Truthout Stories Wed, 26 Nov 2014 11:09:36 -0500 en-gb The Uber-iffic Future ]]> Art Wed, 26 Nov 2014 09:09:18 -0500 Media Must Tell What Happens - and Why - in Ferguson

There were two things I saw in the media coverage of Ferguson, Mo., recently in the ramp up to the grand jury decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the August shooting death of 18 year-old Michael Brown.

Two illustrations from different times and places, expressed with different intent, but, for me, carrying the same message: We are missing the story.

Ferguson is not just the story about last summer’s tragic shooting death of Brown — unarmed, hands up, according to some witnesses, who apparently were not credited by the grand jury. It is not just the story of the ugly images of a militarized police force pushing back protesters with rubber bullets and tear gas. It is not just about a process many people believed took way too long to decide whether a crime was committed.

The story of this St. Louis suburb is the story of power. It is power that is enforced at street level by the police and up throughout a justice system that has been engaged in the mass incarceration of people of color. It is a political system that powers the criminal justice system in this process. It is a social system that defines people, identifies them in ways that will justify their place in society — high or low, included or marginalized.

In that process, we often come to see each other, to know each other — as good or bad — through media representations. Our reality, then, is a mediated reality. And the media portrayal of African-Americans by television — where most people get their news — has been in the negative context of crime and poverty. The mediated reality is way out of proportion to the actual reality. And the public takeaway too often is that black is bad.

These points are driven home by my two illustrations. First, as I Googled “Ferguson” this past week — with anxious headlines declaring a state of emergency in Missouri and the call-up of the National Guard in anticipation of angry public reaction to a grand jury decision — I saw a photograph on the Los Angeles Times website. The focal point was a blond-haired white woman in a group of protesters. Her sign read “Thug Protestor” and had arrows pointing to herself. I was struck by that photo, and the irony wrapped in irony.

The irony she intended is based on our recognition that she obviously is not a thug, as some people have called the protesters based on the nightly images of confrontation played out on television in connection with Ferguson.

The woman’s point is that we shouldn’t assume that protesters are thugs. After all, she is a protester and, of course, she does not look like a thug. She looks like the All-American Girl. But, in recognizing that irony, we get twisted in the embedded irony. We have to know what a thug looks like in order to know that she is not one. A thug in TV representation is a person of color — black or brown.

So, in trying to deconstruct the social construct of black as bad, she wound up reinforcing it. The second illustration is a confrontation on NBC’s “Meet the Press” between former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson, during which Giuliani, a former U.S. attorney, engaged in reductive reasoning. “The white police officers wouldn’t be there if you weren’t killing each other 70-75 percent of the time,” Giuliani said. So, in other words, it’s your fault — black people everywhere — that your kids might get shot down in the street by police. Look at how bad things are in the African-American communities.

So what is media’s role in this?

We tell people what is important to think about and we even tell them how to think about it. We set public agenda based on what we cover, we frame the stories and we represent people within that frame. Because of this agenda-setting process, people walk away thinking crime is a bigger problem than it really is. Because people of color are more likely to be seen in mug shots than are whites — far more than the numbers would justify — people like the woman in the L.A. Times photo come to see crime in blackface. Sadly, people like Giuliani — people in positions to make a positive difference — can paint by statistical numbers without getting the full picture.

The story we are missing in this process, though, is the one that provides the full context for the story we are being told -- the meaning of it all. The full picture. Sure, we get the facts. We get the who, what, where and when of it all. But not the why. The why is the context.

It starts with why there is such a wide gap in black and white opinion on the case, whether Darren Wilson should have been indicted for a crime. Why do some people accept police action while others distrust it? At bottom, why are some people angry and others afraid?

Ferguson is presented as a confrontation story. The problem with that frame is that it ultimately directs our gaze away from the underlying story, which is to say, the actual story.

Even more, that very framing can determine public opinion. In a story of confrontation between people you have come to associate with wrongdoing and the police you believe are tied to law and order, the demonstrators are going to lose in the battle for public approval. We need to know why young black people see themselves as victims of prosecutorial discretion and the police as an oppressive force in the process. We need to know why they have come to believe there is a breakdown of the law in their community by people who shoot them down in the street — hands up.

We also need to know why other people see things so differently. Television is a big part of the why. It emphasizes the visual. The immediate. The impact. The confrontation between the police and demonstrators in Ferguson will “make for good TV,”President Obama said in calling for peace following the grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson. Good TV. But is it good journalism?

Not without balance, it isn’t. Not without providing some deeper understanding of the meaning behind the images, the story behind the story. Otherwise, the real confrontation is a clash of perception. A racial Rorschach.

People tend to see what they want to see, what they have been conditioned to see. We have to help them see what is. To see and to understand.

That is the media responsibility—to provide the information we need to make enlightened choices about policy, about consumption, about our social interaction. We can’t get there — enlightened decision-making — without understanding the meaning of it all. The context. The why.

In the many stories that have been told since last summer’s confrontations, we have learned more as the result of follow-up reporting. However, even the background stories we are getting, like the ones about the overpolicing of a majority black community by an overwhelmingly white police force, only provide part of the ultimate truth.

Even when the media begin to tell us the more nuanced stories and try to clarify that violence during the demonstrations is being committed by only a small minority of people — people who are taking advantage of the demonstration as cover — the TV images of much larger crowds and explosive confrontations tell us something different.

The tendency among many people in the viewing audience will be to conclude that the demonstrators — overwhelmingly people of color, who already are perceived to be at fault when it comes to issues of wrongdoing — are the people who are responsible when things go terribly wrong. Even when the confrontations are provoked by police. Research shows that the mere display of a gun by one person can cause the other person to be more aggressive.

So the challenge of the media is to cut through all this and to do it with careful decisions about what goes in the frame of the story and what is left out. To do it with decisions about how to balance breaking news with more background, more interpretation, more perspectives in follow-up stories.

While we want to think we are balanced in our reporting, we must consider whether we really achieve that goal. Do you really see the world in a balanced way through a gas mask, or when you are constrained by a bulletproof vest? Is your judgment guided by a sense of journalistic responsibility or a sense of threat? The answer to that question only raises another obvious one and that is, threat by whom? The police? Or the people the police are confronting? What is the perspective you get on such a confrontation from behind police barricades, in a press pen, subject to feeds by the official sources?

Without question, reporting the who, what, where and when of it all from the frontlines is tough. But if we don’t get at the “why” through more thoughtful enterprising stories, all the rest of it has no meaning and no impact in helping people move away from biases to make more reasoned choices.

If we don’t try to do that, then the question we ultimately should be asking is, “Why not?”

Opinion Wed, 26 Nov 2014 10:06:17 -0500
New Sanctuary Movement Seeks to Protect Undocumented Immigrants

Oscar Alfaro hugs his aunt, Carmen Paz, during a watch party as President Barack Obama outlines his executive actions on immigration in a televised address at Casa de Maryland in Hyattsville, Md., Nov. 20, 2014. Millions of undocumented immigrants, like Alfaro, are beginning to make big new plans for their lives, free of the threat of deportation, after Obama announced he would offer reprieves and work permits. (Jabin Botsford/The New York Times)Oscar Alfaro hugs his aunt, Carmen Paz, during a watch party as President Barack Obama outlines his executive actions on immigration in a televised address at Casa de Maryland in Hyattsville, Md., Nov. 20, 2014. Millions of undocumented immigrants, like Alfaro, are beginning to make big new plans for their lives, free of the threat of deportation, after Obama announced he would offer reprieves and work permits. (Jabin Botsford/The New York Times)

The New Sanctuary Movement is defying the law by sheltering seven undocumented immigrants who are at risk of deportation in churches across the country.

Oscar Alfaro hugs his aunt, Carmen Paz, during a watch party as President Barack Obama outlines his executive actions on immigration in a televised address at Casa de Maryland in Hyattsville, Md., Nov. 20, 2014. Millions of undocumented immigrants, like Alfaro, are beginning to make big new plans for their lives, free of the threat of deportation, after Obama announced he would offer reprieves and work permits. (Jabin Botsford/The New York Times)Oscar Alfaro hugs his aunt, Carmen Paz, during a watch party as President Barack Obama outlines his executive actions on immigration in a televised address at Casa de Maryland in Hyattsville, Md., Nov. 20, 2014. Millions of undocumented immigrants, like Alfaro, are beginning to make big new plans for their lives, free of the threat of deportation, after Obama announced he would offer reprieves and work permits. (Jabin Botsford/The New York Times)

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When President Obama went before the American people to say that he was issuing an executive order to empower Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE, he made no mention of those who are already in the throes of deportation. What's more, he also failed to acknowledge the seven Latino/a immigrants who have taken refuge in churches - in Tempe and Tucson, Arizona; Denver, Colorado; Chicago, Illinois; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Portland, Oregon - in public defiance of policies that threaten to separate parents from children, and husbands from wives.

