Truthout Stories Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:36:39 -0400 en-gb The Missing Women of Afghanistan: After 13 Years of War, the Rule of Men, Not Law

On September 29th, power in Afghanistan changed hands for the first time in 13 years. At the Arg, the presidential palace in Kabul, Ashraf Ghani was sworn in as president, while the outgoing Hamid Karzai watched calmly from a front-row seat.  Washington, congratulating itself on this “peaceful transition,” quickly collected the new president’s autograph on a bilateral security agreement that assures the presence of American forces in Afghanistan for at least another decade. The big news of the day: the U.S. got what it wanted.  (Precisely why Americans should rejoice that our soldiers will stay in Afghanistan for another 10 years is never explained.)

The big news of the day for Afghans was quite different -- not the long expected continuation of the American occupation but what the new president had to say in his inaugural speech about his wife, Rula Ghani. Gazing at her as she sat in the audience, he called her by name, praised her work with refugees, and announced that she would continue that work during his presidency.

Those brief comments sent progressive Afghan women over the moon. They had waited 13 years to hear such words -- words that might have changed the course of the American occupation and the future of Afghanistan had they been spoken in 2001 by Hamid Karzai.

No, they’re not magic.  They simply reflect the values of a substantial minority of Afghans and probably the majority of Afghans in exile in the West. They also reflect an idea the U.S. regularly praises itself for holding, but generally acts against -- the very one George W. Bush cited as part of his justification for invading Afghanistan in 2001.

The popular sell for that invasion, you will recall, was an idea for which American men had never before exhibited much enthusiasm: women’s liberation.  For years, human rights organizations the world over had called attention to the plight of Afghan women, confined to their homes by the Taliban government, deprived of education and medical care, whipped in the streets by self-appointed committees for “the Promotion of Public Virtue and the Prevention of Vice,” and on occasion executed in Kabul’s Ghazi stadium. Horrific as that was, few could have imagined an American president, a Republican at that, waving a feminist flag to cover the invasion of a country guilty mainly of hosting a scheming guest.

While George W. Bush bragged about liberating Afghan women, his administration followed quite a different playbook on the ground. In December 2001, at the Bonn Conference called to establish an interim Afghan governing body, his team saw to it that the country’s new leader would be the apparently malleable Hamid Karzai, a conservative Pashtun who, like any Talib, kept his wife, Dr. Zinat Karzai, confined at home.  Before they married in 1999, she had been a practicing gynecologist with skills desperately needed to improve the country’s abysmal maternal mortality rate, but she instead became the most prominent Afghan woman the Bush liberation failed to reach.

This disconnect between Washington’s much-advertised support for women’s rights and its actual disdain for women was not lost upon canny Afghans. From early on, they recognized that the Americans were hypocrites at heart. 

Washington revealed itself in other ways as well.  Afghan warlords had ravaged the country during the civil war of the early 1990s that preceded the Taliban takeover, committing mass atrocities best defined as crimes against humanity.  In 2002, the year after the American invasion and overthrow of the Taliban, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission established under the auspices of the U.N. surveyed citizens nationwide and found that 76% of them wanted those warlords tried as war criminals, while 90% wanted them barred from public office.  As it happened, some of those men had been among Washington’s favorite, highly paid Islamist jihadis during its proxy war against the Soviet Union of the 1980s.  As a result, the Bush administration looked the other way when Karzai welcomed those “experienced” men into his cabinet, the parliament, and the “new” judiciary. Impunity was the operative word.  The message couldn’t have been clearer: with the right connections, a man could get away with anything -- from industrial-scale atrocities to the routine subjugation of women.

There is little in the twisted nature of American-Afghan relations in the past 13 years that can’t be traced to these revelations that the United States does not practice what it preaches, that equality and justice were little more than slogans -- and so, it turned out, was democracy.

Taking Sides

The American habit of thinking only in the short term has also shaped long-term results in Afghanistan.  Military and political leaders in Washington have had a way of focusing only on the most immediate events, the ones that invariably raised fears and seemed to demand (or provided an excuse for) instantaneous action.  The long, winding, shadowy paths of history and culture remained unexplored.  So it was that the Bush administration targeted the Taliban as the enemy, drove them from power, installed “democracy” by fiat, and incidentally told women to take off their burqas.  Mission accomplished!

Unlike the Americans and their coalition partners, however, the Taliban were not foreign interlopers but Afghans. Nor were they an isolated group, but the far right wing of Afghan Islamist conservatism.  As such, they simply represented then, and continue to represent in extreme form today, the traditional conservative ranks of significant parts of the population who have resisted change and modernization for as long as anyone can remember.

Yet theirs is not the only Afghan tradition.  Progressive rulers and educated urban citizens have long sought to usher the country into the modern world. Nearly a century ago, King Amanullah founded the first high school for girls and the first family court to adjudicate women’s complaints about their husbands; he proclaimed the equality of men and women, and banned polygamy; he cast away the burqa, and banished ultra-conservative Islamist mullahs as “bad and evil persons” who spread propaganda foreign to the moderate Sufi ideals of the country. Since then, other rulers, both kings and commissars, have championed education, women’s emancipation, religious tolerance, and conceptions of human rights usually associated with the West.  Whatever its limitations in the Afghan context, such progressive thinking is also “traditional.”

The historic contest between the two traditions came to a head in the 1980s during the Soviet occupation of the country. Then it was the Russians who supported women’s human rights and girls’ education, while Washington funded a set of particularly extreme Islamist groups in exile in Pakistan. Only a few years earlier, in the mid-1970s, Afghan president Mohammad Daud Khan, backed by Afghan communists, had driven radical Islamist leaders out of the country, much as King Amanullah had done before. It was the CIA, in league with the intelligence services of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, that armed them and brought them back as President Ronald Reagan’s celebrated “freedom fighters,” the mujahidin.

Twenty years later, it would be the Americans, spearheaded again by the CIA, who returned to drive them out once more.  History can be a snarl, especially when a major power can’t think ahead.

Whether by ignorance or intention, in 2001-2002, its moment of triumph in Afghanistan, the U.S. tried to have it both ways. With one hand it waved the progressive banner of women’s rights, while with the other it crafted a highly centralized and powerful presidential government, which it promptly handed over to a conservative man, who scarcely gave a thought to women.  Given sole power for 13 years to appoint government ministers, provincial governors, municipal mayors, and almost every other public official countrywide, President Karzai maintained a remarkably consistent, almost perfect record of choosing only men.

Once it was clear that he cared nothing for the human rights of women, the death threats against those who took Washington’s “liberation” language seriously began in earnest.  Women working in local and international NGOs, government agencies, and schools soon found posted on the gates of their compounds anonymous messages -- so called “night letters” -- describing in gruesome detail how they would be killed.  By way of Facebook or mobile phone they received videos of men raping young girls.  Then the assassinations began. Policewomen, provincial officials, humanitarian workers, teachers, schoolgirls, TV and radio presenters, actresses, singers -- the list seemed never to end. Some were, you might say, overkilled: raped, beaten, strangled, cut, shot, and then hung from a tree -- just to make a point.  Even when groups of men claimed credit for such murders, no one was detained or prosecuted.

