You are browsing the archive for 2015 May 13.

Avatar of admin

by admin

Democrats Fold on Shady Trans-Pacific Partnership Deal

May 13, 2015 in Blogs

By Michael Arria, AlterNet

Less than 24 hours after stopping Obama's trade push, Dems accept the GOP plan.

Less than a day after blocking the Obama administration's path to a secretive trade deal, Senate Democrats have accepted an offer put forth by Republicans. The Democrats, led by Senator Ron Wyden and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, came to accept the deal after personal lobbying from President Obama.

Some Democrats believed that a package of four trade bills would move along together, thus ensuring that Obama couldn't obtain fast-track authority without enforcement measures, but they ended up backing down on this as well. A Huffington Post story quotes Senator Sherrod Brown justifying the decision: ”I understand that all four aren't going to be together exactly the way I want it, I understand that, but I can read votes. I also think that nobody saw us being successful yesterday three days out. And people have strong feelings about the customs enforcement and people have strong feelings about taking care of workers.”

The new deal would allow the administration to begin negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal which has been criticized by labor unions and environmental activists. The economist Joseph Stiglitz recently wrote that, “These agreements go well beyond trade, governing investment and intellectual property as well, imposing fundamental changes to countries’ legal, judicial, and regulatory frameworks, without input or accountability through democratic institutions.”

The Senate will vote on two of the trade bills tomorrow at noon.

Related Stories

…read more

Source: ALTERNET

Avatar of admin

by admin

After Austin Elects First Female-Majority City Council, Consultants Brought in to Talk Down to Them

May 13, 2015 in Blogs

By Zaid Jilani, AlterNet

Among the tips: “Men have egos; women have wishlists.”

Austin has the first female-majority city council in its history, with seven women and four men. In March, these staff of this new council were greeted by a patronizing lecture from a pair of speakers who held a training session on what they can expect from a female-dominated council.

The first speaker was Jonathan K. Allen who once served as a city manager of Lauderdale Lakes, Florida. Allen warned that women ask a lot of questions and that female city council members are less likely to read agenda information and ask questions instead. He cited his 11-year-old daughter as an examples. He also said that you have to present arguments in a “totally different way” because female councilors don't like dealing with financial analysis and other numbers-oriented presentations.

The second speaker was Dr. Miya Burt-Stewart, who runs a business development and marketing firm. She instructed the attendees that “men have egos, women have wish lists,” and that men typically communicate less than women do.

The Star-Tribune's Lilly Rockwell contacted the city and found out that it actually paid for the hotel fees for Allen, which raises the question of why Austin found it prudent to hold a sexist training session for staff on taxpayers' dimes.

Watch video from the training:

Related Stories

…read more

Source: ALTERNET

Avatar of admin

by admin

Simmer Down on Islam Neo-Cons: Don't Lead Us Into Another War

May 13, 2015 in Blogs

By Jim Sleeper, AlterNet

From Maher to Geller and Frum, pundits want to fight back hard against Islam. This kind of talk always ends badly.

Jeffrey Tayler, a contributing editor to the Atlantic, has joined the Atlantic’s David Frum and Jeffrey Goldberg to warn Western liberals against quieting, solely at their own discretion, the kind of “free speech” that shocks and offends Muslim immigrants. Liberals who warn against “Islamophobia” need to acknowledge that Islam is more absolutist and brutal than its Abrahamic cousins, Judaism and Christianity, Tayler tells us in a Salon piece.

Not only that, Goldberg decides that Islam’s adherents in the West are anything but members of a powerless minority, since there are more than 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. It’s time, adds Tayler, to face the fact that Islam is, by its nature, bent on total conquest. “The jihad against freedom of expression has opened a front in the United States. This is not a battle we have chosen; the battle has chosen us. It’s time to fight back, and hard.”

These are dramatic, resonant sentences, short and sharp. But they should be familiar to anyone with a sense of history. Too many who tell us of battles that have chosen us have damaged American strength and credibility, first by serving and cheerleading for concentrations of power that are hollowing us out from within, and second because they haven’t the slightest idea of how to fight effectively or how our society might actually sustain its resilience and fighting morale, as the Viet Cong and ISIS and our other enemies have done.

Call up the Marines? Call up mercenaries? Send out more drones? Put the surveillance state on steroids? That’s all demonstrably, monstrously part of the hollowing out, and I don’t think that our keyboard warriors have a clue.

My skepticism about the latest summons to war begins – but only begins –  with the incontrovertible truth I expressed here two days ago.

Most Muslim immigrants to the West are fleeing not Mohammed (whom they cherish), but the tyranny, orchestrated hatred and kleptocracy that are perpetrated in his name. Are they caught in an …read more

Source: ALTERNET

Avatar of admin

by admin

30 Years Ago Today, Philadelphia Police Dropped a Bomb on a Black Liberation Group

May 13, 2015 in Blogs

By Zaid Jilani, AlterNet

You can watch a documentary about the extraordinary events here.