The seven are part of the New Sanctuary Movement (NSM), a growing faith-based initiative that presently involves 120 congregations across the country, 25 of them ready, willing and able to provide residential protection to those at risk of deportation. Church World Service (CWS), a 68-year-old service group that has assisted immigrants and refugees since the end of World War II, is coordinating their efforts.

According to Rev. Noel Andersen, national grassroots coordinator for immigrant rights at CWS, the New Sanctuary Movement is a "direct descendant of abolition, part of the Sanctuary tradition, the idea that people of faith can be a shelter, a buffer between unjust laws and the government. In the case of undocumented people, we can literally stand between the laws being enforced by ICE and the people directly affected by those laws."

The impetus for the NSM, he says, harkens back to 2006, when 1,300 undocumented workers employed by meat processing plants in Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas and Utah were raided in the largest coordinated immigration enforcement action in US history. Subsequent raids on plants in six additional states further energized - and enraged - people who found these practices repugnant. "Sanctuary has been a way for us to serve a moral imperative," Andersen said, "a way for us to lift up the story of those most impacted by our broken immigration policy."

Such activism is not without precedent. Back in 1982, Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona, became the first US congregation to allow an undocumented immigrant to take sanctuary behind church walls. By the middle of the decade, more than 500 synagogues, churches and temples had followed suit, angering - and in many cases embarrassing - the government.

A year later, in 1986, 16 Mexican and US-based religious leaders were indicted. According to law professor Ellen Yaroshefsky, one of the attorneys who represented those arrested, the 16 were charged with "conspiracy, encouraging and aiding illegal aliens to enter the United States by shielding, harboring and transporting them." Eleven people went to trial, Yaroshefsky says; eight were found guilty, with penalties ranging from probation to suspended sentences, to brief periods of house arrest.

This crackdown has not deterred today's activists. Instead, they say they are following a "prophetic tradition" that is grounded in Scripture.

The canonical Gospel of Matthew is frequently cited: "I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me."

Similarly, an Old Testament passage in which God ordered Moses to establish places of respite for people being persecuted, grounds the NSM and provides the rationale for an Interfaith Covenant of Sanctuary that was completed in October as a model for congregations to consider.

"There are mothers sending their children into the river," the covenant declares, "not the Nile like Moses, but the Rio Grande, in hope that they might escape violence. Children have come seeking safety and to be reunited with their parents and family. If we found Moses in the water, what would we do? If Mary and Joseph fled to the United States to escape violence at home, what would we do? They seek protection from violence, economic desperation, and our policies are seeking to return them to harm."

Dramatic? Absolutely. But as has been well-publicized, the Obama administration has for the past four years deported between 1,000 and 1,100 undocumented people per day, 368,644 in fiscal year 2013 alone.

"We can't allow this to continue," Sarah Lanius, co-founder of Keep Tucson Together, told Truthout. "If the only relief that is possible is for people to go into sanctuary, then so be it."

Lanius is working with Rosa Robles Loreto, a 43-year-old Mexican-born woman who has been in sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church since August 7. Loreto was picked up by the Tucson police in September 2010 when she accidently drove her car into a construction zone. After being questioned by the sheriff, she spent two months in Border Control custody but was released after her husband paid her bond. "Her family had hired a lawyer who did the bare minimum," Lanius said. "He failed to ask for the one form of relief available, prosecutorial discretion."

Lanius is referring to a policy, outlined in a 2011 memo written by former ICE director John Morton, that allows the agency to use common sense when determining which cases to pursue. The memo asks apprehending officers to consider a person's criminal history and family ties before initiating deportation proceedings.

"Rosa has two sons, ages 11 and 8," Lanius said. "She came over on a visa, which she overstayed, but her family is rooted here in the US. She has 16 US permanent resident or citizen relatives here. Her kids are fanatic baseball players. Her husband coaches her older son's team and she is a community volunteer. Before she went into sanctuary, she used to organize carpools and supported the team and cheered her sons on, but now her boys only see her on weekends and holidays."

Lanius' frustration is audible as she lambastes the Obama administration's lip service - but inaction - on "prosecutorial discretion." For the last few years, she sighs, "the administration has been saying that they don't want to deport people, like Rosa, who have extensive community connections and no criminal record, but so far they have been unwilling to exercise the authority they themselves have authorized."

Lanius also cites another inherent problem with ICE: the classification of people into categories of "good" immigrants who should not be deported, and their "bad" counterparts who should. "People with criminal records which render them deportable have very often been arrested for something so minor most of us would scoff at it, like shoplifting," she said. "They usually also have families that will suffer when one member is deported." In these cases, she asks why they can't just pay a fine or do community service, the same penalty that would be given to a US citizen who commits a similar offense.

It's a great question, so far unaddressed by the Obama administration.

Like Lanius, Chicago NSM staffer Lissette Castillo is working directly with people facing deportation proceedings. As a project of the 30-year-old Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America, the Windy City's NSM chapter also addresses the root causes of migration: trade policies, like NAFTA, that exacerbate wage gaps and increase the cost of basic goods; environmental degradation; violence; and war.

In her capacity as a community organizer, Castillo assisted 32-year-old Beatriz Santiago Ramirez, an indigenous Mexican woman and mother of two US-born children after she took sanctuary in Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in early September. Although the case had a relatively happy ending - Ramirez was given a work permit after eight weeks in sanctuary - Castillo says that Ramirez's situation highlights much of what is wrong with immigration policy.

Like Loreto, Castillo first tangled with immigration officials following a traffic violation. Neither case was anomalous: In fiscal 2013, nearly 58,000 people entered deportation due to vehicular infractions such as a broken tail light or making an unauthorized turn. But Castillo notes that Ramirez should never have entered deportation proceedings since she was eligible for a U visa. "A U visa protects immigrants who are victims of a crime but who cooperate with the authorities to nab the perpetrator," Castillo said. "Beatriz fell into this category after she was assaulted. Unfortunately, the process of getting a U visa is confusing and complicated. A lot of immigrants don't even know that these visas exist and in some places there isn't even a point person to sign the application for one."

Not surprisingly, by the time Ramirez learned of her eligibility, she had missed the filing deadline and was in the process of being deported.

Nonetheless, Castillo credits the support that Ramirez received from diverse religious communities for the positive outcome of her case. "ICE did not expect all these non-Latino parishes to come into a space that is typically isolated, to say, 'We're keeping tabs on this. We care about Beatriz.' The different congregations made clear to ICE that this is not just an issue for Latinos. It's an issue of morality and of faith."

Castillo also notes that the NSM has been working to open up dialogue on a broad array of immigration issues throughout Chicago. "Stories are incredibly important," she added. This summer, for example, she worked with many unaccompanied minors entering the United States. "When we spoke in different communities, folks had a lot of questions: What kind of a parent would send a kid on such a dangerous journey? We turned the question around, asking people to imagine the circumstances in which they might send a child off. Clearly, the only way a parent would do that was if the journey was a better option, that what awaited them at home was far worse than the possible perils of travel."

Most of her work, she says, involves "nonsense that impacts people with no criminal record who are simply trying to get by and live their lives." This is why sharing the experiences of people like Loreto and Ramirez matter, she says, since telling their stories helps to "debunk the narrative that classifies undocumented immigrants as criminals."

Toward that end, in April, Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter signed an executive order ending collaboration between federal immigration officials and the city police department. "We worked for six years to end Philadelphia's local deportation policy," said Nicole Kligerman, a community organizer with the Philadelphia NSM. "Getting the police department not to automatically cooperate with ICE is one of the most important policy changes in the country." Under the executive order, those serving less than two years in Philadelphia jails will not be questioned about their immigration status or referred to ICE.

In addition, as of mid-November, a Honduran mother and her two US-born children have taken sanctuary in the city's West Kensington Ministry.

"Some local congregations have questioned the legality of this," Kligerman said. "We make clear that it is civil disobedience. We are seeking to break an unjust law."

Rabbi Linda Holtzman of Philadelphia's Tikkun Olam Chavura is actively supporting the NSM. "If you look at the prophets - Jeremiah, Jesus, Isaiah - they saw the truth and said to people, 'Wake up and act on these truths.' The New Sanctuary Movement comes out of that tradition. The US can't make it impossible for people to live safely in their own countries and then make it impossible for them to live safely in the US."

