Thursday, January 22, 2015

(No Climate Leadership Here)  Joyless Recovery  (Koch Primaried?)  Country of Bullshit American Snipers?  (NC CIA-Senator Burr Demurs - Embraces CIA's Excuses Totally)

Climate Leadership Will Only Come from Us

The U.S. citizenry is being eaten alive.

No wonder the "Van Helsing" and "American Sniper" movie types get attendance in the hundreds of millions. And I'm counting the international box office numbers here.

I've reserved comment so far on the most disappointing State of the Union address I've ever lived through.

Finally I've located one that inflicts the hard licks that I've been too personally disappointed to indulge in so far as my personal angst just grows even deeper and unassuageable:  "When he wasn’t giving us fluff, he was serving up clichés."

The only real surprise to me was how often Obama talked about foreign policy. I expected him to pat himself on the back for (sort of) ending combat operations in Afghanistan. But no, he went even further, and praised military victories over ISIS, while simultaneously bragging about not being “hot-headed” or engaging the military in foreign adventurism. “The American people only expect us to go to war as a last result, and I intend to stay true to that principle,” he said.

Daniel Larison writing at The American Conservative responded by making the point that “The U.S. didn’t go to war in Libya as a last resort. Nor has the war against ISIS been waged as a last resort. Nor would airstrikes on Syria in 2013 have been launched as a last resort.” Obama likes to present himself as a noninterventionist, but he really only is when compared to the hegemon of hawks nesting in the District.

Taking it from the top:

David Hume wondered how it is that the many come to be governed by the few — it seems more logical that it should be the other way around. He came to the conclusion that it was elite opinion, disseminated by “the pulpit and the schoolroom” (he was writing in the eighteenth century, after all) that dictated the intellectual boundaries for acceptable political debate.

Today it’s the media, not the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has the ear, or more accurately the eye, of the masses. And the “media” is in large part controlled by corporations, who are in turn controlled by quasi-stateless bands of hypercapitalists — the same hypercapitalists who own our elected officials, in fact. And so political debate is inevitably constrained from both ends.

So, the details of the military budget can’t be discussed with any kind of transparency. The corporate economy is sacrosanct. Only recently has the entirely reasonable idea of reparations actually come to be taken seriously, thanks to the genius diplomacy journalism of Ta-Nehisi Coates. Instead, we the audience are usually asked to focus on emotionally hot issues like the outrageous behavior of celebrities, and the coolest newest gadgets for sale. Distractions to distract us from distractions, to paraphrase Eliot.

Such was the case Tuesday in President Obama’s performance of the State of the Union Address. 
Read the rest of the essay here.

Someone I admire has written a review of the incredibly (and unbelievably) popular movie "American Sniper."

She's right about it.

I support her.

This is something that I don’t want to revisit — I never want to relive the worst experience of my life. However, with the 11th anniversary of my son’s death in Iraq on 04/04/04 approaching and the new “blockbuster” infecting movie screens around the world, I really must get this off of my chest.

Most citizens of this nation are without a doubt addicted to wars and war “heroes” without stopping for more than a few cursory seconds to count the costs or evaluate the propaganda. I despair that a movie like "American Sniper" grossed over 105 million at the box office over the weekend where we are supposed to be commemorating the birth of a man of peace, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Everything in "American Sniper" is taken for fact when the author and focus Chris Kyle already had been proven to have been a blowhard and a liar, when the facts and political motivations of Selma are being questioned. 

As is the US addicted to its wars, it is also addicted to lying about them.

. . . I find it supremely ironic and sad that NOT being a killer is frowned upon here while being a happy killer makes one a best-selling author and garners all kinds of award nominations and ticket sales for those who wish to exploit this nation’s bloodlust. 

This truly makes me wonder if there is any hope to end the evil of US empire, or are we doomed to “wash, rinse, and repeat” these stories of infamy and tragedy over and over again until the USA collapses from the weight of all the carnage.

Want to put many more Koch candidates in charge?

