Truthout Stories http://truth-out.org Fri, 27 Feb 2015 01:13:54 -0500 en-gb Obamacare Is Not Some Left-Wing, Socialist Plot; It Is a Republican Plot http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/29341-obamacare-is-not-some-crazy-left-wing-socialist-plot http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/29341-obamacare-is-not-some-crazy-left-wing-socialist-plot

Most of the tenets of Obamacare were introduced way back in 1971 by Richard Nixon, a Republican president. (Photo: Tim Pierce)Most of the tenets of Obamacare were introduced way back in 1971 by Richard Nixon, a Republican president. (Photo: Tim Pierce)Obamacare is not some communist, left-wing, socialist plot.

It's a Republican plot.

Back in 1971, then President Richard Nixon was extremely concerned that he would have to face then Sen. Ted Kennedy in the 1972 presidential election.

At that time, Senator Kennedy was pushing a proposal for a national single-payer health care plan that would extend coverage to all Americans.

Nixon knew that Kennedy's proposal would be popular with the American people, and could threaten his re-election chances, so he came up with a health care proposal of his own.

Nixon's proposal for health care in the US included different plans for four categories of Americans.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

Under Nixon's plan, employers would have been required to buy health insurance providing a basic package of benefits for 150 million working US residents and their families.

For 20 million people who were considered the working poor at the time and their families, Nixon's plan would have replaced Medicaid services with private health insurance plans fully paid for by the government for the poorest, with a sliding scale of contributions for families earning over $3,000 (roughly $17,300 in today's dollars).

Nixon's plan also dropped Medicare premiums for 21 million "aging" Americans, and instead adjusted Social Security taxes to make up for the costs.

Finally, Nixon's plan lowered health care costs for 30 million self-employed Americans by allowing them to buy health care policies at lower group rates through insurance pools.

Now, what does all of that sound like to you? It sounds an awful lot like Obamacare, right?

That's because most of the tenets of Obamacare were introduced way back in 1971 by Richard Nixon, a Republican president.

But Nixon wasn't the only Republican to get behind a health care plan that sounds a lot like Obamacare.

Back in 1993, then-President Bill Clinton tried desperately to reform healthcare in the US. He created a special health care task force that was charged with finding solutions to rising healthcare costs and an increasing number of uninsured Americans.

While that task force was trying to find solutions, Republicans in Congress were trying to create a health care reform alternative of their own.

They came up with the Health Equity and Access Reform Today bill, or HEART.

That bill was spearheaded by then Republican Sen. John Chafee of Rhode Island, and co-sponsored by 18 other Republican senators, including current Republican Senators Orrin Hatch and Chuck Grassley, both of whom are now opposed to Obamacare.

It was also supported by the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation, which at the time was pushing particularly heavily for an individual mandate.

Among other things, the HEART bill proposed by Republican senators included an individual mandate (to appease the folks over at the Heritage Foundation), the creation of insurance purchasing pools, standardized benefits, vouchers for poor Americans to buy insurance and a ban on insurance companies denying coverage based on preexisting conditions.

Again, what does that sound like?

Speaking about the HEART bill, Sheila Burke, former chief of staff for former Sen. Bob Dole told PolitiFact's PunditFact that,

"You would find a great deal of similarity to provisions in the Affordable Care Act. The guys were way ahead of the times! Different crowd, different time, suffice it to say."

So, yet again, you have Republicans introducing a national health care reform plan that contained a lot of the key tenets of today's Obamacare.

The facts speak for themselves. Republicans have been pushing Obamacare-like health-care principles for more than 40 years!

So, why in 2015, are Republicans suddenly so opposed to policies they have crafted and supported in years past?

Because today, Republicans aren't operating on principle, they're operating on politics.

They're doing everything in their power to sabotage President Obama's presidency and tarnish his legacy.

They're fulfilling the plans of a group of powerful Republican lawmakers and strategists who sat down to a private dinner at the Caucus Room restaurant here in Washington on the night of January 20, 2009, and vowed to filibuster and obstruct any and all legislation supported by President Obama.

Republicans aren't morally opposed to Obamacare; after all, it's helped millions of people, and it's making the insurance industry even richer.

Republican opposition to Obamacare is entirely about politics, and that's no way to run a country.

If you're going to run a country, which Republicans basically are by being in control of Congress, you should be operating on principle and on legitimate policy disagreements.

It's time for Republicans to stop playing politics, and start doing what's right for the people of the United States.

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Opinion Thu, 26 Feb 2015 15:14:29 -0500
Net Neutrality Is Back! But the Fight Isn't Over Yet http://truth-out.org/news/item/29340-net-neutrality-is-back-but-the-fight-isn-t-over-yet http://truth-out.org/news/item/29340-net-neutrality-is-back-but-the-fight-isn-t-over-yet

Depending on whom you talk to, today's vote is either a victory for consumers, civil rights activists and a ragtag coalition of grassroots advocates that formed an alliance with Silicon Valley to take on the behemoth telecoms, or a government power grab that will turn the internet into a lumbering public utility and squash technological innovation and investment. (Photo via Shutterstock)Depending on whom you talk to, today's vote is either a victory for consumers, civil rights activists and a ragtag coalition of grassroots advocates that formed an alliance with Silicon Valley to take on the behemoth telecoms, or a government power grab that will turn the internet into a lumbering public utility and squash technological innovation and investment. (Photo: Mark Van Scyoc / Shutterstock.com)

Federal regulators approved tough net neutrality rules today. Still, the fight for internet freedom continues, and advocates say public participation will be as important as ever.

Depending on whom you talk to, today's vote is either a victory for consumers, civil rights activists and a ragtag coalition of grassroots advocates that formed an alliance with Silicon Valley to take on the behemoth telecoms, or a government power grab that will turn the internet into a lumbering public utility and squash technological innovation and investment. (Photo via Shutterstock)Depending on whom you talk to, today's vote is either a victory for consumers, civil rights activists and a ragtag coalition of grassroots advocates that formed an alliance with Silicon Valley to take on the behemoth telecoms, or a government power grab that will turn the internet into a lumbering public utility and squash technological innovation and investment. (Photo: Mark Van Scyoc / Shutterstock.com)

Federal regulators approved tough net neutrality rules today. Still, the fight for internet freedom continues, and advocates say public participation will be as important as ever.

It's official: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted today to reclassify the internet as a "common carrier" service under Title II of the Communications Act to enforce strong net neutrality rules. The vote marks a victory for internet freedom activists and a historic national shift toward treating quality internet access more like an essential public good.

Still, the battle over the future of the internet is far from over.

The FCC approved the rules in a 3-2 vote along party lines, with Democrats in the majority. The rules prevent internet providers like AT&T and Verizon from blocking legal content; degrading or slowing down their competitors' traffic; and favoring traffic in exchange for special fees.

"The internet has redefined commerce, and as the outpouring from 4 million Americans has demonstrated, the internet is the ultimate vehicle for free expression," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, referring to the 4 million people who commented on the agency's net neutrality proposals over the past year. "The internet is simply too important to allow broadband providers to be the ones making the rules."

The open internet debate has taken some twists and turns since last January, when a federal appeals court threw out the FCC's last batch of net neutrality rules and sent regulators back to the drawing board. As public comments piled up and activists rallied across the country, Wheeler eventually shed the skin of a former industry insider and scrapped a milquetoast proposal in favor of a plan rooted in Title II, which advocates say gives the FCC the legal authority it needs to defend the rules against inevitable court challenges from the industry.

The Title II decision could also have a deep impact on the effort to hold broadband companies accountable to the needs of the public and close the "digital divide" that has left low-income and rural consumers, as well as people of color, with few options to stay connected.

"We are moving as a country to saying that this service is an essential service like [landline] telephone was, and so everybody should have the opportunity to get it. That’s what Title II does," said Harold Feld, vice president of the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, in a recent interview with Truthout. "By making, as a society, the decision that broadband is an essential communications service, we are embracing our digital future."

Depending on whom you talk to, today's vote is either a victory for consumers, civil rights activists and a ragtag coalition of grassroots advocates that formed an alliance with Silicon Valley to take on the behemoth telecoms, or a government power grab that will turn the internet into a lumbering public utility and squash technological innovation and investment.

The truth is a bit more complicated, and it remains unclear if and how the FCC will use the new rules to hold incumbent telecoms like AT&T and Verizon accountable to the public. Here's the good news: Like the debate that brought us to today's historic ruling, the public can have a say in how this implementation plays out. In fact, advocates say public participation is crucial.

