An Obscure Government Document Shows Elizabeth Warren Is Right About The TPP - 5 hours 19 min ago
"This is not a trade agreement. It's about intellectual property and dispute settlement."

As opponents and advocates of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) continue to battle it out, the debate over the agreement has largely focused on the issue of trade – whether jobs will be lost or gained, what the agreement will do to our trade deficit, and other related matters.

It's worth pointing out that the United States already trades heavily with the other 11 nations included in the TPP talks. As Paul Krugman says, “this is not a trade agreement. It's about intellectual property and dispute settlement; the big beneficiaries are likely to be pharma companies and firms that want to sue governments.” Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has been particularly critical of the so-called Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions, which would empower corporations to use international courts to sue the U.S. government and others who are enacting regulations and protections that harm their profits.

The Obama administration is arguing that the deal is instead about trade and increasing American exports abroad. They have set up a web page on the U.S. Trade Representative's (USTR) site listing the benefits of exports from each of the fifty states in order to argue for the Trans-Pacific agreement.

Yet an obscure government document put out by that very same office makes Warren's case for her. The office puts out an annual report on “foreign trade barriers” around the world, going country by country to list complaints the U.S. government has about their laws with respect to commerce. If you read the 2015 report, you'll quickly see that many of the complaints are about laws designed to promote environment, labor, and anti-monopolistic practices – and relate only vaguely to the larger issue of trade and tariffs. The complaints seem more focused around opposing regulations that restrict the rights of multi-national corporations and their investors.

The introduction to the report lists a number of regulations that the USTR lists as “trade barriers”; these include “sanitary and phytosanitary measures” and “lack of intellectual property protection.” This would potentially open up the the USTR to considering, say, MP3 file sharing or a food safety law as trade barriers.

Let's look at just a few of the specific “barriers” they cite:

  • FOOD SAFETY: The USTR report repeatedly criticizes measures countries are taking related to food safety. In Argentina, the USTR is critical of a requirement that U.S. pork be shipped frozen or tested for trichnosis. In Guatemala, the report objects to Guatemala's practice of fumigating 90 percent of U.S. agricultural products that are imported, saying these fumigrations “increase the cost of U.S. agricultural exports to Guatemala.” Hong Kong recently passed a code banning marketing of infant formula to children up to three years old, the USTR says it is “continuing to engage” with the government on that particular measure, questioning whether it is “more restrictive than relevant international standards.”

  • GMOs: The USTR frequently complains about countries limiting food derived from biotech crops. The report complains that “India's biotech rules have not been notified to the WTO.” South Korea's system for approving of biotech goods is “redundant” and leading to “disruptions to exports of U.S. biotech products.” Kuwait's relatively new system to label biotech goods is listed as a barrier to trade.

  • INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY: The report complains that the “scope of patentable subject matter is extremely restricted under Argentine law,” referencing “innovators in pharmaceutical and agricultural chemical sectors” – which is a way of saying pharmaceutical companies don't have enough right to declare patent monopolies and control the prices of their drugs. With regards to Chile, the USTR complains that there is “inadequate legal basis” to sue for infringement of copyright.

None of this is to say that labor, environmental, health, and other regulations are not sometimes used as inadvertent trade barriers to protect industries from competition. Take, for example, the U.S. ban on Canadian pharmaceutical drugs, which mostly serves to enrich our own domestic industry. It does show, however, that our “trade” agreements are increasingly about protecting corporate rights by taking aim at laws protecting the public interest, not increasing actual trade and exports.

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10 Ways L.A.'s $15 Minimum Wage Is Massive Nationwide Win For Low-Wage Workers - May 21, 2015 - 4:49pm
More than 600,000 people will get raises of $4,800 by 2020.

The city of Los Angeles' decision to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 is a major gamechanger in the nationwide fight to narrow America’s growing economic inequality. 

More than half a million workers—40 percent of the city’s workforce—will see raises in the next two years, according to labor economists. By 2020, more than 600,000 salaries will be an average of $4,800 higher than they are today, redistributing an estimated $2.4 billion to largely brown and black employees and households.

“If you think of the money put into the Fight for Fifteen, this outcome is massive,” said Ken Jacobs, a labor economist and chair of the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, referring to low-wage protests across the country. “In terms of a minimum wage increase, this is by far the most significant wage law in the U.S. to date, if not the world.”

The vast majority of affected workers are non-white, full- and part-time employees working in restaurants, healthcare, social work, retail and other service sectors. On the other hand, the higher wage is not going to be enough on its own to lift the city’s poor out of poverty. As the L.A. Times editorialized, “L.A. needs more $20- and $30-an-hour jobs” to do that. And even that may not be high enough, because as KPCC public radio reported, “L.A. residents need to make $33 an hour to afford the average apartment.”

Jacobs said a higher minimum wage is still a “tremendous step” in the right direction, along with the right to unionize, work under collective bargaining agreements, and as other initiatives appear to tackle issues such as affordable housing. “I think the Fight for Fifteen has changed the sense of what’s needed and what’s possible… and will change how people think about the minimum wage in the U.S.”  

In other words, the West Coast’s largest city—America’s second-largest city—has reframed the debate on what’s needed to start addressing economic inequality in America. Even though some opponents, like the California Restaurant Association, are pledging to fight it, a before-and-after analysis of its impact shows how it moves a big city’s poor closer to entering the middle class.   

What follows are 10 findings about how Los Angeles’ low-wage workers and employers will be affected by the higher minimum wage, prepared by Jacobs’ team at UC Berkeley.

1. More than half a million workers immediately impacted. The city is raising the wage in steps, starting with $13.25 an hour in 2017. The Center estimates that 542,000 workers in the city, or 37.8 percent of the workforce will see a raise. “Average annual earnings will increase by 20.4 percent, or $3,200 (in 2014 dollars),” it said. That’s an average weekly increase of slightly more than $60 an employee.

2. Three years later, another 100,000 will see raises. By the time the minimum wage reaches $15 in 2020, an estimated 609,000 employees—more than 41 percent of workers will be affected—the labor economists said. “Average annual earnings will increase by 30.2 percent or $4,800.” That’s an average increase of $92 a week.

3. Most affected workers are not young adults. The restaurant industry, where nearly 80 percent of employee will be affected, defends the minimum wage by saying it is entry-level pay for entry-level employees, mostly teenagers in their first jobs. The labor economists found that was not true in L.A., where the median age of affected workers was 33, and only 3 percent were teenagers. 

4. Almost all minimum wage workers are non-white. Eighty percent of employees who will benefit from the higher minimum wage are non-white, the economists said. “In particular, we estimate that more than half of Latino/Latina workers in Los Angeles will receive a pay increase.”

