Thursday, 02 October 2014 / TRUTH-OUT.ORG

Speakout

SpeakOut is Truthout's treasure chest for bloggy, quirky, personally reflective, or especially activism-focused pieces. SpeakOut articles represent the perspectives of their authors, and not those of Truthout.

Apr 18

Free Speech Or Bribery?

By Lawrence Davidson, To The Point Analysis | News Analysis

On Wednesday 2 April 2014 the U.S. Supreme took another step toward the destruction of campaign finance reform with a five to four decision known as McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission. One gets the feeling that this is part of a general campaign, waged by class-biased, ideologically committed conservatives, against government regulation, which they see as somehow a violation of their constitutional rights. As if to suggest that this is so, the Court majority rationalized their decision in the name of "free speech."

What does this ruling do? First, the ruling removes limitations on overall campaign donations given in an an election cycle. The wealthy can now sit down and write checks to unlimited numbers of candidates and political organizations and thereby make themselves indispensable in an electoral process dependent on the raising of large sums, particularly for television advertising.

April 15th, Tax Day, our nation funds our national budget. On this day we fund the nation's business and provide a proclamation to the world of the U.S. priorities for the next year. Ultimately, because they reveal our choices, budgets are moral documents and are supposed to represent the people's priorities.

What are those priorities? Surveys show them to be education, economic security, environmental protection, healthcare, climate change, peace and security. With so many challenges facing us as a nation and planet how will we wisely provide for our future and spend our finite treasure on infinite need? We must ask, are there opportunities to reallocate funds to more pressing needs?

As a social epistemologist, my work has been focused on highlighting the ways misinformation, disinformation and ignorance adversely affect policy in the geopolitical and tactical spheres. I subscribe to the via negativa because it is both easier and more reliable to identify epistemic blindspots and errors than to predict the best strategy for events which are fluid and massive in scale and complexity, with volatile and/or opaque payoffs and risks. Virtually all geopolitical events tend fall into this domain (anyone who tries to convince the public otherwise is likely a hack, a fundamentalist or a cynical bastard—categories which, regrettably, fail to be mutually-exclusive).

But the situation isn't totally hopeless–negative epistemology has profound and obvious implications for its (more precarious) positive aspect: with each malformed strategy cast aside, each false narrative exposed (beginning with the most popular, influential or otherwise pernicious), with each mistake learned from, each pitfall avoided, each constraint identified–one becomes increasingly likely to make a good decision in the face of uncertainty, or at the least, minimize harm from error.

A ground breaking report released on April 1, 2014 by the ACCE Institute and Common Cause reveals that Big Oil spent $123.6 million to lobby elected officials in California over the past 15 years, an increase of over 400 percent since the 1999-2000 legislative session, when the industry spent $4.8 million.

The report, "Big Oil Floods the Capitol: How California's Oil Companies Funnel Funds Into the Legislature," highlights the growing influence of the Oil and Gas Lobby in Sacramento, including the increasing power of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA). The analysis examines the broad and expanding scope of the oil and gas industry's spending in Sacramento as the industry gears up to expand fracking (hydraulic fracturing) operations in California facilitated by the passage of Senator Fran Pavley's Senate Bill 4 last September.

In the wake of the American Studies Association's December 2013 endorsement of a Palestinian civil society call for an academic boycott of Israel – and as two efforts to legislate against academic boycotts fail to move forward in the Illinois and Maryland state legislatures – the ASA has gained new members and support. Over the past several months, the ASA has welcomed more than 700 new members. The ASA has also collected more membership revenue in the past three months than in any other three-month period over the past quarter-century and its ongoing "Stand with the ASA"grassroots fundraising campaign has exceeded the association's expectations thus far.

Last week, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, released a statement in support of the ASA's boycott efforts. In it, he states that: "In South Africa,we could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. ...The [anti-boycott] legislation being proposed in the United States would have made participation in a movement like the one that ended Apartheid in South Africa extremely difficult." The day before his statement was released, an Illinois State Senate Committee rejected a resolution condemning academic boycotts. A bill to defund universities that subsidize faculty associations with organizations supporting boycotts was also scuttled in Maryland, where non-binding condemnatory language was instead inserted into the budget bill.