"[Today] we celebrate. Friday we get back to work," said Craig Aaron, CEO of Free Press, one the groups that has spent years campaigning for tough net neutrality rules.

Aaron said the most immediate threats to net neutrality would come from Congress, where Republicans could introduce legislation that would defund the FCC, overturn the new rules or undermine the agency's enforcement authority. Such legislation would face Obama's veto pen, however, and industry-backed compromise legislation that would establish net neutrality rules but undermine the FCC's enforcement authority has already failed to find bipartisan support.

"Congress is going to have to decide, and the Republican leadership in Congress is going to have to decide, if this is the thing they want to go to war on," Aaron said.

Republicans are currently furious over the Title II reclassification, which they have billed as a government takeover of the internet that President Obama bullied the FCC into orchestrating.

The saber rattling was already underway on Wednesday at a heated committee hearing in the House that served as a perfect example of how net neutrality, an issue wrapped in industry lingo and fine print, is subject to such heavy spin that opponents and proponents don't even seem to be talking about the same thing.

"The closer we get to the FCC rubber-stamping President Obama's internet grab, the more disturbing it becomes," said committee Chair Rep. Greg Walden, in a statement. "Consumers, innovators and job creators all stand to lose from this misguided approach."

Walden is a Republican from Oregon who has received hefty donations from the telecom industry and cosponsored the GOP's alternative net neutrality legislation in the House.

"What’s more, this plan sends the wrong signal around the globe that freedom and openness on the internet are best determined by governments - a far cry from decades of bipartisan commitment to light-touch regulation," Walden continued.  

Don't worry. Obama will not be billing you for broadband anytime soon, and the new rules exempt broadband providers from certain utility-style regulations, like rate regulations, at least up front. By reclassifying the internet under Title II, however, the FCC has expanded its powers to intervene if it finds that internet service providers charge unreasonable rates or engage in unjust practices that fail to serve the public.

Larry Downes, an author and industry analyst who opposes Title II reclassification, claimed in his testimony before the committee that virtually every aspect of the internet's infrastructure could soon be under government oversight.

"As Chairman Wheeler noted in his recent 'fact sheet,' the rulemaking will now, 'for the first time,' grant the FCC oversight of potentially every link in the connections between networks that make up the internet’s unique, engineering-driven architecture," Downes said in his written testimony.

In fact, Wheeler's fact sheet, released earlier this month to outline the proposed net neutrality rules, says that, "For the first time the Commission would have authority to hear complaints and take appropriate enforcement action if necessary" if it finds that interconnection deals between internet service providers and content providers fail to meet Title II's "just and reasonable" standard.

"Disappointed parties will no doubt choose to invoke the agency’s new self-granted authority rather than continuing to rely on market negotiations," Downes warned.

This is exactly why advocates like Aaron say Title II is so important. Internet providers have an advantage in "market negotiations" because they enjoy monopolies and duopolies in communities across the country, leaving consumers and content providers with few choices.

Under the FCC's recently updated standards of what defines high-speed broadband, 82 percent of consumers in the United States have one or fewer options when it comes to high speed internet providers. This makes it tough to vote with your dollar and leave a company that is charging unreasonable rates, providing shoddy service or striking "fast lane" deals that make some parts of the internet more accessible than others.

"That's why Title II is so important, it actually allows [the FCC] to respond to things that are going wrong in the marketplace," Aaron said. "All the major providers have indicated that they want to discriminate . . . so we need some kind of recourse."

The new rules also protect free speech online and ensure that everyone's voice can be heard regardless of their economic status. For this reason, people of color and civil rights activists have rallied around the issue, because their movements rely on a free and open internet to organize, express dissent and address issues ignored by the corporate media.

"With the internet, net neutrality creates an opportunity for somebody other than the most powerful corporations to control the internet," said civil rights activist Malkia Cyril in a recent interview with Truthout. "It creates some room for an everyday person like myself. I can't own a TV station, but I can own a website."

The FCC's rules are not designed to change the internet as it stands, but to protect it from the future whims of profit-hungry broadband barons. Aaron said the "bright line" rules unveiled today would be shaped through a series of complaints and rulemakings. Depending on the scope, these will be subject to public comment, allowing consumers and tech companies to weigh in on issues like data caps and zero-rating as they arise.

"The FCC . . . is going have their radar up as well," Aaron said. "The most powerful thing about rules like this is the threat to use them."

The FCC also took a step toward promoting broader broadband competition by voting to intervene and challenge state laws in Tennessee and North Carolina that have prevented highly successful municipal broadband networks from expanding into neighboring communities.

None of this seemed likely a year ago when Wheeler, a fresh nominee of the Obama administration, began diving into the contentious issues facing the FCC. The chairman did something that advocates weren't exactly expecting, however. When the people spoke up - and thanks to online activism, millions of them did - Wheeler listened.

"The internet has changed the rules for what is and what isn’t possible in Washington, DC, and politics in general," said Evan Greer, an organizer with Fight for the Future, a grassroots group that galvanized public support for net neutrality with online campaigns. "It's changed the rules for democracy."

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News Thu, 26 Feb 2015 14:10:48 -0500
How Gazan Natural Gas Became the Epicenter of an International Power Struggle http://truth-out.org/news/item/29338-how-gazan-natural-gas-became-the-epicenter-of-an-international-power-struggle http://truth-out.org/news/item/29338-how-gazan-natural-gas-became-the-epicenter-of-an-international-power-struggle

Guess what? Almost all the current wars, uprisings, and other conflicts in the Middle East are connected by a single thread, which is also a threat: these conflicts are part of an increasingly frenzied competition to find, extract, and market fossil fuels whose future consumption is guaranteed to lead to a set of cataclysmic environmental crises.

Amid the many fossil-fueled conflicts in the region, one of them, packed with threats, large and small, has been largely overlooked, and Israel is at its epicenter. Its origins can be traced back to the early 1990s when Israeli and Palestinian leaders began sparring over rumored natural gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Gaza. In the ensuing decades, it has grown into a many-fronted conflict involving several armies and three navies. In the process, it has already inflicted mindboggling misery on tens of thousands of Palestinians, and it threatens to add future layers of misery to the lives of people in Syria, Lebanon, and Cyprus. Eventually, it might even immiserate Israelis.

Resource wars are, of course, nothing new. Virtually the entire history of Western colonialism and post-World War II globalization has been animated by the effort to find and market the raw materials needed to build or maintain industrial capitalism. This includes Israel's expansion into, and appropriation of, Palestinian lands. But fossil fuels only moved to center stage in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship in the 1990s, and that initially circumscribed conflict only spread to include Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Turkey, and Russia after 2010.

The Poisonous History of Gazan Natural Gas

Back in 1993, when Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) signed the Oslo Accords that were supposed to end the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and create a sovereign state, nobody was thinking much about Gaza's coastline. As a result, Israel agreed that the newly created PA would fully control its territorial waters, even though the Israeli navy was still patrolling the area. Rumored natural gas deposits there mattered little to anyone, because prices were then so low and supplies so plentiful. No wonder that the Palestinians took their time recruiting British Gas (BG) -- a major player in the global natural gas sweepstakes -- to find out what was actually there. Only in 2000 did the two parties even sign a modest contract to develop those by-then confirmed fields.

BG promised to finance and manage their development, bear all the costs, and operate the resulting facilities in exchange for 90% of the revenues, an exploitative but typical "profit-sharing" agreement. With an already functioning natural gas industry, Egypt agreed to be the on-shore hub and transit point for the gas. The Palestinians were to receive 10% of the revenues (estimated at about a billion dollars in total) and were guaranteed access to enough gas to meet their needs.

Had this process moved a little faster, the contract might have been implemented as written. In 2000, however, with a rapidly expanding economy, meager fossil fuels, and terrible relations with its oil-rich neighbors, Israel found itself facing a chronic energy shortage. Instead of attempting to answer its problem with an aggressive but feasible effort to develop renewable sources of energy, Prime Minister Ehud Barak initiated the era of Eastern Mediterranean fossil fuel conflicts. He brought Israel's naval control of Gazan coastal waters to bear and nixed the deal with BG. Instead, he demanded that Israel, not Egypt, receive the Gaza gas and that it also control all the revenues destined for the Palestinians -- to prevent the money from being used to "fund terror."

