Hard Times and Horsemeat: Coming Here?
My morning newspaper Feb. 17 provided several depressing reports. I learned more about the spread of horsemeat in Europe's human food supply. Subscribers read also about austerity measures in the United States that hurt the young, old, and those in between.
The downward developments are worth noting, especially because they contrast so much with the uplifting words and stagecraft of the president's recent second-term Inaugural and State of the Union speeches.
Our normal topic in this space -- injustice -- is gloomy in its own way. Legal rights will seem increasingly like a luxury in hard times ahead, subject to new limits on freedom. Few will recall that due process and other legal rights are not a luxurious token of the nation's success, but were a necessary precondition.
As for Europe, we now know that unwitting consumers there have been eating horsemeat. It's cheap for the food processors and under-funded, lax regulators have not been careful about eliminating mystery meat from processed foods.
So how far is the United States from that disgusting danger? Perhaps a long way. There are no known horsemeat gourmands here, unlike Europe. So it would be hard to slip meat into relevant plants even if inspectors are downsized.
But don't count on avoiding other regulatory setbacks. We are much less worried about health, war costs, and privacy intrusions than we should be. In addition, our leaders and media focus us far more than is healthy on religion-inspired witch-hunts and sex obsessions. Those do nothing to help the economy and most consumers.
We should draw on our rich history of films and books portraying harsh economic conditions. As a reminder, the government-enforced poverty and other oppression of Orwell's1984 was once regarded as so horrible that the public would resist it.
Instead, we in America dare not protest even with expert evidence available that the federal government is collecting virtually all of our emails and phone calls. No federal official dares call a hearing to invite testimony on these illegal searches. Instead, officials stand by as the whistleblowers are imprisoned under Bush and Obama administrations alike. On the economy, we endure a long-term propaganda campaign as if FDR, the Depression, and the New Deal never succeeded.
We and our representatives listen in near silence as paid liars with fancy job titles and graduate degrees pretend that taxes were low during the Eisenhower administration, and that trickle-down economics during the Bush administration did not destroy the economy in 2007-2008.
In 1973, the science fiction movie Soylent Green portrayed 2022, when the nation's main food supply would be marketed under the brand name "Soylent." The film starred Charlton Heston, shown above right. The film suggested that poverty and austerity would lead to harsh options in food supply and other living conditions. Although fantasy, the film's concept was relatively logical compared to economic nostrums being peddled in Washington these days. That's true especially in the hallowed halls of Congress and the most famous so-called "think tanks" filled with ideologic shills.
Movies get our attention, just like the stories in my Washington Post today. We can protect ourselves at least somewhat if we know both headlines and the history.
Listed below are today's headlines. Regarding austerity, check out: State of the millennial union: Underemployed an overloaded and Future retirees at greater risk; Majority may be worse off than parents. Another angle is: Cash-strapped Job Corps won't take new recruits. It shows the federal government curtailing jobs at the program designed to employ idealistic and under-employed young people.
On horsemeat and the breakdown of regulation, we see, Thin Margins force Europe's food industry into short cuts and Britain finds horsemeat in school meals, hospitals and restaurants as scandal spreads,
On the breakdown of government and private institutions generally, there are too many reports to mention. A sample includes the story of why President Obama is missing the opportunity to undertake meaningful reform of a serious problem: Obama's Voting Reform Plan All Pomp, Little Circumstance. The president should be investigating those who destroy democracy, not giving their lawyer an equal voice in a study group. As for the private sector, we learn from The Post's last ombudsman? that the Washington Post is likely to cut costs by ending nearly five decades of employing a reader representative.
Perhaps most important of all, we learn that the Tea Party deregulatory movement was planned a decade ago by longtime advocates of austerity for the public. The Tea Party movement thus was not a "reform" of the practices of President Obama or even President Bush. Instead, it was a clever marketing plan by wealthy ideologues such as tobacco heir C. Boyden Gray, at left, and his allies to impose austerity on ordinary people while maintaining enormous spending on such pet projects as arms buildups and spending on Mideast wars.
Another leading advocate of austerity is retired financier Peter Peterson, shown at right in his photo as Nixon administration secretary of commerce before he returned to the private sector. Peterson, born in 1926, is reported to have spent nearly a half billion dollars of his money to foster Washington think tanks and other public relations efforts to advocate reductions in government deficits.
Sitting in a front table, I saw Peterson in action up close as the keynoter for a conference Dec. 10 in Washington. The elderly tycoon was personable and eloquent in selling the story with a more nuanced approach than the Tea Party. He is a Nebraska-born son of a Greek diner owner who went on to, among other things, succeed David Rockefeller, as head of the Council on Foreign Relations from 1985 to 2007.
