National PDA News
The controversy about upgrading US tactical weapons is a microcosm of unresolved issues over Pentagon budget cuts
The Obama administration's 2014 defense budget, with its proposal to cut $460m from nuclear non-proliferation activities and use that money to pay for new features on its B61 tactical nuclear bombs, has sparked heated debate.
Is the modernization desperately needed or irrelevant goldplating? Is the administration undercutting its own non-proliferation agenda for domestic politics, or making a smart investment in the deterrent of the future?
Unfortunately, by and large, these are the wrong questions. The right questions are these: how do those bombs fit into US national securitystrategy; and wherever it is that they fit, is their cost proportionate to their benefits?
Analysts from across the political spectrum have proposed variations on a "strategic reshaping" for the Pentagon as a whole, insisting that strategic goals and priorities should drive funding choices in a tough fiscal environment. This is a great talking point, but difficult to carry out in practice – when every prioritization has military consequences; international political consequences; domestic political consequences; and financial consequences.
Nuclear weapons are a particularly vivid example. A prestigious and bipartisan movement of senior military and government officials – the much-maligned Global Zero – has called for their role in US national security to be downsized and eventually eliminated. But the political backlash to the idea has prevented robust debate on how that might happen, what US interim nuclear postures should be, and how the deterrence concerns of US allies – especially when those allies oppose the idea of US denuclearization – should be managed.
At the same time, a vociferous minority of GOP senators and House representatives has called for more investment in nuclear weapons – but again, without any specifics about what newer, more sophisticated nuclear weapons would do. This has led some commentators to allege that the Obama administration is just spending on nuclear weapons for political reasons.
But let's stop and consider, first, what role do these tactical weapons serve now?
B61 bombs sit at the airbases of five Nato allies, where analyst Jeffrey Lewis quotes a senior Nato official saying of the weapons, "they have no military value." Yet, they do fulfil what Lewis calls "political needs", demonstrating European allies' commitment to remaining a nuclear alliance, providing all allies nuclear deterrence, and sharing the cost with the United States. For some allies – those with a border with Russia or historical anxieties about Moscow's intentions and its own large tactical nuclear arsenal – those political needs are very real.
Outside Europe, where all four nuclear powers are downsizing, the picture on tactical weapons looks different. India is moving to develop a full nuclear "triad" of bombers, missiles and submarines. Pakistan is aggressively developing new tactical weapons and will soon pass France in the total size of its arsenal. China, too, seems to be working to modernize and develop its arsenal; so, as we all know, is North Korea. In response, public support for nuclear weapons development is rising in South Korea.
Russia, which, with the US, still possesses 90% of all nuclear weapons, maintains a stock of tactical weapons almost three times as large as the US. It is believed by some observers to have developed lower-yield tactical weapons (less fallout and collateral damage) and to be changing its doctrine to be more willing to use them.
Experts and advocates heatedly debate whether these developments imply that Washington should lead by example and cut its arsenal, or stand pat as a signal of US determination not to allow any rival to challenge Washington's nuclear capacities or its deterrence umbrella. The fact is, though, that it's hard to discern any signal either way from a funding change that amounts to one-tenth of 1% of the Pentagon's base budget for next year.
Advocates of heightened nuclear spending – who argue, for example, that the US keeping its spending up will help deter China from trying to match our arsenal – shouldn't get excited. If spending one-tenth of 1% of our base budget deterred China, that country would not have acquired an aircraft carrier, early stealth technology, or other military updates in fields where Washington exponentially outspends Beijing.
At the same time, nuclear bombs with new technological capabilities and a broader range of possible uses make it very hard to argue that Washington is leading by example in reducing the weapons' role. That perhaps sets up the Obama administration's agenda for difficulties down the line.
But there's a more basic problem that both sides of the nuclear debate should be able to agree on. It seems odd to contemplate better nuclear bombs being designed by furloughed scientists and delivered by pilots who, right now, thanks to sequester, can't get enough flight hours. Last July, the Defense Department predicted the whole modernization program would cost $10.4bn. When no one on either side of the debate can state clearly what strategic purpose the refitted bombs would serve, surely we could spend the money on furloughed employees, or naval vessels, or tax cuts, or education, instead?
Original article on The Guardian
As a perpetual emotion machine -- producing and guzzling its own political fuel -- the “war on terror” continues to normalize itself as a thoroughly American way of life and death. Ongoing warfare has become a matter of default routine, pushed along by mainline media and the leadership of both parties in Washington.
Without a clear and effective upsurge of opposition from the grassroots, Americans can expect to remain citizens of a war-driven country for the rest of their lives.
Across the United States, many thousands of peeling bumper stickers on the road say: “End this Endless War.” They got mass distribution from MoveOn.org back in 2007, when a Republican was in the White House. Now, a thorough search of the MoveOn website might leave the impression that endless war ended with the end of the George W. Bush presidency.
MoveOn is very big as online groups go, but it is symptomatic of a widespread problem among an array of left-leaning organizations that have made their peace with the warfare state. Such silence assists the Obama administration as it makes the “war on terror” even more resolutely bipartisan and further embedded in the nation’s political structures -- while doing immense damage to our economy, siphoning off resources that should go to meet human needs, further militarizing society and undermining civil liberties.
Now, on Capitol Hill, the most overt attempt to call a halt to the “war on terror” is coming from Rep. Barbara Lee, whose bill H.R. 198 would revoke the Authorization for Use of Military Force that Congress approved three days after 9/11. Several months since it was introduced, H.R. 198 only has a dozen co-sponsors. (To send your representative and senators a message of support for Lee’s bill, click here.)
Evidently, in Congress, there is sparse support for repealing the September 2001 blanket authorization for war. Instead, there are growing calls for a larger blanket. Bipartisan Washington is warming to the idea that a new congressional resolution may be needed to give War on Terror 2.0 an expansive framework. Even for the law benders and breakers who manage the executive branch’s war machinery, the language of the September 2001 resolution doesn’t seem stretchable enough to cover the U.S. warfare of impunity that’s underway across the globe . . . with more on the drawing boards.
On Tuesday afternoon, when a Senate Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing on “targeted killing,” the proceedings underscored the great extent of bipartisan overlap for common killing ground. Republican super-hawk Sen. Lindsey Graham lauded President Obama for “targeting people in a very commander-in-chief-like way.” And what passed for senatorial criticism took as a given the need for continuing drone strikes. In the words of the subcommittee’s chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin, “More transparency is needed to maintain the support of the American people and the international community” for those attacks.
This is classic tinkering with war machinery. During the first several years of the Vietnam War, very few senators went beyond mild kibitzing about how the war could be better waged. In recent years, during President Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan that tripled the U.S. troop levels in that country, senators like John Kerry (now secretary of state) kept offering their helpful hints for how to fine tune the war effort.
The “war on terror” is now engaged in various forms of military intervention in an estimated two-dozen countries, killing and maiming uncounted civilians while creating new enemies. It infuses foreign policy with unhinged messages hidden in plain sight, like a purloined letter proclaiming “What goes around won’t come around” and telling the world “Do as we say, not as we do.”
Political ripple effects from the Boston Marathon bombings have only begun. While public opinion hasn’t gotten carried away with fear, much of the news media -- television in particular -- is stoking the fires of fear but scarcely raising a single question that might challenge the basic assumptions of a forever “war on terror.”
After a city has been traumatized and a country has empathized, a constructive takeaway would be that it’s terribly wrong to set off bombs that kill and maim. But that outlook is a nonstarter the moment it might be applied to victims of U.S. drones and cruise missiles in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. The message seems to be that Americans should never be bombed but must keep bombing.
The death of Richie Havens days ago is a loss and reminder. Each of us has only so many days ahead. We may as well live them with deeper meaning, for peace and social justice. To hear Havens performing the song “Lives in the Balance” written by another great musician, Jackson Browne, is to be awakened anew:
I want to know who the men in the shadows are
I want to hear somebody asking them why
They can be counted on to tell us who our enemies are
But they’re never the ones to fight or to die
And there are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire
Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.organd founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death” and "Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America's Warfare State".
Original article on Common Dreams
As Minnesota’s physicians, health care leaders and legislators grapple with the complex changes brought by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), many are concerned that even after the law is fully implemented, hundreds of thousands of people will remain uninsured while health care costs continue to spiral.
What if there were a simple, streamlined solution that would guarantee health coverage for every Minnesotan while saving the state billions of dollars? A growing number of Minnesota physicians are endorsing what they consider to be such a solution: single-payer health care. Weary of having to comply with hundreds of different insurance plans’ administrative requirements while their patients are denied needed tests and treatments, these physicians are drawn to the simplicity, cost-effectiveness and truly universal coverage offered by a single-payer system.
Their views were supported by an independent analysis last year demonstrating that with a state-based single-payer system, every Minnesotan could have comprehensive coverage while the state would save billions annually.
A deeply flawed system
The desire for meaningful reform comes in the face of the U.S. health care system’s long-recognized dysfunction. Despite health care accounting for 18 percent of the nation’s economy—twice that of other wealthy democracies—48 million Americans lack health coverage. Another 29 million are underinsured, having poor coverage that exposes them to unaffordable out-of-pocket expenses. Health insurance premiums have doubled over the past decade, with the average annual cost for family coverage now exceeding $15,700; and health care costs now account for two-thirds of personal bankruptcy filings in the United States.
At the root of these problems is the fact that we have a fragmented, highly inefficient system. Employed Americans younger than 65 years of age have job- based insurance, if their employer chose to provide it; the elderly and disabled are covered through Medicare; the poor by Medicaid; military veterans through the Veterans Administration; and American Indians through the Indian Health Service. Persons who do not fall into any of those categories must try to purchase individual coverage in the private market, where it is often prohibitively expensive or unobtainable if they have a pre-existing health condition.
