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  • An Indictment of the Invisible Hand   1 day 6 hours ago

    by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

    The evidence of income inequality just keeps mounting. According to “Working for the Few,” a recent briefing paper from Oxfam, “In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.”

    Pew

    Economic Inequality/Wealth Gap

    Our now infamous one percent own more than 35 percent of the nation’s wealth. Meanwhile, the bottom 40 percent of the country is in debt. Just this past Tuesday, the 15th of April — Tax Day — the AFL-CIO reported that last year the chief executive officers of 350 top American corporations were paid 331 times more money than the average US worker. Those executives made an average of $11.7 million dollars compared to the average worker who earned $35,239 dollars.

    As that analysis circulated on Tax Day, the economic analyst Robert Reich reminded us that in addition to getting the largest percent of total national income in nearly a century, many in the one percent are paying a lower federal tax rate than a lot of people in the middle class. You may remember that an obliging Congress, of both parties, allows high rollers of finance the privilege of “carried interest,” a tax rate below that of their secretaries and clerks.

    And at state and local levels, while the poorest fifth of Americans pay an average tax rate of over 11 percent, the richest one percent of the country pay — are you ready for this? — half that rate. Now, neither Nature nor Nature’s God drew up our tax codes; that’s the work of legislators — politicians — and it’s one way they have, as Chief Justice John Roberts might put it, of expressing gratitude to their donors: “Oh, Mr. Adelson, we so appreciate your generosity that we cut your estate taxes so you can give $8 billion as a tax-free payment to your heirs, even though down the road the public will have to put up $2.8 billion to compensate for the loss in tax revenue.”

    All of which makes truly repugnant the argument, heard so often from courtiers of the rich, that inequality doesn’t matter. Of course it matters. Inequality is what has turned Washington into a protection racket for the one percent. It buys all those goodies from government: Tax breaks. Tax havens (which allow corporations and the rich to park their money in a no-tax zone). Loopholes. Favors like carried interest. And so on. As Paul Krugman writes in his New York Review of Books essay on Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, “We now know both that the United States has a much more unequal distribution of income than other advanced countries and that much of this difference in outcomes can be attributed directly to government action.”

    Recently, researchers at Connecticut’s Trinity College ploughed through the data and concluded that the US Senate is responsive to the policy preferences of the rich, ignoring the poor. And now there’s that big study coming out in the fall from scholars at Princeton and Northwestern universities, based on data collected between 1981 and 2002. Their conclusion: “America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened… The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” Instead, policy tends “to tilt towards the wishes of corporations and business and professional associations.”

    Last month, Matea Gold of The Washington Post reported on a pair of political science graduate students who released a study confirming that money does equal access in Washington. Joshua Kalla and David Broockman drafted two form letters asking 191 members of Congress for a meeting to discuss a certain piece of legislation. One email said “active political donors” would be present; the second email said only that a group of “local constituents” would be at the meeting.

    One guess as to which emails got the most response. Yes, more than five times as many legislators or their chiefs of staff offered to set up meetings with active donors than with local constituents. Why is it not corruption when the selling of access to our public officials upends the very core of representative government? When money talks and you have none, how can you believe in democracy?

    Sad, that it’s come to this. The drift toward oligarchy that Thomas Piketty describes in his formidable new book on capital has become a mad dash. It will overrun us, unless we stop it.

     

     

    Journalist Bill Moyers is the host of the new show Moyers & Company, a weekly series of smart talk and new ideas aimed at helping viewers make sense of our tumultuous times through the insight of America’s strongest thinkers.. His previous shows on PBS included NOW with Bill Moyers and Bill Moyers Journal. Over the past three decades he has become an icon of American journalism and is the author of many books, including Bill Moyers Journal: The Conversation Continues, Moyers on Democracy, and Bill Moyers: On Faith & Reason. He was one of the organizers of the Peace Corps, a special assistant for Lyndon B. Johnson, a publisher of Newsday, senior correspondent for CBS News and a producer of many groundbreaking series on public television. He is the winner of more than 30 Emmys, nine Peabodys, three George Polk awards and is the author of three best-selling books.

     

    Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at Demos and president of the Writers Guild of America-East, is senior writer for Bill Moyers' new weekend show Moyers & Company.

     

  • Bad science, and really bad reporting   1 day 13 hours ago

    by Pete Guither

    The scientific malpractice and grossly ignorant reporting regarding the study of a single brain scan from 20 widely disparate marijuana smokers and 20 controls is getting a lot of pushback. Maybe there are limits after all to the deceptions that this area of research can put forward.

    In the PolicyMic article Here’s the Real Story behind the ‘Marijuana-Changes-Your-Brain’ Study, which, of course, was also not the complete real story, co-researcher Jodi Gilman was defensive about one charge in particular:

    Some people criticize the […] funding source, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, among others (which got a laugh out of Gilman: “Your data is your data”).

    Um, no, it isn’t. At least not when the people involved are blatantly lying in press releases, among other scientific transgressions. It’s perfectly legitimate to question the funding source’s influence on those lies.

    Unfortunately, the media pushes these lies out there and then mostly ignores the corrections, retractions, and criticisms. But we’re getting better at educating the people.

    Here are three more interesting articles pushing back against the willful misuse of science.

    The very political neuroscience of cannabis by Mark Kleiman

    If instead you wanted to score points in the culture wars, push your political agenda, and perhaps please your sponsors at the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Office of National Drug Control policy, you’d behave differently. […]

    … and he goes on to describe exactly what one of the researchers did.

    No, Weed Won’t Rot Your Brain by Maia Szalavitz

    Here’s the first big problem. The 20 marijuana-smoking participants, who took the drug at least once a week, were deliberately selected to be healthy. If they had any marijuana-related problems—or any psychiatric problems or other issues—they were excluded from participating.

    Are you beginning to see what’s wrong? Although the pot-smoking participants showed brain differences in comparison to the controls who were also selected to be normal—both groups were normal! If the smokers had any marijuana-related problems or any type of impairment, they would not have been included in the first place. Therefore, the brain changes that the researchers found were—by definition—not associated with any cognitive, emotional, or mental problems or differences.

    Why the Media’s Fearmongering on Marijuana Effects on the Brain is Faulty by Paul Armentano

    Such fear-mongering and sensationalism by the mainstream media in regards to the supposed harms of pot upon the brain are nothing new. It wasn’t long ago that the mainstream media was boldly claiming that cannabis use permanently lowered IQ, a finding that marijuana prohibitionists and anti-drug bureaucrats were happy to repeat ad nauseam.

    Copyright © 2014 Drug WarRant

    http://www.drugwarrant.com/2014/04/more-on-that-study/

  • An Indictment of the Invisible Hand   2 days 4 hours ago

    Thomas Piketty Undermines the Hallowed Tenets of the Capitalist Catechism

    Not only does capitalist growth not reduce inequality; it increases it.

    by Jeff Faux

    Thomas Piketty just tossed an intellectual hand grenade into the debate over the world’s struggling economy. Before the English translation of the French economist’s new book, Capital in the Twenty-first Century, hit bookstores, it was applauded, attacked and declared a must-read by pundits, left, right and center. For good reason: it challenges the fundamental assumption of American and European politics that economic growth will continue to deflect popular anger over the unequal distribution of income and wealth.

    “Abundance”, observed the late sociologist Daniel Bell was “the American surrogate for socialism.” As the economic pie expands, everyone’s slice grew bigger.

    The three-decade long boom that followed World War II seemed to prove Bell’s point, tossing Karl Marx’s forecast of capitalism’s collapse into the dustbin of history.

    Marx predicted that as markets expand, profits from technological innovation would gradually dry up, depressions would get more severe and capitalists would drive labor’s share of income in the advanced industrial economies so low that revolution was inevitable.

    But twentieth-century capitalism proved more resilient than Marx thought. New technologies continued to generate more profits and jobs. Keynesian fiscal and monetary policies prevented cyclical business downturns from triggering depressions. And the investor class, threatened by the specter of communism, agreed, grudgingly, to the New Deal model of strong unions, social insurance and other policies that forced them to share the profits from rising productivity with their workers.

    In the United States, the portion of income going to the richest dropped from over 45 percent in the 1920s to under 35 percent by the 1970s. Between 1959 and 1973 the percentage of Americans living in poverty was cut in half. Other industrial countries followed the same pattern.

    Ultimately, it was the communist system that collapsed, unable to match capitalism’s performance in providing the proletariat with a house, a car and the other totems of a middle-class life.

    The idea that capitalism naturally led to greater equality was codified in a 1955 landmark study by the American economist Simon Kuznets, whose data showed that after an initial period of rising inequality (e.g., our nineteenth-century gilded age) the wealth generated by market economies is distributed between labor and capital more evenly. When workers’ productivity rose, so do their wages. The “Kuznets Curve” quickly became conventional wisdom for both mainstream economists and the politicians they advised. As the nautical John F. Kennedy put it: “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

    The central question for Western economists then became how to keep the tide of growth rising. Liberals favored more active government interventions, conservatives more incentives for private investors. Income and wealth distribution—the issue that had preoccupied economists since Adam Smith—was narrowed to studies of the characteristics of the poor (their race, their gender, their sex life, etc.) that prevented them from rising with the tide. Almost no one studied the rich.