Washington, DC – Today, the Make It Safe Coalition (MISC) marks the 25th anniversary of the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA), the primary law ensuring freedom of speech and accountability in the federal workplace, and the model for occupational free speech globally.

The MISC statement reads:

The Whistleblower Protection Act continues to be a work in progress. Congress put off controversial decisions on court access and administrative due process hearings until completion of a four-year study. Also, notably, the WPA does not provide our military and most national security and intelligence community workers with protections. It is critical that the national security workforce – including contractors – have adequate protections for blowing the whistle on wrongdoing. Thanks to Congressional whistleblower and government accountability advocates, legislation is now moving through Congress that would address some of this unfinished business.

The story of "post colonial" begins on August 17, 1945 when Sukarno declared Indonesia an independent and independent and free nation. The Dutch colonization of Indonesia had begun in 1602 with the establishment of the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch controlled all aspects of Indonesian life and its great wealth of natural resources including its vast quantities of oil and natural gas until the Japanese military invaded in 1942. Sukarno became the newly independent Indonesia's first president in 1945. Much of Sukarno's popularity came from his strong opposition to colonialism and the exploitation of people and resources in poor and exploited lands. President Sukarno, ten years after becoming president of Indonesia, held a conference April 18-24 of 1955, the Bandung Conference to encourage and map out strategies for independent economic and social development free from the control or dictates of any European country, the U.S. or the USSR. Attendees of the first Bandung Conference included Burma, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), India, Indonesia, Pakistan. It was also attended by 18 other countries from Asia-Afghanistan, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Laos, Lebanon, Nepal, Peoples Republic of China, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, South Vietnam, Syria, Thailand, Turkey and Yemen. From Africa there was Egypt, Ethiopia, Gold Coast (now Ghana), Liberia, Libya and Sudan.

Washington, D.C. – Today, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced the Democracy Restoration Act, which would restore voting rights in federal elections to nearly 4.4 million Americans citizens with criminal convictions in their past.

Based on a Brennan Center proposal, the bill builds on recent support for rights restoration. In February, U.S Attorney General Eric Holder called on states to restore voting rights. But 35 states continue to disenfranchise people after they are released from prison. The Democracy Restoration Act would restore voting rights to these citizens for federal elections.

“Voting is the cornerstone of American democracy,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel of the Center’s Washington, D.C., office. “Restoring voting rights to citizens who have served their time will strengthen our democracy.Congress should move quickly to pass this bill and ensure our voting system is free, fair, and accessible to all eligible Americans.”

"Secretary Kerry? It's Ukraine on the phone asking about liberation again. Have you been able to get them a reference letter yet from Libya or Iraq or Afghanistan? How about Vietnam? Panama? Grenada? Kosovo maybe? Ukraine says Syria says you have a reference letter in the works from Kosovo. No? Huh. They said they'd accept one from Korea or the Dominican Republic or Iran. No? Guatemala? The Philippines? Cuba? Congo? How about Haiti? They say you promised them a glowing reference from Haiti. Oh. They did? No, I am not laughing, Sir. What about East Timor? Oh? Oh! Sir, you're going to liberate the what out of them? Yes sir, I think you'd better tell them yourself."

Some nations the United States should probably not liberate -- except perhaps the 175 nations which could be liberated from the presence of U.S. soldiers.  But one nation I would make an exception for, and that is the nation of Hawai'i.

Apr 14

Empire Beyond Salvation

By Ramzy Baroud, Truthout | Op-Ed

US Secretary of State John Kerry couldn’t hide his frustration anymore as the US-sponsored peace process continued to falter. After 8 months of wrangling to push talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority forward, he admitted while in a visit to Morocco on April 04 that the latest setback had served as a ‘reality check’ for the peace process. But confining that reality check to the peace process is hardly representative of the painful reality through which the United States has been forced to subsist in during the last few years.

The state of US foreign policy in the Middle East, but also around the world, cannot be described with any buoyant language. In some instances, as in Syria, Libya, Egypt, the Ukraine, and most recently in Palestine and Israel, too many calamitous scenarios have exposed the fault lines of US foreign policy. The succession of crises is not allowing the US to cut its losses in the Middle East and stage a calculated ‘pivot’ to Asia following its disastrous Iraq war.

