jeremy Scahill: Blackwater was a part of an unlawful global war that was borderless in nature, launched by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, with the support of Democrats in the U.S. Congress, and President Obama has continued to use mercenary forces. None of the people that unleashed these forces on the world, at the highest levels, are being held accountable. Dick Cheney’s not going to be held accountable. Donald Rumsfeld’s not going to be held accountable. Erik Prince, the billionaire owner of—founder of Blackwater, who has now started another mercenary firm targeting Africa, backed by Chinese capital, he’s not going to be held accountable for this. It’s just like at Abu Ghraib, where the low-level people who did the actual torture, they get held accountable.

Link to Story and 9-Minute Video

  • Read Jeremy Scahill’s Intercept story on the Blackwater convictions here
Posted in 2014-10-25, Newsletter | Comments Off

Seattle Cops Bring Lawsuit Claiming Constitutional Right To Use Excessive Force To Deprive You Of Your Constitutional Rights And Beat You Up

By Nicole Flatow
Think Progress (10/22/14)

Over the past year, the Seattle police department has revised its policies on when police can use force, as part of a settlement with the Justice Department over findings that officers used frequent excessive, unconstitutional force on suspects. But some 125 Seattle police officers responded by filing a lawsuit challenging the new rules. In their view, the new policies infringe on their rights to use as much force as they deem necessary in self-protection. They represent about ten percent of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild membership. The police union itself declined to endorse the lawsuit.

This week, a federal judge summarily rejected all of their claims, finding that they were without constitutional merit, and that she would have been surprised if such allegations of excessive force by officers did not lead to stricter standards.

The officers claimed the policies infringed on their rights under their Second Amendment and under the Fourth, claiming a self-defense right to use force. Chief U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman pointed out that the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms — not the right to use them — and that the officers “grossly misconstrued” the Fourth Amendment when they claimed that it protects them, and not individuals who would be the subjects of police force or seizures.

Reveals a disturbing mentality

If they appeal, the officers have little chance of faring better. But their lawsuit does shed light on the sort of resistance officials and police chiefs face as they seek to make their policies more humane. The lawsuit employs rhetoric hostile to the idea of treating vulnerable suspects such as the mentally ill differently, and calls DOJ’s findings on excessive force “highly suspect.” It also embodies a Stand Your Ground-ification of self-defense attitudes in asserting that officers have a right not to de-escalate the situation before turning to deadly force, asserting that their force is protected “regardless of whether or not there existed less intrusive means, or alternatives to self-defense or defense of others, such as inflicting a less serious injury to, retreating from, or containing, or negotiating with a suspect.” (some version of this could be a defense to criminal charges against police, but not to Department policies).

Several years ago, the Justice Department investigated the Seattle department after several high-profile incidents of excessive force, and concluded in 2011 that officers use excessive force about 20 percent of the time. It couched its findings by noting that the “great majority of the City’s police officers are honorable law enforcement professionals who risk their safety and well-being for the public good” but that a “subset of officers” continue to misuse force. This is likely the case in most police departments. And some including DC Police Chief Kathy Lanier have lamented that strong government protections prevent her from firing the bad seeds in her department.

Practicing their constitutional rights to beat people up

DOJ’s findings of excessive force included one incident in which officers approached a seemingly mentally disturbed man standing in the street yelling at a traffic light while holding a stuffed animal. He didn’t respond when police ordered him to get onto the sidewalk, so they pepper sprayed him. He allegedly then “balled up his fist” so they beat him with a baton, before punching him 14 to 18 times. They later arrested him for pedestrian interference and obstruction.

In another instance, officers reported to the home of a man they “knew was experiencing a mental health crisis” without seeking the assistance of the Crisis Intervention Team, which is trained to assist a person in distress. Instead, they sought to arrest him, and when the man pulled away, proceeded to beat him to the point that he stopped breathing, vomited, and was hospitalized with a brain injury.

In several instances, they pushed and beat suspects simply because they talked back, even when they had no plans to arrest them, or already had them restrained in handcuffs. The city came to an agreement with the Justice Department, which resulted last year in new policies that for the first time defined “force” as “any physical coercion by an officer,” and required those interactions to be reported to supervisors, according to the Seattle Times. It also requires officers to attempt to de-escalate many situations if possible before turning to force. In response to the lawsuit, Mayor Ed Murray said, “The City of Seattle will not fight the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. This is not the 1960s.”

Link to Story

Posted in 2014-10-25, Newsletter | Comments Off

Dept. Of Much Needed Humor — Report: Slamming Boss Against Wall, Shouting ‘Cash! I Need More Cash!’ Still Leading Tactic For Securing Raise

Time for a little workplace initiative!