With this, the Oslo Accords were officially doomed. By declaring Palestinian control over gas revenues unacceptable, the Israeli government committed itself to not accepting even the most limited kind of Palestinian budgetary autonomy, let alone full sovereignty. Since no Palestinian government or organization would agree to this, a future filled with armed conflict was assured.

The Israeli veto led to the intervention of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who sought to broker an agreement that would satisfy both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. The result: a 2007 proposal that would have delivered the gas to Israel, not Egypt, at below-market prices, with the same 10% cut of the revenues eventually reaching the PA. However, those funds were first to be delivered to the Federal Reserve Bank in New York for future distribution, which was meant to guarantee that they would not be used for attacks on Israel.

This arrangement still did not satisfy the Israelis, who pointed to the recent victory of the militant Hamas party in Gaza elections as a deal-breaker. Though Hamas had agreed to let the Federal Reserve supervise all spending, the Israeli government, now led by Ehud Olmert, insisted that no "royalties be paid to the Palestinians." Instead, the Israelis would deliver the equivalent of those funds "in goods and services."

This offer the Palestinian government refused. Soon after, Olmert imposed a draconian blockade on Gaza, which Israel's defense minister termed a form of "'economic warfare' that would generate a political crisis, leading to a popular uprising against Hamas." With Egyptian cooperation, Israel then seized control of all commerce in and out of Gaza, severely limiting even food imports and eliminating its fishing industry. As Olmert advisor Dov Weisglass summed up this agenda, the Israeli government was putting the Palestinians "on a diet" (which, according to the Red Cross, soon produced "chronic malnutrition," especially among Gazan children).

When the Palestinians still refused to accept Israel's terms, the Olmert government decided to unilaterally extract the gas, something that, they believed, could only occur once Hamas had been displaced or disarmed. As former Israel Defense Forces commander and current Foreign Minister Moshe Ya'alon explained, "Hamas... has confirmed its capability to bomb Israel's strategic gas and electricity installations... It is clear that, without an overall military operation to uproot Hamas control of Gaza, no drilling work can take place without the consent of the radical Islamic movement."

Following this logic, Operation Cast Lead was launched in the winter of 2008. According to Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, it was intended to subject Gaza to a "shoah" (the Hebrew word for holocaust or disaster). Yoav Galant, the commanding general of the Operation, said that it was designed to "send Gaza decades into the past." As Israeli parliamentarian Tzachi Hanegbi explained, the specific military goal was "to topple the Hamas terror regime and take over all the areas from which rockets are fired on Israel."

Operation Cast Lead did indeed "send Gaza decades into the past." Amnesty International reported that the 22-day offensive killed 1,400 Palestinians, "including some 300 children and hundreds of other unarmed civilians, and large areas of Gaza had been razed to the ground, leaving many thousands homeless and the already dire economy in ruins." The only problem: Operation Cast Lead did not achieve its goal of "transferring the sovereignty of the gas fields to Israel."

More Sources of Gas Equal More Resource Wars

In 2009, the newly elected government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inherited the stalemate around Gaza's gas deposits and an Israeli energy crisis that only grew more severe when the Arab Spring in Egypt interrupted and then obliterated 40% of the country's gas supplies. Rising energy prices soon contributed to the largest protests involving Jewish Israelis in decades.

As it happened, however, the Netanyahu regime also inherited a potentially permanent solution to the problem. An immense field of recoverable natural gas was discovered in the Levantine Basin, a mainly offshore formation under the eastern Mediterranean. Israeli officials immediately asserted that "most" of the newly confirmed gas reserves lay "within Israeli territory." In doing so, they ignored contrary claims by Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus, and the Palestinians.

In some other world, this immense gas field might have been effectively exploited by the five claimants jointly, and a production plan might even have been put in place to ameliorate the environmental impact of releasing a future 130 trillion cubic feet of gas into the planet's atmosphere. However, as Pierre Terzian, editor of the oil industry journal Petrostrategies, observed, "All the elements of danger are there... This is a region where resorting to violent action is not something unusual."

In the three years that followed the discovery, Terzian's warning seemed ever more prescient. Lebanon became the first hot spot. In early 2011, the Israeli government announced the unilateral development of two fields, about 10% of that Levantine Basin gas, which lay in disputed offshore waters near the Israeli-Lebanese border. Lebanese Energy Minister Gebran Bassil immediately threatened a military confrontation, asserting that his country would "not allow Israel or any company working for Israeli interests to take any amount of our gas that is falling in our zone." Hezbollah, the most aggressive political faction in Lebanon, promised rocket attacks if "a single meter" of natural gas was extracted from the disputed fields.

Israel's Resource Minister accepted the challenge, asserting that "[t]hese areas are within the economic waters of Israel... We will not hesitate to use our force and strength to protect not only the rule of law but the international maritime law."

Oil industry journalist Terzian offered this analysis of the realities of the confrontation:

"In practical terms... nobody is going to invest with Lebanon in disputed waters. There are no Lebanese companies there capable of carrying out the drilling, and there is no military force that could protect them. But on the other side, things are different. You have Israeli companies that have the ability to operate in offshore areas, and they could take the risk under the protection of the Israeli military."

Sure enough, Israel continued its exploration and drilling in the two disputed fields, deploying drones to guard the facilities. Meanwhile, the Netanyahu government invested major resources in preparing for possible future military confrontations in the area. For one thing, with lavish U.S. funding, it developed the "Iron Dome" anti-missile defense system designed in part to intercept Hezbollah and Hamas rockets aimed at Israeli energy facilities. It also expanded the Israeli navy, focusing on its ability to deter or repel threats to offshore energy facilities. Finally, starting in 2011 it launched airstrikes in Syria designed, according to U.S. officials, "to prevent any transfer of advanced... antiaircraft, surface-to-surface and shore-to-ship missiles" to Hezbollah.

Nonetheless, Hezbollah continued to stockpile rockets capable of demolishing Israeli facilities. And in 2013, Lebanon made a move of its own. It began negotiating with Russia. The goal was to get that country's gas firms to develop Lebanese offshore claims, while the formidable Russian navy would lend a hand with the "long-running territorial dispute with Israel."

By the beginning of 2015, a state of mutual deterrence appeared to be setting in. Although Israel had succeeded in bringing online the smaller of the two fields it set out to develop, drilling in the larger one was indefinitely stalled "in light of the security situation." U.S. contractor Noble Energy, hired by the Israelis, was unwilling to invest the necessary $6 billion dollars in facilities that would be vulnerable to Hezbollah attack, and potentially in the gun sights of the Russian navy. On the Lebanese side, despite an increased Russian naval presence in the region, no work had begun.

Meanwhile, in Syria, where violence was rife and the country in a state of armed collapse, another kind of stalemate went into effect. The regime of Bashar al-Assad, facing a ferocious threat from various groups of jihadists, survived in part by negotiating massive military support from Russia in exchange for a 25-year contract to develop Syria's claims to that Levantine gas field. Included in the deal was a major expansion of the Russian naval base at the port city of Tartus, ensuring a far larger Russian naval presence in the Levantine Basin.

While the presence of the Russians apparently deterred the Israelis from attempting to develop any Syrian-claimed gas deposits, there was no Russian presence in Syria proper. So Israel contracted with the U.S.-based Genie Energy Corporation to locate and develop oil fields in the Golan Heights, Syrian territory occupied by the Israelis since 1967. Facing a potential violation of international law, the Netanyahu government invoked, as the basis for its acts, an Israeli court ruling that the exploitation of natural resources in occupied territories was legal. At the same time, to prepare for the inevitable battle with whichever faction or factions emerged triumphant from the Syrian civil war, it began shoring up the Israeli military presence in the Golan Heights.

And then there was Cyprus, the only Levantine claimant not at war with Israel. Greek Cypriots had long been in chronic conflict with Turkish Cypriots, so it was hardly surprising that the Levantine natural gas discovery triggered three years of deadlocked negotiations on the island over what to do. In 2014, the Greek Cypriots signed an exploration contract with Noble Energy, Israel's chief contractor. The Turkish Cypriots trumped this move by signing a contract with Turkey to explore all Cypriot claims "as far as Egyptian waters." Emulating Israel and Russia, the Turkish government promptly moved three navy vessels into the area to physically block any intervention by other claimants.

As a result, four years of maneuvering around the newly discovered Levantine Basin deposits have produced little energy, but brought new and powerful claimants into the mix, launched a significant military build-up in the region, and heightened tensions immeasurably.

