Truthout Stories Sat, 31 Jan 2015 02:13:28 -0500 en-gb Shut It Down Now! Former Nuclear Plant Technician Bob Rowen on Nuclear Power

Bob Rowen was a Humboldt PG&E IBEW 1245 nuclear control technician at the power plant. He talks about being a control technician at the plant and what happened when he began to stand up for health and safety as a whistleblower. His fight to protect the workers and the community cost him his job when he raised health and safety concerns and he along with another nuclear control technician Forrest Williams were retaliated against and illegally terminated. He also recounts an effort to set up a criminal conspiracy frame-up by PG&E to charge him with planning to blow up the plant and a false document was sent to the FBI to blacklist him throughout the country to prevent him from working in any other nuclear plant in the US. He also reports on the role of his union IBEW 1245 and the media when a reporter from NBC Donald Widener tried to cover the story and was retaliated against by PG&E in actions that destroyed his career.

Rowen has written a book about his struggle called My Humboldt Diary: A True Story of Betrayal of the Public Trust, Nuclear Power at Humboldt Bay.

News Fri, 30 Jan 2015 12:12:03 -0500
"It Started as Just a Hope": Robert Redford on Founding the Sundance Film Festival

We speak with director, actor and Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford about the festival’s history, now celebrating its 31st anniversary. Sundance is now among the largest film festivals in the country, with some 50,000 attendees. However, it looked very different when it began more than three decades ago. "The first year, there was maybe 150 people that showed up. We had one theater, maybe 10 documentaries and 20 films, and now it’s grown to the point where it’s kind of like a wild horse," Redford says. We also discuss the festival’s efforts to promote women, people of color and young people — on both sides of the camera. This comes as the latest "Celluloid Ceiling" report from researchers at San Diego State University has found men directed 93 percent of the 250 highest-grossing films of 2014. Women directed just 7 percent, a decrease of 2 percent compared to 1998.


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

AMY GOODMAN: So you have a film, Robert Redford, that is premiering here at the Sundance Film Festival, and that’s pretty rare for you. I mean, you’re constantly—

ROBERT REDFORD: It’s very rare. Wasn’t my idea.

AMY GOODMAN: —premiering in Hollywood.

ROBERT REDFORD: It wasn’t my idea.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about this film that—well, you were supposed to do this with Paul Newman?

ROBERT REDFORD: Once upon a time, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And you chose the person who most reminded you of Paul Newman to replace him?

ROBERT REDFORD: No, no, it was originally—look, the history of this project goes back about 14 years—that’s how far—right after 2000. When I read the book by Bill Bryson, I literally laughed out loud, and I saw it as a possible third picture for Paul and I to do, because it had the same—it had the same tone, but a different environment. So I thought, "Well, that would be good." But then, as time went on, getting a script, that took a long time; getting a director, that took a long time; and then Paul’s health declined. And so, pretty soon it was obvious that he couldn’t do it. He said, "I can’t do it."

So the first thing that came to my mind was Nick Nolte, because I think that Nick—Nick and I are roughly the same age. I think we started—I personally think he’s a good actor, and I think he’s smart. He’s really interesting. Maybe a little undisciplined, but that’s sort of what makes it fun. So, he and I, I think, had very similar backgrounds when we were both young. I was—I was off the rails when I was young, and I pulled it together.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you pull it together?

ROBERT REDFORD: I just got—I came back from Europe. I went to Europe to study art, and it was a dark period. And I came back, and I decided I really needed to focus on a healthier life, got married, had children, started a career. That’s what did it.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we talk more about the film, mentioning Paul, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, it’s where you got the name for this festival?

ROBERT REDFORD: Well, yeah. I did not want it. I didn’t want it. I thought it was too self-serving. And so, the group that I was involved with, we were looking for a name for the area. And Sundance came up, and I said, "Well, it’s a great name, but I don’t want to use it, because it looks like it’s self-serving, because of the film." They said, "Well, it’s just a great name. It’s just a great name," and tried to use all kinds of reasons why it should be used. "If you get up to the top of the mountain, the sun dances on the snow." And I said, "Ugh, I don’t think it’s a good idea." But I was outvoted. I think it is a great name. I was just afraid of there being too much association, that I was looking to capitalize on the film. I said, "What if the film is a disaster?"

AMY GOODMAN: Can you believe that the Sundance Film Festival is 31 years old?


AMY GOODMAN: Do you think of it as one of your children?

ROBERT REDFORD: You know, it’s interesting. I think of it—because it started—it was a big idea back in 1985. It was a big idea with a small start, because there was no support. There was only one theater in Park City. Sundance, the place, is not here in Park City; it’s 40 miles away, higher up in the mountains, tucked away. It’s where our lab programs are. That’s where the development process is. That’s where our nonprofit, Sundance Development, for the documentaries and the film and the theater and so forth, music. Park City works out for us because they have something we need, which is theatrical distribution capability, and we give them something they need, which is a venue to attract people. So, the first year, there was maybe 150 people that showed up. We had one theater, maybe 10 documentaries and 20 films. And now it’s grown to the point where it’s kind of like a wild horse. I can’t begrudge it. I mean, that was the dream. It started as just a hope. Then, when it became a reality, it started to have its own momentum.

AMY GOODMAN: And the point of it? Since you certainly, you know, have great acclaim in Hollywood, you didn’t need another venue, as all the creative ways you participate in the film industry, as director, as an actor. So why Sundance? You had it made.

ROBERT REDFORD: Well, it wasn’t so much about me. It was what I saw happening with the industry. During the '60s and ’70s, particularly during the ’70s, studios controlled film. And in those days, many studios would allow smaller films to be made under their banner. And I was very fortunate because some of the stories that I wanted to tell, about the country that I grew up in, went into the gray area. You know, during the Second World War, which is my first memory, it was a lot of red, white and blue. You know, we were—there were a lot of slogans, and we were supporting the soldiers off to war. I had family that was in the war, family that had died in the war. So when it was over, there was such a lot of propaganda about what a wonderful country we were to have this and to have that. I thought, it is a great country, and I'm pretty lucky to live in it, but as I grew up and heard slogans like "It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, but it’s how you play the game," and I realized that was a lie. Everything mattered, just if you won or not. And I realized that this was a country that is very much about winning.

