Truthout Stories http://truth-out.org Tue, 27 Jan 2015 16:06:55 -0500 en-gb The Deficits Republicans Don't Want to Talk About http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/28777-the-deficits-republicans-don-t-want-to-talk-about http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/28777-the-deficits-republicans-don-t-want-to-talk-about

2015.1.27.DailyTake.mainOne of the fastest ways to create jobs is to address our nation's infrastructure deficit. (Image: via Shutterstock)Want to challenge injustice and make real change happen? That's Truthout's goal - support our work with a donation today!

I agree with Republicans - the United States has a deficit problem.

It's just not the same deficit problem Republicans are freaking out about.

Shortly after sweeping the November midterms, Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, outlining their plans for the upcoming Congress.

In that op-ed, they wrote that Republicans would work to address, "a national debt that has Americans stealing from their children and grandchildren, robbing them of benefits that they will never see and leaving them with burdens that will be nearly impossible to repay."

As usual, Boehner and McConnell were sounding the alarms over our nation's federal deficit, something Republicans like to do a near-daily basis.

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

But, what they didn't say in that op-ed is that our federal deficit has actually improved A LOT in recent years.

Our federal deficit has been slashed by more than two-thirds since President Obama took office, and deficits over the next decade are going to be around $4.7 trillion lower than what the Congress Budget Office estimated just four years ago.

Instead of focusing on a federal deficit that's at its lowest point in years, Republicans should instead be focusing on the United States' real deficit problem.

In a new report titled, "We Must Rebuild the Disappearing Middle Class," Sen. Bernie Sanders talks about the other deficits we are facing as a nation, and how we can go about addressing them.

Those deficits are in jobs, infrastructure, income, equality, retirement security, education and trade.

Right now, millions of Americans are unemployed or underemployed. As Sen. Sanders points out in his report, the real unemployment rate, which counts those underemployed and those who have given up looking for work, sits at a staggering 11.2 percent.

This is not a problem that we can just ignore.

Instead, Sen. Sanders is arguing that we take a page out of FDR's playbook, and create a new federal jobs program, which would put millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans to work in well-paying jobs.

One of the fastest ways to create those jobs is by addressing our nation's infrastructure deficit.

As we speak, our bridges are falling down, our roads are buckling and our transportation systems are a joke compared to the rest of the developed world.

As a result, the American Society of Civil Engineers gives the US a dismal D+ rating on overall infrastructure.

Ever since Reagan came to Washington and blew up federal funding for infrastructure projects, our country hasn't been the same. It's literally been crumbling to the ground.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have neglected our nation's physical infrastructure for too long, and it's time for a change.

By investing $1 trillion in infrastructure spending over the next five years, as Sen. Sanders suggests in his report, we could help create over 13 million well-paying jobs AND bring the US out of the 19th century and into the 21st century.

Meanwhile, while we're addressing the United States' infrastructure deficit, we must do something about the income and equality deficits plaguing our country.

It's absolutely insane that in the richest country in the world millions and millions of people are struggling to survive and put food on the table.

As the Sanders report points out, "We must raise the minimum wage to a livable wage. In the year 2015, no one in America who works full time should be living in poverty."

But raising the minimum wage alone isn't enough to level the playing field and combat our nation's wealth inequality epidemic.

Right now, the top 1% of Americans control nearly as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, while 400 Americans own more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans combined.

That's inexcusable.

Heck, even Ronald Reagan thought it was crazy.

Speaking about the United States' tax loopholes during a speech in 1985, Reagan said that, "in practice they sometimes made it possible for millionaires to pay nothing, while a bus driver was paying ten percent of his salary, and that's crazy. Do you think the millionaire ought to pay more in taxes than the bus driver or less?"

And, of course, the audience answered, "More!"

It's time to make the wealthy elite and giant transnational corporations pay their fair share to support our economy.

While it's important to make sure that all Americans have an equal shot at success, it's also important to ensure that all Americans can retire comfortably.

As Sen. Sanders points out, "Today, only one out of five workers in America has a traditional defined benefit that guarantees income in retirement. Nearly half of all Americans have less than $10,000 in savings."

Fortunately, there's a pretty easy fix for the United States' retirement deficit: expand Social Security.

Instead of focusing on cuts to it, our lawmakers need to be talking about how to expand this vital lifeline for millions of Americans.

Next, we need to address our nation's education deficit, which is keeping us so far behind much of the developed world.

Right now, there's over $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt in the US.

That's because college has become so expensive that getting a degree also means taking on mountains of student loan debt.

And those mountains of student loan debt are also hurting our nation's economic recovery. It's a lose-lose situation.

We need to make to be making it easier to get a college degree in the US, not harder.

Finally, we need to tackle the United States' ballooning trade deficit and out-of-whack trade policies.

Last year, our trade deficit stood at $493 billion.

Meanwhile, years of so-called "free trade" deals have exported millions of good-paying US jobs overseas.

We need to rework our trade policy, and stop signing on to so-called "free trade" deals that export jobs and screw over working-class Americans.

So, when Republicans whine about the US having a deficit problem, they're right. We do have a deficit problem.

BUT, it's not our federal deficit that's the problem.

Instead, it's the deficit in our spending on infrastructure, on education and on job creation that's really keeping our country down.

As Sen. Sanders writes, "While we must continue to focus on the federal deficit, we must also be aware that there are other deficits in our society that have been causing horrendous pain for the vast majority of the American people."

It's time to stop that pain, and start making the United States great again.

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Opinion Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:54:12 -0500
A Regime Change in Switzerland http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/28774-a-regime-change-in-switzerland http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/28774-a-regime-change-in-switzerland

2015.1.27.Switzerland.mainSkiers eating lunch at the L'Olympique restaurant in Verbier, Switzerland. The country recently ended its currency peg to the euro. (Photo: Niels Ackermann for The New York Times)

These days it is fairly widely accepted that it's very hard for central banks to get traction at the zero lower bound unless they can convince investors that there has been a regime change - in other words, changing expectations about future policy is more important than what you do now. That's what I was getting at way back in 1998, when I argued that the Bank of Japan needed to "credibly promise to be irresponsible," something it has only managed to do recently.

The trouble is that regime change is hard to engineer. President Franklin D. Roosevelt did it by taking America off the gold standard, but going off gold isn't something you get to do very often.

Last week, however, the Swiss National Bank managed a credible regime change. Unfortunately, it was a change in the wrong direction. By throwing in the towel on the peg to the euro, the bank immediately convinced markets that its previous apparent commitment to do whatever it took to avoid deflation was null and void. And this expectations effect trumped the concrete, immediate policy of drastically negative interest rates on reserves.

There are two things to bear in mind. First, having thrown away its credibility - in today's world, the crucial credibility that central banks need involves not a willingness to take away the punch bowl, but a willingness to keep pushing liquor on an abstemious crowd - it's hard to see how the S.N.B. can get it back. Second, there will be spillovers: The bank's wimp-out will make monetary policy more complicated in other countries because it will leave markets skeptical about whether other supposed commitments to keep up unconventional policy will similarly prove to be time-limited.

On Econoheroes

I gather that some readers didn't understand what I was driving at when I declared in a recent blog post that the economist Joe Stiglitz and yours truly are the left's "econoheroes," while the likes of Stephen Moore and Art Laffer play that role on the right.

First of all, I was not declaring myself an actual hero; I'm nothing of the kind. Did I mention that I'm sort of short? Actually, hero worship of any kind, for anyone, is a big mistake - place too much faith in any individual, and you're very likely to be let down, hard. (There are, however, real villains.)

No, what I meant - and I thought that this was obvious - is that Mr. Stiglitz and I do tend to get quoted or invoked on a frequent basis in liberal media and by liberals in general, usually with (excessive) approbation. And the thing is that while there are people playing a comparable role in right-wing discussions, they tend not to be highly cited or even competent economists.

So don't tell me that Greg Mankiw or Robert Barro are famous economists and also conservative. Indeed they are. But are they omnipresent on the conservative scene? Take a crude metric, and look at hits on Google News. If you search for "Mankiw economy" you get about 5,200 hits, many of them involving debates at recent economics meetings. If you type in "Stephen Moore economy" you get 65,700 hits. If you put in "Stiglitz economy" you get 43,800.

I see this as a real asymmetry. You can, if you like, claim that within the economics profession conservatives are the intellectual equals or superiors of liberals (and no, economics professors aren't overwhelmingly liberal in the way that some professors are from other social sciences). The point, however, is that the right does not turn to these eminent conservative economists for guidance and support. It prefers the hacks.

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Opinion Tue, 27 Jan 2015 13:05:10 -0500
Paint the Town Red: Syriza's Historic Victory and the Steep Road to Greek Recovery http://truth-out.org/news/item/28773-paint-the-town-red-syriza-s-historic-victory-and-the-steep-road-to-greek-recovery http://truth-out.org/news/item/28773-paint-the-town-red-syriza-s-historic-victory-and-the-steep-road-to-greek-recovery

The decisive victory of Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left, is a historic event for the Greek left. Still, it would be a mistake to interpret Syriza's win as reflecting an ideological shift among Greek voters, rather than an act of desperation against austerity.

2015.1.27.Syriza.mainAlexis Tsipras, leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), speaks in Thessaloniki, Greece, a few days before the national elections of 2015. (Photo: via Shutterstock)

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After six years of a severe depression in which output has shrunk by 25 percent and unemployment went through the roof, rising from 9 percent in 2009 to 27.8 percent in the first quarter of 2014 before dropping to still unbearably high levels at 25.5 percent in the third quarter of 2014, the Greek electorate seems to have had enough with austerity, misery, poverty, authoritarianism and national humiliation. (1)

In the general elections held on January 25, voters resolutely turned their back on the two mainstream political parties - the conservative party of New Democracy and the center-left Pasok - that have functioned as servants to the troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has essentially ruled the nation since the introduction of a financial bailout agreement back in May 2010, (2) by handing power to the radical left Syriza party. Syriza won 36 percent of the vote (finishing eight points ahead of the conservatives) and will hold 149 seats (two short of an absolute majority) in the 300-seat parliament.

