Truthout Stories http://www.truth-out.org Wed, 26 Nov 2014 06:08:15 -0500 en-gb Torture Report: Mark Udall's Historic Moment to Rescue CIA Oversight http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27670-torture-report-mark-udall-s-historic-moment-to-rescue-cia-oversight http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27670-torture-report-mark-udall-s-historic-moment-to-rescue-cia-oversight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Opinion Tue, 25 Nov 2014 15:40:08 -0500
Can Democrats Set Out a New Path? http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27669-can-democrats-set-out-a-new-path http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27669-can-democrats-set-out-a-new-path

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

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

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

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

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

But it wasn't always like this.

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

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

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

Then Reagan happened, and everything changed.

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

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

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

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

There are lots of reasons for it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Opinion Tue, 25 Nov 2014 15:22:24 -0500
Russians Invade Afghanistan (Again!), Chinese Fight Iraq War (Again!): What If It Weren't Us? http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27663-russians-invade-afghanistan-again-chinese-fight-iraq-war-again-what-if-it-weren-t-us http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27663-russians-invade-afghanistan-again-chinese-fight-iraq-war-again-what-if-it-weren-t-us

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Fraudulent Election and a Collapsed Army

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vietnamizing Iraq, Iraqicizing Vietnam

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

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

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

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

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

Four More Years!  Four More Years!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awaiting Iraq War 4.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Opinion Tue, 25 Nov 2014 12:38:33 -0500
The Games People Play: One Year After the Rise of the Maidan Movement in Ukraine http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27659-the-games-people-play-one-year-after-the-rise-of-the-maidan-movement-in-ukraine http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27659-the-games-people-play-one-year-after-the-rise-of-the-maidan-movement-in-ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnotes:

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

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

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

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

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Opinion Tue, 25 Nov 2014 12:52:27 -0500
On the News With Thom Hartmann: Walmart Is One of the World's Biggest Consumers of Coal, and More http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27658-on-the-news-with-thom-hartmann-walmart-is-one-of-the-world-s-biggest-consumers-of-coal-and-more http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27658-on-the-news-with-thom-hartmann-walmart-is-one-of-the-world-s-biggest-consumers-of-coal-and-more

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

TRANSCRIPT:

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

You need to know this. Most of us know that taxpayers subsidize Walmart's low wages with billions of dollars in Medicaid, food stamps, and other financial assistance for workers. But, did you know that we're also subsidizing the retail giant by paying the cost of their environmental destruction? According to a new report from The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Walmart is one of the world's biggest consumers of coal, which makes them one of the leading carbon polluters. The authors of that study calculated how much electricity the chain uses, how much coal they consume, and the greenhouse gas emitted by every Walmart store and distribution center in our country. The results were "staggering" - showing that Walmart uses 19.5 million megawatt hours of energy – the same amount used by "every industrial facility in New Jersey and West Virginia put together." That is six times more electricity than the entire U.S. Auto industry uses, and 75 percent of all that energy comes from coal. Walmart isn't only dodging their responsibility to pay a living wage or contribute to our nation by paying their fair share of taxes. They're also skipping out on the bill when it comes to society's cost of cleaning up our environment. Bill McKibben of 350.org said, "It's unconscionable that the country's largest employer and the world's largest company is choosing to hurt our planet and hurt working families with its dirty operations and poverty pay." He added, "Walmart and the Waltons can help our communities truly live better by switching to clean energy and paying workers a fair wage." And, McKibben is exactly right. One of the best ways to make that happen is to stop covering the costs of their bad practices. Let's end the subsidies by making Walmart pay a living wage, and by putting a tax on the tons of carbon that they're pumping into our atmosphere.

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

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

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

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

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

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News Tue, 25 Nov 2014 11:34:44 -0500
After Vowing to End Combat Mission in Afghanistan, Obama Secretly Extends the United States' Longest War http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27656-after-vowing-to-end-combat-mission-in-afghanistan-obama-secretly-extends-the-united-states-longest-war http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27656-after-vowing-to-end-combat-mission-in-afghanistan-obama-secretly-extends-the-united-states-longest-war

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

TRANSCRIPT:

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

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

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

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

[Music Break]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KATHY KELLY: Zero.

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

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

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

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

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

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News Tue, 25 Nov 2014 11:20:00 -0500
How Public Power Can Defeat Plutocrats http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27655-how-public-power-can-defeat-plutocrats http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27655-how-public-power-can-defeat-plutocrats

Government has become a clearinghouse for corporations and plutocrats with deep pockets to buy the politicians who grease the wheels for lucrative contracts and easy regulation. It’s all pay for play, and look the other way.

According to the watchdog Sunlight Foundation, from 2007 to 2012, 200 corporations spent almost $6 billion in Washington on lobbying and campaign contributions. And they received more than $4 trillion in government contracts and other forms of assistance. Now that the midterm elections are over, it’s payback time, with the newly elected Congress ready to deliver to those who invested well in their chosen candidates.

This week, Lawrence Lessig and Zephyr Teachout return to talk about the corrupting influence of money in politics — a subject both have studied as scholars and are fighting against as reformers. (Watch part one of Bill’s conversation with Lessig and Teachout)

For the 2014 midterm elections, Lessig started the Mayday SuperPac, raising millions for congressional candidates who vowed to fight for campaign finance reform. All but two of them lost – but the fight continues. He tells Bill, “When we look at the systematic way in which our representatives are responsive not to the people alone, but increasingly to the funders exclusively, then that is an obvious corruption… This is not a Democratic issue. This is not a Republican issue. This is an American issue.”