And so, I decided I wanted to make a—I wanted to make a film about what I would call the grayer area of America, where it’s more complex, issues are more complex. So, the first one was Downhill Racer. And I was able to do that because I was doing a larger film at Warner Bros. And then The Candidate. I wanted to do a film about—back in 1970, that said we elect people not by substance, but by cosmetics, and it’s how you look, and that had a lot to do with it. And I wanted to make that point—a person not at all qualified, but he looked like he was, but he wasn’t. And so, it was about that. And then other films about the American West, the settling of the American West by mountain men, then All the President’s Men. So those were films that I was allowed to make if I was doing a larger film.

But then it changed. In 1980, the industry began to be more centralized, and they were following the youth market, because that’s where the money was, which I understand. But it looked like it was going to be at the expense of some of those other films that were more about the humanistic side of cinema, stories about America, American way of life, complex stories. And so, in my mind, I thought that was very valuable. I thought that’s a wonderful use of film. You can have the big blockbusters. You can have—with technology coming along, creating more special effects possibilities, you knew that they were going to use that, and that’s great. But I felt it was going to be at the expense of giving up those other kinds of films, so that’s what led to Sundance.

And I thought, "Well, what if we can start a development process where young artists can have a voice, but we can help them develop their skills so they can at least get their films made?" That was the labs that started in 1980. Then, once that happened and we started a development process at Sundance, suddenly we realized that we were helping them develop their skills so that they could get their films made, but there was nowhere to go, because the mainstream had not allowed any space for them. And that led to the idea of a festival. So, originally, it was just an idea that maybe we can have a community of filmmakers coming together and share each other’s work. And maybe if we were lucky, somebody will come, and somebody else will come.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about diversity in all sorts of ways. There’s a big discussion at Sundance in promoting women, for example, in the film industry—

ROBERT REDFORD: Very much so.

AMY GOODMAN: —on both sides of the camera. One of the women who talks about how important Sundance has been in her life is Ava DuVernay. In 2012, she won best director, the first African-American woman to win best director. That was—

ROBERT REDFORD: Yeah, she’s on our board.



AMY GOODMAN: And now the controversy over Selma. I mean, she has been nominated—the film, for best film, for the Oscars. As for best director, she didn’t get it. David Oyelowo did not get nominated for best actor. And it led to this hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite. And many have cited the 2012 survey conducted by the L.A. Times that found Oscar voters are 94 percent white, 76 percent male and an average age of 63 years old. Your thoughts about this?

ROBERT REDFORD: I’m older than that. That’s my first thought. I don’t occupy myself with what the Academy is doing or what its criteria is. I’m a member of the Academy, but I don’t really occupy myself with what its thinking is, because if it gets controversial, I don’t know that I know enough about what prompts it. I do believe in diversity. I think diversity is healthy. I think diversity in film is really healthy. And I remember—

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the Academy needs to diversify?

ROBERT REDFORD: Yeah, I do, yeah. I think it’s only healthy. I mean, there was a while when you didn’t have any women directing. Now you have women stepping up, which I think is really important. I think the future would be quite well—do quite well with focusing on women and young people. I think the youth of tomorrow, I think we need to spend time thinking about them, particularly on the environment. You know, if we’re going to be polluting this planet, what are we doing for the new generation? What are we giving them to work with? And the same thing in film. You know, young people have new ideas, and you want to create space for them to develop. And women, I think, have a lot to bring [inaudible]. The country needs more nurturing, that’s for sure.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Robert Redford, Oscar-winning director, actor, environmentalist, founder of the Sundance Film Festival, now in its 31st year. I spoke to him Wednesday night here in Park City, Utah. Here at Sundance in 2013, for the first time, women directed 50 percent of films in the U.S. dramatic competition. That stands in stark contrast to Hollywood, where women filmmakers actually appear to have lost ground over the last 17 years. The latest "Celluloid Ceiling" report from researchers at San Diego State University found men directed 93 percent of the 250 highest-grossing films of 2014. Women directed just 7 percent, a decrease of 2 percent compared to 1998. Again, that was 17 years ago. Sundance alumni Laura Poitras, director of Citizenfour, and Gillian Robespierre, director of Obvious Child, and Ava DuVernay, director of Selma, were among just 17 women directors whose films broke into the top 250 highest-grossing films this past year. When we come back, we speak to Robert Redford about his new film here at Sundance, A Walk in the Woods. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: That’s "Glory" from the film Selma. The song sung by John Legend and Common has been nominated for an Academy Award. The film Selma has been nominated for best film.

News Fri, 30 Jan 2015 11:42:51 -0500
Moving Your Money: An Interview With Finance Expert Michael Shuman

Why is it so hard to invest your money locally? Grassroots activists trying to build economic alternatives in the US encourage investing in the businesses in your neighborhood, instead of in far-off corporations. It turns out that it's not so easy to move your money; there are even laws against it in the US. We talk with local finance expert Michael Shuman, and profile a grassroots success story CERO Group that's funding its start-up without deep pockets or Wall St cash. All that and a few thoughts on the NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg you won't find in the US media.

News Fri, 30 Jan 2015 11:38:24 -0500
National Donors Pick Winners in State Elections

If money is influence, the Republican Governors Association wielded more of it than anyone else last year in state elections nationwide.

The group, led in 2014 by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, gave roughly $69 million to candidates, political parties and independent groups — more than double its Democratic counterpart — as it tried to elect Republicans to the top office in as many states as possible. The group gave more than any other donor to state-level elections last year — from races for governor to legislator to supreme court justice.

The association applied an effective strategy that's becoming more common: giving money using multiple paths to circumvent limits on campaign contributions to candidates and parties, a Center for Public Integrity analysis has found.

In addition to the money it spent directly on TV ads and other campaign efforts, the group gave about $14 million to candidates including Illinois' new Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. It also gave more than $3 million to state parties, including those in Texas and Maine.

The bulk of the checks it wrote, however, totaling about $50 million, went to other political groups that in turn spent the money on state races.

Its efforts largely paid off. Republicans gained four governorships in 2014 and only lost two, leaving them holding the reins in 31 states.