News Wed, 26 Nov 2014 10:41:27 -0500
Torture Report: Mark Udall's Historic Moment to Rescue CIA Oversight

In the struggle over the release of the CIA torture report, a litmus test of the ability and willingness of Congress to conduct any meaningful oversight of the CIA, outgoing Colorado Sen. Mark Udall may be the Senate Democrats' last line of defense.

2014.11.25.Udall.MainSen. Mark Udall. (Photo: Talk Radio News Service / Flickr)Will Truthout keep publishing stories like this in 2015 and beyond? That depends on readers like you. Donate now to ensure our work continues!

"Time Is Running Out on the CIA Torture Report," National Journal reports:

Backroom negotiations over the release of a long-delayed Senate report on the George W. Bush administration's use of so-called "enhanced interrogation" practices are again hitting a wall.
The Senate is set to adjourn in mid-December, but [Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne] Feinstein can still hold off on submitting the report until the start of next year by obtaining a consent agreement that would allow her to file when Congress is not in session.

But the extension would only give Feinstein a few weeks of extra daylight. The current Senate will formally expire at noon on Jan. 3.
The continued fraying of negotiations has some suggesting that the White House might be intentionally stalling, in hopes that it can run out the clock on the report's release, especially with Republicans slated to take over.

National Journal notes that outgoing Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colorado) - no longer constrained even in theory by the perceived need to curry favor with power - is the last line of defense for Senate Democrats: He can declassify the Senate Intelligence Committee's preferred version of the report by himself, by reading it into the Congressional Record, under the protection of the US Constitution's speech or debate clause.

More is at stake than establishing a public record on the CIA's use of torture and its illegal attempts to hide its crimes from other executive branch officials and Congress, important though that is. The struggle over the release of the CIA torture report is a litmus test of the ability and willingness of Congress to conduct any meaningful oversight of the CIA at all. If Senate Democrats lose this crucial confrontation with the CIA, the negative effects are likely to be wide-ranging and long-lasting.

As National Journal notes, "Civil-liberties advocates say publicizing the document also represents a major sign of progress for the Intelligence Committee as it seeks to reestablish itself as a watchdog of the CIA." Acting as a watchdog over the intelligence agencies - that's exactly what the Intelligence Committee was established by the Senate to do following the CIA scandals of the 1970s. You can only "reestablish" yourself as something if you stopped doing it. So what's at stake here is whether the Intelligence Committee can resume the role assigned to it by Congress of acting as a watchdog over the CIA. The likely alternative is no effective oversight of the CIA by Congress at all.

If there is no effective oversight of the CIA by Congress at all, that's a mortal threat to the idea that we should be a constitutional, rule of law democracy when it comes to deciding on the use of military force in other people's countries.

Many of the democratic, rule of law and human rights abuses of the "long war" since 2001 are fundamentally questions of CIA oversight or the lack of it. How many civilians have been killed by US drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia? The government refuses to say publicly, because "that's classified." How did such a basic fact get to be classified? Because the drone war is a "CIA operation." The planes are generally US military planes; the pilots are generally US military pilots. But it's a "CIA operation," so it's classified.

Of course the track record suggests that the causation actually runs the other way; it's not classified because it's a CIA operation; it's a CIA operation in order for it to be classified. The Obama administration has chosen to make it a CIA operation so the US government won't have to answer questions about it on the public record. The executive branch has perceived - largely correctly, unfortunately, until now - stamping a CIA label on an operation as a get-out-of-jail-free card to escape transparency and accountability.

This game is extremely damaging to the Schoolhouse Rock notion that we should make basic policy choices in a transparent and democratic way about whether, when and how the US government should try to kill people in other people's countries.

Consider the question of US military involvement in the civil war in Syria. This is a policy that was chosen without a congressional debate and vote. Last year, when it was first proposed that the United States arm Syrian insurgents, a bipartisan group of members of Congress, led by Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont) and Rep. Chris Gibson (R- New York), objected and introduced an amendment to block it.

But the Republican leadership in the House, acting in collusion with the White House, blocked the Gibson-Welch amendment from coming to a vote. The consequence of this was that the administration was able to run the policy of arming Syrian rebels as a CIA operation with the approval of the intelligence committees - Congress didn't debate and Congress didn't vote. The current strength of ISIS is in significant measure a consequence of US military intervention in Syria's civil war; some of their weapons were originally sent to other Syrian rebels, but Congress never approved that.

This year, Congress did debate and vote on a military program to arm and train the Syrian rebels. But by this time, the CIA program was already an accomplished fact. Indeed, The Washington Post reports that the CIA program is already operating at the scale that the military program is supposed to be operating at a year from now.

The size of the CIA program turns the congressional debate over the military program into a kind of farce. On the one hand, we're going to have this great show of a debate and vote on the military program, allowing Congress to attach transparency and accountability conditions. Meanwhile, we'll do whatever the hell we want through the CIA. The facts on the ground created by the nontransparent and unaccountable CIA part of foreign military policy decisively shape debate on the (relatively) more transparent and accountable Pentagon part: What's the point of going to the wall to oppose or restrict the military program, if the administration is going to do whatever the hell they want anyway under a less transparent and less accountable CIA program?

On the CIA torture report, Senate Democrats drew a line in the sand. "Choose your battles," the saying goes. That's the battle that the Senate Democrats chose. That's where they put down their marker. That's why, if the Senate Democrats lose this confrontation, it will be especially devastating. The story will be told that even when Senate Democrats decided to make a stand for CIA oversight, they got rolled.

And that's why it's so urgent for Senator Udall to find his phone booth and change into his Transparency Man superhero uniform. At this writing, 140,000 Americans are urging Udall to act. You can join us here.

Opinion Tue, 25 Nov 2014 15:40:08 -0500
Can Democrats Set Out a New Path?

2014.11.25.DT.MainUS Senators, including Chuck Schumer (D-New York), push for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would ensure women receive equal pay for equal work, April 2014. (Photo: Senate Democrats / Flickr)If you value media that isn't controlled by advertisers or billionaire sponsors, show your support today! Donate to Truthout now to keep independent media strong.

Democrats must embrace a pro-government platform, not run away from it.

Those were the sentiments of Sen. Chuck Schumer today, in a speech given at the National Press Club.

Talking about the reasons for Democrats' losses on Election Day, Schumer said that those losses were proof that the US public and middle class want a government that will work more effectively for them.

He went on to say that, for the first time ever, the middle class has lost faith in the American Dream, and that in 2014, Democrats lost because the US public has lost faith in the party and the government's ability to improve the lives of the middle class.

But it wasn't always like this.

As Schumer pointed out, a pro-government mentality dominated the US and the political landscape from the days of FDR until 1980 when Reagan came to Washington.

With FDR's New Deal policies and programs, the US public saw that government can strengthen the middle class, improve the economy and protect everyone's ability to live the American Dream.

For several generations, Americans trusted our government's ability to improve living conditions for the working class. As a result, Democrats stayed in power for a long time.

Then Reagan happened, and everything changed.

First, as Schumer points out, the Democratic Party veered way off course while Reagan was president, and abandoned its working-class base.

Second, Schumer says that because the Democratic Party had been so successful at creating a stable economy that worked for everyone for so long, people began to think that they no longer needed government, and were fine on their own.

Reagan capitalized on those sentiments, and was able to successfully create an anti-government mentality that exists to this day, and that helped fuel the Republican landslide on Election Day.

But this anti-government mentality that exists today isn't just some random phenomenon.

There are lots of reasons for it.

As Schumer said, "When government fails to prosecute those who work in financial institutions (some of which were propped up or bailed out by the government) for what seems, on its face, blatant fraud - Americans feel that government is not working for them. When CEOs and executives pay less in taxes than their secretaries - Americans feel that government is not working for them."

So, what can be done to restore the US peoples' trust in the Democratic Party's and our government's ability to protect and strengthen the middle class? How do we go back to the pre-1980 days?

Schumer suggested Democrats should start taking more of a populist approach, saying that populism is, "necessary to open the door before we can rally people to the view that a strong government program must be implemented."

One of the biggest takeaways from the 2014 election is that, nationally, progressive ideas and policies are very popular.

All across the United States, progressive ballot initiatives won and progressive candidates won.

Those are the very same progressive ideas and policies that made the US public trust the Democratic Party and our government for over four decades from the 1930s to the 1980s.