Still the Bush administration boasted of ever more girls enrolled in school and advances in health care that reduced rates of maternal and infant death.  Progress was slow, shaky, and always greatly exaggerated, but real. On Barack Obama’s watch, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton renewed American promises to Afghan women.  She swore repeatedly never to abandon them, though somehow she rarely remembered to invite any of them to international conferences where men discussed the future of their country.

In the meantime, Karzai continued to approve legislation that tightened restrictions on the rights of women, while failing to restrict violence against them. 

Only in 2009, under relentless pressure from Afghan women’s organizations and many of the countries providing financial aid, did Karzai enact by decree a law for “The Elimination of Violence Against Women” (EVAW). It banned 22 practices harmful to women and girls, including rape, physical violence, child marriage, and forced marriage.  Women are now reporting rising levels of violence, but few have found any redress under the law.  Like the constitutional proviso that men and women are equal, the potentially powerful protections of EVAW exist mainly on paper.

But after that single concession to women, Karzai frightened them by calling for peace negotiations with the Taliban. In 2012, perhaps to cajole the men he called his “angry brothers,” he also endorsed a “code of conduct” issued by a powerful group of ultra-conservative clerics, the Council of Ulema. The code authorizes wife beating, calls for the segregation of the sexes, and insists that in the great scheme of things “men are fundamental and women are secondary.” Washington had already reached a similar conclusion. In March 2011, a jocular anonymous senior White House official told the press that, in awarding contracts for major development projects in Afghanistan, the State Department no longer included provisions respecting the rights of women and girls. “All those pet rocks in our rucksack,” he said, “were taking us down."  Dumping them, the Obama administration placed itself once and for all on the side of ultraconservative undemocratic forces.

Why Women Matter

The U.N. Security Council has, however, cited such pet rocks as the most durable foundation stones for peace and stability in any country. In recent decades, the U.N., multiple research organizations, and academicians working in fields such as political science and security studies have piled up masses of evidence documenting the importance of equality between women and men (normally referred to as “gender equality”).  Their findings point to the historic male dominance of women, enforced by violence, as the ancient prototype of all forms of dominance and violence and the very pattern of exploitation, enslavement, and war.  Their research supports the shrewd observation of John Stuart Mill, the nineteenth century British philosopher, that Englishmen first learned at home and then practiced on their wives the tyranny they subsequently exercised on foreign shores to amass and control the British Empire.

Such research and common sense born of observation lie behind a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions passed since 2000 that call for the full participation of women in all peace negotiations, humanitarian planning, and post-conflict governance. Women alter the discourse, while transforming unequal relations between the sexes changes men as well, generally for the better.  Quite simply, countries in which women and men enjoy positions of relative equality and respect tend to be stable, prosperous, and peaceful. Today, for instance, gender equality is greatest in the five Nordic countries, which consistently finish at the top of any list of the world’s happiest nations.

On the other hand, where, as in Afghanistan, men and women are least equal and men routinely oppress and violate women, violence is more likely to erupt between men as well, on a national scale and in international relations. Such nations are the most impoverished, violent, and unstable in the world. It’s often said that poverty leads to violence.  But you can turn that proposition around: violence that removes women from public life and equitable economic activity produces poverty and so yet more violence.  As Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong put it: “Women hold up half the sky.”  Tie our hands and the sky falls.

Women in Afghanistan have figured this out through hard experience.  That’s why some wept for joy at Ashraf Ghani’s simple words acknowledging the value of his wife’s work.  But with that small, startling, and memorable moment came a terrible sense of opportunity wasted.

Some in the international community had taken the rights of women seriously. They had established women’s quotas in parliament, for instance, and had written “equal rights” into the Afghan constitution of 2004. But what could women accomplish in a parliament swarming with ex-warlords, drug barons, and “former” Taliban who had changed only the color of their turbans?  What sort of “equality” could they hope for when the constitution held that no law could supersede the Sharia of Islam, a system open to extreme interpretation? Not all the women parliamentarians stood together anyway. Some had been handpicked and their votes paid for by powerful men, both inside and outside government.  Yet hundreds, even thousands more women might have taken part in public life if the U.S. had sided unreservedly with the progressive tradition in Afghanistan and chosen a different man to head the country.

The New Men in Charge

What about Ashraf Ghani, the new president, and Abdullah Abdullah, the “CEO” of the state?  These two top candidates were rivals in both the recent presidential election and the last one in 2009, when Abdullah finished second to Karzai and declined to take part in a runoff that was likely to be fraudulent.  (In the first round of voting, Karzai’s men had been caught on video stuffing ballot boxes.)

In this year’s protracted election, on April 5th, Abdullah had finished first in a field of eight with 45% of the votes.  That was better than Ghani’s 31%, but short of the 50% needed to win outright.  Both candidates complained of fraud. In June, when Ghani took 56% of the votes in the runoff, topping Abdullah’s 43%, Abdullah cried foul and threatened to form his own government. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hustled to Kabul to lash the two men together in a vague, unconstitutional “unity government” that is still being defined but that certainly had next to nothing to do with electoral democracy.

Both these men appear as famously vain as Hamid Karzai in matters of haberdashery and headgear, but both are far more progressive. Ghani, a former finance minister and chancellor of Kabul University, is acknowledged to be the brainy one. After years in academia and a decade at the World Bank, he took office with plans to combat the country’s notorious corruption.  He has already reopened the superficial investigation of the Kabul Bank, a giant pyramid scheme that collapsed in 2010 after handing out nearly a billion dollars in “loans” to cronies in and out of the government.  (Ghani may be one of the few people who fully understands the scam.)

Abdullah Abdullah is generally credited with being the smoother politician of the two in a country where politics is a matter of allegiances (and rivalries) among men. As foreign minister in the first Karzai cabinet, he appointed a woman to advise him on women’s affairs. Since then, however, his literal affairs in private have become the subject of scandalous gossip.  In public, he has long proposed decentralizing the governmental structure Washington inflicted upon the country. He wants power dispersed throughout the provinces, strengthening the ability of Afghans to determine the conditions of their own communities.  Something like democracy.

The agreement between Ghani and Abdullah calls for an assembly of elders, a loya jirga, to be held “within two years” to establish the position of prime minister, which Abdullah will presumably want to occupy.  Even before his down-and-dirty experiences with two American presidents, he objected to the presidential form of government. “A president,” he told me, “becomes an autocrat.” Power, he argues, rightly belongs to the people and their parliament.