Zephyr Teachout ran for governor of New York this year, trying to rouse the public against corruption in state government and received more than a third of the vote in the Democratic primary. She has written the book Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United. “I think we should forget the perfect resume and instead engage people who come from all different backgrounds, including the arts, and get them to run for office. Because this is what the kids in Hong Kong are fighting for. And we have to take the opportunity we have before it totally shuts down.”

TRANSCRIPT:

BILL MOYERS: Welcome. Like many of you, I’ve been watching Congress since the midterm elections, and what I’ve seen has me thinking of King Louis XVI of France. His Majesty was a good friend of the American Revolution but when he gave Benjamin Franklin a gold snuff box with the monarch’s portrait surrounded with diamonds, some of our founding fathers objected. They worried that the gift would corrupt his judgment and unduly bias Franklin in France’s favor.

Ever since, we Americans have been debating the meaning of corruption. Today, gifts to politicians that were once called graft or bribes are called contributions. And the Supreme Court has ruled that powerful corporations and rich individuals can give just about anything they want to politicians who do their bidding, and it’s not considered corruption.

The watchdog Sunlight Foundation reports that from 2007 to 2012, two hundred corporations spent almost $6 billion for lobbying and campaign contributions, and received more than $4 trillion -- that's $4 trillion -- in government contracts and other forms of assistance. Now, that’s why K Street in Washington is the road to paradise for lobbyists. But it’s a road that runs in both directions. NPR’s Peter Overby talked with political scientist David Primo:

DAVID PRIMO on NPR Morning Edition: The conventional wisdom out there is that businesses are going to Washington, writing checks and expecting big returns. But the other side of the story is that members of Congress may implicitly threaten businesses that if they don't change their policy, or if they’re not heavily involved in the political process, that bad things might happen to them.

BILL MOYERS: Now, partisans of the system say this is just business as usual, which, of course, it is, and that’s the problem, as we’re about to see with the newly elected Congress. Once upon a time the GOP stood for Grand Old Party; now it stands for Guardians of Privilege, and this is payback time for everything from fracking to getting the big banks off the hook; from doing away with the minimum wage and coddling off-shore corporate tax avoiders to privatizing Medicare and Social Security; to gutting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Environmental Protection Agency. And that’s just for starters.

Democrats, meanwhile, are so compromised by their own addiction to big money they have forgotten their history as champions of the working stiff, the little folks down there at the bottom. And that’s why the great problems facing everyday people in America are not being seriously addressed by a political class afraid to offend the people who write the checks – the corporations and the rich.

That’s why we asked Larry Lessig and Zephyr Teachout to return to talk further about corruption – a subject both have studied as scholars and are fighting against as reformers. Zephyr Teachout teaches at Fordham Law School, and ran for Governor of New York, trying to rouse the public against corruption in our state government. She got more than a third of the vote in the Democratic primary. She’s also the author of this acclaimed book, “Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United.”

Larry Lessig teaches at Harvard Law School and made his reputation as an expert on Internet law. He started the Mayday super PAC, raising millions for congressional candidates who vowed to fight the corrupting influence of money in politics. All but two of them lost – but the fight continues. Welcome back.

LAWRENCE LESSIG: Thank you.

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Thanks for having us.

BILL MOYERS: Chief Justice John Roberts takes a different view of corruption from the two of you. He says, quote, "Any regulation must instead target what we have called ‘quid pro quo’ corruption or its appearance. […] the notion of a direct exchange of an official act for money.”

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Well, at the constitutional convention, the primary topic was corruption. The framers are sitting there in Philadelphia, trying to figure out how to build the structures to allow this new country. And their real obsession was how do we, you know, we've seen what's happened in England, we've seen what's happened in world history.

How do we protect against basically big money taking over representative democracy? And when they talked about corruption, they weren't talking about criminal bribery, bags of cash. They were talking about when public servants serve their own ends, the selfish ends, or ends of, you know, wealthy sponsor.

BILL MOYERS: Using the public power to benefit private interests.

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Private ends. And you know what? That's what people on the street think now too. When you talk about the corruption in Congress, people are talking about the same thing that Madison was talking about, this the sense that our public servants are just serving themselves. They're running away with the resources of our country. Or serving their donors.

And John Roberts gets it so deeply wrong in his understanding of history. And he gets it so deeply wrong in a way that has really hurt us, because he keeps striking down campaign finance laws. So it's bad history, it's bad law, it's bad policy. And I believe that one of the things we need to remember as reformers is that this fight against big money is a long fight. It never ends. It's always going to be a struggle. But that's what we were founded on and we should honor that.

BILL MOYERS: You write and talk about systemic and systematic corruption. Give me a working definition of that.

LAWRENCE LESSIG: Well, you know, Madison created, when he helped craft the Congress, a system which he said would be "dependent on the people alone." And he was quite explicit about who the people were. He said the people are, quote, "Not the rich, more than the poor." We have corrupted that dynamic. There's no doubt about that. In the way we speak, in the way our framers speak.

And I actually think this debate in the Supreme Court is not over. Because one of the arguments that's not yet been pressed against them firmly enough is for those conservatives who go around talking about the importance of original understanding, and talking about what the framers meant when they used their words.

We now have the document, the work, Zephyr's book is incredibly powerful about this, to establish that those framers would have understood this concept in a way that could see the corruption in the system as plainly as they would see it anywhere. And so when we look at the systematic way in which our representatives are responsive not to the people alone, but increasingly to the funders exclusively, then that is an obvious corruption that they ought to be able to respond to. Now look, the Supreme Court gave us Citizens United. I think it's the greatest gift this movement has had. You know--

BILL MOYERS: How so?