Good. Because they are "charging" right in:

5 Years After Citizens United, Democracy Is For Sale

This week, Republican presidential hopefuls like Gov. Scott Walker, Gov. Chris Christie, and Sen. Rand Paul will travel to an exclusive resort near Palm Springs, Florida to kiss the rings of David and Charles Koch.

The "New York Times" calls it the "Koch Primary."

Over the last five years, the Koch political network has evolved into what many have described as a shadow political party. The Kochs and their network of wealthy donors spent $300 million in the 2014 elections, after raising at least $400 million in the 2012 presidential races, with almost all of the spending passing through an array of political vehicles that are officially "independent" from candidates and political parties.

Today, candidates who receive the blessing of Charles and David can watch their political fortunes skyrocket, thanks to the huge financial resources the Kochs and their deep-pocketed allies can funnel into elections. Joni Ernst, for example, was a local elected official four years ago, yet this year was sworn-in as a U.S. Senator and delivered the Republican response to the State of the Union address - a rapid trajectory which she attributes to support from the Koch political network.

If a "Koch primary" - where a handful of wealthy donors can determine political futures, regardless of political party - sounds more like an oligarchy than a democracy, you are probably right.

The level of political influence made possible by such extravagant spending would have been all but impossible five years ago, before the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC. In that decision, a narrow majority of the Court struck down limits on "independent" spending, paving the way for Super PACs and dark money vehicles that can now spend literally billions of dollars influencing elections.

Citizens United Turned Five on January 21.

Citizens United Has Transformed Federal, State, and Judicial Elections

In the five years since Citizens United, Super PACs have spent one billion on federal elections, according to a Brennan Center analysis.

Around 60 percent of that amount came from fewer than 200 people. Hundreds of millions more have been spent by so-called "dark money" groups - organizations that spend to influence elections but evade donor disclosure laws - and in the 11 most competitive U.S. Senate races in 2014, a majority of outside spending came from groups that keep their donors secret.

Although the Court's rationale in Citizens United rested on the notion that groups raising and spending unlimited funds would be "independent" of candidates and political parties, the reality is that around half of all Super PACs were formed to support a single candidate and are often led by the candidate's former staff, Public Citizen has found.

Besides the $1 billion-plus spent on federal elections after Citizens United, hundreds of millions more has been spent on increasingly expensive state races. David Koch's Americans for Prosperity, for example, spent $10 million supporting Governor Scott Walker in his 2012 recall election. In 2014, tens of millions were spent by outside groups in the Massachusetts governor's race, more than double the amount spent four years earlier.

And, in the years since Citizens United, judicial elections have increasingly been dominated by outside spending. At least $56.4 million was spent on state Supreme Court races between 2011 and 2012, according to Justice at Stake, raising serious concerns that justice is truly for sale.

That concern is particularly pointed in Wisconsin, where the Court will be deciding a case potentially involving criminal liability for the majority's biggest supporters - and with it, ironically, deciding the future of Wisconsin campaign finance laws.

Although the unlimited spending made possible by Citizens United has allowed the Koch network to reshape U.S. politics and the Republican Party to advance their corporate and ideological interests, wealthy Democratic donors are increasingly stepping up their game. The political arena is becoming a billionaire's playground.

Elected Officials Responsive to Tiny Sliver of Ultra-Wealthy Donors, Rather than Average Americans

As limits on money in elections continue to deteriorate, candidates must increasingly rely on big campaign spending from a tiny sliver of wealthy individuals like the Kochs. Elected officials, in turn, are far more responsive to the preferences of the wealthy - who bankroll their campaigns - than to the average voter, and a large body of research shows that the rich have different policy priorities than the general public, as Demos and Common Cause have documented.

For example, vast majorities of Americans support raising the minimum wage and enacting paid sick days, but these policies are not a priority for the wealthy donor class, and are actively opposed by entrenched corporate interests (and big political spenders) like the National Restaurant Association. As a result, the federal minimum wage has remained stalled at $7.25 per hour, and the U.S. is the only developed country on earth that doesn't guarantee that workers can stay home sick without losing pay or their job.