5. The higher wage will boost the inner city. That’s because “affected workers bring home more than half of their family’s income,” the economists said, and the “affected workers live disproportionately in the lower-income areas of the city…. These increased incomes generate further spending benefits through multiplier effects.” In other words, the households getting a raise will be spending it locally.

6. Higher wages improve household health. The labor economists pointed out that higher incomes have been correlated with better health of individuals in families and also better performance for children in school. Any time household stress can be lessened, it translates into “improved health outcomes” and “school achievement.”

7. The higher minimum wage affects businesses of all sizes. Opponents of a higher minimum wage often argue that small businesses can’t afford to pay more. However, the UC economists found that only 40 percent of affected employees worked at firms with fewer than 50 workers.

8. The increased business costs are not as high as portrayed. The labor economists said that businesses will likely pass along slightly higher costs to the public, but they are not widespread job-killers as opponents claim. “Overall, we estimate that firms’ operating costs will increase by 0.5 percent by 2017 and 0.9 percent by 2019,” the economists said. “The largest increases will occur in food services, administrative and waste management services, and apparel manufacturing.”    

9. Job losses will be minimal and overshadowed by growth. The economists predicted that the city would see a loss of “1,552 jobs by 2017 and 3,472 by 2019, or 0.1 and 0.2 percent of all employment, respectively.” It added, “these employment changes are quite small when compared to projected job growth of 2.5 percent a year in the city.”

10. A higher wage is not going to cause businesses to move. This is another talking point that’s often raised by opponents. However, as the labor economists noted, there are much bigger factors that determine when businesses relocate. “Previous research suggests that business relocations in the Los Angeles area are more determined by real estate prices and access to consumer markets than by differences in labor costs.”

There is no single public policy solution to addressing economic inequality, Jacobs said. However, the action take by Los Angeles places new pressure on other big cites, such as New York, to follow suit. At the federal level, the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour has not been changed by Congress since 2009. The federal minimum for tipped workers is $2.13 an hour, and has been for years, although a handful of states and cities have raised it.

“Minimum wage can’t do everything,” Jacobs said. “But this is massive. Is it enough? Was the New Deal enough? Was the Great Society enough?”

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Matt Taibbi: World’s Largest Banks Admit to Massive Global Financial Crimes, But Escape Jail (Again) - May 21, 2015 - 3:59pm
This is about as serious a financial crime as you can possibly get, says the Rolling Stone journalist.

In an interview with Democracy Now!, Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi spoke about the recent news surrounding the five major banks – Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS – who pled guilty to rigging the price of foreign currencies and interest rates. Their fines amount up to more than $5 billion. “They were monkeying around with the prices of every currency on Earth,” Taibbi told Amy Goodman. “So, if you can imagine that anybody who has money, which basically includes anybody who’s breathing on the planet, all of those people were affected by this activity. So if you have dollars in your pocket, they were monkeying around with the prices of dollars versus euros, so you might have had more or less money fractionally, depending on all of this manipulation, every single day.”

Below is an interview with Taibbi, followed by a transcript:

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to the felons on Wall Street. Five of the world’s top banks will pay over $5 billion in fines after pleading guilty to rigging the price of foreign currencies and interest rates. Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland pleaded guilty to conspiring to manipulate the price of U.S. dollars and euros exchanged in the five trillion foreign exchange—$5 trillion foreign exchange spot market. UBS pleaded guilty for its role in manipulating the Libor benchmark interest rate. On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the deal.

ATTORNEY GENERAL LORETTA LYNCH: We are here to announce a major law enforcement action against international financial institutions that for years participated in a brazen display of collusion and foreign exchange rate market manipulation, and will, as a result, pay a total of nearly $3 billion in fines and penalties. As a result of our investigation, four of the world’s largest banks have agreed to plead guilty to felony antitrust violations. They are Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Barclays PLC and the Royal Bank of Scotland PLC.

AMY GOODMAN: No one who works with the banks was hit with criminal charges as part of the settlements.

For more, we’re joined by Matt Taibbi, award-winning journalist with Rolling Stone magazine. His most recent book, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, is now out in paperback.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Matt.

MATT TAIBBI: Good to see you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: OK, explain what these banks are charged with. And what does it mean when you say banks are charged, but all the people go free?

MATT TAIBBI: Right, they filed—actually, these banks, the companies, pleaded guilty to felony charges in this case, which means it was not individuals of the company, it was the actual company itself, which is actually a step forward, because for a long time in the post-2008 period we were having a lot of settlements where there was a sort of a neither-admit-nor-deny agreement between the government and these companies, and in this case they actually did have to admit to wrongdoing and did have to plead guilty to a criminal charge, in addition to the money changing hands.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was the wrongdoing?

MATT TAIBBI: The wrongdoing was manipulating the prices of currencies, which is about as serious a financial crime as you can possibly get, I think. You know, you and I sat here a few years ago and talked about the Libor scandal. This is very similar.

AMY GOODMAN: In as simple terms as you can make it, because I think that’s why nobody goes to jail: No one can—


AMY GOODMAN: You can understand if someone steals a candy bar.


AMY GOODMAN: And a person can go to jail for years for that.


AMY GOODMAN: But when it comes to this, what did they do?

MATT TAIBBI: They were monkeying around with the prices of every currency on Earth. So, if you can imagine that anybody who has money, which basically includes anybody who’s breathing on the planet, all of those people were affected by this activity. So if you have dollars in your pocket, they were monkeying around with the prices of dollars versus euros, so you might have had more or less money fractionally, depending on all of this manipulation, every single day. And again, Attorney General Lynch went out of her way to say that this activity went on basically every single day for the last five years or so. So every single day, that $5 in your pocket was worth a little bit more or a little bit less, based on what these people were doing. And if you spread that out to everybody on Earth, it turns into a financial crime that’s on a scale that, you know, you would normally only think of in Bond movies or something like that.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, the Justice Department says traders used online chat rooms and coded language to manipulate currency exchange rates. One high-ranking Barclays trader chatted, quote, "If you ain’t cheating you ain’t trying." And another responded, quote, "Yes, the less competition the better." So, could you comment on that, Matt? And also explain why, in this particular case, the companies pleaded guilty.

MATT TAIBBI: Well, I think part of it is because they had this very graphic online record of these people chatting and admitting to essentially a criminal conspiracy in writing. That’s one of the things that’s really interesting about this entire era of financial crime, is that you have so much of this very graphic, detailed documentary evidence just lying around. The problem is the government has either been too overwhelmed or too disinclined to go and get it and do anything with it. In this case, you have people openly calling themselves the cartel or the mafia, and then openly talking about monkeying around or manipulating, you know, the price of this or that. The CFTC, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, actually released chats from a different case involving interest rate swaps yesterday, where they—where one guy was bragging about how he was holding up the price of interest rate swaps like he was bench-pressing at. They were bragging about this, you know, in these chat rooms. So these—what you have to understand about a lot of these people, they’re very testosterone-laden, souped-up young people who think that they’re indestructible. They’re very arrogant. And they’re doing all this in chat rooms, thinking they’re never going to get caught. And they got caught.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat said, quote, "The behavior that resulted in the settlements we announced today is an embarrassment to our firm, and stands in stark contrast to Citi’s values," unquote. Meanwhile, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon called the investigation findings, quote, "a great disappointment to us." He went on to say, quote, "The lesson here is that the conduct of a small group of employees, or of even a single employee, can reflect badly on all of us, and have significant ramifications for the entire firm," said the CEO, Jamie Dimon.

