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This past week, Washington hosted two of my least favorite annual events. It began with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) bringing their faithful to town to lobby for whatever the government of Israel might want at this particular moment. At week's end, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was in Washington rallying their crowd to bash the President and defend their "true conservative" principles.
During the past year, several commentators have, on occasion, pronounced both groups weakened and wounded, possibly fatally so. Conservatives were seen to be cannibalizing themselves, while AIPAC was reeling from having picked and lost two separate fights with President Obama: Syria and Iran sanctions. Based on the size and enthusiasm of their respective crowds and from the "red meat" thrown out by major speakers, neither group appeared to be in their death throes, but looks can be deceiving.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal highlighted a Federal Reserve report on total household net worth. Surprise! Americans are richer than ever before, both in nominal and real terms.
At the same time, though, wealth inequality is increasing from its already Gilded Era levels. The main factor behind increasing household net worth over the past year was the rising stock market (followed far behind by rising housing prices). These obviously only help you if you own stocks—not if, say, you never had enough money to buy stocks, or you had to cash out your 401(k) in 2009 because you were laid off. Put another way, rising asset values help you if you are a supplier of capital more than a supplier of labor.
The United States is currently ranked 46th on the World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders. As a journalist in this country, I can't rest easy knowing that we are far behind countries like Finland (ranked number one), or Costa Rica and Namibia, ranked 21st and 22nd.
Among the many factors contributing to our nation's fall from number 37th on the list is the treatment of whistle blowers and journalists by the US Department of Justice, but the decline began in 2011 with the arrests and harassment of many reporters and livestreamers during national Occupy Wall Street protests.
Chicken Little got it wrong. The sky isn't exactly falling, but it does pose lethal threats. Those threats are near and long term, domestic and international. They entail surveillance and terror.
Weaponized unmanned drone aircraft – the Predator, the Reaper, the Global Hawk - have no crew on board. Hence no head, no heart. These drones are amoral robots exquisitely designed to spy and to kill, to maim and to demolish. Out of the blue, their 500-pound bombs and Hellfire missiles strike like lightning bolts.
"You have no rights here!" barked a U.S. Border Patrol agent to a resident of Arivaca, AZ who was passing through a Customs and Border Protection checkpoint 23 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.
This remark confirms a sense of violation of rights that many borderlands residents have when encountering one of the 71 permanent or tactical checkpoints scattered across the southwestern U.S. These off-border sites were condoned by the U.S. Supreme Court more than 40 years ago. Stops were intended to be brief, and limited to verifying residence status. They were to be situated within a reasonable distance from the border. This distance was determined to be 100 miles from any external boundary and today roughly encompasses two-thirds of the U.S. population. People in the southwest call this region the "constitution-free zone."
If President Obama really wanted these outcomes, there was a way to get them. He could have let the Bush tax cuts expire for good a year ago, making high taxes on the rich a reality. Then, a year later, he could have proposed a middle-class tax cut and dared the Republicans to block it in an election year. (He could also have traded a reduction in the top marginal rate—from the 39.6% that would have resulted, not counting the 3.8% Medicare tax—for the reforms he is now proposing.)
On March 1, the upper house of Parliament in Moscow gave Russian President Putin the authority to use force to protect Russian citizens and soldiers not only in Crimea, but throughout Ukraine. The following day, the new leaders of Ukraine accused Russia of declaring war against their nation and mobilized their armed forces.
Three days later, on March 6, the Crimean parliament voted unanimously to secede from Ukraine and become part of Russia, and to hold a March 16 referendum, in which Crimean voters would be offered two choices: for Crimea to remain in the Ukraine or for it to become part of Russia. On March 7, Russia indicated that should the vote go in favor of secession, Russia would be willing to accept the offer and make Crimea part of Russia.
I travelled to El Salvador in late January to participate as an international election observer (Observador Internacional) for the February 2nd Presidential elections in this, the smallest country in Central America. This is where I spent Super Bowl Sunday. I met up with four lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), where we joined seventy other activists, organized through the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) in San Salvador. The grassroots organization CISPES, has a singular mission: supporting the Salvadoran people's struggle for self-determination and social and economic justice.
Ramsey is a huge success because—in addition to his charisma and marketing skills—he is peddling one of the huge but popular illusions of American culture: that people can become rich by making better financial decisions. He's also one of the characters skewered by Helaine Olen in her recent book, Pound Foolish, which describes the fallacies, hypocrisies, and borderline-corrupt schemes of personal finance gurus like Ramsey and Suze Orman. It's a fun read—a bit repetitive, but that's largely because all personal finance "experts" are pushing a small handful of myths.
The "sham" of the financial literacy movement—the idea that all of our financial problems would be solved if Americans were better educated about money—is the subject of Olen's article in Pacific Standard. More than a dozen states require personal finance classes in high school, even though the evidence is that they have no impact. In short, people who consume financial education behave no differently from people who don't.
Department of Homeland Security Finalizes Standards to End Sexual Violence in Immigration Detention FacilitiesBy Staff, Just Detention International | Press Release
Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., March 7, 2014 – Today, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued its national standards to address sexual abuse in immigration detention facilities. The standards – which apply to facilities that house hundreds of thousands of immigration detainees annually – mark a pivotal step forward in the effort to protect DHS detainees from the devastation of sexual abuse.
Notably, DHS' standards incorporate many of the key provisions long championed by JDI; in early 2013, JDI and its allies mobilized some 1,700 organizations and individuals to submit public comments on DHS' draft standards, pushing for stronger protections. Nevertheless, the regulations contain several key shortcomings, including the lack of a firm compliance deadline that could leave up to half of all immigration detainees in long-term facilities vulnerable to abuse for most of this decade.