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Speakout

SpeakOut is Truthout's treasure chest for bloggy, quirky, personally reflective, or especially activism-focused pieces. SpeakOut articles represent the perspectives of their authors, and not those of Truthout.

Apr 18

Free Speech Or Bribery?

By Lawrence Davidson, To The Point Analysis | News Analysis

On Wednesday 2 April 2014 the U.S. Supreme took another step toward the destruction of campaign finance reform with a five to four decision known as McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission. One gets the feeling that this is part of a general campaign, waged by class-biased, ideologically committed conservatives, against government regulation, which they see as somehow a violation of their constitutional rights. As if to suggest that this is so, the Court majority rationalized their decision in the name of "free speech."

What does this ruling do? First, the ruling removes limitations on overall campaign donations given in an an election cycle. The wealthy can now sit down and write checks to unlimited numbers of candidates and political organizations and thereby make themselves indispensable in an electoral process dependent on the raising of large sums, particularly for television advertising.

April 15th, Tax Day, our nation funds our national budget. On this day we fund the nation's business and provide a proclamation to the world of the U.S. priorities for the next year. Ultimately, because they reveal our choices, budgets are moral documents and are supposed to represent the people's priorities.

What are those priorities? Surveys show them to be education, economic security, environmental protection, healthcare, climate change, peace and security. With so many challenges facing us as a nation and planet how will we wisely provide for our future and spend our finite treasure on infinite need? We must ask, are there opportunities to reallocate funds to more pressing needs?

As a social epistemologist, my work has been focused on highlighting the ways misinformation, disinformation and ignorance adversely affect policy in the geopolitical and tactical spheres. I subscribe to the via negativa because it is both easier and more reliable to identify epistemic blindspots and errors than to predict the best strategy for events which are fluid and massive in scale and complexity, with volatile and/or opaque payoffs and risks. Virtually all geopolitical events tend fall into this domain (anyone who tries to convince the public otherwise is likely a hack, a fundamentalist or a cynical bastard—categories which, regrettably, fail to be mutually-exclusive).

But the situation isn't totally hopeless–negative epistemology has profound and obvious implications for its (more precarious) positive aspect: with each malformed strategy cast aside, each false narrative exposed (beginning with the most popular, influential or otherwise pernicious), with each mistake learned from, each pitfall avoided, each constraint identified–one becomes increasingly likely to make a good decision in the face of uncertainty, or at the least, minimize harm from error.

A ground breaking report released on April 1, 2014 by the ACCE Institute and Common Cause reveals that Big Oil spent $123.6 million to lobby elected officials in California over the past 15 years, an increase of over 400 percent since the 1999-2000 legislative session, when the industry spent $4.8 million.

The report, "Big Oil Floods the Capitol: How California's Oil Companies Funnel Funds Into the Legislature," highlights the growing influence of the Oil and Gas Lobby in Sacramento, including the increasing power of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA). The analysis examines the broad and expanding scope of the oil and gas industry's spending in Sacramento as the industry gears up to expand fracking (hydraulic fracturing) operations in California facilitated by the passage of Senator Fran Pavley's Senate Bill 4 last September.

In the wake of the American Studies Association's December 2013 endorsement of a Palestinian civil society call for an academic boycott of Israel – and as two efforts to legislate against academic boycotts fail to move forward in the Illinois and Maryland state legislatures – the ASA has gained new members and support. Over the past several months, the ASA has welcomed more than 700 new members. The ASA has also collected more membership revenue in the past three months than in any other three-month period over the past quarter-century and its ongoing "Stand with the ASA"grassroots fundraising campaign has exceeded the association's expectations thus far.

Last week, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, released a statement in support of the ASA's boycott efforts. In it, he states that: "In South Africa,we could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. ...The [anti-boycott] legislation being proposed in the United States would have made participation in a movement like the one that ended Apartheid in South Africa extremely difficult." The day before his statement was released, an Illinois State Senate Committee rejected a resolution condemning academic boycotts. A bill to defund universities that subsidize faculty associations with organizations supporting boycotts was also scuttled in Maryland, where non-binding condemnatory language was instead inserted into the budget bill.