Wealthy from a career in manufacturing and on Wall Street, he established the Peter G. Peterson Foundation in 2008 with a $1 billion endowment. Its goal is to raise public awareness about U.S. fiscal-sustainability issues related to federal deficits, entitlement programs, and tax policies.What that means in practice is that he seeks huge spending cuts from both the right and left, with those on the left inevitably falling up those relying on "entitlements" such as Social Security and Medicare. He and his allies have been extraordinarily successful in keeping their vision prominent with both parties, but they have not succeeded in nailing down the austerity they want into legislation.
Peterson and his allies are regarded as the voice of conventional wisdom. So, the real and imagined results of budget deficits are driving many of our nation's policies, even after Democrats decisively won the presidency and Senate elections. Democrats also garnered a mandate in the House with 1.7 million more votes than Republicans, even though Democrats continue in the minority because of GOP gerrymandering at the state level.
With the help of Tea Party enthusiasm and widespread attacks on Obama, Republicans won most state elections in 2010. That control enabled Republicans to pack Democrats into relatively few districts. Thus, Republicans control far more "safe" congressional seats for the next decade even if they lose elections on a statewide basis. This occurred in several major states in 2012 that have high numbers of Republicans even though they lost the state vote.
Looking ahead to the second term, Obama proposed initiatives during his recent major speeches. The president, however, provided no path to overcome funding, House obstruction, Senate filibuster, and other real-world procedural issues. He had the ability to force filibuster reform, for example. But he either let or more likely directed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to cave in to Republican pressures, thereby letting elite interests in mostly small states block serious actions.
As the biggest companies thrive on the stock market in part through off-shoring jobs, automation and low taxes, the economic outlook is questionable. Quality jobs have disappeared for decades, even while the stock market has rebounded from the disaster of the last days of the Bush administration.
A disconnect continues between perceptions that Obama is a big-spender and the continuing hardship faced by many in the public, including those who rely on regulation to ensure safe products, fair markets, Medicare, adequate public safety, good schools and the rest of modern government. Many in the public blame Obama, like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for big spending when much of the spending was created by the Depression-causing economic policies of their predecessors.
Obama had the further burden of a bloated health, defense, and national security sectors, which he has been unwilling to curtail. The United States now spends more than the next 10 nations combined on defense. Health costs are at least double and sometimes triple those of every other Western nation without better results. This is because no other nation relies on the private insurance sector as does the United States with an inefficient blend of regulated, unregulated and tort incentives that compound paperwork and complicate care.
Glen Ford, executive editor of Black Agenda Report, attacked the president hard following the State of the Union address. A pioneering black broadcaster and print journalist for four decades, Ford noted that the president adopted Republican talking points in saying it was a sign of “progress” that “we are more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances.” That means that Obama will collaborate with the GOP in cutting almost $2 trillion more. "The big cuts," Ford predicted, "will come from those programs that enjoy overwhelming support among Americans. He claims to be with them in spirit while opposing them in practice."
The lack of decent jobs for young and old alike described by the news articles over the weekend underscores the problems that need not exist. In fact, some doom-sayers, their allies, and predecessors have paved the way for current conditions.
Gray's duplicity is worth exploring in this regard because his pedigree is relevant. His father, Gordon Gray, shown at left, was a federal official under Republican and Democratic administrations for three decades, most prominently as Army secretary helping President Truman and as national security advisor to President Eisenhower. Gray was a close friend to both Eisenhower and Connecticut Senator Prescott Bush, whose son and grandson became presidents.
More broadly, such leaders were helping reconstruct Europe and plan the next stages of Western strength as onetime colonies declared independence around the world. The Rockefeller and Rothschild families picked 100 of their near-peers to meet annually beginning in 1954. They called themselves the Bilderberg Group after the name of their first site, the Bilderberg Hotel, located in the Netherlands. Although many high-ranking media executives and commentators attend, this society is strictly secret. Leading financial, industrialist, government, energy and media executives confer on policy issues. Membership overlaps heavily with more public groups, such as the Council on Foreign Relations and the Rockefeller-founded Trilateral Group.
Gordon Gray, a lawyer and newspaper publisher, was an advocate of mind-control experiments on unsuspecting military personnel to examine their reactions when drugged and otherwise reoriented in ways that officials hope might prove instructive. Also, Gray shared with Prescott Bush a keen interest in eugenics. Gray and his wife thus led a program of intelligence testing of North Carolina boys and girls, with hundreds of those who failed the tests sterilized to improve the population pool in the still-segregated South.
The program endured criticism, especially because of so many returning war veterans were opposed to Hitler's eugenics program. Also, Prescott Bush sought to lower his own profile on the issue in view of his secretive work representing on Wall Street Fritz Thyssen, Hitler's chief financier, until the eve of the war. With sensitivities high, the sterilization program wound down and morphed into advocacy for birth control. These days, the Republican Party has been so intimidated by religious zealots that many of its elected officials dare not support Planned Parenthood even for routine medical services that have no connection with conception issues.