LAWRENCE LESSIG: Because just like Roe v. Wade motivated the pro-life movement, so too this has excited an incredible cross-partisan movement of people who finally recognize the corruption of this system. So we will rally that movement. And I think the court's eventually going to get it right and allow Congress to at least end that systemic corruption.

BILL MOYERS: How do you get the court, the Supreme Court, which has ruled consistently on this issue now, to reconsider its principle?

LAWRENCE LESSIG: Look, the court has said again and again, it's not Congress's job to silence people. Now, I don't think that's a fair characterization of what Congress is trying to do. But anyway, that's what they are targeting.

BILL MOYERS: That's why they say it's free speech?

LAWRENCE LESSIG: Yeah. But what we're talking about when we talk about small-dollar public funding, it's not silencing anybody. It's about giving a wider opportunity of people to speak. It's about recognizing not the need for equality in speech, but equality in citizenship. We all ought to be equal citizens in this process of selecting our representatives.

So, you know, what were they protesting about in Hong Kong? They were protesting a system, a two-stage democracy wherein the first stage, a tiny, tiny group will select the candidates who the rest of Hong Kong get to vote for. A tiny group, .024 percent of that population. Well, that is our democracy too. Because we've got a system where a tiny, tiny fraction of America picks the candidates who get to run by funding their campaigns. The relevant funders of campaigns are no more than the number of people proportionately that were picking the candidates in Hong Kong.

BILL MOYERS: And you call that the wealth primary, where the donors can really actually decide who's going to run.

LAWRENCE LESSIG: You can call it the wealth primary, or you can call it the green primary. The point is, it's a system that excludes a vast majority of people from participating equally in this critical stage in the election. That is a violation of the framers' conception of our democracy.

BILL MOYERS: But even if you had raised public money, even if you had that statute in place, the big donors would still have been given the big megaphone.

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: If we had in New York state the public financing system that I'd like to see in every state, I, first of all, I would've raised at least $4 million.

BILL MOYERS: Instead of?

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Instead of around $800,000, most of which came in the last two weeks. I could've gotten on TV. I got a third of the vote with no television. No mail. And most importantly, there's an odd dynamic where the press will only take you seriously as a candidate once you've raised a certain amount of money. And by far, the most important intermediary is still the press. The press still makes a bigger difference than the fundraising itself.

BILL MOYERS: Well, separate the press. The journalists from the tsunami of ads out there. There were so many ads that some stations could no longer carry them. And the parties had to go out to little small stations just to spend the money to run the ads. And I saw ad after ad for your opponent here, none from you. So it's not just the journalists.

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: It's not just the journalists, but I actually think it's really important because one of the things that public financing does is it allows and gives permission in some ways for media to actually cover a contest of ideas, instead of doing what they do nowadays. I talked to journalists who say, I can't cover you because you have so little money. But if you have a public financing system, they can at least cover the fight. And I think that's so important. I mean, I think—I’d certainly agree with you on Hong Kong and the wealth primary and how people feel the wealth primary. They feel like they're not getting a choice between people who represent them. They're getting a choice between people who represent donors.

And it's hard to engage and excite people on that. But I tend to think that this court, sort of deep down, is motivated by a vision, a non-democratic, or distrust of democracy. There's an old corporatist idea that was part of the early 20th century, where there were pretty who were actively advocating, saying, I think our corporate leaders should be our leaders and work hand in hand with elected officials. Because they're good managers. They're-- they've been selected through the fight of the market. I happen to think that idea is crazy and not sustainable. But it was a true ideology. And I see some of that in our current Supreme Court as well.

BILL MOYERS: Well, excuse me for being tedious. But I read in your works what you say, that if dysfunction sets in and you can't get government to work on behalf of the public interest, then you can't pass the legislation that you say, I mean, it's a squirrel's game.

LAWRENCE LESSIG: Look. Look. Look. You read my book from four years ago. And in the meantime, I've seen Zephyr Teachout run for governor. And I've seen the incredible response. When I've been out there watching people and watching real leaders push on this issue, the passion is there. And this is still a system where we can win more votes than they do and win more seats in Congress than they have and pass legislation to take this critical first step. And I think--

BILL MOYERS: You mean--

LAWRENCE LESSIG: --we will.

BILL MOYERS: By "they," you mean the oligarchs, the plutocrats. Are we close to plutocracy, where government runs, is run by the rich?

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: For the advantage of rich?

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Yes.

LAWRENCE LESSIG: But, you know, here's the way I want to push back on that. It makes it sound like it works for them, too. You know, it works for them on some issues. But the point is when they look at a system which, you know, they pretty much agree is broken in 1,000 different ways, they, too, can begin to recognize why this is a terrible system.

When we would get super-large, rich people giving us money to make it so they had less political power in the system, it wasn’t because they were trying to show off. It's because they genuinely believe that this system is broken. And they believe one way to fix it is to make it so that they don't have so much power. So, you know, you could say in the Civil Rights Movement, why would whites ever work with blacks to bring about equality? Because they realized that even though they benefited, in some sense, from this unequal system, they didn't believe that was the American system that they had grown up loving. And that's the same thing that's happening.

BILL MOYERS: Do you agree with him on this? The fact that you can tame it, you can regulate it with laws, when you have a legislature like we have in Albany and a governor who has no interest in diminishing his power, as Larry says?

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Yes, we can. Again, that doesn't mean that it's easy or that it's simple or we know the exact route. I mean, I look at William Jennings Bryan. He never became president.

BILL MOYERS: Great orator. Great populist.

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: And Bryan ran for president again and again. He came out of a populist movement that had been demanding a change in the way that we do campaigns, down with monopolies, in the 1880s and the 1890s. Maybe in 1894 or '95 they should've just given up.

