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D.C. Police and the Feds Partner With Hard Right to Convict Trump Protesters

February 14, 2018 in Blogs

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet

A lawsuit filed Tuesday in Washington highlights a dangerous national trend.

Washington, D.C., police and federal prosecutors have been collaborating with notorious right-wing groups known for fascist statements and using doctored videos to ambush their targets in an attempt to convict and jail protesters from President Trump’s inauguration.

The question is not whether the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and the U.S. Attorney's office in Washington, D.C., are working with Oath Keepers, a group of cops and veterans with rabid anti-government views, and Project Veritas, a far-right group known for fabricating accounts to ambush the media and the political left.

The question is, how deep is the relationship between the police, federal prosecutors and these extremists? And in MPD’s case, are Washington police breaking the law, as its city council has passed laws barring them from spying on protesters or protest groups?

“It’s extraordinarily dangerous for prosecutors and police to be accepting information and evidence from politically motivated organizations that are intending to work against their political opponents,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director and constitutional rights attorney with the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. “That’s not how they’re supposed to operate.”

“So when the U.S. Attorney’s Office takes video from the widely discredited Project Veritas, in fact, edited video, and submits it into evidence in an effort to prosecute protesters and put them away for decades in prison, it is critically important that the public has an opportunity to see what’s going on behind those scenes, and to know what the relationships are that the Metropolitan Police Department, the D.C. police department, or any police department, has with right-wing organizations,” she said. “They simply can’t be working in collaboration.”

The capital’s cops and right-wingers are apparently working together, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by PCJF against D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Karl A. Racine in the U.S. Attorney’s office. They want to force the police and prosecutors to turn over all documentation of the relationship between their agencies and right-wing groups that was “used to prosecute persons whose political views are in apparent opposition to the political goals …read more


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Agriculture and Autonomy in the Middle East

February 14, 2018 in Blogs

By Sean Keller, Local Futures

How the Mesopotamian Ecology Movement promotes democracy in North Kurdistan.

In Rojava, a region in Syria also known as North Kurdistan, a groundbreaking experiment in communal living, social justice, and ecological vitality is taking place. Devastated by civil war, Syria is a place where a cessation of hostilities often seems like the most that can be hoped for. But Rojava has set its sights much higher. What started as a movement for political autonomy in the city of Kobane has blossomed into an attempt to build a radical pluralist democracy on the principles of communal solidarity — with food security, equality for women, and a localized, anti-capitalist economy at its core.

The Mesopotamian Ecology Movement (MEM) has been at the heart of Rojava’s democratic revolution since its inception. The Movement grew out of single-issue campaigns against dam construction, climate change and deforestation, and in 2015 went from being a small collection of local ecological groups to a full-fledged network of “ecology councils” that are active in every canton of Rojava, and in neighboring Turkey as well. Its mission, as one of its most prominent founding members, Ercan Ayboğa, says, is to “strengthen the ecological character of the Kurdish freedom movement [and] the Kurdish women’s movement.”

It’s not an easy process. Neoliberal policies, war and climate change have made for an impressive roster of challenges. Crop diversity has been undermined due to longstanding subsidies for monocultures. Stocks of native seeds are declining. The region has been hit by trade embargoes from Turkey, Iraq, and the central Syrian government, and villages have been subject to forced displacement and depopulation. Groundwater reserves are diminishing, and climate change is reducing rainfall. Many wells and farms were destroyed by the self-described Islamic State, and many farmers have been killed by land mines. Much of the region is without electricity. And there has been an influx of refugees from the rest of Syria, fleeing civil war.

As MEM sees it, the solutions to these overlapping problems must be holistic and systemic. Ercan gives an impressive rundown of MEM’s priorities: Decreasing Rojava’s dependence on imports, returning to traditional water-conserving cultivation …read more


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Bernie Sanders Sends a Special Message to Millionaires on Valentine's Day

February 14, 2018 in Blogs

By Emily C. Bell, AlterNet

It's that time of the year when millionaires get to stop contributing to Social Security.

Bernie Sanders has a special Valentine’s Day message for the 1 percent. On Wednesday, Sanders tweeted “Happy Valentine's day to all the millionaires who will not have to pay into Social Security for the rest of the year. Let's lift the cap and end this absurdity.” Accompanying the tweet was a video educating the public about “Millionaires Valentine’s Day,” which this year falls on Feb. 16.