The group "was designed to supplement what candidates could do on their own in the states," said Dick Thornburgh, a former Pennsylvania governor who turned the association into a powerhouse in the mid-1980s. "Obviously, it's grown beyond that."

Its competitor, the Democratic Governors Association, gave $32 million and ranked second among the sugar daddies of 2014, according to the Center for Public Integrity's analysis. The group only picked up one new governor's mansion, with Pennsylvania's Tom Wolf defeating incumbent Republican Tom Corbett. (Alaska's Republican incumbent was beaten by an independent, Bill Walker.)

Together, the two governors' groups and other national political organizations gave significantly more than political parties, unions, multimillionaires or corporations that also contributed heavily to influence state-level campaigns. The donations went beyond races for governor. The funds made their way into lower-ballot contests such as attorney general, state supreme court justice and state legislator.

The national groups also cropped up on the lists of the biggest donors in most states, outgiving homegrown political players in a sign that all politics may now be national.

In all, the top 50 political givers spread more than $440 million to the people and groups pushing candidates for state office, the Center for Public Integrity found. The list is thick with billionaires such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, unions such as the American Federation of Teachers and corporations such as telecom titan AT&T Inc.

They also were more successful in backing winners than most donors, becoming the de facto kingmakers of state politics.

"It's an amazing amount of power concentrated in a handful of organizations," said Ed Bender, executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics that collected some of the data used for the analysis. "If people want to understand why government is dysfunctional, you don't have to look much farther than this list."

The Citizens United effect

To identify the kingmakers, the Center for Public Integrity looked at donations given to 2014 state candidates and political parties during 2013 and 2014, as tracked by the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Reporters also collected state and federal contribution records for 140 independent organizations that aired political TV ads during 2014 state elections.

The analysis does not include funders of groups that don't disclose their donors to any state or federal agencies — so-called "dark money" groups. And it does not total overall contributions, because some donors received money from other donors on the list. [More details on the methodology.]

The findings paint a picture of independent groups playing a bigger role in financing state-level elections than even political parties or the candidates' campaigns, one effect of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The 2010 ruling allowed many groups to accept and spend unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions and wealthy patrons to influence elections as long as they did not coordinate with the candidates. Thus, they could bypass limits on giving to a candidate or political party and leapfrog ahead.

The top 50 donors identified by the Center for Public Integrity gave more than 40 percent of their contributions to independent political groups, surpassing what they gave to either candidates or political parties.

The strategy allows donors to multiply their influence, said Larry Noble, former general counsel of the FEC who now works as an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center.

"You give the maximum to the candidates, but then you want to give more," he said. "You give to the party committee that's also going to support the candidate. You give to outside groups that are also going to support the candidate."

The mega-donors thus control more of the political messages that determine which issues are central to the campaign — roles previously played by candidates and political parties. And in exchange, they may expect the newly elected officials to dance with the ones that brought them.

Behind the curtain

National political groups have their own heavy-hitting donors. But because the groups function as the middlemen of political giving, voters often don't know the original source of the cash behind a politician's election.

The Republican Governors Association, for one, served as a conduit for billionaires and corporations looking to influence governors' races.

The five largest contributors behind the group's gargantuan giving power all appear separately on the Center for Public Integrity's top 50 donor list: Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson; billionaire David Koch, who runs the Kansas-based Koch Industries with his brother; electricity giant Duke Energy; investment firm ETC Capital, whose founder, Manoj Bhargava, also founded the company behind the 5-Hour Energy drink; and billionaire hedge-fund manager Paul Singer, according to IRS records from 2013 and 2014.

Meanwhile, four of the five largest contributors to the counterpart Democratic Governors Association were also familiar names from the top 50 list: Michael Bloomberg and branches of three labor unions — the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the National Education Association and the Service Employees International Union.

The Republican and Democratic governors' associations employ another common strategy that both amplifies and obfuscates their giving: contributing to "an outside group with a good-sounding name" to make support of a candidate look more diverse and to help attract different constituencies, Noble said.

For example, state records collected by the Center for Public Integrity show that the Democratic Governors Association gave more than $6 million to a group called Making Colorado Great, while the Republican Governors Association gave nearly $5.5 million to Grow Connecticut. The Colorado and Connecticut organizations then spent millions airing TV ads in their states' respective gubernatorial contests.

"It's name branding," Noble said. "If you were a teacher and you see an ad from a teachers union, you're going to give it a lot more credibility than an ad from the DGA."

Diverse giving becomes trendy

All but a handful of the top 50 mega-donors used more than one avenue to spread their gifts. And most gave money to influence races in more than one state.

Billionaire hedge-fund manager Kenneth Griffin, for example, gave more than $4.6 million before the election to the campaign committee of Rauner, the Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Worth about $5.5 billion, according to Forbes, Griffin and his soon-to-be ex-wife Anne also gave at least $2.2 million to independent political groups that backed state candidates, such as the Republican Governors Association, and more than $500,000 to state GOP parties in Illinois and Florida.

A representative for Griffin declined to comment.

Some of the top donors also gave widely. Sixteen of the top 50 contributors gave to 50 or more state-level candidates running in 2014.

Getting what they paid for

Nearly 85 percent of the candidates backed directly by the top 50 donors won their elections in 2014, a far better success rate than the typical political contributor, who backed winners only 52 percent of the time.

Duke Energy, for example, had a 94 percent success rate after supporting 381 different candidates.

For corporations, in particular, political giving is a way to ensure a seat at the table once a lawmaker is elected, said Loyola Law School Professor Justin Levitt. Giving across the aisle improves their odds of having an ally in office come January.

"They'll give to the incumbent and also the challenger just in case the challenger wins," Levitt said. "They'll give more to leadership positions because leadership positions are gateways to access for committees, for legislation, for broader regulation."

Mass media giant Comcast picked winners in 93 percent of the more than 1,000 candidates it backed. It gave nearly $1.7 million directly to candidates, spreading it widely in 36 states.

"The contributions that the company makes are because we operate in a highly regulated industry," said Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice, adding that most candidates backed are incumbents. "The decisions that are made by legislatures control our business."