MATT TAIBBI: Well, what’s humorous about this is that virtually all of these so-called too-big-to-fail banks now have been embroiled in scandals of varying degrees of extreme seriousness since 2008. So for them to say, "Oh, it’s just a few bad apples in this one instance," is increasingly absurd. They have been dinged for everything from bribery to money laundering, to rigging Libor, to mass fraud in the subprime mortgage markets and now the forex markets. It’s one mass crime over—you know, after another, and there’s no consequence.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, aren’t these banks competitors?

MATT TAIBBI: Well, sort of. But that’s the main problem in this case, is what’s happening is that they’re colluding, which is a far more dangerous kind of corruption than what we saw, for instance, in 2008, when you saw a lot of banks, in house, committing fraud against their own clients and against the markets. This behavior, where you have a series of major banks colluding to fix the price of a currency, that is extremely dangerous. And if that behavior is allowed to go unchecked, the negative possibilities that could stem from that are virtually limitless.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, the foreign exchange market is the largest, and yet the least regulated, market in the financial world.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: Do you know why that is? And who would be in charge of its regulation?

MATT TAIBBI: Well, a variety of regulatory bodies would have what you would describe as a general purview over this kind of activity. Obviously, they got them on an antitrust violation, so this—it falls under the purview of the Department of Justice. The Fed, the banking regulators, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, they all have a kind of a general mandate to look out for this sort of stuff. But the problem with the forex markets is that there isn’t a specific body that’s specifically looking at this all the time. It’s not like, let’s say, you know, the commodities market, where you do have a CFTC that’s specifically looking at that. This is one of many markets that simply falls between the cracks in the regulatory scheme, where there isn’t a single—you know, a targeted effort to look at this all the time.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this month, independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who’s now running for president, introduced the Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Exist Act.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: The bill that I am introducing today with Congressman Brad Sherman would require regulators at the Financial Stability Oversight Council to establish too-big-to-fail list—a too-big-to-fail list of financial institutions and other huge entities whose failure would pose a catastrophic risk on the United States economy without a taxpayer bailout. This list must include, but is not limited to, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo and Morgan Stanley.

It should make every American extremely nervous that in this weak regulatory environment—weak regulatory environment—the financial supervisors in our country and around the world are still able to uncover an enormous amount of fraud on Wall Street and other financial institutions to this very day. I fear very much that the financial system is even more fragile than many people may perceive. This huge issue simply cannot be swept under the rug. It has got to be addressed.

AMY GOODMAN: So that is Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, senator of Vermont, independent senator. About a decade ago, you stayed with Sanders for about a month, covering him for Rolling Stone, doing a profile.

MATT TAIBBI: Yeah. Sort of remarkably, he invited me to tag along and just sort of watch how the process works. I think he felt that the public should know about a lot of the nooks and crannies of the congressional bureaucracy. And I got this remarkable education into how things actually work. He didn’t hold anything back. Sanders is, you know, exactly as advertised. He’s a completely honest, I think, politician who is just really interested in seeing—you know, standing up for regular working people. So, his voice on this particular issue, I think, is really important, because he’s one of the few politicians who understands that it’s a truly bipartisan issue that affects everybody, people on both sides of the aisle, equally. And he’s absolutely right about breaking up the banks. That is the most single most important thing that has to be done with this issue.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, there have been reports, Matt Taibbi, and I’m sure this is the case, that none of the significant changes that were to be put in place in the financial system since the crisis occurred several years ago—those changes have not yet taken place, and so this kind of thing is likely to recur. Could you talk about that and also the extent to which the new attorney general, Loretta Lynch, is likely to be tougher on banks and, indeed, on bankers?

MATT TAIBBI: Well, I don’t know if that’s exactly true. I definitely hear from people on Wall Street all the time that there are—there are certain things that are different. I think, you know, trading—banks trading for their own accounts, that’s been severely curtailed since Dodd-Frank. You know, there have been a number of regulations that have made it more difficult to engage in the kinds of risky activities that we saw before 2008.

But by and large, the general problem is more unwillingness to enforce existing laws. And it wasn’t so much an absence of new regulations that was the problem in 2008. It was more a failure of will on the part of the government. We had laws on the books that were perfectly sufficient in the late '80s and early ’90s, when we, you know, conducted over 1,800 prosecutions and put 800 people in jail after the S&L crisis. We can do the same thing now, if we want to, with this or with robo signing or with subprime mortgage fraud or any of another dozen other scandals, and we just haven't done it. And that—I think that’s the main problem, and it’s a failure of will. And I do hear from people that there is more serious now—seriousness now, in the waning years of the Obama administration, more willingness to go after the banks.

AMY GOODMAN: A new report from the Corporate Reform Coalition called "Still Too Big to Fail" says, since 2008, regulators have failed to enact key parts of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. It found, quote, "The top six bank holding companies are considerably larger than before, and are still permitted to borrow excessively relative to the assets they hold. ... Banks can still use taxpayer-backed insured deposits to engage in high-risk derivative transactions here and overseas. Compensation incentives fail to discourage mismanagement and illegality, given that when legal fees, settlements, and fines mount, it is usually the shareholders, not the corporate executives who pay." The report concludes, quote, "Should one of these giant banking firms fail again, it appears that the damage will not be contained." So there’s a lot here. One is that the U.S. could descend again. Number two is that even with the billions that are now—these banks have to pay, who is actually paying?

MATT TAIBBI: Oh, the shareholders. I mean, that’s—the pain is not going to come from the actual wrongdoers, you know, the people who actually committed these offenses—although there have been some criminal indictments in the previous Libor case, so we can’t say that nobody’s going to go to jail, because it is possible that that could happen. There could be a few low-level players who will get rolled up in this thing.

AMY GOODMAN: Because the non-prosecution agreement was voided because they did it again?

MATT TAIBBI: Yes, but even in the Libor case, there were people from other banks. Rabobank, there were a couple of employees who got—who were criminally indicted, if I remember correctly. But it was nothing like the roundup that should have happened. I’m just saying that there were a few individuals who got caught up here and abroad. But by and large, you know, that quote is absolutely correct.