The Onion (10/23/14)

WASHINGTON—Calling it the most effective method for reaching one’s full earning potential, a report issued Thursday by the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that violently slamming one’s supervisor against a wall and shouting, “Cash! I need more cash!” remained the leading tactic for securing a raise.

“Our research suggests that employees who have the most success in negotiating a pay raise stride confidently into their supervisor’s office, maintain eye contact as they pin him against a wall by his neck, and demand that he immediately start paying them more cash,” said the report’s lead author, Melanie Harrison, who noted the importance of clearly annunciating, “Give me cash now!” and, “Cash! Cash! Cash!” while slowly tightening one’s grip around their boss’s throat. “We also found that workers who were able to obtain the largest raises threw their supervisor back into his chair and plainly stated that they were not fucking around in the slightest.”

Harrison went on to say that taking $100 out of a supervisor’s wallet, standing over his trembling body, and saying, “This is a good start” before tossing the empty billfold in his face usually secured an employee their desired raise on the spot.

Link to Story

Posted in 2014-10-25, Newsletter | Comments Off

Friday / October 24, 2014

“Imagine if the only plan for Minneapolis to respond to a rapidly spreading fire were to call the New York City fire department for mutual aid. Leaders in both cities would speak proudly of the caravan of fire trucks and firefighters making their way westward. In the meantime, downtown Minneapolis would quickly become an inferno. That’s essentially the international response to the West African Ebola epidemic.”

– Michael T. Osterholm

(See “Finally, Straight Talk On Ebola”, below.)

Posted in 2014-10-24 | Tagged | Comments Off

Finally, Straight Talk On Ebola: It Is About to Get Worse. Much Worse

Far too many leaders, organizations and agencies still don’t understand the concept of virus time or the desperate need for command and control leadership in the affected countries.

 

(Editor’s Note: There is a palpable sense of unreality and delusion in most official pronouncements and promises about the bubbling Ebola epidemic. If ever there was a time for straight talk and fast, well directed action by government and health officials this is the time. Most of what I have heard from the Center for Disease Control and other federal officials rings as unrealistic as it is hollow. This article and the video below is the first thing I’ve seen that makes sense. — Mark L. Taylor)

By Michael T. Osterholm
Politico (9/3/0/14)

We know how the disease will likely spread in the months ahead. Each year, thousands of young West African men and boys are part of a migratory work population not too dissimilar from U.S. migrant farm workers. Crop-friendly rains wash over West Africa from May to October, forming the growing season. These young men typically help with harvesting in their home villages from August to early October, but afterward head off for temporary jobs in artisanal gold mines in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Ghana; cocoa nut and palm oil plantations in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire; palm date harvesting and fishing in Mauritania and Senegal; and illicit charcoal production in Senegal, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Niger.

This migration is about to begin, even for young men whose villages have been recently hit by EVD. These workers find daily laborer jobs at $5 per day, half of which they remit to their families back home. Like their ancestors before them, they use little-known routes and layovers through forests to avoid frontier checkpoints. They usually have ECOWAS ID cards, providing free passage to all the member states of the Economic Community of West Africa States. It takes one to three days to travel from the EVD-affected countries to these work destinations. There is no need for Ebola to hop a ride on an airplane to move across Africa: It can travel by foot.

We need a Plan B

Densely populated African cities such as Dakar, Abidjan, Lagos and Kinshasa—teeming with jam-packed slums as far as the eye can see—could be most at risk. This is the nightmare scenario. It is all too real, and yet no international, coordinated plan exists for how to respond to what would likely be an even more catastrophic event. Ask the world’s intelligence and security experts what an Ebola epidemic unleashed on Africa’s megacities could mean for the continent’s stability. We need a Plan B, or hundreds of thousands of people may die.

And what of Plan C? The use of effective, safe vaccines has been a foundation of modern public health. We even eradicated one of the Lion Kings of infectious diseasesmallpoxwith an effective vaccine. Unfortunately, not all infectious agents can be relegated to the history books through vaccination. We are still searching for effective and safe vaccines for diseases such as AIDS, malaria and TB. But I feel certain that a safe and effective Ebola vaccine is on it way.

Will it come soon enough? On virus time? And on the scale that the disease demands? Only a month ago, the primary discussion around developing, approving, manufacturing and distributing an effective and safe Ebola vaccine was to protect a few thousand health-care workers and prevent the few remaining community-acquired Ebola cases that continued to occur. But it’s now a different ballgame. This epidemic could grow much, much larger and become what we call an endemic diseaseone that doesn’t go away. Science recently published two must-read articles, by Jon Cohen and Kai Kupferschmidt, about the grim reality of trying to find and produce an effective vaccine: Their conclusion was that government bureaucracy, a lack of adequate funding and battles between government and private-sector companies have prevented progress.