Whether these rivals can work together -- they have scheduled three meetings a week -- has everyone guessing, even as American and coalition forces leave the country and the Taliban attack in greater strength in unexpected places. Yet the change of government sparks optimism and hope among both Afghans and international observers.

On the other hand, many Afghans, especially women, are still angry with all eight candidates who ran for president, blaming them for the interminable “election” process that brought two of them to power. Mahbouba Seraj, former head of the Afghan Women’s Network and an astute observer, points out that in the course of countless elaborate lunches and late night feasts hosted during the campaign by various Afghan big men, the candidates might have come to some agreement among themselves to narrow the field. They might have found ways to spare the country the high cost and anxiety of a second round of voting, not to mention months of recounting, only to have the final tallies withheld from the public.

Instead, the candidates seemed to hold the country hostage. Their angry charges and threats stirred barely suppressed fears of civil war, and fear silenced women.  “Once again,” Seraj wrote, “we have been excluded from the most important decisions of this country. We have been shut down by the oldest, most effective, and most familiar means: by force.” Women, she added, are now afraid to open their mouths, even to ask “legitimate questions” about the nature of this new government, which seems to be not a “people’s government” consistent with the ballots cast -- nearly half of them cast by women -- but more of “a coalition government, fabricated by the candidates and international mediators.”  Government in a box, in other words, and man-made.

Knowing that many women are both fearful and furious that male egos still dominate Afghan “democracy,” Seraj makes the case for women again: “Since the year 2000, the U.N. Security Council has passed one resolution after another calling for full participation of women at decision-making levels in all peace-making and nation-building processes. That means a lot more than simply turning out to vote. But we women of Afghanistan have been shut out, shut down, and silenced by fear of the very men we are asked to vote for and the men who follow them... This is not what we women have worked for or voted for or dreamed of, and if we could raise our voices once again, we would not call this ‘democracy.’"

Ask yourself: Would you?

Opinion Thu, 30 Oct 2014 10:00:43 -0400
US Sends Planes Armed With Depleted Uranium to Middle East

There's a version of this story at Al Jazeera.

The US Air Force says it is not halting its use of Depleted Uranium weapons, has recently sent them to the Middle East, and is prepared to use them.

A type of airplane, the A-10, deployed this month to the Middle East by the US Air National Guard's 122nd Fighter Wing, is responsible for more Depleted Uranium (DU) contamination than any other platform, according to the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW). "Weight for weight and by number of rounds more 30mm PGU-14B ammo has been used than any other round," said ICBUW coordinator Doug Weir, referring to ammunition used by A-10s, as compared to DU ammunition used by tanks.

Public affairs superintendent Master Sgt. Darin L. Hubble of the 122nd Fighter Wing told me that the A-10s now in the Middle East along with "300 of our finest airmen" have been sent there on a deployment planned for the past two years and have not been assigned to take part in the current fighting in Iraq or Syria, but "that could change at any moment."

The crews will load PGU-14 depleted uranium rounds into their 30mm Gatling cannons and use them as needed, said Hubble. "If the need is to explode something -- for example a tank -- they will be used."

Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright told me, "There is no prohibition against the use of Depleted Uranium rounds, and the [US military] does make use of them. The use of DU in armor-piercing munitions allows enemy tanks to be more easily destroyed."

On Thursday, several nations, including Iraq, spoke to the United Nations First Committee, against the use of Depleted Uranium and in support of studying and mitigating the damage in already contaminated areas. A non-binding resolution is expected to be voted on by the Committee this week, urging nations that have used DU to provide information on locations targeted. A number of organizations are delivering a petition to US officials this week urging them not to oppose the resolution.

In 2012 a resolution on DU was supported by 155 nations and opposed by just the UK, US, France, and Israel. Several nations have banned DU, and in June Iraq proposed a global treaty banning it -- a step also supported by the European and Latin American Parliaments.

Wright said that the US military is "addressing concerns on the use of DU by investigating other types of materials for possible use in munitions, but with some mixed results. Tungsten has some limitations in its functionality in armor-piercing munitions, as well as some health concerns based on the results of animal research on some tungsten-containing alloys. Research is continuing in this area to find an alternative to DU that is more readily accepted by the public, and also performs satisfactorily in munitions."

"I fear DU is this generation's Agent Orange," US Congressman Jim McDermott told me. "There has been a sizable increase in childhood leukemia and birth defects in Iraq since the Gulf War and our subsequent invasion in 2003. DU munitions were used in both those conflicts. There are also grave suggestions that DU weapons have caused serious health issues for our Iraq War veterans. I seriously question the use of these weapons until the US military conducts a full investigation into the effect of DU weapon residue on human beings."

Doug Weir of ICBUW said renewed use of DU in Iraq would be "a propaganda coup for ISIS." His and other organizations opposed to DU are guardedly watching a possible US shift away from DU, which the US military said it did not use in Libya in 2011. Master Sgt. Hubble of the 122nd Fighter Wing believes that was simply a tactical decision. But public pressure had been brought to bear by activists and allied nations' parliaments, and by a UK commitment not to use DU.

DU is classed as a Group 1 Carcinogen by the World Health Organization, and evidence of health damage produced by its use is extensive. The damage is compounded, Jeena Shah at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) told me, when the nation that uses DU refuses to identify locations targeted. Contamination enters soil and water. Contaminated scrap metal is used in factories or made into cooking pots or played with by children.

CCR and Iraq Veterans Against the War have filed a Freedom of Information Act Request in an attempt to learn the locations targeted in Iraq during and after the 1991 and 2003 assaults. The UK and the Netherlands have revealed targeted locations, Shah pointed out, as did NATO following DU use in the Balkans. And the United States has revealed locations it targeted with cluster munitions. So why not now?

"For years," Shah said, "the US has denied a relationship between DU and health problems in civilians and veterans. Studies of UK veterans are highly suggestive of a connection. The US doesn't want studies done." In addition, the United States has used DU in civilian areas and identifying those locations could suggest violations of Geneva Conventions.

Iraqi doctors will be testifying on the damage done by DU before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in Washington, D.C., in December.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration said on Thursday that it will be spending $1.6 million to try to identify atrocities committed in Iraq . . . by ISIS.

News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 09:27:43 -0400
The GOP’s Sharp Teeth

All the better to cut you with.

Art Thu, 30 Oct 2014 09:00:58 -0400
Voters Turned Away Because of Texas Photo ID Law

2014 1029 vote fw"No one knows how many other voters are being turned away because of the draconian new law. For example, one election official reported that in one day of early voting at a single site, seven voters were turned away because they had expired or insufficient ID." (Photo: athrasher)

Voting is now underway in Texas, a state with one of the strictest voter ID laws in the nation. This is the first federal election since the US Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, which would have required Texas to get government approval for these changes. Below are stories from actual voters and the difficulties they've encountered. Initials are used for those voters who wish to remain anonymous. In many cases, Texas failed these voters twice — first by requiring identification they did not have, and second by not training election officials to help them navigate the rules.