And, those are the ideas and polices that both built the Democratic Party and the US middle class.

As the old saying goes, sometimes you have to look back in order to go forward.

If the Democratic Party is serious about taking back Washington in 2016, then it needs to embrace its base, and restore the US public's faith in our government.

Opinion Tue, 25 Nov 2014 15:22:24 -0500
Economic Update: Economics of Private Property

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News Wed, 26 Nov 2014 00:00:00 -0500
Russians Invade Afghanistan (Again!), Chinese Fight Iraq War (Again!): What If It Weren't Us?

Let’s play a game, the kind that makes no sense on this single-superpower planet of ours. For a moment, do your best to suspend disbelief and imagine that there’s another superpower, great power, or even regional power somewhere that, between 2001 and 2003, launched two major wars in the Greater Middle East. We’re talking about full-scale invasions, long-term occupations, and nation-building programs, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq.

In both countries, that power quickly succeeded in its stated objective of “regime change,” only to find itself mired in deadly conflicts with modestly armed minority insurgencies that it simply couldn’t win. In each country, to the tune of billions and billions of dollars, it built up a humongous army and allied “security” forces, poured money into “reconstruction” projects (most of which proved disasters of corruption and incompetence), and spent trillions of dollars of national treasure.

Having imagined that, ask yourself: How well did all of that turn out for this other power?  In Afghanistan, a recent news story highlights something of what was accomplished.  Though that country took slot 175 out of 177 on Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, though its security forces continue to suffer grievous casualties, and though parts of the country are falling to a strengthening Taliban insurgency, it has for some years proudly held a firm grip on one record: Afghanistan is the leading narco-state on planet Earth.

In 2013, it upped its opium poppy cultivation by 36%, its opium production by almost 50%, and drug profits soared. Preliminary figures for this year, recently released by the U.N., indicate that opium cultivation has risen by another 7% and opium production by 17%, both to historic highs, as Afghanistan itself has become “one of the world’s most addicted societies.”

Meanwhile, where there once was Iraq (171st on that index of kleptocracies), there is now a Shiite government in Baghdad defended by a collapsed army and sectarian militias, a de facto Kurdish state to the north, and, in the third of the country in-between, a newly proclaimed “caliphate” run by a terror movement so brutal it’s establishing records for pure bloodiness.  It’s headed by men whose West Point was a military prison run by that same great power and its bloodthirstiness is funded in part by captured oil fields and refineries.

In other words, after 13 years of doing its damnedest, on one side of the Greater Middle East this power has somehow overseen the rise of the dominant narco-state on the planet with monopoly control over 80%-90% of the global opium supply and 75% of the heroin. On the other side of the region, it’s been complicit in the creation of the first terrorist mini-oil state in history, a post-al-Qaeda triumph of extreme jihadism.

A Fraudulent Election and a Collapsed Army

Though I have no doubt that the fantasy of relocating Washington’s deeds to Beijing, Moscow, Tehran, or any other capital crumbled paragraphs ago, take a moment for one more experiment.  If this had been the work of any other power we thought less well of than we do of ourselves, imagine the blazing headlines right now.  Conjure up -- and it shouldn’t be hard -- what the usual war hawks would be spouting in Congress, what the usual suspects on the Sunday morning talk shows might be saying, and what stories cable news networks from CNN to Fox would be carrying.

You know perfectly well that the denunciations of such global behavior would be blistering, that the assorted pundits and talking heads would be excoriating, that the fear and hysteria over that heroin and those terrorists crossing our border would be somewhere in the stratosphere.  You would hear words like “evil” and “barbaric.”  It would be implied, or stated outright, that this avalanche of disaster was no happenstance but planned by that same grim power with its hand on the trigger these last 13 years, in part to harm the interests of the United States.  We would never hear the end of it.

Instead, the recent reports about Afghanistan’s bumper crop of opium poppies slipped by in the media like a ship on a dark ocean.  No blame was laid, no responsibility mentioned.  There were neither blazing headlines, nor angry jeremiads, nor blistering comments -- none of the things that would have been commonplace if the Russians, the Chinese, or the Iranians had been responsible.

Just about no one in the mainstream excoriates or blames Washington for the 13 years leading up to this.  In fact, to the extent that Washington is blamed at all for the rise of the Islamic State, the focus has been on the Obama administration’s decision not to stay longer in Iraq in 2011 and do even more of the same.  (Hence, President Obama's recent decision to extend the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan through at least 2015.)

All in all, we’ve experienced a remarkable performance here when it comes to not connecting the dots or feeling the need to assign responsibility or accountability for what’s happened in these years.  In some fashion, we Americans continue to see ourselves, as we have since 9/11, as victims, not destabilizers, of the world we inhabit.

To add to this spectacle, the Obama administration spent endless weeks helping engineer a fraudulent Afghan presidential election -- funded in part by the opium trade -- into a new, extra-constitutional form of government.  The actual vote count in that election is now, by mutual agreement of the two presidential candidates, never to be revealed.  All of this took place, in part, simply to have an Afghan president in place who could ink a new bilateral security agreement that would leave U.S. troops and bases there for afurther decade.  If another country had meddled with an election in this fashion, can you imagine the headlines and commentary?  While reported here, all of this again passed by without significant comment.

When it comes to a path “forward” in Iraq, it’s been ever deeper into Iraq War 3.0.  Since a limited, “humanitarian” bombing campaign began in August, the Obama administration and the Pentagon have been on the up escalator: more air strikes, more advisers, more weaponry, more money.

Two and a half weeks ago, the president doubled the corps of American advisers (plus assorted other U.S. personnel) there to 3,000-plus.  Last week, the news came in that they were being hustled into the country faster than expected -- specifically into dangerous, war-torn al-Anbar Province -- to retrain the American-created, now thoroughly sectarian Iraqi army, reportedly in a state of remarkable disarray.

In the meantime, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, the Pentagon, and the White House continue to struggle over whether American boots can be put on the ground in a combat capacity, and if so, how many and in what roles in a “war” that essentially may have no legal basis in the American system of government. (Shades of Afghanistan!)  Of course, much of this internecine struggle in Washington is likely to be obviated the first time U.S. advisers are attacked in Anbar Province or elsewhere and boots end up hitting the ground fast, weapons firing.

Vietnamizing Iraq, Iraqicizing Vietnam

In the meantime, think about what we would have said if the Russians had acted as Washington did in Afghanistan, or if the Chinese had pursued an Iraq-like path in a country of their choosing for the third time with the same army, the same “unified” government, the same drones and weaponry, and in key cases, the same personnel!  (Or, if you want to make the task easier for yourself, just check out U.S. commentary these last months on Ukraine.)

For those of a certain age, the escalatory path the Obama administration has set us on in Iraq has a certain resonance and so, not surprisingly, at the edges of our world, familiar words like “quagmire” are again rising.  And who could deny that there’s something eerily familiar about it all?  Keep in mind that it took less than three years for the Kennedy administration to transition from the first several hundred American advisers it sent to Vietnam to work with the South Vietnamese Army in 1961 to 16,000 armed “advisers” in November 1963 when the president was assassinated.

The Obama administration seems to be in the grips of a similar escalatory fever and on a somewhat similar schedule, even if ahead of the Vietnam timetable when it comes to loosing air power over Iraq and Syria.  However, the comparison is, in a sense, unfair to the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. After all, they were in the dark; they didn’t have a “Vietnam” to refer to.

For a more accurate equivalent, you would have to conjure up a Vietnam scenario that couldn’t have happened.  You would have to imagine that, in May 1975, at the time of the Mayaguez Incident (in which the Cambodians seized an American ship), just two weeks after the South Vietnamese capital Saigon fell, or perhaps even more appropriately in terms of the dual chronologies of the two wars, in December 1978 when the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia, President Gerald Ford had decided to send thousands of American troops back into Vietnam.

Inconceivable as that was then, only such an absurd scenario could catch the true eeriness of the escalatory path of our third Iraq war.

Four More Years!  Four More Years!

Try to imagine the reaction here, if the Russians were suddenly to send their military back into conflict-ridden Afghanistan to refight the lost war of the 1980s more effectively, bringing old Red Army commanders out of retirement to do so.

As it happens, the present war in Iraq and Syria is so unnervingly déjà vu all over again that an equivalency of any sort is next to impossible to conjure up.  However, since in the American imagination terrorism has taken over the bogeyman-like role that Communism once filled, the new Islamic State might in one sense at least be considered the equivalent of the North Vietnamese (and the rebel National Liberation Front, or Vietcong, in South Vietnam).  There is, for instance, some similarity in the inflamed fantasies Washington has attached to each: in the way both were conjured up here as larger-than-life phenomena capable of spreading across the globe.  (Look up “domino theory” on the meaning of a Communist victory in South Vietnam if you doubt me.)