    Then, in the late 1970s, the trend toward equality reversed. Workers’ output-per-hour continued to rise, but their wages and benefits flattened. Almost all of the gains from the increased productivity of the last three and a half decades went to corporate investors and their top managers. The poverty rate rose by a third. And the pain spread steadily up the socioeconomic ladder.

    Mainstream economists have been disgracefully slow in responding to this historic shift in who gets what. When Larry Mishel and his colleagues at the Economic Policy Institute began reporting on the growing gap between workers’ productivity and their pay in the mid-1980s, the first reaction of the economist establishment was denial. When they could no longer ignore the data, economists blamed the workers themselves for not being educated enough for the new information age.

    Mainstream politicians were soon lecturing downscaled Americans that they should go to—or back to—college. So they did, in record numbers. Increased education is critical for growing the economic pie, but the evidence—including a dozen years of falling real wages among new college graduates—shows that lack of schooling is not the reason why the slices of the super-rich rich are growing so much faster that everyone else’s.

    No matter that the facts don’t fit. It is easier for economists and politician to tell a story about dumb workers and smart bosses than to address the more obvious causes of the upward redistribution of wealth. Talk of offshoring jobs, suppression of unions, shredding of social safety nets and tax breaks for the rich makes the corporate contributors to academic careers and political campaigns too nervous.

    To be sure, Democrats have ramped up the rhetoric. Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992  complaining that Americans were “working harder for less.” Over two decades later, they still are. Five years into his presidency, Barack Obama now tells us that inequality is the “defining issue of our time.” But even if Congress passed his modest agenda of an increase in the minimum wages, tax credits for the poor and a marginal boost in funds for education and training, it would just slow down the ongoing upward redistribution of wealth. Other Obama proposals, such as more free trade and continued fiscal austerity, will accelerate it.

    Underneath the rhetoric, the actual message from our governing class is: have patience. The economic tide—bringing with it good jobs at good wages—will soon rise again. It always has.

    But as the US economy crawls into the sixth year of recession and the fourth decade of stagnant real wages, the signals ahead tell us that this time it probably won’t.

    The Obama administration’s “optimistic” ten-year forecast (for obvious reasons, administration forecasts always lean toward optimism) is for enough growth to drop the unemployment rate to 5.4 percent by 2018 and have it remain there until 2024. Given that joblessness averaged 4.6 percent in the three years before the 2008 crash while wages stagnated, the president’s own economists are implicitly predicting that the gap between workers’ production and workers paychecks will widen further.

    Others are even less sanguine. Progressive economists like Paul Krugman and Joe Stiglitz—and now even the less-than-progressive Larry Summers—think that the US and European economies are trapped by chronic weak consumer demand. Their remedy is more government spending on education and infrastructure to put more money in customers’ pockets. But the reactionary fiscal austerity that dominates Washington and Brussels—even among the left-center parties—makes such aggressive Keynesianism a political non-starter for the foreseeable future.

    Over the longer term, the prospects can be downright grim. The venerable Robert Gordon, an economist known for careful analysis, thinks that the innovation that has driven growth for over a century might well slow from its average of 2 percent per year since 1891 to 0.2 percent for the foreseeable future. Add tightening environmental costs and constraints and the good ship Abundance sinks to the sea floor.

    The pessimists of course could be wrong. It’s certainly possible, if not plausible, that some unpredicted burst of entrepreneurial energy or a simultaneous reconversion to Keynesianism could propel growth faster than even Obama’s optimistic economists forecast. Couldn’t that be enough to float us back to Kuznets’s curve of rising equality?

    Enter Thomas Piketty, whose impressively researched analysis (600 pages plus a detailed 165-page online technical appendix) concludes that Simon Kuznets was wrong. Not only does capitalist growth not reduce inequality; it increases it.

    Using data and computer power unavailable to Kuznets, Piketty pored through 200–300 years of the economic history of the largest capitalist economies—principally the United States, Britain, France, Canada, Germany, Sweden and Japan. The numbers show that that since roughly 1700, with one exceptional period, the returns to capital (profits and interest) have exceeded the rate of overall economic growth. Since the rich own most of the re-investable capital, their wealth accumulates faster than the wealth of the vast majority of people whose income depends on wages and salaries.

    The exceptions to the historical trend were the years 1914–75 in Europe and 1929–75 in the United States, in which inequality shrunk in almost all western nations. According to Piketty this era was unique: the consequences of two world wars, the Great Depression and the social democratic character of the postwar recovery in Europe, Japan and North America. Once those forces were spent, capitalism returned to its normal function as a machine for producing “inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based.”

    Moreover—and this is a key point—contrary to what we’re taught in Economics 101, markets appear to have no self-correcting mechanism that can halt the worsening misdistribution of wealth. If allowed to go unchecked, a tiny number of capitalists will own just about everything, with social consequences that Piketty sees as “potentially terrifying.”

    We have already returned to the levels of income inequality of the 1920s, and the concentration of wealth is heading toward the ratios of the 1890s. The social relations of the future, writes Piketty could resemble Jane Austen’s world, in which a tiny group of the wealthy employed vast armies of poorly paid servants.

    The super-rich of the twenty-first century are somewhat different than they were in Marx’s time, especially in the United States. Most still are the heirs of fortunes made in the distant past. But those in the top tier of today’s “patrimonial capitalism” also include more recently arrived corporate CEOs and others who can set their own exorbitant salaries and leave their children both financial wealth and privileged access to education and elite networks. To the economist Piketty, the waste of resources going to the systematic enrichment of people who do not have to work for a living is particularly galling.

    Piketty is certainly not the first economist to criticize inherited wealth. And the idea that capitalism is unfair will not shock most people who work for a living. But Piketty’s credentials and exhaustive attention to statistical detail make him harder for the pundits and policy elites that protect the plutocracy to dismiss.

    In addition to exposing the weakness in a core principle of the economist canon, Piketty’s data-driven methodology skewers the class bias masquerading as science that pervades the study of economics and the formulation of economic policy.

    Economics claims superiority over other social sciences on the basis of its greater capacity to quantify reality, i.e., crunch numbers. Yet for decades now the numbers have been in conflict with hallowed tenets of the capitalist catechism. For example, the forty-year gap between wages and productivity refutes the theory that workers get paid according to their efficiency. Twenty-five years of relentless job losses and wage decline because of globalization mocks the rigid faith in free trade. We haven’t had a peacetime price spiral driven by US government deficits in modern times, yet the conventional wisdom has us cutting food stamps to placate inflation paranoia.

    Similarly, the orthodox creed holds that Piketty’s central point cannot possibly be true. The rate of return to capital cannot be higher than the rate of economic growth for long because when the supply of capital increases, its price—the rate of return—has to fall. Piketty’s response: look at the facts, which show that in the real world this adjustment can take so long (a century or more) and cause so much damage that the theory is irrelevant.

    Piketty is not a Marxist. He sees no real alternative to global capitalism and has little interest in changing its inner workings through worker ownership, nationalization or the redevelopment or local or national markets. Like Keynes, his goal is to make markets a more efficient instruments for human progress. But although he supports the standard progressive agenda of financial regulation, public investment in education and infrastructure and aid to the poor, he thinks that in a globalized economy, capital is now beyond the control of any one country—even the United States. Efforts by individual nations to constrain capital will just chase away highly mobile private investment.

    The ultimate solution, he writes, is a worldwide progressive tax on private capital. Piketty understands that this is now utopian. But he argues that the tax is technically feasible and could be gradually adopted region-by-region.

    Here Piketty seems out of his political depth. In order to avoid Marx’s apocalyptic conclusion, he skips around a central implication of his own analysis: that the upward redistribution of wealth also generates an upward distribution of political power that perpetuates inequality. An enforceable global tax on capital ownership would require dramatic political shifts to the left within the major economies—at least the United States, Europe, China, Japan—and unprecedented cooperation among these economic rivals to face down transnational capital and force the rest of the world to accept it. Eyes will roll.

    Still, Piketty’s proposal sets a realistic marker for the level and scope of radical change necessary to deal with the grim conclusion of his quite credible economic analysis. The analysis makes hash of the conservative claim that there are “market solutions” to inequality, as well as the liberal hope that small-bore reforms will eventually achieve social justice on the cheap.

    It also challenges the lack of urgency that infects social democratic parties in the capitalist world whose answer to inequality has been to wait for the crisis to pass and tide to come back and float all our boats.

    But if Piketty is right, time is not on their side. His study confirms what David Ricardo, Karl Marx and other nineteenth-century economists perceived earlier about the machinery of capitalism: it is not only unfair, it is relentlessly and dynamically unfair. Until we make radical changes either the way it works or who it benefits, the maldistribution of wealth and political power can only get worse.