Gaza Again -- and Again

Remember the Iron Dome system, developed in part to stop Hezbollah rockets aimed at Israel's northern gas fields? Over time, it was put in place near the border with Gaza to stop Hamas rockets, and was tested during Operation Returning Echo, the fourth Israeli military attempt to bring Hamas to heel and eliminate any Palestinian "capability to bomb Israel's strategic gas and electricity installations."

Launched in March 2012, it replicated on a reduced scale the devastation of Operation Cast Lead, while the Iron Dome achieved a 90% "kill rate" against Hamas rockets. Even this, however, while a useful adjunct to the vast shelter system built to protect Israeli civilians, was not enough to ensure the protection of the country's exposed oil facilities. Even one direct hit there could damage or demolish such fragile and flammable structures.

The failure of Operation Returning Echo to settle anything triggered another round of negotiations, which once again stalled over the Palestinian rejection of Israel's demand to control all fuel and revenues destined for Gaza and the West Bank. The new Palestinian Unity government then followed the lead of the Lebanese, Syrians, and Turkish Cypriots, and in late 2013 signed an "exploration concession" with Gazprom, the huge Russian natural gas company. As with Lebanon and Syria, the Russian Navy loomed as a potential deterrent to Israeli interference.

Meanwhile, in 2013, a new round of energy blackouts caused "chaos" across Israel, triggering a draconian 47% increase in electricity prices. In response, the Netanyahu government considered a proposal to begin extracting domestic shale oil, but the potential contamination of water resources caused a backlash movement that frustrated this effort. In a country filled with start-up high-tech firms, the exploitation of renewable energy sources was still not being given serious attention. Instead, the government once again turned to Gaza.

With Gazprom's move to develop the Palestinian-claimed gas deposits on the horizon, the Israelis launched their fifth military effort to force Palestinian acquiescence, Operation Protective Edge. It had two major hydrocarbon-related goals: to deter Palestinian-Russian plans and to finally eliminate the Gazan rocket systems. The first goal was apparently met when Gazprom postponed (perhaps permanently) its development deal. The second, however, failed when the two-pronged land and air attack -- despite unprecedented devastation in Gaza -- failed to destroy Hamas's rocket stockpiles or its tunnel-based assembly system; nor did the Iron Dome achieve the sort of near-perfect interception rate needed to protect proposed energy installations.

There Is No Denouement

After 25 years and five failed Israeli military efforts, Gaza's natural gas is still underwater and, after four years, the same can be said for almost all of the Levantine gas. But things are not the same. In energy terms, Israel is ever more desperate, even as it has been building up its military, including its navy, in significant ways. The other claimants have, in turn, found larger and more powerful partners to help reinforce their economic and military claims. All of this undoubtedly means that the first quarter-century of crisis over eastern Mediterranean natural gas has been nothing but prelude. Ahead lies the possibility of bigger gas wars with the devastation they are likely to bring.

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News Thu, 26 Feb 2015 12:35:34 -0500
Climate Deniers Exposed: Top Scientist Got Funding From ExxonMobil, Koch Brothers, Big Coal http://truth-out.org/news/item/29331-climate-deniers-exposed-top-scientist-got-funding-from-exxonmobil-koch-brothers-big-coal http://truth-out.org/news/item/29331-climate-deniers-exposed-top-scientist-got-funding-from-exxonmobil-koch-brothers-big-coal

A new investigation exposes how one of the top scientists involved in denying climate change has failed to disclose his extensive funding from the fossil fuel industry. Dr. Wei-Hock Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has downplayed global warming and rejected human activity as its cause, arguing the sun is more responsible than greenhouse gases from pollution. Climate denialists - including Republican Senator James Inhofe, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee - frequently cite Soon’s work to reject concrete action. But documents obtained by the Climate Investigations Center show Soon received more than $1.2 million from fossil fuel corporations and conservative groups over the last decade and failed to disclose those ties in most of his scientific papers. Funders include ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, coal utility Southern Company and the Charles G. Koch Foundation. In letters with his funders, Soon referred to his scientific papers or congressional testimony as "deliverables." We are joined by Kert Davies, executive director at Climate Investigations Center.

TRANSCRIPT:

AMY GOODMAN: Kert Davis, I want to turn now to your new investigation that exposes how one of the top scientists involved in denying climate change has failed to disclose his extensive funding from the fossil fuel industry. Dr. Wei-Hock Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has downplayed global warming, rejected human activity as its cause, argued the sun is more responsible than greenhouse gases. Climate denialists, including Republican Senator James Inhofe, chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, frequently cite his work to reject concrete action. But documents obtained by your group, by the Climate Investigations Center, show Dr. Soon received more than $1.2 million from fossil fuel corporations and conservative groups over the last decade and failed to disclose those ties in most of his scientific papers. Funders include ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, coal utility Southern Company, and Charles G. Koch Foundation. In letters with his funders, Dr. Soon referred to his scientific papers or congressional testimony as, quote, "deliverables." These new details confirm earlier concerns about Dr. Soon’s funding, which he downplays in this clip from 2013.

WEI-HOCK SOON: I have received funding from federal government, but I stopped receiving. I have no penny of that money from the government since 2004 or so. And I’ve been receiving money from whoever that wants to give me money. I write my scientific proposal. I have received money from ExxonMobil, but ExxonMobil no longer give me any money for a long time, American Petroleum Institute. Anything you wish for, from Southern Company, from all these companies, I write proposal. I let them judge whether they will fund me or not, always for a very small amount. If they choose to fund me, I’m happy to receive it.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Dr. Soon from 2013. Kert Davies, you’re the executive director of the Climate Investigations Center, which obtained the new documents through public records requests that shed new light on the influence of fossil fuel interests on the research of Dr. Willie Soon. Can you talk about what you found?

KERT DAVIES: Well, first, to clarify, it is a Greenpeace investigation going back to 2009, when I was there. We started with a FOIA, a Public Records Act request to the Smithsonian, asking for any information on Soon’s sources of outside income. We knew from 2007 that he was getting money from the Charles Koch Foundation, American Petroleum Institute and ExxonMobil. So we asked a simple question: Show us where he’s getting his funding from. We got a spreadsheet back. Then we said we want to see the communication with these funders. Years go by. We got some email. Then, in the email, it showed that there were attachments, there were contracts. We said, "Let’s see the contracts, and let’s see the proposals." We finally got those. And it is a very rare window into this universe and an amazing moment, actually, probably the most important investigation that Greenpeace has done on climate denial.

What we’ve discovered is that these contracts are explicit in keeping the funder quiet, keeping the funder secret. In the case of the Southern Company, one of the largest polluters in the country, a massive utility that stretches from Georgia to Alabama to Mississippi, owns some of the largest coal plants in the world and in the country, burns Powder River Basin coal, you know, trains going a mile long going to these plants every day and up into the atmosphere—they want to keep us in the dark about climate change, and Willie Soon is one of their pawns, actually. They’re using him, and they’re using the Harvard-Smithsonian name to get that word out that there’s misinformation—that is, that there’s no scientific consensus, rather.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics says it’s launched an inquiry into whether Dr. Soon properly reported the more than $1.5 million in private funding he received to the journals that have published his research. The Center said it, quote, "does not support Dr. Soon’s conclusions on climate change." But it has previously insisted its scholars are peer-reviewed and vetted by other scientists, saying, quote, "This is the way the scientific process works. The funding entities, regardless of their affiliation, have no influence on the research." Your reaction, but also the impact on these journals and the scientific community of these undisclosed donations to Dr. Soon?

KERT DAVIES: Well, we’ve written all the journals to ask them what their reaction is. This is the key part of this investigation, is that we’ve uncovered basic conflict of interest in science. If a doctor, if a medical doctor wrote a paper saying, you know, a drug was bad for you, and was taking money from its competitor, that would be pretty immoral, if not illegal and unethical, to tell people that a drug was harmful and while they’re taking money from the other side. This is what’s happening here. This is a guy taking money from polluters to say that greenhouse gases are not the problem, it’s actually variation in the sun’s radiation that causes the warming we’re experiencing. And he’s taking money from the other side and not disclosing it in the papers, then telling the corporation, "This is what I did for you. I wrote these papers." So, that—

AMY GOODMAN: These "deliverables."

KERT DAVIES: Deliverables, exactly. Like anybody who’s ever written a grant, you have "Here are the outcomes of the grant, here’s what I promised to do with your money." This is—so this is a pretty important thing. And Senator Markey has launched an investigation. The House Science Committee, House Resource Committee are looking into it. There’s a lot of people who are very concerned that other rules may have been broached. There’s a—you know, the IG’s investigation at Smithsonian, we hope, will look into a lot of things, and we’re posting on ClimateInvestigations.org a piece about what they might ask, the questions they might ask internally.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think he should be fired?