There are a couple of points that are really important here. First, after 2008, we made the system far more concentrated. We made the too-big-to-fail banks much bigger than before. We actually did this intentionally. We used taxpayer money to merge banks together, to make them bigger and more dangerous and harder to regulate. And we saw, with episodes like the London Whale episode, that massive losses can happen in the blink of an eye, and we will have no idea when it’s coming. And so, this kind of activity—we’ve definitely made the system riskier, harder to regulate. And all those things are certainly true, and Dodd-Frank has failed to address those.

AMY GOODMAN: Matt Taibbi, we’re going to break, and when we come back, you’ve written another piece called "Why Baltimore Blew Up," and we’re going to take a look at this. You say it goes far beyond the police killing of Freddie Gray. Matt Taibbi, award-winning journalist with Rolling Stone magazine. His recent book is now out in paperback, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. Stay with us.

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Greece on a knife edge

Canadian Dimension - May 21, 2015 - 3:52pm

Photo from Public Domain

It is exactly five years since Greece joined the European Support Mechanism with the close cooperation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). At that time, the key and critical financial data were the following: GDP amounted to 222.151 billions at the end of 2010. The public debt was 148.3% as a percentage of GDP. Unemployment stood at 12.5%. The percentage of Greeks who were living below the limits of poverty (earning less than 60% of the national median disposable income) was 27.6%.

The policy of extreme austerity applied in the country at the behest of international creditors has further aggravated the economic and social realities of Greece. As a result, GDP had shrunk to 186.54 billions in 2014. Public debt has soared to 176% as a percentage of GDP. Unemployment has risen dramatically to 26%, affecting mainly young people, many of whom have brilliant scientific knowledge and as a result migrate abroad. This serious loss of talent could help the country at this critical juncture. The percentage of Greeks living below the limits of poverty is 34.6% or 3.795100 people.

So, one understands from the above that the programme of fiscal consolidation in a country that was already in recession before 2010 has completely failed. It would not be rational, economically and socially, to continue its application. This particularly restrictive fiscal policy and austerity measures form an exceptionally lethal debt-recession-austerity spiral, ruling out any prospect for development.

The debt is huge and unbearable

The strict continuation of the extreme austerity programme by Europe’s creditors will have truly tragic consequences for the country. It will lead to total economic disaster, which will not be healed for decades, and certainly to an incredibly serious humanitarian crisis for the standards of the continent. The homeless and impoverished citizens who one can already be seen in the streets of Athens will multiply rapidly. Suicides due to hopelessness and despair caused by the inability to survive will continue its frantic growth trend. Children blacking out in schools due to lack of adequate nutrition will become an everyday part of life.

The question then arises with intensification: what should be done in order for Greece to leave the pitch dark tunnel of deep economic crisis and enter the bright avenue of development and progress?

First, the burden of debt the Greek economy carries on its back is huge and unbearable, and there seems no possibility of payment in full. Therefore, Greece needs to write off the majority of the nominal value of the debt so that the debt burden of the country will be below 100% and become sustainable. The repayment of the remaining debt will be connected with a “development clause”, so as to serve from the development and not from any budget surplus.

Secondly, Greece requires the reconstruction of production with these key elements:

  • The sustainable equilibrium of the balance current account through changing the mix of produced products in the country, thus strengthening the export orientation margins of many sectors of the Greek economy;
  • The industrialization with the implementation of an integrated sustainable industrial policy and the development of domestic research and production of a wide range of high added-value products. The processing sector is particularly critical since it is impossible to hope for a country that will rise in the value chain in the global apportionment of labour without creating the necessary manufacturing base that includes primarily the manufacture of finished industrial products;
  • The special emphasis on tourism, to which Greece has a strong comparative advantage and shipping -Greece has the largest merchant fleet in the world- and certainly agriculture for the production basic social goods, and
  • The efficient exploitation of raw materials -such as bauxite from which aluminium is produced- and the potentially large oilfields located both in the Aegean and the Ionian Seas.

Building a modern and efficient state

Thirdly, Greece requires a modern, efficient and rational state that will operate with honesty and will not interpolate countless bureaucratic obstacles to business development and the effective fight against the Lernean Hydra of corruption and tax evasion; to remove the multiple negative economic, social and political consequences caused and finally to apply fair taxation. The economic effects have not only to do with the losses of state finances but also with adverse effects on the private sector. When the notion that only with the bribing of individuals holding nodal positions in public administration can achieve the desired effect is consolidated, investments are discouraged, fair competition is distorted and businesses that refuse to engage in such lawless and immoral trade are condemned to stagnation.

The social and political consequences of corruption are also extremely serious. Corruption causes citizens’ resentment, frustration and a collapse of a strong sense of values. It consolidates the belief that nothing works properly and that law-abiding citizens are being actively betrayed. Institutions are undermined, shaken and ultimately slandered by the same democracy in the eyes of citizens. We need the immediate establishment of a fair tax system that will not encourage, and will not “justify” tax evasion, but contribute decisively to the development of taxpayers’ consciences and have, as a natural result, a significant increase in government revenue.

Greece can’t handle austerity any longer

These measures should apply immediately to pull Greece out of it state of coma and recession and lead to the much-desired path to development away from the wild and dead-end austerity policies. These form the spearhead of financial capitalism in its attempt to repay in full the nation’s debt, and maintain its sovereignty in an era of intense and generalized capitalist crisis.

For their part, European citizens should stand in solidarity with the drama of the Greek people who, during all these years, have become a guinea pig, since the vast majority of money borrowed by the Greek government does not go to Greek taxpayers, but to banks or to the payment of loans, or to recapitalize Greek banks, most of the cost of which the taxpayers bear.

In conclusion, Greece cannot stand to continue with austerity. It has already reached its farthest limits, after the standard of living has collapsed, and with it, the dignity of the Greek people. This will have to be understood by the creditors. Otherwise, the time of conflict and rupture will not be far off.

Isidoros Karderinis was born in Athens, Greece in 1967. He is a novelist, poet and economist with postgraduate studies in tourist economy. His articles have been republished in many newspapers, magazines and sites worldwide. His poems have been translated in French. He has published seven books of poetry and two novels. Five of which have been published in the USA and in Great Britain.

This article originally appeared in The Economy Journal.

Categories: Netted News

President of Boy Scouts Calls for an End to the Gan on Gay Scout Leaders - May 21, 2015 - 3:35pm
About time!

Boy Scouts of America President Robert Gates says the time has come:

The president of the Boy Scouts of America on Thursday called for an end to the group’s blanket ban on gay adult leaders, warning Scout executives that “we must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be,” and that “any other alternative will be the end of us as a national movement.”

The remarks came after he spoke of shrinking membership and financial struggles. More from hisprepared statement:

However, events during the past year have confronted us with the urgent challenges I did not foresee and which we cannot ignore. We cannot ignore growing internal challenges to our current membership policy, from some councils – like the greater New York council, the Denver area council, and others – in open defiance of the policy, to more and more councils taking a position in their mission statements and public documents contrary to national policy.