     

    Jeff Faux is the founder and now Distinguished Fellow at the Economic Policy Institute. His latest book is The Servant Economy.

     

  • Pulitzer Vindicates: Snowden Reporters Win Top Journalism Honor   1 week 1 day ago

    Pulitzer Does Not Fully Express Power of Collaborative Snowden Reporting

    by Jay Rosen

    Sharing the Snowden documents among various outlets is truly deserving of a prize in journalism. (File/public domain)

    The Washington Post and the Guardian won the Pulitzer Prize for public service today. There’s no prize for the network of individuals and institutions that brought the surveillance story forward.

    As the New York Times reported:

    Though the citation did not name specific reporters, the work was led by Barton Gellman at the Washington Post and Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill at the Guardian, and Laura Poitras, a filmmaker and journalist who worked with both newspapers.

    And people will debate that— not naming the reporters. Just as they debate the handling of the Snowden documents by Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. (Disclosure: I am an advisor to First Look Media.)

    Here I share some thoughts about the Snowden story — or story system — that go beyond what the prizes can recognize.

    The Pulitzers are national (they honor U.S. journalism), institutional (the award frequently goes to a newspaper or newsroom) and individual (writers with bylines are typically named.)

    The Snowden story is an international enterprise, involving the press, and press law, in the UK, Germany, France, Brazil, Canada and the United States for starters. It involves collaboration and alliance among freelance journalists with their own standing (Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras especially but also to a degree Barton Gellman) who are contracting with institutions and their unique strengths: the Guardian, the Washington Post won the Pulitzer but there are many others: the New York Times and ProPublica (with whom The Guardian shared some of the Snowden documents) Der Spiegel in Germany, O Globo in Brazil, CBC in Canada— and more. There’s no Pulitzer for that.

    “Closest to those whose privacy has been invaded.”

    Greenwald has said this about the strategy that he and Poitras followed in reporting out the Snowden files:

    I reported on most of them under a freelance contract with the Guardian, and she has reported on most under similar contracts with the NYT, the Washington Post, the Guardian and especially der Spiegel. But we also have partnered with multiple media outlets around the world – in Germany, Brazil, Canada, France, India, Spain, Holland, Mexico, and Norway, with more shortly to come – to ensure that the documents are reported on in those places where the interest level is highest and are closest to those individuals whose privacy has been invaded.

    In my view that decision — through collaboration, release stories in the press vehicle “closest to those individuals whose privacy has been invaded” — won the Pulitzer today.

    “We did not have to do our reporting from London.”

    At crucial moments, the “networked” character of the story kept it from being bottled up by the authorities. The most dramatic is when Alan Rusbridger of The Guardian told the authorities in London that he would comply with their demands to destroy the computer hard drives containing the Snowden files. But:

    I explained to the man from Whitehall about the nature of international collaborations and the way in which, these days, media organisations could take advantage of the most permissive legal environments. Bluntly, we did not have to do our reporting from London. Already most of the NSA stories were being reported and edited out of New York. And had it occurred to him that Greenwald lived in Brazil?

    In a sense it’s that moment that deserved the Pulitzer today.

    The international press sphere

    When the Guardian shared some of the Snowden documents with ProPublica and the New York Times, there was a logic to spreading the wealth and joining forces in this way. They had worked it out over Wikileaks. Rusbridger:

    [It] happened just after we took possession of the first tranche of WikiLeaks documents in 2010. I strongly suspected that our ability to research and publish anything to do with this trove of secret material would be severely constrained in the UK. America, for all its own problems with media laws and whistleblowers, at least has press freedom enshrined in a written constitution. It is also, I hope, unthinkable that any US government would attempt prior restraint against a news organisation planning to publish material that informed an important public debate, however troublesome or embarrassing.

    In a sense it has been the international press sphere, an alliance of newsrooms on several continents, that’s been publishing the Snowden files. That way of doing it won a Pulitzer today.

    Waiting for one ‘coherent’ story…

    In its entirety the Snowden story system is a hard thing to hang a prize on. But we know what some of its principles are. In November of last year Bob Woodward of the Washington Post (there is no larger figure in Pulitzer lore) complained about the way the story system was working. Snowden had made a mistake by not coming to him, Woodward said. He, Bob of Watergate, would have known how to bring order and narrative to the revelations.

    Gellman reacted swiftly, and in public, with no hestitation about taking on an icon of the Post:

    “I can’t explain why Bob would insult the source who brought us this extraordinary story or the exemplary work of his colleagues in pursuing it,” Gellman said in an email to HuffPost.

    “The ‘others’ he dismissed include [The Washington Post's] Greg Miller, Julie Tate, Carol Leonnig, Ellen Nakashima, Craig Whitlock, Craig Timberg, Steven Rich and Ashkan Soltani — all of whom are building on the Snowden archive with me to land scoop after scoop,” Gellman continued. “I won’t get into why Snowden came to me or didn’t come to Bob. But the idea of keeping Snowden anonymous, or of waiting for one ‘coherent’ story, suggests that Bob does not understand my source or the world he lived in.”

     

    Jay Rosen teaches journalism at New York University, where he has been on the faculty since 1986. He is the author of PressThink, a blog about journalism's ordeals in the age of the web. He tweets @jayrosen_nyu

     

  • CIA Whistleblower and the Torture Report   2 weeks 2 days ago

    The CIA and the ‘Cult of Intelligence’ Will Manage to Keep Vast Majority of Senate Torture Report Secret

    by Kevin Gosztola

    Why is it that the public will likely never get to read much of a major investigative report the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence produced on the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program—a program that included torture?

    Photo: Justin Norman/cc/flickr

     

    Thursday, the Senate intelligence committee voted to declassify portions of the 6,300-page report—the executive summary, findings and conclusions. It was not long after the vote that it was confirmed that the White House would have the CIA conduct a declassification review of these parts of the report before they were released.

    This conflict of interest was addressed by Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News, who told The Guardian the CIA functionally will control “the declassification process, and they have an interest in how they as an agency are portrayed in the final product.” He added, “They’re not an impartial party, and that’s a flaw in the process.”

    Yet, what if it is not a flaw? What if it is a feature? The CIA has made it this far in history without facing any accountability whatsoever for torturing and even causing the deaths of captives it confined in a network of secret prisons the agency maintained.

    According to McClatchy Newspapers, the Senate report  CIA used “interrogation methods that were not approved by either the Justice Department or their own headquarters and illegally detained 26 of the 119″ captives they held in CIA custody.

    While much of this has been understood to journalists and human rights groups that have been interested, the investigation also found that “critics inside the CIA were cut out of the debate over the program or ignored and the news media were manipulated with leaks that tended to blunt criticism of the agency.”

    “The CIA’s high-level officials mismanaged the program,” and “interrogators who crossed the line into abusive behavior went unpunished.” The report also confirms the role of the CIA in the deaths of at least six captives.

    Deception and hypocrisy has been employed by the CIA with success, and, through entertainment, such as the filmZero Dark Thirty, the agency has even been able to glorify and sensationalize what it has done in the global “war on terrorism.”

    It is all very similar to how the agency acted to protect itself from scrutiny in the 1970s, when much of its covert operations in the 1950s and 1960s, including domestic spying on Americans, were beginning to become widely known.

    In 1974, Victor Marchetti, former executive assistant to the CIA Deputy Director, and John D. Marks, former staff assistant to the intelligence director at the State Department, wrote a book, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence,  that the CIA tried to have legally suppressed. It went to court to have the book censored prior to publication. Marchetti became the first writer to be served with an official censorship order by a US court.

    Marchetti and Marks argued that hypocrisy, deception and secrecy had become “standard techniques for preventing public awareness of the CIA’s clandestine operations and government accountability of them.” Men who demanded they be regarded as honorable for their role in the CIA, “true patriots,” often lied when caught “in their own web of deceit.” They believed they had a “right to lie” to Americans.

    “In this country, secrecy and deception in intelligence operations are as much to keep the Congress and the public from knowing what their government is doing as to shield these activities from [any enemies],” they declared. “The intelligence establishment operates as it does to maintain freedom of action and avoid accountability.”

    The CIA “recognizes no role for a questioning legislature or an investigative process,” the former government officials suggested. “Its adherents believe that only they have the right, and the obligation to decide what is necessary to satisfy the national needs.”

    “The cult of intelligence demands that it not be held accountable for its actions by the people it professes to serve” because “in their minds those who belong to the cult of intelligence have been ordained and their service is immune from public scrutiny.”

    Historically, the CIA had managed to convince US presidents to lie on their behalf. President Dwight D. Eisenhower lied to the American people about the CIA’s involvement in a coup in Guatemala in 1954. President John F. Kennedy lied about the CIA’s role in an invasion of Cuba in 1961 (“Bay of Pigs”). President Lyndon B. Johnson lied about US involvement in Vietnam and Laos. President Richard M. Nixon lied about the CIA’s attempt to fix the election in Chile in 1970. (These are just a few examples.)