There is also at least some equivalency in the inability of American leaders and commanders to bring the nature, or even the numbers, of the enemy into sharp focus.  Only recently, for instance, General Dempsey, who has played a crucial role in the launching of this latest war, rushed off on just the sort of “surprise visit” to Baghdad that American officials often made to Saigon to proclaim “progress” or “light at the end of the tunnel” in the Vietnam War.  He met with American Marines at the massive U.S. embassy in that city and offered an assessment that seemed to capture some of Washington’s confusions about the nature of its newest war.

Keep in mind that, at the moment the war was launched, the Islamic State was being portrayed here as a monster movement engorging itself on the region, one that potentially imperiled just about every American interest on the planet.  In Baghdad, Dempsey suddenly insisted that the monster was faltering, that the momentum of battle in Iraq was “starting to turn.”  He then labeled the militants of the Islamic State as "a bunch of midgets running around with a really radical ideology" and concluded that, despite the nature of those formerly giant, now-puny fellows and the changing momentum of the war, it might nonetheless take “years” to win.  On his return to Washington he became more specific, claiming that the war could last up to four years and adding, “This is my third shot at Iraq, and that's probably a poor choice of words." Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers recently offered a similar four-year estimate, but tagged an “or more” onto it. (Four more years! Four more years! Or more! Or more!)

Despite their sudden access to crystal balls some 11-and-a-half years after the initial invasion of Iraq, such estimates should be taken with a grain of salt.  They reveal less a serious assessment of the Islamic State than just how shaky America’s top leadership, civilian and military, has become about what the U.S. is capable of achieving in the wake of an era of dismal failure in the Greater Middle East.

In reality, unlike North Vietnam in 1963, the Islamic “State” is a wildly sectarian rebel movement that sits atop what is at best a shaky proto-state (despite recent laughable news reports about claims that it will soon mint gold or silver coins).  It is not popular across the region.  Its growth is bound to be limited both by its extreme ideology and its Sunni sectarianism.  It faces enemies galore.  While its skill in puffing itself up -- in Wizard of Oz fashion -- to monstrous size and baiting the U.S. into further involvement may be striking, it is neither a goliath nor a “midget.”

General Dempsey can’t know how long (or short) its lifespan in the region may be.  One thing we do know, however: as long as the global giant, the United States, continues to escalate its fight against the Islamic State, it gains a credibility and increasing popularity in the world of jihadism that it would never otherwise garner.  As historian Stephen Kinzer wrote recently of the movement’s followers, “To face the mighty United States on Middle Eastern soil, and if possible to kill an American or die at American hands, is their dream. We are giving them a chance to realize it. Through its impressive mastery of social media, the Islamic State is already using our escalation as a recruiting tool.”

Awaiting Iraq War 4.0

Given all this, it should amaze us how seldom the dismal results of America’s actions in the Greater Middle East are mentioned in this country.  Think of it this way: Washington entered Iraq War 3.0 with a military that, for 13 years, had proven itself incapable of making its way to victory.  It entered the latest battle with an air force that, from the “shock and awe” moment it launched 50 “decapitation” strikes against Saddam Hussein and his top officials and killed none of them but dozens of ordinary Iraqis, has brought none of its engagements to what might be called a positive conclusion.  It entered battle with an interlocking set of 17 intelligence agencies that have eaten the better part of a trillion taxpayer dollars in these years and yet, in an area where the U.S. has fought three wars, still manages to be surprised by just about any development, an area that, in the words of an anonymous American official, remains a “black hole” of information.  It has entered battle with leaders who, under the strain of fast-moving events, make essentially the same decision again and again to ever worse results.

In the end, the American national security machinery seems incapable of dealing with the single thing it was built to destroy in the 9/11 period: Islamic terrorism.  Instead its troops, special ops forces, drones, and intelligence operatives have destabilized and inflamed country after country, while turning a minor phenomenon on the planet into, as recent figures indicate, an increasing force for turmoil across the Greater Middle East and Africa.

Given the history of this last period, even if the Islamic State were to collapse tomorrow under American pressure, there would likely be worse to come.  It might not look like that movement or anything else we’ve experienced thus far, but it will predictably shock American officials yet again.  Whatever it may be, rest assured that there’s a solution for it brewing in Washington and you already know what it is.  Call it Iraq War 4.0.

To put the present escalating disaster in the region in perspective, a final analogy to Vietnam might be in order.  If, in 1975, you had suggested to Americans that, almost four decades later, the U.S. and Vietnam would be de facto allies in a new Asia, no one would have believed you, and yet such is the case today.

The Vietnamese decisively won their war against Washington, though much of their country was destroyed and millions died in the process.  In the U.S., the bitterness and sense of defeat took years to recede.  It’s worth remembering that the first president to launch a war in Iraq in 1990 was convinced that the singularly tonic effect of "victory" there was to “kick the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all.”  Now, all of official Washington seems to have a post-modern, twenty-first-century version of the same syndrome.

In the meantime, the world changed in few of the ways anyone expected.  Communism did not sweep the Third World and has since disappeared except in Vietnam, now a U.S. ally, tiny Cuba, and that wreck of a country, North Korea, as well as the world’s leading state on the “capitalist road,” China.  In other words, none of the inflamed fears of that era panned out.

Whatever the bloody horror, fragmentation, and chaos in the Middle East today, 40 years from now the fears and fantasies that led Washington into such repetitively destructive behavior will look no less foolish than the domino theory does today.  If only, in a final thought experiment, we could simply skip those decades and instantly look back upon the present nightmare from the clearer light of a future day, perhaps the next predictable escalatory steps might be avoided.  But don't hold your breath, not with Washington chanting "Four more years!," "Four more years!"

Opinion Tue, 25 Nov 2014 12:38:33 -0500
The Games People Play: One Year After the Rise of the Maidan Movement in Ukraine

One year after mass protests erupted in Kiev's Maidan Square, a Ukrainian commentator looks back on a protest movement ostensibly aimed against "corruption," devoted to forging economic and political ties with the leading capitalist countries and ultimately dominated by right-wing nationalism.

2014.11.25.Kiev.MainProtests in Maidan Square in Kiev, Ukraine, December 29, 2013. (Photo: maksymenko oleksandr / Flickr)

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It is one year since mass protests erupted in Maidan Square in central Kiev and in other cities in the west of Ukraine. The protest movement was ostensibly aimed against "corruption," (1) but its central demand was to forge economic and political ties with the leading capitalist countries of Europe. The "Euromaidan" movement came to be dominated by right-wing nationalism and led to the overthrow of the elected president of the country in late February 2014. The author of the following article recently joined the editorial team of Ukraine's web journal The website includes a section of articles translated to English.

Congratulations, my dear compatriots! You have an absolute and unquestionable victory - the victory of foolishness, cruelty, hatred and ignorance over common sense.
Could you have expected just a year ago, as people arrived with their coffees at Kiev's central square to join the movement proudly called "Euromaidan," how things would turn out? Could you expect that we would lose Crimea, thousands of our compatriots would die in war and children of Eastern Ukraine would hide in basements (2) instead of starting the school year on September 1, with traditional bunches of flowers in hand? Did you think at that time that you would fear to read the news because of the constant reports of death and destruction? Did you guess that instead of the promised average salary of 1,000 euros for each of you, you would get an unprecedented currency inflation (now at 20 hryvnia per USD) and a Cossack, M. Gavrylyuk, as your future MP? (3)

I know: The intentions of the majority might be sincere and the purest. You wanted to depose the president-oligarch Yanukovych, become a part of the West, overcome corruption and gain new ideals. But did you think that, in reality, you were taking the easy road? The development of society is not a Hollywood blockbuster. Oligarchy and corruption are not monsters from hell that can simply be killed off, and then peace and good order will reign. System changes cannot be achieved by deposing some bad officials and destroying some cities. It is also impossible to impose a new ideology by force or by destroying the monuments of older ideology.

The destiny of countries is not being decided in Maidan Squares. It is decided by hard work, every day - an ability to negotiate; think clearly and follow sound, personal practices; reject corruption (I'm sorry, a box of chocolates for your child's teacher or a 100 hryvnia note slipped into your medical form - that's corruption (4)); relentlessly pursue self-education and distinguish good information from bad. And, of course, it's also about the ability to withstand media manipulation and act on the basis of reason, not blind allegiance.