The decisive victory of the Coalition of the Radical Left, as Syriza is formally known, is a historic event for the Greek left, as it has never ruled Greece in modern history - although it has always been at the forefront of the struggle for democracy, freedom and social justice, with its leaders and many of its supporters ruthlessly persecuted by the right for nearly 30 years after the end of World War II.

Still, it would be a mistake to interpret Syriza's victory as reflecting necessarily an ideological shift among voters. The majority of the people who voted for Syriza did not suddenly turn left but did so out of despair over their own predicament and from anger regarding the condition of the country. The policies of the troika have caused massive economic damage that will take decades to repair, and have produced untold social pain and misery, which in many cases can never be reversed. (3) The infamous bailout packages ensured the repayment of loans to Europe's banks and preserved the euro at the expense of an entire nation, which became subject to inhumanly harsh austerity measures while the national interests and dignity of the country were shred into pieces by non-elected and unaccountable officials, neoliberal barbarians in the European Union and the IMF working at the behest of banks and the financial elite.

In the midst of this unfolding catastrophe, only Syriza challenged systematically and with courage the EU-IMF duo's decisions and stood up to the lackey domestic governments that were enforcing its respective policies. Only Syriza was able to produce an alternative, even if rather moderate, economic program for dealing with the unfolding humanitarian crisis. Only Syriza created a vision for tomorrow and articulated it with passion and in a way that included all citizens irrespective of political and ideological differences. In the end, it was all these realizations that drove a significant percentage of Greek citizens to cast their vote for the left. The notion of a Greek recovery proved to be one gigantic lie. (4)

All this is not to say that Syriza lives in a dream world. Syriza is fully aware of the realities and challenges facing the party and a Syriza-led government. First, with the overwhelming majority of Greek citizens clinging almost irrationally to the euro, Syriza's leadership abandoned talk of Greece leaving the euro and focused its rhetoric on changing Greece while simultaneously changing Europe with its post-austerity vision. The party leadership's determination to rise to power apparently required the adoption of a "realistic" strategy, but one which is still injected with emotional, political rhetoric powerful enough to move the downtrodden and humiliated masses. What comes to mind in trying to provide a functional understanding of Syriza's transformational vision is President Obama's "Yes We Can" proverbial rhetoric. By the same token, Alexis Tsipras' speech delivery pattern and body movement sought to imitate Pasok's founder and longtime prime minister, Andreas Papandreou, who was by all accounts a magnetic orator. Hopefully, however, Syriza's vision won't have the same fate as Obama's "Yes We Can" while it is virtually certain that Tsipras will not end up imitating Papandreou's own politics, which relied mostly on lying, deception and the manipulation of public opinion.

Apropos of the above strategic outlook, Syriza retreated from its early, openly confrontational stance toward Greece's international creditors, which called for a unilateral end of the bailout agreement; instead, the party opted for a policy of renegotiation of Greece's debt, with an emphasis on the need for a significant write-down of Greek public debt, which has increased substantially since the introduction of the bailout agreement and most of it is held by European institutions. How Syriza's leadership will react in the event (which is the most likely one) that Greece's international creditors refuse to agree to debt relief is still something of a mystery. Realistically speaking, what will probably happen once such negotiations get under way is that Syriza's government will be provided with more favorable debt repayment terms in a take-it-or-leave-it package. Both the IMF and the ECB have already emphasized that they won't take any losses against Greek debt while the voices coming out of Berlin stress the fact that Greece must continue on the path of the already agreed terms.

In 2015, Greece has to repay in principle and interest loans, which amount to 22 billion euros. In the meantime, Syriza's economic program - which involves (a) helping out those who have been hit hardest by the crisis and are in need of access to free electricity, food and rent subsidies; (b) restoring the minimum wage to 751 euros per month; and (c) creating 300,000 new jobs for the unemployed via the implementation of public employment schemes - is estimated to cost 12 billion euros, if not much more. According to Syriza's calculations, the cost for these measures will be covered by cracking down on tax evasion, by issuing new Treasury bills that will be purchased by Greek banks and as a result of maintaining a not so large surplus account as a result of a write-down of Greece's debt.

Unfortunately, Syriza's financing plan for its economic program is as shaky as a three-legged giraffe. It is highly questionable at this point in the game that much money can be generated by cracking down on tax evasion while a write-down on Greek debt is a most improbable event as virtually all major actors inside Europe, but also certain parties inside Greece, such as bank analysts and mainstream economists, seem to be convinced that Greece's current public debt-to-GDP ratio is sustainable even though it stands close to 176 percent. As for the issuing of Treasury bills to be purchased by Greek banks, it is highly doubtful that this can happen as Greece has apparently "already reached the issuance limit for its Treasury bills." (5) Furthermore, Greece has been locked out from the ECB's quantitative easing measures, which means the pressure on a Syriza-led government to stay the course on austerity and structural reforms will only intensify if it wishes to access the available liquidity. (6)

Having said all this, it should be rather evident that Syriza's historic victory ensures that "interesting times" lie ahead both for Greece and Europe. Syriza's debt renegotiating team will have its hands full with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, the ECB boys, and the hard-liners from Holland and Finland. Syriza's mixture of Keynesianism and Marxism to economic issues also won't sit well with institutions like the IMF in spite of the latter having advocated in the past the need for a restructuring of Greek public debt (although it is against a "haircut" involving its own loans to Greece).

In the meantime, Syriza leader Tsipras lost no time following the elections to form a coalition government with the party of Independent Greeks, a populist, right-wing political organization that has opposed austerity and the troika's presence in Greece all along. This collaboration appears to have been in the making long before the outcome of the elections and in preparation of the eventuality that Syriza may fail to attain an absolute majority. The party of Independent Greeks has promised to provide unequivocal support to Syriza's project for lifting the country out of its extreme crisis and, while in politics, everything is possible, the fact of the matter is that the junior coalition partner has nothing to gain by seeking to undermine Syriza's hold on power when the tough gets going, as some on the left seem to be concerned about, given the obvious ideological gap that divides the two parties. The leader of Independent Greeks receives the crucial post of defense minister and there is also a role in the new government for a few other members of the party. In sum, this is a political marriage that should last for some time - at least as long as the struggle against the troika lasts! A Syriza-led government will restructure several ministries in order to make them more flexible and thus more effective, and promises to put its program into action without any delay.

Without a doubt, this is the first time in the country's recent history that a political party takes the reins of power, which does not consist of political frausters and carpetbaggers. The people around Syriza's inner circle have been for the most part long-time activists and true devotees to radical change, even if the party had to accept in its ranks various kinds of opportunists and former apparatchiks of the now virtually defunct socialist party as part of its strategy for coming to power.

Following its electoral victory, Syriza made history for a second time when Tsipras refused, as a declared atheist, to be sworn in as new prime minister of Greece by taking a religious oath and opting instead for a secular oath. This was in itself a bold, revolutionary act, if you wish, considering how conservative Greek society really is and how intertwined church and state have been throughout Greece's modern history. This gesture is also probably suggestive of a logic that Tsipras will not compromise on values he holds dearly and when he knows that his non-compromising stand will not adversely affect the well-being of his people. As further evidence in his belief that "the heart beats on the left," after he was sworn in as new Greek prime minister, Tsipras visited the National Resistance Memorial in the Athens suburb of Kaisariani and laid a wreath in memory of the hundreds of communist resistance fighters who were executed by the Germans on May 1, 1944.

Greece's path to recovery remains long and steep. But with Syriza in power there is at least a fighting chance against the austerians and those who wish to keep Greece financially subjugated, forever under debt and locked inside the neoliberal prison. This is why Greek voters gave their consent to Syriza's vision - out of awareness that the left's history is about resistance, revolt and social transformation.

Footnotes:

1. See C.J. Polychroniou, "Greece: A Nation for Sale and the Death of Democracy." Truthout (July 31, 2014).

2. See C.J. Polychroniou, "A Failure By Any Other Name: The International Bailouts of Greece." Public Policy No. 6, 2013. Annandale-on-Hudson, NY: Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. July 2013.

3. See C.J. Polychroniou, "The Tragedy of Greece: A Case Against Neoliberal Economics, the Domestic Political Elite, and the EU/IMF Duo." Public Policy No. 1, 2013. Annandale-on-Hudson, NY: Levy Economics Institute of Bard College. March 2013.

4. See C.J. Polychroniou, "The Greek 'Success Story' of a Crushing Economy and a Failed State." Truthout (January 19, 2014).

5. Stratfor Global Intelligence, "Greece's New Government Faces Serious Discord Over Debt." (January 26, 2015). http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/greeces-new-government-faces-serious-discord-over-debt#axzz3Q1M8OaeY

6. See C.J. Polychroniou, "ECB: The Ultimate Enforcer of the European Neoliberal Project?" Truthout (January 27, 2015).

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News Tue, 27 Jan 2015 13:25:27 -0500
The Collapse of Europe? The European Union May Be on the Verge of Regime Collapse http://truth-out.org/news/item/28772-the-collapse-of-europe-the-european-union-may-be-on-the-verge-of-regime-collapse http://truth-out.org/news/item/28772-the-collapse-of-europe-the-european-union-may-be-on-the-verge-of-regime-collapse

2015.1.27.EU.mainThe EU needs more than pretty rhetoric and good intentions to stay glued together. (Image via Shutterstock)Europe won the Cold War.