Nor can we ignore the social, political and juridicial changes taking place in our country – changes taking place over the past year no one anticipated. I remind you of the recent debates we have seen in places like Indiana and Arkansas over discrimination based on sexual orientation, not to mention the impending U.S. Supreme Court decision this summer on gay marriage.

I am not asking the national board for any action to change our current policy at this meeting. But I must speak as plainly and bluntly to you as I spoke to presidents when I was the Director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense. We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be. The status quo in our movement's membership standards cannot be sustained.

A definite step in the right direction. Robert Gates and Scout leadership may earn that equality badge yet.


Categories: Netted News

A Nation of Snitches

Canadian Dimension - May 21, 2015 - 2:12pm

Graphic created by EFF Senior Designer Hugh D’Andrade.

A totalitarian state is only as strong as its informants. And the United States has a lot of them. They read our emails. They listen to, download and store our phone calls. They photograph us on street corners, on subway platforms, in stores, on highways and in public and private buildings. They track us through our electronic devices. They infiltrate our organizations. They entice and facilitate “acts of terrorism” by Muslims, radical environmentalists, activists and Black Bloc anarchists, framing these hapless dissidents and sending them off to prison for years. They have amassed detailed profiles of our habits, our tastes, our peculiar proclivities, our medical and financial records, our sexual orientations, our employment histories, our shopping habits and our criminal records. They store this information in government computers. It sits there, waiting like a time bomb, for the moment when the state decides to criminalize us.

Totalitarian states record even the most banal of our activities so that when it comes time to lock us up they can invest these activities with subversive or criminal intent. And citizens who know, because of the courage of Edward Snowden, that they are being watched but naively believe they “have done nothing wrong” do not grasp this dark and terrifying logic.

Tyranny is always welded together by subterranean networks of informants. These informants keep a populace in a state of fear. They perpetuate constant anxiety and enforce isolation through distrust. The state uses wholesale surveillance and spying to break down trust and deny us the privacy to think and speak freely.

A state security and surveillance apparatus, at the same time, conditions all citizens to become informants. In airports and train, subway and bus stations the recruitment campaign is relentless. We are fed lurid government videos and other messages warning us to be vigilant and report anything suspicious. The videos, on endless loops broadcast through mounted television screens, have the prerequisite ominous music, the shady-looking criminal types, the alert citizen calling the authorities and in some cases the apprehended evildoer being led away in handcuffs. The message to be hypervigilant and help the state ferret out dangerous internal enemies is at the same time disseminated throughout government agencies, the mass media, the press and the entertainment industry.

“If you see something say something,” goes the chorus.

In any Amtrak station, waiting passengers are told to tell authorities—some of whom often can be found walking among us with dogs—about anyone who “looks like they are in an unauthorized area,” who is “loitering, staring or watching employees and customers,” who is “expressing an unusual level of interest in operations, equipment, and personnel,” who is “dressed inappropriately for the weather conditions, such as a bulky coat in summer,” who “is acting extremely nervous or anxious,” who is “restricting an individual’s freedom of movement” or who is “being coached on what to say to law enforcement or immigration officials.”

What is especially disturbing about this constant call to become a citizen informant is that it directs our eyes away from what we should see—the death of our democracy, the growing presence and omnipotence of the police state, and the evisceration, in the name of our security, of our most basic civil liberties.

Manufactured fear engenders self-doubt. It makes us, often unconsciously, conform in our outward and inward behavior. It conditions us to relate to those around us with suspicion. It destroys the possibility of organizing, community and dissent. We have built what Robert Gellately calls a “culture of denunciation.”

Snitches in prisons, the quintessential totalitarian system, are the glue that allows prison authorities to maintain control and keep prisoners divided and weak. Snitches also populate the courts, where the police make secret deals to drop or mitigate charges against them in exchange for their selling out individuals targeted by the state. Our prisons are filled with people serving long sentences based on false statements that informants provided in exchange for leniency.

There are no rules in this dirty game. Police, like prison officials, can offer snitches deals that lack judicial oversight or control. (Deals sometimes involve something as trivial as allowing a prisoner access to food like cheeseburgers.) Snitches allow the state to skirt what is left of our legal protections. Snitches can obtain information for the authorities and do not have to give their targets a Miranda warning. And because of the desperation of most who are recruited to snitch, informants will do almost anything asked of them by authorities.

Just as infected as the prisons and the courts are poor neighborhoods, which abound with snitches, many of them low-level drug dealers allowed to sell on the streets in exchange for information. And from there our culture of snitches spirals upward into the headquarters of the National Security Agency, Homeland Security and the FBI.

Systems of police and military authority are ruthless when their own, such as Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning, become informants on behalf of the common good. The power structure imposes walls of silence and harsh forms of retribution within its ranks in an effort to make sure no one speaks. Power understands that once it is divided, once those inside its walls become snitches, it becomes as weak and vulnerable as those it subjugates.

We will not be able to reclaim our democracy and free ourselves from tyranny until the informants and the vast networks that sustain them are banished. As long as we are watched 24 hours a day we cannot use the word “liberty.” This is the relationship of a master and a slave. Any prisoner understands this.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his masterpiece The Gulag Archipelago, which chronicles his time in Josef Stalin’s gulags and is a brilliant reflection of the nature of oppression and tyranny, describes a moment when an influx of western Ukrainians who had been soldiers during World War II arrived at his camp, at Ekibastuz. The Ukrainians, he wrote, “were horrified by the apathy and slavery they saw, and reached for their knives.” They began to murder the informants.

Solzhenitsyn continued:

Kill the stoolie!” That was it, the vital link! A knife in the heart of the stoolie! Make knives and cut the stoolie’s throats—that was it! Now as I write this chapter, rows of humane books frown down at me from the walls, the tarnished gilt on their well-worn spines glinting reproachfully like stars through the cloud. Nothing in the world should be sought through violence! By taking up the sword, the knife, the rifle, we quickly put ourselves on the level of tormentors and persecutors. And there will be no end to it. … There will be no end. … Here, at my desk, in a warm place, I agree completely. If you ever get twenty-five years for nothing, if you find yourself wearing four number patches on your clothes, holding your hands permanently behind your back, submitting to searches morning and evening, working until you are utterly exhausted, dragged into the cooler whenever someone denounces you, trodden deeper and deeper into the ground—from the hole you’re in, the fine words of the great humanists will sound like the chatter of the well-fed and free. There will be no end of it! … But will there be a beginning? Will there be a ray of hope in our lives or not? The oppressed at least concluded that evil cannot be cast out by good.