Because of an arbitrary cap, Americans earning million dollar salaries or higher only have to pay Social Security taxes up to $128,000, which they’re able to pay off just a few weeks into each new year—47 days after January 1st to be precise, otherwise known as Millionaires Valentine’s Day.

The taxable amount in 2018 is actually $128,400, but most individuals won’t earn this amount as the Center for Economic and Policy Research reported. CEPR’s Kevin Cashman wrote of the present system that “…the burden of Social Security taxes falls more heavily on those who make less money.”

“What is it, some weird Valentine’s Day gift to rich people?” Lawrence Benenson, Principal of the Benenson Capital Company and progressive advocate, asked in the video.

The video, which includes cameos from Benenson and other “Patriotic Millionaires” including Eric Schoenberg, Chairman of Campus Works Inc., calls attention to this special day — and the special treatment that millionaires get when it comes to contributing to an already unstable Social Security. 

According to the video, investment income, which is the source of many millionaires’ wealth, is not subject to Social Security tax.

Sanders’ Valentines-themed video echoes his previous calls to prioritize the future of Social Security and adjust the payroll tax cap, including with previously-introduced legislation which would increase benefits while increasing taxes for the wealthy.  

Concerns over the solvency of Social Security have been growing, and in a 2017 report from CEPR, they note that the Social Security Trust Fund, which currently totals $2.8 trillion, “is enough to pay full benefits to retirees through 2034. At that point, the fund will still …read more


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Government Shutdown Once Again Shows the Lies Behind Deficit Hysteria

February 14, 2018 in Blogs

By Marshall Auerback, AlterNet

It's just an excuse not to help poor people.

Another day, another temporary government shutdown and then finally a long-term “bipartisan compromise” so beloved of the punditocracy is reached. Early last Friday morning, the president signed a new funding bill that was narrowly passed in Congress only a few hours earlier. All told, the deal authorizes about $300 billion in new discretionary spending over the next two years.

“While neither side got everything they wanted, this compromise provides critical funding that will go towards improving the VA, CHIP, the opioid epidemic, and infrastructure spending,” said Senator Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican. “I look forward to now working with my colleagues on a solution for DACA, border security, and immigration policy.”

Yes, there were enough goodies to avoid a long drawn-out shutdown. But the most striking thing about the agreement was how few alarms were raised about the estimated increase in the budget deficit, even by the vaunted Tea Party wing of the GOP, whose rise allegedly came about in protest to the “unsustainable” growth in public spending. Certainly, there were a few deficit scolds here and there, who decried the latest “spending spree” and the “unsustainable” growth in the nation’s debt. But for the most part, those voices played little factor in the moves to prevent a lengthy cessation of government operations.

That was clearly not the case a few weeks earlier when the Trump tax cuts were passed and Democrats in particular vociferously sounded off on the dangers of increasing the federal debt to the tune of $1.5 trillion. Nothing from Chuck Schumer; even less from Nancy Pelosi, who several weeks earlier had tweeted, “A GOP tax bill that explodes the deficit by $1.5 trillion means dumping $4600 in debt on every man, woman & child in America.”

Well, it’s great that Ms. Pelosi can do basic arithmetic. But at a time when the Republicans have been (hypocritically) abandoning deficit terrorism to advance their own political agenda, it’s uninspiring that the Democrats could do no better than reinforce the ‘deficits are …read more


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America’s Creeping Regime Change in Syria

February 14, 2018 in Economics

By John Glaser

John Glaser

In eastern Syria last week, American air and ground forces
attacked Syrian pro-government military units, killing roughly 100
including some Russian advisors
. U.S. Army Colonel Thomas Veale

the attack as “taken in self-defense.”

“Self-defense”? Had the regime of Bashar al-Assad bombarded
Boston Harbor? No, but it had attacked a base, long held by Syrian
rebels, with U.S. military advisors present. Despite the
tit-for-tat chronology here, it’s hard to see how Veale’s
“self-defense” claim is tenable.

After all, as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson explained
last month, the Trump administration has committed to an indefinite
military presence of roughly 2,000 U.S. boots on the Syrian
battlefield. Are these troops present at the behest of the host
government? Certainly not. Has Congress ratified their deployment
in some way? Guess again. Are they there preempting an imminent
threat of attack on America? Nope. Are they under the mandate of a
UN Security Council resolution? No.

And you thought our
government toppling days were over.