In addition to its national giving, the Philadelphia-based Comcast gave heavily in its home state. Top recipients were Gov. Tom Corbett and running mate Jim Cawley, both Republicans, who together raked in $107,000 from the state's top broadband provider but lost re-election. Hedging its bet, Comcast also gave $1,000 to Wolf, who won the governorship from Corbett.

Duke Energy, another company regulated by states, divvied up more than $500,000 among the hundreds of candidates it backed, many of whom ran for office in North Carolina, where the company is headquartered.

Additionally, the electric utility donated more than $210,000 to the Republican Party of Florida, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Duke Energy may have been trying to boost its support in the Sunshine State, where it has faced massive criticism for charging customer fees for nuclear plants that do not — and may never — provide power. Florida's governor and legislature are responsible for naming the members of the commission that regulates the utility and allows such fees.

"We do not make contribution decisions on single issues," Duke Energy spokesman Chad Eaton said. "Our employee-led PAC considers an array of issues before any decisions are made."

In general, he said, Duke Energy donates to candidates who demonstrate "support for public policy issues that are important to our business, customers and communities" in the six states where it provides electricity.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, meanwhile, gave nearly $2.7 million to 568 candidates in 34 states and had a 64 percent win rate. It contributed more than half million dollars to Democrat Pat Quinn's failed bid to retain the Illinois governorship, but saw more success with the $410,000 it gave to Wolf's successful run for governor in Pennsylvania. In both states, the Republican opposition had supported scaling back public pensions or preventing unions from deducting union dues directly from members' paychecks.

Money does not always guarantee a win, of course, and a lack of funds doesn't necessarily foretell a loss.

In Maryland's governor's race, former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, a Democrat, outraised Republican Larry Hogan several times over yet lost in one of the biggest upsets of election night. Brown was hurt by low popularity ratings that no giant war chest could fix, according to Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary's College of Maryland. And because Hogan accepted public funds for his campaign, he was limited on how much money he could spend yet also freed up to spend time on the campaign trail, not the fundraising one.

And some of the top benefactors saw little return on their campaign investments.

Billionaire physicist Charles Munger Jr., son of the Berkshire Hathaway executive of the same name, gave nearly $300,000 to 45 Republican candidates in 2014. Only 13 won for a 29 percent success rate.

The nation's largest teachers union, the National Education Association, also fared poorly when backing candidates directly — only three of their 13 candidates won.

Allies in office

Most of the more than 6,300 state officials elected in November began work this month, shaping and creating policy across the country in 50 governors' mansions and 99 legislative chambers — 11 of which flipped from Democratic to Republican control in the 2014 election.

For some big donors, that means the candidates they backed can now fight for their causes in state office. Or they might just be more willing to take a phone call from a benefactor who has a legislative wish list.

Noble said candidates typically know which donors they have to thank for their success — even when patrons filter their donations through independent groups.

And now, for some top givers, the real campaigning is about to begin.

Rauner, the newly sworn-in Republican governor, for one, is already gearing up for battles with the veto-proof Democratic-controlled legislature in Illinois as he pushes his stated goals of plugging the state's budget deficit and strengthening ethics laws. He isn't just counting on good will or smooth talking to win over potentially reluctant legislators. He's counting on cold, hard cash to help make the case.

Rauner and two top donors, Griffin and shipping supply magnate Richard Uihlein, poured $20 million into the governor's campaign committee in the final two days of 2014, which Rauner reportedly plans to use to back other candidates who support his policies.

Rauner's new war chest will enable the new governor to be in a state of "perpetual campaign" — to air commercials aimed at persuading state legislators or to donate to other lawmakers' re-election campaigns in exchange for support of Rauner's agenda, said Christopher Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, Springfield.

In the past, a governor might have promised state legislators financial backing for development projects in their districts or helped them acquire contracts or new jobs.

"Instead of building somebody a playground in the school, he'll be able to donate money to their campaign," Mooney said.

And if they don't do want he wants? "He'll be able to fund an opponent," he said.

News Fri, 30 Jan 2015 11:00:55 -0500
Trouble Already Brewing for Saudi Arabia's New King

The death of Abdullah bin Abdulaziz last Friday marked a passing of the torch in Saudi Arabia's kingdom. His replacement – and brother – Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud has come at a tenuous time, with people now questioning his involvement in terrorist organizations and the country's shaky human rights record.

Salman, who is 79 years old, has held notable positions throughout his life, including serving as the governor of Riyadh and acting as the nation's defense minister since 2011. He's won numerous awards for his social work and endeavors, headed a multitude of cultural institutions and has been a part of development projects on the Arabian Peninsula and around the Muslim world.

But who is Salman underneath the pomp and circumstance and what does his new position mean for the country?

Although some have viewed Salman as an excellent mediator, his first week in office has been marred by the public beheading of four citizens. One of the men who was executed, Mousa bin Saeed Ali al-Zahrani, had been accused of luring young girls to his home, plying them with alcohol and raping them. However, after the validity of his trial was questioned and appeals from his family were made, the former king Abdullah promised to re-investigate his case. When Abdullah died that hope also died, along with al-Zahrani.

Public beheadings are common in Saudi Arabia, with more than 80 performed in 2014, and 16 already performed in 2015. In 2014, one of these events was caught on film and posted on social media sites. This led many to wonder why the United States rarely spoke about the massive human rights abuses that regularly take place in the kingdom.

One outlet, the Middle East Eye, took it upon themselves to compare the laws and punnishments in Saudi Arabia with the brutality the west decries in ISIS:

Even further, an article in Foreign Policy suggests that Salman's past relationships with dubious characters and fund \raising events is highly problematic:

"Salman has an ongoing track record of patronizing hateful extremists that is now getting downplayed for political convenience. As former CIA official Bruce Riedel astutely pointed out, Salman was the regime's lead fundraiser for mujahideen, or Islamic holy warriors, in Afghanistan in the 1980s."

Although it should be noted that support for the mujahideen during the war with the Soviets in Afghanistan was supported not just by Saudi Arabia, but by the USA (who saw it as a proxy war against communism), his ties to Saudi charities in Bosnia raise a few more eyebrows.