Owing largely to this fragmentation and inefficiency, a staggering 31 percent of U.S. health care spending goes toward administrative costs, rather than care itself. Inefficiency exists at both the provider and payer level. To care for their patients and get paid for their work, physicians and hospitals must contend with the intricacies of numerous insurance plans—which tests and procedures they cover, which drugs are on their formularies, which providers are in their network. Meanwhile, private health insurance companies divert a considerable share of the premiums they collect toward advertising and marketing, sales teams, underwriters, lobbyists, executive salaries and shareholder profits. The top five private insurers in the United States paid out $12.2 billion in profits to investors in 2009, a year when nearly 3 million Americans lost their health coverage.
The ACA of 2010, known widely as Obamacare, is expected to extend coverage to 32 million more Americans But it accomplishes this goal primarily by expanding the current fragmented, inefficient system and maintaining the central role of the private insurance industry in providing coverage. As a result, the ACA is expected to do little to rein in health care spending. Furthermore, it will fall far short of achieving universal coverage, as tens of millions of Americans (including 262,000 Minnesotans) will remain uninsured after its full implementation.
The central feature of a single-payer health care system would be one health plan that covers all citizens, regardless of their employment status, age, income or health status. Having a public fund that pays for care would slash administrative inefficiencies and eliminate profit-taking by the private insurance industry.
Under a single-payer system, the way society pays for health care would change, but the market-based health care delivery system would remain. Physicians and hospitals would continue to compete with one another based on service, quality of care and reputation. The chief difference is that they would bill a single entity for their services, rather than numerous insurers.
Individuals would benefit immensely by having continuous coverage that is decoupled from their employment. This would alleviate “job lock,” in which people remain in undesirable employment situations in order to maintain coverage. In a single-payer system, individuals could choose to see any provider, in contrast to the current system in which choice is restricted to those who are in-network. Deductibles and copays would be minimal or eliminated, removing cost as a barrier to obtaining needed care.
A single-payer system would be funded through savings on administrative costs, along with modest taxes that would replace the premiums and out-of-pocket expenses currently paid by individuals and businesses. The cost savings to individuals, businesses and government would be considerable. The nonpartisan U.S. General Accounting Office concluded that single- payer health care would save the United States nearly $400 billion per year, enough to cover all of the uninsured.
Physician support for a simplified, universal health care system is robust and growing. A 2008 survey published in Annals of Internal Medicine found that 59 percent of physicians supported a national health insurance system—up from 49 percent in 2002. Physicians for a National Health Program, a national organization advocating for single-payer reform, reports a membership of 18,000. In Minnesota, single payer has been formally endorsed by nearly 800 physicians, other providers and medical students.
The Minnesota model
Recognizing the implausibility of achieving single-payer reform at the national level in the current political climate, many single-payer advocates have turned their attention to state-level reform. The ACA provides for “state innovation waivers” to be granted beginning in 2017, allowing states to implement creative plans they believe would work best for them. With this in mind, organized single-payer movements have taken root in states as varied as Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, New York, California, Oregon and Vermont. Vermont’s governor and Legislature passed a law in 2011 setting the path for the state to move toward single payer.
In Minnesota, two advocacy organizations—Health Care for All Minnesota and the Minnesota chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program—are garnering public support for a single-payer system. Gov. Mark Dayton has expressed support for single payer, and Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville) has authored legislation to establish such a system in Minnesota. Known as the Minnesota Health Plan, it would replace the current inefficient patchwork of private and public health plans with a single statewide fund that would cover the health needs of all Minnesotans—inpatient and outpatient services, preventive care, prescription drugs, medical equipment and mental health and dental care. A 2012 study by the Lewin Group confirmed the feasibility of single payer in Minnesota. It concluded that adoption of a single-payer system would provide coverage to every Minnesotan, including the 262,000 left uncovered by the ACA, while saving the state $4 billion in the first year alone. The average Minnesota family would save $1,362 annually in health costs, while the average Minnesota employer that currently provides insurance would realize savings of $1,214 per employee per year. The analysis showed these savings came primarily from administrative simplification; provider compensation remained unchanged.
With nearly 50 million uninsured people in the United States and skyrocketing health costs, the need for profound reform of our health system could not be more clear. The ACA is a start, but it will fall far short of achieving universal coverage, and it allows unsustainable spending growth to continue. Single-payer health care would eliminate administrative waste and inefficiency, thereby creating an opportunity to achieve truly universal, cost-effective health care.
This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Minnesota Medicine.
Dave Dvorak, M.D., practices emergency medicine in Edina, Minn. Dvorak is a member of Minnesota Physicians for a National Health Program.
Original article on Common Dreams
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Yemeni man told a Senate hearing on Tuesday about a U.S. drone strike on his village last week that he said turned residents against America.
In an emotion-filled voice, Farea Al-Muslimi, a writer, described his shock at the drone attack and the blowback in public opinion from residents against the United States.
His comments stood out among the debate over the legal aspects of President Barack Obama's drone policies at a rare public hearing on the topic held by a Senate Judiciary subcommittee, titled: "Drone Wars: The Constitutional and Counterterrorism Implications of Targeted Killing."
Obama has promised more transparency about the program as lawmakers increasingly demand the administration reveal its legal justifications for killing terrorism suspect overseas who are U.S. citizens. Drone strikes have also increased tensions among local populations in countries like Pakistan where the United States conducts them in the tribal regions.
A committee aide said Al-Muslimi was already to have testified at the hearing when it was scheduled a week ago. But the hearing was postponed as the panel hoped the administration would send an official to testify, but that did not happen.
In the intervening week, an al Qaeda leader and four militants were killed in a U.S. drone strike in the town of Wessab in Dhamar province south of the capital Sanaa, a Yemeni official said.
"Most of the world has never heard of Wessab. But just six days ago, my village was struck by a drone, in an attack that terrified thousands of simple, poor farmers," Al-Muslimi said.
"The drone strike and its impact tore my heart, much as the tragic bombings in Boston last week tore your hearts and also mine."
In his youth, Al-Muslimi was awarded a State Department scholarship to an exchange program that aimed to build understanding between Americans and Muslim countries and lived for a year with an American family in California, he said.
"As I was thinking about my testimony and preparing to travel to the United States to participate in this hearing, I learned that a missile from a U.S. drone had struck the village where I was raised," he said.
"Ironically, I was sitting with a group of American diplomats in Sanaa at a farewell dinner for a dear American friend when the strike happened."
He said the target of the strike was known to many in the village and Yemeni officials could easily have arrested him.
"The drone strikes are the face of America to many Yemenis. If America is providing economic, social and humanitarian assistance to Yemen, the vast majority of the Yemeni people know nothing about it," he said.
"Everyone in Yemen, however, knows about America and its drones." Al-Muslimi said that allows the Yemen-based al Qaeda affiliate to "convince more individuals that America is at war with Yemen."
Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation, which keeps a tally of U.S. drone strikes, testified at the same hearing that in 2012 Obama authorized at least 46 drone strikes in Yemen, while former President George W. Bush launched only one there.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)
Original article on Yahoo News
After 43 years of Earth Days, it is past time to contemplate the possible coming of Earth Night.
There is little promise, so far, of a coming “reverse polarization” or evolutionary leap that might prevent the piracy of our life support – clean air, water, soil and healthy eco-systems – nor much sign that our institutions will heed the warnings of climate scientists, and even the CIA, about the deepening eco-crisis.
This is the dire context in which many, like NASA’s Dr. James Hansen, assert that excavating the Alberta Tar Sands for the Keystone XL pipeline will be a “game over” for the climate, propelling humanity into a terminal and irreversible crisis. With Canada’s liberal hope, Justine Trudeau, endorsing XL last week, with the growing appetite by the Chinese for Tar Sands takeout, with an apparent US Senate majority favoring the XL project, the options before President Barack Obama are dwindling.
The “game over” concept means Earth Night. Its troubling implication for many is that we all give up on saving the planet or ourselves. That encourages suicidal depression, or perhaps a new wave of Beat existentialism, as the earth’s energy systems wane. The “game over” concept is inflexible, leaving no space for resurgence, much less mundane efforts to strengthen everyday life. What are idealists to do if it is really “game over”? Or are we supposed to accept a global Jonestown? These are terrible questions to ponder, much less share with our children.
Yes, life will go on even after the game is over, but life will be more miserable and traumatic. Daily decisions will have to be made to mitigate the disaster, feed, educate and provide medical care for whole populations. The important missions will resemble that of the health teams in Albert Camus’ The Plague. Dreams of utopia or environmental restoration will become unattainable, obsolete.
To date, the environmental movement’s symbols have been polar bears, seals, butterflies and salmon – all visible species tottering on the brink of extinction (we even had a charismatic tree-sitting advocate named Julia Butterfly). Environmentalists during Earth Night, on the other hand, may find the earthworm, the nightcrawler, more suitable. Like community organizers, they enrich the soil, toiling in darkness, avoiding the spotlight. If the earth is in decline, they simply work harder until there is nothing left to do.
If the nightcrawler is too distasteful an image, consider an alternative, courtesy an aged Buddhist monk I once interviewed in Kyoto. I wanted to know how the Buddhist philosophy could support social action. He stirred our green tea for a long time before answering in two succinct sentences. “The earth is slowly dying. In the face of death, we must act with compassion.”
So even in the worst-case scenario, there is work to do, either to mitigate the effects of extreme climate change or simply to express compassion and solidarity. Since it is hard to precisely define “game over” – how quickly, how pervasively, in what order, etc. – it is also possible that “the game” might extend indefinitely, into overtime, so to speak. The “game” is not over with a State Department pipeline permit being issued; what Hansen must mean is that it is over if all the bituminous muck in Alberta is excavated, transported and used – which suggests a more gradual timetable toward the unsustainable Night.
A comparison with the threat of nuclear war is perhaps appropriate here. For my generation, the expectation of a nuclear apocalypse was the equivalent of today’s predictions of collapsing ecosystems. During the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, the fear of immanent extinction was bone deep; the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientistswarned that the Doomsday Clock was mere minutes to midnight. While some might argue that we are learning to manage the danger, the threat we face now is just as real. We are fast approaching midnight, even though the tragic realization of the consequences may be deferred. How will we forever manage to live on the brink of extinction?