In fact, the U.S. military presence in Syria has no legal
authorization whatsoever. Those American forces are cooperating
with Syrian rebels to, as Tillerson put it, “help liberated
peoples” in territory outside Assad’s control “stabilize their own
communities” and defend themselves against regime forces. This is,
he added, “a critical step to creating the conditions for a
post-Assad political settlement.”

Dispensing with the euphemistic flummery, U.S. forces are
engaged in a kind of creeping regime change operation — the
lessons of recent history be damned.

One might fairly argue that the Assad regime, in its brutality
against its own people, long ago forfeited the sovereign right to
defend its territory against an invading foreign army. Fine, but we
should be clear that Washington, in responding to the lawlessness,
is also acting lawlessly — hardly a lodestar mission of the
liberal, rules-based world order America claims to lead, and, in
the big picture, decidedly not a case of “self-defense.”

Quaint legalisms aside, the clash between U.S. and Syrian forces
should make clear just how dangerous our military presence in Syria
is. This particular incident, we can reasonably assume, didn’t
escalate only because the regime is desperate to avoid escalation.
Were they to counterattack, the Syrians surely know, the full might
of America would come crashing down upon Damascus, and that would
be the end of them all.

But that is by no means a reassuring “balance of terror,” the
term nuclear strategist Albert Wohlstetter used
to describe the deterrence model of the Cold War’s mutually assured
destruction. Indeed, the multi-sided chaos of the Syrian Civil War
is neither balanced nor stable and …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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How Chivalry Died—Again and Again

February 14, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

An illustration of Knights from A History of the Development and Customs of Chivalry, by Dr. Franz Kottenkamp, 1842. (Credit: Historical Picture Archive/Corbis/Getty Images)

“Is chivalry dead?” The answer, m’lady, is a definite yes.

Cultural commentators have a strange obsession with asking whether things are dead. Time magazine in particular has courted sensationalism over the years with covers that dramatically check the pulse on “God,” “feminism,” or “truth.” And for the past few decades, when op-eds tackle relations between straight men and women, there’s particular question they love to explore.

Chivalry is as dead as the eighth-century knight Count Roland, whose personal conduct became one model for chivalric codes in the Late Middle Ages. And although chivalry disappeared hundreds of years ago, people can’t seem to stop talking about it.

The term “chivalry” loosely refers to informal codes of conduct developed by European knights in feudal systems starting in the 12th century. These codes differed based on region and time period, and covered issues like whom knights should show mercy to and whom it was okay to attack.

An illustration of Knights from A History of the Development and Customs of Chivalry, by Dr. Franz Kottenkamp, 1842. (Credit: Historical Picture Archive/Corbis/Getty Images)

In these feudal systems, knights worked in paid service to their lords, and enjoyed social superiority to the serfs or peasants. In the 1984 book, Chivalry, the late historian Maurice Hugh Keen argued that chivalric codes had served as a kind of international law of war that protected these knights as a aristocratic class. Keen’s argument countered the widely-held presumption that chivalry was more focused on courtly love and protecting women.

As feudalism faded in the 15th century, so did chivalry—but it popped up again in the 18th and 19th century when writers began to romanticize the Middle Ages. In 1790, for example, Irish statesman Edmund Burke took one look at the queen-killing French Revolution and bemoaned: “The age of chivalry is gone: that of sophisters, economists and calculators has succeeded: and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.”

His statement was melodramatic, especially considering no one had followed chivalric codes for hundreds of years. But Burke wasn’t the only person to belatedly announce the death of chivalry. In 1823, poet Lord Byron stated that chivalry was dead, and the 17th-century novel Don Quixote had killed it. Author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra had used Don Quixote to satirize chivalry, and Byron indignantly wrote that “Cervantes smiled …read more


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Perhaps It’s Time for South Korea to Go Nuclear

February 14, 2018 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un plays the international game with
style. He sent his sister, Kim Yo-jong, to the Olympic games in the
Republic of Korea. And he extended an invitation for South Korea’s
President Moon Jae-in to visit Pyongyang. It’s impossible for the
ROK leader to say no.

Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration isn’t happy. Even
before the North’s dramatic move, Vice President Mike Pence
demonstrated his great displeasure at the North Koreans’ presence
in the Olympics, which he called a “charade.” Then, the refused to
stand when Pyongyang’s athletes entered the stadium and studiously
ignored the presence of not only Kim Yo-jong but also the North’s
nominal head of state Kim Yong-nam (no relation). Had Pence
approached them with his hand outstretched he would have grabbed
the initiative for the Trump administration. But instead he refused
to even glance in the North Koreans’ direction, as if doing so
would make them disappear.