"Reprising this role in Bosnia, Salman was appointed by his full brother and close political ally King Fahd to direct the Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia and Herzegovina (SHC)...By 2001, the organization had collected around $600 million — nominally for relief and religious purposes... In 2001, NATO forces raided the SHC's Sarajevo offices, discovering a treasure trove of terrorist materials: before-and-after photographs of al Qaeda attacks, instructions on how to fake U.S. State Department badges, and maps marked to highlight government buildings across Washington.

The government of Saudi Arabia denied all knowledge of the terrorism-related activities that charities they've worked with or funded were involved in.

However, Salman, above all, has been referred to as a pragmatic leader, who is adept at balancing the competing needs of Saudi society. Many experts contend that life on the peninsula will likely continue on a similar path, as him and his brother often followed the same school of thought. Yet for human rights activists, women, and those who suffer under some of the nation's incredible abuses, more of the same is hardly welcome news.

News Fri, 30 Jan 2015 10:40:41 -0500
Community-Owned Energy: How Nebraska Became the Only State to Bring Everyone Power From a Public Grid

In the United States, there is one state, and only one state, where every single resident and business receives electricity from a community-owned institution rather than a for-profit corporation. It is not a famously liberal state like Vermont or Massachusetts. Rather, it is conservative Nebraska, with its two Republican Senators and two (out of three) Republican members of Congress, that has embraced the complete socialization of energy distribution.

In Nebraska, 121 publicly owned utilities, ten cooperatives, and 30 public power districts provide electricity to a population of around 1.8 million people. Public and cooperative ownership keeps costs low for the state's consumers. Nebraskans pay one of the lowest rates for electricity in the nation and revenues are reinvested in infrastructure to ensure reliable and cheap service for years to come.

"There are no stockholders, and thus no profit motive," the Nebraska Power Association proudly proclaims. "Our electric prices do not include a profit. That means Nebraska's utilities can focus exclusively on keeping electric rates low and customer service high. Our customers, not big investors in New York and Chicago, own Nebraska's utilities."

Payments (in lieu of taxes) from the state's publicly owned utilities exceed $30 million a year and support a variety of social services throughout the state—including the public education system.

How the state went public

Nebraska has a long history of publicly owned power systems dating back to the beginnings of electrification in the late 1800s. Initially, these co-existed with small private utilities. However, in the post-World War I era, large corporate electric holding companies backed by Wall Street banks entered the market and began taking over smaller private and municipal systems.

Using their financial and political power, these corporations dramatically consolidated the power industry in Nebraska and attempted to stop new cooperatives and publicly owned utilities from forming. During this time more than one-third of the state's municipal utilities were sold to private corporations.

Tired of abusive corporate practices, in 1930 residents and advocates of publicly owned utilities took a revenue bond financing proposal straight to the voters, bypassing the corporate-influenced legislature which had previously failed to pass similar legislation. It was approved overwhelmingly—signaling both popular support for publicly owned utilities in the state and also the beginnings of their resurgence.

Led by powerful Nebraska Senator George W. Norris—the driving force behind the publicly owned Tennessee Valley Authority—a series of state and federal laws were passed including: the state's Enabling Act (1933), which allowed 15 percent of eligible voters in an area to petition for a decision on a publicly owned utility; the Public Utility Holding Company Act (1935), which forced the breakup and restructuring of corporate electricity monopolies; and the Rural Electrification Act (1936), which provided financing for rural electricity projects. By 1949, Nebraska had solidified its status as the first and only all-public power state.

Every Nebraskan can help make decisions

Local control and the possibility for democratic participation are defining features of Nebraska's publicly owned electricity system. At the ground level, public utilities and cooperatives are run by publicly elected power district boards, cooperative boards, or elected city councils (often through appointed boards). These bodies establish budgets, establish service standards and policies, and set prices.

Regularly scheduled meetings of power boards and councils are open to public involvement and comment. Should they so wish, every Nebraskan has the opportunity to become involved in the decisionmaking of their local electricity provider.

One such example relates to the increasing use and proliferation of renewable energy facilities. While the state remains heavily reliant on coal and nuclear sources to provide low-cost energy to consumers, interest in renewable energy—primarily wind—has taken off in recent years. In 2003, electricity consumers, many of whom drove more than 100 miles for the event, participated in an eight-hour deliberative polling survey for the Nebraska Public Power District (NPDD)—a public corporation owned by the state of Nebraska that supplies energy to 600,000 people via local, publicly owned utilities and cooperatives.

The topic at hand was the potential addition of more than 200 MW of wind energy by 2010. Ninety-six percent of the participants supported the wind project, with 50 percent agreeing it was the right size and 36 percent wanting it expanded (compared to just 3 percent who wanted it reduced).

In addition to its other wind power facilities, in 2005 NPDD began operating the Ainsworth Wind Energy Facility, the nation's 2nd-largest publicly owned wind farm consisting of 36 turbines generating up to 59.5 MW of energy. In 2011, the state's energy plan acknowledged both that power generation from wind had doubled every two years since 2006 and that developing just 1 percent of the potential energy from wind in Nebraska would satisfy the state's entire peak demand.

Moreover, public ownership of electricity generation and distribution in Nebraska is complemented by another seemingly socialist idea—planning.

The Nebraska Power Review Board is a state agency that oversees the publicly owned electricity system. In addition to its regulatory functions—such as monitoring rate increases and arbitrating conflicts—the five person Review Board (appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the legislature with party, occupational, and term limit restrictions) "oversees the preparation and filing of a coordinated long-range power supply plan," as well as the location and construction of new electricity generation facilities.

Toward a century of local control

A common concern with public ownership of larger scale systems is that it can lead to inefficiency, unaccountability, and bureaucracy. But Nebraska's nearly 100-year-old experience with a completely public and community-owned electricity system demonstrates that this does not necessarily have to be the case.

The principles of subsidiarity and local control can, in fact, be preserved through a networked mix of publicly owned institutions at various scales without sacrificing efficiency or service quality.

Of course, public ownership alone is not a fix-all solution. It does, however, provide an opportunity for a community, a city, or even a whole state to become actively involved in economic decisionmaking on important matters affecting their lives, their environment, and their future.