Even worse, when cities and counties have tried to enact these laws in their communities, they've been thwarted by corporate-backed state legislators - most of whom are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council - passing "preemption" laws at the state level to crush local efforts to enact paid sick days or a higher minimum wage. (ALEC has also demanded that state legislators protect the "right" of corporate interests to anonymously influence elections.)

This big money politics means that elected officials are primarily responsive to the policy preferences of their financial supporters rather than average people. And, as Demos has described, this dynamic further hinders a truly multiracial democracy:  major political donors, to both parties, are almost entirely white. Which means that policymakers are primarily responsive to the preferences of a rich, white donor class, and people of color and the poor have their voices marginalized, even as the country grows increasingly diverse.

Hope Is on the Horizon

Yet, there are flashes of hope.

This week, thousands of people across the country are taking to the streets on this fifth anniversary to raise their voices against Citizens United. Five million people have signed petitions calling for a constitutional amendment to reverse the decision. And 16 states and over 500 cities have passed resolutions calling for an amendment, including New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, thanks to the work of Public Citizen, People for the American Way, Common Cause, Move to Amend, Communications Workers of America, American Sustainable Business Council and others

And last September, a majority of the U.S. Senate voted to advance a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and restore the ability of Congress and states to put limits on electoral spending.

There is much more work to be done. But momentum - and popular support - is on the side of democracy.

Brendan Fischer is CMD's General Counsel. He graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin Law School. Prior to law school, Brendan served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a rural community in Northeastern El Salvador. Twitter: @brendan_fischer

I'm so proud of my independent Republican CIA-protecting Senator. (/snark)

How many more are there? All the in-crowd in the newly Republican-dominated Congress?

And will U.S. citizens allow them to hide the CIA's actions affecting their ability to live decent lives alongside their fellow earthlings forever?

January 21, 2015

GOP Senator Seeks to Put CIA 'Smoking Gun' Back in Bottle

New Intelligence Committee chairman wants to keep public in the dark about torture

Senator Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, has said "I personally don’t believe that anything that goes on in the intelligence committee should ever be discussed publicly." (Photo: ncsunewsdept/flickr/cc)

With his party back in control of Congress, the new GOP chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee wants to return to the CIA a damning internal review, described by some as a "smoking gun," that exposes the brutality and inefficiency of the spy agency's torture program.

"The Panetta Review was never intended for the committee to have," Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina told Huffington Post. "At some point, we will probably send it back to where it came from."

The so-called Panetta Review is named for former U.S. Secretary of Defense and CIA director Leon Panetta, who ordered the internal review in 2009 as an attempt by the agency to better understand millions of documents that the CIA was handing over to the Intelligence Committee as it began its investigation into the Bush-era detention program.

Former Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado disclosed the existence of the review during an open hearing in December 2013. According to lawmakers who have seen it, the review found that the CIA had exaggerated the value of intelligence gained during the brutal interrogations of some detainees.

As the New York Times reports: "One of the report’s findings, according to people who have seen the document, was that the C.I.A. repeatedly claimed that important intelligence to thwart terror plots and track down Qaeda operatives had come from the interrogation sessions of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed when, in fact, the intelligence had other origins."

Last month, as he prepared to leave office, Udall revealed more details about the review in a speech on the U.S. Senate floor, highlighting inconsistencies between it and other public CIA statements.

"In my view, the Panetta Review is a smoking gun," Udall said on December 10, 2014. "It raises fundamental questions about why a review the CIA conducted internally years ago and never provided to the committee is so different from the official [John] Brennan response and so different from the public statements of former CIA officials."

"The Panetta Review found that the CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Congress, the president, and the public on the efficacy of its coercive techniques," he continued. "The Panetta review further identifies cases in which the CIA used coercive techniques when it had no basis for determining whether a detainee had critical intelligence at all. In other words, CIA tortured detainees to confirm they didn’t have intelligence, not because they thought they did."

It's not only the Panetta Review that Burr is trying to recall.