The victims who were killed in Maidan, it appears, died for nothing, since all we got was war and ruin in all spheres of society instead of a prosperous country. Some may argue and foam at the mouth that we'll achieve everything promised in a few years. Ukraine will become a highly developed and prosperous country - provided we defeat the monstrous, external enemy. However, the fact is that Euromaidan and all subsequent events in Ukraine have turned back the clock. They have thrown the country backward by decades. New enemies will now emerge constantly because our new authorities need to have "The Big Bad Other" to blame for their own crimes or incompetence.

Have you noticed that last winter, during Euromaidan, we knew the name of every person wounded or killed? Social networks were full of black icons and news reports providing all the tragic details. Everyone grieved for those, believed to be heroes, selected for death and then glorified in the media like the heroes in ancient songs, sacrificed to monsters for the sake of victory. Euromaidan created symbols with hyper-real features out of quite real people.
Today - amidst the war, which is not symbolic, but quite real - the names of the dead are being erased. People are being dehumanized, deprived of their humanity. Today, the victims are counted in dozens, hundreds and thousands. The sheer numbers make it easier to escape, to hide from pain or fear. The war becomes a kind of [soccer] game, watched safely from a distance. When the war is perceived in this way, one doesn't fear to send new players into the "game," to replace those dropped from the match after a "penalty card." Maybe those who dropped out were killed, but who cares? It's just a game!

Actually, Maidan had integral features of a game. It was a triumphal game - one could watch it and enjoy the smallest achievements. The spectator was drawn to participate in the game, run onto the field and score a goal or, at least, pass the ball. But today, the game has become too brutal. Everyone loses. That's why we want to turn our backs and put as much distance from it as possible. We don't want to see it anymore. However, the game will go on for as long as the spectators are in the stands and the players wage their war, hoping to win the "cup."

But as you should know, there are not only opposing spectators involved in the game. There are also coaches and clubs owners. It is the latter who are benefitting from the spectacle, feeding it to the crowd.

Translated from the original version in Ukrainian that was published on the left-wing Ukrainian website The title of the article refers to the 1964 bestselling book, The Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships, by Eric Berne.


1. See 'Anti-corruption, another name for economic abuse,' on Left East, July 20, 2014.

2. 'Children in basements' is referring to the speech by Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko last month in the city of Odessa where he pledged to continue the war in east Ukraine, saying, "Our children will go to schools and kindergartens, while theirs will hole up in basements [bomb shelters]."

3. Mykhailo Gavryliuk is a right-wing nationalist who dressed as a Cossack during the Maidan protests and became one of its symbols. He later volunteered to fight in the war in eastern Ukraine. On October 26, he was elected to the Ukrainian parliament (Rada) on the Peoples Front ticket of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Cossacks are Slavic inhabitants of the territory that today includes southeast Ukraine. During the Russian Tsarist monarchy, many Cossack communities became military estates in the service of the Tsar.

4. Health care in Ukraine is public and free, but service can be very poor. It is common to slip a banknote into medical forms when submitted to a doctor in order to receive a better quality of service.

Opinion Tue, 25 Nov 2014 12:52:27 -0500
On the News With Thom Hartmann: Walmart Is One of the World's Biggest Consumers of Coal, and More

In today's On the News segment: According to a new report from The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Walmart is one of the world's biggest consumers of coal; learning a second language is like bodybuilding for your brain; the Food and Drug Administration is tasked with ensuring the safety of what we put into our bodies, but it has no authority over most of the stuff we put on our skin; and more.


Thom Hartmann here - on the best of the rest & green news.....

You need to know this. Most of us know that taxpayers subsidize Walmart's low wages with billions of dollars in Medicaid, food stamps, and other financial assistance for workers. But, did you know that we're also subsidizing the retail giant by paying the cost of their environmental destruction? According to a new report from The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Walmart is one of the world's biggest consumers of coal, which makes them one of the leading carbon polluters. The authors of that study calculated how much electricity the chain uses, how much coal they consume, and the greenhouse gas emitted by every Walmart store and distribution center in our country. The results were "staggering" - showing that Walmart uses 19.5 million megawatt hours of energy – the same amount used by "every industrial facility in New Jersey and West Virginia put together." That is six times more electricity than the entire U.S. Auto industry uses, and 75 percent of all that energy comes from coal. Walmart isn't only dodging their responsibility to pay a living wage or contribute to our nation by paying their fair share of taxes. They're also skipping out on the bill when it comes to society's cost of cleaning up our environment. Bill McKibben of said, "It's unconscionable that the country's largest employer and the world's largest company is choosing to hurt our planet and hurt working families with its dirty operations and poverty pay." He added, "Walmart and the Waltons can help our communities truly live better by switching to clean energy and paying workers a fair wage." And, McKibben is exactly right. One of the best ways to make that happen is to stop covering the costs of their bad practices. Let's end the subsidies by making Walmart pay a living wage, and by putting a tax on the tons of carbon that they're pumping into our atmosphere.

Learning a second language is like bodybuilding for your brain. A new study in the journal "Brain and Language" says that the higher-level brain functions of bilingual people are more efficient than the brain functions of people who speak only one language. In their research, scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging – aka fMRI – to study the brains of 35 people, including 18 who only spoke English, and 17 who spoke English and Spanish. The test subjects were shown a combination of pictures and words, and were given the name of one picture verbally. The volunteers had to pick out the picture that corresponded to the word they were given, and the bilinguals subjects were better at filtering out all of the unrelated content. The scientists explained that bilingual people constantly activate two languages in their brain, and they have to choose which words to use and which to ignore. Because they're constantly filtering language in their minds, they're better able to filter out irrelevant information, and focus more on the task at hand. Maybe we all could focus more and increase our brain power by taking up a second language.

The Food and Drug Administration is tasked with ensuring the safety of what we put into our bodies, but they have no authority over most of the stuff we put on our skin. Unlike the medication and meals we consume, the FDA can't regulate the chemicals in our beauty products. Our soap, toothpaste, lotion, and sunscreen is packed with harmful synthetic chemicals, and most consumers don't even realize it. According to Harvard's School of Public Health, "the average person is exposed to more than a hundred chemicals from cosmetics, soaps, and other personal care products before leaving the house in the morning." Sage McHugh over at Alternet listed a few of the most toxic examples, like the filters in sunscreen which have been linked to reproductive issues, parabens in our deodorant which interfere with hormones, and toluene in nail polish which has been linked to blood cancer. Although organic personal care products are typically safer, they can be more expensive. It's time for our regulators to step in and protect all consumers from the dangerous chemicals lurking in cosmetic products.

When you think about energy in Texas, you're probably thinking about oil and gas. So, you may be surprised to learn that wind power provides electricity to more than three million homes in the Lonestar State. According to a new article over at, Pew Charitable Trust says that Texas is actually leading our nation in total wind energy capacity, and that they're quickly expanding their solar energy capacity as well. Tom Swanson, manager of Pew's clean energy initiative, said, "These technologies can help manufacturers reduce energy consumption, costs, and water use – all of which are critical in Texas given the state's high electricity prices and chronic droughts." As much as Texas lawmakers suck up to the Oil and Gas Lobby, private investors in that state recognize that good science is good business. Investors and businesses recognize that they can't keep buying and burning fossil fuels forever, regardless of whether or not they believe in climate change. Private investment is making Texas a renewable energy leader, now it's up to legislators to stop dragging their state back to the energy of the last century.

And finally... Kissing a partner is a way to give love and affection, but swapping spit with your loved one shares a whole lot of germs as well. According to a new study out of Amsterdam, every time you kiss someone, you transfer 80 million bacteria to their mouth. The researchers found that couples actually have a lot of similar bacteria, which could be because they kiss often, or because they share similar lifestyles and diets. However, even though couples have similar bacteria, they still exchange any new bacteria that either partner ingests. To verify that theory, the scientists had one partner drink probiotic yogurt, which introduced bacteria that isn't commonly found in the mouth. Then, the partners were asked to kiss again, and scientists measured how much of that probiotic bacteria was exchanged. Although swapping 80 million bacteria may sound a little icky, scientists explained that our mouths are home to about one billion bacteria. Besides, who ever let a few germs stand in the way of a great kiss?

And that's the way it is for the week of November 24, 2014 - I'm Thom Hartmann, on Science & Green News.