KERT DAVIES: I’m not the judge of that. I mean, if he wants to do his science, if he wants to, you know, go back to studying plasmas in the atmosphere and the sun’s corona and whatever he’s an expert at, that’s fine. If he discloses who’s funding it, that’s fine. I mean, when he did a paper in 2007 that said—was funded by Exxon, Koch and the American Petroleum Institute, saying that polar bears are just fine and the Arctic is not melting, you know, why are those entities interested in telling that story? It’s a pretty simple line: because they don’t want us to know that polar bears are in trouble and the Arctic is melting. They want us to think differently about that. So, he can go on doing whatever he wants to do. I don’t care if he stays there or gets fired, as long as it’s transparent and the world knows that he’s being paid by polluters.

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News Thu, 26 Feb 2015 11:23:06 -0500
Who Is Bankrolling the Islamic State? Private Donors in Gulf Oil States Cited as Key to ISIS Success http://truth-out.org/news/item/29330-who-is-bankrolling-the-islamic-state-private-donors-in-gulf-oil-states-cited-as-key-to-isis-success http://truth-out.org/news/item/29330-who-is-bankrolling-the-islamic-state-private-donors-in-gulf-oil-states-cited-as-key-to-isis-success

Militants from the self-proclaimed Islamic State have reportedly abducted at least 220 people from Assyrian Christian villages in northeastern Syria during a three-day offensive. Meanwhile, the Islamic State militant nicknamed "Jihadi John," who has been featured in several beheading videos, has been identified as Mohammed Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born former resident of London. In other news, two U.S.-led coalition airstrikes have reportedly killed over three dozen people in Iraq, including at least 20 civilians. Also this week, UNESCO is has condemned the Islamic State for destroying the Mosul public library, which housed more than 8,000 rare books and manuscripts. UNESCO described the incident as "one of the most devastating acts of destruction of library collections in human history." Earlier today, video was posted online that appears to show members of the Islamic State smashing ancient artifacts inside a Mosul museum. The video shows men toppling statues and using sledgehammers and drills to destroy the artifacts. The Guardian reports one of the statues destroyed was a winged-bull Assyrian protective deity that dates back to the 9th century B.C. Live from Iraq, we are joined by Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent for The Independent. His latest book is The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

Please check back later for full transcript.

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News Thu, 26 Feb 2015 11:13:50 -0500
Could a Former Activist Unseat Mayor 1%? Rahm Emanuel Faces Chicago Runoff Despite Vast Outspending http://truth-out.org/news/item/29328-could-a-former-activist-unseat-mayor-1-rahm-emanuel-faces-chicago-runoff-despite-vast-outspending http://truth-out.org/news/item/29328-could-a-former-activist-unseat-mayor-1-rahm-emanuel-faces-chicago-runoff-despite-vast-outspending

Chicago's mayoral race is heading to a runoff election after incumbent Rahm Emanuel failed to win 50 percent of the vote. Emanuel raised roughly $16 million, more than four times his challengers combined. Could the second-place challenger, Jesús "Chuy" García, a county commissioner and former immigrant rights activist born in Mexico, defeat the man nicknamed "Mayor 1 Percent"? We are joined by Salim Muwakkil, senior editor of In These Times and host of "The Salim Muwakkil Show" on WVON in Chicago.

TRANSCRIPT

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn to Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel failed to get more than 50 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election and must now face off a runoff against second-place finisher Jesús "Chuy" García in April. Despite vastly outspending his four opponents and receiving an in-person endorsement from President Obama, Mayor Emanuel received only about 45 percent of the vote. Emanuel served as Obama’s first chief of staff.

AMY GOODMAN: Chuy García, who serves on the Cook County Board of Commissioners, received about 34 percent of the vote—far higher than expected. García jumped into the race last October after the teachers union president, Karen Lewis, dropped out after being diagnosed with brain cancer. García was born in Mexico. He’s a former immigrant rights activist. He addressed his supporters last night.

JESÚS "CHUY" GARCÍA: Nobody thought we’d be here tonight. They wrote us off. They said we didn’t have a chance. They said we didn’t have any money, while they spent millions attacking us. Well, well, we’re still standing. We’re still running. And we’re going to win. We have something to say to all those big corporations and special interests who spent all those millions to install their own mayor: We want change!

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Mayor Rahm Emanuel raised roughly $16 million, more than four times his challengers combined. On Tuesday night, Emanuel addressed supporters.

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: Tomorrow morning, I’ll be seeing you at the L stops, as I have every morning, that skinny kid. Together as a city, we will get—

EMANUEL SUPPORTER: I’ll be there, Rahm!

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: I have a sinking feeling you’re right, you will be there. We will get back out there, talking to our friends and families and neighbors, as they make a critical choice about who has the strength, who has the leadership, who has the ideas to move this great city forward, so we could secure the future of this great city for our children. Thank you, and God bless you.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the Chicago mayoral race, we’re joined by Salim Muwakkil. He is senior editor of In These Times, host of The Salim Muwakkil Show on WVON in Chicago.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Salim. The significance of Rahm Emanuel, who President Obama came out to endorse, who raised, well, what, four times the amount of money of all the candidates against him combined, him not hitting the 50 percent mark so he has to go to a runoff?

SALIM MUWAKKIL: That’s right. I mean, he was widely disliked in Chicago, and especially in the African-American—in the African-American community, some parts of the Latino community, as well. But primarily, he was seen as a candidate of privilege, a candidate who was dedicated to the development of downtown Chicago while neglecting the less privileged precincts of the city. And he was seen as someone who would continue that process of privatizing the public sphere, or the commons, privatizing the commons to the highest bidder. And I think it was simply a reaction to that attitude, and especially with the activism and organizational prowess of the Chicago Teachers Union.

His initial clash with them, I think, is what started his downward spiral in certain communities, because he had that kind of arrogant attitude, an attitude that was pro-charter schools, a sort of dismissive attitude toward the public in Chicago. And the teachers union championed that alternative and championed a lot of candidates in this contest, a lot of aldermanic candidates. They provided Chuy García with some of his seed money in order to get started. And so, I think it was, you know, a number of factors that contributed to Emanuel’s lack of—you know, of fulfilling what a lot of the media took to be kind of conventional wisdom, that he would triumph. Well, the grassroots organizing of the Chicago Teachers Union and other organized labors and community groups that got involved with Chuy’s campaign, they simply outnumbered the money. And that will happen if the passion is there.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Salim, I wanted to ask you, because one of the things that’s struck me, which happens repeatedly in many of these local races, is that the polls were way off on the supposed support for Chuy García. They were talking about he only had about 20 percent support. And I’m wondering, one, your sense of what happened there. And also, Karen Lewis, who was originally the head of the teachers union, was originally supposed to run, but, of course, when she got ill, she had to drop out. I’m wondering, if she had run, she might have—she might have actually beaten Emanuel in the first round.

SALIM MUWAKKIL: I mean, there’s a great possibility of that, yes. But, you know, Karen Lewis was a polarizing figure also, so she would have inspired a lot of passion, but she may have inspired just as much opposition. I think Chuy García is kind of that compromised figure who was a moderate, you know, spot between her passion, her great passion, and a sort of organizational prowess and knowledge that Chuy García possesses. And so, yes. But, you know, I think—Karen Lewis drafted Chuy García, according to his own accounts. She was the one who convinced him to get into the race. And so, she is a large part of—you know, she’s his ideological backbone, I guess you could say, or his great supporter. And he gives—you know, he certainly gives credit to her support.

And Chuy, you know, was also a very—he was a very essential part of the Harold Washington coalition back in the day. And that’s stood him in good stead, let us say, among many of the progressives, who still rally to his side. Many of the leading progressives in Chicago, black progressives, were in his camp. And I think also the candidacy of Willie Wilson and Dock Walls siphoned away some of that discontent from the black community that may have gone—may have gone to Rahm Emanuel, because there is some residual—or, you know, there’s a little bit of animosity in the African-American community toward the Latino community, primarily because of economic threats, the threat of employment replacement, that kind of thing. So there’s a little bit of that in the black community, and perhaps the candidacies of Willie Wilson and Dock Walls siphoned that out to allow, you know, a clearer kind of expression of discontent for the mayor to consolidate on Chuy García.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the significance of Luis Gutiérrez, maybe the most prominent Latino leader in Chicago, not backing Chuy García, but going with Rahm Emanuel?