This history helps illustrate how the wealthy feared for the nation's future even at a time of growing prosperity. That period of success coincided also with income tax rates of 91 percent upon the wealthy during the entire Eisenhower administration. Those taxes helped fund the nation's infrastructure, defense budget, and other programs.
The president, who had commanded Allied forces in Europe during the war, ended his term in 1961. Eisenhower's Farewell Address warned the public that the greatest danger to democracy was, not high taxes, but the domestic "Military Industrial Complex." Eisenhower, portrayed at right, is increasingly and deservedly recognized as one of our finest presidents.
During that period, the actor Charlton Heston was on the cusp of achieving stardom in such films as Ben-Hur. Heston is portrayed at left in a photo courtesy of Wikipedia. The photo was during the 1963 civil rights march led by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Washington, DC. Much of the country was segregated then, either by law or in practice. The owner of the Washington Redskins football team, for example, was a proud racist who refused to employ any African-American players until the league threatened him with drastic sanctions in the 1960s.
Heston would go on to star in Soylent Green as a colleague of a fellow policeman, portrayed by Edward G. Robinson. The two solved the murder of a wealthy businessman killed during an era of "pollution, overpopulation, depleted resources, poverty, dying oceans, and a hot climate due to the greenhouse effect." Much of the population is portrayed as surviving on "soylent" processed food. The world's top executives cheerfully marketed it via major ad campaigns, although the executives themselves dined on more traditional luxury foods.
Boyden Gray, meanwhile, carved out a successful career in the 1970s after graduation from Harvard Law School. His employers included George H.W. Bush as White House counsel during the entire Bush presidency.
Among many work and volunteer initiatives, Gray co-founded the Washington advocacy group FreedomWorks, which collected funds from the wealthy to provide seed money and other behind-the-scenes help to start the Tea Party movement.
The Tea Party ostensibly began in 2009 as a grassroots reaction to the Obama presidency. Fox News relentlessly promoted it. Many of their adherents were whites who knew the country was changing for the worse, but had limited information about who was responsible or their the advocacy would help foster pressure to limit the Social Security, Medicare and other programs helpful to many in Red States. Former Reagan administration official Paul Craig Roberts has written frequently, as in a column below, that the mainstream media of which he was a prominent part for many years at the Wall Street Journal has failed to inform the public about economic issues.
A federal study released this month show that those like Gray prepared for the Tea Party launch more than a decade ago. Former Vice President Al Gore published a column below. Both Gore and his father, a late Tennessee senator, came under attack for money-making after their federal terms. The issue is always with us.
On the bright side, we can take solace in signs of concern, good intentions, and good deeds. Gray, like his late father, helps lead many civic groups.
Recently, I came across a call for reform and good citizenship authored by Lynn Forester de Rothschild, the New Jersey-born wife of Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, a leader of the two-century-old global banking family. Under the theme How we must stop the greed and corruption that threaten to destroy the American Dream, she wrote that she and her husband "believe that greed and corruption in the City and on Wall Street have understandably shaken the faith of countless millions who have been excluded from the very same system that brought me security and success. Evelyn and I worry that the resulting pessimism – even cynicism – about our economic system is undermining its very existence."
"Indeed, according to one recent survey by the Boston Consulting Group," she continued, "only 21 per cent of Americans and 28 per cent of Britons believe their children will have a better life than them. This could lead to any number of negative consequences. In an effort to bring the best to the system, I am co-chairing a new international group, "the Henry Jackson Initiative For Inclusive Capitalism" that is trying to showcase several immediate and permanent solutions from the private sector. In our first working paper, available at henryjacksoninitiative.org, we have highlighted several private sector efforts to improve education, support small and medium businesses and to bring back a bedrock sense of ethics and civics. I don’t want to destroy the system. I want to balance the freedom that has brought me a wonderful life with personal responsibility. That is the only way to save capitalism for the sake of a future generation of girls who have dreams."
We shall see whether that kind of initiative results in worthy reforms or to convoluted processes that steer reform energies into dead ends. I suspect it will do both, much like volunteers for both the Tea Party and Obama campaigns have found.
In the meantime, I took a break from writing this to enjoy a slice of non-soylent pizza garnished with pepperoni that contains no horse meat (to my knowledge). Who knows how long that will last if we lay off more meat inspectors as if they were just as disposable as air traffic controllers, manufacturing sector, or postal workers.
Trying to look on the bright side, I saw in today's paper that one writer described her native region as “too small to be a republic and too large to be an insane asylum.”
Let's hope that description remains for one place, not the whole country.
Editor's Note: The column above was updated several times.