News Tue, 25 Nov 2014 11:34:44 -0500
After Vowing to End Combat Mission in Afghanistan, Obama Secretly Extends the United States' Longest War

President Obama has secretly extended the U.S. role in Afghanistan despite earlier promises to wind down America’s longest war. According to The New York Times, Obama has signed a classified order that ensures U.S. troops will have a direct role in fighting. In addition, the order reportedly enables American jets, bombers and drones to bolster Afghan troops on combat missions. And, under certain circumstances, it would apparently authorize U.S. air-strikes to support Afghan military operations throughout the country. The decision contradicts Obama’s earlier announcement that the U.S. military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year. Afghanistan’s new president Ashraf Ghani has also backed an expanded U.S. military role. Ghani, who took office in September, has also reportedly lifted limits on U.S. airstrikes and joint raids that his predecessor Hamid Karzai had put in place. We go to Kabul to speak with Dr. Hakim, a peace activist and physician who has provided humanitarian relief in Afghanistan for the last decade. We are also joined by Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, who has just returned from Afghanistan.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama has secretly extended the U.S. role in Afghanistan despite earlier promises to wind down America’s longest war, this year. According to the New York Times, Obama signed a classified order that ensures American troops will have a direct role in fighting. In addition, the order reportedly enables American jets, bombers and drones to bolster Afghan troops on combat missions. And under certain circumstances, it would apparently authorize U.S. air-strikes to support Afghan military operations throughout the country. The decision contradicts Obama’s earlier announcement that the U.S. military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year. This is Obama speaking at the White House Rose Garden in May.

PRES. OBAMA: America’s combat mission will be over by the end of this year. Starting next year, Afghans will be fully responsible for securing their country. American personnel will be in an advisory role. We will no longer patrol Afghan cities or towns, mountains or valleys. That is a task for the Afghan people. Second, I’ve made it clear that we are open to cooperating with Afghans on two narrow missions after 2014. Training Afghan forces and supporting counterterrorism operations against the remnants of Al Qaeda.

AMY GOODMAN: Under the new order, U.S. troops will be authorized to attack not just Al Qaeda, but the Taliban, the Haqqani network and other militants. President Obama reportedly backtracked from his decision to end the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan after a lengthy and heated debate within the White House. Top generals at the Pentagon and Afghanistan reportedly backed the expanded mission. Afghanistan’s new president, Ashraf Ghani, has also backed an expanded U.S. militant role. Ghani took office in September. He is also reportedly lifted limits on U.S. airstrikes in joint rates that his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, had put in place. Meanwhile, at least 40 people are dead in eastern Afghanistan after a suicide bomber attacked a volleyball match. According to the government of the province, at least 50 more were wounded at the tournament final. Most of the casualties were civilians. In a moment, we will be joined by two guests, we will be joined from Afghanistan by Dr. Hakim, a medical doctor who has provided humanitarian relief in Afghanistan for the last decade. And we will be joined by Kathy Kelly, a well-known peace activist, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. We’re going to go to break and then we will be joined by both of them in Chicago and Kabul, Afghanistan. Stay with us.

[Music Break]

AMY GOODMAN: Military Madness by Woods here on Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. To talk about President Obama’s secret order to extend the war in Afghanistan, we’re joined by two guests. Dr. Hakim, is a medical doctor who has provided humanitarian relief in Afghanistan for the last decade. He works with Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war. Dr. Hakim is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize. And in Chicago, is Kathy Kelly. She’s just back from Kabul, Afghanistan. She is Co-Coordinator for Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare. Her recent article is headlined, "Obama Extends War in Afghanistan: The implications for U.S. democracy are not reassuring." We begin with Dr. Hakim who asked us not to show his face. Dr. Hakim, why don’t you want people to see your face?

DR. HAKIM: Well, security in Afghanistan has been deteriorating over the past few years in the face of the ongoing U.S.-NATO military strategy and for safety reasons I’d rather remain unrecognized.

AMY GOODMAN: So your concerns about the secret order that was just revealed in The New York Times that President Obama has signed onto, what has been the effect of the U.S. war in Afghanistan and what do you think about this latest development?

DR. HAKIM: Well, I think it is good to look at some of the databases that are available in the states itself, a global terrorism database done by the U.S. government and the University of Maryland has shown that since the beginning of the war against terror in 2001, the number of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and in the rest of the world, in Iraq, etc., has increased. And so, if we looked at the graph of that increase and thought of terrorism, or the war against terrorism, as a cancer that needs to be treated —- as a medical doctor I would say the graph shows that the war against terror in Afghanistan -—

AMY GOODMAN: We have just lost Dr. Hakim’s voice. We’re going to go back to him when we can. He is speaking to us from Kabul. Again he is not showing his face out of concern for his safety. Kathy Kelly, you’re just back from Kabul. Talk about your response to this latest news. We just played the clip of President Obama in May saying that the troops would be pulling out, and now the secret order.

KATHY KELLY: Thank you, Amy. I think probably Hakim wanted to continue by saying the war on terror has been a failure. And I think the U.S. public knows that. We learned about heated debate between the advisors to President Obama, but at what point does the court of public opinion consulted in any way? The news released on a Friday night, and was a leak that was disclosed to The New York Times, but apparently the decision was made weeks before the most recent elections. Is it possible that because the Obama administration knows how popular this war is? A CNN poll that had been released in 2013 said 82% of the U.S. public disapproved of continued war in Afghanistan. So in spite of the pledge that the war was going to end, we now find out that, in fact, the war is going to continue. In the Saturday issue of The New York Times, we then learn that, quietly, the new administration in Kabul, under President Ashraf Ghani, has decided to resume the night raids. They want to call them night operations instead of night raids. This is a tactic that doesn’t require big sprawling military bases, it requires joint special operations forces, drone support, the capacity to use helicopters. And this is, of course, what the United States is now promising. The night raids are despised tactic. I think it is import for people in the United States, just to try and imagine if people break into your home while helicopters are hovering overhead and suddenly the women in the household are locked up and the men are subjected to brutality, and maybe a crossfire does break out, maybe there are Taliban people that are going to attack while the forces are there and civilians are killed, and you can’t get them to the hospital, and this utter nightmare is taking place. Your home is being torn apart. Some people are going to be taken away and disappeared for months and months under interrogation and possible torture. Of course, nobody would want this to resume in their country, and it is sure to prolong and exacerbate the war.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Hakim, I think we have your audio back. I expect it is going to go in and out as we speak to you in Kabul. But, your new president, Ghani, has called for this extension, apparently. What is your response to him?

DR. HAKIM: Well, the news reports in Kabul in the past 54, 56 days since President Ashraf Ghani’s inauguration has shown that there have been about 41 street-side bombing attacks across the country and 24 of those in Kabul. So, I think President Ashraf Ghani is caught in the same military madness that the entire U.S.-NATO coalition, and the world, is caught up in. I tried to say earlier and my voice was lost in transmission that a global terrorism database by the U.S. government and the University of Maryland showed that the number of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and across the world has increased since the war against terror began in 2001. So, as a medical humanitarian person, I would say that the world’s strategy in treating terrorism has failed and we ought to re-examine and so does President Ashraf Ghani.

AMY GOODMAN: And the effects on the ground, Dr. Hakim, of this war. Can you tell us what’s happening? When we were trying to communicate with you by e-mail, you said, sorry, today is a no electricity day in my house. Explain the conditions on the ground.

DR. HAKIM: I think it would be good to give listeners a sense of what is happening in this country, devastated by four decades of war and a continued military strategy. By looking at what the World Health Organization announced in September as the suicide rate among Afghans. Afghans on the ground in the daily living are not coping. In this year, up to September, there have been more than 4000 Afghans, both men and women, who have set themselves on fire — self immolation. And another 4000 that have tried to poison themselves and kill themselves through drugs and poison. So we are in a situation where the people have problems with their basic human needs of food and water, chronic malnutrition has always been a problem, certainly not helped by war. And then the other basic services that ought to be available for Afghans —- health care, work. Unemployment is officially at 36%, probably more. Some figures by local afghan labor organizations put it as high as 80%. So you have hungry, angry people who are unemployed and who are killing themselves. So, on the ground, we know that this war against terror in Afghanistan has been failing from year to year. The number of civilian casualties reported -—

AMY GOODMAN: We’ve just lost Dr. Hakim again in Kabul. But I think it is worth continually going back when we get him. Kathy Kelly, if you could continue his thought.

KATHY KELLY: Well, along with the concern for civilian casualties and the mothers who weep and say, I can’t feed my children, and the thousands of children that are on the streets as child laborers — 6000 children in Kabul alone — I mean, Amnesty International had reported that the war was displacing 400 people every day. And there are squalid, retched refugee camps as people are facing a very, very cold winter. The Pentagon has requested $58.3 billion for fiscal year 2015 alone for war in Afghanistan. These resources go to the hands of war profiteers and weapons makers and enormous expenditures by the Pentagon.