Not long after the Berlin Wall fell a quarter of a century ago, the Soviet Union collapsed, the United States squandered its peace dividend in an attempt to maintain global dominance, and Europe quietly became more prosperous, more integrated, and more of a player in international affairs. Between 1989 and 2014, the European Union (EU) practically doubled its membership and catapulted into third place in population behind China and India. It currently boasts the world’s largest economy and also heads the list of global trading powers. In 2012, the EU won the Nobel Peace Prize for transforming Europe “from a continent of war to a continent of peace.”

In the competition for “world’s true superpower,” China loses points for still having so many impoverished peasants in its rural hinterlands and a corrupt, illiberal bureaucracy in its cities; the United States, for its crumbling infrastructure and a hypertrophied military-industrial complex that threatens to bankrupt the economy. As the only equitably prosperous, politically sound, and rule-of-law-respecting superpower, Europe comes out on top, even if -- or perhaps because -- it doesn’t have the military muscle to play global policeman.

And yet, for all this success, the European project is currently teetering on the edge of failure. Growth is anemic at best and socio-economic inequality is on the rise. The countries of Eastern and Central Europe, even relatively successful Poland, have failed to bridge the income gap with the richer half of the continent. And the highly indebted periphery is in revolt.

Politically, the center may not hold and things seem to be falling apart. From the left, parties like Syriza in Greece are challenging the EU’s prescriptions of austerity. From the right, Euroskeptic parties are taking aim at the entire quasi-federal model. Racism and xenophobia are gaining ever more adherents, even in previously placid regions like Scandinavia.

Perhaps the primary social challenge facing Europe at the moment, however, is the surging popularity of Islamophobia, the latest “socialism of fools.” From the killings at the Munich Olympics in 1972 to the recent attacks at Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris, wars in the Middle East have long inspired proxy battles in Europe. Today, however, the continent finds itself ever more divided between a handful of would-be combatants who claim the mantle of true Islam and an ever-growing contingent who believe Islam -- all of Islam -- has no place in Europe.

The fracturing European Union of 2015 is not the Europe that political scientist Frances Fukuyama imagined when, in 1989, he so famously predicted “the end of history,” as well as the ultimate triumph of liberal democracy and the bureaucracy in Brussels, the EU’s headquarters, that now oversees continental affairs. Nor is it the Europe that British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher imagined when, in the 1980s, she spoke of the global triumph of TINA (“there is no alternative”) and of her brand of market liberalism. Instead, today’s Europe increasingly harkens back to the period between the two world wars when politicians of the far right and left polarized public debate, economies went into a financial tailspin, anti-Semitism surged out of the sewer, and storm clouds gathered on the horizon.

Another continent-wide war may not be in the offing, but Europe does face the potential for regime collapse: that is, the end of the Eurozone and the unraveling of regional integration. Its possible dystopian future can be glimpsed in what has happened in its eastern borderlands. There, federal structures binding together culturally diverse people have had a lousy track record over the last quarter-century. After all, the Soviet Union imploded in 1991; Czechoslovakia divorced in 1993; and Yugoslavia was torn asunder in a series of wars later in the 1990s.

If its economic, political, and social structures succumb to fractiousness, the European Union could well follow the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia into the waste bin of failed federalisms. Europe as a continent will remain, its nation-states will continue to enjoy varying degrees of prosperity, but Europe as an idea will be over. Worse yet, if, in the end, the EU snatches defeat from the jaws of its Cold War victory, it will have no one to blame but itself.

The Rise and Fall of TINA

The Cold War was an era of alternatives. The United States offered its version of freewheeling capitalism, while the Soviet Union peddled its brand of centralized planning. In the middle, continental Europe offered the compromise of a social market: capitalism with a touch of planning and a deepening concern for the welfare of all members of society.

Cooperation, not competition, was the byword of the European alternative. Americans could have their dog-eat-dog, frontier capitalism. Europeans would instead stress greater coordination between labor and management, and the European Community (the precursor to the EU) would put genuine effort into bringing its new members up to the economic and political level of its core countries.

Then, at a point in the 1980s when the Soviet model had ceased to exert any influence at all globally, along came TINA.

At the time, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and American President Ronald Reagan were ramping up their campaigns to shrink government, while what later became known as globalization -- knocking down trade walls and opening up new opportunities for the financial sector -- began to be felt everywhere. Thatcher summed up this brave new world with her TINA acronym: the planet no longer had any alternative to globalized market democracy.

Not surprisingly, then, in the post-Cold War era, European integration shifted its focus toward removing barriers to the flow of capital. As a result, the expansion of Europe no longer came with an implied guarantee of eventual equality. The deals that Ireland (1973) and Portugal (1986) had received on accession were now, like the post-World War II Marshall Plan, artifacts of another era. The sheer number of potential new members knocking on Europe’s door put a strain on the EU’s coffers, particularly since the economic performance of countries like Romania and Bulgaria was so far below the European average. But even if the EU had been overflowing with funds, it might not have mattered, since the new “neoliberal” spirit of capitalism now animated its headquarters in Brussels where the order of the day had become: cut government, unleash the market.

At the heart of Europe, as well as of this new orthodoxy, lies Germany, the exemplar of continental fiscal rectitude. Yet in the 1990s, that newly reunified nation engaged in enormous deficit spending, even if packaged under a different name, to bring the former East Germany up to the level of the rest of the country. It did not, however, care to apply this “reunification exception” to other former members of the Soviet bloc. Acting as the effective central bank for the European Union, Germany instead demanded balanced budgets and austerity from all newcomers (and some old timers as well) as the only effective answer to debt and fears of a future depression.

The rest of the old Warsaw Pact has had access to some EU funds for infrastructure development, but nothing on the order of the East German deal. As such, they remain in a kind of economic halfway house. The standard of living in Hungary, 25 years after the fall of Communism, remains approximately half that of neighboring Austria. Similarly, it took Romania 14 years just to regain the gross national product (GDP) it had in 1989 and it remains stuck at the bottom of the European Union. People who visit only the capital cities of Eastern and Central Europe come away with a distorted view of the economic situation there, since Warsaw and Bratislava are wealthier than Vienna, and Budapest nearly on a par with it, even though Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary all remain economically far behind Austria.

What those countries experienced after 1989 -- one course of “shock therapy” after another -- became the medicine of choice for all EU members at risk of default following the financial crisis of 2007 and then the sovereign debt crisis of 2009. Forget deficit spending to enable countries to grow their way out of economic crisis. Forget debt renegotiation. The unemployment rate in Greece and Spain now hovers around 25%, with youth unemployment over 50%, and all the EU members subjected to heavy doses of austerity have witnessed a steep rise in the number of people living below the poverty line. The recent European Central Bank announcement of "quantitative easing" -- a monetary sleight-of-hand to pump money into the Eurozone -- is too little, too late.

The major principle of European integration has been reversed. Instead of Eastern and Central Europe catching up to the rest of the EU, pockets of the “west” have begun to fall behind the “east.” The GDP per capita of Greece, for example, has slipped below that of Slovenia and, when measured in terms of purchasing power, even Slovakia, both former Communist countries.

The Axis of Illiberalism

Europeans are beginning to realize that Margaret Thatcher was wrong and there are alternatives -- to liberalism and European integration. The most notorious example of this new illiberalism is Hungary.

On July 26, 2014, in a speech to his party faithful, Prime Minister Viktor Orban confided that he intended a thorough reorganization of the country. The reform model Orban had in mind, however, had nothing to do with the United States, Britain, or France. Rather, he aspired to create what he bluntly called an “illiberal state” in the very heart of Europe, one strong on Christian values and light on the libertine ways of the West. More precisely, what he wanted was to turn Hungary into a mini-Russia or mini-China.

“Societies founded upon the principle of the liberal way,” Orban intoned, “will not be able to sustain their world-competitiveness in the following years, and more likely they will suffer a setback, unless they will be able to substantially reform themselves.” He was also eager to reorient to the east, relying ever less on Brussels and ever more on potentially lucrative markets in and investments from Russia, China, and the Middle East.

That July speech represented a truly Oedipal moment, for Orban was eager to drive a stake right through the heart of the ideology that had fathered him. As a young man more than 25 years earlier, he had led the Alliance of Young Democrats -- Fidesz -- one of the region’s most promising liberal parties. In the intervening years, sensing political opportunity elsewhere on the political spectrum, he had guided Fidesz out of the Liberal International and into the European People’s Party, alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

Now, however, he was on the move again and his new role model wasn’t Merkel, but Russian President Vladimir Putin and his iron-fisted style of politics. Given the disappointing performance of liberal economic reforms and the stinginess of the EU, it was hardly surprising that Orban had decided to hedge his bets by looking east.

The European Union has responded by harshly criticizing Orban’s government for pushing through a raft of constitutional changes that restrict the media and compromise the independence of the judiciary. Racism and xenophobia are on the uptick in Hungary, particularly anti-Roma sentiment and anti-Semitism. And the state has taken steps to reassert control over the economy and impose controls on foreign investment.

For some, the relationship between Hungary and the rest of Europe is reminiscent of the moment in the 1960s when Albania fled the Soviet bloc and, in an act of transcontinental audacity, aligned itself with Communist China. But Albania was then a marginal player and China still a poor peasant country. Hungary is an important EU member and China’s illiberal development model, which has vaulted it to the top of the global economy, now has increasing international influence. This, in other words, is no Albanian mouse that roared. A new illiberal axis connecting Budapest to Beijing and Moscow would have far-reaching implications.

The Hungarian prime minister, after all, has many European allies in his Euroskeptical project. Far right parties are climbing in the polls across the continent. With 25% of the votes, Marine Le Pen’s National Front, for instance, topped the French elections for the European parliament last May. In local elections in 2014, it also seized 12 mayoralties, and polls show that Le Pen would win the 2017 presidential race if it were held today. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, the National Front has been pushing a range of policies from reinstating the death penalty to closing borders that would deliberately challenge the whole European project.