Today is the 30th anniversary of the day American police units used an unprecedented tactic to ferret out a group it sought for arrest: an aerial bombing.

In 1981, the black liberation group MOVE had relocated itself into a row house in West Philadelphia. MOVE soon faced complaints from neighbors about its boisterous political activities, which included loudly airing political messages during all times of the day.

By 1985, a number of MOVE members faced arrest warrants for charges including parole violations and illegal possession of firearms, and Philadelphia police moved to evict the group from their building and arrest their members.

MOVE resisted the arrest, and refused to leave their row house. Police responded with tear gas, and some in MOVE retaliated by firing at police.

This was when Philadelphia police commissioner Gregore Sambor made a radical call: he ordereda helicopter to drop an explosive device on top of the building to blow open the bunker at the top.

The bomb set off a fire that quickly spread, eventually burning down 61 homes and leaving 250 people homeless. 11 people in the MOVE rowhouse died, including five children.

In the aftermath of the bombing, Mayor Wilson Goode tasked a commission with investigating the actions of the police; they produced a report condemning the bombing, although no one was ever charged for their actions. In 1996, a federal jurydid order the city to pay $1.5 million to Romona Africa, the only adult survivor of the bombing, and relatives of two others who were killed in the attack.

A local Philadelphia news crew produced a documentary about the bombing, which would the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 1988. Watch it:

Related Stories

Avatar of admin

by admin

Amtrak Crash: John Oliver's Brilliant Rant About Our Crumbling Infrastructure Seems More Prescient than Ever

May 13, 2015 in Blogs

By Janet Allon, AlterNet

The “Black box” has been found. “Soft track” and “speed” are being investigated. Congress debates still more cuts.

The cause of the horrific Amtrak train crash Tuesday night that killed at least 6 and sent about 150 people to the hospital is still under investigation. Federal agents have found the “black box” or the event recorder, which will likely shed light. While the FBI has reportedly all but ruled out terrorism, NPR reported that “soft track” was one terrifying possiblity. Speed on the curved part of track in North Philadelphia is also being mentioned as a possible cause.

Meanwhile, Congress was set to debate slashing millions more from its Amtrak budget, already cut to the bone, today.

As The Independent reported:

The crash of the train travelling between Washington DC to New York came just hours before politicians in the capital are due to meet to discuss a budget bill that could see funding for Amtrak cut by millions.

Supporters of Amtrak have been lobbying the House Appropriations Committee, not to reduce funding containing within a broader transportation bill. A draft of the bill would see Amtrak’s funding cut to to $1.13bn from the $1.4bn it typically receives annually, Politico reported.

if the cause turns out to be a failure of infrastructure, lawmakers cannot say they weren't warned. Many have cautioned against the failure to invest in America's infrastructure in recent years, and predicted catastrophes. Paul Krugman warned about it here, laying the blame at the feet of budget-slashing Republican lawmakers.

You can read more articles about political fights about infrastructure investment here, and here.  

You can also watch John Oliver's brilliant, prescient rant about our crumbling infrastructure in which he notes that even Donald Trump, whom Oliver calls, “That upside-down piece of candy corn in a wig made of used medical gauze,” thinks we have to rebuild our infrastructure.

Watch:

Related Stories

Avatar of admin

by admin

A Bad Idea: America Concluding a Defense Pact with the GCC

May 13, 2015 in Economics

By Emma Ashford

Emma Ashford

This week, President Obama will play host to leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, first at the White House, and later at Camp David. The meetings are intended to soothe Arab leaders worried about the ongoing U.S.-Iranian nuclear negotiations. But President Obama must reject GCC demands for a formal or informal defense pact with the United States, which would tie American security ever more closely to countries whose interests and values do not align with our own.

Though a successful nuclear deal with Iran should in theory reduce tensions in the Middle East, the Gulf States are concerned about future Iranian growth. Nuclear-related sanctions have indeed cost the country as much as $4 to $8 billion a month in lost oil revenues. Regaining this income, in addition to other sanctions related benefits, will increase Iran’s power and ability to act in the Middle East.

As a result, GCC leaders are pushing the idea of a stronger military alliance with the United States. And though it remains unclear what possible deals the Obama administration is considering, the possible outcomes are wide-ranging, from minimal increases in arms sales or intelligence sharing to a formal mutual defense treaty.

Most likely is the possibility that President Obama will offer a less formal, verbal commitment to safeguard the security of the GCC states. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in Paris last week, noted that “we are fleshing out a series of new commitments that will create, between the United States and the GCC, a new security understanding, a new set of security initiatives that will take us beyond anything that we have had before.”