Related News Coverage
Washington Post, State of the millennial union: Underemployed an overloaded, Alexandra Petri, Feb. 12, 2013. Tonight President Obama delivers his State of the Union address, that traditional speech where the president goes on at great length about things he’d like Congress to do so that he can claim them as landmark legislative accomplishments. If the inaugural was any indication, I am worried he will keep ignoring Millennials. I hope he doesn’t. The State of the Union may be improving. But the state of the Millennials is — still pretty dire, actually. I know we are noted, as a generation, for our ability to complain. We have complained before. We are Generation Always Says We’ll Quit Facebook But Still Hasn’t. We complain on Twitter, on Facebook, via text, in person, on Tumblr. We are squeaky wheels. But where’s our grease? We could stand a little grease right about now. And none is forthcoming. And this is really a problem. We are grotesquely unemployed. We waded bravely into the workforce waving extremely expensive sheets of paper that turned out to be almost meaningless. Nearly half of college graduates are working jobs that don’t require four-year degrees. And those are the ones who are working at all! The rest of us still paid too much money for educations at universities that did nothing much to improve our critical thinking skills, and several of whom turned out to be falsifying their test scores to appear more exclusive. The only thing college trained us to do was to drink lots of inexpensive beer quickly and uncomplainingly, which is useful given the likely state of our beer budgets in years to come. But we had hoped for more. 13.1 percent of Millennials were unemployed last month, according to Generation Opportunity. And that number doesn’t take into account the 1.7 million who have stopped looking.
Black Agenda Report, Obama’s State of the Corporate Union, Glen Ford, Feb. 13, 2013. President Obama’s State of the Union address makes it official: the 2012 election has brought us back to 2011, when the outlines of his grand bargain with the Republicans became clear. In his vision for future, “austerity in people’s programs is traded for tax breaks for corporations that will, in totally discredited theory, bring back the jobs they had outsourced overseas.” It was an impassioned performance by a cynical politician who offers little but corporate tax incentives and continued austerity. Barack Obama peppered his State of the Union address with up-tempo buzzwords about illusory “progress,” but the president’s substantive message was that he is determined to complete the austerity bargain he struck with the Republicans in 2011.
Washington Post, Cash-strapped Job Corp's won't take new recruits, Sara Halzack and Josh Hicks, Feb. 16, 2013. The Department of Labor has suspended new enrollment into one of the nation’s largest job-training programs for low-income youths, citing cost overruns that critics have blamed on mismanagement. The Job Corps enrollment freeze could close the door on as many as 30,000 young adults struggling in a troubled economy and could cost about 10,000 staff jobs, according to the association that represents private operators for the program. More than 70 members of Congress from both parties have written to the department requesting explanations for the program’s shortfall, which sources familiar with the budgeting process have pegged at $61.5 million. Two lawmakers have also complained to the White House. The freeze comes as President Obama began to promote his plans for job creation, job training and middle-class growth by taking his State of the Union address on the road last week. “The timing of this freeze could not be worse,” Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) said Tuesday. “Though our economy is adding jobs, the number of unemployed remains high. If you add to that the fact that many of the unemployed do not possess the basic skills to fill even the few jobs that are available, what you have is a country standing at a crossroads.” Job Corps, which opened its first center in 1965, was a vanguard of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty. The free program gives young adults a chance to earn a high school diploma, receive vocational training or earn certifications in more than 100 specializations.
Washington Post, Future retirees at greater risk; Majority may be worse off than parents, Michael A. Fletcher, Feb. 16, 2013. For the first time since the New Deal, a majority of Americans are headed toward a retirement in which they will be financially worse off than their parents, jeopardizing a long era of improved living standards for the nation’s elderly, according to a growing consensus of new research. The Great Recession and the weak recovery darkened the retirement picture for significant numbers of Americans. And the full extent of the damage is only now being grasped by experts and policymakers.
Financial TImes / Washington Post, Thin margins force Europe's food industry into shortcuts, Louise Lucas and Neil Buckley, Feb. 15, 2013. The appearance of horsemeat in food purporting to be beef across Europe has sparked an outcry and triggered a blame game among politicians, the food industry and supermarkets. Tons of ready meals and burgers have been pulled off store shelves and junked; shoppers are switching over to less-processed foodstuffs and vegetarian options. And regardless of whether an animal’s early life is bucolic bliss or concrete dystopia, it will nearly always end in a slaughterhouse. Abattoirs have changed in recent years — like other parts of the food chain, there are fewer of them and they are more efficient — but some things are constant. Margins are thin as a membrane and they require big, expensive equipment. “The kit you need to chop up chunks of meat is massive and soaks up a lot of energy,” said one former executive from the trade. “It’s not what you want in the kitchen.” And yet that is precisely where abattoirs have been migrating over the past decade or so, he adds. The tight profit margins leave scant room for added costs such as transport and loading, so processing units are increasingly attached or nearby, even if separately owned. “Traveling a hundred miles there and back, and double-handling of carcasses — these are things abattoirs cannot afford.”