Of course, there is no reason to believe that Kim Jong-un has
decided to mend his evil ways and abandon nuclear weapons, respect
human rights, hold elections, and accept unconditional
reunification. But the North Koreans really didn’t use their
participation “to paper over the truth about their regime, which
oppresses its own people & threatens other nations,” as Pence
tweeted before leaving for Korea. After all, lots of thuggish
dictators, including several proclaimed to be “friends” by
President Trump, sent delegations, without much affecting their

Since none of Pyongyang’s
attitudes or positions have changed, there is no reason to believe
that it is willing to offer anything more of value.

Pyongyang’s grand gestures were aimed less at Seoul and more at
the Trump administration. After all, the two Koreas have fielded
joint sports teams before, most recently in the 2014 Asia Games,
without lasting impact. Moreover, the last two leftish ROK
presidents held summits with Kim Jong-il, the father of the present
ruler — many missile and nuclear tests ago. Along the way
Pyongyang collected some $10 billion in aid and other revenue as
part of the “Sunshine Policy,” without yielding peace. The regime
is focused on self-preservation.

Officials in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea told me
they had no intention of being “swallowed” by the South. But South
Korea does not threaten Pyongyang’s security. Last summer my North
Korean interlocutors dismissed the ROK as a “puppet” of America. In
truth, while the South is a vibrant democracy with one of the
world’s largest industrial economies, it has subcontracted its
security to the U.S. The American military even has operational
control over South Korean forces in wartime. And all the “big guns”
are in Washington’s hands.

Moreover, the …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Let's Make America a Mineral Superpower

February 14, 2018 in Economics

By Stephen Moore, Ned Mamula

Stephen Moore and Ned Mamula

Why is the United States reliant on China and Russia for
strategic minerals when we have more of these valuable resources
than both these nations combined?

This has nothing to do with geological impediments. It is all

This is an underreported scandal that jeopardizes American
security. As recently as 1990, the U.S. was No. 1 in the world in
mining output. But according to the latest data from the U.S.
Geological Survey, the U.S. is 100 percent import dependent for at
least 20 critical and strategic minerals (not including each of the
“rare earths”), and between 50 and 99 percent reliant for another
group of 30 key minerals. Why aren’t alarm bells ringing?

This import dependency has grown worse over the last decade. We
now are dependent on imports for vital strategic metals that are
necessary components for military weapon systems, cellphones, solar
panels and scores of new-age high-technology products. We don’t
even have a reliable reserve stockpile of these resources.

Fortunately, the Trump administration is working to reverse
decades of policies that have inhibited our ability to mine our own
abundant resources, mostly in the western states — Montana,
Colorado, Wyoming and the Dakotas. In December the Trump
administration issued a long-overdue policy directive designed to
open up federal lands and streamline the permitting process so
America can mine again.

Rare earth minerals are
the seeds for building new technologies, and a strong case could be
made that these strategic metals are the oil of the 21st

No nation on the planet is more richly endowed with a treasure
chest of these metals than the U.S. The U.S. Mining Association
estimates there are more than $6 trillion in resources. We could
easily add $50 billion of GDP every year through a smart mining

Environmentalists are threatening to file lawsuits and throwing
up other obstacles to this pro-economic development mineral policy
— just as they oppose more open drilling for oil and gas. The
stupidity of this anti-mining stance is that the green energy
sources that they crave — solar and wind power — are
dependent on rare metals to be viable.

Rare earth minerals are the seeds for building new technologies,
and a strong case could be made that these strategic metals are the
oil of the 21st century.

The suite of 15 primary minerals — which the U.S. has in
abundance domestically — has been referred to as “the
vitamins of chemistry.” They exhibit unique attributes, such as
magnetism, stability at extreme temperatures, and resistance to
corrosion: properties that are key to today’s manufacturing. These
rare earth elements are essential for military and civilian …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Silvio Berlusconi, the Candidate of Calm

February 14, 2018 in Economics

By Alberto Mingardi

Alberto Mingardi

When Silvio Berlusconi exited the public arena to universal
relief in 2011, few would have predicted the scandal-ridden
politician’s return would be met with the same emotion.