]]> (Bethania Palma) News Fri, 30 Jan 2015 10:08:59 -0500
Fudging the Future

I recently mentioned in a column on renewable energy that solar power could generate half of the world's electricity by 2050. I cited the International Energy Agency as my source.

Actually, the IEA is predicting that rooftop, utility-scale, and industrial solar will fuel about one quarter of the global grid by then. Wind energy will account for another 18 percent. All told, the IEA says renewable energy will generate at least two-thirds of the world's electricity 35 years from now.

Green energy's future is clearly bright. But I felt bad, even a bit sick about my mistake. I corrected my column at Then, I checked something out. How precise is energy forecasting?

To put it politely, the experts who get paid to predict these things aren't the most accurate arrows in the quiver.

Take the still-unfolding crude crash. Its cause boils down to one simple fact: The industry is producing way more oil than consumers want. With supply outweighing demand, prices have plunged by more than 50 percent since mid-2014.

Oil prices are always volatile and they've plummeted before. Steep declines generally follow events that no one could anticipate with precision, such as the global economic slowdown that began in 2008.

Not this time. As Morgan Stanley's analysts recently observed in their 2015 outlook, "this is a self-inflicted crisis."

Legions of experts monitor the industry. Their insights guide billions of dollars in oil-related investment decisions. Surely they saw this coming, right? Nope.

Take Daniel Yergin, the world's most prominent oil expert. He declared six months ago that without surging U.S. oil production, gas prices would have been painfully high.

Without higher U.S. output, "we'd be looking at an oil crisis," Yergin told a high-octane gathering in the summer of 2014. "We'd have panic in the public. We'd have angry motorists. We'd have inflamed congressional hearings and we'd have the U.S. economy falling back into a recession."

He really said that.

Instead, the low prices that "drill-baby-drill" boom helped trigger are disrupting millions of people's lives. Alaska, North Dakota, and other states are bracing for economic downturns. Economic mayhem is lashing Russia, Venezuela, and other oil-dependent countries.

How about the U.S. Energy Information Administration? That's the Department of Energy's statistics arm. It tracks zillions of data points. Back when Yergin was toasting the U.S. oil boom, the agency said oil prices would average about $105 a barrel this year.

Oops. After crude nosedived to about $47 a barrel in January, the agency slashed its forecast to below the $60 mark.

Economic analyst Jesse Colombo was more prescient. "Crude oil prices are likely to finally experience a bust in the not-too-distant future," he correctly predicted in June of 2014.

There's really no excuse for the collective failure of oil experts to reach the same conclusion.

Back to my mistake. Predicting what will happen with solar power over the next 35 years is hard. The same people who couldn't spot oil's "self-inflicted" wounds seven months ago surely can't be trusted to get it right.

In 2002, a research firm called Management Information Services Inc. assessed the accuracy of energy forecasts during the second half of the 20th century.

Experts consistently claimed that the world would hit "peak oil" — the point when petroleum supplies will stop meeting demand — within 15 years. And they insisted that solar energy and other renewable options were on the brink of hitting critical mass.

In light of that terrible track record, the researchers at Management Information Services correctly predicted that peak oil wasn't around the corner. They also mistakenly said that solar and wind power wouldn't be competitive with dirty-energy options by now.

But green energy, it turns out, is reaching that point. So I think it's fair to say that their crystal ball failed in that regard.

I believe in learning from your mistakes. I hope Daniel Yergin and other energy experts do too.

Opinion Fri, 30 Jan 2015 09:58:20 -0500
Progressives Have Hope; Just Don't Ask Jonathan Chait About It

It'd be easy to dismiss Chait's oddly outdated, half-thunk think piece, which conveniently blames women of color for complicating the social liberal landscape with their demand to be treated as equal stakeholders. But to overlook Chait's self-appointed superiority complex as the work of one anachronistic guy would be to ignore the growing litany of complaints emerging from straight White men.

Prioritizing the emotional and cognitive safety of those already in power or privilege is not a sign of health or political savvy; it is a sign of fearful regression. (Image via Shutterstock)Prioritizing the emotional and cognitive safety of those already in power or privilege is not a sign of health or political savvy; it is a sign of fearful regression. (Image: Crying Man via Shutterstock)

Enlisting a philosophical argument that peaked in the '90s, Jonathan Chait brought it back to 2015 with an article in New York magazine published earlier this week with a lukewarm punch: The PC movement is leading to the downfall of the liberal social agenda in the United States. In one of the most "This isn't about me at all or personal whatsoever" personal essays in recent memory, a White, liberal, middle-age, cisgender male journalist declares the rise of tone-policing and trigger warnings as bad for democracy and just plain bad for the United States.

It'd be easy to dismiss Chait's oddly outdated, half-thunk think piece, which conveniently blames women of color for complicating the social liberal landscape with their demand to be treated as equal stakeholders. But to overlook Chait's self-appointed superiority complex as the work of one anachronistic guy would be to ignore the growing litany of complaints emerging from straight White men - claiming their own marginality.

Reflection and analysis in social movements have bred hard-earned truths about oppression and power. A close examination of systemic powers shows that a person can experience marginalization in one area of their life and simultaneously perpetuate those very same dynamics in another. Herein lies the complexity of social justice and personal liberation. Privilege and power are often tangled for those living in the margins.

However, we must not confuse this complicated tangle of hegemony and oppression with the position of Chait and other critics in his vein. Many of these folks have actually enjoyed uninterrupted systemic privilege and boon. Thus, they often mistake personal discomfort caused by social power shifts for backlash and persecution. Chait is not the first and unfortunately not the last of White-identified straight men to bemoan "PC" culture and blame identity politics for ruining his vision of a liberated America.

By skewering "PC" culture to make his case, Chait stumbles into an argument usually reserved by the right: The powerless are threatening the powerful.

The p.c. style of politics has one serious, possibly fatal drawback: It is exhausting. Claims of victimhood that are useful within the left-wing subculture may alienate much of America. The movement's dour puritanism can move people to outrage, but it may prove ill suited to the hopeful mood required of mass politics. Nor does it bode well for the movement's longevity that many of its allies are worn out.