    Both Marchetti and Marks rationalized that this was due to a “clandestine mentality,” a mindset that “thrives on secrecy and deception” and “encourages professional amorality, the belief that righteous goals can be achieved through the use of unprincipled and normally unacceptable means. Thus, the cult’s leaders must tenaciously guard their official actions from public view. To do otherwise would restrict the ability to act independently; it would permit the American people to pass judgment not only on the utility of their policies but the ethics of those policies as well.”

    *

    Not even in the first year of President Barack Obama’s administration did the White House ever seriously want to expend political capital and hold CIA agents or officers accountable for torture. Attorney General Eric Holder initially “identified at least ten instances in which interrogators” went “far beyond what had been sanctioned” by President George W. Bush’s administration. CIA management also had destroyed interrogation videotapes that probably contained evidence of torture, however, the administration chose to move forward instead of looking backward at any crimes committed.

    There was no real risk of prosecutions when the Senate intelligence committee chose to produce a report that could set the record straight on CIA torture, detention and renditions. However, that did not stop those in the “cult of intelligence” from interfering in the Senate’s investigation by disappearing documents from a database Senate staffers were using and by conducting unauthorized searches on a network to find out details on how the staffers were preparing the report.

    Senate staffers were essentially spied upon because of the interest the CIA has in keeping the true history of CIA torture from becoming official US history. They did not want the Senate to have certain details in the report that would differ from the fabricated stories consistently told by individuals like former CIA director Michael Hayden, former acting CIA general counsel John Rizzo, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former CIA Counterterrorism Center head, Jose Rodriguez and others, whose allegiance remains with the “cult of intelligence” they have dutifully served in their lives.

    Beyond the promotion of the agency’s own version of history is the reality that the “war on terrorism” is a paradigm that the CIA will likely be able to easily manipulate in the same way that the agency has prevented information from becoming public in recent cases involving Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests or lawsuits involving torture victims seeking justice.

    Jason Leopold recently highlighted how the Obama administration blocked torture photos from being released to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2009. An appeals court had found that President George W. Bush was using FOIA exemptions as “an all-purpose damper on global controversy” and “an alternative classification mechanism.” Obama initially was going to abide by the judge’s order but then “Senators Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney and his daughter, Liz,” accused Obama of “endangering the lives of US military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Obama decided to not allow the photos to be released, effectively concealing torture and shielding individuals from accountability.

    In a lesser known case, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) sought the disclosure of video of Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mohammed al Qahtani under FOIA so attorneys for Qahtani could publicly confirm or deny whether they had viewed video that show Qahtani being tortured and abused. They wanted to be able to acknowledge this in open court before the military commissions. But a judge ruled that it was appropriate for the CIA to neither confirm or deny that such images or video of Qahtani existed.

    It was “logical and plausible that extremists would utilize images of al-Qahtani (whether in native or manipulated formats) to incite anti-American sentiment, to raise funds, and/or to recruit other loyalists, as has occurred in the past.” He is believed by the government to have been the “20th hijacker,” who would have been on Flight 93 if he had not been denied entry to the US, so “misuse” of his images would be “particularly plausible.”

    The judge also contended that, although CCR had highlighted what “written information” was already known publicly to argue for the release of video, the “written record of torture” made it “all the more likely that enemy forces would use al Qahtani’s image against the United States’ interests.”

    One talking point the “cult of intelligence” has relied upon more and more often to protect itself from transparency is to argue that transparency would empower the terrorists, who America is fighting in a war. The argument was used against Chelsea Manning when prosecuting her for her disclosures of information to WikiLeaks. It has been repeated to condemn former NSA contractor Edward Snowden for his disclosure of information on massive global surveillance violating the privacy of citizens. (Manning was even charged with the military offense of “aiding the enemy.”)

    The threat of propaganda from terrorist groups if transparency is allowed, however, is overwhelmingly insignificant and impossible to detect in comparison to the very real threat of propaganda from the CIA and the “cult of intelligence” if it is able to keep up secrecy, which effectively allows the agency to continue its hypocrisy and deception.

    Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon called attention to “the intelligence leadership’s culture of misinformation” and Senator Mark Udall of Colorado had “challenged” the White House to not delegate declassification decisions to the CIA because “significant amounts of information on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program that [have] been declassified and released to the American public [have been] misleading and inaccurate.” But a bureaucratic process the CIA can easily tailor to serve its agenda has now been set in motion.

    There may be a bit of a reckoning when the tidbits of this major torture report the CIA allows the public to read are released to the public, but the full reckoning that should take place will not occur until the vast majority of the 6,300-page report is made available to the public. It won’t occur until the public can read the stories that Senator John McCain said are “chilling” and too upsetting for him to repeat.

    Tragically, over twenty-five years from now, when that finally happens, a number of lead officials responsible for authorizing and committing atrocious acts detailed will probably be dead and gone, and a new generation of leaders in the CIA and the “cult of intelligence” will occupy our attention as we commiserate about their secrecy, hypocrisy and deception engaged in because our system ordains them with immunity from scrutiny and accountability for their actions.

     

    Kevin Gosztola is a writer and documentary filmmaker whose blog, The Dissenter, is posted at FireDogLake.

     

  • (Another) Poll Finds Increased Nationwide Support for Legalizing Marijuana   2 weeks 4 days ago

    Pointing out why the police or the News-Gazette editorial board are not the best places to get advice on marijuana policy...

    by Paul Armentano

    WASHINGTON, DC — An estimated 70 percent of physicians acknowledge the therapeutic qualities of cannabis, and over half believe that the plant should also be legal for non-medical purposes, according to survey data released this week by WebMD/Medscape.

    Sixty-nine percent of respondents say that cannabis can help in the treatment of specific diseases, and 67 percent say that the plant should be available as a legal therapeutic option for patients.

    Oncologists and hematologists were most likely to express support for the use of cannabis for medical purposes, with 82 percent of those surveyed endorsing the plant’s therapeutic use.

    Rheumatologists (54 percent) were least likely to say the cannabis provides therapeutic benefits.

    Regarding the non-medical use of cannabis, 56 percent of physicians surveyed say that they support making the plant legal nationwide for adults.

    Recent national polling data indicates similar levels of support for marijuana legalization among the general public.

    Over 1,500 physicians representing more than 12 specialty areas participated in the survey which possesses a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percent.

    Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution/Noncommercial/Share-Alike License for non-profit organizations only.

    http://www.thedailychronic.net/2014/30512/webmd-poll-medical-community-backs-legalizing-marijuana/

  • (Another) Poll Finds Increased Nationwide Support for Legalizing Marijuana   2 weeks 5 days ago

    by Paul Armentano

    WASHINGTON, DC — Seventy-five percent of Americans believe that the sale and use of cannabis will eventually be legal for adults, according to national polling data released this week by the Pew Research Center. Pew pollsters have been surveying public opinion on the marijuana legalization issue since 1973, when only 12 percent of Americans supported regulating the substance.

    Fifty-four percent of respondents say that marijuana ought to be legal now, according to the poll. The total is the highest percentage of support ever reported by Pew and marks an increase of 2 percent since 2013. Forty-two percent of respondents said that they opposed legalizing marijuana for non-therapeutic purposes. Only 16 percent of Americans said that the plant should not be legalized for any reason.

    Demographically, support for cannabis legalization was highest among those age 18 to 29 (70 percent), African Americans (60 percent), and Democrats (63 percent). Support was weakest among those age 65 and older (32 percent) and Republicans (39 percent).

    Seventy-six percent of those surveyed oppose incarceration as a punishment for those found to have possessed personal use quantities of marijuana. Only 22 percent of respondents supported sentencing marijuana possession offenders to jail.

    Fifty-four percent of those polled expressed concern that legalizing marijuana might lead to greater levels of underage pot use. (Forty-four percent said that it would not.) Overall, however, respondents did not appear to believe that such an outcome would pose the type of significant detrimental health risks presently associated with alcohol.

    As in other recent polls, respondents overwhelmingly say that using cannabis is far less harmful to health than is drinking alcohol. Sixty-nine percent of those polled said that alcohol “is more harmful to a person’s health” than is marijuana. Only 15 percent said that cannabis posed greater health risks. Sixty-three percent of respondents separately said that alcohol is “more harmful to society” than cannabis. Only 23 percent said that marijuana was more harmful.

    The Pew poll possesses a margin on error of +/- 2.6 percent.

    Recent national polls by Gallup and CNN similarly report majority support among Americans for legalizing and regulating the adult use of the plant.

    Commenting on the poll, NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “Advocating for the regulation of cannabis for adults is not a fringe political opinion. It is the majority opinion among the public. Elected officials who continue to push for the status quo — the notion that cannabis ought to be criminalized and that the consumers of cannabis ought to be stigmatized and punished — are holding on to a fringe position that is increasingly out-of-step with the their constituents’ beliefs.”

    Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution/Noncommercial/Share-Alike License for non-profit organizations only.

    http://www.thedailychronic.net/2014/30493/poll-75-of-us-adults-say-that-marijuana-legalization-is-inevitable/

  • With McCutcheon Ruling, An Activist Court Opts for Full-On Plutocracy   2 weeks 6 days ago

    by Ari Berman

    In the past four years, under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court has made it far easier to buy an election and far harder to vote in one.

    First came the Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which brought us the Super PAC era.

    Then came the Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act.

    Now we have McCutcheon v. FEC, where the Court, in yet another controversial 5-4 opinion written by Roberts, struck down the limits on how much an individual can contribute to candidates, parties and political action committees. So instead of an individual donor being allowed to give $117,000 to campaigns, parties and PACs in an election cycle (the aggregate limit in 2012), they can now give up to $3.5 million, Andy Kroll of Mother Jones reports. 

    The Court’s conservative majority believes that the First Amendment gives wealthy donors and powerful corporations the carte blanche right to buy an election but that the Fifteenth Amendment does not give Americans the right to vote free of racial discrimination.

    These are not unrelated issues—the same people, like the Koch brothers, who favor unlimited secret money in US elections are the ones funding the effort to make it harder for people to vote. The net effect is an attempt to concentrate the power of the top 1 percent in the political process and to drown out the voices and votes of everyone else.

    Consider these stats from Demos on the impact of Citizens United in the 2012 election:

    ·  The top thirty-two Super PAC donors, giving an average of $9.9 million each, matched the $313.0 million that President Obama and Mitt Romney raised from all of their small donors combined—that’s at least 3.7 million people giving less than $200 each.

    ·  Nearly 60 percent of Super PAC funding came from just 159 donors contributing at least $1 million. More than 93 percent of the money Super PACs raised came in contributions of at least $10,000—from just 3,318 donors, or the equivalent of 0.0011 percent of the US population.

    ·  It would take 322,000 average-earning American families giving an equivalent share of their net worth to match the Adelsons’ $91.8 million in Super PAC contributions.

    That trend is only going to get worse in the wake of the McCutcheon decision.

    Now consider what’s happened since Shelby County: eight states previously covered under Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act have passed or implemented new voting restrictions (Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia, South Carolina, and North Carolina). That has had a ripple effect elsewhere. According to the New York Times, “nine states [under GOP control] have passed measures making it harder to vote since the beginning of 2013.”

    A country that expands the rights of the powerful to dominate the political process but does not protect fundament rights for all citizens doesn’t sound much like a functioning democracy to me.

    Ari Berman is a contributing writer for The Nation magazine and an Investigative Journalism Fellow at The Nation Institute. He is the author of Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics,and has written extensively about American politics, foreign policy and the intersection of money and politics. His stories have also appeared in the New York Times, Editor & Publisher and The Guardian, and he is a frequent guest and political commentator on MSNBC, C-Span and NPR.

     

  • Some Facts About How NSA Stories are Reported   4 weeks 1 day ago

    by Glenn Greenwald

    I vividly recall the first time I realized just how mindlessly and uncritically supportive of President Obama many Democrats were willing to be. In April, 2009, two federal courts, in a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, ruled that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) required the Pentagon to disclose dozens of graphic photos it possessed showing abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama administration announced that, rather than contest or appeal those rulings, they would comply with the court orders and release all the photos. The ACLU praised that decision: “the fact that the Obama administration opted not to seek further review is a sign that it is committed to more transparency.”

    This decision instantly turned into a major political controversy. Bush-era neocons, led by Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney, excoriated Obama, arguing that release of the photos would endanger American troops and depict the US in a negative light; Cheney expressly accused Obama of “siding with the terrorists” by acquiescing to the ruling. By contrast, Democrats defended Obama on the ground that the disclosures were necessary for transparency and the rule of law, and they attacked the neocons for wanting to corruptly hide evidence of America’s war crimes. I don’t think there was a single Democratic official, pundit, writer, or blogger who criticized Obama for that decision.

    But then – just two weeks later – Obama completely reversed himself, announcing that he would do everything possible to block the court order and prevent it from taking effect. ABC News described Obama’s decision as “a complete 180.” More amazingly still, Obama adopted the exact arguments that Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney were making over the prior two weeks to attack him specifically and transparency generally: to justify his desire to suppress this evidence, Obama said that “the most direct consequence of releasing the [photos], I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in danger.”

    Now, obviously, the people who had been defending Obama’s original pro-transparency position (which included the ACLU, human rights groups, and civil liberties writers including me) changed course and criticized him. That’s what rational people, by definition, do: if a political official takes a position you agree with, then you support him, but when he does a 180-degree reversal and takes the exact position that you’ve been disagreeing with, then you oppose him. That’s just basic. Thus, those of us who originally defended Obama’s decision to release the photos turned into critics once he took the opposite position – the one we disagreed with all along – and announced that he would try to suppress the photos.

    But that’s not what large numbers of Democrats did. Many of them first sided with Obama when his administration originally announced he’d release the photos. But then, with equal vigor, they also sided with Obama when – a mere two weeks later – he took the exact opposition position, the very anti-transparency view these Democrats had been attacking all along when voiced by Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney.

    At least for me, back then, that was astonishing to watch. It’s one thing to strongly suspect that people are simply adopting whatever views their party’s leader takes. But this was like the perfect laboratory experiment to prove that: Obama literally took exact opposition positions in a heated debate within a three week period and many Democrats defended him when he was on one side of the debate and then again when he switched to the other side.

    When Democrats were defending Obama’s decision to suppress the photos, I kept asking whether there was a single one of them – just one – who had criticized Obama two weeks earlier when his administration announced they’d released the photos. After all, if they really believed (as they were now claiming) that suppressing the photos was the right thing to do because their release would endanger the troops, shouldn’t they have been objecting when Obama two weeks earlier said he’d release them?

    I never found one Democrat defending Obama’s photo suppression who had criticized him earlier when he said he’d release them. That’s when I fully internalized that many Democrats literally had no actual political beliefs other than we support Obama in everything that he does, even when he takes precisely opposite positions in a three week period (most amazingly of all, Obama ultimately succeeded in suppressing the photos – which still have never been seen – not by successfully appealing the court order, but by supporting and then signing into law an amendment to the 40-year old FOIA - sponsored by Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham - that simply exempted the photos from the law).

    We’re now about to have a similar lab experiment, this time in the context of the NSA. The New York Times‘ Charlie Savage reported last night that Obama “is preparing to unveil a legislative proposal for a far-reaching overhaul of the National Security Agency’s once-secret bulk phone records program in a way that — if approved by Congress — would end the aspect that has most alarmed privacy advocates since its existence was leaked last year.” In sum, “the NSA would end its systematic collection of data about Americans’ calling habits.”

    This proposal differs in significant respects from the incredibly vague and cosmetic “reforms” Obama suggested in his highly touted NSA speech in January. Although bereft of details, it was widely assumed that Obama’s January proposal would not end the bulk data collection program at all, but rather simply shift it to the telecoms, by simultaneously requiring that the telecoms keep all calling records for 5 years (the amount of time the NSA now keeps those records) and make them available to the government on demand. But under Obama’s latest proposal, the telecoms “would not be required to retain the data for any longer than they normally would” (the law currently requires 18 month retention) and “the NSA could obtain specific records only with permission from a judge, using a new kind of court order.”

    As always with Obama, it remains to be seen whether his words will be followed by any real corresponding actions. That he claims to support a bill does not mean he will actually try to have Congress enact it. The details, still unknown, matter a great deal. And even if this did end the domestic bulk collection spying program, it would leave undisturbed the vast bulk of the NSA’s collect-it-all system of suspicionless spying.

    Nonetheless, this clearly constitutes an attempt by Obama to depict himself as trying to end the NSA’s domestic bulk surveillance program, which was the first program we reported with Snowden documents. I agree with the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer, who told the New York Times: “We have many questions about the details, but we agree with the administration that the NSA’s bulk collection of call records should end.”

    This new proposal would not, as some have tried to suggest, simply shift the program to telecoms. Telecoms – obviously – already have their customers’ phone records, and the key to any proposal is that it not expand the length of time they are required to retain those records (though telecoms only have their specific customers’ records, which means that – unlike the current NSA program – no one party would hold a comprehensive data base of all calls). As reported by Savage, Obama’s proposal does nothing to change how long telecoms keep these records (“the administration considered and rejected imposing a mandate on phone companies that they hold on to their customers’ calling records for a period longer than the 18 months that federal regulations already generally require”). That’s why, if enacted as he’s proposing it, Obama’s plan could actually end the NSA’s bulk collection program.

    That puts hard-core Obama loyalists and pro-NSA Democrats – the ones that populate MSNBC – in an extremely difficult position. They have spent the last 10 months defending the NSA (i.e., defending Obama) by insisting that the NSA metadata program is both reasonable and necessary to Keep Us Safe. But now Obama claims he wants to end that very same program. So what will they do?