Because if you looked at the structures of power at that moment, you would say, I don't see a path. Well, that's when I say we're at a moment like that, I think we have to call on the best parts of our American history, when we have actually overcome seemingly impossible things and say things that aren't possible if we just follow a straight power map are going to be possible.

Because we can tap into the great American tradition of organizing, of actually speaking out, of dissent. This is a different form of dissent. Because it's dissent against this plutocracy. And I think there are a lot of people-- unlike you, I think there are some people who just do benefit. But I think there are a lot of people who might sort of falsely align themselves with the current system, but are not benefiting because it's shutting down our marketplace.

LAWRENCE LESSIG: Yeah, but my point is when you talk about it as if it's a fight between the rich and the rest of America, in fact, there's a whole bunch of the rich who don't benefit or don't feel like they benefit, or don't identify with it. And I actually think it would be more effective to frame this not as the fight between the one percent and the 99 percent.

But the fight between, you know, American citizens and those who would corrupt the American democracy. Because, you know, I was meeting with the most powerful Republican in New Hampshire. And he said to me, you know, this is not a Democratic issue. This is not a Republican issue. This is an American issue. This corruption is an American issue. And we can find a way to not separate us from, you know, people that we recognize, but instead, to unite us against a fight that nobody on their merits can defend.

Nobody can stand up and say, yeah, it's important that I, as the Koch brothers, have enormous political influence versus you. Nobody would say that. And the point is we should be fighting in a place where there's no credible argument on the other side. Because we can win that argument.

BILL MOYERS: I know you think that this present campaign system works against competition, not only in politics but in the economy.

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Yes. And I actually think this is really important. Because I found on the campaign trail that when I would talk about the growing, basically-- too much power being held in the hands of too few in the economy and in politics, people really respond to that. They're experiencing it in not having a lot of options for places to go for a job.

And I found once you got into a room, people may not know the language of antitrust. They may not know the language of antimonopoly, because it's actually vanished from our political vocabulary since the early '80s. But it's a deep part of the American tradition.

But they know the experience. They know the experience of a sense that the small nursery can't compete against Home Depot, and not because the small nursery isn't doing more innovative things. It's because they're both buying the same clay pot for a dollar, but Home Depot is getting tax subsidies that the small nursery is not.

But the experience of, say, you know, big cable having political power and market power. Time Warner in New York State, people know that Time Warner isn't in a competitive industry and has too much power. That was really resonant. And I found that when I talked about those together with campaign finance, that actually could move people to a sense of, oh, we can have a different system. I think we need to fix both. I think we need to fix the way that we fund campaigns. And I think we need to remember and revive antitrust and break up these companies that are playing sort of governmental roles.

LAWRENCE LESSIG: But this is a perfect example of the way this issue is not partisan, right. Because you take Luigi Zingales, who is a libertarian conservative economist on the University of Chicago Business School faculty. He writes this fantastic book coauthored this book, "Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists.”

And his whole point is that we need a theory of antitrust that recognizes that the problem is not just whether a company is too big, it's also whether the company would therefore be too politically powerful. Because what capitalists do is they win in a competitive market, and then they turn to government so that they can get the rules changed so that government protects them from the next generation of capitalists.

And a principled person on the right is as animated by the things that Zephyr is talking about, about the way in which the current system is favoring the incumbents and blocking competition, as people on the left. And if we begin to talk about it in this principled way, we can cut through the insider game, which is all about sucking up to those who are in power right now and make it possible to change those rules.

BILL MOYERS: But how do you get the country talking about that when the mass media, the corporate media, is owned by the very giants that you are talking about?

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: It's actually very funny. Because, you know, if I go on MSNBC to talk about Comcast, I'm basically talking about the boss of MSNBC, you know. This is, so, it's a very, very real issue. But I know how to start.

I mean, Gandhi's autobiography says, first, tell the truth. You know, start-- what happens if you tell the truth is really the question. And I feel like first trying in electoral life, you know, in running for office to tell the truth about what I see in the world and to ask that other people tell the truth, and what I see is this incredible concentration, I think extraordinary things can happen there.

I see with-- and just in this last summer, the response to Amazon, the response to Comcast-Time Warner, there's a real chance the Comcast-Time Warner merger will be stopped. And then, if you combine that with the number of Americans who want to break up the big banks, you suddenly see this isn't about the individual sectors of Amazon abusing its power, Comcast abusing its power, and JPMorgan abusing its power. It's-- we are in a new anti-monopoly moment. And I will tell you that politicians who take that up and speak that to people are going to find unusual success like I did.

LAWRENCE LESSIG: But the other thing about this is that, you know, we get fixed on the model of media from, you know, the middle of the 20th century. And the reality is that the model of media is increasingly becoming media at the beginning of the century, right? Before broadcasting.

We are increasingly moving, not from a place where 60 percent of America watches one of three shows every night to get the news, but instead to a world where everybody is getting news from 1,000 different sources. So when Zephyr refers back to the progressive era, the lessons are not just the lessons of substance that we have to get government to be responsive to the people again.

It's also the lessons of process. We have to figure out how to build a movement that can't count on a single broadcaster reaching all of America, and instead can leverage the fact that there are 50,000 relevant sources that people are watching these days, and the generation that we really need to mobilize, the generation under the age of 35, is not paying attention to the media that, you know, you're talking about. They're paying attention to the rest of it.

BILL MOYERS: So, what do each of you plan to do next?

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Well, I know that I would love to run for office again. One of the real secrets that-- sort of the dirty secret of politics is that it's more fun than you know. It's every bit as hard as I thought and every bit as painful to do the fundraising.