THE POSSIBILITY OF CHANGE
“Natural selection acts solely by accumulating slight successive favourable variations, it can produce no great or sudden modification; it can act only by very short steps.” – Charles Darwin
Assuming that we may have indefinite time before game over, let us consider the possibilities for action. Thought unlikely by most environmentalists, what if Obama surprises us by rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline in a historic pivot toward a different energy future?
Obama’s recent standing up to the Gun Lobby could be the model for a bold change in direction. Conventional wisdom, however, says he will issue a limited approval for the pipeline, guaranteeing a prolonged fight in the years ahead, while around the same time announcing new executive orders on pollution and energy efficiency that will make it impossible for new coal plants to be licensed, while winding down the lifetimes of those that exist. We can be sure that Obama’s new appointees at EPA and Energy are preparing the options.
It is only speculation, but a connecting political link for Obama between gun control and climate control is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is pumping millions into “common sense gun control” campaigns, and who gave the Sierra Club $50 million for its grassroots campaigns against coal. The Democrats have reason to worry about an independent Bloomberg-financed presidential campaign in 2016.
It is even possible that Obama, the Democrats and some Republicans will endorse a carbon tax – a regressive market approach to reducing emissions, though one which could make a difference with tightened energy efficiency regulations. The New York Times’ Tom Friedman, often scorned on the left as a Pied Piper of corporate globalization, has been an insistent voice favoring carbon taxes as essential to battling global warming. Friedman favors what he calls a “radical grand bargain” – carbon taxes corporate and individual tax cuts, public investments in education, and deficit reduction. Republican heavyweights like George Schultz favor the revenue-neutral option, with direct rebates of the revenue back to citizens and businesses. A tax of $20-25 per ton would generate some one trillion dollars over ten years and be an incentive for conservation.
Another option could be combining Obama’s tougher federal regulations with green infrastructure investments in states like California and New York. That was the model in the 1970s when the automobile industry was saved by fuel-efficiency regulations they opposed.
At the very least, Obama “has made a huge down payment on a greener economy,” according to Michael Grunwald’s counterintuitive book, The New New Deal. Just ten years after Bill Clinton proposed a five-year clean energy initiative that was considered “hopelessly unrealistic,” Obama spent $90 billion on clean energy, and leveraged $110 billion in private capital with a one-year stimulus. The US solar industry was on “the brink of death” before Obama’s stimulus legislation, but it then grew six-fold in three years, along with a doubling of renewable electricity. By the end of 201l, the federal government financed the weatherization of 680,000 low-income homes and retrofitted 110,000 buildings. Whatever initiatives next come to pass, the measure for progressives might be how many new jobs – and for whom – will be created by a rapid transition to a Green New Deal.
While the crisis worsens and Obama’s green stimulus suggests significant gains, those seem paltry in the face of the challenge, however.
ROOTS AND NEW GROWTH
Al Gore wrote in 1992, “the maximum that is politically feasible still falls short of the minimum that is truly effective.” Making it “politically feasible” to tackle extreme climate change remains the task two frustrating decades later. Though the environmental movement has long since approached critical mass, it has been foiled time and again.
Will someone like Gore arise from the present crisis? Could it be Gore again, beginning a campaign in 2015? Perhaps the younger Andrew Cuomo, who has been calling loudly and consistently for action on climate change? Or might Hillary Clinton awaken from her midlife centrism to lead such a campaign? Might there be a candidate as unknown today as Barack Obama was in 2007?
There must be a push from a national campaign to shift the center of gravity of political decision-making. Even if 57,000 Americans are arrested following a potential XL pipeline approval, a vacuum will exist the following day, which could attract a serious presidential candidate for 2016. The very threat of such a candidacy will loosen the hammerlock of the fossil fuel industry on the two parties.
The factor of presidential politics, beyond pressuring Obama, is hardly mentioned in the present discussions on the theme of “what happened to Earth Day?” The most vibrant environmental movement in America today, 350, contains a healthy disrespect for electoral processes; the 350 movement counts on direct action and divestment strategies to move the world off fossil fuel addiction. In the tradition of past campaigns to save redwood forests and stop nuclear power plants, their success at movement building has been admirable. On the other hand, the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters have little to show for their millions spent on electoral politics, except the worthy achievement of slowing the rate at which conditions worsen.
THE TIME OF THE NIGHTCRAWLER?
My own experience has been along two tracks, outside and inside. The first, rooted in deep ecological understandings and expressed in civil disobedience, is a broad renewable river in American history and global culture, the fountain of many great achievements. The second, arising from the first, is more like a climactic rapids that reconfigures the institutional barriers that stand in the way. The first Earth Day and the 1970s anti-nuclear movements were examples of the former. Indicators of the latter are Jerry Brown, Al Gore and the UN Earth Summits.
The theft of the presidency from Al Gore in 2000 destroyed the emergence of a genuine environmental presidency. Until then, the environmental movement was following the trajectory of many other social movements, from a spectacular birth to a march through mainstream institutions. Earth Day was an extraordinary expression of a new consciousness, at a time when photos from space first revealed the beauty – rapturous to millions – of our fragile home in the universe. Yes, Earth Day required organizers, people like Denis Hayes and Senator Gaylord Nelson among the committed few, but it was self-organized in its very nature. The roots of the 2000 Gore candidacy lay in the original Earth Day, a movement co-opted early and successfully by the Nixon administration and conservatives fearing its radical threat.
The Nixon administration and corporate America took charge of managing the politics that followed Earth Day. They accepted a reformist model of stewardship – far better than plunder, but far less than the rising spirit of kinship that millions were feeling toward their earth home. They engineered significant legislation: the Clear Air Act, Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Endangered Species Act. Though isolating themselves quite well, radicals were institutionally isolated from leadership of the movement.
The first hope for a radical political shift in politics from Earth Day came in the successful California gubernatorial campaign of Jerry Brown (1974). He immediately opened his doors to Earth Day visionaries, blocked the expansion of nuclear plants and an LNG terminal, and launched an unprecedented push toward energy efficiency and renewables. Brown was ahead of his times nationally, however, representing constituencies of the future against the dinosaur lobbies of the present. He was too “weird” for the national elites, including the Clinton Democrats. Jimmy Carter took up Brown’s conservation themes during his one-term presidency (perhaps to block Brown’s possible campaign against him). But Carter, like Brown, was frowned upon for being outside the national corporate-labor consensus favoring growth. Both leaders eventually fell to the countermovement symbolized by Ronald Reagan, and the Democratic Party slipped back into its familiar model of political economy, in which environmental costs were treated as mere “externalities”, and failed.
For a time, both parties opened safe channels inside the institutions for a growing culture of non-government organizations that specialized in advocacy before judges and regulators, and lobbying politicians whose staffs they sometimes joined. They adopted wherever possible a “win-win” model of partnerships between environmental advocates and companies like Duke Energy, BP and General Electric. They raised funds from wealthy liberals for candidates to their liking. Their budgets rose to the tens of millions.
From these organizational roots came the draft climate bill – the “US Climate Action Partnership” – which passed the House on a partisan vote in 2009, stalled to death in the Senate, never to be raised in Congress in the subsequent years.
A recent New Yorker article by Nicholas Lemann, based on two in-depth studies of the environmental movement, blames “the inside game” played by environmental organizations “at the expense of broad-based organizing” for the failure to much advance the movement against global warming since Obama’s election in 2008 and, by implication, for decades since the Nixon legislation four decades prior. As evidence, Lemann points to an inability to pressure Senate Pro Tem Harry Reid to bring the House bill to a 2010 vote on the Senate floor, which Reid agreed to do in the recent case of the gun control package.
Having repeated what many others have said about the DC-based environmental bureaucracies, Lemann does not offer much new in the way of solutions. He cites the study by Harvard globalization expert Dr. Theda Scokpol who argues, “reformers will have to build organizational networks across the country, and they will need to orchestrate sustained political efforts that stretch far beyond friendly Congressional offices, comfy board rooms, and posh retreats.”
Scokpol’s is a withering intellectual critique, unfair in some ways to the environmental NGOs. She says the environmentalists should build “federated” chapter-based national networks starting at local and state levels, which sounds like a neat version of what many environmental groups have already attempted to do. She opposes the obsession with market-based cap-and-trade, and instead suggests a “cap and dividend,” another market model but one based on consumers pocketing the revenue from low-carbon products, thereby creating a bottom-up market that might win favor with Republicans.
But none of these analyses suggest an alternative to the two pathways already carved by history: a radical awakening expressed through civil disobedience and boycott campaigns, or a complementary political awakening like the one that carried Al Gore to an majority of votes for an environment-centered presidency, only to be snatched away by the Supreme Court.
This is not 1992, nor 2000. Awareness of the climate crisis is both broader and deeper; its connection to our economic recession still requires further public explanation and coalition building. A new environmentally aware generation has risen to influence globally. Where my generation was compelled to overthrow apathy toward the scandal of racism and impending threat of nuclear war, the challenges before this new generation are arguably worse: entrenched inequality, disappearing jobs and economic opportunities, and widespread helplessness at reports of the end of a habitable planet.
What happened to Earth Day? It accomplished great things, then receded and was folded into the labyrinths of its success. We lost the chance to experience and test our first – and the world’s first – environmental presidency. We lost a generation’s greatest opportunity.
But movements and leaders always rise again, if only because of the creative and adaptive intelligence of evolution itself. We are the agents of natural selection and, even as we imagine apocalypse, we should heed Darwin’s careful words: that we act only by ”accumulating slight successive favorable variations”; that we can produce “no great or sudden modification”; that change is achieved only “by very short steps.”
If Darwin is misunderstood, it may be the interpretation that natural selection is an objective force outside human nature, rather than one acting through human agency. It is natural then that we try and fail; natural, too, that we breed mutations; natural that we struggle and compete for life. According to Aldo Leopold, we are evolving toward an Evolutionary Ethic, a more cooperative one. We will see. The darkest hour is before the dawn. We may still end the Night.
Article originally appeared on Tom Hayden.com
We always hear about how polarized the country is, but on most of the big issues there’s a clear public mandate to go in a certain direction. Congress just needs to listen.