The eradication of some snitches and intimidation of others transformed the camp. It was, Solzhenitsyn admits, an imperfect justice since there was no “documentary confirmation that a man was an informer.” But, he noted, even this “improperly constituted, illegal, and invisible court was much more acute in its judgments, much less often mistaken, than any of the tribunals, panels of three, courts-martial, or Special Boards with which we are familiar.”

“Of the five thousand men about a dozen were killed, but with every stroke of the knife more and more of the clinging, twining tentacles fell away,” he wrote. “A remarkable fresh breeze was blowing! On the surface we were prisoners living in a camp just as before, but in reality we had become free—free because for the very first time in our lives we had started saying openly and aloud all that we thought! No one who has not experienced this transition can imagine what it is like!

And the informers … stopped informing.”

The camp bosses, he wrote “were suddenly blind and deaf. To all appearances, the tubby major, his equally tubby second in command, Captain Prokofiev, and all the wardens walked freely about the camp, where nothing threatened them; moved among us, watched us—and yet saw nothing! Because a man in uniform sees and hears nothing without stoolies.”

The system of internal control in the camp broke down. Prisoners no longer would serve as foremen on work details. Prisoners organized their own self-governing council. Guards began to move about the camp in fear and no longer treated prisoners like cattle. Pilfering and theft among prisoners stopped. “The old camp mentality—you die first, I’ll wait a bit; there is no justice so forget it; that’s the way it was, and that’s the way it will be—also began to disappear.”

Solzhenitsyn concluded this chapter, “Behind the Wire the Ground Is Burning,” in Volume 3 of his book, with this reflection.

Purged of human filth, delivered from spies and eavesdroppers we looked about and saw, wide-eyed that … we were thousands! That we were … *politicals*! That we could *resist*! We had chosen well; the chain would snap if we tugged at this link—the stoolies, the talebearers and traitors! Our own kind had made our lives impossible. As on some ancient sacrificial altar, their blood had been shed that we might be freed from the curse that hung over us. The revolution was gathering strength. The wind that seemed to have subsided had sprung up again in a hurricane to fill our eager lungs.

Later in the book Solzhenitsyn would write, “Our little island had experienced an earthquake—and ceased to belong to the Archipelago.”

Freedom demands the destruction of the security and surveillance organs and the disempowering of the millions of informants who work for the state. This is not a call to murder our own stoolies—although some of the 2.3 million prisoners in cages in America’s own gulags would perhaps rightly accuse me of writing this from a position of privilege and comfort and not understanding the brutal dynamics of oppression – but instead to accept that unless these informants on the streets, in the prisons and manning our massive, government data-collection centers are disarmed we will never achieve liberty. I do not have quick and simple suggestions for how this is to be accomplished. But I know it must.

This article originally appeared on

Categories: Netted News

Make the Rich Panic

Canadian Dimension - May 21, 2015 - 1:58pm

Photo by Dorret

It does not matter to the corporate rich who wins the presidential election. It does not matter who is elected to Congress. The rich have the power. They throw money at their favorites the way a gambler puts cash on his favorite horse. Money has replaced the vote. The wealthy can crush anyone who does not play by their rules. And the political elites—slobbering over the spoils provided by their corporate masters for selling us out—understand the game. Barack and Michelle Obama, as did the Clintons, will acquire many millions of dollars once they leave the White House. And your elected representative in the House or Senate, if not a multimillionaire already, will be one as soon as he or she retires from government and is handed seats on corporate boards or positions in lobbying firms. We do not live in a democracy. We live in a political system that has legalized bribery, exclusively serves corporate power and is awash in propaganda and lies.

If you want change you can believe in, destroy the system. And changing the system does not mean collaborating with it as Bernie Sanders is doing by playing by the cooked rules of the Democratic Party. Profound social and political transformation is acknowledged in legislatures and courts but never initiated there. Radical change always comes from below. As long as our gaze is turned upward to the powerful, as long as we invest hope in reforming the system of corporate power, we will remain enslaved. There may be good people within the system—Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are examples—but that is not the point. It is the system that is rotten. It must be replaced.

“The only way you can get the parties’ attention is if you take votes away from them,” Ralph Nader told me by phone. “So,” he said of Sanders, “How serious is he? He makes Clinton a better phony candidate. She is going to have to agree with him on a number of things. She is going to have to be more anti-Wall Street to fend him off and neutralize him. We know it is bullshit. She will betray us once she becomes president. He is making her more likely to win. And by April he is done. Then he fades away.”

We must build mass movements that are allied with independent political parties—a tactic used in Greece by Syriza and in Spain by Podemos. Political action without the support of radical mass movements inevitably becomes hollow, and that, I think, will be the fate of the Sanders presidential campaign. Only by building militant mass movements that are unrelentingly hostile to the system of corporate capitalism, imperialism, militarism and globalization can we wrest back our democracy.

“The gates are controlled by two parties indentured to the same commercial interests,” Nader said. “If you don’t go through those gates, if you do what [Ross] Perot did, … you [might] get 19 million votes [but] not one electoral vote. If you do not get electoral votes you don’t come close. And even if you do get electoral votes you are up against a winner-take-all. This means if you lose you don’t build for the future as you would with proportional representation. The system is a locked-out system. It is brilliantly devised. It is pruned to perfect a two-party duopoly.”

We have to organize around a series of non-negotiable demands. We have to dismantle the array of mechanisms the rich use to control power. We have to destroy the ideological and legal system cemented into place to justify corporate plunder.

This is called revolution. It is about ripping power away from a cabal of corporate oligarchs and returning it to the citizenry. This will happen not by appealing to corporate power but by terrifying it. And power, as we saw in Baltimore, will be terrified only when we take to the streets. There is no other way.

“The rich are only defeated when running for their lives,” the historian C.L.R. James noted. And until you see the rich fleeing in panic from the halls of Congress, the temples of finance, the universities, the media conglomerates, the war industry and their exclusive gated communities and private clubs, all politics in America will be farce.

It is apparent to most people across the globe that organizing political and social behavior around the dictates of the marketplace has proved to be a disaster for working men and women. The promised prosperity that was to have raised living standards through trickle-down economics has been exposed as a lie. The corporate state, understanding that it has been unmasked with the rise of unrest, has formed militarized police forces, stripped us of legal protection, taken over the legislative bodies, the courts and mass media, and built the most intrusive system of mass surveillance in human history. Corporate power, if unchecked, will suck every last bit of profit out of human society and the ecosystem before collapse. It has no self-imposed limits. And it has no external limits. Only we can create them.