But it is actually one of the most inspiring and exciting things to actually talk to people, to learn from people, to be able to go-- to have any door open and somebody will say, I want to tell you about my life and I want to tell you what's wrong with it and I want to tell you how I understand the world. So, I'd love to run for office again. In the meantime, I want to, hopefully, I'm particularly focused on getting more people to run for office along with me.

BILL MOYERS: Well, it's pretty lonely out there.

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: So, I'd like to see a lot more women run with this antitrust message, a lot more young people run. And we know that people don't run because they're not asked. And we also know that they have a sense of, like, that's a politician. A politician looks like this. A politician has never had trouble with student debt or credit card debt.

And I want to say that we are in a moment where if we keep having the cookie-cutter, you know, Manchurian candidate type politician, you're going to see even more and more young people drop out. And so, I think we should forget the perfect resume and instead engage people who come from all different backgrounds, including the arts, and get them to run for office. Because this is what the kids in Hong Kong are fighting for. And we got to take the opportunity we have before it totally shuts down.

LAWRENCE LESSIG: So, we want to take, you know, the incredible number of people that were supporting Mayday and turn them into brigades that go out and start recruiting more and more congress people to the idea of fundamental reform, that use the technology of the Internet to reach out to other voters and get those voters to talk to their congress people and say to their congress people, we need you to stand up for a change.

Now, this is a way to kind of leverage the power that we aggregated with money into power with people. And ultimately, I think that that's going to be the much more effective way to begin to convert members of Congress, to get it close to a place where we could actually have the majority to pass the statutes we think we can pass.

BILL MOYERS: Larry Lessig, Zephyr Teachout, thank you for being with me.

ZEPHYR TEACHOUT: Thank you.

LAWRENCE LESSIG: Thank you.

BILL MOYERS: At our website, BillMoyers.com, find out what you can do to help drive money out of politics. That’s all at BillMoyers.com. I’ll see you there and I’ll see you here, next time.

ANNOUNCER: Funding is provided by:

Anne Gumowitz, encouraging the renewal of democracy.

Carnegie Corporation of New York, supporting innovations in education, democratic engagement, and the advancement of international peace and security at Carnegie.org.

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The Herb Alpert Foundation, supporting organizations whose mission is to promote compassion and creativity in our society.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. More information at Macfound.org.

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Producer: Gail Ablow. Segment Producer: Lena Shemel. Editor: Rob Kuhns. Intro Editor: Sikay Tang.

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News Tue, 25 Nov 2014 11:15:44 -0500
"It Is Officially Open Season on Black Folks": Legal Expert Decries Handling of Wilson Grand Jury http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27654-it-is-officially-open-season-on-black-folks-legal-expert-decries-handling-of-wilson-grand-jury http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27654-it-is-officially-open-season-on-black-folks-legal-expert-decries-handling-of-wilson-grand-jury

On Monday St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch announced the grand jury had found "that no probable cause exists" to charge Officer Darren Wilson with any crime in the death of Michael Brown. The jury deliberated for three months and heard dozens of hours of testimony, including from Wilson himself. But did they hear the full story? McCulloch himself had faced public scrutiny throughout the grand jury investigation, with calls for him to resign over allegations of a pro-police bias and questions raised about an unusual grand jury process that resembled a trial. We speak to Vince Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who is just back from Ferguson. "I don’t think we can take away anything from this decision not to indict other than that it is now officially open season on black folks when it comes to police violence," Warren says.

TRANSCRIPT:

AMY GOODMAN: We are in Clayton, Missouri, right next to Ferguson, Missouri, where we spent all last night. Today we’re standing in front of — well, the Clayton Courthouse where the grand jury has deliberated close to two dozen times over the last few months, before they came out with their decision yesterday, announced by the prosecutor Bob McCulloch. Our guest right now, in New York, we’re joined by Vince Warren, the Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights who will help us decide — will help us understand the decision that the grand jury made. And with me here in subfreezing weather, here in Clayton is Osagyefo Sekou, he is the Pastor from the First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain Massachusetts, dispatched to Ferguson by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. He went to high school in St. Louis and has family in Ferguson. We’re going to go first to Vince Warren. Can you explain the grand jury decision?

VINCE WARREN: Yes, thanks Amy, and good to see you Sekou. It is almost inexplicable. The first thing we have to remember is that this is not a verdict. This hasn’t gotten to verdict. This was an indictment. So the grand jury was asked to consider evidence in order to prefer charges so that the police officer could go to trial, but they did not do that. What was so strange about it is I’ve never seen, in my years, I’ve never seen a prosecutor take such a hands-off approach. And to listen to that press conference, Amy, you would think that he had just sort of spread out the pieces of paper on the table and said, grand jury, do your thing. Let me tell you, prosecutors never do that. There’s a reason why they say prosecutors can indict a ham sandwich. It’s because they can entirely control that process.

Now, they did release some of the transcripts yesterday. And I took a look at some of them, and what I saw, which people need to know, is that this wasn’t just the grand jurors listening to the testimony I idly. The prosecutors are framing the evidence. And as you heard in that press conference yesterday, there was more talk about what Mike Brown did than there was about what Darren Wilson did. It was almost as if in that grand jury process looking to charge Darren Wilson, that they were really charging Mike Brown. And I also noticed in some of the transcripts that they were setting up — the prosecutors were setting up the sense of fear, even asking the Police Sergeant when he got to Mike Brown’s body, when he first got there, leading them into the testimony to say, yeah, there were people that were agitated, there were people that were upset, there were people that were moving around. And of course there were people that were agitated because Mike Brown’s body was on the ground. But they’re setting this up so that essentially to play into the defense of Darren Wilson, that he acted reasonably out of fear for his life, A, B, that he acted reasonably and pursuant to the law because he thought that Mike Brown was breaking the law.