A Costly, Time-Consuming Barrier

Jesus Garcia was born in Texas and lives in Mercedes. He was unable to vote with his driver's license, which expired about a year ago. He went to the Weslaco Department of Public Safety (DPS) office twice and both times was unable to get an ID. His birth certificate was stolen and he does not have a copy. He wants to get identification, but to get both a replacement birth certificate and a new ID would be more than $30 combined. He is working a lot of hours, but money is tight. With rent, water, electricity, and everything else, Mr. Garcia is not sure he will be able to afford those documents, much less before the election.

Even if he does have the money, he will need to go through the whole process of getting the documents and going to the office again, when he has already tried to vote once and gone to a DPS office twice. Mr. Garcia thinks it is unfair that he cannot vote with the documents he has. He was born here and he has an ID with his picture on it; it's just expired. He has a voter registration card, and voted in past elections.

Deputized to Register But Denied the Ballot

Krystal Watson is a student at Wiley College in Texas, a historically black college. She is originally from Louisiana and has voted in past elections in Texas. This year, she signed up as a deputy registrar and registered about 100 people to vote. The person who deputized her told her the registration rules but not about the new voter ID requirement. When she herself went to vote, she was not allowed to cast a ballot because she had a Louisiana driver's license and a Wiley College ID, but not the ID required by the law.

Ms. Watson stated that she has observed many other students having trouble voting. She didn't know whether she would be have the time or resources to get an identification card, which would require her to bring in her birth certificate.

"You can't vote with this card"

Mr. R is an American in his 30s who lives in the small southern Texas town of Edcouch. He and his wife were both turned away from the polls last week because they do not have satisfactory identification under the new ID law. Mr. R had a driver's license that was valid until 2015, but it was taken away from him in connection with a DUI. Mr. R tried to use a driver's license that expired in 2009 — which he had used successfully to vote at the same polling location the last time he voted — as identification. This time, when he went to the polls during early voting, he was told, "You can't vote with this card."

The poll workers Mr. R encountered were unfamiliar with the basics under the new strict photo ID law. Mr. R. was not told anything about how to get an Election Identification Certificate (EIC), the allegedly free ID available to people who want to vote, but don't have a qualifying ID. Nor was he offered a provisional ballot, which would have given him additional time to obtain ID. Mr. R said he was unlikely to go and get an EIC once he learned that he'd have to procure it from the DPS, a law enforcement agency, because he owes traffic fines he can't afford.

Disabled Voters Can Participate — But Only If Family Members Foot the Bill...

Esmeralda Torres is a disabled American who lives in Elsa. She first learned about the new ID law when she tried to vote. She was blocked because she didn't have acceptable ID. Her disabilities preclude her from driving and make it hard for her to get around. Ms. Torres had previously tried to get an ID but had been rejected because she lived with her sister and had few documents containing both her name and her physical address.

Ms. Torres was eventually able to get a Texas state ID, but only because she has a supportive and strong advocate in her sister, who took time off of work to drive Ms. Torres to a DPS office, and loaned her the $16 necessary to pay for a Texas state ID (she chose to get a Texas state ID rather than an EIC because an EIC cannot be used for any purposes other than voting). Ms. Torres might have qualified for an exemption to the Texas photo ID law for people with disabilities, but no one — not even the poll workers who blocked her from voting the first time — ever told her of this option.

...Or Heroic Volunteers Step In

Olester McGriff, an African-American man, lives in Dallas. He has voted in several Texas elections. This year when he went to the polls he was unable to vote due to the new photo ID law. Mr. McGriff had a kidney transplant and can no longer drive; his driver's license expired in 2008. He tried to get an ID twice prior to voting. In May, he visited an office in Grand Prairie and was told he could not get an ID because he was outside of Dallas County. In July, he visited an office in Irving and was told they were out of IDs and would have to come back another day.

He is unable to get around easily. Mr. McGriff got to the polls during early voting because Susan McMinn, an experienced election volunteer, gave him a ride. He brought with him his expired driver's license, his birth certificate, his voter registration card, and other documentation, but none were sufficient under Texas's new photo ID requirement. Getting the EIC would have been difficult for him — it would have required multiple additional trips and he cannot drive.

Despite his health and mobility problems, the poll workers did not suggest that he vote by absentee ballot — an option available to him because he had a disability. Eventually, he was given an absentee ballot application, but it was only because, Ms. McMinn, the volunteer, suggested the idea, and then pushed a poll worker to review the rules after having already told Mr. McGriff it was too late. After the poll worker confirmed her mistake, Mr. McGriff was able to get an absentee ballot application. But when he tried to get stamps at the election office, election workers did not inform him that his absentee ballot would include return postage, so Ms. McMinn and Mr. McGriff had to spend additional time driving around in search of postage. Ms. McMinn paid the $2 in postage, as Mr. McGriff is living on a tight budget. She drove him back to drop off his application, and a few days later he successfully voted by mail.

Even With Help, Would-Be Voters Turned Away

Gary Gross has been serving as a get-out-the-vote volunteer, giving voters rides to the polls during early voting. He encountered a voter who could not meet the new photo ID requirement. Even after Mr. Gross spent more than an hour trying to help the voter find out the rules from election officials, the voter was unable to cast a ballot or get the identification he needed. The voter's driver's license expired in March — there was no question as to the voter's identity, but the ID did not count. Through Mr. Gross' help, the voter found out he is theoretically eligible for a "free" election identification certificate, but the voter does not have a birth certificate, so he lacks the documentation he needs to get the EIC.

Countless Others Disenfranchised

No one knows how many other voters are being turned away because of the draconian new law. For example, one election official reported that in one day of early voting at a single site, seven voters were turned away because they had expired or insufficient ID. One can only hope that as poll workers become more familiar with the new system, legitimate voters will be allowed to cast ballots — or at least furnished with the correct information on how to do so.

Help Is Available!

Voters in need of assistance with the new voter identification requirements, or with other questions about the voting process, should call 1-866-OUR-VOTE, where trained volunteers are standing by to assist voters and answer any questions they may have. The hotline is run by Election Protection, a nonpartisan coalition of voter protection organizations.

News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
Beware the Fear Industrial Complex

2014 1029 fear st"And I'm afraid of the disconnect between white kids who pay to get locked in jail for kicks and black kids who can't walk down the street without getting kicked and harassed by police." (Image: Fear via Shutterstock)Be Afraid. Be very afraid. That is the message to moms (and dads too, but they tend not to be as susceptible). Be afraid of strangers, as well as friends and family too. Be afraid of bugs and dirt outside, and snot and germs inside. Be afraid of cars and bikes and motorcycles and anything with wheels. Be afraid of stairs and cribs and co-sleeping and swaddles. Be afraid of plastic and lead and vaccines and un-vaccines and asbestos and bad things in the water, air and soil.