In Denmark, the far-right People’s Party also won the most votes in the European parliamentary elections. In November, it topped opinion polls for the first time. The People’s Party has called for Denmark to slam shut its open-door policy toward refugees and re-introduce border controls. Much as the Green Party did in Germany in the 1970s, groupings like Great Britain’s Independence Party, the Finns Party, and even Sweden’s Democrats are shattering the comfortable conservative-social democratic duopoly that has rotated in power throughout Europe during the Cold War and in its aftermath.

The Islamophobia that has surged in the wake of the murders in France provides an even more potent arrow in the quiver of these parties as they take on the mainstream. The sentiment currently expressed against Islam -- at rallies, in the media, and in the occasional criminal act -- recalls a Europe of long ago, when armed pilgrims set out on a multiple crusades against Muslim powers, when early nation-states mobilized against the Ottoman Empire, and when European unity was forged not out of economic interest or political agreement but as a “civilizational” response to the infidel.

The Europe of today is, of course, a far more multicultural place and regional integration depends on “unity in diversity,” as the EU’s motto puts it. As a result, rising anti-Islamic sentiment challenges the inclusive nature of the European project. If the EU cannot accommodate Islam, the complex balancing act among all its different ethnic, religious, and cultural groups will be thrown into question.

Euroskepticism doesn’t only come from the right side of the political spectrum. In Greece, the Syriza party has challenged liberalism from the left, as it leads protests against EU and International Monetary Fund austerity programs that have plunged the population into recession and revolt. As elsewhere in Europe, the far right might have taken advantage of this economic crisis, too, had the government not arrested the Golden Dawn leadership on murder and other charges. In parliamentary elections on Sunday, Syriza won an overwhelming victory, coming only a couple seats short of an absolute majority. In a sign of the ongoing realignment of European politics, that party then formed a new government not with the center-left, but with the right-wing Independent Greeks, which is similarly anti-austerity but also skeptical of the EU and in favor of a crackdown on illegal immigration.

European integration continues to be a bipartisan project for the parties that straddle the middle of the political spectrum, but the Euroskeptics are now winning votes with their anti-federalist rhetoric. Though they tend to moderate their more apocalyptic rhetoric about “despotic Brussels” as they get closer to power, by pulling on a loose thread here and another there, they could very well unravel the European tapestry.

When the Virtuous Turn Vicious

For decades, European integration created a virtuous circle -- prosperity generating political support for further integration that, in turn, grew the European economy. It was a winning formula in a competitive world. However, as the European model has become associated with austerity, not prosperity, that virtuous circle has turned vicious. A challenge to the Eurozone in one country, a repeal of open borders in another, the reinstitution of the death penalty in a third -- it, too, is a process that could feed on itself, potentially sending the EU into a death spiral, even if, at first, no member states take the fateful step of withdrawing.

In Eastern and Central Europe, the growing crew who distrust the EU complain that Brussels has simply taken the place of Moscow in the post-Soviet era. (The Euroskeptics in the former Yugoslavia prefer to cite Belgrade.) Brussels, they insist, establishes the parameters of economic policy that its member states ignore at their peril, while Eurozone members find themselves with ever less control over their finances. Even if the edicts coming from Brussels are construed as economically sensible and possessed of a modicum of democratic legitimacy, to the Euroskeptics they still represent a devastating loss of sovereignty.

In this way, the same resentments that ate away at the Soviet and Yugoslav federations have begun to erode popular support for the European Union. Aside from Poland and Germany, where enthusiasm remains strong, sentiment toward the EU remains lukewarm at best across much of the rest of the continent, despite a post-euro crisis rebound. Its popularity now hovers at around 50% in many member states and below that in places like Italy and Greece.

The European Union has without question been a remarkable achievement of modern statecraft. It turned a continent that seemed destined to wallow in “ancestral hatreds” into one of the most harmonious regions on the planet. But as with the portmanteau states of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia, the complex federal project of the EU has proven fragile in the absence of a strong external threat like the one that the Cold War provided. Another economic shock or a coordinated political challenge could tip it over the edge.

Unity in diversity may be an appealing concept, but the EU needs more than pretty rhetoric and good intentions to stay glued together. If it doesn’t come up with a better recipe for dealing with economic inequality, political extremism, and social intolerance, its opponents will soon have the power to hit the rewind button on European integration. The ensuing regime collapse would not only be a tragedy for Europe, but for all those who hope to overcome the dangerous rivalries of the past and provide shelter from the murderous conflicts of the present.

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News Tue, 27 Jan 2015 12:39:58 -0500
"Selma" Director Defends Film's Portrayal of LBJ-MLK Dispute on Voting Rights Legislation http://truth-out.org/news/item/28768-selma-director-defends-film-s-portrayal-of-lbj-mlk-dispute-on-voting-rights-legislation http://truth-out.org/news/item/28768-selma-director-defends-film-s-portrayal-of-lbj-mlk-dispute-on-voting-rights-legislation

As we continue our interview with Selma director Ava DuVernay, she responds to the controversy around her film’s portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson and his relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The film depicts him as a reluctant, and even obstructionist, politician who had the FBI monitor and harass King. "I’m not here to rehabilitate anyone’s image or be a custodian of anyone’s legacy," DuVernay says. She expresses dismay that the debate has shifted attention from the film’s focus on protest and resistance that continues today over police brutality. DuVernay also describes how she screened Selma at the White House for President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama 50 years after D.W. Griffith was there to screen the notoriously racist film Birth of a Nation for President Woodrow Wilson.

Please check back later for full transcript.

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News Tue, 27 Jan 2015 11:47:12 -0500
"One Person Can Make a Difference": Ava DuVernay Remembers Film Critic Roger Ebert's Early Support http://truth-out.org/news/item/28767-one-person-can-make-a-difference-ava-duvernay-remembers-film-critic-roger-ebert-s-early-support http://truth-out.org/news/item/28767-one-person-can-make-a-difference-ava-duvernay-remembers-film-critic-roger-ebert-s-early-support

As Ava DuVernay considers her next steps after Selma, her first big budget feature film, she offers advice to aspiring filmmakers. "We have to work without permission. Especially as women in this industry. Who are we asking for permission to do what we want to do? That should be eradicated. You need to set a path and start walking." DuVernay discusses her next feature film, which will be a love story and murder mystery set in New Orleans amidst the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and recalls the impact acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert had on her life, who raved about one of her first projects, I Will Follow. "He lifted that film from nowhere, and lifted me up with it," she says.

Please check back later for full transcript.

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News Tue, 27 Jan 2015 11:42:47 -0500
Curious Cure: Wisconsin GOP Injects Partisan Politics Into Nonpartisan Elections Board http://truth-out.org/news/item/28766-curious-cure-wi-gop-injects-partisan-politics-into-nonpartisan-elections-board http://truth-out.org/news/item/28766-curious-cure-wi-gop-injects-partisan-politics-into-nonpartisan-elections-board

After a scorching two-year controversy involving a "John Doe" criminal investigation into potential illegal coordination between Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's campaign and outside big money groups, state GOP leaders are readying a legislative package to dismantle the nonpartisan elections board.

State Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson) is proposing a curious cure. He announced that he will author a bill to add partisan appointees to the Government Accountability Board (GAB), now governed by a nonpartisan board of retired judges.

Why add partisan members to a nonpartisan board that is supposed to act as an independent arbiter of elections, campaign finance law, and ethics? Because the board is currently too partisan, says Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.

"I've been looking at the board structure, and whether there would be some advantage to continue to have judges, but also add on some additional members that may have strengths, knowledge, background that would be different from the judges. What I would call a hybrid board," Knudson told the State Journal.

Prior to 2008, the GAB was governed by a partisan board that was ceaselessly deadlocked. Knudson's proposal would turn back the clock and usher in the bad old days, say critics.

Rare Chance to Dismantle "Pernicious Regulatory Machine," Says Wall Street Journal

Republicans, who have newly expanded majorities in the Assembly and Senate, have been fuming about the GAB's authorization of the John Doe investigation into potentially illegal campaign coordination that conservatives call a "partisan witch hunt," but the Center for Media and Democracy's (CMD) legal team has found to be well-grounded in Wisconsin law and precedent.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board scolded Governor Walker for even considering a settlement to the case and suggested instead in a May 2014 editorial that "the legal backlash to the John Doe probe offers a rare chance to dismantle" what it calls Wisconsin's "pernicious regulatory machine."

The GAB's lawful and appropriate role in the investigation has inspired Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to claim that "the GAB routinely doesn't follow the law and there's no accountability whatsoever" and Sen. Alberta Darling to call the GAB a "rogue agency."

Especially telling, Sen. Darling said at a recent hearing that she thinks the GAB "staff really stepped on our toes and I'm very concerned about that."

Jay Heck, Executive Director of Common Cause Wisconsin -- a good government watchdog non-profit -- was involved with the creation of the GAB in 2008 in the wake of another campaign financing scandal. Heck told CMD, "The GAB is doing their job when nobody really loves their work, at least through a partisan lens. They're not supposed to please partisan leadership.... Democrats, when they were in power, didn't much care for the GAB.... The recent vociferous opposition by Vos and Fitzgerald [and others] is really, I think, centered on the fact that this is one part of state government that they can't exercise total control over."

Retired Judge Gerald Nichol, who has been part of the GAB since its creation and recently became its chairman, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that no board reforms are needed. "It truly is independent and in my experience ... the six members come at all the issues honestly," he told a reporter. "We're not always in lockstep, and we function well."

GAB board members Timothy Vocke and Harold Froehlich -- a former Republican Congressman -- testified recently that they believed the GAB board was functioning well and exercised proper supervision of the staff.

Former GAB judge Michael Brennan opined in state newspapers, "Obviously, the plan Knudson has in mind is, 'We want our people running things.'... Political hacks are no substitute for (mostly old and usually cranky!) retired judges."