Photo by Robert Couse-Baker

To save ourselves from impending financial and environmental catastrophe we need to build movements that have as their uncompromising goal the abolition of corporate power. Corporation after corporation, including banks, energy companies, the health care sector and defense contractors, must be broken up and nationalized. We must institute a nationwide public works program, especially for those under the age of 25, to create conditions for full employment. We must mandate a $15-an-hour minimum wage. We must slash our obscene spending on defense—we spend $610 billion a year, more than four times the outlay of the second-largest military spender, China—and cut the size of our armed forces by more than half. We must rebuild our infrastructure, including mass transit, roads, bridges, schools, libraries and public housing. We must make war on the fossil fuel industry and turn to alternative sources of energy. We must place heavy taxes on the rich, including a special tax on Wall Street speculators that would be used to wipe out the $1.3 trillion in student debt. We must ensure that education at all levels, along with health care, is a free right of all Americans, not something accessible for the wealthy alone. We must abolish the Electoral College and mandate public financing of political campaigns. We must see that the elderly, the disabled, poor single parents and the mentally ill receive a weekly income of at least $600, or we must find them space in state-run institutions if they require daily care. We must institute a moratorium on foreclosures and bank repossessions. We must end our wars and the proxy wars in the Middle East and bring home our soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors. We must pay reparations to Iraq and Afghanistan, and to African-Americans whose ancestors largely built this country as slaves who never were compensated for their labor. We must repeal the Patriot Act and Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act. We must abolish the death penalty. We must dismantle our system of mass incarceration, release the vast majority of our 2.3 million prisoners, place them in job-skill programs and find them work and housing.

Police must be demilitarized. Mass surveillance must end. Undocumented workers must be given citizenship and full protection under the law. NAFTA, CAFTA and other free-trade agreements must be revoked. Anti-labor laws such as the Taft-Hartley Act, along with laws that criminalize poverty and dissent, must be repealed.

All this is the minimum.

Do not expect the corporate masters of war and commerce to willingly let this happen. They must be forced.

Revolutions take time. They are often begun by one generation and completed by the next. “Those who give the first check to a state are the first overwhelmed in its ruin,” Michel de Montaigne wrote in 1580. “The fruits of public commotion are seldom enjoyed by him who was the first mover; he only beats the water for another’s net.” Revolutions can be crushed by force, as amply demonstrated by history. Or they may be hijacked by individuals such as Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky and Josef Stalin or movements that betray the populace. There are no guarantees that we will move toward a worker’s paradise or socialist utopia—we might move toward the most efficient form of totalitarianism in human history.

Radical movements are often their own worst enemies. The activists within them have a bad habit of fighting over arcane bits of doctrine, forming counterproductive schisms, misreading power and engaging in self-defeating and ultimately self-destructive internal power struggles. When they do not carefully calculate their power and the moment to strike, they often overreach and are crushed. The state uses its ample resources to infiltrate, monitor and vilify groups and arrest or assassinate movement leaders—and all uprisings, even supposedly leaderless ones, have leaders. Success is not assured, especially given the endemic levels of violence that have characterized American society.

But no matter what happens, the chain reaction that leads to revolt has begun. Most people realize that our expectations for a better future have been obliterated, not only those for ourselves but also for our children. This realization has lit the fuse. There is a widespread loss of faith in established systems of power. The will to rule is weakening among the elites, who are entranced by hedonism and decadence. Internal corruption is rampant and transparent. Government is despised.

The nation, like many prerevolutionary societies, is headed into crisis. Lenin identified the components that come together to foster a successful revolt:

The fundamental law of revolution, which has been confirmed by all revolutions, and particularly by all three Russian revolutions in the twentieth century, is as follows: it is not enough for revolution that the exploited and oppressed masses should understand the impossibility of living in the old way and demand changes, what is required for revolution is that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule in the old way. Only when the “*lower classes*” do not want the old way, and when the “upper classes” *cannot carry* on in the old way—only then can revolution win.

When I was a foreign correspondent I covered revolts, insurgencies and revolutions, including the guerrilla conflicts in the 1980s in Central America; the civil wars in Algeria, Sudan and Yemen; and the two Palestinian uprisings or intifadas, along with the revolutions in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania and the war in the former Yugoslavia. I have seen that despotic regimes collapse internally. Once the foot soldiers of the elite—the police, the courts, the civil servants, the press, the intellectual class and finally the army—no longer have the will to defend the regime, the regime is finished. When these state organs are ordered to carry out acts of repression—such as clearing people from parks and arresting or even shooting demonstrators—and refuse their orders, the old regime crumbles. The veneer of power appears untouched before a revolution, but the internal rot, unseen by the outside world, steadily hollows out the state edifice. And when dying regimes collapse, they do so with dizzying speed. Upheaval is coming. The people must be prepared. If we are, we will have a chance.

This article originally appeared on

Categories: Netted News

Meet the Christian Right’s Favorite Doomsday Prophet — and His Insane, Apocalyptic 'Blood Moon' Theory - May 21, 2015 - 1:53pm
This is mega-pastor John Hagee, the leading purveyor of a theory that the 'blood moon' is a harbinger of apocalypse.

In 2015, there is a United States congressman who believes that the so-called blood moon prophecy determines the fate of the Middle East and, because of some more prophecy, the fate of the world, of all of us. In 2015. Common Era.

“Blood moons,” which is a gussied-up way of naming your garden-variety lunar eclipse, “have preceded world-changing, shaking-type events,” says Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia, a man constitutionally permitted to vote in one of the world’s most powerful legislative bodies. Legislation, accords, Security Council Resolutions, military aid packages — why consider this mere terrestrial ephemera when you can just go out into your backyard and consult the moon?

While the prophecy may seem fringe — like something a hooded Nostradamus type from the Dark Ages would wheeze in dim and flickering firelight — it’s gaining surprising traction in conservative media, and is being adopted as legitimate by prominent figures, including Hice in Congress and the Family Research Council, the powerful social conservative lobbying group in Washington. Mega-pastor John Hagee, the leading purveyor of blood moon prophecy talk, is powerful in Washington, able to command the attendance of influential conservative politicians to his events.

Here’s how the prophecy is supposed to shake out: It was “discovered” that blood moon tetrads (four lunar eclipses occurring within a year and a half or so) that coincide with traditional Jewish feasts and holidays announce world-historical moments for Jews; and because the fate of the Jewish people determines the fate of humanity, according to fundamentalist Christians, each of these revelations signals the approach of the End Times.

A blood moon tetrad coinciding with Jewish holidays in 1493 is said to have marked the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and the European discovery of America. Another in 1948-49 signaled God’s pleasure with the founding of the state of Israel; and the next, in 1967-68, coincided with the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, which allowed Israel to acquire Arab territory, much of which it still maintains. The occupied territory is considered prophetically necessary and in accord with Scripture by many conservative Christians.

But all of that was merely prelude to the tetrad currently underway. The third blood moon fell in April, and the final prophetic moon will occur in late September. This tetrad, according to the prophecy, signals the beginning of the end of the world. Something bad happens to Israel, yada yada yada, then God turns out the lights and shutters the physical universe.