Associated Press / Washington Post, Britain finds horsemeat in school meals, hospitals and restaurants as scandal spreads, Staff report, Feb. 15, 2013. The European Union agreed Friday to begin random DNA checks on meat products in a bid to put a lid on a spreading scandal over horsemeat, while British authorities announced traces of horse had been found in school meals, restaurant dishes and hospital food, as well as supermarket products.
Huffington Post, Study Confirms Tea Party Was Created by Big Tobacco and Billionaire Koch Brothers, Brendan DeMelle, Feb. 11, 2013. A new academic study confirms that front groups with longstanding ties to the tobacco industry and the billionaire Koch brothers planned the formation of the Tea Party movement more than a decade before it exploded onto the U.S. political scene. Far from a genuine grassroots uprising, this astroturf effort was curated by wealthy industrialists years in advance. Many of the anti-science operatives who defended cigarettes are currently deploying their tobacco-inspired playbook internationally to evade accountability for the fossil fuel industry's role in driving climate disruption. The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institute of Health, traces the roots of the Tea Party's anti-tax movement back to the early 1980s when tobacco companies began to invest in third party groups to fight excise taxes on cigarettes, as well as health studies finding a link between cancer and secondhand cigarette smoke.
Huffington Post, False Spontaneity of the Tea Party, Al Gore, Feb. 14, 2013. A new study by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institute of Medicine reveals that the Tea Party Movement was planned over a decade ago by groups with ties to the tobacco and fossil fuel industries. The movement was not a spontaneous populist uprising, but rather a long-term strategy to promote the anti-science, anti-government agenda of powerful corporate interests. The two organizations mentioned in the report, Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, used to be a single organization that was founded by the Koch brothers and heavily financed by the tobacco industry. These organizations began planning the Tea Party Movement over ten years ago to promote a common agenda that advocated market fundamentalism over science and opposed any regulation or taxation of fossil fuels and tobacco products. The disturbing history of links between market fundamentalists, the tobacco industry and the Tea Party movement is part of an even larger trend that I describe in my new book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change. Following the era of Progressive and New Deal reforms that restrained corporate influence in American politics following the infamous Robber Baron Era, market fundamentalists were once again motivated and radicalized by the social turbulence of the 1960s. In 1971, a prominent lawyer for the tobacco industry, Lewis Powell, wrote a memorandum for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that presented a comprehensive plan aimed at shifting the balance of political power in favor of corporations. President Nixon appointed Powell to the Supreme Court just two months later.
Washington Post, The Post's last ombudsman? Patrick B. Pexton, Feb. 15, 2013. It is possible that I’ll be the Washington Post’s last independent ombudsman and that this chair will empty at the conclusion of my two-year term Feb. 28. If so, that will end nearly 43 years of this publication having enough courage and confidence to employ a full-time reader representative and critic. Officially, no final decision has been made. Discussions are underway within The Post about how to respond to reader complaints and concerns without an independent ombudsman. But I think the tea leaves are clear. For cost-cutting reasons, for modern media-technology reasons and because The Post, like other news organizations, is financially weaker and hence even more sensitive to criticism, my bet is that this position will disappear.
Institute for Political Economy, While Left And Right Fight, Power Wins, Paul Craig Roberts, left, Feb. 14, 2013. We have a government whose elected members are beholden to a private oligarchy, consisting of the military/security complex, Wall Street and the financial sector, the Israel Lobby, agribusiness, pharmaceuticals, and the energy, mining, and timber businesses, with the power to shut down people’s protests at their exploitation by robber barons and government alike. Vast amounts of government debt have been added to taxpayers’ burdens in order to fight wars that only benefit the military/security complex and the Israel Lobby. More vast amounts have been added in order to force taxpayers to cover the reckless gambling bets of the financial sector. Taxpayers are denied interest on their savings in order to protect the balance sheets of a corrupt financial sector. Legitimate protestors are brutalized by police and equated by Homeland Security with “domestic extremists,” defined by Homeland Security as a close relation to terrorists. Today, Americans are not safe from government or private power and suffer at the hands of both. What can be done? From within, probably very little. The right blames the left, and the left blames the right.
Washington Post, Guns are a loaded issue in the South, Kathleen Parker, Feb. 15, 2013. When President Obama said in his State of the Union address that “this time is different,” referring to his push for tighter gun-control laws, he wasn’t just whistling Dixie. Analysts seeking insight into the gun debate need look no further than the land of cotton, where nothing is ever forgotten.