Washington, DC – Today, the Make It Safe Coalition (MISC) marks the 25th anniversary of the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA), the primary law ensuring freedom of speech and accountability in the federal workplace, and the model for occupational free speech globally.

The MISC statement reads:

The Whistleblower Protection Act continues to be a work in progress. Congress put off controversial decisions on court access and administrative due process hearings until completion of a four-year study. Also, notably, the WPA does not provide our military and most national security and intelligence community workers with protections. It is critical that the national security workforce – including contractors – have adequate protections for blowing the whistle on wrongdoing. Thanks to Congressional whistleblower and government accountability advocates, legislation is now moving through Congress that would address some of this unfinished business.

The story of "post colonial" begins on August 17, 1945 when Sukarno declared Indonesia an independent and independent and free nation. The Dutch colonization of Indonesia had begun in 1602 with the establishment of the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch controlled all aspects of Indonesian life and its great wealth of natural resources including its vast quantities of oil and natural gas until the Japanese military invaded in 1942. Sukarno became the newly independent Indonesia's first president in 1945. Much of Sukarno's popularity came from his strong opposition to colonialism and the exploitation of people and resources in poor and exploited lands. President Sukarno, ten years after becoming president of Indonesia, held a conference April 18-24 of 1955, the Bandung Conference to encourage and map out strategies for independent economic and social development free from the control or dictates of any European country, the U.S. or the USSR. Attendees of the first Bandung Conference included Burma, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), India, Indonesia, Pakistan. It was also attended by 18 other countries from Asia-Afghanistan, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Laos, Lebanon, Nepal, Peoples Republic of China, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, South Vietnam, Syria, Thailand, Turkey and Yemen. From Africa there was Egypt, Ethiopia, Gold Coast (now Ghana), Liberia, Libya and Sudan.

Washington, D.C. – Today, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced the Democracy Restoration Act, which would restore voting rights in federal elections to nearly 4.4 million Americans citizens with criminal convictions in their past.

Based on a Brennan Center proposal, the bill builds on recent support for rights restoration. In February, U.S Attorney General Eric Holder called on states to restore voting rights. But 35 states continue to disenfranchise people after they are released from prison. The Democracy Restoration Act would restore voting rights to these citizens for federal elections.

“Voting is the cornerstone of American democracy,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel of the Center’s Washington, D.C., office. “Restoring voting rights to citizens who have served their time will strengthen our democracy.Congress should move quickly to pass this bill and ensure our voting system is free, fair, and accessible to all eligible Americans.”

"Secretary Kerry? It's Ukraine on the phone asking about liberation again. Have you been able to get them a reference letter yet from Libya or Iraq or Afghanistan? How about Vietnam? Panama? Grenada? Kosovo maybe? Ukraine says Syria says you have a reference letter in the works from Kosovo. No? Huh. They said they'd accept one from Korea or the Dominican Republic or Iran. No? Guatemala? The Philippines? Cuba? Congo? How about Haiti? They say you promised them a glowing reference from Haiti. Oh. They did? No, I am not laughing, Sir. What about East Timor? Oh? Oh! Sir, you're going to liberate the what out of them? Yes sir, I think you'd better tell them yourself."

Some nations the United States should probably not liberate -- except perhaps the 175 nations which could be liberated from the presence of U.S. soldiers.  But one nation I would make an exception for, and that is the nation of Hawai'i.

Apr 14

Empire Beyond Salvation

By Ramzy Baroud, Truthout | Op-Ed

US Secretary of State John Kerry couldn’t hide his frustration anymore as the US-sponsored peace process continued to falter. After 8 months of wrangling to push talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority forward, he admitted while in a visit to Morocco on April 04 that the latest setback had served as a ‘reality check’ for the peace process. But confining that reality check to the peace process is hardly representative of the painful reality through which the United States has been forced to subsist in during the last few years.

The state of US foreign policy in the Middle East, but also around the world, cannot be described with any buoyant language. In some instances, as in Syria, Libya, Egypt, the Ukraine, and most recently in Palestine and Israel, too many calamitous scenarios have exposed the fault lines of US foreign policy. The succession of crises is not allowing the US to cut its losses in the Middle East and stage a calculated ‘pivot’ to Asia following its disastrous Iraq war.