Yet whether formal or informal, a defense pact with the GCC states would be a big mistake. For one thing, the interests of these states often don’t align with those of the United States. In Syria, for example, GCC states continue to focus their efforts on the overthrow of the Assad regime, not on ISIS. And in Yemen, the Saudi-led conflict has caused massive humanitarian costs and allowed Al Qaeda to make gains, undercutting U.S. counterterrorism goals.

These are just two examples of an overall pattern: the United States has a strong interest in stability in the Middle East, yet the Gulf States are themselves the frequent cause of unrest in the region. The actions of states like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar since the …read more

Source: OP-EDS

Avatar of admin

by admin

Two Years after Snowden, Congress Still Legislating in the Dark

May 13, 2015 in Economics

By Patrick G. Eddington

Patrick G. Eddington

Nearly two years after Edward Snowden’s sensational revelations about the U.S. government’s mass surveillance programs aimed at American citizens, the top lawyer for America’s Intelligence Community has admitted that no comprehensive review of the nation’s post-9/11 surveillance activities has ever been conducted.

Robert Litt, chief counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, made the statement  in response to a question I posed at a government transparency panel on Capitol Hill last week.

The top lawyer for America’s Intelligence Community has admitted that no comprehensive review of the nation’s post-9/11 surveillance activities has ever been conducted.”

I asked Litt whether the Intelligence Community Inspector General, either alone or in coordination with other IGs, had conducted a comprehensive compliance review of all post-9/11 surveillance programs operating under the PATRIOT Act, the FISA Amendments Act, or Executive Order 12333.

Litt’s response: “No.”

He went on to claim that the task was being carried out by “others,” including the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. Anyone familiar with the PCLOB knows that its shoe-string budget and tiny staff are not remotely up to the task of the kind of review in question. Litt also stated that “resource implications” made such a review by the ODNI and the agency IGs “impractical”—not a credible answer in light of the tens of billions of dollars thrown at the U.S. Intelligence Community in the post-9/11 era.

Litt’s admission that there has been no comprehensive examination of all IC post-9/11 surveillance collection activities is significant for three reasons:

1) It means that the ODNI has not self-initiated such a review

2) It means Congress has not requested such a review

3) It also means that Congress, on the eve of reauthorizing a program that demonstrably does not work, does not feel the need to determine whether all other post 9/11 intelligence collection programs authorized under the these three authorities are operationally effective and compliant with the Constitution

What we do know is that when the inspectors general of the Intelligence Community involved in auditing the previously secret and once-illegal STELLAR WIND program—exposed by the New York Times in 2005—conducted a real review of it in 2009, they found it wanting.

When the Department of Justice examined the efficacy of STELLAR WIND, it found that “…the program had not specifically uncovered evidence of preparations for [terrorist] attacks.”

Analysts at the National Counterterrorism Center “…could not recall specific examples where [STELLAR WIND] …read more

Source: OP-EDS

Avatar of admin

by admin

De Blasio & Warren's New Progressive Agenda

May 13, 2015 in Economics

By Michael D. Tanner

Michael D. Tanner

A who’s who of the American Left has just unveiled their version of a Contract with America. This new Progressive Agenda is the brainchild of New York mayor Bill de Blasio and Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, along with such liberal luminaries as Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and former Vermont governor and DNC chairman Howard Dean, various union bosses, and celebrities Susan Sarandon and Steve Buscemi. But for all the glitter associated with its big-name signers, the manifesto is devoid of new ideas and, if ever enacted, could be counted on to plunge millions of Americans into poverty.

A potpourri of job-killing, economy-stifling ideas.”

The manifesto begins with a number of ideas designed to make it more costly and difficult to hire low-skilled workers. Naturally there is a call to raise the minimum wage, not just to the $10.10 an hour proposed by President Obama, but to a full job-destroying $15 an hour. Even advocates of a minimum-wage increase like Arindrajit Dube of the University of Massachusetts and Paul Osterman of MIT warn that a hike of that magnitude would be more than the economy could handle. But just in case this didn’t completely price poor people out of the job market, the manifesto signers would also make flexible scheduling more difficult, mandate that employers provide paid family and sick leave, and require that more workers be eligible for overtime pay. It goes without saying that they also want to empower unions and that they oppose right-to-work laws.

De Blasio, Warren, and the rest wouldn’t just cut off the first rungs on the ladder out of poverty; they would feed them through a wood chipper, burn the pulp, and scatter the ashes.