Huffington Post, Obama's Voting Reform Plan All Pomp, Little Circumstance, Jason Linkins, Feb. 16, 2013. It's now pretty much an historical fact that the road to President Barack Obama's re-election ended up running a lot smoother than the hyped-up punditocracy had predicted in advance of Election Day. That is, at least from the perspective of the candidate and his campaign functionaries. Closer to ground-level, Election Day was anything but smooth for large swathes of the electorate, who in many cases encountered long lines, late nights, the usual widespread confusion, or some combination of all three.
Daily Mail (United Kingdom), Lynn Forester de Rothschild on her campaign to rescue capitalism... and how we must stop the greed and corruption that threaten to destroy the American Dream, Lynn Forester de Rothschild, July 28, 2012. As a middle-class girl from nowhere, I believed that if I worked hard and played by the rules my future would be anything I wished it to be. ‘What you learn as a kid, you learn good,’ my father constantly told me. (My mother would simply say: ‘Be good.’) Of course, Western society had its ‘one per cent’ of multi-millionaires when I was growing up, but there was no Occupy Wall Street movement. This was an era when it really seemed that, economically at least, that girl from nowhere could have it all. My first two marriages failed, but I was able to support my two sons, earn a nine-figure fortune with my own series of start-up businesses and was named the 4th Most Powerful Woman in European Business by Fortune magazine. In 2000, I married an Englishman, Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, who also carried his head high. He had been born into considerable wealth, which he believed was a responsibility. For 40 years, he had worked as a banker and he always said that his first duty was to his clients. Evelyn embodied the values and ethics that gave people like me faith in our positions.
Huffington Post, Paul Krugman: Raising The Minimum Wage Is 'Good Policy,' Staff report, Feb. 16, 2013. Increasing the minimum wage is "actually good policy," New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote in a blog post on Saturday. President Obama proposed raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour during his State of the Union address last week. While many on the right say that raising the minimum wage could make it more difficult for employers to hire people and therefore cause higher unemployment, Krugman argued in his post that this simply is not the case. "There just isn’t any evidence that raising the minimum wage near current levels would reduce employment," Krugman wrote, citing a report by John Schmitt from the Center for Economic Policy and Research.
Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues
Washington Post, When solitude is torture, George F. Will, Feb. 21, 2013. Tens of thousands of American prison inmates are kept in protracted solitary confinement that arguably constitutes torture and probably violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishments.” Noting that half of all prison suicides are committed by prisoners held in isolation, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) has prompted an independent assessment of solitary confinement in federal prisons. State prisons are equally vulnerable to Eighth Amendment challenges concerning whether inmates are subjected to “substantial risk of serious harm.” America, with 5 percent of the world’s population, has 25 percent of its prisoners. Mass incarceration, which means a perpetual crisis of prisoners re-entering society, has generated understanding of solitary confinement’s consequences when used as a long-term condition for an estimated 25,000 inmates in federal and state “supermax” prisons — and perhaps 80,000 others in isolation sections within regular prisons. Clearly, solitary confinement involves much more than the isolation of incorrigibly violent individuals for the protection of other inmates or prison personnel.
OpEd News, Imperial Propaganda: Our Highest Achievement, Joe Giambrone, Feb. 22, 2013. Hollywood likes to pretend that things aren't political when they are. It's that bi-partisan nationalist myth that if both corporate parties agree to cheer for the empire, then everyone cheers for the empire. It's gotten so bad now that races like the Oscars and the Writer's Guild screenwriting award are tight contests between one CIA propaganda film and another CIA propaganda film. The first one helps to demonize Iranians and set up the next World War scenario, while the second film fraudulently promotes the effectiveness of state-sanctioned torture crimes. If there ever was a time for loud disgust and rejection of the Hollywood / Military-Industrial-Complex, this would seem to be it ( Email address removed ). Naomi Wolf made a comparison of Zero Dark Thirty's creators Bigelow and Boal to Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (Triumph of the Will). That, to me, seems inappropriately offensive to Leni Riefenstahl. The good German filmmaker never promoted torture through deception. Nor was Triumph a call to war. The film was simply an expression of German patriotism and strength, rebirth from the ashes of World War I. The current insidious crop of propaganda, as in the CIA's leaking of fictional scenes about locating Osama Bin Laden through torture extraction, are arguably more damaging and less defensible than Riefenstahl's upfront and blatant homage to Hitler's leadership.
DailyMail, Death from a swarm of tiny drones: U.S. Air Force releases terrifying video of tiny flybots that can can hover, stalk and even kill targets, Michael Zennie, Feb. 19, 2013. The U.S. Air Force is developing tiny unmanned drones that will fly in swarms, hover like bees, crawl like spiders and even sneak up on unsuspecting targets and execute them with lethal precision. The Air Vehicles Directorate, a research arm of the Air Force, has released a computer-animated video outlining the the future capabilities of Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs). The project promises to revolutionize war by down-sizing the combatants.