Legislative Leaders Anxious to Dismantle the Board Voted to Create it in 2008

The GAB, whose six non-partisan retired judges are already appointed by the governor and confirmed by the legislature, was created in 2008 in response to the Legislative Caucus Scandal of 2001 and 2002, which rocked the state when top Democratic and Republican legislative leaders were charged and convicted of felony and misdemeanor misconduct in public office.

The idea for an independent, nonpartisan elections and ethics board is attributed to former Republican Senate President Mike Ellis. He sat down with members of both parties, as well as good government advocates like Jay Heck of Wisconsin Common Cause, to envision what would become the first -- and still the only -- independent nonpartisan elections entity in the country.

As Heck noted, "The whole key to having it work would be to make sure they had at least independent authority to investigate corruption in the capital, and so funding for that had to come from an independent source, not subject to the legislative approval of leaders of the joint finance committee."

Another essential element was that the board had to consist of nonpartisan retired judges, Heck says, "because the appointment process in place for the [previous] state elections board often led to partisan votes on every issue without regard to the merits of the issue." All too often, the board was deadlocked.

Rep. Knudson was not yet in office when the caucus scandal upended business as usual in the capitol building, but Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald were. The two legislative leaders who appear most eager to dismantle the GAB in fact voted to create it, along with every Republican in the legislature in the Special Session of early 2007.

Since its creation, the GAB has been hailed as "America's Top Model" for election administration by Ohio State University law professor Daniel Tokaji, among other awards and accolades. It was placed in the extraordinary position of overseeing nine recall elections -- including those of the Governor and Lieutenant Governor -- in 2011 and 2012, and it did so in a manner that held the public's trust.

GAB Audit Being Used as a Weapon

Hoping to dig up dirt on the respected board, the legislature demanded an audit of the GAB's performance over the last four years. The recently completed audit report was substantially positive: "In recent years, GAB was responsible for completing a number of tasks that increased its workload. These tasks included helping to administer recall elections in 2011 and 2012, administering a statewide recount, implementing redistricting legislation, and working on photo identification issues." At the same time, "GAB's expenditures decreased from $5.8 million in fiscal year (FY) 2009-10 to $5.6 million in FY 2013-14, or by 3.0 percent."

Nowhere in the audit report was there a suggestion that the GAB engaged in partisan behavior. Nonetheless, the GOP-controlled legislature will continue to hype audit bureau suggestions on how GAB can improve its performance and pound the GAB over minor details.

As CMD's Brendan Fischer observed in a new report -- "The Assault on Clean Election Laws: The Well-Funded Campaign to Legalize Coordination in Wisconsin and Nationwide" -- the Republicans "have called for killing their own watchdog.... Elevating politics over law, unfortunately, has become routine in Wisconsin."

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News Tue, 27 Jan 2015 10:39:03 -0500
On the News With Thom Hartmann: We May Have Reached a Climate Tipping Point, and More http://truth-out.org/news/item/28765-on-the-news-with-thom-hartmann-we-may-have-reached-a-climate-tipping-point-and-more http://truth-out.org/news/item/28765-on-the-news-with-thom-hartmann-we-may-have-reached-a-climate-tipping-point-and-more

In today's On the News segment: Human activity has compromised about half of the natural processes that maintain the stability of our planet; BP is being pressured by their investors; the Senate voted 98-1 that "climate change is real and is not a hoax"; and more.

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

TRANSCRIPT:

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

You need to know this. We may have reached the tipping point. According to new research published in the journal Science, human activity has compromised about half of the natural processes that maintain the stability of our planet. In other words, the systems that make our planet habitable have been thrown dangerously out of balance. This alarming report came from an international team of 18 researchers who documented big changes in four of the nine processes that regulate our planet. The researchers found significant disruptions in biodiversity, climate, and forestation. And, they documented serious changes in the nitrogen-phosphorus cycle, which is vital to food production and clean water. These systems make our planet liveable, and each has a point in which it cannot be saved from our destruction. Those breaking points are known as "planetary boundaries," and passing them is not good news for our species. For example, Professor Elena Bennett explained why changes to the nitrogen-phosphorus cycle are so dangerous. She said, "We will see more lakes closed, will have to pay more to clean our water, and we will face temporary situations where our water is not cleanable or drinkable more and more frequently." She added, "That's what it means to have crossed this planetary boundary. It's not a good thing for any of us." Just like the other systems that keep our planet stable, we can't survive without a functioning nitrogen-phosphorus cycle. And, just like those other systems, our actions are throwing this cycle way off its natural course. The level of carbon in our atmosphere is not the only environmental threshold that we must be concerned about, and rising temperatures are not the only danger that we face. Our consumption and pollution are destroying the very systems that keep us alive, and if we don't act now, we may not get a second chance to fix these mistakes.

If you want to earn someone's trust, a little lavender may go a long way. A recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology says that the lavender plant promotes relaxation, which helps promote mutual trust. To determine this, researchers exposed one group of study participants to lavender, while another group was exposed to peppermint. Then, the participants played a game that used money to demonstrate trust. The researchers found that the "trustor" participants gave more money to their fellow players when they were exposed to lavender, and less when exposed to peppermint. This may not seem like an important experiment, but one researcher explained, "Our results might have very serious implications for a broad range of situations where interpersonal trust is an essential element." They cited examples such as a car dealership establishing a more trusting environment for a sales negotiation or sports teams using the scent to build trust between players. There are many ways that a little extra trust can have a big impact on a situation. Let's just hope that we remember that the next time we walk into a lavender-scented negotiation.

BP is being pressured by their investors. A coalition of more than 150 company shareholders are calling on the oil giant to assess and manage its climate risk. That group of shareholders, which includes the Church of England and the UK's Environment Agency, has filed a resolution to be considered at BP's 2015 annual meeting in April. That resolution asks BP to stress-test its business model against greenhouse gas emission limits suggested by the UN, and it calls on the oil giant to stop rewarding climate-harming activities. This same group of shareholders also filed an identical resolution with Shell Oil last month, and they will continue pressuring the companies to mitigate climate risks. James Thornton, the CEO of ClientEarth, one of the parties involved with the resolution, said, "Climate change is a major business risk. BP and Shell hold our financial and environmental future in their hands. They must do more to face the risks of climate change." We already know that these oil giants won't change over global warming, but maybe they'll listen to reason when it comes to their bottom lines.

Do you love the smell of the rain? Well, science has finally explained why so many people do. According scientists over at M.I.T., raindrops actually release tiny aerosols when they impact on a surface. Researchers used high-speed cameras to watch raindrops as they fell, and found that the raindrops trap tiny air bubbles at the point where they make contact with a surface. Those bubble shoot up through the rainwater and release a fizz of aerosols, which are responsible for that after-the-rain smell that so many of us enjoy. These findings were published recently in the journal Nature Communications, and include the results of about 600 experiments on 28 different surfaces. One of the scientists involved with the study said, "Rain happens every day – it's raining now, somewhere in the world. It's a very common phenomenon, and it was intriguing to us that no one has observed this mechanism before." Thanks to those inquiring minds, we finally know why things always smell fresher after it rains.

And finally... The United States Senate has finally accepted reality. Last week, the Upper Chamber voted 98-1 that "climate change is real and is not a hoax." Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island attached the amendment to the Keystone XL Pipeline bill, and every senator except Roger Wicker of Mississippi voted to approve it. That amendment lacked the additional wording that specified human activity contributed to climate change, but the fact that senators like Jim Inhofe and Ted Cruz approved it should still be considered a win. That vote came just days after President Obama called out Republican talking points in his State of the Union address, saying, "Well, I'm not a scientist, either. But you know what – I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA and NOAA, and at our major universities." It's a bit ridiculous that we had to hold a Senate vote to agree on common sense, but hopefully it gets us one step closer to dealing with the very real, very much not-a-hoax issue of climate change.

And that's the way it is for the week of January 26, 2015 – I'm Thom Hartmann, on Science & Green News.

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News Tue, 27 Jan 2015 11:10:56 -0500
Noam Chomsky Blasts "American Sniper" and the Media That Glorify It http://truth-out.org/news/item/28764-noam-chomsky-blasts-american-sniper-and-the-media-that-glorifies-it http://truth-out.org/news/item/28764-noam-chomsky-blasts-american-sniper-and-the-media-that-glorifies-it

Noam Chomsky had some choice words about the popularity of American Sniper, its glowing New York Times review and what the worship of a movie about a cold-blooded killer says about the American people. It's not good. During a Cambridge, Massachusetts event hosted by The Baffler, Chomsky first read the glowing recent review the New York Times gave the movie.

2015.1.27.Sniper.mainNoam Chomsky draws a disturbing parallel between the film American Sniper and the US global assassination program. (Screen grab via Warner Bros. Pictures / YouTube)Want to challenge injustice and make real change happen? That's Truthout's goal - support our work with a donation today!

Noam Chomsky had some choice words about the popularity of "American Sniper," its glowing New York Times review, and what the worship of a movie about a cold-blooded killer says about the American people.

It's not good.

During a Cambridge, Massachusetts event hosted by The Baffler, Chomsky first read the glowing recent review the New York Times gave the movie. That review begins inauspiciously by insulting, “America’s coastal intelligentsia, which has busied itself with chatter over little-seen art dramas while everyday Americans showed up en masse for a patriotic, pro-family picture which broke all attendance records in its opening days.” 

So, Chomsky wonders aloud: “What was the patriotic, pro-family film that so entranced everyday Americans? It’s about the most deadly sniper in American history, a guy named Chris Kyle, who claims to have used his skills to have killed several hundred people in Iraq.”

Kyle's first kill was a woman who apparently walked into the street with a grenade in her hand as the Marines attacked her village. Here's how Kyle describes killing her with a single shot:

“‘I hated the damn savages I’d been fighting,’” Chomsky said, quoting Kyle. “‘Savage, despicable, evil — that’s what we were fighting in Iraq. That’s why a lot of people, myself included, called the enemy savages. There was really no other way to describe what we encountered there.’”