SALIM MUWAKKIL: Yeah, that’s another thing. You know, Chuy comes out of the progressive wing of the Latino political power in this city. And Gutiérrez represents the opposite wing, let us say. And so, there was always that tension between the two. And, you know, this is an indication that Gutiérrez really doesn’t have the support of the community behind him. He has long ago ceded his credentials, his movement credentials, to support for these kind of mainstream candidates, and he continues that dynamic. And I think he was repudiated in this election. But I’m sure he won’t get the message.

AMY GOODMAN: Salim, we want to thank you for being with us. When is the rerun? When is the runoff, I should say, in April? And what was the voter turnout? And do you think that will change?

SALIM MUWAKKIL: The voter turnout was extremely low. Estimates are that it was—and, in fact, it may have been—it may have hit a record for lack of interest. And that is something also that defies conventional wisdom. You know, the pundits said that if the turnout is low, it’s likely that Emanuel would win without the need of a runoff. But that, too, was—you know, was contradicted by the result of this election. So, we look forward to the general election, and Chuy’s chances look very good, very good.

AMY GOODMAN: Salim Muwakkil is senior editor of In These Times, host of The Salim Muwakkil Show on WVON in Chicago. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we’ll look at President Obama’s veto of the Keystone XL pipeline, and we’ll speak to Kumi Naidoo, the head of Greenpeace International in South Africa. Why was he being spied on? Stay with us.

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News Thu, 26 Feb 2015 11:06:53 -0500
Clinton's Speeches Inspire Gifts, Gratitude and Potential Conflicts http://truth-out.org/news/item/29326-clinton-s-speeches-inspire-gifts-gratitude-and-potential-conflicts http://truth-out.org/news/item/29326-clinton-s-speeches-inspire-gifts-gratitude-and-potential-conflicts

Santa Clara, California - When Hillary Clinton arrives in Silicon Valley this week to give her latest speech, the likely presidential candidate will be among friends.

Clinton will serve as the keynote speaker Tuesday at a conference sponsored by a series of major companies that have donated to her political campaigns or her family's foundation, helped pay her hefty speaking fees at other events and lobbied her when she served as secretary of state. Some of their employees have been involved in her campaigns or initiatives at the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. Many have multiple ties to the Clintons.

Cisco, a California networking equipment company, donated thousands of dollars to Clinton through its political action committee, and its general counsel served as a bundler and a policy adviser for her 2008 presidential campaign. Ericsson, a Swedish communications company, donated between $50,000 and $100,000 to the foundation, and its president participated in a group discussion at the related Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting last year. Morgan Stanley, a New York investment firm that's Clinton's sixth largest donor, spent at least $14 million lobbying the federal government, including the State Department, during her term on issues related to China, India and currency-exchange oversight, according to public records.

This is not unusual.

Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have been part of American politics since the 1970s, collecting myriad connections to major businesses and organizations across the nation and the world.

"Anytime there is a dynastic family, those connections can run very deep, with relationships built over decades," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics.

Krumholz said it wasn't rare for those relationships to evolve over time or for individuals or organizations to take on multiple roles when a family had been in the spotlight for so long.

For example, Tom Nides, a deputy secretary of state under Clinton, rejoined Morgan Stanley as vice chairman after he left the administration.

Bruce Cain, a political science professor at Stanford University, said that if candidates had been in politics "forever" – no matter the party – they were bound to have similar connections.

"We're going to be able to say that about the front-runner in both parties," he said.

The conference sponsors and their employees will be some of the same ones Clinton will count on for money and support if she runs for president again – and the same ones that could lead to questions about conflicts of interests.

"Deals and gifts inspire gratitude," Krumholz said.

Clinton has raised $329 million in her campaigns for Senate and president, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, while her family foundation has raised nearly $2 billion in the last 10 years, according to an analysis of the organization's annual reports. Those numbers don't include her husband's fundraising as Arkansas governor or president.

Since she stepped down as the nation's top diplomat in 2013, Clinton has given dozens of speeches, some drawing paychecks of as much as $200,000 to $300,000.

Many of them have been closed to the public, taking place in front of business-friendly groups, including trade associations or lobbying organizations. Fees for most are unknown.

It's unclear how much she has earned from her speeches, but a review of published reports indicates she's likely made at least $5.3 million, using $200,000 as a baseline for the known speeches.

Hillary Clinton, 67, is already the presumed front-runner for her party's presidential nomination, though she continues to be dogged by complaints about her high-priced speeches and ties to Wall Street. She's been accused of appearing out of touch.

She's kept a low profile in recent months while Republican potential rivals are visiting the early-voting states of New Hampshire and Iowa.

Allison Moore, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, accused Clinton of only coming "out of hiding for another hefty speaking fee."

Clinton's speech Tuesday at the Santa Clara Convention Center is designed to boost the number of female leaders. Her spokesman and conference officials didn't say how much she's being paid.

There'll be dozens of speakers, mostly women, at the Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women, organized by a 20-year-old group of executive women in the San Francisco Bay Area. Clinton will serve as the keynote speaker.

"I'm a huge fan of hers and I'm excited that she's been able to fit us into her schedule," Watermark CEO Marlene Williamson said. "She's had a remarkable life, a remarkable career . . . and there's a lot of speculation about what's around the corner for Hillary on a personal level, and so there's a lot of anticipation and interest in her opinions on a variety of topics."

Watermark sponsors receive a level of marketing consistent with the amount of money they give to the conference, but they aren't provided special access to the speakers, Williamson said.

Other sponsors include Ernst & Young, a contributor to Clinton's 2008 campaign and foundation, whose vice president served on the International Council on Women's Business Leadership led by Clinton; Johnson & Johnson, part of a public-private partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development launched by Clinton; UPS, which contributed between $100,000 and $250,000 to the Clinton foundation and helped pay for leadership training programs for girls; and EMC Corp. and Intel Corp., which sponsored conferences that Clinton headlined.

Clinton is scheduled to deliver a handful of speeches in the next month organized by the New York and New Jersey chapter of the American Camp Association, the Robin Toner Program in Political Reporting and Emily's List, which supports Democratic women who favor abortion rights. She recently signed on to be the keynote speaker at a United Nations meeting on women's rights next month.

CORRECTION: An earlier version wrongly said Morgan Stanley had spent $14 million to lobby the State Department. It spent that amount to lobby the entire federal government.

Marissa Horn and Greg Gordon contributed to this article.

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News Thu, 26 Feb 2015 10:15:52 -0500
Obama's Legacy: Permanent War and Liberal/Radical Accommodation? http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/29325-obama-s-legacy-permanent-war-and-liberal-radical-accommodation http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/29325-obama-s-legacy-permanent-war-and-liberal-radical-accommodation

African American radicals – unlike many white radicals – cannot afford the luxury of being unclear about the nature and interests of the white supremacist, patriarchal, colonial/capitalist order.

The announcement by the Obama administration that it will seek congressional authorization to expand the war on ISIS in Syria and possibly send more heavy weapons to its client government in Ukraine did not generate the kind of muscular opposition and sense of urgency that one would expect from the anti-interventionist liberals and significant sectors of what use to be the anti-imperialist and anti-war left.

Outside of a few articles written by some of us confined to the marginalized and shrinking left, the reports that the administration was considering both of these courses of action were met with passing indifference. It is as if the capitalist oligarchy's strategy of permanent war has been accepted as a fait-accompi by the general public and even significant numbers of the left.

The fact that the U.S. President could launch military attacks in Syria, supposedly a sovereign state and member of the United Nations, for six months without any legal justification and not face fierce criticism in the U.S. and internationally demonstrates the embrace of lawlessness that characterizes the current epoch of Western imperialist domination.

And the acquiescence of much of the left in the U.S. and Europe on the issue of Syria and the U.S.-supported coup in Ukraine reveals the moderating and accommodating forces within the faux left that attempts to bully and intimidate anti-imperialist critics.

To oppose the dismemberment of Syria or criticize the dangerous collaboration between the U.S. and racist neo-Nazi elements in Ukraine was reduced to the silly and intellectually lazy arguments that one was "pro-Assad" or a dupe for Putin!