OpEd News, Beyond Demonstrations, Beyond Civil Disobedience, Rob Kall, Feb. 21, 2013. Demonstrations may look grassroots, but they're really top down. A handful of organizers set the time and place and they hope people will show up. Sometimes a handful of powerful or famous people will show up to give talks. It's not that demonstrations don't work at all, but they are so inefficient and usually ineffective, as commenters who participated ten years ago in the massive worldwide anti-Iraq war protests have observed. The most tame, least effective demonstrations disrupt the least. I think the more effective demonstrations disrupt-- work, traffic, or in some way, business as usual.
WhoWhatWhy, The Saga of Barrett Brown: Inside Anonymous and the War on Secrecy, Christian Stork, Feb. 21, 2013. Alleged “hacktivist” Barrett Brown, the 31-year old mislabeled “spokesman” for the shadowy hacker collective known as Anonymous, faces federal charges that could put him away for over a hundred years. Did he engage in a spree of murders? Run a child-sex ring? Not quite. His crime: making leaked e-mails accessible to the public—documents that shine a light on the shadowy world of intelligence contracting in the post-9/11 era. A critically acclaimed author and provocative journalist, Brown cannot be too easily dismissed as some unruly malcontent typing away in the back of a gritty espresso lounge. He is eccentric. And he was clearly high on something, if only his own hubris, when he made a threatening video that put him in the feds’ crosshairs. But that’s not the real reason for the government’s overreaction. Evidence indicates it has a lot more to do with sending a message to the community he comes from, which the government sees—correctly—as a threat. The Barrett Brown case is simply the latest in a string of prosecutions in which the government pursues anyone involved in making information “liberated” from governmental or corporate entities easily accessible to the public. Those targeted are not necessarily accused of the illegal entry itself (the “hack”) or violating contracts (as in the case of a “leak”). These are people performing a function analogous to that of a newspaper—yet they can face prison sentences longer than those prescribed for murderers, rapists, and terrorists. See also:
Atlantic, What J. Edgar Hoover Did to a New York Times Critic of the FBI, John R. Bohrer, April 11, 2012. In the early 1970s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation considered it pertinent biographical information that The New York Times' Tom Wicker suffered from “mental halitosis.” Since this is not, strictly speaking, a medical condition, they qualified the classification with “apparently.” Internal documents obtained by Capital New York through the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the bureau began keeping tabs on Wicker, who died last November, after he published a wide-ranging article for the New York Times Magazine asking, “What Have They Done Since They Shot Dillinger?” The 1969 article took the F.B.I. to task for expending its resources on bank robberies and sensational murders that garnered them publicity while doing little to no work investigating criminal syndicates and the nuanced financial crimes of much more consequence to the national public interest. Wicker laid the blame at the feet of the man who embodied the bureau—its one and only director, J. Edgar Hoover—for being a practiced P.R. man more than a crime fighter, too concerned with bureaucratic protocol, too slow on civil rights, and too long in the job to right the bureau’s course. With that article, the F.B.I. began a file on a man they had ignored as “a screwball” despite his having been the Washington bureau chief for the most influential newspaper in the country. It would contain rumors from an unknown third-hand source, a hunt for ulterior motives, and the director’s general disdain. In short, Wicker’s file provides a case study of the personal terms in which the bureau dealt with critical journalists in the final years of Hoover’s reign. [Hoover is shown at right.]
Huffington Post, Whine Free Zone, Howard Fineman, Feb. 19, 2013. The president jets off to play golf for the weekend at a private resort, leaving the traveling press outside the gates, at a hotel 25 minutes away -- and suddenly there's a full-blown First Amendment crisis. President Obama's lost weekend with Tiger Woods has become the latest iteration of a pervasive media meme: that Obama is "aloof" and that his White House is the most manipulative, secretive and press-averse in modern times. Obama isn't aloof. He talks plenty, just not very often to what used to be called "the national press corps." My advice to colleagues, for what it's worth: stop whining and start (or keep) digging. What about reporters asking serious, substantive questions about policy matters? It's hard to get the simplest answer from the lowest functionary, not to mention an illuminating answer -- on the record or off -- from a higher-up. The White House should (but never will) admit that, Murdoch and Tea Party bloggers aside, it has enjoyed some of the tamest presidential coverage since the early '60s.
Lawfare, John Brennan’s Answers to SSCI Post-Hearing Questions, Jack Goldsmith, Feb. 15, 2013. They are available here. Lots of interesting stuff on a first quick read, but two thing stand out. First, in response to the question “Could the Administration carry out drone strikes inside the United States?,” Brennan gave this non-response, which is sure to lead to more questions and concerns: “This Administration has not carried out drone strikes inside the United States and has no intention of doing so.” And when asked to identify “those specific individuals to whom you expressed concerns (regardless of medium – email, text, conversations, phone calls) about the effectiveness, or legality of the CIA’s Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs) program,” he listed no specific individuals but reiterated the nature of his concerns.