I just read about November 23 request and the Pentagon for $7,800,000 to beef up the Kandahar and Kabul airports which will, of course, allow them to engage in the night raids and the drone attacks and the air attacks. The suffering that this causes for the people in Afghanistan is lost on the U.S. public. There was an August Amnesty International report that details ten case studies that are just gruesome and chilling, horrific, telling about the situations of civilians who have been killed by United States forces. Of course, this should be entered into the U.S. media. It should be something U.S. people are talking about, and not a war that gets continued because of furtive movements on a Friday night.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy, I wanted to ask you about a new analysis of corporate TV news that’s found there’s almost no debate about whether the United States — in this case it was go to war in Iraq and Syria, but I think you could certainly extend that to Afghanistan. The group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, or FAIR, found of that the more than 200 guests that appeared on network shows to discuss the topics, just six voiced opposition to military action. On the high-profile Sunday talk shows, out of 89 guests, there was just one antiwar voice. It was Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation. I just want to go to a snippet of the clips of voices that appear in corporate media outlets.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Here’s what I’m tired of hearing from this administration and my friends on the other side and within my party, that this is somehow easy and really not our fight.

ED RENDELL: They have to act swiftly because the President made a good point. He believes he has the authority to do this on his own, and so do I.

BOB SHIEFFER: So you’re talking about a massive response? Not hitting one target but hitting as many as possible.

HENRY KISSINGER: I think when an American is murdered on television for the purpose of terrorizing Americans, there should be a response that you can, you would not analyze in terms of a normal response to provocation.

BILL KRISTOL: You can’t imagine the fight against Isis going in such a way that we would say, you know what? This thing is on the cusp and we need to send in 3000 U.S. — or 5000 U.S. combat ground troops to win this thing?

JAY CARNEY: Well, but again, that would be saying specifically only 5000, not 5005 —

BILL CRYSTAL: No, it wouldn’t, it would be saying — it would be leaving the option open which is what a serious commander in chief does.

JAY CARNEY: I think the short hand that a lot of people use about no boots on the ground is semantically problematic, because obviously, there would be American military personnel with their boots on the ground.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Jay Carney, the former spokesperson for Obama and before that the Bill Kristol and Henry Kissinger, Bob Schieffer the CBS news anchor, the former governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell and Lindsey Graham, the U.S. Senator. Just some of the voices. But, again, the overwhelming majority of voices on television, the range of the debate is boots on the ground or just bomb. Rarely, almost never do you hear someone say do not attack. And yet, clearly even within the White House, the debate that went on according to The New York Times, because this was revealed by The New York Times in this late revelation of a secret order signed by President Obama to continue the war in Afghanistan, there was a debate within the White House that sounds like much more than we hear on television. Kathy, you’ve been going back and forth to Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m sure it is well over 100 times. Your thoughts on what this public debate would mean and what that sounds like in Afghanistan? We’ll ask Dr. Hakim that question.

KATHY KELLY: Well, isn’t it amazing that in spite of what is such a vice like grip on education of the U.S. public that’s maintained by the military and by the very cooperative media, that you do get these huge percentages of the U.S. public who nevertheless believe that these wars have been failures, who don’t want to see the wars continue. You know, 94% of the U.S. public reportedly knew about the beheadings of men whose names I know by heart, and I was living in Afghanistan with barely any electricity or news coverage but I knew that Steven Sotloff and David Haines and James Foley had been killed. But people in the United States don’t know the names or the circumstances of children whose bodies were torn apart by drone attacks. They will never, ever know the names of the half-million children in Iraq who were starved to death because of economic sanctions. We need to be literate in those realities as well and the conditions endured by people who can’t escape our wars. And not to be made aware of that, is dangerous for the security of people in the United States. Because other people in other parts of the world are furious, they’re enraged, and they don’t want to continue subjecting themselves to the United States menace of our military.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy, how many times have you been in Iraq and Afghanistan?

KATHY KELLY: Well, I traveled to Iraq 27 times during the period of economic sanctions. And you know, NPR, at one point, told us, we will never give you or you organization a platform. Well we weren’t looking to call attention to ourselves. We just wanted them to go inside the hospitals and be with mothers and children who would never emerge with a healthy baby leaving the hospital. I guess I’ve been to Afghanistan about 16 times. Sometimes that was because you could only get a one-month visa, so I might go out and go back in. But I’ve been so fortunate to live with Afghan peace volunteers and with Hakim who’s steady guidance and translation is always available to us. And with some very fine people from other parts of the world who’ve also gone over there. And by being with them, you get an entirely different perspective on the effects of the war, on the realities of poverty and displacement, and also your living with young people who themselves have lost immediate members of their family, who themselves spent time in refugee camps, and yet there they are like young social workers fanning out trying to find who are the neediest people for distribution of 3,000 duvets that they’ve enlisted widows and impoverished women to make. And they’re trying really, really hard to overcome.

AMY GOODMAN: Kathy, you have been nominated for Nobel Peace Prize several times. You have into Iraq and Afghanistan scores of times. How many times have you been invited on the high-profile Sunday talk shows on television?


AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to Dr. Hakim for a moment, as you described working with him in Afghanistan. Dr. Hakim, what is the alternative to war in your country?

DR. HAKIM: Well, I think that young people everywhere, not just young Afghans, have got to wake up every day and build those viable alternatives to war, which means ban wars and weapons within their homes, communities, religious workplaces, farms, restaurants, shop houses. And there are places in Afghanistan in the midst of this war that have banned wars, like emergency hospital and the Border-free Nonviolence Center of the Afghan Peace Volunteers. That is one thing that they can do practically. There are many other related issues that young people can take action on. They can refrain from using fossil fuel energy. Because a lot of the wars in the Middle East and in this part of the world is really a war over resources like fossil fuels, gas and oil. If we do our daily part, that would help. And then in the area of learning, people have got to realize that the lack of debate we have just talked about shows that we are learning the wrong things. We only hear the war and military narrative. We need to be more curious, imaginative. We need to learn ways in which we can serve humanity, not get the profit. There many other practical things that people can do a daily basis, both in Kabul, Afghanistan, and in the rest of the world. And I would like to encourage everybody to do it. I’ve seen the Afghan Peace Volunteers try, despite the difficulties, so can American youth.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at a piece from Common Dreams that is responding to the piece in The Times that made it clear what President Obama did, quoting him in the Rose Garden, saying "American personnel will be in an advisory role after this year, we will no longer patrol Afghan cities, towns, mountains, or valleys. That’s the task for the Afghan people." That he said in May. And then, Common Dreams staff writes, "never mind, the president has now quietly authorized and expanded role for the U.S. military in Afghanistan. The New York Times reported last night that Obama’s decision is a result of a lengthy and heated debate between the promise Mr. Obama made to end the war in Afghanistan versus the demands of the Pentagon. The Pentagon won. An official told The Times that the military pretty much got what it wanted. Obama has also given the war in Afghanistan a new name, operation Resolute Support." Dr. Hakim, your response to operation Resolute Support?

DR. HAKIM: Well, before this was called operation Enduring Freedom, and the change of name doesn’t change the basic predominant strategy, which is kill, kill, kill. That hasn’t been a change in the strategy. There hasn’t been any other options. This decision to expand the mission here is not even a new decision. In 2009, there was another decision that Obama had to make and that was whether to increase the number of troops by 30,000 American soldiers. And in the account by Bob Woodworth in the book "Obama’s Wars," Bob Woodworth described how that process happen for Obama in the White House. Obama had to tell his war cabinet, had to ask them, why is there no other option? There was only one option, and that is the military option. So Resolute Support is just a rehash of the same military option, the same war against terrorism which has failed. And so it is going to fail.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. Dr. Hakim, I want to thank you. Dr. Hakim is a medical doctor who has provided humanitarian relief in Afghanistan for the last decade. He works with Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war. In 2012, he won the international Pfeffer Peace Prize. And in Chicago, Kathy Kelly is co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a campaign to end U.S. military and economic warfare. She just back from Kabul. And Dr. Hakim, I look forward to seeing her face one day without fear. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. Albert Woodfox — that name may not be familiar to you, but yet another court in Louisiana has said he should be freed. How is it that he has remained in solitary confinement for 42 years? Stay with us.

News Tue, 25 Nov 2014 11:20:00 -0500