Chomsky also pointed out that The New Yorker loved the film, saying, "it was great, kept to the cinematic values, said it was well done." On the other hand, Newsweek's Jeff Stein, a former US intelligence officer, deferred, calling it appalling. In that review, Chomsky says, Stein remembered a visit he had made to a “clubhouse for snipers, where to quote him, ‘the barroom walls featured white-on-black Nazi SS insignia, and other Wehrmacht regalia. The Marine shooters clearly identified with the marksmen of the world’s most infamous killing machine, rather than regular troops.”

“Getting back to Chris Kyle,” Chomsky said, arriving at his larger point. “He regarded his first kill as a terrorist — this woman who walked in the street — but we can’t really attribute that to the mentality of a psychopathic killer, because we’re all tarred by the same brush insofar as we tolerate or keep silent about official policy.”

“Now, that [sniper] mentality helps explain why it’s so easy to ignore what is most clearly the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern history, if not ever — Obama’s global assassination campaign, the drone campaign, which officially is aimed at murdering people who are suspected of maybe someday planning to harm us.”

Chomsky recommends reading some of the transcripts with drone operators, calling them "harrowing" in their dehumanizing treatment of people who are targeted.

The implication is clear and chilling. Are we all, at least tacitly, American snipers?

Here's Chomsky via WGBH below.

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News Tue, 27 Jan 2015 11:20:09 -0500
Special Report: Money and Lies in Anti-Human Trafficking NGOs http://truth-out.org/news/item/28763-special-report-money-and-lies-in-anti-human-trafficking-ngos http://truth-out.org/news/item/28763-special-report-money-and-lies-in-anti-human-trafficking-ngos

Money and Lies in Anti-trafficking NGOs(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Anti-trafficking organizations are said to do work both progressives and conservatives agree needs doing. Yet despite enormous budgets, and the month of January being dedicated to human trafficking awareness, it's not clear organizations can possibly be accomplishing what they claim.

Money and Lies in Anti-trafficking NGOs(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

Help Truthout keep publishing stories like this: They can't be found in corporate media! Make a tax-deductible donation today.

The United States' beloved - albeit disgraced - anti-trafficking advocate Somaly Mam has been waging a slow but steady return to glory since a Newsweek cover story in May 2014 led to her ousting from the Cambodian foundation that bore her name. The allegations in the article were not new; they'd been reported and corroborated in bits and pieces for years. The magazine simply pointed out that Mam's personal narrative as a survivor of sex trafficking and the similar stories that emerged from both clients and staff at the non-governmental organization (NGO) she founded to assist survivors of sex trafficking, were often unverifiable, if not outright lies.

Panic ensued. Mam had helped establish, for US audiences, key plot points in the narrative of trafficking and its future eradication. Her story is that she was forced into labor early in life by someone she called "Grandfather," who then sold off her virginity and forced her into a child marriage. Later she says she was sold to a brothel where she watched several contemporaries die in violence. Childhood friends and even family members couldn't verify Mam's recollection of events for Newsweek, but Mam has suggested that her story is typical of trafficking victims.

Mam has also cultivated a massive global network of anti-trafficking NGOs, funders and supporters, who have based their missions, donations and often life's work on her emotional - but fabricated - tale. Some distanced themselves from the Cambodian activist last spring, including her long-time supporter at The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof, while others suggested that even if untrue, Mam's stories were told in support of a worthy cause and were therefore true enough.

Despite Somaly Mam's continued vagaries, insinuations, mischaracterizations and outright lies, her career as spokesperson for the American Rescue Industry seems poised for a full recovery.

Few countered Newsweek's report, however, until Marie Claire mounted a defensive strike in September 2014, with a new interview with Mam, in which she sought to debunk the allegations against her. The piece also functioned as a PR platform for the announcement of the New Somaly Mam Foundation, a mild rebrand of the original Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF), from which the figurehead had been forced to resign before the organization folded. SMF was the primary funder for AFESIP, the NGO Mam founded to offer services to trafficked victims. In December, the Phnom Penh Post reported that AFESIP will merge with the new foundation and the Cambodia Daily added that a recent funding push has proven surprisingly successful among government officials who had publicly forbidden Mam from heading another NGO in the country after the Newsweek story broke, but later reversed their decision.

To date, none of the investigations that suggest Mam had willfully invented facts have been properly explained away or refuted. In fact, although the Marie Claire article was touted by two different PR teams suggesting it would serve as the first of many truth-revealing chats with the self-proclaimed former sex slave, many reporters never received responses to interview requests. One of the few interviews Mam did do, with Global Dispatches reporter Mark Goldberg, didn't go well. Mam told Goldberg repeatedly that she wasn't bothered by the allegations against her, yet as development reporter Tom Murphy pointed out on Twitter, she was actively participating in the PR push to "correct" them. Even worse, Mam misrepresented the clientele of AFESIP, claiming vaguely that "most of the girls are from trafficking." In fact, an independent audit of the NGO in January 2014 found that only 49 percent of the 674 women and girls in residence between 2008 and 2012 could be considered "trafficked" under any definition of the term. Many were consensual adult sex workers; others were simply deemed "at risk" of trafficking (a description the report does not distinguish from other women living in poverty.)

Today, despite Mam's continued vagaries, insinuations, mischaracterizations and outright lies, her career as spokesperson for the American Rescue Industry seems poised for a full recovery. Many may balk at the idea that her falsehoods will still generate millions, hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars in donations toward murky ends. Some will write it off as Standard International Aid Procedure.

Others, however, know that in the world of anti-trafficking organizations, money and lies are deeply - perhaps inextricably - tied. The false claims, forwarded as fact, are big. So is the money that's spent and received in the service of those claims - more than half a billion dollars in 2014. That we know of.

Shedding Light and Casting Shadows

Considering their common mythical enemy - the nameless and faceless men portrayed in TV dramas who trade in nubile human girl stock - one would hope anti-trafficking organizations would unite in an effort to be less shady. With names reliant on metaphors of recovery, light and sanctuary, anti-trafficking groups project an image of transparency. Yet these groups have shown a remarkable lack of fiscal accountability and organizational consistency, often even eschewing an open acknowledgement of board members, professional affiliates and funding relationships. The problems with this evasion go beyond ethical considerations: A certain level of budgetary disclosure, for example, is a legal requirement for tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations. Yet anti-trafficking groups fold, move, restructure and reappear under new names with alarming frequency, making them almost as difficult to track as their supposed foes.

The intention here is to look at the level of transparency employed and the often outsized claims these organizations make regarding their impact.

To begin connecting the dots in this ever-shifting matrix, Truthout looked at 50 of the most prominent domestic groups founded or organized to limit or eradicate human trafficking, or to assist trafficking victims. This includes organizations that do not use the term "trafficking" in mission statements, but either designate human trafficking as a major issue area or work in a related area (such as violence against women), have a consistent history of trafficking focused projects and are regularly designated as anti-trafficking focused by other anti-trafficking organizations. Budgets of multi-issue organizations were considered as a whole, on the presumption that such organizations operate intersectionally. All organizations included were mentioned in news media or conversations with media professionals or concerned activists at least twice during this reporters' six-month study, except in cases in which the organization changed names, when the founder's name or previous organization had appeared at least twice. Not included are one-off anti-trafficking campaigns or projects of organizations that do not deal primarily with trafficking issues. The intention here is to look at the level of transparency employed and the often outsized claims these organizations make regarding their impact.

The 50 organizations were located throughout the United States. California, Arizona, Washington, DC, Florida, Texas, Massachusetts, New York and Washington State were each healthily represented on the list; single organizations were also located in Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada, Tennessee and Virginia. (No South Dakota organizations appear on this list, although one exists; it should be noted that despite its lack of prominent anti-trafficking organizations, that state leads the nation in life sentences for traffickers.)

In recent years, trafficking has become a major domestic concern. The United Nation's International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates, worldwide, a forced labor population of 21 million people - 11.4 million women and girls and 9.4 million men and boys - 4.5 million of which, or 21 percent, they suggest are victims of forced sexual exploitation. These are not hard numbers; they are estimates. But they are the bedrock on which the global anti-trafficking movement is set.

Each of the 50 prominent anti-trafficking organizations discussed below focuses primarily on female victims of forced sexual exploitation - no more, in other words, than a slim fifth of what the ILO suggests is a global labor crisis. This distinctly salacious myopia has been noted by groups such as the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, which point out that many organizations foster moralizing legislation that downplays the human rights of sex workers and immigrants. One organization addressed below, the Polaris Project, would seem to justify the narrow focus on the sex trade, claiming to have received calls to the hotline of their National Human Trafficking Resource Center reporting 2,740 cases of sex trafficking in 2013, compared to 634 reporting labor trafficking. Yet since Polaris and many other organizations are heavily invested in "raising awareness" of the potential for human trafficking in what may well be benign or legal situations, there's no telling how accurate their findings are.

Human trafficking is the "recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation."

Despite the apparent confusion, human trafficking is quite clearly defined, at least by the United Nations. It is the "recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation." It is distinct from debt bondage, forced labor and modern slavery, and the ILO is careful to warn against slippage between these terms. However, most organizations in this study use these terms interchangeably, even occasionally substituting "trafficking" with "sexual exploitation," "prostitution," "porn" or similar terms. It would be difficult to charge that such confusion is always a deliberate act of deception, but if we consider the comparative implications of actual trafficking and legal pornography (say, Playgirl - legal porn so mild this reporter might share it with her grandmother), we can see that the lack of clarity most organizations create serves to clump a wide range of very different activities together, many of which may raise moral questions but do not raise legal ones.