Critiques like this - centering on the comfort of allies - ignore the much larger obstacles the "movement" is up against. Its longevity faces much greater threats than "call-out culture" (an apparently hazardous trend of being held accountable for one’s thoughts and beliefs when shared in public fora) or "pile-ons" (the accumulative effect of more than one individual participating in the criticism of a single person’s work or ideology). It’s true that these practices carry potentially adverse impacts for the lone person on the receiving end of criticism, but it is worth noting that they are often only labeled problematic practices when the person critiqued is someone with protective layers of clout, prestige and privilege. And when the vociferous critique comes from marginalized dissenters, the conversation quickly turns into a debate of ethos and respectability. Plus, we must ask whether marginalized communities, who were born into state-sanctioned violence, discrimination and injustice, should really be held responsible for shielding privileged allies from the "alienation" or "exhaustion" of working against oppression.

The welfare of "worn out" allies is not a progressive concern; it's an elitist's preoccupation. Prioritizing the emotional and cognitive safety of those already in power or privilege is not a sign of health or political savvy; it is a sign of fearful regression.

Chait and his contemporaries profess a preference for reason, not "coercion," to be used as a tool for social progress. Yet this call for "reason" is, in itself, suspect: Those who have historically defined what is reasonable have also been the ones who write legislation, history books, newspaper columns and behavioral science books that define normalcy and acceptability for the powerful, not the disenfranchised. The primacy of "reason" alone does not always bode well for the unjust.

And so, amid a national groundswell of organized national protests, marches, die-ins, fundraisers, smartly penned articles by activists of color, some white liberal critics are proclaiming a dearth of "hope" in this country, because of hurt feelings and loss of personal high ground. They monitor their own exhaustion levels as a sign of a healthy movement, rather than working to understand that the pain associated with social progress may be a lifelong symptom of earned humility, learning and improving the world for those most gripped by oppression.

Unfortunately, mainstream media often prefer to offer laments of lost privilege and prophesies of a liberal Armageddon than to uplift the very hopeful realities that surround us. Social media have introduced some of the finest thinkers and activists of color on identity, economy, health care, reproductive health, education, entertainment, politics and power to a broader audience. These vibrant online communities are driving concrete action and transformation. However, their contributions are too often stolen, appropriated, warped and pegged "toxic" to the (White) liberal organism.

All this raises the question: What kind of organism is being protected in the first place? Perhaps Chait and like-minded progressives who rail against "toxicity" should consider that when disempowered voices demand a wider definition and an expansion of freedom, and a chorus of more powerful voices attempt to suppress them, it becomes clear which voices are truly "toxic" - and which voices are prophetic.

Opinion Fri, 30 Jan 2015 11:48:34 -0500
Why Is Marissa Alexander Still Being Punished for Fighting Back?

August 3, 2013: A demonstration to free Marissa Alexander, A mother who was jailed for firing warning shots to ward off her abusive husband. (Photo: cactusbones)August 3, 2013: A demonstration to free Marissa Alexander, A mother who was jailed for firing warning shots to ward off her abusive husband. (Photo: Cactusbones)

On Tuesday, January 27, 2015, Marissa Alexander walked out of jail, but not as a free woman. At yesterday’s hearing, the judge sentenced her to two years of house arrest with an ankle monitor. The prosecutor’s office attempted to argue that Alexander should serve an additional two years of probation after her house arrest ended, but were unsuccessful. Their continued attempts to punish Alexander for defending herself are a stark illustration of the ways in which domestic violence survivors are criminalized and prosecuted.

Marissa Alexander’s legal ordeal began over four years ago. In 2010, nine days after she gave birth to her baby girl, her abusive husband assaulted her. Alexander fired a warning shot to stop his attack. Although no one was hurt, she was arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. She tried to argue self-defense under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, but a pretrial judge ruled that she could have left her house instead. Less than three months after George Zimmerman shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in what he would later claim was an act of self-defense, Alexander, a black woman, was convicted and sentenced to twenty years in prison under Florida’s “10-20-life” sentencing law.

In 2013, an appeals court overturned her conviction, remanding her for a new trial, but the court also stated that, if she were convicted, Alexander’s sentences must be served consecutively rather than concurrently. The prosecutor once again charged Alexander with three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. This time, if convicted, Alexander would face sixty years in prison, twenty years for each count. In November 2014, Alexander agreed to a plea bargain that included time served for the 1,030 days she had already spent behind bars, an additional sixty-five days in jail and two years of house arrest.

For years, antiviolence activists of color, along with organizations such as Beth Richie and INCITE! Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans people of Color Against Violence, have noted that, by criminalizing survivors, the legal system replays, in institutional form, the domestic violence these women suffered. “Every time the state shames, blames, and punishes victims of domestic and sexual violence, it legitimizes that violence,” members of the Free Marissa Now campaign tweeted hours before the sentencing. While Alexander’s case has often been discussed as an example of the racial bias of the legal system, the intersection of her race and gender cannot be overemphasized.

When domestic violence is discussed, the “perfect victim” is usually portrayed as middle-class and white; she is also almost always submissive, loving and, most important, nonviolent. So when she defends herself (or her children), a woman defies ingrained expectations of what a “perfect victim” should be and, for police, prosecutors, judges and juries, relinquishes any consideration of the circumstances of her action. In the case of a woman of color, who is already less likely to be deemed worthy of legal protection, the situation becomes even more tangled: by defending herself, she negates any claim she may have had to being the victim and gets framed as the aggressor.

Since no national agency is tasked with keeping track of how many people are imprisoned for self-defense or other abuse-related convictions, there is no way to tell how many women are in similar positions. However, the few existing studies indicate that the rate is fairly high: in New York State, for instance, 67 percent of women imprisoned for killing a person close to them had been abused by that person. While that may seem high, a study in a California prison found an even higher rate: 93 percent of the women imprisoned for killing their partners had been abused by them. Of these women, 67 percent reported that they did so while defending either themselves or their children.

But rather than recognizing them as victims of violence and offering assistance to heal from trauma and rebuild their lives, the legal system frequently criminalizes and prosecutes survivors for these desperate acts of survival. It’s telling that the legal system employs many of the same strategies that abusers often use to keep their victims under control—doubting, downplaying and denying experiences of violence and trauma.