Berlusconi’s background as a media mogul, not to mention his
adventurous private life, aroused lasting suspicions. And his
political style — defined by a certain directness in
appealing to voters and a total disregard for the liturgy of
politics — anticipated contemporary “populism.”

But the world is now welcoming back a new Berlusconi. No longer
able to hold public office – a law bars people who have been
sentenced to more than two years in jail — his name will
nevertheless be on the ballot, written in large block letters in
the logo of “Forza Italia,” when voters go to the polls next month.
If Italians back his center-right coalition, they will effectively
be choosing him as its puppet-master.

It’s easy enough to see why Italians may be drawn to Berlusconi
out of nostalgia (though his tenure was by no means impeccable).
What’s perhaps more surprising is that European partners and
international observers seem to have developed a new sympathy for
the scandal-ridden former prime minister, whom they see as a safe
card in next month’s election.

While he occasionally embraced some uncompromising, conservative
positions (most recently on immigration, after a Nigerian man was
accused of killing a young woman in Macerata), Berlusconi has for
the most smoothed out his coalition partners’ rough edges. Under
his influence, for example, the far-right Northern League has
stopped calling for Italy to leave the eurozone. And his attacks on
the populist 5Star Movement — which he has called “a job
center for the unemployable” — showed his willingness to
confront that other homo novus of politics, Beppe

What plays in Berlusconi’s favor is that, more than anything,
what everyone wants from Italy is stability.

Foreign investors own 40 percent of Italian public debt —
which stands at about €2.2 trillion — and have nothing to
gain from further turmoil. The rest of the country’s debt is
domestically owned, meaning domestic investors too, are interested
in stability. Italy is a country of savers, with a high home
ownership rate (70 percent) and a rapidly aging population.

In this context, Berlusconi — who has claimed that Italy
should comply with the fiscal compact and cut taxes, but without
raising the deficit — is starting to look like the “reliable”
choice. His conflicts of interest, for once, strengthen this

It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Berlusconi’s rhetoric may have
been over the top, but the policies he put in place never were.
This perhaps cost Italy the radical reforms it badly …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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The Dangers of America’s Obsession with Inequality

February 14, 2018 in Economics

By Michael D. Tanner

Michael D. Tanner

Yippee! Last week’s sell off on Wall Street wiped out more than
$3 trillion in wealth. Overnight, economic equality increased.
True, you and I aren’t any better off – in fact, some of those
losses came out of our 401(k)s and pension plans – but the
important thing is that the biggest losers were evil rich people.
Warren Buffet lost more than $5 billion, Jeff Bezos more than $3
billion. All together, the world’s 500 wealthiest people lost more
than $180 billion. Aren’t you happy?

Of course not. But doesn’t the mindset increasingly heard on the
progressive left and the populist right dictate that you should be?
We have become obsessed with economic equality at the expense of
economic growth. Inequality is said to be the transcendent issue of
our time. Yet a society that is rich and unequal still beats one
that is poor and equal any day of the week.

It is inarguably true that modern free-market capitalism leads
to inequality. It is equally true that it makes all of us richer.
By most measures, most Americans were poor at the start of the last
century. Indeed, if we use a definition corresponding to today’s
poverty measures, 60-80 percent of the U.S. population was poor in
1900. Today just 23 percent of Americans are poor, and even they
enjoy a standard of living that would be envied by the rich of a
century ago.

If in our rush to level
the playing field we limit economic freedom, we could end up with a
society that is more equal but less prosperous.

Crucially, much of the economic progress responsible for that
happy state of affairs came long before the Great Society and the
advent of the mammoth welfare state we have today. “As a matter of
empirical fact,” George Mason economist Tyler Cowen notes, “it is
economic growth that lifts most people out of poverty, not transfer
payments.” Above and beyond its ability to alleviate poverty,
economic growth also brings with it all sorts of side benefits,
including longer life expectancies, a better-educated citizenry,
and expanded civil and political rights.

Someone else’s success does me no harm. Nor am I worse off
because someone else receives a bigger tax cut than I do. Such a
viewpoint stems from the misguided notion that the economy is a pie
of fixed size. In reality, the size of the pie is infinite, and
when it grows we are all better off, even if some people get bigger
slices than others.

To make it grow, we need ambitious, skilled risk-takers. We need
people to be always striving for …read more

Source: OP-EDS