As we will see, many organizations that focus on "raising awareness of trafficking" aren't providing factual information at all. In fact, given their frequently narrow interpretation of "human trafficking," as a synonym for "female sex slavery," and given the wide range of organizations spread across the United States, the anti-trafficking movement seems primarily intent on raising a moral panic. This may be a good way to push through conservative and, to some, oppressive legislation, as some have suggested. But leading a moral crusade is definitely lucrative.

Transparency and Post-Recession Funds

In all, 50 of the most prominent anti-trafficking organizations in the United States are estimated to share around $686 million - an amount that would place them approximately 184th on the UN's ranking of nations by GDP, right above Samoa. And that, as we will see, could be a very low estimate.

The organizations included three types of anti-trafficking groups: standard not-for-profits, in which organizations have 501(c)(3) status and are tax-exempt, or work under tax-exempt umbrella organizations; faith-based organizations (those affiliated with churches may have tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status, but are not required to file annual returns); and public-private partnerships. The former two may also have non-governmental organization (NGO) status if they operate internationally; a public-private partnership may consider itself an organization and use the language of nonprofits to describe its mission, vision and service, but may not have tax-exempt status (a fact which is supposed to be disclosed if the organization is soliciting donations). Tax-exempt organizations that are affiliated with public-private partnerships are bound by financial disclosure laws.

Of the 50 organizations tallied, three were public-private partnerships and the rest were not-for-profit organizations. Many stated they were faith-based, but only some claimed church affiliation. Only 33 of the 47 nonprofits - 70 percent - made their financial information publicly available, whether on an organizational website, upon direct contact with the organization or through Guidestar.com, an online charity rating service that offers direct links to IRS 990 forms. (Several organizations announced on websites that they would provide financial data via email, but only three organizations responded to this reporter's requests ranging in dates from July 2014 to January 2015. Additionally, two groups' annual budgets were estimated based on the finances of affiliated organizations.)

The US anti-trafficking movement seems to be one of the few reliable growth areas in the United States' post-recession economy besides low-wage service work.

In sum, nine organizations failed to disclose any fiscal information whatsoever, including two of the three public-private partnerships and several organizations that may be affiliated with religious institutions. If the remaining organizations earn less than $50,000 per year, they are not subject to the same public disclosure laws. Otherwise, the IRS is fairly clear: "Tax-exempt organizations must make annual returns and exemption applications filed with the IRS available for public inspection and copying upon request."

Not included, therefore, are accurate annual incomes for the Abolish Slavery Coalition (an affiliate of Passport 2 Freedom), Bishop Outreach, Called2Rescue, Escape to Peace, Made in a Free World, No More, Red Light Rebellion, Streetlight USA and the Defender Foundation. (This last organization has a compelling membership-based financial model, in which volunteers conduct rescues following receipt of a $100 application and $480 membership fee, but an initial email bounced back). Additionally, the financial information for the Half the Sky Movement is based exclusively on its affiliated 501(c)(3) organization, which took in $2.2 million through grants and donations in 2012. This, however, does not include book sales, screening revenues and author appearance fees that Kristof and co-author Sheryl WuDunn took in during that and subsequent years, so the financial totals that follow are certainly low estimates.

Of the 50 anti-trafficking organizations examined, a total of 19 disclosed recent annual budgets of $1 million or more, most in 2012 or 2013. (Only the Association for the Recovery of Children's financial data is from earlier - 2007 - and was extremely difficult to track down.) Many organizations pulled in more; in fact, the total combined earnings from those 19 organizations were more than $677.5 million. The remaining organizations that made financial data available, combined, took in more than $8 million. Presuming that each of the nine organizations that make no financial disclosures earn less than $50,000 per year - say, $40,000 (and only two disclosing organizations made under this amount, so this seems low but plausible) - we can add another $360,000 to this total. (This number is certainly an underestimate, as many of the non-reporting organizations have more than one employee, so likely pull in more than $50,000 per year; surely, the three public-private partnerships have larger annual budgets.) This suggests the approximate annual income of $686 million split among the 50 groups.

It may not seem like much, for 50 organizations spread across a giant country, working on what may be one of the most pressing human rights issues of our day. Yet $686 million breaks down to about $13.7 million per group, per year - money most organizations of any size would be thrilled to get their hands on. And this amount doesn't include federal funds spent to fight human trafficking, rumored to be between $1.2 and $1.5 billion per year.

Considering that most of the groups were founded after Somaly Mam began appearing regularly in US media between 2006 and 2008, it's notable that the US anti-trafficking movement seems to be one of the few reliable growth areas in the United States' post-recession economy besides low-wage service work.

Hard Numbers and Malleable Data

Numbers throughout the murky world of human trafficking are notoriously hard to verify. How many traffickers? Uncountable! How many victims? So many! How old are they? Too young! How much money changes hands? Zillions upon gajillions of dollars, daily! "Scarily lucrative," Time declared it in a May 2014 headline. Sound unbelievable? It is, and aid groups will claim it's because the unvarnished truth of human slavery is incomprehensible to most living Americans today.

Many of the most frequently cited statements are easily disputed, if factual at all. Demand Abolition, a part of the $4.4-million Hunt Alternatives group of nonprofits based in Massachusetts, calls a section of its homepage, "Know The Facts." "Zero men should be purchasing sex," says one (actually an opinion), and similarly, "Prostitution is not a victimless crime."

"Prostituted" individuals is anti-trafficking code for consensual sex workers, filtered through a definition of trafficking that defines all sexual labor as necessarily forced.

Another reads, "About 10 percent of men in the US buy sex from prostituted or trafficked individuals." The statistic is difficult to verify, since few reliable studies have ever been done on consumers of commercial sex - fewer can be done now, as "end demand" campaigns and anti-trafficking legislation make customers less willing to come forward. One study in the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology suggests that only 1 percent of men in the US purchase sex in a year, but that 14 percent of the male population have done so over the course of their lives. More dubious is whether they did so from trafficked persons, as such studies have never been conducted, or from "prostituted" individuals. This last phrase is anti-trafficking code for consensual sex workers, filtered through a definition of trafficking that defines all sexual labor as necessarily forced.

"The average age a girl enters prostitution in the US is 13," reads another of Demand Abolition's facts. Scholar and activist Emi Koyama has pointed out the logical fallacy in this statement, on her blog and in independently published works, where she has also tracked the gender and age of folks caught in the FBI's Operation Cross Country raids. When The Atlantic investigated, Koyama noted that most of the young people detained in raids are 16 or 17. "There are rarely any under the age 13," she said. "For the average age to be around 13, there needs to be many more 5-12 year olds that are forced into prostitution than are empirically plausible."

The DC-based Polaris Project, with a $7.3 million budget, is slightly more careful to word unverified statements, but rarely offers any corroboration. "In street-based sex trafficking, victims are often expected to earn a nightly quota," one reads, "ranging from $500 to $1,000 or more, which is confiscated by the pimp. Women in brothels disguised as massage businesses typically live on-site where they are coerced into providing commercial sex to 6 to 10 men a day, 7 days a week." The uses of "often" and "typical" are cues that the numbers are shady, but the only resource cited on the page is Polaris' own National Human Trafficking Resource Center, which makes no claims regarding sex work earnings or numbers of clients. The "nightly quota" may have come from The Urban Institute, which notes that 18 percent of the pimps they spoke to in major US cities set quotas between $400 and $1,000 per night. But most of the pimps they spoke to didn't set quotas and sex workers often distinguish certain pimps from traffickers in the first place. A 2011 study by the Young Women's Empowerment Project (YWEP) found that, of 205 interviews with sex workers in the street economy, fewer than 7 percent of their experiences were with pimps; even fewer report having been trafficked.

Of 205 interviews with sex workers in the street economy, fewer than 7 percent of their experiences were with pimps; even fewer report having been trafficked.

Reliable studies on the wages or labor practices of street-based sex workers and massage parlor employees in the United States are hard to come by, although writer and researcher Brooke Magnanti debunked similar numbers tossed around the UK recently for The Baffler. In 2014, the Office for National Statistics in London announced plans to add estimates of earnings by sex workers of 10 billion pounds to its GDP, a number it appeared to have arrived at by multiplying a single nonprofit's estimate of the number of sex workers in the country by an online escort website's listed prices, which would not incorporate, say, the lower earnings of street workers or dancers. On top of which, the wages appear to be multiplied by a very high 25-client-per-week estimate, which Magnanti, a former escort, calls "eye-watering." (Polaris' above suggestion that massage parlor workers see 42 to 70 clients per week could be similarly side-eyed.)

As for the full scale of the problem at hand, the California-based group Not For Sale, with a $3.5 million budget, claims that "there are more than 30 million people around the world affected by slavery - more than at any point in history," a figure that comes from the Global Slavery Index (GSI), but doesn't stand up to basic logic. GSI has since upgraded their estimate to 35.8 million slaves, although both OpenDemocracy and The Guardian challenge the methodology behind the index. (The latter suggests that extrapolating a tiny amount of available data across hundreds of nations - GSI's basic methodology - "verges on the ludicrous.") The phrase "affected by" seems intended to soften the hardness of the dubious number, yet the statement is still difficult to defend.

Aiming to address the question of scope, the "Awareness" section of the Defender Foundation's website asserts, "Human Trafficking is the 2nd largest criminal enterprise in the world. . . . It is growing so fast, it is quickly heading to the number one spot." The ILO does suggest that forced labor generates $150 billion annually and adds that $99 billion of that may come from commercial sexual exploitation. But to label this as anything other than an estimate is unfounded. Magnanti's takedown of wage estimates of sex workers in the UK should indicate how difficult it is to reliably predict criminalized economies, but the drug trade, the illegal arms trade and the trade in counterfeit goods have all, in recent years, been thought to pull in more than $150 billion.

There's also no real evidence that human trafficking is growing.