The senator has also written to President Barack Obama, saying that his Democratic predecessor, Senator Dianne Feinstein, should never have transmitted the entire 6,700-page Senate Intelligence Committee report to numerous departments and agencies within the executive branch — and requested that all copies of the report be "returned immediately," according to people who have seen the letter. 

In response to Burr's statements, Feinstein said: "I strongly disagree that the administration should relinquish copies of the full committee study, which contains far more detailed records than the public executive summary. Doing so would limit the ability to learn lessons from this sad chapter in America’s history and omit from the record two years of work, including changes made to the committee’s 2012 report following extensive discussion with the CIA."

The new chairman's actions are in keeping with his previous statements.

According to "International Business Times:"

Burr's efforts to withdraw the report are also seen as an attempt to prevent the document from being released in the public domain through the Freedom of Information Act. Some portions of the report were removed from the declassified file that was released last month.

Burr had previously opposed the investigation into CIA's practices under the committee’s previous chairperson, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), which, he reportedly alleged, was an effort to discredit the agency and the Bush administration.

"I fear the ramifications for our national security and global partnerships, and I stand by my assertion that this report is flawed, biased, and political in nature," Burr had reportedly said in December.
This tug-of-war speaks more broadly to an ongoing effort by some Republicans to keep details of U.S. torture from the American public.

"The ongoing controversies, more than a month after Intelligence Committee Democrats released their explosive findings about the C.I.A’s detention and interrogation program, signal just how much all sides are still positioning to control the history of one of America’s most polarizing recent episodes," Mark Mazzetti writes for the "Times:"

"The latest actions show that Republicans and the C.I.A. are still fighting to challenge the conclusions of a report they consider to be a partisan smear."

If you'd like to read a review of the SOTU speech from someone who envisioned a different Obamacares response, read on:

Six years ago, Obama was elected on the hope that he would represent the millions, not the millionaires.

When Obama delivered his first State of the Union address, Democrats occupied majorities in both the House and Senate.

Today, after massive disappointment and disillusionment for the American people, he faces Republican majorities in both branches of Congress. Six years later, will millions of Americans finally get the president they voted for?

Some of the proposals Obama made tonight point in the right direction:

On taxing the rich, on providing free community college education, paid sick and maternity leave, and municipal broadband.

But how does Obama plan to overcome the inevitable Republican obstruction?

How will Obama get any serious measure to tax the wealthy or against climate change past the entrenched and undemocratic power of Wall Street and big business?

There is no answer to this from Obama.

He talked about the economic recovery.

But the truth is for the vast majority of us this has been a joyless recovery.

Americans face the highest levels of inequality in almost a century.

Under Obama the gap between rich and poor has only widened.

But the last two years have seen the shaping of the kind of forces that can reverse this stunning inequality – the historic grassroots movements for a $15/hour minimum wage by heroic low-wage workers taking strike action.

And we won a $15 minimum wage in Seattle – the first major city to do so – by building a movement of low-paid workers together with unions, community organizations, 15 Now, and others.

Critical for $15 in Seattle was the election of an independent working class candidate who boldly championed it, which forced the political and business establishment to reluctantly make a concession on this issue.

In contrast, Republican and Democratic politicians, rather than fighting to raise the minimum wage as we did, have instead been taking donations from the same fast food companies that workers are striking against.

Obama is pushing international trade agreements undermining environmental and labor standards that will further fuel inequality and environmental destruction.

This year also saw a $15 ballot initiative passed by a huge margin in San Francisco, and statewide ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage pass by super-majorities, including Republican dominated states.

Our task is clear – we need to continue to build this movement and democratic organizations like 15 Now to make 2015 the year we win 15 across the nation.

Obama spoke about helping the middle class. He spoke about housing issues.

Yet while cities like Seattle have to deal with astronomical rent increases and gentrification, we are simultaneously facing cuts to federal funding for low-income housing.

Here in Seattle I along with public housing tenants and community activists just led a successful battle to stop a 400% rent hike for low-income housing in Seattle.

I hope this example of resistance and struggle can spread nationally where other cities are confronted with similar attacks.