The budget is a good example. A Jan. 30 Reason-Rupe poll asked respondents what the country spends too much money on, and the most popular response — at 21 percent, the winner by several points — was “defense/military/wars.” Another category they called “ObamaCare” got 3 percent. Ask fans of multibillion-dollar defense contracts to explain that result to you and you’ll get a blank stare.
In other words, as with immigration reform, marriage equality and just about every other issue Congress is dealing with today, the public is way ahead of Washington.
Defenders of the status quo won’t tell you this. They want to present the issue as strictly about stark threats and existential crises and the need for more spending. Every dollar in cuts from the Pentagon’s massive budget, they say, makes us less safe. Many ideologues can’t find a penny for education but refuse to save money on their favorite weapons system.
The American people have seen through this ruse. The question isn’t whether we should reduce Pentagon spending. That debate is already settled. The bad years of the George W. Bush era are over. The question is how we cut wisely and make sure we help people in the military sector transition as smoothly as possible to new jobs and careers.
As The Washington Post recently reported, “Since 2001, the base defense budget has soared from $287 billion to $530 billion — and that’s before accounting for the primary costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.” That’s right — the cost of the wars isn’t even included in what we think of as the Pentagon budget. President Bush made sure that accounting was done off the books. We’ve been paying for that decision ever since, and we’ll be paying for it many years down the line.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus, which I co-chair, introduced the Back to Work Budget in February to help solve this problem. We bring our troops home from Afghanistan and return the Pentagon budget to its 2006 level. We don’t cut from military personnel wages. Pensions and benefits, including Tricare, are untouched. The big savings come from reducing needless outsourcing and preventing excessive payments to third parties, which often create the biggest cost overruns.
We get more savings by decommissioning our Cold War nuclear weapons stockpile, another expensive boondoggle you never hear about. We’ve been spending money for decades on maintaining nuclear warheads that everyone knows will never be launched. That money could have been better used just about anywhere else.
The logic of a big military budget goes something like this: “There will always be threats, and we never know what China, Russia, North Korea or some other actor will do in a few years. Keeping our spending high now means preventing wars later. We can’t put a price tag on security.”
We all remember the Bush years, so I leave it up to the reader to decide whether this is a fair description of the argument. The problem with this thinking is that the Pentagon budget, just like any other budget, isn’t a single big number — it’s a collection of individual programs, projects and price tags. When it comes to military spending, these price tags just keep growing. Anyone who calls herself a fiscal conservative should be asking whether that growth is justified, not protecting the Pentagon from calls for more responsible budgeting.
Confusing every dollar spent by the Pentagon with another dollar keeping us safe at night is a rhetorical trick, pure and simple. There will not be another major land war in Europe, Asia or anywhere else in our lifetimes. Economic pressures have reached a point where war is simply not in any country’s best interest. It’s certainly not in the interest of a country like China, often cited by saber-rattlers as a potential future enemy. Yet we spend more on our military than the next 19 top spenders combined. In that huge figure, is there really no money worth saving?
U.S. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva represents Arizona’s 7th Congressional District.
Original article on Tucson Sentinel
More than 140 organizations, including labor unions, healthcare advocates, environmentalists and consumer groups, rallied in Washington D.C. on Saturday, April 20 in support of legislation to tax Wall Street financial transactions. Supporters of the Inclusive Prosperity Tax wore Robin Hood costumes to dramatize the so-called “Robin Hood Tax.”
Members of sponsoring organizations, including National Nurses United, Amalgamated Transit Union, and National Peoples Action, gathered at Farragut Square before marching to the U.S. Treasury building.
“It’s a tax that many countries already have,” said Jean Ross, co-president of National Nurses United, the Registered Nurses’ union with over 185,000 members. She said that revenue collected from the tax, which she estimated at up to $340 billion a year, would go toward funding “all the things this country is talking about cutting left and right,” such as Medicare, healthcare, and housing.
“Our patients are skipping medication to buy food,” she said. The Inclusive Prosperity Act, introduced by Rep. Keith Ellison, is called the Robin Hood Tax because, as proponents argue, “The bankers, brokers and the wealthy who have benefited most from this economy will pay the tax.” Fifty percent of investments in the U.S., such as stocks and bonds, are owned by the wealthiest one percent of the population.
In spite of the financial collapse for which it was responsible, Wall Street profits soared 720% from 2007 to 2009, while American home equity collapsed by 35%. Levying a small tax–between .005 and .5%–on stock, bond and derivative transactions, they say, should reverse the trend toward austerity measures, which they see as hurting ordinary people.
“We’ve been watching the fallout from the poor economy, and we’re seeing people getting sicker. Even with insurance, deductibles cost too much, so they’re not taking care of themselves,” said Karen Higgins of National Nurses United.
Lawrence Hanley, president of the Amalgamated Transport Union (ATU), agreed. “All across the country there are cuts being made in transit,” he said. “The tax is reasonable and fair. England has had it for 300 years, and it hasn’t hurt them.”
But opponents of the bill, like David Cameron, Associate Director of the Tax Program at Northwestern Law School, say that Britain’s “stamp tax” is not equivalent to the proposed financial transaction tax in the U.S. Others, such as Ryan Ellis of the conservative Americans for Tax Reform, warns that the tax would take away from workers’ wages. “A tax on capital is ultimately a tax on labor,” he said.
The approximately thousand people decked out in Robin Hood attire on Saturday, however, see the government under the sway of Wall Street. Gathered at the U.S. Treasury building, they dubbed it a “Citigroup Subsidiary,” referring to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s former job at the financial institution.
They delivered boxes filled with faux dollars and labeled “Medicare for All,” “End Global AIDS/HIV,” “Retirement Security,” “Quality Education,” and “Reverse Climate Change,” to the White House–or as close as they could get with security measures in place following this week’s events in Boston.
In spite of the Robin Hood analogy, proponents don’t regard the tax as stealing from the rich. Rosa Pavanelli, leader of the global union federation, Public Services International, expressed it in terms of fairness. “It is time for bankers to pay their fair share and for the 99% to collect our fair share,” she said.
Original article on DC Media Group
If emerging victorious after being down 3-0 to the Yankees in the 2004 playoffs should have taught us anything, it’s that the people of Boston are tough as hell and never lose faith. After Monday’s bombing of the Boston Marathon and the following days under lockdown, we are already seeing that resilience emerge.
Already, people in the city are talking about how the Marathon next year is going to be bigger and better than ever. Already runners are signing up in droves. Already according to one website, the race in 2014 could have “15 to 20 times” the number of people attempting to qualify. As Raymond Britt, a Marathon analyst who ran the 26.2 mile course for 13 consecutive years said, “We believe it’s an extraordinary sign of the running community’s desire to support Boston. They want to come to Boston in 2014 to defend her honor, take our race back from evil, to prove the spirit of freedom will prevail over all.” Bloomberg News also ran a story about the commitment of runners to retake Heartbreak Hill in 2014.
I in no way doubt that next year will be a celebration of the city’s stouthearted fortitude. I have no doubt that people will arrive in droves to witness “the spirit of freedom prevail.” But I do think we need to separate the bravery of those who will gather in 2014, and what the security imperatives will undoubtedly be. We need to critically examine what’s proposed and, if necessary, raise our voices in protest.
Safety is paramount of course but there is a difference between safety and submitting without dissent to being under a kind of martial law. I want to describe the possible dystopic scenario that next year’s marathon could bring and I’m not pulling this out of a pamphlet written by Glenn Beck. I’m speaking from the experience of having been in Vancouver right before the 2010 Winter Olympics, South Africa right before the 2010 World Cup, and London right before the 2012 Summer Olympics. In each of these cities, “security” meant raiding the homes and offices of "people of interest." It meant spying on activist groups planning legal protests. It meant a particular level of surveillance and harassment of black and brown communities, especially – but certainly not exclusively – the Arab and Muslim communities. It meant displacement of many of the homeless and those in nearby low-income housing to create a security perimeter. It meant, in the case of London, surveillance drones flying overhead. In all of these cities, there were so many video cameras that you couldn’t so much as scratch your behind without fearing that someone was making a note. In all of these cities I felt safe, but safe in the way you feel in quiet, empty campground. It’s eerie, even if you aren’t thinking about the collateral damage needed to feel so “safe.” In all of these cities, after the games, much of this top-notch surveillance equipment becomes a “normalized” part of law enforcement. As one police chief said when I was in London, “It’s not like we can just put them back in the box.”
There are undoubtedly many people that will accept this trade-off. The Boston Marathon must be run and if it needs to happen under military watch, then so be it. This argument is easy, but it's a grave mistake, and it's why we need to protect the 2014 race from ourselves. Instead of blank-faced compliance, we should take immediate steps. This means building movements now for citizen oversight on the security operations for 2014. This means building movements now against the militarization of the police force. This means building movements now against Islamophobia and the harassment of black and brown youth (and yes, we should appreciate the awful irony that criminal actions of two white guys will spur state harassment of people of color).
By taking this approach we can do more that preserve our civil liberties. We can also preserve as much as possible of what is so communitarian and precious about the race itself. The Boston Marathon is the most open mass-sporting event on earth with 500,000 people gathering over eight different cities. Maybe it will never be the wide-open, innocent party of years past again. But in honor of those determined to gather, run and not live in fear, we shouldn't easily surrender what made the Boston Marathon - not to mention our civil rights - so mighty in the first place.
Original article on The Nation
On this Earth Day, those of us fighting for climate justice and an end to the world’s fossil fuel domination should take heart from the struggle against slavery.
Imagine for a moment that it is 1858 and you are an abolitionist. Talk about discouragement:
The previous year, in its Dred Scott decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that no black person—whether enslaved or free—was entitled to become a U.S. citizen. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney wrote that the framers of the Constitution believed that blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect…” The decision declared that the federal government could not ban slavery in U.S. territories. A few years before, Congress had passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which vastly expanded the U.S. government’s authority to seize and return to slavery individuals who had fled to freedom—or even those blacks born free in the North. Many Northern blacks crossed into Canada rather than live in constant fear.
And abolitionists were waging not just a moral struggle against the enslavement of human beings. Slavery was the largest industry in the United States, worth more than all the factories, banks, and railroads combined. In effect, the abolition movement aimed to expropriate without compensation the wealth of the most powerful social class in the country.