So what we have is a grand jury system that for most people in the world seems to play out like it was, gosh, what can we do, the evidence was really overwhelming. But I don’t think the evidence was. You only have one set of that story. Unfortunately, in this process, Mike Brown’s side of the story never gets told. What we do know is the prosecutors were setting this up so that it was in the best light, in my view, it was, from what I’ve seen, in the best light for the police officer and his "reasonable belief" that his life was in danger, so that is why he shot.

I don’t think we can take away anything from this decision not to indict other than that it is now officially open season on black folks when it comes to police violence. That feeling that most of us had yesterday when we were listening to the decision, that feeling in your stomach, that unsettling feeling like there’s nothing we can do — that is what injustice feels like. We have to remember that the folks on the ground feel that same way but they felt this for a long time. This is not a media event, this is life for people in the black community in urban areas. This is life for people in Ferguson. And so, yes, people are upset. People are acting out. People are disrupting the status quo. People want to shut it down, and frankly, I think that they should.

We should be thinking about the folks in Ferguson as pro-democracy protesters, as anti-structural racism protesters. Because when you think about what they’re challenging on that big a scale, we know that a grand jury decision in one way or another is not when a solve the structural racism problem. What solves the structural racism problem is getting to people like Bob McCulloch so that he can’t do the thing that he did in a press conference. If you notice, he on the one hand said this was a justified shooting by the police officer but then on the other hand said, oh, but we have to change the system. Those are completely inconsistent. It makes no sense. It makes no sense legally and certainly doesn’t make any sense politically.

What we have with the protesters, and I’m happy that the Center for Constitutional Rights and Arch City Defenders locally on the ground, The National Lawyers Guild and Advancement Project have organized 300 lawyers to come down to be able to help represent the protesters because this is what our democracy looks like. Let’s not think about this as these people are burning folks here or these people are throwing rocks here, that entire picture that you’re looking at, Amy, that you are involved in, that is the state, the representation of the state of our democracy for black folks in America. It is messy, can be ugly, it’s full of passion but people should not turn away from it. People should not try to tamper down and control it. People should begin to understand that if that is what we are dealing with, if that is where we are as a society, we need to think about structural changes in order to change the status quo.

AMY GOODMAN: Vincent Warren, the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Office has released Darren Wilson’s testimony to the grand jury showing the officer described the 18-year-old Michael Brown as looking like a "demon" on the day of the shooting. Wilson said, "And when I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan." Wilson went on to claim that Brown punched him twice and was concerned the third punch could be fatal or knock him unconscious. He defended his decision to shoot Brown multiple times. Wilson said, "At this point it looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him." In addition to the testimony, the prosecutors released images of Darren Wilson in the hospital after the altercation. One of his cheeks was red, but wasn’t heavily bruised. So, here we have Darren Wilson, four hours of testimony, Mike Brown was not there to give his side of the story.

VINCE WARREN: That’s right, Amy. It is important to recognize that at this moment, we have to become clear as a society that police officers can commit crimes even while on duty. And police officers can and do lie particularly, particularly in these types of legal proceedings. I would note that — I was looking through some of the Sergeant testimony and when he first talked to Darren Wilson, when the Sergeant got to the scene, he talked to him about what happened but he didn’t write it down. And the reason why he said he did not write it down was because he was multitasking. Now, that kind of evidence collection becomes critically important because it gives — if you don’t have it, it gives the police officer the opportunity to change his story, to present the facts in the light that is more favorable to them. And you can certainly do that in a criminal trial when you’re the defendant. But remember, police officers have two duties. One is that they have to preserve the evidence in order for people to find out what happened but it sounds to me like Darren Wilson was afforded the opportunity to create an evidentiary narrative that supported his version of the events. This is a huge problem and is not unique to Ferguson. This happens all over the country in every criminal context that we can think of. Ask any defense attorney about this and they will tell you that the way this went down with the prosecutor’s office, with the police department was so shady, it was so shady that you can’t have any confidence, any confidence whatsoever that the story that Darren Wilson told is in fact what happened.

AMY GOODMAN: Vince Warren, we want to thank you for being with us. Stay with us. We’re going to go to break and then we’re going to be joined by Reverend Sekou here in Ferguson, though, usually in Massachusetts. He’s been here for months organizing on the ground. We also be joined by Jelani Cobb, Professor at University of Connecticut, Head of Africana Studies, writes for the New Yorker, has been writing extensively about Ferguson. Yet, we were with him last night on the streets of Ferguson. Ferguson has erupted. This is Democracy Now! We will be back in a minute.

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News Tue, 25 Nov 2014 11:11:41 -0500
Bigger Health Care Providers Mean Bigger Profits, but Not Always Better Care http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27653-bigger-health-care-providers-mean-bigger-profits-but-not-always-better-care http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/27653-bigger-health-care-providers-mean-bigger-profits-but-not-always-better-care

2014.11.25.DR.Main"Hospitals are buying private physician practices left and right, and state attorneys general should consider whether such mega-providers violate anti-trust laws." (Image via Shutterstock)In 2002, only 22 percent of private physician practices were owned by hospitals. Today, this number has climbed to more than 50 percent, and 75 percent of newly hired physicians are entering the workforce as hospital employees. As the physician population ages, the behaviors of young physicians will have long-term impact on the organization and norms of care delivery.

Amid declining reimbursements and a shift toward value-based payment models in which physicians are reimbursed for quality rather than quantity of services, health care providers are facing pressure to reduce costs and improve outcomes. An increasing number of physicians are selling their practices to hospitals, and hospitals are aggressively buying to remain competitive.