    If they had even an iota of integrity or intellectual honesty, they would instantly and aggressively condemn Obama. After all, he’s now claiming to want to end a program that they have been arguing for months is vital in Keeping Us Safe. Wouldn’t every rational person, by definition, criticize a political leader who wants to abolish a program that they believe is necessary to stop terrorism and preserve national security?

    But that’s not what will happen. After spending months praising the NSA for responsibly overseeing this critical program, they will now hail Obama for trying to end it. When he secretly bulk collects the calling data on all Americans, it shows he’s a pragmatic and strong leader who Keeps Us Safe; when he tries to end the very same program, it shows he’s flexible and devoted to our civil liberties — just as he was right to release the torture photos and also right to suppress them. The Leader is right when he does X, and he’s equally right when he does Not X. That’s the defining attribute of the mindset of a partisan hack, an authoritarian, and the standard MSNBC host.

    As for the substantive reform, the fact that the President is now compelled to pose as an advocate for abolishing this program – the one he and his supporters have spent 10 months hailing – is a potent vindication of Edward Snowden’s acts and the reporting he enabled. First, a federal court found the program unconstitutional. Then, one of the President’s own panels rejected the NSA’s claim that it was necessary in stopping terrorism, while another explicitly found the program illegal. And now the President himself depicts himself as trying to end it. Whatever test exists for determining whether “unauthorized” disclosures of classified information are justified, Snowden’s revelations pass the test with ease. That President Obama now proclaims the need to end a domestic spying program that would still be a secret in the absence of Snowden’s whistleblowing proves that quite compellingly.

     

    Glenn Greenwald is a journalist, constitutional lawyer, commentator, author of three New York Times best-selling books on politics and law, and a staff writer and editor at First Look media.

  • The C.I.A. Torture Cover-Up   6 weeks 3 hours ago

    by Norman Solomon

    Who knows, soon we might see headlines and cable TV shows asking: "Is Dianne Feinstein a whistleblower or a traitor?"

    A truthful answer to that question could not possibly be “whistleblower.” It may already be a historic fact that Senator Feinstein’s speech on March 11, 2014 blew a whistle on CIA surveillance of the Senate intelligence committee, which she chairs. But if that makes her a whistleblower, then Colonel Sanders is a vegetarian evangelist.

    In her blockbuster Tuesday speech on the Senate floor, Feinstein charged that the CIA’s intrusions on her committee’s computers quite possibly “violated the Fourth Amendment.” You know, that’s the precious amendment that Feinstein—more than any other senator—has powerfully treated like dirt, worthy only of sweeping under the congressional rug.

    A tidy defender of the NSA’s Orwellian programs, Feinstein went on the attack against Edward Snowden from the outset of his revelations last June. Within days, she denounced his brave whistleblowing as “an act of treason”—a position she has maintained.

    Snowden and other genuine whistleblowers actually take risks to defend the civil liberties and human rights of others, including the most vulnerable among us. Real whistleblowers choose to expose serious wrongdoing. And, if applicable, they renounce their own past complicity in doing those wrongs.

    Dianne Feinstein remains in a very different place. She’s 180 degrees from a whistleblower orientation; her moral compass is magnetized with solipsism as a leading guardian of the surveillance state.

    This week, Feinstein stepped forward to tweak her tap dance—insisting that intrusive surveillance, so vile when directed at her and colleagues with august stature, must only be directed at others.

    A huge problem is that for the USA’s top movers and shakers in media and politics, nothing rises to the level of constitutional crisis unless their noble oxen start to get gored. It doesn’t seem to dawn on the likes of Senator Feinstein that Fourth Amendment protections for the few are not Fourth Amendment protections at all.

    More than 40 years ago, under the Nixon administration—when the U.S. government was breaking into the offices of the Socialist Workers Party, busting into the homes of members of the Black Panther Party in the middle of night with guns firing, and widely shredding the civil liberties of anti-war activists—few among ruling elites seemed to give a damn. But when news emerged that one of the two big political parties had severely transgressed against the other with a break-in at the Watergate office of the Democratic National Committee on June 17, 1972, the Republican White House had gone too far.

    As spring 2014 gets underway, we might be nearing a pivotal moment when major sectors of the establishment feel compelled to recognize the arrival of a constitutional crisis. Consider how the New York Times editorialized in its Wednesday edition, declaring that Feinstein “has provided stark and convincing evidence that the CIA may have committed crimes to prevent the exposure of interrogations that she said were ‘far different and far more harsh’ than anything the agency had described to Congress.”

    In the euphemism lexicon of official Washington, “far different and far more harsh” refers to outright torture by the U.S. government.

    At the surveillance-state garrison known as The Washington Post, where cognitive dissonance must be something fierce right now, quickly out of the box was conventional-wisdom columnist Dana Milbank, who portrayed Feinstein as a savvy and angelic force to be reckoned with. The adulatory logic was classic for journalists who like to conflate complicity with credibility.

    Noting Feinstein’s record as “an ally of Obama and a staunch defender of the administration during the controversy over the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs,” Milbank wrote: “So her credibility could not be questioned when she went public, reluctantly, to accuse Obama’s CIA of illegal and unconstitutional actions: violating the separation of powers by searching the committee’s computers and intimidating congressional staffers with bogus legal threats.”

    News media accounts are filled with such statements right now. On the surface, they make sense—but there’s a pernicious undertow. With the underlying logic, the only time we could become sure that Wall Street malfeasance was a real problem would be if someone with the stature of Bernie Madoff stepped up to condemn it in no uncertain terms.

    History tells us that we’d be deluded to depend on entrenched elites to opt for principle rather than continuity of the status quo. With few exceptions, what bonds those at peaks of power routinely trumps what divides them. It takes a massive and sustained uproar to really fracture the perversity of elite cohesion.

    Consider the fact that the CIA, under the current Democratic administration, has gone to extraordinary lengths to transgress against a CIA-friendly Democratic-controlled Senate intelligence committee, in an effort to prevent anyone from being held accountable for crimes of torture committed under and by the Republican Bush administration.

    While Dianne Feinstein has a long and putrid record as an enemy of civil liberties, transparency and accountability, it’s also true that thieves sometimes fall out—and so do violators of the most basic democratic safeguards in the Bill of Rights. Some powerful “intelligence” scoundrels are now at each other’s throats, even while continuing to brandish daggers at the heart of democracy with their contempt for such ideals as a free press, privacy and due process. The responsibility for all this goes to the very top: President Obama.

    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
    http://rootsaction.org/

    Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and 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".

  • The C.I.A. Torture Cover-Up   6 weeks 18 hours ago

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein accuses CIA of interfering with committee's investigation into the agency's Bush-era torture program

    - Andrea Germanos, CommonDreams staff writer

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein speaking on the Senate floor on Tuesday. (Photo: CSPAN)

    Head of the Senate Intelligence Committee Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday accused the CIA of interfering with the committee's investigation into the agency's Bush-era torture program, including conducting an unauthorized "search" of the committee's computers and removing documents, in an effort to thwart a potentially "searing indictment" of the interrogation program.

    In a statement given on the Senate floor, the democratic senator said she had "grave concerns" that the CIA's search "may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution" as well as "the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance."

    She also said the CIA was attempting "to intimidate this staff—and I am not taking it lightly."

    As Politico reported, Feinstein's

    speech was the latest salvo in an escalating battle between the CIA and the Senate over oversight of an interrogation program conducted by the CIA in the early 2000s and Feinstein’s first remarks on the subject. Last week, the CIA was accused of monitoring Senate staffers and it was reported that Senate staffers had improperly taken classified CIA documents out of a secure facility.

    The ACLU praised Feinstein's efforts to call out the CIA's surveillance and its efforts to cover up its own wrongdoing.

    "After so many years of Congress being unable or unwilling to assert its authority over the CIA, Senator Feinstein today began to reclaim the authority of Congress as a check on the Executive Branch. Public release of the Senate torture report will be the next step to reining in a CIA that has tortured, destroyed evidence, spied on Congress, and lied to the American people," stated Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel with the group.

    Reprieve, a charity that represents some of those tortured under the program, welcomed the senator's comments as well. 

    "Senator Feinstein is right: the CIA torture program should never have existed," stated Alka Pradhan, Counter-terrorism Counsel at Reprieve US.  "The only way to move forward from this terrible chapter in American history is to allow the Senate to fully exercise its oversight function, and to declassify the Senate Select Intelligence Committee Report on the CIA torture program.  We cannot learn from history unless we know what it is."

    CIA head John Brennan denied the allegations, telling NBC News' Andrea Mitchell, "We wouldn't do that."

    "When the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous, sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong, " Brennan said.

    Yet what continues to stand out to some observers is not Feinstein's defense of separation of powers but the irony that a senator who has been a longtime defender of surveillance is now outraged that her Senate committee was spied upon.

    In December, for example, Feinstein said that the NSA's bulk collection of phone data "is constitutional and helps keep the country safe from attack." The comment came a month after she had proposed a bill that would "codify" the NSA's worst abuses. But this defense surveillance goes back years, such as her backing Bush's FISA amendments as well as legal immunity for telecommunications firms for their role in surveillance.

    NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden called out the hypocrisy of Feinstein's outrage over senators being spied upon while supporting of NSA spying on ordinary citizens.

    In a statement sent to NBC News, Snowden said, "It's clear the CIA was trying to play 'keep away' with documents relevant to an investigation by their overseers in Congress, and that's a serious constitutional concern."

    "But it's equally if not more concerning that we're seeing another 'Merkel Effect,' where an elected official does not care at all that the rights of millions of ordinary citizens are violated by our spies, but suddenly it's a scandal when a politician finds out the same thing happens to them," Snowden stated.

    __________________

  • HOW CRIMINAL CASES SHOULD BE COVERED IN THE MEDIA   7 weeks 6 days ago

    There should also be audio recordings, and written transcripts of jury deliberations without ever identifying the jurors. Accounting for the actual proceedings behind closed doors is essential for defendants getting a fair trial and a fair verdict. This would eliminate verdicts rendered based on race, vendetta, or inadmissable considerations like, "Well, I just thought the prosecutor was rude." At least the appellate defenders would have more to work with, better grounds for appeals, and the public can be insured guilty verdicts were fair, lawful, and deserved.

  • Colorado Marijuana Tax Revenue ‘Far Exceeding’ Expectations   8 weeks 1 day ago

    It is important to note that this initiative is bi-partisan...and that recent close defeats essentially mean nothing if opponents belived there was something to celebrate. Legalization is the will of the people.

    By Erik Altieri |  NORML Communications Director
     

    PORTLAND, ME — On Friday, more than 40 state lawmakers in Maine co-signed a memo authored by State Representative Diane Russell that was delivered to the Appropriations & Financial Affairs Committee.

    The memo encouraged the committee to keep all options on the table in their upcoming financial deliberations, including potential tax revenue derived from an adult, non-medical market for marijuana.

    “All options should be on the table,” Rep. Russell stated in the memo, “In this spirit, we propose committee members give serious consideration to the revenue options associated with legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis for responsible adult use.”

    The memo was signed by prominent elected officials in the state including Majority Leader Troy Jackson (D-Allagash), House Majority Leader Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham), Minority Whip Alex Willette (R-Mapleton), and House Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Richard Farnsworth, D-Portland.

    In 2013, the Maine House of Representatives fell just four votes short of approving a measure introduced by Rep. Russell which would have placed the issue of marijuana legalization before voters during the fall elections.

    Last week, initial tax revenue estimates for the sales tax on recreational marijuana in Colorado were estimated to be just shy of 100 million dollars, far higher than the initial 70 million dollar estimate given to voters in 2012.

    Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution/Noncommercial/Share-Alike License for non-profit organizations only.

    http://www.thedailychronic.net/2014/27701/40-maine-lawmakers-sign-memo-urging-consideration-marijuana-legalization/

  • When It Comes to Public Services, Government Knows Best   9 weeks 5 hours ago

    The debate is often presented as between people who like the government and people who like the market. It isn't

    by Dean Baker

    One of the initiatives President Obama announced in his State of the Union Address was the "MyRA," an IRA that workers could sign up for at their workplace. The MyRA would be invested in government bonds and provide a modest guaranteed rate of return.

    The MyRA has several useful features. It's simple, it has low administrative costs, workers can have money deducted directly from their paychecks, and it has no risk. It also has the great advantage that President Obama can make MyRAs available to workers without seeking congressional approval.

    However there was one very notable downside to the MyRA. Workers could not accumulate more than $15,000 in these accounts, at which point they would be required to fold their MyRA into an IRA run by the financial industry. People who commented on this requirement all assumed that this was a sop to the industry.

    When the accounts are small, the industry wouldn't make any money on them anyhow. Once they get to be a decent size the government will require savers to park their money with a bank or brokerage house. This is nothing but good news for the industry.

    Everyone understands the power of the financial industry, so perhaps Obama had to include a $15,000 cap in order to avoid its wrath, but that doesn't mean the rest of us shouldn't be asking the obvious question. If the private financial industry is more efficient than the government, then why do we have to force people to use it? What's wrong with giving people the option of keeping their money in a MyRA?

    This is not the only context in which this question arises. The Postal Service recently put forward a proposal to start offering basic banking services to take advantage of its retail infrastructure. This should be an obvious win-win.

    There are tens of millions of low and moderate income people who are poorly served by the banking system. The Postal Service would be able to offer them checking accounts and other services at a lower cost than private competitors by taking advantage of underutilized facilities. This will extend banking services to the unbanked population and potentially be an important source of revenue to the Postal Service.

    This is not a new idea. The Postal Service used to offer banking services and many countries still have postal banks. So there is good reason to believe that this effort could succeed.

    The other notable area in which there has been interest in public competition with the private sector is healthcare insurance. During his campaign, President Obama had promised there would be a public Medicare-type option as part of his healthcare plan. There was much support for a public option in Congress and across the nation, but the insurance industry was powerful enough to keep it out of the final bill.

    In these and other cases key industries use their political clout to avoid having to compete with the government. This fear of government competition presumably stems from the fact that they would lose business and profits to the government because it could provide the service at a lower cost.

    There is a real basis for this concern. In the case of Social Security, administrative costs are less than 0.6 percent of annual benefit payments. Using payout equivalents as the denominator, the cost of administering private funds averages 20-30 times this amount. Someone has to pay for those high Wall Street salaries.

    There is a similar story with Medicare and Medicaid where administrative expenses average less than 3% of the healthcare services provided compared with more than 15% with private insurers. This gap is reduced after making adjustments for differences in healthcare costs per patient, but there is no doubt that the administrative costs eat up a much larger share of healthcare spending on the private side than the public.

    Given the additional costs associated with excluding public options in healthcare, finance, and possibly other sectors of the economy, we are in effect making the economy less efficient. We are forcing the public to pay more so that private firms can have more profits and their top executives can enjoy bigger paychecks.

    This is sometimes characterized as a debate between people who like the government and people who like the market. It isn't. People who like the market to determine outcomes should be happy with the idea of having the government compete on a level playing field with private sector firms.

    If private firms offer a lower price or a better product, the government will be driven from the market with little harm done. However if the private firms prevail because the government is not allowed to compete, this is equivalent to taxing the public by making it pay more than necessary for health insurance and other services, and handing the revenue over to the firms in the industry. That's a great deal for these industries, but it has nothing to do with a commitment to a free market or good policy.

     

    Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). He is the author of The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer and the more recently published Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of The Bubble Economy. He also has a blog, "Beat the Press," where he discusses the media's coverage of economic issues.

     

  • “The True Cost of Coal” Artwork by the Beehive Design Collective   10 weeks 14 hours ago

    Is there any alternative source for metallurgical (non-thermal) grade coking coal? I mean, recycling and mini-mills only take you so far. At some point, and for certain alloys, you need virgin steel. Petro-coke might be an option, but there are impurities.

  • Illinois Prisoners on Hunger Strike Against 'Inhumanity, Repression'   10 weeks 1 day ago

    'Lives on the Line': Prison Hunger Strike Escalates As Men Refuse Liquids

    The men say they are protesting detention in solitary confinement with no due process

    - Sarah Lazare, CommonDreams staff writer

    http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/02/10-6

    Men held in solitary confinement at the Menard Correctional Center have declared a liquids strike, in addition to a nearly four-week-old hunger strike, escalating their resistance against open-ended isolation with the few means of protest they have left.

    "It is an increasingly dire situation," said Staughton Lynd, who has been supporting the incarcerated men along with his wife Alice, both of whom are lawyers and long-time political activists. "Alice and I are really beside ourselves worrying whether someone has to die in order to make something happen in southern Illinois."

    Tom Shaer, Illinois Department of Corrections Director of Communications, confirmed to Common Dreams that a no-liquid strike was declared on Friday by what he believes to be five men. The Lynds say the number of liquid and food strikers could be higher, and the numbers of those who are fasting but have not declared a strike even greater.

    The strikers are being held under administrative detention in a high security area of the prison, where they have been placed in solitary confinement with no explanation or due process, said Brian Nelson, prisoner rights coordinator for the Uptown People's Law Center.

    The men are putting their lives on the line for "moderate" demands, says Staughton Lynd. "They have said that if the administration will sit down with them one by one and explain to each person why he is in administrative detention, how long he can expect to be there, what he needs to do to get out, and how his privileges will increase as he nears end of time in administrative detention. Those don't seem like very forbidding demands."

    "You're putting your life on the line after three days. They are sacrificing self and health to make a statement, to say something is very wrong," said Nelson, who was formerly incarcerated at the now shuttered super-max Tamms prison in Illinois. "In that situation there aren't many ways you can speak out against injustices. They have to go to the extreme and do a hunger strike."

    Shaer denied that prisoners are being kept in the dark about the reasons for their conditions of confinement. Yet, Alice Lynd told Common Dreams she has personally seen numerous formal grievances that verify the men's claims.