On the surface, abolitionists had made little, if any, progress. In fact, by most indicators, things had gotten worse. The American Anti-Slavery Society was founded in 1833. After about 30 years of antislavery activism, twice as many people were enslaved, more U.S. territory was dedicated to slavery, slaveowners possessed more wealth, and the federal government’s commitment to slavery was greater than ever before. Yes, talk about grounds to be discouraged.
Which brings us to today’s climate crisis and the many reasons for despair.
Recently, I taught a unit on climate change at a local high school in Portland. I began by introducing students to the “three scary numbers” featured in Bill McKibben’s important Rolling Stone article from last summer, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.”
The first scary number is 2 degrees Celsius. As McKibben points out, it’s the only climate number that virtually the entire world agrees on. Keep the climate from warming 2 degrees Celsius—about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit—and there is some hope of preventing a climate calamity. In the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Accord, 167 countries, including the United States, pledged “that deep cuts in global [greenhouse gas] emissions are required… so as to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius.” McKibben acknowledges that even a 2 degree rise in global temperatures is fraught with danger, but it’s the only international consensus on a climate target—“the bottomest of bottom lines,” writes McKibben. The first scary number.
The second scary number is 565 gigatons. According to the best scientific estimates, that’s the amount of additional carbon that we can pour into the atmosphere and still hope to keep the rise in temperature to 2 degrees. Five hundred and sixty-five thousand million tons of carbon. It seems like a lot, until we hear that the International Energy Agency found that in 2011 global carbon dioxide emissions rose by 31.6 gigatons—3.2 percent higher than the previous year, and that projections call for humanity to blast through our 565 gigaton quota in less than 16 years.
Which brings us to the final number that makes the other two numbers so frightening: 2,795 gigatons of carbon. This number represents the stored carbon in reserves held by coal, oil, and gas companies, and the countries that act like fossil fuel companies, like Kuwait. McKibben notes that this number was first highlighted by a group of London financial analysts and environmentalists, called the Carbon Tracker Initiative. In other words, the fossil fuel industry already has plans to exploit five times as much carbon as can be burned without exceeding the 2 degrees ceiling. Burning these fossil fuels would enter the world into a dystopia of climate science fiction. Yet according to Bloomberg, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson says that Exxon will spend $37 billion this year, $100 million a day, attempting to add still more oil production by 2016.
Meanwhile President Obama brags about how many new miles of pipeline have been built under his administration—“enough new oil and gas pipeline to circle the Earth and then some,” he said last year—and touts his “all of the above” energy strategy.
Yes, 43 years after the first Earth Day, there are abundant reasons to be discouraged—and frightened, too. In the midst of a class activity, “The Mystery of the Three Scary Numbers,” one of the students I was working with grasped the enormity of what she was uncovering; she turned to a friend and asked, “Does this mean we’re going to die?”
Back to 1858. The abolition movement rejected the death sentence imposed by Taney’s Supreme Court. Abolitionists became more radical in their aims, and more audacious in their tactics. As Vincent Harding writes in There Is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America, following the Dred Scott decision, blacks throughout the North “flocked angrily to meetings. Frustration and rage filled their voices as they denounced the Court’s decision … [E]verywhere they gathered, the people committed themselves to broader, more defiant acts of civil disobedience.”
The black abolitionist Robert Purvis, in a Philadelphia gathering, attacked the U.S. government as “one of the basest, meanest, most atrocious despotisms that ever saw the face of the sun,” and asked why shouldn’t blacks “welcome the overthrow of ‘this atrocious government’ and construct a better one in its place?”
In Oberlin, Ohio in the fall of 1858, U.S. marshals acting under the Fugitive Slave Act were about to return a man named John Price, who had escaped slavery, to Kentucky. Thirty-seven black and white abolitionists seized Price from the marshals and sent him to Canada. The trial of two of the 37 rescuers turned into an antislavery rally as the courtroom was filled with cheering spectators.
Of course, the most consequential act of post-Dred Scott resistance was the 1859 attack on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia led by John Brown. Whatever one thinks of the wisdom of the Harpers Ferry raid, the mission dramatized the refusal of the abolition movement to surrender to the most powerful institutions in the United States. And it electrified the antislavery movement in the North as nothing else had.
The point is not that we should copy abolitionists’ tactics, but that we should learn from their hope, from their tenacity, and from their willingness to defy those who put profit above humanity. And like the abolitionists, we should refuse to accept what the wealthy and powerful present as the “inevitable.”
Every Earth Day, some of us are tempted to say things like “We live on the same planet; we’re all in this together.” But no, we’re not. Last year, Exxon made almost $45 billion profit, while the superstorms and rising seas of global climate chaos forced people around the world to flee their homes. Yachts and villas for some; misery and insecurity for others. As the journalist and activist Naomi Klein has said, “[W]ith the fossil fuel industry, wrecking the planet is their business model. It’s what they do.”
In history we find hope—if we look for it. Our opponents today are no more reckless and ruthless than the people who made their living enslaving others. But they still measure life in dollars. This Earth Day we need to recognize that the fossil fuel industry is waging war on the planet—and on the future. And, like the abolition movement before us, we need to act accordingly.
Bill Bigelow taught high school social studies in Portland, Ore. for almost 30 years. He is the curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools and the co-director of the Zinn Education Project. This project offers free materials to teach people’s history and an “If We Knew Our History” article series. Bigelow is author or co-editor of numerous books, including A People’s History for the Classroom and The Line Between Us: Teaching About the Border and Mexican Immigration.Photo/image credits:
- Harriet Tubman portrait by Robert Shetterly, Americans Who Tell the Truth.
- 2009 Earth Day Celebration poster by Debra Lee Toth via Creative Commons.
Original article on Zinn Eucation Project
Boston has felt like a city under siege this week, in ways that have brought out both the best and worst of us
Even with two bombing suspects identified, one shot and one captured after an intensive manhunt, no one understands yet why the Boston Marathon was targeted.
Even with two bombing suspects identified, one shot and one captured after an intensive manhunt, no one understands yet why the Boston Marathon was targeted. There is security, but it has always been a relaxed event in which unofficial runners frequently join the race. Yet the subsequent violence in the early hours of Friday morning has been even more bewildering.
On Thursday night, the suspects allegedly held up a 7-Eleven convenience store, then shot and killed a security officer on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology campus, before car-jacking an SUV and holding the driver captive for a period. There followed, according to reports, a high-speed car chase, a gun fight with at least one exploding improvised explosive device. Finally, one suspect was apprehended, but died of his wounds in hospital; while the other, his brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was finally captured on Friday evening in Boston's Watertown neighbourhood.
The response had been an escalating state of emergency. While residents in Watertown heard gunshots and explosions, other Bostonians were glued to their police scanners all night and all day, morbidly fascinated by the grim story. Then, on Friday morning, businesses were asked to stay closed. The public transport system was shut down. Taxis stopped operating. Police checkpoints were stopping and searching cars. Amtrak train services to and from Boston were suspended indefinitely. The city was under an unprecedented lockdown, with military-style tanks flanked by heavily-armed and body-armoured police officers cruising down residential streets.
Even in those parts of the city not directly affected by the manhunt, there has been a heavy police presence. But for a lone Dunkin' Donuts remaining open, it looked a lot like martial law.
There is security, but it has always been a relaxed event in which unofficial runners frequently join the race. Yet the subsequent violence in the early hours of Friday morning has been even more bewildering.
With as little as we know about the attackers' motives, there seems no logic to the attacks, and this has accentuated some terrible ambiguities. In one sense, all of Boston seems united in grief and sympathy. Earlier this week, Bostonians were surprised to receive solidarity messages from people in Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria. In Kabul, for instance, people who are themselves surrounded by routine bombardment, held up signs reading, "To Boston, From Kabul, With Love".
And yet, the city is also bitterly divided, in a way that is hard to acknowledge.
Boston is one of the most segregated cites in America. Its police force is experienced quite differently by its ethnic minorities than by its white majority. While many white Bostonians may feel reassured by the presence of police, 1,500 National Guard troops, and Swat teams, those who fear they could be targeted and blamed are less sanguine. And now that the suspects have been identified as Muslims, Chechens who gained asylum in the US as children, this remains a time of particular anxiety.
Spurred by some flagrantly irresponsible journalism – the New York Post first identified a Saudi national as a suspect, and then misidentified two young men in photographs of the crowd at the marathon – there have already been racist incidents. For example, Heba Abolaban, a Muslim woman, was punched in Boston by a white assailant on Wednesday morning, who screamed "Fuck you Muslims! You are terrorists!" In press conferences, journalists demanded to know how the authorities intended to track the suspect if it turned out to be an immigrant. (Don't worry, they were told, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement is part of the Joint Terrorism Task Force.)
Since the identity of the suspects was revealed, there has been a shift in focus. A few have struggled to comprehend the difference between a Chechen and someone from the Czech Republic. Some rightwing politicians, such as Republican Congressman Peter King, have wasted no time in honing in on the fact that the perpetrators were Muslim, and have called for increased surveillance of Muslim communities; others have questioned whether proposals in bipartisan immigration reform legislation are "too generous" to would-be immigrants.
Yet, racism is not the only response. On Thursday night, before the dramatic manhunt, at a well-attended meeting entitled "Don't let them turn tragedy into racism" at Harvard University – not far from where the attacks began – a Bostonian nurse spoke out. He had tended to some of the wounded in what is, for Boston hospitals, a "code orange" alert. He was reminded of Rosa Luxemburg's remarks about the disastrous volcanic eruption in Martinique in 1902:
"And now in the ruins of the annihilated city on Martinique, a new guest arrives, unknown, never seen before – the human being. Not lords and bondsmen, not blacks and whites, not rich and poor, not plantation owners and wage slaves – human beings have appeared on the tiny shattered island."
This, the nurse said, is how it was for those first responders, rescuers and emergency personnel taking care of the wounded. "Then imagine how I feel, seeing the New York Post scapegoating a young man, a victim of the tragedy, in a racist way. Fuck them," he said. "A thousand percent."