But rest easy, for every fear there is a corresponding product: something that you can buy to make you feel safer. There are wipes, cleaners, sensors, helmets, nanny cams, stranger danger seminars and locks for everything that can open. Security and peace of mind are available for a price. I knew that. But I didn't know how far it went until I was sent a product pitch for Piper Security. Their tagline is: "with Piper you are always at home." How horrible is that? It is a home monitoring system that will send you text messages or emails when people come and go, and it provides two-way audio and video monitoring — meaning you can yell at your kids remotely. The system allows you to stay on top of what is happening in your home while you are away (or provides a high priced illusion of that experience). Notice, I am not linking to this product.

This is a fear industrial complex. I don't like it, but I get it. There are things that can harm our kids and people want to be prepared and safeguarded. But what I really don't understand is the flip side of the fear industrial complex: fun-fear, which is an industry unto itself.

'Tis the season of fear, haunted houses, ghosts, ghouls and goblins. Masks, makeup and mayhem are for sale. It is a major industry at this point. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spend nearly $7 billion on Halloween annually.

That fact alone is enough to make me swear off the season entirely. But, in truth, I grew up with a bit of a bah humbug about Halloween. My brother and I were not allowed to trick-or-treat as kids. Our parents and the other adults in our community saw Halloween as a teachable moment. We gave out candy, sure — but one year we stapled notes with facts about world hunger to the mini candy bars. Most of it ended up in the gutter at the top of our block. Another year, we tried to collect money from the trick-or-treaters for UNICEF. The kids thought it was a trick and we got no money from them. Still, another year we gave out homemade popcorn and apples. We told the grown-ups no one would take it because that was the year of the razor-blade-in-the-apples warnings. Needless to say, we ate a lot of stale old popcorn that weekend.

This routine of disappointment for the kids in our neighborhood meant that after a while only the youngest or most intrepid and comprehensive trick-or-treaters hazarded a ring on our bell. It's surprising we never got egged for our troubles. By the time I was old enough to buck the family prohibition on trick or treating, I was eschewing all refined sugar and way too cool to dress up. So, I pretty much missed the boat on the holiday.

Halloween is a big deal around where I live, in New London, Conn. A lot of farms do corn mazes and pumpkin patches and all manner of wholesome seasonal activities. But then there is the fun-fear too. Our local newspaper just ran a feature on "room escape attractions." I thought it was a typo. Eventually, though, I figured out what they were talking about. You pay money — like $60 per person — to get locked in a room, handcuffed to another person. In order to get free, you need to solve riddles and find clues to get the key and escape within a time limit. Oh, and you get to wear a prison jumpsuit and get your picture taken afterwards.

In a nation with the world's largest prison population — 2.3 million at last count — most of whom are locked up for nonviolent, relatively minor infractions, this is an unconscionable disconnect. I would hazard a guess that thousands of those locked up right now could be free for less than $60 — overdue child support, unpaid fines or court fees, stealing something worth less than what people pay for the fun of being locked up.

The New London Day promoted this fun-fear phenomenon in the midst of reporting on the death of a young black man in local police custody. Jail is campy fun if you are white, wealthy and quick with trivia, but not if you are Lashano Gilbert. A Bahamian visiting relatives in New London, this 31-year-old medical student was tased while being arrested. The police brought him to the hospital where he was medically cleared and then discharged him back into police custody. Police tased Gilbert again a few hours later, when he escaped from his cell and reportedly attacked an officer. He died on the way to the hospital.

So, this Halloween, I am afraid. But not of goblins, ghosts, the crazy cost of costumes, or the cavities my kids might get from eating too much candy. I'm afraid of the police — not for myself as a white person of privilege — but for the kids and young men in my neighborhood. And I'm afraid of the disconnect between white kids who pay to get locked in jail for kicks and black kids who can't walk down the street without getting kicked and harassed by police. My multi-racial, mixed-income neighborhood doesn't need my fear, though — it needs my vigilance, my voice and my solidarity. So, I will work on that, as I enter this fun-fear season in my own way. We'll trick-or-treat on our block, welcome the gaggle of kids who scuff up our front porch, and we'll try to see it as a time to dismantle the enduring bogeymen of racism, violence and inequity — one mini candy bar at a time.

Opinion Thu, 30 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
Here's What Women Want: The Economy Unrigged So It Works for Them

2014 1029 woma sw(Image: Putting a vote via Shutterstock)An Associated Press-GfK poll published this week indicates that women are shifting to favor the Republican party. "Women have moved in the GOP's direction since September," the AP reported.

Just a month ago, 47 percent of female likely voters favored a Democratic-controlled Congress, the AP reported. "In the new poll, the two parties are about even among women; 44 percent prefer the Republicans, 42 percent the Democrats."

Is this a sign that Democratic candidates are failing to address what women need and care about?

In "Women Voters: The Base of the New Populism," the latest memorandum published through the Campaign for America's Future's Populist Majority project, we aggregate the polling that shows what women want to hear from congressional candidates this election cycle. Contrary to what pundits might infer from polls such as the latest from the AP, the memo says that a majority of women have "strong populist views" and "look to government to create opportunity in the economy through progressive reforms and regulations."

But if the AP poll is any indication, not enough women are hearing that message from Democratic candidates.

The poll revealed that the economy remains the top priority in this election cycle, with 91 percent calling the economy "extremely" or "very" important. The GOP, according to this poll, has increased its advantage as the party more trusted to handle the issue, with 39 percent siding with Republicans and 31 percent Democrats.

Meanwhile, The Washington Examiner, a conservative weekly, published a cover story by Mona Charen on "what women voters want" and how Republican candidates can win them. She argues that the Democratic party has erred by basing its appeal to women on demonizing Republican candidates' view on reproductive rights–particularly abortion and birth control. A "single-minded focus on the gynecological," she calls it – with a heavy dose of caricature. "Democrats lie about their opponents' view on abortion because only by presenting Republicans as extremists can the issue work for them," she writes.

Charen, however, misses the mark. Democrats in the past have harnessed the support of women – particularly unmarried women – not only because of the Democrat's social agenda but because of its progressive economic agenda. Reproductive issues are only a small fraction of the Democratic campaign. The "women's economic agenda" released last year by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, which includes such items as the Equal Pay Act and child-care support for working mothers, are key reforms in this overall agenda.

Yet, the AP poll should serve as a warning to Democrats that women – especially unmarried women – are about so much more than reproductive issues.

That warning was echoed this week by R. Donahue Peebles, a real estate developer and vice-chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation who has also been a major fundraiser for President Obama. "I can't count the number of times my wife has gotten direct mail pieces from candidates this election cycle about a woman's right to choose," he said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. "... Why don't we ask the question about why aren't there more women as CEOs? How do we promote more entrepreneurship among women? How do we respect women as heads of households? ... The Democrats should be speaking to that issue and owning that issue and they're not."