There's also no real evidence that human trafficking is growing - by law enforcement logic, in fact, the means by which perpetrators are being investigated and prosecuted are actually advancing. Even GSI admits that rising numbers don't seem to point to rising numbers of slaves. Instead, the website states, "the increase [from 30 million to 35.8 million] is due to the improved accuracy and precision of our measures and that we are uncovering modern slavery where it was not seen before."

Yet challenging faulty data in a field that offers great economic incentive to exaggerate truth gets to be like a rousing game of Whac-a-Mole. Organizations habitually link to or cite other groups' dubious lists of facts (the $48 million International Justice Mission in DC and $235,000 Colorado-based Truckers Against Trafficking, for example, both attribute statistics to the Polaris Project), or recycle the same disproven or vague statistics without citation. Ronald Weitzer, in the May 2014 Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, states the matter cleanly: "None of the trafficking claims - huge magnitude, growing problem, ranking among criminal enterprises, most prevalent type - have been substantiated. It is impossible to satisfactorily count (or even estimate) the number of persons involved in or the magnitude of profits within an illicit, clandestine, underground economy at the macro level - nationally or internationally."

Indeed, there is no agreed-upon manner by which to describe the problem. Victim tallies seem simplest and the US Department of State in 2003 began requiring foreign governments to report identified victims, criminal prosecutions, convictions and new policies to ensure increased protections under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act. The 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIPR) lists 9,460 prosecutions (only 1,199 of which were labor trafficking cases); 5,766 convictions (470 labor trafficking cases); 44,758 identified victims (10,603 labor trafficking cases); and 58 new laws passed - nearly triple the previous year's new legislation. Those are international numbers and only from friendly nations, but it's useful to compare approximately 45,000 identified trafficked persons around the world to the ILO's estimates of 21 million people living in forced labor: Already the numbers don't track.

"None of the trafficking claims - huge magnitude, growing problem, ranking among criminal enterprises, most prevalent type - have been substantiated."

To illustrate the domestic scope of the problem, the 2006 TIPR is often cited: The State Department estimated that between 14,500 and 17,500 individuals are trafficked into the United States each year. However, this was later thought to be too high and only accounted for immigrant populations. More recently, the TIPR has taken to logging data from the three main agencies that investigate federal trafficking offenses: the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); the Department of Homeland Security's US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (ICE HSI); and the Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Human Trafficking Unit. In 2013, these agencies - plus the Department of Defense, which opened nine cases involving military personnel - investigated a potential 1,937 cases of human trafficking and an additional 100 cases were prosecuted at the state level. (A frequently cited statistic, from Polaris' National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline, suggests significantly higher numbers of sex trafficking cases for that same year - 3,609. However, because these are referred to law enforcement officials for investigation, they would be included in the above official tallies.)

Given the $686 million anti-trafficking budget shared by 50 of the most prominent organizations (which doesn't count federal costs), this breaks down to an average budget of $343,000 per case - certainly enough to secure each victim a safe place to live for at least a year. Yet a 2013 report found only 682 beds available, nationwide, to victims of trafficking, with another 354 more planned for 2014.

A Surplus of Victims

Yet funding for anti-trafficking groups isn't the only disproportionate side of the equation. Judging by all credible estimates, claims made by anti-trafficking organizations about how many trafficked persons they serve are out of proportion with the actual number of people in the world considered to be trafficked by official sources.

Of the 19 anti-trafficking organizations earning more than $1 million annually, 11 claim to rescue victims from situations of trafficking, or in the parlance of nonprofits, offer direct client exit-care services. Occasionally this is coded as, "assist[ing] trafficked persons," "outreach," "intervention," or "eradicating" or "combating" slavery, or may be included in the emerging (and slightly less abrasive) notion of "restoring victims" - possibly "to justice." (Although few organizations describe their own work in such violent terms, media tend to refer to "rescue operations" from situations of sexual exploitation as "brothel raids," both of which remove women, with varying degrees of consent, from situations deemed exploitive by the organization and which occasionally end with the incarceration of supposed victims.)

All in all, the impact numbers presented by anti-trafficking organizations - their justification for existence and, of course, funding - are simply absurd.

In other words, 60 percent of our top-funded anti-trafficking organizations claim to actively remove people from trafficking situations, a percentage that, from what this reporter can see, appears to hold true for organizations earning less than $1 million as well. Eight of the top-earning organizations that claim to offer rescue services reported numbers in annual or impact reports; one organization that makes no such claims also reported having assisted a certain number of persons in leaving trafficking situations.

More than half of top-earning anti-trafficking organizations claim to rescue victims; two-thirds of them report numbers of victims "rescued." Most focus primarily on sex trafficking. (Groups like International Justice Mission, which works around a variety of issues including all forms of trafficking, lists having assisted 2,266 persons from labor trafficking and 239 persons from sex trafficking in its most recent annual report; Truthout considered only the latter figure.)

Slightly less than half of the top-earning anti-trafficking organizations in the United States claim to have saved 8,676 total individuals from sex trafficking: in other words, over four times as many victims as there were potential cases of both labor and sex trafficking investigated in the United States, at federal and state levels, in 2013. That's slightly more than 1,084 trafficked persons saved per top-earning organization, which we could use to estimate that 11 organizations might claim to save nearly 12,000 persons from sex trafficking, primarily in the United States, or speculate from there that the approximately 20 organizations that also conduct rescues but have smaller budgets freed perhaps 250 from sex slavery in 2014, to arrive at a wild, two-ballparks-away guess that the 50 most prominent anti-trafficking organizations in the United States could conceivably claim, in a year, to release nearly 17,000 individuals from sex trafficking. This figure represents about half the number of sex-trafficking cases the State Department suggests may have occurred, through the entire world, in 2014.

This purely speculative exercise only provides a glimpse of how outsized the claims made by anti-trafficking organizations are. Some of this can certainly be accounted for by human error, the overly optimistic language of annual reports or the inclusion of a group's overseas efforts (few, indeed, made national distinctions in client tallies). The overlarge figure isn't explained by the same clients accessing multiple services, however, as the organizations are spread throughout the United States.

All in all, the impact numbers presented by anti-trafficking organizations - their justification for existence and, of course, funding - are simply absurd.

Somaly's Legacy

"When you work in this world, you know fabricated stories are used by everyone to get funding," Pierre Legros told the GlobalPost in October. A co-founder of AFESIP in 1995 alongside then-wife Somaly Mam, he left the organization in 2004. A French national, he and Mam subsequently divorced.

When he speaks of Mam's fall from grace, however, Legros doesn't place the blame solely on the former partner with whom he has a famously acrimonious relationship. Media, he said, were "very pushy and wanted to show extraordinary stories." The organization was lucky to have a "beautiful, sexy, charismatic and determined" spokesperson on hand.

Sexual harassment, abuse and fraud at anti-trafficking organizations are not exclusive to Cambodia.

"Every NGO dreams of having its Somaly and every media wants her on camera," he said. AFESIP "soon became very much high profile and we welcomed a lot of journalists. They all wanted to make something sexy, to draw attention and mark everyone's mind."

But, as we've seen play out on a larger scale among US anti-trafficking organizations, the downside of the media focus on sex is that they tended to miss the point - sometimes even overlooking the safety of the supposed victims. "A lot of false stories came out, based on misunderstandings or the will to report about something extraordinary," he said. "Faces were shown, testimonies were wrong. The media just betrayed us for sensationalism and efficiency of information."

Indeed, Legros charges that in the wake of the Newsweek story, media continued to focus on Mam, as opposed to any of the larger issues in the world of anti-trafficking NGOs that had emerged.

One lingering concern is of fiscal malpractice at AFESIP: things like duplicate invoices and confusing budgets. Another, however, is worse for an organization claiming to save women from commercial sexual exploitation. A 2013 report in El Mundo reported sexual harassment and abuse by two former AFESIP employees, allegedly documented in a private investigation.

"They are responsible for forcing the residents working in the center to have sex," according to the document, El Mundo reported. Spanish officials are also quoted saying that they threatened to withhold funding unless Mam addressed the allegations; they claim Mam responded by characterizing the situation as a misunderstanding and noting her close relationship with the Queen.

In 2012, researchers at YWEP found sex workers experienced nearly as many incidents of institutionalized violence from police as they did from workers at care facilities - seven times as many, by the way, as they experienced from pimps.

Yet sexual harassment, abuse and fraud at anti-trafficking organizations are not exclusive to Cambodia. Dan Benedict of Defender Foundation was revealed by the Florida Times-Union to have a history in weapons stockpiling, former ties to a white supremacy group and a felony child abuse conviction. An organization that did not appear in Truthout's study, the Rescue Children from Human Trafficking Foundation in California, was discovered in July 2014 to be headed by Lady Katerine Nastopka, formerly known as Lady Catarina Toumei, a con artist who claimed to be a member of the Guggenheim family and European royalty before she was forced to defend to a San Diego news crew that her organization had helped two girls escape trafficking. Even a former acting director at the US Department of Health and Human Services was convicted on child pornography charges in August 2014.

Many key figures in anti-trafficking organizations come directly from law enforcement, a field known to harbor sexual abusers and perpetrators of violence against women. In 2012, researchers at YWEP found sex workers experienced nearly as many incidents of institutionalized violence from police as they did from workers at care facilities - seven times as many, by the way, as they experienced from pimps.

However, those realities are rarely acknowledged on a broad scale and least of all by the organizations themselves. When it comes to the anti-trafficking movement in the United States, the terms of engagement seem to mandate a degree of dishonesty about the scope of the problem, as well as a lack of transparency about the money at stake. Those who are genuinely concerned about human trafficking, forced labor and sexual exploitation, it seems, may not be able to address these issues until they have quelled the rising moral panic surrounding the mythology of sex trafficking in the United States.

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News Tue, 27 Jan 2015 11:26:41 -0500