And this is the knife's edge on which Boston is balanced: between solidarity and racism.
Original article on TheGuardian
The Obama administration’s budget included a promissory note. It will take them a few more weeks to tell us what they plan to spend next year on the Afghan War. Their intention to bring that war to an end, though, is clear.
Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and his Harvard colleague Linda Bilmes are predicting that this will produce “little in the way of a peace dividend for the U.S. economy once the fighting stops.” They base this bleak assessment on the kinds of meticulous calculations that anchored their 2008 book The Three Trillion Dollar War: on the huge sums we will and must be spending to care for wounded veterans, for example, and the money squandered when war support functions were massively and unnecessarily shifted to private contractors.They are surely and unfortunately right that what we will save by ending these wars has already been “spent” on the future, baked-in costs of misguided decisions made during those wars. But that doesn’t mean that the prospect of a “peace dividend” is gone.
That’s because the ending of the wars is coinciding with a broader defense downsizing, propelled by the battle over the budget deficit. And the effects of automatic budget cuts known as “sequestration” on the Pentagon budget will actually produce a smaller downsizing than any of the previous postwar periods: smaller than after the Cold War, or the Vietnam War, or the Korean War.
There is more downsizing to do, therefore, on a military budget that, adjusted for inflation, climbed higher during the post-9-11 period than any budget since World War II. During this period the idea of making choices among military priorities was simply shelved. And this budget grew on top of the separate budget that has funded the post-9-11 wars. With an economy starved from lack of public investment, we need that peace dividend. Will we get one? You wouldn’t think so, from the looks of the administration’s Pentagon budget request this year, which fails even to stay within the limits set by sequestration.
But there’s better news in what the new Defense secretary has been saying. Chuck Hagel’s first major speech April 3 at the National Defense University referred to the “inevitable downturn in defense budgets.” He criticized past weapons spending programs that produced “systems that are vastly more expensive and technologically risky than what was promised or budgeted for.” Hagel has committed to a serious reexamination of his Department’s spending practices, a “Strategic Choices and Management Review,” that will actually tie our national security strategy to the budget available to pay for it.
It will identify actual priorities from among the long list of missions the Pentagon has claimed for itself in recent years. The last major Pentagon reorganization, he noted, came during the height of the Cold War, when “[c]ost and efficiency were not major considerations.” He promises that the new review will take seriously the proposition that “DoD is incentivized to ask for more and do more,” and work to change this budget-busting combination.
Will he succeed? No telling, as yet. The first Obama administration (and last Bush administration) Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, had some of the same intentions, most of them unrealized. But the post-sequester world is different. In this world we know it really is possible to shrink the Pentagon’s budget, despite the best efforts of the defense industry, its congressional allies, and much of the Pentagon staff itself to keep it climbing ever higher.
To get to a Pentagon budget that is sized for our new postwar world, the downsizing momentum needs to keep going. While the war budget declines, we need to make sure that the “regular” Pentagon budget comes down with it. This is where a peace dividend can be found. We can’t give up on that goal so easily.
Pemberton is a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and co-author, with Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress, of the Unified Security Budget for the United States.
Original article on The Hill
Regardless of who caused the Boston Marathon massacre, the danger is that the US war on terrorism will be reignited just when it was beginning to fade after a decade.
Fearful public and expedient politicians are likely to boost support for more funding and less civil liberties after the blast. It is possible, too, that a round of blame will ensue against anyone considered “soft” on terrorists, as happened in the wake of the Benghazi consulate attack last October.
Based on thin evidence thus far, the Boston bombings appear to be nihilistic revenge against a US government whose policies have killed civilians in the last decade’s wars. But there are many possibilities.
The Pakistan Taliban immediately dissociated itself from any involvement, because of the threat of devastating US retaliation. According to Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars, over 100 sites are targeted for automatic destruction if a terror attack is inflicted on American citizens or soil by anyone connected with Pakistan.
The CIA has staged terrorist attacks and blamed them on left-wing or nationalist movements before, for example in the 1958 street bombings in Saigon which were said to be communist-inspired and led to the US adviser s. Depicted in Graham Green’s classic novel,The Quiet American, the CIA managed to change the ending of the film version so that the communists were to blame and a CIA gun runner was portrayed as a toy manufacturer. (Jenkins, Tricia. The CIA In Hollywood, p. 8) A few years later, White House deception in the Tonkin Gulf led to the US war declaration that was opposed by only two members of Congress.
Whoever is responsible, the effect of the Boston bombings may prop up the waning war on terrorism. America’s Iraq War is over, Afghanistan is in its final phase, the drone wars are under rising criticism, the CIA’s secret wars are being held up the question, and spending on critical domestic priorities is declining. In recent months, even high administration officials have questioned whether the war on terrorism paradigm continues its over-arching importance. Confirmed terrorist attacks are on the decline, as reported by Scott Shane (New York Times, April 17, 2013)
At the very least, the Boston bombings will set back the gradual thaw of the cold decade since 9/11.
Article originally appeared on tomhayden.com
The tax would generate hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue annually for critical needs such as healthcare, education, job creation and the international fight against HIV/AIDS and climate change. Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth U.S. had the following to say in response to the bill:
“Friends of the Earth U.S. wholeheartedly endorses the Inclusive Prosperity Act and urges its passage into law. By making Wall Street pay its fair share, this legislation would help shore up funding for services that keep people and our communities healthy and whole, both at home and around the world.
“This forward-looking legislation recognizes the enormous human and economic toll that climate change will take in the United States and in developing countries. Like a similar proposal in France, it opens the door for a portion of this extremely promising, untapped revenue source to be used to help the world’s poor confront the climate crisis.
“As the Inclusive Prosperity Act demonstrates, there is not actually a scarcity of public funds for global public goods; it is a question of political will. Trillions of dollars were rapidly made available to pay for wars and Wall Street bailouts, but what about the climate crisis?”
At no more than half-a-penny per transaction, the Robin Hood Tax is a micro-tax on Wall Street trading that would curb harmful speculation and raise hundreds of billions of dollars of new revenue to pay for urgently-needed public goods and services, like helping the poor cope with the threats to public health and food shortages caused by our changing climate. It would apply to financial transactions such as the trading of stocks, bonds, derivatives and other financial instruments -- most of which are traded not by people, but by computers in a matter of micro-seconds.
Forty countries have implemented financial transactions taxes, more than one thousand economists have endorsed the FTT and 11 European nations are in the process of implementing a regional FTT.
Momentum for the Robin Hood Tax will continue with a rally and march beginning at noon on Saturday, April 20, sponsored by the Robin Hood Tax Campaign, of which Friends of the Earth U.S. is a member. The rally will start at Murrow Park (adjacent to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue, between 18th and 19th Streets), followed by a march to the White House and U.S. Treasury Department to demand a Robin Hood Tax. For more information, see www.robinhoodtax.org/get-involved.
Karen Orenstein, (202) 640-8679, email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org
Friends of the Earth fights to create a more healthy and just world. Our current campaigns focus on promoting clean energy and solutions to climate change, keeping toxic and risky technologies out of the food we eat and products we use, and protecting marine ecosystems and the people who live and work near them.
Original article on Foe.org
Lost in the shuffle about competing budgets and the evaporation of sequester hysteria is the issue of defense spending. The left always wants to cut defense. The right, unfortunately, takes the generals and admirals too literally and always wants more for defense without ever getting rid of the fat, fraud, abuse and unnecessary spending.
As to the latter, conservatives of all people should know that like any government bureaucracy the Pentagon has plenty of all of those.
So what to do? We could mindlessly cut spending, waiting for the next crisis when we’ll suddenly have to restore defense expenditures. We could vainly call for spending to derive from the QDR (Quadrennial Defense Review), which is supposed to analyze our threats and our needs, thereby providing justification for the Pentagon budget. And let’s be blunt, no one serious about defense has much confidence in our current secretary of defense to do this task.
Let me propose something different: A final, important task for our greatest living military leader, Gen. David Petraeus. He would conduct a top to bottom audit of the Pentagon, analyzing our unmet needs and recognizing long-overdue reforms. Not unlike the base closing commission (BRAC), he’d generate recommendations for an up or down vote by Congress. He’d present not simply a number (which would perpetuate the current problem of crafting defense spending to an artificial number rather than letting our needs guide budgeting) but structural reforms on everything from civilian personnel to military medical care to procurement. Even if Congress were to reject his findings, we’d at least know from a credible source where the problems are and what savings can be derived within the current budget that will not impact military readiness.
I can hear the howls already. The left would fear voting against the general’s findings if they tell us more spending is needed; the right would be wary of the entire exercise, which might reduce favored programs. But I see no other mechanism by which we would bring discipline and sanity to our defense budgeting. Hawks and doves have both proved to be unreliable and indiscriminate in their demands (either to cut or to increase). So, unless we are committed to wasting tax payer dollars and/or underfunding national security (both are possible) why not call Petraeus back for one more tour of duty? It might be his greatest contribution to his country yet.
Original article on Washington Post
There were hundreds of heroes in the aftermath of Monday's tragic bombing attacks in Boston. Doctors, police officers and even former NFL players responded with tremendous courage and saved lives. Carlos Arredondo — easily recognizable in photos and videos because of his cowboy hat — was one of those heroes and is prominently featured in two of the more memorable and traumatic images from Monday's attack.
In the above photo, Arredondo can be seen apparently holding together the femoral artery or tourniquet of a victim who had lost both his legs in the attack. "I kept talking to him. I kept saying, 'Stay with me, stay with me,' " Arredondo told the Press Herald.
And at the 1:45 mark of the video below, you can see Arredondo rushing to help victims just seconds after the first explosion.
But who is Arredondo? As several tipsters and and publications have noted, the 52-year-old has quite the past.
Arredondo was watching the race to support a runner who was running the marathon in honor of Arredondo's son, Lance Cpl. Alexander S. Arredondo, who was killed in Iraq in 2004. When Arredondo was told (on his 44th birthday, no less) about his son's death by a group of Marines, he didn't believe them. From a 2007 New York Times article:
"I just screamed," he said. "I said ‘No, no! It can't be my son.' "
Mr. Arredondo said he "lost it." He ran to his garage and grabbed a gallon of gasoline and a propane torch.