Socialist Alternative, tenants, and I are campaigning for emergency measures like rent control to address this spiraling crisis.

But emergency measures will not be enough. The so called “free market” has miserably failed to provide affordable housing.

We need urgent public investment to build new affordable housing for working families.

I am working on a plan for the Seattle city government to build thousands of high-quality publicly owned houses to rent at below market rates.

But to win any of this, tenants and homeowners need to build their own housing justice movement, acting locally, but connecting nationally.

Obama´s pledge to say No to Keystone XL and to cap methane emissions are necessary first steps.

But let’s be clear: he has utterly failed to take on the power of the 90 companies who are responsible for almost two thirds of the climate emissions in history.

Instead he brags about being the “Fracking President.”

As Naomi Klein said, this is about capitalism versus the climate.

We need to act here and now. But we can only deal with climate change if we break the power of the giant oil and car companies who are determined to extract every drop of oil from the ground.

Addressing climate change means organizing society around the interests of the 99%, rather than around profits and fiercely competing nation states.

We need a democratic socialist society based on international cooperation.

Real progress is only won by millions stepping into action. We saw that with the tremendous People´s Climate March which had half a million people rallying in New York City. We need to take this forward and demand concrete action. In Seattle, we are pushing forward to ban oil and coal trains from passing through the city.

Last year saw the beginning of the most important movement against racial injustice in decades.

Every 28 hours, a Black person is killed by police or vigilantes in this country.

We live in the age of mass black incarceration.

The age of unindicted, unprosecuted, widespread police brutality against black people.

This is the age of economic racism, where the average income of a black person is one third less than a white person.

After hundreds of thousands of Black workers and youth campaigned to elect Obama, he has provided no vision to address racism in our society.

Why can’t Barack Obama say “Black Lives Matter”?

Black people, people of color, indigenous people deserve action.

They deserve action now:

  • For full prosecution of all acts of police brutality like those against Mike Brown and Eric Garner!
  • For an end to economic racism, for a $15 / hour minimum wage nationally.
  • To finally address the gaping income inequalities that define race and gender in the U.S.
The Republicans elected in the mid-terms last fall would like to think they have a public mandate.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The pro-corporate, right-wing agenda of the Republicans is being roundly rejected in poll after poll. This was also evident with the many progressive voter initiatives that passed in the same election that gave Republicans their majority.

The only reason Republicans won is that working people, youth and people of color are deeply disappointed after years of the Democrats doing the bidding of corporations.

This is why millions stayed home with the lowest voter turnout since the 2nd World War!

Is Obama now prepared to challenge Republicans and big business?

I fear not.

Unfortunately, the financial aristocracy that funded Obama’s election campaigns and promoted him to the presidency have their tentacles firmly wedded in to every nook and cranny of the White House.

Let us not forget Obama has carried out unprecedented unconstitutional spying, drone strikes, and a ferocious crackdown on brave whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning.

This is why independent working class challengers will be needed.

Candidates who refuse corporate donations, who are financially and politically independent of big business and their two parties.

We need to build our own political voice, a mass political party for working people.

Despite Obama’s speech today, bitter experience has shown we cannot rely on him to deliver.

We must work to build independent movements of working class people, of young people, of women and people of color, and the LGBTQ community.

To fight towards affordable cities, health care and education for all.

Towards a society based on economic justice, equal rights, compassion and an end to racism.

To challenge the domination of the 1%.


Kshama Sawant

Kshama Sawant, who has a Ph.D. in economics from NC State University, teaches at Seattle Central Community College, and is a Socialist member of the Seattle City Council.


TONY @oakroyd said...

Thanks for the American Sniper link which I will post tomorrow. Usual Hollywood narrative of noble US soldiers making sacrifices for the rights of the people they are occupying. In the Hurt Locker none of the Iraqi characters even has a name. Bigelow asked the CIA for their input before she released Zero Dark Thirty. The epitome (nadir?) of obscenity.

Cirze said...


Someone should make that movie.

But it would be entirely too telling.

So, not allowed!

Love you.

Take care!