The Populist Majority memorandum on women and the economy shows how candidates can take ownership of a progressive agenda that addresses women's real-life needs. Contrary to Charen's outrageous statement in the Examiner that single women are to a point looking "to the government to be a husband," women simply want government to end the rigging of the economy that causes them to face greater economic hardship and societal burdens than men.

Opinion Thu, 30 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
The 0.01 Percent's "I Reap All" Accounts

2014 1029 ira st"The government sets limits on IRA contributions to curb this abuse, but there's still more loophole than restriction." (Photo: Lendingmemo)Do you remember when Mitt Romney's IRA made headlines during his failed 2012 presidential campaign?

That outsized retirement stash estimated at between $20 and $102 million probably led President Barack Obama to propose limiting the buildup of IRA values. It turns out that Romney's gigantic IRA was no fluke.

At least 9,000 wealthy Americans have amassed $5 million-plus sized IRAs. Indeed, the former Massachusetts governor's use of a monster IRA to defer taxation is modest compared to others.

Meet Max Levchin. When he helped launch Yelp, Levchin had the foresight to place at least 7 million of his original shares of Yelp stock in a tax-sheltered Roth IRA when he acquired it.

The Ukrainian-born entrepreneur has sold off some of those shares since then, so estimating the size of that Roth mega-IRA requires some guesswork. Based on Yelp's recent trading range, it easily could exceed $275 million.

Roths weren't around when Romney began stuffing his IRA with spectacularly good investments, so his fortune is stuck inside a traditional one.

There's a tradeoff between Roth and traditional IRAs. Contributions to traditional IRAs are tax-deductible while contributions to Roth IRAs aren't. Conversely, distributions from Roth IRAs aren't taxable, whereas distributions from traditional IRAs are. In other words, while the earnings from traditional IRAs are tax-deferred, the earnings on Roth IRAs are tax-exempt.

That gives Levchin a huge advantage. While Romney saved a few thousand bucks in taxes when he established his IRA, the Yelp founding father will save millions, possibly billions, when the money comes out.

Levchin's advantage doesn't end there. You see, he's only 39. If his Roth IRA fortune grows at a 6 percent rate of return until he reaches the former GOP presidential hopeful's age of 67, he'll have amassed over $1 billion, entirely tax-free. If Levchin attains a 10 percent rate of return, his Roth IRA will be worth $4 billion by then.

Of course, if he continues to invest in successful start-ups (Levchin also helped launch PayPal and Slide), his gargantuan Roth IRA could grow to $10 billion or more, all tax-free.

Levchin's advantage will continue after retirement. After reaching age 70-1/2, Romney must start drawing down his traditional IRA and paying tax on the distributions. Not Levchin. Even though it completely contradicts the supposed purpose of the IRA — to fund retirement — he can let his Roth IRA accumulate until he dies.

That tax windfall will continue to amass after death. His children, now toddlers, will be required to draw down the Roth IRA, but only gradually, over their lifetimes. Max Levchin's gigantic tax-exempt investment fund, masquerading as a retirement account, could potentially last until the end of this young century.

There's one thing both IRA schemes have in common: They've got nothing to do with retirement.

For Romney and Levchin, it's all about avoiding taxation. The notion that these men will ever rely on their IRAs for living expenses during their golden years — the official purpose of these accounts — is beyond laughable.

The government sets limits on IRA contributions to curb this abuse, but there's still more loophole than restriction. Although the average IRA balance continues to climb, clocking in around $92,600 as of June, it's only a fraction of the balance held these super-sized IRAs.

Could Congress end this giveaway enjoyed by the nation's least-needy people? Easily. And it should focus on Roth IRAs, where the abuse potential is far greater.

First, the rules should require that Roth IRAs be distributed during their owners' retirement years. That's the point of a retirement account.

Second, the tax-exemption should end at death. The IRA is there to fund the owner's retirement, not confer a lavish tax benefit on his heirs.

Third, tax exemption should be limited, perhaps to the first $2 million dollars of distributions. Regulators can't stop Roth IRA owners from realizing outsized gains, but there's no sound reason for the tax exemption to be unlimited.

After all, the goal is to help Americans save for retirement, not shield multi-million dollar fortunes from tax.

Opinion Thu, 30 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
The Shadow Surveillance State Is Really a Secret Religion

Tom Engelhardt: In the wake of 9/11, the militarization of the country has happened at a relatively rapid pace (and domestically of the police as well). The result, it seems - even in the Ebola crisis, the military is invariably the first option.... Impoverished Cuba sends hundreds of doctors and health care workers to Africa to fight Ebola; we take "fight" literally (evidently) and send in the troops!

2014 1029 engel stTom Engelhardt (Photo: Don J. Usner)Tom Engelhardt of discusses his new book, Shadow Government, whether the surveillance state actually makes the United States more secure, and how Washington exists in a post-legal world.

Of Tom Engelhardt's new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World, Glenn Greenwald writes: "The point of Tom Engelhardt's important work at and in Shadow Government is to help us find the way to break [the] chains" of the surveillance state. Read this compelling book now. Click here to contribute and receive Shadow Government.

In his first chapter, Tom Engelhardt calls the leaders and acolytes of the shadow state "holy warriors."

Imagine what we call "national security" as, at its core, a proselytizing warrior religion. It has its holy orders. It has its sacred texts (classified). It has its dogma and its warrior priests. It has its sanctified promised land known as "the homeland."

Appropriately, Truthout began its Progressive Pick interview with Engelhardt by asking him about the ever-expanding covert branch of government as a religious cult.

Mark Karlin: In the first chapter of your book, you describe the national security state as a secret religion. Religions require faith and belief. What are the faith and belief that are at the core of the covert shadow government?

Tom Engelhardt: We're familiar enough with the obvious tenets of this religion: that there is no greater danger to this country, to Americans or to our world than terrorism; that in pursuing it, traditional constraints of every sort should no longer apply, including the very idea of privacy; that a blanket of secrecy about the acts of government in this pursuit is for the greater good; and that, to be fully protected and safe, the citizenry must be plunged into ignorance of what the national security state actually does in its name, and so on. It's a distinctly Manichaean religion in its view of the world. Its god is, more or less literally, an eye in the sky. And of course, as with many institutionalized religions, much of its energy goes into self-preservation and the maintenance or bolstering of a comfortable lifestyle for its warrior "priests."

You note that more that 70 percent of the national security budget is privatized to sub-contractors. How does that large percentage of consultants and corporations ensure that the surveillance and military state grows in order to obtain accelerating profits?