Then, having made it more difficult for the poor to find work, the manifesto signers would make it more expensive for them to buy things. In opposing free-trade deals, the progressives would, in effect, impose a tax increase on the low-cost imports that many poor people need to survive. They would also raise the cost of production for many goods manufactured in the U.S. that include foreign-made parts. Of course they would also make it more difficult for U.S. companies to build markets abroad, but, as we’ve already seen, job creation is hardly a priority for de Blasio, Warren, et al.

When not destroying jobs, the manifesto falls back on the surprising new idea of spending …read more

Source: OP-EDS

Avatar of admin

by admin

Mitch McConnell's Surreal Quest to Preserve the NSA's Illegal Surveillance

May 13, 2015 in Economics

By Julian Sanchez

Julian Sanchez

The USA Freedom Act, a modest but significant surveillance reform bill, is set to pass the House of Representatives by a large margin today. Yet the law still faces an uphill battle in the Senate, thanks largely to the intransigence of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is plowing ahead with a plan to reauthorize controversial provisions of the Patriot Act — including the authority behind NSA’s massive telephone records database. And in the wake of a recent federal appeals court decision holding that program unlawful, McConnell’s stubborn opposition to reform has gone from misguided to downright illogical, even on McConnell’s own terms.

When former NSA contractor Edward Snowden first revealed, nearly two years ago, that the spy agency had been indiscriminately vacuuming up the telephone records of millions of Americans, legal experts were stunned at the audacious legal justification the government offered for the program.

A provision of the Patriot Act, known as section 215, empowers the FBI to obtain business records that are “relevant” to an authorized national security investigation. But the government had secretly convinced a court to interpret this power in a shockingly broad way: Everyone’s telephone records, the feds argued, could be “relevant” to counterterrorism investigations, because having the entire database would make it easier to search for the tiny fraction of phone records that were truly related to a given investigation.

McConnell’s arguments put him at odds with the leadership of the intelligence community.”

Even one of the Patriot Act’s authors, Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, denounced the program as a “gross invasion of privacy” that went far beyond what Congress had intended to authorize.

The looming expiration of section 215, which will sunset at the end of the month unless reauthorized, has set the stage for a struggle between two camps. On one side is a broad, bipartisan coalition of legislators, civil liberties groups, and technology companies backing the USA Freedom Act, reform legislation set for a vote in the House of Representatives next week. The law would bar the use of several related spying authorities, including 215, for indiscriminate “bulk” data collection, and impose new transparency requirements to ensure that no court could again expand spying powers behind a veil of secrecy.

On the other side is a camp led by Mitch McConnell, who has proposed legislation extending the government’s spying powers without any new limitations or safeguards.

Even before Thursday, McConnell’s case against …read more

Source: OP-EDS

Avatar of admin

by admin

Conservatives Say Marriage Has Always Been between a Man and a Woman. They're Wrong.

May 13, 2015 in Economics

By Trevor Burrus

Trevor Burrus

What is a marriage? Conservatives argue that it is one man and one woman in a permanent union for the purpose of raising children. This arrangement, they say, should receive special consideration by the Supreme Court because of its long-standing place in society.

They’re wrong.

Marriage is a constantly changing social institution that adapts to social and economic conditions. And when those conditions change, marriage changes.

Our modern view of marriage — one that has generally predominated in Western societies over the past 200 years — is the outlier. Historically, marriage has been about finding good in-laws and securing economic advantage. And marrying for love is a thoroughly modern invention.

While many social and economic factors have changed marriage, perhaps none has done more than the shift in the economic status of women. When women had few possibilities for remunerative careers — or any career at all — marriage was more about securing financial security for herself and her children. In situations of poverty, marrying for love is not only a luxury, it is nearly suicidal.

Marriage is a constantly changing social institution that adapts to social and economic conditions.”

In some times and places, a “marriage” defined the roles of each participant, regardless of sex. This helps partially explain why same-sex marriage has been historically rare. In ancient Rome, for example, Emperor Nero married his boy slave Sporus and treated him like a woman. According to marriage historian Stephanie Coontz, most Romans largely found same-sex marriage repugnant because “no real man would ever agree to play the subordinate role demanded of a Roman wife.”

Similarly, some West African societies have allowed women to have “female husbands” — in which any subsequent children of the “female wife” were regarded as descendants and heirs of the “female husband.” And some Native American societies made a sharp distinction between “woman’s work” and “man’s work,” allowing same-sex marriages where two gender roles were represented. In fact, according to Coontz, such marriages would not have even been considered “homosexual.”

Nevertheless, same-sex marriages have been historically rare, particularly in post-Medieval Western societies. It is somewhat perverse, however, for conservatives to argue that the general lack of same-sex marriages over “millennia,” to use a word from Justice Anthony Kennedy’s question during oral arguments, somehow underscores the value and necessity of “traditional marriage.” For “millennia,” a church/state alliance marginalized and oppressed homosexuals via the law, including …read more

Source: OP-EDS