Black Swan scenario

The first critical mistake public-health officials often make amid such outbreaks is failing to consider another black-swan scenario. At the moment, they are focused only on meeting the vaccine need in the three affected countries. If this virus makes it to the slums of other cities, the epidemic to date will just be an opening chapter. Africa contains more than a billion people, and is growing faster than anywhere else in the world. If world leaders don’t make it a priority now to secure up to 500 million doses of an effective Ebola virus vaccine, we may live to regret our inaction. It’s that serious.

Securing 500 million doses of an effective Ebola virus vaccine is going to require a partnership between government and vaccine manufacturers that puts it on the same footing as our response to an emerging global influenza pandemic. This will require mobilizing people and resources on a massive scale—it has to be the international community’s top priority.

In the words of Sir Winston Churchill, “It’s no use saying, ‘We’re doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.” It’s time to do what is necessary to stop Ebola. Now.

Bureaucracy time vs virus time

Plan A continues to fail today for one simple reason. Donor countries and organizations are operating on “program or bureaucracy time,” while the epidemic is unfolding on “virus time.” Thirty days of planning to deliver on-the-ground support might be considered lightning speed to a foreign aid officer, but it is an eternity for a virus being transmitted by physical contact between many people living in intensely crowded conditions. Each day of delay is also another day of hell for newly infected Ebola patients and their exhausted health-care providers.

Think of fighting a forest fire. Imagine waiting days before the necessary resources arrive; it means the blaze has expanded by the hour. And stopping a 100-acre fire is a lot different than containing a 100,000-acre fire. Every day the global response to Ebola falls far short in terms of treatment beds, health-care providers, public health workers and even adequate food and safe water is another day the epidemic grows substantially and becomes that much harder to contain. What might have been an adequate response last month now becomes much less effective.

We’ve seen increased finger-pointing about who didn’t and still hasn’t provided critical leadership or necessary resources. This debate will play out for years to come. But no one individual or group of individuals is to blame; instead, almost everyone involved is. And, unfortunately, far too many leaders, organizations and agencies still don’t understand the concept of virus time or the desperate need for command and control leadership in the affected countries.

Imagine if the only plan for Minneapolis to respond to a rapidly spreading fire were to call the New York City fire department for mutual aid. Leaders in both cities would speak proudly of the caravan of fire trucks and firefighters making their way westward. In the meantime, downtown Minneapolis would quickly become an inferno. That’s essentially the international response to the West African Ebola epidemic. World leaders have never prepared themselves or the global community for the public health actions necessary to combat this type of situation.

Igniting gasoline

Doctors Without Borders and other NGOs on the front lines tried to warn the public health community as early as March that this Ebola outbreak was very different and would require unprecedented response resources. No one listened then, and the virus continued to spread unfettered across the three countries. Once it got a foothold in crowded, poverty-stricken West African cities, it was like igniting gasoline.

The U.S. government has in recent days taken a leadership role in responding to this international crisis. President Obama has urged a comprehensive, rapid response. His willingness to deploy military troops to support critical transportation, logistics and supply chain needs is an important step. (But again, the president’s promises of a month ago have been slow to become reality, and in many instances have not yet been acted upon.) CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden has issued clear and compelling warnings over the last six weeks about the dire consequences of our ineffective response. CDC professionals are also providing valuable support in trying to track and stop new cases.

But the international public health community had never seriously planned for a “black swan” event such as this epidemic, so having an alternative to Plan A was never considered. You might call the recent quarantine restrictions employed by the governments of Liberia and Sierra Leone as an attempt at Plan B. But these measures have largely failed to control the disease’s spread, while they have been a humanitarian disaster.

For the affected countries, sadly, it’s already too late for a Plan B. Regardless of whose case estimates you believe, those put forward by the WHO or the worst-case numbers put forward by the CDC, the number of cases in these countries will increase substantially in the coming months. Everything in my 40 years of experience as a public health official and infectious disease researcher tells me this virus has a high likelihood of spreading to other African countries. And unlike in Nigeria and Senegal, it might not be so easily contained this time. What is our plan to fight this Ebola war on multiple African fronts when we can’t handle the current battles in West Africa?

The coming months

We know how the disease will likely spread in the months ahead. Each year, thousands of young West African men and boys are part of a migratory work population not too dissimilar from U.S. migrant farm workers. Crop-friendly rains wash over West Africa from May to October, forming the growing season. These young men typically help with harvesting in their home villages from August to early October, but afterward head off for temporary jobs in artisanal gold mines in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Ghana; cocoa nut and palm oil plantations in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire; palm date harvesting and fishing in Mauritania and Senegal; and illicit charcoal production in Senegal, Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Niger.