Historically, with the ending of the citizen army in 1973, in the wake of a disastrous war in Vietnam that featured much opposition, resistance and breakdown in that army, the citizenry was to be demobilized. We - those of us not in or connected to members of what came to be known as the "all-volunteer" military - were to have ever less to do with American-style war (except for offering eternal thank you's to those troops for doing it for us). But if we were demobilized - and never more so than in the post-9/11 years - others were mobilized. I've called them "warrior corporations." If we were to stay home, they were to pick up the gun, sometimes literally in the case of rent-a-mercenary places like Blackwater, and go to war with a new "privatized" military. This kind of crony capitalist mobilization spread from the military into the intelligence services and the spy agencies until, today, the national security state is filled with private contractors of every sort.

In 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower gave his famous "military-industrial complex" speech, his warning about the future as he was leaving office that put that phrase in our language. Today, if he could see the national security state, I'm sure he would roll over in his grave in horror. His phrase no longer even applies. We'd have to call what we now have the military-industrial-homeland-security-intelligence-industrial complex, or something of the sort. It's a monstrous mix, engorged by simply staggering sums of money, post-9/11, fed eternally by fear and hysteria, and bolstered by a sense of permanent war, by a creeping militarization of our world, and by a conviction that, for all problems we face, there is, in a sense, only one solution: the US military and the national security state. That this solution hasn't worked, that its use continually fosters disasters of one sort or another, including lost wars, the rise and spread of jihadism, and the destabilization of significant swaths of the planet seems to make no impression at all. There is, it turns out, no learning curve in post-9/11 Washington.

It's somewhat ironic, isn't it, that the US government wants draconian punishment to bear upon Edward Snowden - as it has already exacted upon Chelsea Manning - given that you note 1.4 million people have top security clearance, a third of those individuals being in the private sector? Isn't it likely, given the number of persons with top-level security clearance, that the so-called massive classified US intelligence data is being compromised by the so-called "enemies" of the "homeland"? In addition, there is no certainty that the US will always have a technological edge in any area indefinitely. After all, the Chinese government is alleged to have hacked into Pentagon computers. So, isn't one of the big myths of the national security state that all the data collected is safe and secure from abuse by either the US itself or other governments - individuals or groups that are or will obtain it through espionage or technological prowess? The great irony is then that the expansive shadow government is making this nation less secure, not more protected.

What I would say is that, as with drones, what the US is doing is establishing the global rules of the road for the future when it comes to subjects like surveillance and cyberwarfare, and we're not going to be so happy when other countries follow them. In all of these areas, it is in the lead, but as you point out, that's no guarantee that it will remain so forever. In this context, it is not only making the country, but the world, less secure. On drones, for instance, it has paved the way for any country (say, China pursuing its Uighur enemies) to send missile-armed drones across any borders, no matter whose sovereignty is violated, to take out those it considers terrorists or bad guys. Similarly, by launching history's first cyberwar against the Iranian nuclear program, the US has begun to establish rules of the road there, too, and we are a country that might seem highly vulnerable to such attacks; and of course from monitoring national leaders (Germany's chancellor, Brazil's president etc.) and by so many other acts of mass communications gathering, it is doing the same in the world of surveillance.

How do President Obama's drone assassination authorizations (the church of St. Drone, as you call it) represent the thuggish immorality of empire maintenance through hi-tech "hits"?

Obviously, White Houses have, in the past, been involved in assassination activities. What immediately comes to mind are all those attempts to kill Fidel Castro, the assassination of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo and of Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam. However, in the past, presidents preferred a kind of "plausible deniability" on such acts. They didn't brag about them. They didn't broadcast them. What, in some ways, is most interesting about the present White House and its massive, ongoing drone assassination campaigns in the tribal backlands of the greater Middle East and Africa is that the news about it - the "terror Tuesday" meetings, the presidential "kill list," the fact that President Obama picks the individuals to be killed - was leaked to The New York Times by the administration itself. They're proud of what they're doing. They want it known. That represents something new and, as you put it, thuggish about this imperial moment.

You have a section, "Knowledge Is Crime," in your chapter called "Definitions for a New Age." You assert that "The members of the national security state, unlike the rest of us, exist in post-legal America. They know that no matter how heinous the crime, they will not be brought to justice for it." What happened to the system of governmental checks and balances that you refer to being taught in your elementary and high school?

Oh, Mark, checks and balances? You're so retro, so last century! It's clear enough that, faced with the imperial presidency, in what used to be called "foreign policy" and is now essentially military policy, there are few checks or balances left. Congress has been largely neutered and the presidency can send in the drones, special ops forces etc. more or less wherever and whenever and however he wants. And yes, Washington exists in a post-legal atmosphere. Take torture. Of the 101 CIA torture cases the Obama Justice Department had (including cases involving the deaths of two terror suspects in CIA custody, one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq), all were dismissed. Only one torture case has ever been brought to trial, that of CIA agent John Kiriakou who was sent to jail for ... giving the name of a CIA agent involved in the agency's torture program to a reporter. How post-legal can you get?

In addition, congressional oversight of the national security state is visibly on the wane, hence the recent imbroglio over the Senate Intelligence Committee's torture report in which the CIA took out after the committee and Sen. Diane Feinstein (who had previously been considered "the senator from national security") with threats, actually hacked into the committee staffers' computer system, and has now redacted (i.e. censored) the report - all of the above with the backing of the White House. Point made.

You include a letter to an unknown whistleblower at the end of your book. Why do you think that the Obama administration is even more tyrannical than the Bush administration when it comes to prosecuting and harassing whistleblowers?

I'm always hesitant to discuss motivation, since we human beings are a mystery to ourselves and regularly, even when we think we know our motivations, are the unreliable narrators of our own stories. I can certainly confirm that the Obama administration has been fiercer than the Bush administration, or Nixon's, or any other past administration when it comes to prosecuting whistleblowers under the draconian World War I era Espionage Act and trying to keep the government's acts secret from the citizenry. We know that the president entered the Oval Office on day one proclaiming a "sunshine" administration and it's been a case of "into the shadows" ever since. The why is a harder question to answer, except to say that the national security state has in these years become ever stronger and ever more deeply embedded in our American world, and - my opinion only - Obama has proved a weak reed on many such issues. He has regularly given in to the "old hands" he's put in place around him.

You have a chapter, "Why Washington Can't Stop." Why is "war the option of choice" for the US government regardless of which major political party is in the White House or in control of Congress?

In this period, there simply has been no learning curve in Washington. In the wake of 9/11, the militarization of the country has happened at a relatively rapid pace (and domestically of the police as well). The result, it seems - even in the Ebola crisis, the military is invariably the first option. The fact that it's a force created for destruction, hopeless (as we've seen repeatedly) at "building" nations and, assumedly, at dealing with pandemic diseases matters not at all. Impoverished Cuba sends hundreds of doctors and health care workers to Africa to fight Ebola; we take "fight" literally (evidently) and send in the troops!