The current ideological environment did not evolve by accident or by the particular confluence of historical events. The disappearance of anti-imperialism among the cosmopolitan left in the U.S. and Western Europe is reflective of a monumental ideological accomplishment by the propagandists of empire. The professional propagandists of empire and Western dominance were able to adroitly "introject" into the center of the radical world-view and consciousness a liberal ideological framework that privileged "anti-authoritarianism" over anti-imperialism.

The political consequence of this shift in consciousness has been disastrous for oppositional left politics throughout the West but particularly in the U.S. As the U.S. increasingly turned to lawless violence to advance its interests over the last seven years of the presidency of Barack Obama, "leftists" in the U.S. objectively aligned themselves with the U.S./EU/NATO axis of domination through their silence or outright support in the name of opposing authoritarian regimes.

The human consequence of this collaboration with U.S. and Western militarization by progressive forces in the U.S. and Europe has translated into unrestrained violent interventions from Libya to Syria and back to Iraq. Along with the escalations of direct military interventions, economic warfare and subversion directed at the state and people of Iran, Russia, Venezuela, and other progressive states in Latin America has resulted in the unnecessary suffering of millions.

And while the left and millions of Europeans will mobilize to condemn the 17 lives lost in the incident in Paris and defend "Western values," there is no massive moral outrage from the Western public for the millions that have died at the hands of Western imperialism and the death and destruction that is promised with policies being considered for Syria and the Ukraine by the ruling elite in the U.S.

Fortunately, despite the political confusion of many leftists and the moral duplicity of liberals, signs of growing opposition to U.S. war-mongering are emanating from a historically familiar place – African American young people.

Similar to what occurred in the 1960s when opposition to the Vietnam war was catalyzed by the student organizers of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) working on the frontlines of struggle in the deep South, "Black Lives Matter" activists and the many other formations and tendencies crystalizing out of the Ferguson and anti-police violence movements are making the connection between violence and militarization in the internal colonized areas of the U.S. and the state violence being waged by the U.S. state beyond its' borders.

Resistance to the logic of white supremacist colonialist/capitalist domination on the part of these young activists is leading them to a resolute anti-imperialist and anti-war stance, just like the young black activists of SNCC some fifty years ago.

Alicia Garza, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, offers a welcomed lesson to the faux left:

"There is absolutely a link between the militarization and the use of force to police black communities in the US and the role of the military to police people of color and Black people in the global South. In both scenarios, the police and the military are used to protect private property and the interests of the elite, but are also used to dampen and or eliminate any resistance to the status quo."

The experiences of these activists in the U.S. and their increasing connections with struggling peoples' throughout the world is making it clear to them that the slogan "to protect and serve – capital, " not only applies to the occupation forces that police the racialized colonies inside the U.S. but also the role of the U.S. military abroad.

"Black against empire," is not only a title to a book; it also captures the radical stance that conscious black radicals in the U.S. must assume.

The systemic degradation that characterizes the social experiences of African American workers, the marginalized poor, and working class of all of the oppressed and colonized nations and peoples' by the U.S. empire, strips away the pretense of a benevolent hegemon. The lived experience of oppression means that African American radicals – unlike many white radicals – cannot afford the luxury of being unclear about the nature and interests of the white supremacist, patriarchal, colonial/capitalist order. It is and will be the primary enemy.

On Sept. 12, 2001, the day after the attack in New York city and before it was clear what forces were behind the attack, neoconservative pundits revealing the pre-determined strategy that was to guide U.S. policy in the 21st century, were forcefully arguing that the U.S. must be prepared to use force in the world and in the immediate period to declare war on "militant Islam." The countries identified for immediate attack included Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Iran, with China thrown in as well.

Permanent war and lawless gangsterism to protect and advance U.S. global economic and political interests was codified in the National Security Strategy (NSS) issued by President Bush on Sept. 21, 2002.

And while the pursuit of that strategy made President Bush the symbol of U.S. arrogance and generated vociferous liberal and progressive opposition, Barack Obama has faithfully carried out that very same neocon strategy becoming the smiling brown face of U.S. polices as morally repugnant as his predecessor – but without progressive, popular opposition.

However, the lack of moral outrage and opposition to the reactionary policies of Barack Obama is changing and will change even more rapidly as the new generation of black activists shift the center of oppositional politics back to the radical black tradition.

When/if that happens, there will be a much needed rebirth of the anti-war and anti-imperialist movement and radical activism in the U.S. will take a qualitative leap forward.

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Opinion Thu, 26 Feb 2015 09:53:09 -0500
Syriza's Greece: From a New Social Deal to an Updated Version of the Economics of Social Disaster http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/29324-syriza-s-greece-from-a-new-social-deal-to-an-updated-version-of-the-economics-of-social-disaster http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/29324-syriza-s-greece-from-a-new-social-deal-to-an-updated-version-of-the-economics-of-social-disaster

 

 

Less than a month after its rise to power, Syriza's strategy to get Europe's policy toward Greece changed has ended in fiasco. (Photo via Shutterstock)Less than a month after its rise to power, Syriza's strategy to get Europe's policy toward Greece changed has ended in fiasco. (Photo: Ververidis Vasilis / Shutterstock.com) Less than a month after its rise to power, Syriza's strategy to change the eurozone's policy of forcing austerity on Greece has ended in fiasco, making it harder for progressive forces across Europe to convince voters that they can stand up to the neoliberal onslaught.

In Greek mythology, Cronus devoured all his children because of a prophecy that he would be overthrown by one of his own children. In contemporary Greece, it is the political elite that devours the children of its nation by robbing them of any hope of improving their lot.

A month after the last general election, it is now the turn of Syriza's political leaders to break their promises - following the pattern of every other government that has ruled a nation of 11 million gullible people in the last half century - and destroy a society's hopes and dreams for a brighter tomorrow.

For the uninitiated into the Greek debt drama of the past five years, Syriza came to power on January 25, 2015, on pledges to put an end to the era of austerity and the hardships that befell the majority of the nation's people following the European Union (EU)/International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout program that went into effect when Greece reached the verge of bankruptcy in early 2010, as a result of too much accumulated debt and unsustainable deficits in a foreign currency (i.e., the euro).  

All previous governments up to the elections of January 2015 followed the diktats of the country's foreign lenders, enforcing brutal austerity measures and extreme fiscal consolidation to reduce public expenditures and produce a primary fiscal surplus so the servicing of debt would be ensured. Wages, salaries and pensions were slashed by as much as 40 percent; public services and social programs were stripped to their bare bones, which included hospitals running without adequate equipment and medicine and schools functioning without heating oil in the winter months, unemployment shot through the roof (currently standing at nearly 26 percent, and over 50 percent for those 15-24 years old), poverty became a reality for one out of three people, and suicides became endemic in the early years of the crisis.      

The EU/IMF duo kept lending money to the Greek governments (some 237 billion euros) so old debts could be repaid, debts that were accumulated by the political elite to keep a bubble economy going and by the oligarchs, who took out huge loans and siphoned the money out of Greece into tax havens and threatened to declare bankruptcy afterwards.

The notion that the working people of Greece somehow benefitted from that heavy government borrowing is one of the primary lies that was spread around the country by the political class itself to make average citizens feel guilty and surrender to the antisocial policies that were being implemented as part of the bailout agreement. By the same token, none of the loans provided by the EU/IMF duo were used in any form or shape to address the hardships experienced by the Greek people as a result of the draconian austerity measures.

However, the debt and the bailout loans were used by the EU authorities to run a wild social and economic experiment: turning Greece into a neoliberal laboratory and depriving the nation of all its public assets. Since the bailout agreement went into effect, labor laws vanished, allowing the capitalist class to pump to extreme levels the rate of exploitation, and all of Greece's public assets were privatized at fire sale prices.

The only political organizations that challenged the barbaric policies of Greece's international creditors were the Greek Communist Party, the neo-Nazi organization Golden Dawn and Syriza, formally known as the Coalition of the Radical Left. While lacking for much of its history a consistent ideology and a vision for social change, Syriza's appeal among the masses began to grow after 2012 because the other political alternatives were seen as far too extremist.

Indeed, in an attempt to appeal to many different groups, Syriza's leadership adopted a rather moderate stance on economic issues and used a political rhetoric that revolved around national pride and honor rather than the language of class politics. It opened its arms to people of different ideological orientations and built bridges with the banking and corporate community. It adopted a conciliatory stance toward the European Union and its institutions and attacked austerity as merely an irrational policy.