    "The U.S. Supreme Court says that before you can put someone in super-max, you have to give a hearing, written warnings, and reasons why they are being put in super-max," she said. "Whether the prison calls it high security with capital or lower case letters, the men want the due process that is their right."

    The hunger strikers reported abusive conditions, including cold temperatures, rodent-infestations, filthy cells, inadequate blankets, no hot water, and poor access to health care, in numerous letters to the Lynds. The strikers also report retaliation from prison authorities, including intimidation and the storming of cells.

    This includes reports of a brutal beating of hunger striker Armando Velasquez, which included 'slamming his face into the door,' as previously reported by Common Dreams.

    While Shaer denied that Valasquez was hospitalized for his injuries, he did acknowledge that "there was an incident of significant physical contact between the inmate and the correctional officer. The officer was not only sent home but locked out of the prison and remains locked out of the prison."

    A document sent to Common Dreams by Shaer, citing an anonymous "veteran medical professional with many years in prison health care," states that, while "most" men participating in the hunger strike are allegedly refusing to provide urine samples or be weighed, "The weigh-ins we do have showed an average weight loss of 4.3 lbs per week... One inmate did lose 13.8 lbs over two weeks." Yet, the document sought to downplay participation in the strike, with the "veteran medical professional" quoted as claiming that loss of 13.8 pounds in two weeks is "still not consistent with malnourishment, and he displayed no such symptoms."

    Prisoners are concerned about force-feedings, say the Lynds. Shaer said, "We are not force-feeding and have no plans to force feed. But we will do it if it is medically necessary."

    Force-feeding has been slammed as torture and a violation of international law by the United Nations human rights office.

    While their hunger strike has so far brought small improvements, including increased cleaning of cells and once-a-week rounds of mental health staff, the men still remain completely in the dark about their fate, say the Lynds.

    According to Nelson, who formerly spent time in solitary confinement, not knowing when one's isolation will end is often the hardest part. "They are in a state of limbo without understanding of how long this will go on and why they are there and how they can get out," he told Common Dreams. "They just want to know is there hope at the end of this tunnel or is this who I am forever. That is all these men are asking for. Is there hope for me ever holding a human being again, seeing my mom, shaking hands with another human being?"

    The men, who have already been met with solidarity protests and even a solidarity fast, are calling for support on the outside. "Public awareness is our only shield from unjust abuse of authority, which is why we ask for your support of our peaceful protest against our conditions of confinement," wrote an anonymous incarcerated man upon announcing the hunger strike. The men's support team is urging people on the outside to call prison authorities and demand they meet the men's demands.

    _____________________

     

  • Congress Slams Drug Czar’s Office for Relying on Marijuana Propaganda   10 weeks 6 days ago
  • Cops on Crack Dept: Kankakee: Cop Tazes Jr. High Special Needs 'Volunteer' Students   12 weeks 6 days ago

    THIS MESSAGE IS FOR ALL KANKAKEE COUNTY RESIDENTS WHO HAS CHILDREN THAT GOES TO KANKAKEE JR.HIGH SCHOOL:

    MY CHILD IS A STRAIGHT A HONOR ROLL,8TH GRADE  STUDENT, HE TOO FELL TO THE HANDS OF THE KANKAKEE POLICE DEPARTMENT,AND KANKAKEE SCHOOL DISTRICT111. I AM OUTRAGE!!!! MY CHILDS WAS THROWN AGAINST A WINDOW SO FORCEFUL THAT HE WAS TANGLED INTO THE WINDOW'S BLINDS.MY CHILD HAD TO B CUT OUT THE BLINDS BY THE POLICE OFFICER WHO ARRESTED,HARRASED,INTIMIDATED MY HONOR ROLL STUDENT..MY CHILD RECEIVED MULTIPLE INJURIES TO HIS FACE,EYE,AND BODY!! AND THEN HANDCUFFED,SHACKLED BY THE LEGS...AND THEN AFTER ALL THIS...THE PRINCIPLE HAD THE DAM NERVES TO SAY... HE CAN COME BACK TO SCHOOL IN THE MORNING!!! WHERES THE DAM JUSTICE!!!!

  • The Millionaires' Congress vs. The People   12 weeks 6 days ago

    Until we fix our democracy problem, it's hard to fix any problem.

    by Marge Baker

    In the four years since the Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens United v. FEC ruling, two things have become abundantly clear.

    Though the problem of money in politics can feel overwhelming, there are a number of workable solutions being considered federally and implemented in the states.

    First, we have a major democracy problem. Citizens United paved the way for unlimited corporate spending to distort our elections. Staggering amounts of money have poured into our political system since the Court handed down that decision.

    Second, and just as importantly, it’s become clear that until we fix that democracy problem, it’s hard to fix any problem. In other words, until we fix the funding of our political campaigns, we can’t fix the individual issues that matter most to everyday Americans.

    This has proven true across the board. Whether the issue you’re most concerned about is making your community safer, guaranteeing that your family has access to clean water, or ensuring that workers get a fair minimum wage, when wealthy special interests can buy their way into the hearts, minds, and votes of elected officials, progress on these issues will continue to stall.

    Clearly, when moneyed interests can spend virtually without limitation to influence our elections, they can set the political agenda.

    The Citizens United ruling gutted the ability of Congress and the states to put common-sense limits on this runaway spending, and the effects haven’t been subtle. In the wake of these campaign finance changes, outside political spending by Super PACs and other channels has reached an all-time high of $1 billion, the Associated Press found.

    And now, a case currently being considered by the Supreme Court, McCutcheon v. FEC, could could allow even more money to flood our political system.

    This isn’t the kind of “democracy” Americans of any political background want. A recent poll shows that more than nine in ten Americans think it’s important for elected officials to reduce the influence of money in our elections.

    Though the problem of money in politics can feel overwhelming, there are a number of workable solutions being considered federally and implemented in the states.

    Small-donor legislation is one good option. This type of law provides matching funds for small donations at a multiple ratio (such as 5:1 or 10:1). It also amplifies the effect of small donations, providing a way for them to carry real weight in political campaigns. That encourages political participation by people who may have felt before that their contributions didn’t matter.

    For candidates, small-donor public financing provides an alternative for those who don’t want to be reliant on, and beholden to, wealthy special interests to fund their campaigns.

    Another is the mandatory disclosure of political spending. Although Congress isn’t likely to pass disclosure legislation anytime soon, many states are responding to the post-Citizens United spending bonanza by closing loopholes so that big, special interest donors can’t hide behind “dark money” groups in elections.

    Additionally, the year after Citizens United, a group of law professors asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to require publicly traded corporations to disclose their political spending to their shareholders and the public. Despite the proposal’s immense popularity, the SEC recently took the corporate political disclosure rule (SEC File No 4-637) off its agenda. That agenda, however, isn’t binding, and the SEC could — and should — still adopt the rule right away.

    But most importantly, to fix our democracy problem, we have to be able to enact common-sense regulations on political spending. To fix the root problem — in the absence of a change in who’s on the Supreme Court – we must amend the Constitution to undo the damage of Citizens United and other cases that have handed huge power to Wall Street and giant corporations.

    City by city and state by state, the people are taking that power back. Sixteen states and more than 500 cities and towns have called on Congress to pass an amendment overturning Citizens United and related cases.

    All of these solutions are steps toward a larger goal: putting our democracy back in the hands of “we the people,” and fighting for a more transparent, vibrant democratic system responsive to the needs of everyday Americans.

     

    Marge Baker is executive vice president of People For the American Way.

     

  • Obama: Drug Enforcement Wrongly Targets 'Select Few   13 weeks 1 day ago

    By Erik Altieri |  NORML Communications Director

    WASHINGTON, DC — In a profile published online over the weekend in New Yorker magazine, President Barack Obama continued his softening towards marijuana legalization. In the interview, the president alluded to his own youthful marijuana consumption and clarified that, while he doesn’t believe it to be a healthy pastime and has discouraged his daughters from its use, it is a less dangerous substance than alcohol. President Obama also stated that current moves towards legalization are important experiments that can help end discriminatory arrest practices.

    “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.” President Obama stated when asked about the growing public support for ending marijuana prohibition.

    When asked to clarify if he thought it was “less dangerous,” Obama replied that he thought it was less dangerous “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.” He continued that “it’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”

    “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do and African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.” he stated, “we should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.”

    “It’s important for it [marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington] to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”

    You can read the full article on the New Yorker’s website here.

    Perhaps President Obama will continue to evolve and find himself on the right side of history when it comes to marijuana legalization. It would take just one simple Executive Order to deschedule marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and help institute some real lasting change in our nation’s failed war on cannabis. At a minimum, these statements show just how far we have come from the “Just Say No” era of American politics.

    Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution/Noncommercial/Share-Alike License for non-profit organizations only.
    http://www.thedailychronic.net/2014/27293/obama-marijuana-less-dangerous-alcohol-legalization-wa-co-important/

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