He took a sledgehammer and smashed the government van's windshield and hopped inside. As the officers tried to calm him, Mr. Arredondo doused himself and the van with gasoline and lit the torch.
There was an explosion, and the officers dragged Mr. Arredondo to safety. He suffered second- and third-degree burns over 20 percent of his body.
"I went to my son's funeral on a stretcher," he said.
The incident – and the 10 months he spent in the hospital recovering – spurred Arredondo to a life of activism protesting the war in Iraq. He drove around the country in his son's truck, which was carrying a coffin and was decorated with pictures of his dead son at his funeral. "As long as there are marines fighting and dying in Iraq, I'm going to share my mourning with the American people...Every day we have G.I.'s being killed, and people don't really care enough or do enough to protest about how the war is going," he told the Times. "Some people say I'm dishonoring my son by doing this, but this is my pain, my loss."
That loss grew exponentially four years later, when Arredondo's surviving son killed himself at age 24, partly out of grief from losing his older brother. Now, Arredondo has again found himself in the midst of tragedy and again responded with resiliency and courage. Below is an interview with Arredondo taken after the bombings.
Original article on Gawker.com
“What the hell are they thinking?” the former DNC chair asks about Obama's proposed budget. The Democrats' civil war?
WASHINGTON — Howard Dean has had it with President Obama's budget proposal, saying the plan put forward by the White House might just drive him from the Democratic Party he once led as DNC chair.
On Sunday night, Dean tweeted that the restoration of some defense sequestration cuts contained in Obama's budget proposal were a step too far when coupled with the president's entitlement cut proposal that progressives like Dean are already livid about.
"If this is true I may have to become an independant [sic]," Dean wrote, before linking to an April 10 article by Bloomberg BusinessWeek's Josh Green.
Dean doubled down on his threat to leave the part in an interview with BuzzFeed Monday. The White House did not respond directly, but an official did push back Monday on the thrust of Dean's attacks.
"I just think that's unacceptable," Dean said. "If this passed I would have to reevaluate if I belong in the Democratic Party. If this were passed with Democratic votes, I think it would be impossible to be Democrat."
"I would have to oppose any Democrat that is supportive of this," Dean added.
In an email to several Democratic consultants Sunday night he forwarded to BuzzFeed, Dean excoriated the White House over the defense spending in Obama's budget proposal.
"If the businessweek.com article I sent you is correct, it means the Prez proposed chain CPI cutting SS benefits while asking to restore Pentagon spending. He would never get that through either chamber," Dean wrote. "What the hell are they thinking or is BW wrong?"
The progressive group Dean founded, Democracy for America, which is currently led by his brother, Jim Dean, backed up the former Vermont governor's take on the Obama's defense proposal.
Dean doubted such a proposal would even have the votes in Congress to pass.
"I don't think Democrats will vote for it. I can't see how you can expect Democrats in the Senate to support a budget that cuts entitlements and increases the Defense budget," Dean continued. "I can't imagine Republicans voting for this in swing districts."
Obama and many Democrats — including those who have run the Defense Department during Obama's administration — have argued that the $500 billion in across-the-board sequestration cuts to the Pentagon's budget over the next 10 years would be detrimental to national security. As the April 10 article states, Obama's budget restores $400 billion of those cuts, which a former Office of Management and Budget official told Green is "one of the peace offerings in Obama's package to Republicans." (The House Republican budget restores all $500 billion in Pentagon cuts.)
"Ultimately, the president needs to answer a simple question," Democracy for America spokesperson Neil Sroka told BuzzFeed. "Why are you choosing to sell out the Democratic legacy and cut seniors' and veterans' Social Security benefits to reinstate Pentagon pork and give millionaire defense industry executives back their seat at the government trough?"
The White House declined to respond to Dean directly. But an official noted that Obama has already called for cuts to the Pentagon budget and again defended Obama's proposed entitlement cuts against progressive critics. The official said the White House plan only cuts entitlements if Republicans agree to revenue increases (liberals have called for higher taxes) and specifically carves out exceptions to the cuts in Social Security benefits for the poor.
Original article on Buzzfeed
When Judge Debbie O’Dell-Seneca, recently directed a corporate “fracking” combine in Western Pennsylvania to unseal the terms of a settlement with citizen-plaintiffs, she struck a clear blow for the public’s right to know.
But far beyond the borders of Washington County PA, her ruling is being celebrated by a national movement working to reverse 127 years of law that gave corporations the constitutional protections of real human beings.
Her decision echoed language as old as that used when corporations were judged subservient to citizens and as new as the slogans of the “occupy” movement.
Judge O’Dell-Seneca observed that the Pennsylvania state constitution says men and women come into this world with ‘certain inherent and indefeasible rights’ and continued that,
“There are no men or women defendants in the instant case; they are various business entities…legal fictions, existing not by natural birth but by operations of state statutes…Such business entities cannot have been ‘born equally free and independent,’ because they were not born at all. Indeed, the framers of our constitution could not have intended for them to be ‘free and independent,’ because, as the creations of the law, they are always subservient to it.
The various states…allow for business entities to exist but are not required to establish them. In the absence of state law, business entities are nothing. Once created, they become property of the men and women who own them, and, therefore, the constitutional rights that business entities may assert are not coterminous or homogeneous with the rights of human beings. Were they so, the chattel would become the co-equal to its owners, the servant on par with its masters, the agent the peer of its principals, and the legal fabrication superior to the law that created and sustains it.”
Two western Pennsylvania newspapers, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Observer-Reporter petitioned the court to unseal the terms of an agreement that settled a suit brought by a Washington County family against Range Resources Corp., Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream, MarkWest Energy Partners, L.P. and MarkWest Energy Group, L.L.C. Stephanie and Chris Hallowich were awarded $750,000 for damages caused by the companies’ fracking operation.
Judge O’Dell-Seneca was careful to highlight how corporations are treated differently by federal and state constitutions, by tracing Pennsylvania’s back to the original 1776 version: (parens added)
“Had the framers intended the protections of Article I, § 1 (the inherent rights of mankind) to extend to business entities, they certainly could have written, ‘All persons are created equally free and independent ....’ They did not. Indeed, it is federal Amendment XIV's use of the word ‘person’ that makes its protections applicable to business entities, because its drafters were presumed to have known that ‘person’ is a legal term of art, encompassing business entities under the common law. This was so clear that Chief Justice Waite ruled, prior to oral argument, that:
‘The court does not wish to hear argument on the question of whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protections of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.’ Santa Clara County v. Southern Pac. R. Co., 118 U.S. 394, 6 S.Ct. 1132 (1886).
Critically, the exact opposite conclusion is derived from plain language of Article X of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It provides, in pertinent part:
§ 2. Certain Charters to Be Subject to the Constitution
Private corporations which have accepted or accept the Constitution of this Commonwealth or the benefits of any law passed by the General Assembly after 1873 governing the affairs of corporations shall hold their charters subject to the provisions of the Constitution of this Commonwealth.
§ 3. Revocation, Amendment, and Repeal of Charters and Corporation Law
All charters of private corporations and all present and future common or statutory law with respect to the formation or regulation of private corporations or prescribing powers, rights, duties or liabilities or private corporations or their officers, directors or shareholders may be revoked, amended or repealed.
Thus, the constitution vests in business entities no special rights that the laws of this Commonwealth cannot extinguish. In sum, Defendants cannot assert the protections of Article I, § 1, because they are not mentioned in its text.”
In a footnote, O’Dell-Seneca added,
“…unlike the Constitution of the United States wherein the word ‘corporation(s)’ never appears, the framers of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania wrote that word 23 times. All such uses limit corporations; none grants them rights.”
Elsewhere in her Opinion and Order, the judge quoted a 1687 document by William Penn, holder of the royal charter that founded the state, in which Penn examined notions of liberty addressed in England’s Magna Charta. O’Dell-Seneca noted that, "...nothing in his writings on liberty suggests that Penn thought that those rights inured to businesses."
Gradually, beginning in the late 1800’s, the U.S. Supreme Court helped corporations usurp all manner of “Bill of Rights” protections that were initially intended only for living, breathing humans, such as free speech and equal protection.
Since 1992 there has been a growing movement to expose that hidden history and find ways to return corporations to shorter leashes that once held them subservient to the people who created them.
Based on research and writing done by Richard Grossman and Frank Adams in “Taking Care of Business: Citizenship and the Charter of Incorporation,” the Program On Corporations, Law and Democracy started publishing and convening scores of weekend retreats across the country to spread the gospel of citizen sovereignty and discuss practical ways to breathe more life into democracy.
Out of that effort, the Community Environmental and Legal Defense Fund began to explore a “rights-based” approach to organizing against corporate factory-farms in southeastern Pennsylvania that relied citizen sovereignty, not environmental regulations, to secure a better quality of life. Activists in California and soon elsewhere experimented with new ways to kick corporate money out of elections, pass local resolutions against corporate “personhood.” and more recently, fight natural gas “fracking.”
Today, MoveToAmend.org is consolidating that experience and energy into a national movement to put forward a U.S. Constitutional Amendment that would end the twin, destructive fantasies that a) money is the same as speech and b) corporations are persons.
David Cobb, spokesperson for the MoveToAmend.org  coalition welcomed Judge O’Dell-Seneca’s decision.
“The courts once held that indigenous people had no rights, that enslaved Africans had no rights, that women had no rights, that immigrants had no rights, that LGBT people had no rights. It took mass movements to correct these injustices and it will take another mass movement to abolish utterly and completely the legal doctrine that allows a corporation to claim to be a person with constitutional rights. Fortunately, that movement exists and is growing daily. I applaud the lawyers, the judge, and the organizers on the ground who helped make this decision the first of many to follow.”
The “corporations are not persons” argument gained considerable traction when the Occupy movement declined to separate its grievances into a laundry list of single issues and instead declared that America’s central problem is corporations, not people, are running the show.