Indeed, Syriza's leadership is surrounded by people who are ideologically much closer to the tradition of social democracy than that of radical political economy. The majority are academics who are completely divorced from mass struggles, such as the current Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, whose main form of social activism is confined to the art of blogging. In contract, much of Syriza's base consists of activists and radicals.

In challenging the EU-imposed austerity on Greece, Syriza's leadership did not question EU institutions or Greece staying in the euro. In contrast, it spoke of the need to provide support for a common European house, claiming that its moral and economic case against Greece's economic catastrophe will shift the balance of forces inside Europe to its side, opening up opportunities for a change in Europe's political economy that would in turn help to change Greece itself.

Nevertheless, Syriza's leader did not hesitate to promise Greek voters that austerity and the bailout program would come to an end on the very same day Syriza came to power. Alexis Tsipras promised that he would secure a write-off of at least a significant part of Greece's debt (although he no longer treated it as odious) and would reverse the bulk of the neoliberal reforms under way, including privatization. He also vowed to immediately increase the minimum monthly wage to pre-crisis levels and take direct measures to address the worse aspects of the crisis. And he would do all those things while keeping Greece in the eurozone.

Less than a month after its rise to power, Syriza's strategy to get Europe's policy toward Greece changed has ended in fiasco. Not only has Syriza's "new social deal for a new Greece" project been torn into pieces by eurozone's neoliberal rulers, but Greece's Syriza government has been forced to accept a four-month extension of the bailout agreement to secure additional funds. In so doing, it promised that Greece will fulfill all its running obligations with the international creditors (hence forget all talk about a debt write-off) and will carry out "a broader and deeper structural reform process" (hence forget all talk about the end of austerity and neoliberalism).

In a seven-page document that Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis submitted a couple of days ago to the president of the eurogroup, following the extension of the bailout plan at the eurogroup meeting of February 20, the Syriza government promises to remain faithful to the EU-imposed fiscal discipline on Greece, not to reverse any privatization projects already completed, and to respect those already underway. And as the icing on the cake, it vows that any consideration for an increase in the minimum wage will be done after consultation with the euro masters.

It usually takes some time before governments renege on promises made during the campaign, but it took less than one month for Greece's Syriza government to do so. Worse, the quick capitulation was made by an alleged party of the Radical Left, which means that the political future of the Greek left is anything but rosy. In fact, Syriza's capitulation has had adverse effects across Europe as progressive forces everywhere will be hard pressed to convince voters that they can stand up to the neoliberal onslaught when Greece's own Radical Left party folded under pressure like a cheap suit.

The radicals inside Syriza are already gearing up for a confrontation with the government and the party's leadership, but one has to wonder if the course of events can be altered. Syriza's leadership and the great majority of Greek people are committed to the euro, so hope may have to wait for yet another election.

In the meantime, the political elite will continue to devour the nation's children, destroying their hopes for a better future with lies and deception.  

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patty@truthout.org (patty) Opinion Thu, 26 Feb 2015 09:05:35 -0500
Alternatives to Incarceration: Be Careful What You Wish For http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/29323-alternatives-to-incarceration-be-careful-what-you-wish-for http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/29323-alternatives-to-incarceration-be-careful-what-you-wish-for

As awareness is growing of the financial and human costs associated with mass incarceration, we're hearing talk from politicians on both sides of the aisle (and, believe it or not, even from the Koch Brothers) about the need for "alternatives to incarceration" (ATIs).

The term "alternatives to incarceration" takes for granted that we are talking about ways to handle criminals who otherwise would need to be incarcerated — that incarceration is a reasonable baseline against which to measure "alternatives." In light of the over-representation of Americans of color and low-income Americans in jails and prisons, however, it's necessary to be careful about any sort of presumption of correlation between criminality and incarceration. In fact, about a third of people locked up in the US are awaiting trial; that is, they have not been convicted of a crime. Another third are locked up because they violated the terms of probation or parole; that is; the "criminal" act was not sufficiently egregious to require imprisonment but a subsequent action – often simply not showing up for a meeting with a parole or probation officer, or failing to keep up restitution payments or money owed in court fees – was the reason for incarceration. And 97% of federal and state criminal prosecutions are resolved by plea bargain – often accepted by defendants out of fear that if they don't accept the deal they will be locked up even longer — rather than by trial.

Given these numbers, it's easier to make a case for abolition than for "alternatives to incarceration." But that is not the direction in which public discourse seems to be moving. To the contrary, the increasingly popular sentiment goes something like this: A whole lot of people sitting in jails and prisons are mentally ill; they are drug users who need treatment more than they need punishment. Echoing this sentiment, Los Angeles County – the US county with the largest number of incarcerated people – recently approved a $1.9 billion proposal to tear down Men's Central Jail and construct a 4,885-bed "Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility". And while "treatment" certainly sounds beneficial, the content of that treatment has yet to be spelled out.

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Over the past five years I followed a cohort of Massachusetts women who cycle in and out of prison as well as a variety of treatment programs. All of the women, at some point in their lives, have been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder (most commonly substance abuse, bipolar disorder, PTSD). Overall, these twenty-six women spent far more time in treatment than in correctional settings. Yet, at the end of five years only three women had settled into reasonably secure housing, stable employment and long-term desistance from substance abuse.

Typically, treatment programs include some combination of pharmaceutical, twelve-step and psychotherapeutic components. Most of the women I have come to know are prescribed mind-boggling assortments of psychotropic medication, some of which make them, as Elizabeth (a white woman in her early forties, Elizabeth was homeless for a decade) used to say, into "a space shot" who shuffles around in a daze that puts her at elevated risk for being robbed or assaulted. Whether anti-anxiety, anti-depression or anti-psychotic drugs, these medications are not intended to cure the underlying problems such as sexual assault and homelessness that lead to anxiety, depression and substance abuse. Rather, psychotropic medications are prescribed in order to manage the individual's response those problems.

While not all treatment programs prescribe psychotropic medication, virtually all incorporate – explicitly or implicitly — twelve step ideology and practices. Treatment facilities tend to be plastered with twelve step slogans such as "Let Go and Let God" and "Cultivate an attitude of gratitude," and formal AA/NA meetings typically are part of the treatment regime. With emphasis on admitting one's powerlessness (Step 1) and making moral inventories of one's faults (Step 4), these programs do not seem to offer the women I have come to know a meaningful script for re-organizing their lives. When I visited Joy, who has been homeless for nearly fifteen years and nearly died as a consequence of a brutal sexual assault, several weeks into her stay in a treatment facility she enthusiastically explained to me that, "I'm learning that my problems are in my head." Unfortunately, her problems also were in the real world: Less than a year later she was back on the streets where she was sexually accosted by a police officer who then arrested her for solicitation.

Most treatment programs in Massachusetts also include some sort of psychotherapy, and nearly all of the women I know have been treated by multiple therapists over the years, sometimes beginning in adolescence or even childhood. With its focus on the individual psyche, psychotherapy addresses personal flaws such as poor impulse control, allowing oneself to be a victim, and struggles to "get over" past traumas. But as Elizabeth explains, "I don't need to talk about my problems. I need a place to live so that I won't be scared all of the time." This does not mean that therapy is useless; it does mean that "talk is cheap" without the material conditions that permit women like Elizabeth and Joy to build a secure life.

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There is little evidence pointing to long-term success for any particular drug treatment modality. Studies showing positive outcomes typically fail to track program participants for long enough time to establish meaningful rates of success, look only at participants who completed the program, fail to control for confounding variables, or look at very small numbers of participants from the start. The absence of evidence for the success of treatment programs is especially glaring when the treatment is coerced or carried out in a coercive situation. It may be tempting to believe that even if treatment doesn't help everyone, at least it doesn't hurt. Yet, as we've learned from the past — from efforts to "cure" homosexuality to the tranquilizers ("mother's little helper") of the 1960s, when a patient's ideas or behaviors challenge social hierarchies of race, gender, sexual orientation or class, treatment that is ostensibly for the patient's own good may be used to bring the "deviant" individual back into line. As those of us old enough to remember Jack Nicholson's performance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest can attest, therapeutic interventions aimed at "getting inside" the patient's head can carry heavy costs indeed.

The murky line between punishment and treatment has not been lost on some of the corporations involved in the prison industry. Correctional Healthcare Companies, for example, has expanded beyond providing medical services to prisons and now offers services for the "full spectrum" of "offenders" lives: "pre-custody, in custody, and post-custody," a timeline that perhaps says more than the company intended about American understandings of criminality.

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Opinion Thu, 26 Feb 2015 09:37:19 -0500