In a country that claims to care about women and ending violence against women, why does our legal system mimic the tactics of abusers? Why are survivors forced to relive—in fact, prove—their experience of trauma and violence for doubting strangers? Despite the purple ribbons, the month dedicated to domestic violence awareness and the Violence Against Women Act, the United States, as a whole, disbelieves survivors and often blames them for their abuse. We see this in the questions asked. When hearing about domestic violence, people frequently ask, “Why did she stay? Why didn’t she leave?”—rather than “Why does this person keep hurting the person he claims to love? Why doesn’t he stop harming her?” We see this each time a woman has to fight for an order of protection against her abuser, and then hope that the order is enforced. Our legal system reflects society’s attitudes towards domestic violence and, by extension, women—the belief that they are either embellishing their accounts of violence or, if not, that they are somehow to blame for not stopping the violence.

In the legal system, we see this disbelief every time a survivor needs to call an expert in domestic violence to prove that she was, indeed, battered. We also see it each time a survivor does not know that she needs such an expert to testify on her behalf. We see it in the lengthy prison sentences threatened and meted out to survivors. Had Marissa Alexander not accepted a plea bargain, she risked a sixty-year sentence. That’s powerful incentive to plead guilty, even if it means that, for the next two years, Alexander will effectively be imprisoned in her home. She will be allowed out only to go to work, school, church, her children’s school or approved appointments. Unless she is granted a pardon, she will have to live with the stigma of a felony conviction for the rest of her life.

The criminalization and continued prosecution of Marissa Alexander is the norm, not the exception, in how abuse survivors are treated. What’s exceptional is the amount of publicity—and ensuing outrage and organizing—Alexander’s case has engendered. “Although the journey has been long, and there have been many difficult moments, I could not have arrived here where I am today without the many thoughts and prayers of so many people who have voiced their support and encouragement,” Alexander said to the media after her release.

But countless other survivors caught in the legal system face their ordeals alone. No one organizes teach-ins, raises money to cover legal costs or calls for national days of action to draw attention to their cases. There are no friendly faces packing the courtroom to cheer them on. Instead, many are convicted and quietly begin serving lengthy, if not life, sentences. Alexander has recognized this and asked her supporters to use her prominence to help draw more attention and support to other incarcerated abuse survivors, such as Tondalo Hall, as well as others imprisoned for self-defense, such as Charmaine Pfender.

Unless the culture around domestic violence and self-defense shift, there will continue to be many more survivors who are criminalized, prosecuted and threatened with a living death simply for trying to stay alive.

News Fri, 30 Jan 2015 11:04:35 -0500
Rep. Keith Ellison: Postpone Netanyahu's Speech to Congress

July 14, 2010: Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota), speaking at a Center for American Progress event. (Photo: Center for American Progress)July 14, 2010: Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota), speaking at a Center for American Progress event. (Photo: Center for American Progress)

If you're anywhere to the left of Thomas Friedman (he's with us now, in case you didn't get the memo) on the issue of the relationship between the US and Israel, now would be a strategic time to engage. We have a world-historical opportunity right now to help change the game in Washington on how people speak and think about the US relationship to Israel.

Controversy is spreading around House Speaker John Boehner's decision to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin ("Bibi") Netanyahu to address Congress on March 3. The invitation is controversial for three reasons: 1) contrary to precedent, Boehner did not consult the White House or the House Democratic leadership in scheduling the speech; 2) the speech will be two weeks before the Israeli election, essentially making the US Congress the backdrop for a speech in Netanyahu's re-election campaign, also contrary to precedent; and 3) the express purpose of the speech is to bash President Obama's Iran policy and demand that Congress pass new sanctions on Iran, which would blow up the US/Europe-Iran talks and put the US on a path to war with Iran, as European leaders and the Congressional Progressive Caucus have warned.

J Street and Americans for Peace Now have called for Netanyahu's talk to be postponed. Former Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren, the mainstream political opposition in Israel, former Israeli President Shimon Peres, and the editorial board of the New York Times have denounced the planned speech. Even Fox News thinks Bibi and Boehner are out of line.

Now, Reps. Keith Ellison (co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus), Steve Cohen and Maxine Waters are circulating a letter to Speaker Boehner, asking him to postpone the invitation until after the Israeli election and after Congress has considered the issue of Iran sanctions.

This sets up a sharp choice for members of Congress: stand with the Boehner-Bibi axis or stand with President Obama? A signature on the Ellison letter is a decision to stand with President Obama.

And this also sets up a test of public engagement with Congress. It's no secret why members of Congress might choose to grumble bitterly about the attack of the Boehner-Bibi axis on President Obama in private but refrain from criticizing it publicly. But if their phones start ringing from supporters of President Obama, it's a whole new ballgame.

Recall this exchange between Democracy Now's Amy Goodman and Florida Rep. Alan Grayson in September 2013:

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Grayson, I wanted to ask you about the role of AIPAC....The [New York] Times quoted an unnamed Obama administration official calling AIPAC "the 800-pound gorilla in the room..."
But that issue of AIPAC's role in lobbying congressmembers now and senators around a strike on Syria, can you talk about its presence in the House?

REP. ALAN GRAYSON: Well, AIPAC has issued a statement saying that they're in favor of an attack. [...] But at this point it's not relevant, because the public is engaged, the public is paying attention, the public is against this, and the public is adamantly against this. All these organizations sort of fall to the wayside when the public weighs in. There are now both Democratic and Republican members of Congress who have reported that their emails and letters and phone calls to their office are running more than a hundred to one against this. People are against it. They're adamantly against it.
So, any organization, like AIPAC or otherwise, cannot operate effectively in the environment that we're in, where the public is speaking and speaking very loudly.

So that's it. It's all about public engagement. If you can get to a phone, call your representative and urge him or her to sign the Ellison letter calling for the Israeli Prime Minister's speech to Congress to be postponed. The Capitol switchboard is 202-224-3121, and you can report your call here. If you absolutely can't get to a phone, you can take action here.

Opinion Fri, 30 Jan 2015 10:47:44 -0500