The combination of citizen organizing and increased awareness on the part of judges and attorneys promises to return to common usage the language that courts once used to keep corporations subservient; language such as that found in decisions from Ohio and New York:
“Corporations have such powers, and such only, as the act creating them confers; and are confined to the exercise of those expressly granted, and such incidental powers as are necessary for the purpose of carrying into effect powers specifically conferred.”
Elias Straus and Brother v. The Eagle Insurance Company of Cincinnati, 5 OS 60 (1855) Ohio Supreme Court
“The corporation has received vitality from the state; it continues during its existence to be the creature of the state; must live subservient to its laws, and has such powers and franchises as those laws have bestowed upon it, and none others. As the state was not bound to create it in the first place, it is not bound to maintain it…if it violates the laws or public policy of the state, or misuses its franchises to oppress the citizens thereof.”
The State ex rel. v. The C.N.O. & T.P. Ry. Co., The State ex rel. v. The C.W. & B. Ry. Co., 47 OS 130 (1890) Ohio Supreme Court
"The judgment sought against the defendant is one of corporate death. The state which created, asks us to destroy… The life of a corporation is, indeed, less than that of the humblest citizen... The abstract idea of a corporation, the legal entity, the impalpable and intangible creation of human thought, is itself a fiction, and has been appropriately described as a figure of speech.... the defendant corporation has violated its charter, and failed in the performance of its corporate duties, and that in respects so material and important as to justify a judgment of dissolution.... Unanimous."
NY State Court of Appeals, People v North River Sugar Refining Co., 24 N. E. 834 (1890)
Mike Ferner is a writer and activist from Ohio. Contact him at email@example.com
Original article on War Is A Crime
When he was asked in 2011 about the possible impact of the sequestration on defense, Chuck Hagel breezily replied that the Pentagon was “bloated” and “needs to be pared down.”
In his first major speech as defense secretary April 3, Hagel’s assessment was considerably more sober. The $41 billion cut the department is taking this year, he said, “is already having a disruptive and potentially damaging impact on the readiness of the force.” He added that he would not “assume or tacitly accept” that “these cuts can be accommodated without a significant reduction in military capabilities.”
Still, Hagel is looking at the possibility of a major new drop in defense spending as an opportunity. The pressure of forced cuts, he said in his speech at the National Defense University, could help to “fundamentally reshape the defense enterprise to better reflect 21st-century realities.”
He is right, up to a point: There is plenty of waste in the Pentagon budget. But if Hagel is to push through the kind of change he is talking about, he will need far more cooperation from the Pentagon bureaucracy and Congress than President Obama’s first two defense secretaries enjoyed. We wouldn’t bet on it.
In his address, Hagel identified some broad areas for savings – categories that come as no surprise to anyone who has studied recent defense budgets. Military pay and benefits and accelerating costs for weapons systems, Hagel said, are threatening to turn the Pentagon into “an agency administering benefit programs, capable of buying only limited quantities of irrelevant and overpriced equipment.”
The Tricare health program has grown in cost from $19 billion in fiscal 2001 to $53 billion in fiscal 2012, while the budget’s biggest line item is the nearly $400 billion F-35 program, which is 70 percent over its initial cost estimate.
Like former Secretary Robert Gates, Hagel believes the “fourth estate” of officers and bureaucrats in the secretary of defense’s office and combatant commands could be trimmed; that some jobs being performed by military personnel could be transferred to civilians; and that unneeded bases could be shut.
The problem, of course, is persuading the services or Congress to accept such restructuring. Following his rocky confirmation process, it’s hard to be optimistic about Hagel’s chances of finding allies in a polarized Congress for eliminating National Guard depots or cutting benefits for veterans. As he himself put it, “it could turn out that making dramatic changes … could prove unwise, untenable or politically impossible.”
The danger here is not merely that Hagel will fail to accomplish far-reaching reform. It’s that, having failed to do so, he will bring down spending with cuts that are more easily accomplished but far more damaging to national security.
The Post’s Craig Whitlock has reported that the Army and Marines are bracing themselves for possible force reductions going well beyond the trims of 9 percent and 10 percent previously ordered by Obama. The sequestration is already forcing worrisome reductions in training, the grounding of air fleets and the cancellation of ship deployments, not to mention a demoralizing furlough of civilian workers.
We hope that he and the president are working on a backup strategy to preserve vital U.S. defense functions.
Original editorial on The Journal Gazette
Teamsters Leader Was Skeptical of Trade Deal; Now He’s Extremely Skeptical
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – The U.S. Trade Representative announced today Japan and the United States have agreed to allow Tokyo to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks.
Following is the official statement of Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa:(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – The U.S. Trade Representative announced today Japan and the United States have agreed to allow Tokyo to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks.
Following is the official statement of Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa:
“The Teamsters were already skeptical about the secret negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Now we are extremely skeptical, given the history of our trade imbalance with Japan – especially in the auto industry, where we have lost so many good jobs.
“This announcement shows how important it is that the Congress NOT give up its constitutional authority to make trade policy. We call on the Congress to oppose Fast Track. Our elected representatives must vet every word of this treaty for its impact on American workers. The Congress must be able to eliminate every special deal hidden in the fine print and inserted by corporate lobbyists.
“On behalf of the North American dairy workers from Alberta to Miami who are Teamster members, we stand in solidarity with Japanese farmers and workers who want to keep dairy market access off the table in the TPP.
“While we commend the Administration for standing firm for a strong labor chapter, we are concerned that the rest of the TPP will not live up to its billing as a high-end agreement that we can support. There simply isn’t enough public information about these negotiations. We’re concerned that big transnational corporations are advancing an agenda that puts profits before people.
“The last thing we need right now is another trade deal that’s unfair to American workers.
“The Teamsters are not against trade. We are against unfair trade.”
Original article on Teamster.org
For progressive Democrats in Congress, a fight with President Obama over the inclusion of cuts to Social Security in his budget proposal may be just a warm-up for the real looming battle: the 2014 midterms.
Defending the entitlement program has long been a pillar of the Democratic Party, and it’s one that lawmakers say they cannot ignore. As a bonus, it helps Democrats draw a stark difference with the GOP ahead of the midterms—if only they can convince the president to drop the proposal first.
“What we’re doing is probably helpful to the 2014 election,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., who is a cochair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “We know that the Republicans are the party of ‘no,’ and on this issue, on Social Security and Medicare, I don’t think we can be the party of ‘maybe.’ ”
“The contrast is very important. And by holding solid we provide a contrast, and I think it helps us,” he added.
There have been warning signs about this fight for some time. When reports first surfaced in February that Obama might propose measuring benefits with the “chained CPI,” which would slow the rate at which Social Security benefits increase by altering cost-of-living calculations, 107 Democrats signed a letter warning of their deep opposition to the proposal. As the budget release drew closer this week, more than 30 lawmakers reiterated that opposition, signing an April 9 letter to Obama promising to “vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits.” Many CPC members will reiterate that message alongside the AFL-CIO in a Thursday press conference.
Adding to the pressure, progressive activists delivered a petition to the White House with more than 2 million signatures from people who object to the cuts.
Democrats, especially the progressive caucus leaders, seem to take no joy in the inherently uncomfortable task of publicly confronting the president. But they feel that they have no choice if they want to keep the promises they’ve made to constituents.
“We have to be vocal on [Social Security] because there’s a whole bunch of conservatives in this country who don’t like it, and didn’t like it, and never have liked it,” said Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., a caucus cochair. “I am and will remain a supporter of Barack Obama, but I just don’t agree that he’s right about this.”
Progressives have disagreed with President Obama before and ultimately caved on their demands. Grijalva recalled their push for a public option as the health care bill was being written. They got no such program, but most backed the bill anyway.
“This is different,” he told National Journal Daily. “This is one in which you have to go back to your district after you ran on the issue, in opposition to chained CPI,” he said. Reversing on an issue about which they’ve been adamant will be too much for most members, he said.
The progressive preference, detailed in the caucus’s alternative budget this year, would be to remove the $113,700 cap on wages subject to the Social Security payroll tax. Many activists agree with that strategy, but they are divided on just how much pressure they want to apply to congressional Democrats to toe the line against chained CPI.
Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee are two grassroots progressive groups threatening to back a primary challenge to any Democrat who votes to use the chained CPI measure. “If people don’t represent their constituents back home and pursue an agenda of cutting Social Security benefits,... then, yeah, there needs to be accountability in 2014, and we’re very serious,” said PCCC cofounder Adam Green. He added that his group has already taken the first step by asking people who signed the petition if they would be willing to run for Congress to defend entitlements. More than 1,300 members said yes, he said.
Even Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent, added his own threat. Delivering the petition to the White House Tuesday, he sent a warning to members of Congress: “If they vote to cut Social Security, they may well not be returning to Washington.”
It’s not an attitude shared by many of his colleagues. “That’s certainly not something we’re encouraging,” Grijalva said, casting doubt on whether outside groups could even carry out such a threat. Democrats can whip up a good grassroots fury, but organized intraparty ideological standoffs have been the GOP’s forte .
Unlike some conservative groups, the progressives don’t seem to relish picking off their own. “We are serious about primarying anybody who does support [chained CPI], but I don’t think they are going to get too far,” said Jim Dean, chairman of Democracy for America.
In fact, he’d rather get the issue off the table than use it as a litmus test for party fidelity. “I’d like to see this thing killed right now,” he said, referring to chained CPI. “We’re really pretty cranky about this stuff coming up, but we’re going to have to fight it until it is gone.”
Plus, the entire activist community isn’t sold on the wisdom of primary challenges. Roger Hickey, the codirector of the Campaign for America’s Future, took care to distance his group from the threats, even though he adamantly opposes the chained CPI. For now, he blames Obama for any potential division in the party.
“We’re concerned that the president is fracturing the Democratic Party by putting this proposal into his budget,” he said. “Its unprecedented for an American president to put forward cuts to Social Security benefits. ... We would like to see Democrats get back to being defenders of Social Security, and politically we think that that’s the best way for Democrats to win the next election.”
This article appeared in the Thursday, April 11, 2013 edition of National Journal Daily.
Original article on National Journal