Guardian, Obama DOJ again refuses to tell a court whether CIA drone program even exists, Glenn Greenwald, Feb. 14, 2013. The Obama DOJ again tells a court that it cannot safely confirm or deny the existence of the CIA drone program. It is not news that the US government systematically abuses its secrecy powers to shield its actions from public scrutiny, democratic accountability, and judicial review. But sometimes that abuse is so extreme, so glaring, that it is worth taking note of, as it reveals its purported concern over national security to be a complete sham. Such is the case with the Obama DOJ's behavior in the lawsuit brought by the ACLU against the CIA to compel a response to the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request about Obama's CIA assassination program. That FOIA request seeks nothing sensitive, but rather only the most basic and benign information about the "targeted killing" program: such as "the putative legal basis for carrying out targeted killings; any restrictions on those who may be targeted; any civilian casualties; any geographic limits on the program; the number of targeted killings that the agency has carried out."
FireDogLake, Every Day the Senate Gets More Idiotic: Chuck Hagel Edition, Jon Walker, Feb. 15, 2013. From its anti-democratic design, to its bizarre rules, to the absurd way it is run, the United States Senate is simply a terrible institution. Yet whenever I think my opinion of the chamber can’t get any lower the Senators manage to find a new way to disappoint me. The recent failure of the cloture vote for Chuck Hagel’s nomination for defense secretary brings Senate stupidity to a new low. If Hagel was unqualified, possibly involved in scandal, determined to have committed a crime, or even if senators were not given enough time to vet Hagel, blocking his nomination might be reasonable. None of that applies in this case. There has been no real scandal, no indication Hagel could not handle the job, and given that many of the Republican senators voting against him served with him for over a decade, they have had plenty of time to form an opinion. As far as I can determine from Republican statements the reasons they are blocking the appointment of a fellow Republican is because he said mean things to Bush, and they wanted to make the White House do something about a completely unrelated matter. This is not advising or consenting. This is childish grudge-settl;ing and political hostage taking. It is hard to know what is more disgraceful, why the minority chose to block Hagel or the fact that the majority has so pathetically abdicated their role by choosing to needlessly give the minority the power to do something so petty and stupid.
Huffington Post, Chuck Hagel Confirmation: Senate Vote Fails To End Filibuster On Obama Pick, Sabrina Siddiqui, Feb. 14, 2012. Senate Republicans successfully foiled attempts to confirm Chuck Hagel for the post of defense secretary on Thursday, by denying him the 60 votes needed for the nomination to proceed. Democrats ultimately came up short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture and end the Republicans' filibuster, with a final vote count of 58 to 40. Republican Sens. Mike Johanns (Neb.), Susan Collins (Maine), Thad Cochran (Miss.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) voted with Democrats in their failed effort to end debate. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) voted present. The nomination is hardly dead. In fact, it looks increasingly likely that Democrats will be able to muster the needed votes to confirm Hagel's nomination after a 10-day recess.
Associated Press/Washington Post, AP Exclusive: Documents sketch close dealings of Nixon, Clinton, on Russia, foreign affairs, Feb. 14, 2013. In the final months of his life, Richard Nixon quietly advised President Bill Clinton on navigating the post-Cold War world, even offering to serve as a conduit for messages to Russian President Boris Yeltsin and other government officials, newly declassified documents show. Memos and other records show Nixon’s behind-the-scenes relations with the Clinton White House. The documents are part of an exhibit opening Friday at the Nixon Presidential Library, marking the centennial of his birth. Clinton has talked often of his gratitude to Nixon for his advice on foreign affairs, particularly Russia. In a video that will be part of the exhibit, Clinton recalls receiving a letter from the 37th president shortly before his death on April 22, 1994, at a time when Clinton was assessing U.S. relations "in a world growing ever more interdependent and yet ungovernable." At left, Richard Nixon meets Bill Clinton at the White House in 1994 (Richard Nixon Foundation Photo).
Huffington Post, Law Enforcement Alliance Of America, NRA Front-Group, Spends Millions To Elect Pro-Gun Judges, Christina Wilkie, Feb. 14, 2013. The National Rifle Association has spent more than $2 million to fund a group that helps elect conservative pro-gun judges and state attorneys general, people likely to rule in court and try cases that will be favorable to the gun lobbying interests. The group is called the Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA), and details of the NRA's funding are laid out in a new report issued Thursday by the nonprofit Center for American Progress (CAP), a left-leaning think tank. The LEAA does not disclose its donors, but CAP researchers analyzed NRA tax returns and public records to determine that the group was founded in 1991 with money from the NRA, and has received a steady stream of payments from the nation's largest gun lobbying group ever since. The report found that the LEAA also has received money from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.