Two chief catalysts that are driving hospitals to purchase physician practices include the recent economic downturn and passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA).

In this economic environment, hospital survival is a matter of cost cutting and care organization. The ACA requires compliance with new quality regulations, including curbed readmission rates and a reduction in hospital-acquired infections, and facilities are compelled to spend money in efforts to meet those requirements. Hospitals are acquiring physician practices to increase scale for better negotiating positions with insurers, further penetration of local markets, the ability to integrate IT systems, and the improvement of purchasing power with suppliers.

Physicians are selling their practices to hospitals for greater access to capital and fewer administrative responsibilities amid reform, an improved work-life balance, and recruiting incentives by hospitals.

But when hospitals purchase physician practices instead of contracting with physicians, the results can be costly. A recent Health Affairs study gives authority to the issue: hospital ownership of physician practices increases hospitals' pricing power, and prices rise for privately insured patients. A one-standard-deviation increase in market share can increase prices by 3 percent, and a one-standard deviation increase in hospital Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (a statistical measure of market concentration), can increase prices by 6 percent.

In central North Carolina, Duke University Health System has been aggressively converting nearby clinics into Duke-affiliated outpatient centers. State Attorney General Roy Cooper is examining whether antitrust laws or new legislation can be used to reduce growing hospital prices.

In January, a federal judge blocked a major purchase of Idaho's largest physician practice by the state's largest hospital system. In light of that case, the FTC has suggested it will show greater scrutiny of healthcare provider consolidations.

In theory, true integration of physician practices into hospital systems can provide substantial gains for both parties. By reducing barriers to patient information and care coordination, facilities can improve quality and generate cost-savings in the long-term. Truly integrated practices employ a well-managed infrastructure, aligned incentives, coordinated IT tools, and a culture of partnership and collaboration. But there is a great possibility that hospitals are primarily motivated by the prospect of greater bargaining power with insurers, and are not truly integrating.

State Attorneys General should renew a focus on anti-trust legislation to protect the strained wallets of healthcare consumers in states where transactions are occurring. In a time of seismic shifts in care delivery and payment mechanisms, we need to keep the patient at the center of health activity and ensure that transactions do not further burden consumers in an already expensive system.

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Opinion Tue, 25 Nov 2014 10:32:17 -0500
New York Fed, Goldman Sachs in Criminal Investigation for Sharing Confidential Information http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27652-new-york-fed-goldman-in-criminal-investigation-for-sharing-confidential-information http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/27652-new-york-fed-goldman-in-criminal-investigation-for-sharing-confidential-information

A New York Times story manages to bury the lede, even given the salacious material, in an important story that provides more evidence of the overly-cozy relationship between the New York Fed and its favored large banks, particularly Goldman. The issue is sensitive in the wake of former New York Fed staffer Carmen Segarra releasing hours of tape recordings.

2014.11.25.Goldman.MainGoldman Sachs tower. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: macten, kallifornia)If you value media that isn't controlled by advertisers or billionaire sponsors, show your support today! Donate to Truthout now to keep independent media strong.

A New York Times story manages to bury the lede, even given the salacious material, in an important story that provides more evidence of the overly-cozy relationship between the New York Fed and its favored large banks, particularly Goldman. The issue is sensitive in the wake of former New York Fed staffer Carmen Segarra releasing hours of tape recordings that show undue deference by the Fed employees towards Goldman. One particularly troubling incident was the Fed allowing Goldman to pretend it had gotten Fed approval for a derivatives deal designed to snooker Spanish banking regulators. Another was Goldman’s lack of a conflicts of interest policy (see former regulator Justin Fox’s discussion of why this is a serious matter).

What is striking about the New York Times expose is how tortuous the writing is, and how it takes (and I am not exaggerating) three times as many words as necessary to finally describe what happened. For instance, it isn’t until the 9th paragraph that the article mentions that this sharing of confidential information can be a crime and the authorities are giving a serious look into that very question.

The overview: a former New York Fed employee who had been assigned to work with banks obtained confidential information about a bank client that amounted to impermissible sharing of privileged regulatory information. As the Times states at the very end of the story:

Goldman determined that the spreadsheet contained confidential bank supervisory information. Federal and state rules classify certain records, including those generated during bank exams, as confidential. Unless the Federal Reserve provides special approval, it can be a federal crime to share them outside the Fed.

But proving that someone “willfully” violated the rules, as is required for a criminal prosecution, could be difficult. The rules are vague and even contradictory about which documents must remain confidential — and when regulators are allowed to share them.

Some of [Goldman employee] Mr. [Rohit] Bansal’s information, the lawyers said, may have come from Jason Gross, who worked at the New York Fed at the time.

Mr. Gross’s lawyer, Bruce Barket, said, “We are cooperating with the federal investigation to the best we can.”

The Times story finesses the damning part: the significance fact that Goldman and the Fed took action on September 26, firing Bansal and his supervisor, Joseph Jiampietro, and the New York Fed terminating Jason Gross.

ProPublica released its story on Carmen Segarra officially at 4 AM of that day.

In fairness, the New York Times article mentions at the start of paragraph 6 that:

On the same day in September that ProPublica and the radio program “This American Life” released excerpts from Ms. Segarra’s tapes, Goldman stopped the unrelated leak of confidential New York Fed records.