It's strange indeed. Similarly, on a large scale across the greater Middle East and more recently Africa, despite 13 years in which no military move of more or less any sort (other maybe than the bin Laden raid) achieved any of Washington's stated objectives, despite disaster after disaster, the Obama administration and the rest of Washington seem incapable of thinking of anything to do that doesn't involve sending in the drones, special ops forces and troops. Results seem beside the point.

Is there any evidence - if one accepts the government contention that there are unending dire terrorist threats to "the homeland" - that the massive surveillance state is effective in protecting the US from attacks?

Of course, by definition, a secret or shadow government means that our information on its effectiveness is limited indeed beyond what it cares to tell us (or brag about). However, as it happens, there is reasonable evidence of its general ineffectiveness beyond the obvious - that it didn't intercept the Shoe Bomber, the Times Square Bomber, the Boston Marathon bombers etc., that it was visibly caught off guard by the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East, and so on. In addition, the president and others in the intelligence world have claimed that the US thwarted 54 terror-style plots against this country or Americans. But journalists looking into this have found no evidence of any of these "plots" thwarted. Similarly, claims about the usefulness of all the bulk phone metadata the NSA collects, according to a member of a panel appointed by the president with insider access to the sort of information needed to reach conclusions about such things, found no evidence that the metadata had helped on the breaking of even a single case. In other words, based on what we do know about the workings of our secret state, it looks like the bang-for-the-buck quotient is low indeed.

On the whole (see question one), the usefulness of this system, which leaves national security state personnel awash in reams, yottabytes, of useless information, seems a matter of bedrock faith rather than reality.

Meanwhile, there are many clear and present dangers to the US that are not receiving even a small percentage of the funding of the shadow government. Isn't global warming, for example, a national security threat of disastrous proportion?

Again, it's a sign of a faith-based system that the overriding, essential thing the national security state is set up to protect us from - terrorism - is a genuine danger to Americans, but not on the great scale of things. It has proven more dangerous and deadly than, say, shark attacks, but less dangerous than just about anything else in American life. Nobody's set up 17 interlocked agencies and outfits (i.e. the US intelligence "community") to deal with highway deaths (approximately 450,000 or so since 9/11), or firearm deaths (400,000 in the same period). Food-borne illnesses? Much more dangerous than terrorism, and so on.

Similarly, as you say, the most obvious future threat to this country and our planet, to the very planetary environment that has natured humanity these thousands of years, climate change, gets nothing like the attention that it should. I'm sure that far more money goes into gathering global communications of every sort and keeping the people who run that system living in a style to which they've become accustomed than into climate change. Far more governmental blue-sky thinking has undoubtedly similarly gone into the weapons systems of 2035 and 2050 than into future ways to cut fossil fuels, and so on and so forth. Honestly, I think that future historians will consider us mad people (criminally insane, perhaps) for our priorities in this period.

In his introduction to your book, Glenn Greenwald writes, "The government is deliberately working to create a climate of fear in exactly those communities that are most important in checking those in power." I assume he is referring to all those who dissent from giving the US shadow government a green light, which includes everybody from the Occupy movement to Edward Snowden to Truthout to the ACLU to you and - and so many more. Is the fear factor working to crush dissent?

In case you hadn't noticed (and that's just a figure of speech since Truthout has been all over it), we've entered a period of outright hysteria, first over the threat of the Islamic State, the new extremist movement (and oil mini-state) in the Middle East, based on two beheading videos they produced because they understood our mentality better than we do and wanted to drive us into another war. Nothing establishes the [credibility] of such a movement (as Osama bin Laden knew) than having the Great Satan actively dropping bombs on you. And then, of course, there was the Ebola hysteria.

I think such waves of both fear and hysteria have the effect of demobilizing Americans generally, of convincing them that without our shadow government we are doomed. Such emotions drive people not into activity but into passivity. It's not that Truthout and TomDispatch etc. are quelled by this, but that the larger movement that might make a difference has trouble developing in such an atmosphere (though I'm hoping that, with the recent massive march in New York City, a larger climate change movement might indeed be emerging).

News Thu, 30 Oct 2014 00:00:00 -0400
Dark Money in Coal Country

2014 1029 dark st"The group, which was officially launched in 2008 but has only just become a major political player, is a prime example of the influences that dark money has in American politics." (Image: American flag and dollars via Shutterstock)Do you want media that’s accountable to YOU, not to advertisers or billionaire sponsors? Invest in independent media - donate to Truthout today!

Dark money is a strong and mysterious force.

With under a week to go until Election Day, the Senate Majority PAC has released a new ad slamming Mitch McConnell, hoping that it will help Alison Lundergan Grimes pull off the upset and unseat the current senate minority leader.

The ad attacks McConnell for protecting his retirement savings, while wanting to privatize social security and put everyone else's life savings at risk.

The ad is so damning that McConnell's camp has tried to get it pulled from the air unsuccessfully.

But, it appears that ad may be too little too late, and that's thanks in large part to the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition.

So what's the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition?

Well, there's a lot we don't know about it.

We don't know who's pulling the strings of the group, who sits on its board, and where it gets all its money from.

As the group's website says, there is a policy, "to not provide the names of its donors to the general public."

But, what we do know is that the group has bankrolled 12,000 of the 79,000 ads that have aired in Kentucky during campaign season.

According to Scott Jennings, the PR point person for the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, the "non-profit" group has spent at least $14 million since the beginning of 2013 to, "help ensure the organization's message is dispersed in an efficient and effective manner."

And, official FEC records show that the group has spent over $7.1 million on "expenditures" that "expressly advocate" for the election of Mitch McConnell or the defeat of Alison Lundergan Grimes.

The group, which was officially launched in 2008 but has only just become a major political player, is a prime example of the influences that dark money has in American politics.

Thanks to the Supreme Court's disastrous Citizens United decision, groups like the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition can pour millions of dollars into campaigns and elections, all under a veil of secrecy and mystery.

They can corrupt our democracy all they want, and effectively silent the voices of the American people.

If we ever want America to have a functioning democracy again, then we need to amend our constitution to say that corporations are not people and that money is not speech.

To join the movement, go to

Opinion Wed, 29 Oct 2014 15:26:47 -0400
Smoke and Mirrors: Inside the New "Bipartisan Prison Reform" Agenda

Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors is a series that dives into the details of "bipartisan prison reform" to reveal the right-wing, neoliberal carceral sleight of hand that's really at work. By asking hard questions about the content and consequences of various proposals and exploring ways in which commitments to unregulated free markets, privatization and states' rights drive the agenda, Smoke and Mirrors shows how this new generation of reforms will reinforce structural racism, intensify economic violence and contribute to the normalization of a surveillance society.

Smoke and Mirrors: Essential Questions About "Prison Reform"
Thursday, 30 October 2014
By Kay Whitlock and Nancy A Heitzeg, Critical Mass Progress | News Analysis

News Wed, 29 Oct 2014 12:22:04 -0400