This migration is about to begin, even for young men whose villages have been recently hit by EVD. These workers find daily laborer jobs at $5 per day, half of which they remit to their families back home. Like their ancestors before them, they use little-known routes and layovers through forests to avoid frontier checkpoints. They usually have ECOWAS ID cards, providing free passage to all the member states of the Economic Community of West Africa States. It takes one to three days to travel from the EVD-affected countries to these work destinations. There is no need for Ebola to hop a ride on an airplane to move across Africa: It can travel by foot.

The nightmare scenario

Densely populated African cities such as Dakar, Abidjan, Lagos and Kinshasa—teeming with jam-packed slums as far as the eye can see—could be most at risk. This is the nightmare scenario. It is all too real, and yet no international, coordinated plan exists for how to respond to what would likely be an even more catastrophic event. Ask the world’s intelligence and security experts what an Ebola epidemic unleashed on Africa’s megacities could mean for the continent’s stability. We need a Plan B, or hundreds of thousands of people may die.

And what of Plan C? The use of effective, safe vaccines has been a foundation of modern public health. We even eradicated one of the Lion Kings of infectious diseasesmallpoxwith an effective vaccine. Unfortunately, not all infectious agents can be relegated to the history books through vaccination. We are still searching for effective and safe vaccines for diseases such as AIDS, malaria and TB. But I feel certain that a safe and effective Ebola vaccine is on it way.

Will it come soon enough? On virus time? And on the scale that the disease demands? Only a month ago, the primary discussion around developing, approving, manufacturing and distributing an effective and safe Ebola vaccine was to protect a few thousand health-care workers and prevent the few remaining community-acquired Ebola cases that continued to occur. But it’s now a different ballgame. This epidemic could grow much, much larger and become what we call an endemic diseaseone that doesn’t go away. Science recently published two must-read articles, by Jon Cohen and Kai Kupferschmidt, about the grim reality of trying to find and produce an effective vaccine: Their conclusion was that government bureaucracy, a lack of adequate funding and battles between government and private-sector companies have prevented progress.

500 million doses

The first critical mistake public-health officials often make amid such outbreaks is failing to consider another black-swan scenario. At the moment, they are focused only on meeting the vaccine need in the three affected countries. If this virus makes it to the slums of other cities, the epidemic to date will just be an opening chapter. Africa contains more than a billion people, and is growing faster than anywhere else in the world. If world leaders don’t make it a priority now to secure up to 500 million doses of an effective Ebola virus vaccine, we may live to regret our inaction. It’s that serious.

Securing 500 million doses of an effective Ebola virus vaccine is going to require a partnership between government and vaccine manufacturers that puts it on the same footing as our response to an emerging global influenza pandemic. This will require mobilizing people and resources on a massive scale—it has to be the international community’s top priority.

In the words of Sir Winston Churchill, “It’s no use saying, ‘We’re doing our best.’ You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.” It’s time to do what is necessary to stop Ebola. Now.

(Michael T. Osterholm is director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.)

Link to Story

Posted in 2014-10-24, Newsletter | Tagged | Comments Off

VIDEO: Ebola As A Black Swan Event — “We’re in uncharted waters.”

DEFINITION OF ‘BLACK SWAN’ – An event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and that would be extremely difficult to predict. 

“Become comfortable with uncertainty.”

Brasscheck TV (10/22/14)

Michael Osterholm’s speech on how much we don’t know about Ebola is riveting.

Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, he lays out the truth of the matter: the Ebola virus is still an unknown, and we don’t even know what we don’t know yet.

He believes that to mislead the public by trying to not scare us is a terrible idea, and it’s better for health officials to admit that they’re wrong or don’t have answers yet.

He also believes limited airborne transmission may be possible, that this strain of the Ebola virus may be very different than past outbreaks.

The virus is moving at virus speed, and our response is moving at the speed of bureaucracy.

We barely have a plan A, we don’t have a plan B.

We desperately need a plan C. He says it’s vaccine…and that’s where he loses me.

22-Minute Video

  • New York City Physician Tests Positive For Ebola – A New York physician who recently returned from the front lines of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa has tested positive for the deadly virus, according to two U.S. government officials … Read the Rest
Posted in 2014-10-24, Newsletter | Comments Off

Ebola Virus: How It Spreads And What It Does To Vou – video

The Guardian 

The latest Ebola outbreak is the largest the world has ever seen, with more than 4,500 confirmed deaths in west Africa. Patients are often killed not by the virus itself, but by the overreaction of their immune system to the infection. Here, Ian Sample explains how Ebola is transmitted, the organs it disrupts, the symptoms of infection and the chances of survival.

3-Minute Video

Posted in 2014-10-24, Newsletter | Tagged | Comments Off