But at this point in the story, the reader is struggling to figure out what the (at that point) vague allegations of misconduct amount to. In a rambling, poorly focused presentation, authors Jessica Silver-Greenberg, Ben Protess, and Peter Eavis go a full 19 paragraphs before they name Bansal and describe, even then in very general terms, the conduct at issue. The start of the story is remarkably oblique, that the at that point nameless Goldman banker to be a subject of a controversy, by getting confidential information from “inside the government.” It also seeks to defuse whether this really matters:

Although it is unclear how Goldman bankers used the information, if at all, the confidential details could have helped them advise the client.

All the Times mentions early on is a leak of confidential information from the New York Fed involving a Goldman bank client, and then it moves away to talk about general concerns about the Fed’s overly-cozy relationship with banks, in particular the Carmen Segarra revelations. The beating-around-the-bushness, the excessive caution of the write-up, feels designed to deter reader interest. So the mention of the timing doesn’t have the impact that it warrants, particularly when to look at who knew what when, you need to dig a bit at the ProPublica site.

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By news cycle standards, Goldman and the New York Fed had ample warning the ProPublica story was coming. ProPublica sent the New York Fed a letter with detailed questions about the information in the tapes and requested a response by the end of the business day on September 12; the list of questions to Goldman was dated 9/9/14, and one assumes both missives went out at pretty much the same time.

So both institutions knew a major, unflattering story was coming out, reinforcing the allegations Segarra had already made in her failed unlawful termination lawsuit, but with much more specific and damning ammo. The fact that ProPublica clearly wanted to launch the piece shortly after September 12 but didn’t release it until September 26 strongly suggests that at least one and probably both institutions got into a protracted debate about ProPublica’s interpretation of the recordings and made strenuous objections to some of the inferences it was drawing.

The drawn-out timetable also meant that both institutions had some time to see if they had any other related dirty laundry it might behoove them to clean up. So let’s look at the section we highlighted earlier, along with the rest of the paragraph:

On the same day in September that ProPublica and the radio program “This American Life” released excerpts from Ms. Segarra’s tapes, Goldman stopped the unrelated leak of confidential New York Fed records. Although it is unclear whether the Goldman banker or the New York Fed employee knew that sharing such information was inappropriate — and federal rules are somewhat vague about what records are confidential — Goldman promptly fired the banker. The bank also fired one of his supervisors, saying he should have caught the leak. The New York Fed then fired the employee it suspected of sharing the information.

Here are the additional details regarding the “leak”. Three paragraphs later (emphasis ours):

Soon after Goldman detected the leak, the bank and the Fed alerted authorities, which opened preliminary investigations, according to the lawyers briefed on the matter. The F.B.I., along with the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and New York State’s banking regulator, Benjamin M. Lawsky, are examining the release of records and whether it amounted to a crime. The investigations are at an early stage and there is no indication that the three men will face charges. It is unclear whether more senior individuals at Goldman or the New York Fed knew about the sharing of the information before it was stopped.

So after what amounts to the authors positioning Goldman as having acted promptly (“Goldman stopped the leak…Soon after Goldman detected the leak,” we find out that other higher ups at Goldman might indeed have been aware that Bansal and Jiampietro were engaged in less than kosher conduct some time before the firings.

Here is the detail on how Goldman says it handled the matter:

Mr. Bansal was asked to help Goldman clients handle regulatory issues like the Fed’s annual stress test, which measures how a bank might fare under dire economic circumstances. Goldman also advised the banks on potential mergers and other transactions.

At the request of his bosses, Mr. Bansal gathered information about how regulators might view various issues facing Goldman’s banking clients, the lawyers briefed on the matter said. Much of what Mr. Bansal learned, the lawyers said, was fair game.

But in an email to his supervisor, Joseph Jiampietro, Mr. Bansal shared some potentially confidential supervisory information about a Goldman banking client. Mr. Jiampietro — a managing director at Goldman who was once a senior adviser to Sheila Bair, the former F.D.I.C. head — has since told colleagues he had no idea the information was subject to regulatory restrictions.

“Mr. Jiampietro never knowingly or improperly reviewed or misused” confidential supervisory information, his lawyer, Adam Ford, said in a statement. “He should not have been terminated. Any compliance failings regarding Mr. Bansal had nothing to do with Mr. Jiampietro.”

It was not until the morning of Sept. 26 that Goldman executives objected to some of Mr. Bansal’s information, the lawyers briefed on the matter said. During a conference call with Mr. Jiampietro and two higher-ranking Goldman executives, Mr. Bansal circulated an email with a spreadsheet attached. The email apparently set off alarms within Goldman. Within hours, the bank opened an internal investigation and alerted the New York Fed.

So Bansal and his boss are presented as know-nothings despite having bank regulatory backgrounds; indeed, that’s almost certainly the reason both were hired in the first place.

And the tell here is “It was not until the morning of Sept. 26 that Goldman executives objected to some of Mr. Bansal’s information..”. That is a de facto admission, a full 28 paragraphs into the story, that on the very same morning that the damaging ProPublica story hit the wires, that Goldman senior brass decided that what Bansal had extracted from the Fed might put the bank in hot water. But see how easy this is to miss?

In other words, it looks like Goldman was aware of Bansal and Jiampietro’s conduct and waited to decide whether or not to act based on how damaging the ProPublica story turned out to be. Correlation may not be causation, but the timing here looks awfully sus.

The idea that Goldman’s decisions are driven by simple reputational considerations rather than a desire to comply is reinforced by the leakage of this story to Wall Street’s most friendly news outlet, the New York Times’ Dealbook, prior to Senate hearings on the Segarra tapes last Friday. The bank clearly wants to spin this new PR problem as them being pro-active and dealing with a bad situation promptly, when it looks like they actually waited until events forced their hand.

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News Tue, 25 Nov 2014 10:42:05 -0500