There is, if you think about it, a bizarre strain of anti-patriotism at work in how these conservative Christians denounce America and extol Israel in the prophecy: America’s lost moral compass (gays can get married some places, I guess?) has angered God, while Israel’s aggressive stance in the region pleases Him. The (quite false) narrative of existential crisis for Israel compounds God’s anger at the U.S. for our wayward path, and the fourth blood moon is the tolling of a final bell. It is pro-Israel America-hating, in a way.

There you have it, though: The apocalypse is coming this September. So it’s crunch time in the land of the crazies. All hands on deck, everybody. This is not a drill. On May 14, a large banner atop World Net Daily, the popular conservative Christian website, advertised its “exclusive” report on the four-month “countdown” to the “Biblical day of reckoning.” A movie about the prophecy was released last month in theaters, and pastor John Hagee’s bestselling book about blood moons spent months on Amazon’s top 100 books list.

The impending doom even impelled Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of Rev. Billy Graham, to issue a call for a seven-day “mayday” prayer offensive, happening this week, to appeal to God, with this warning to motivate:

“Institutions will collapse. Banks will close. The Stock Market will plunge. Planes will fall out of the sky. Cars will crash on the road. Government in America at every level will disintegrate. Families will be torn apart. In the unprecedented turmoil, our nation will be vulnerable for our enemies to seize the moment and attack us. There will be mass chaos, confusion, fear, grief, despair, anger, threats, danger… judgment.”

Yikes, Anne. That sounds unpleasant.

The Family Research Council urged its flock to heed Lotz’s call. And note: The FRC is not some ramshackle backwoods chapel filled with snake handlers; the well-heeled D.C. lobbying group’s “Values Voter Summit” in late summer will be a who’s who of conservatism, with Rush Limbaugh, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Sean Hannity and a host of others expected to speak at the conference.

The prophecy and its increasingly arcane calculus stand in strange relation to the coincident right-wing rejection of science. The actual, impending threat to humanity, global warming, is considered a “hoax,” an invention out of whole cloth, while the color of the moon and the spotty wisdom of goat herders from 3,000 years ago is stitched together into some kind of astro-hermeneutics, used to determine whether or not October happens.

Prophecy professional John Hagee dresses up blood moon bunk with a patina of scientific veracity and rigor:

“When you take scientific fact and historical fact and line it up exactly with prophetic fact and they all are in perfect agreement, now is time to put doubt aside and to believe that God is trying to communicate to us in a very special way…and something is about to change.”

It is presented in the form of science, without the content of science; a weird and, to be honest, embarrassing mimicry of scientific rationality. But at least one U.S. congressman considers it a basis on which to make decisions. Other far-right House Republicans, like congressional crazy uncle Louis Gohmert, though mum on the moon talk, do run around with the likes of Hagee, and as the pre-rapture summer progresses we might hear of the prophecy’s adoption by the members of Congress who follow Hagee and his ilk. Because we’re apparently not quite finished with the Reformation, Pope Francis’ address to a joint session of Congress in September, which aligns with the fourth and final moon, is compounding the certainty of End Times for many Christians, and Gohmert and others are already freaking out about it. This is a field day for a large swath of conservative Christians, and I prophesy that this will only get more entertaining.


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Categories: Netted News

Robert Scheer and Chris Hedges on How the Private Sector Buys and Sells Your Privacy

Canadian Dimension - May 21, 2015 - 1:51pm

Image from Public Domain

As Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer points out to Chris Hedges in this interview for The Real News Network about Scheer’s new book, They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy, the safeguards written into the U.S. Constitution to protect Americans against abuses of their civil liberties don’t exactly apply to violations by the private sector.

What’s more, corporations are able to find out more about citizens from an array of legal methods of data collection—from voluntarily relinquished to disturbingly covert—than the most notorious totalitarian regimes of the last century. And of course, that information doesn’t stay within the bounds of business.

Take a look at the clip below (transcript follows the video) to hear Hedges and Scheer break it down in a wide-ranging and sobering discussion. Click here to see Part 1 of the interview.

This article originally appeared on

Categories: Netted News

A Plot to Level a Village Isn’t News–When Targets Are Muslim and Plotter Is Christian - May 21, 2015 - 1:41pm
No crime fascinates US media like terrorism–provided it’s the right sort of terrorism

No crime fascinates US media like terrorism–provided it’s the right sort of terrorism, that is.

The media-approved sort of terrorist is motivated by some fanatic strain of Islam. Terrorists motivated by other ideologies are often forgotten by corporate media (Extra!, 6/13)–sometimes to the point where pundits deny that non-Muslim terrorists exist (FAIR Blog, 12/16/14)–even though the vast majority of terrorist attacks in the United States are carried out by people with agendas unrelated to Islam (Extra!, 8/13)

Sensational acts of or schemes for political violence are ignored because they don’t fit Islamophobic stereotypes (FAIR Blog, 1/11/131/25/14)–or, if the violence is too dramatic to overlook, journalists decline to affix the “terrorism” label to it (FAIR Media Advisory, 4/15/14; FAIR Blog, 6/13/14).

The latest example of the sort of crime story that would be huge news if the perpetrator were Muslim–rather than, in this instance, someone who hates Muslims–is the case of Robert Rankin Doggart, a former congressional candidate from Signal Mountain, Tennessee, who was caught on tape and on social media talking about wiping out a Muslim community in upstate New York.

According to a plea agreement reached in US District Court in the Eastern District of Tennessee, Doggart told an FBI informant that he was planning to attack the residents of a Muslim community known as Islamberg near Hancock, New York.  (Doggart, an ordained Christian minister, apparently became fixated on the hamlet as a result of alarmist reporting on right-wing media.) In a call recorded by the informant, Doggart said:

Those guys [have] to be killed. Their buildings need to be burnt down. If we can get in there and do that not losing a man, even the better.

The buildings Doggart planned to destroy included a mosque, a school and a cafeteria.

In another conversation, Doggart elaborated:

When we meet in this state, the people we seek will know who we are. We will be cruel to them. And we will burn down their buildings [and] if anyone attempts to, uh, harm us in any way, our standoff gunner will take them down from 350 yards away. “The standoff gunner would be me,” he added.

On Facebook, Doggart declared that “Target 3 [Islamberg] is vulnerable from many approaches and must be utterly destroyed.”

The plea agreement, filed April 29, notes that Doggart took substantive steps to carry out his plan, including traveling to recruit gunners and “battle test[ing]” his M4 rifle. Despite this, Doggart was allowed to plead guilty only to interstate communication of threats and faces a maximum of five years in jail.

There has been little coverage of Doggart’s case in national media, as a broad Nexis search reveals. One of the first reports was in the Chattanoogan (5/16/15), a local online news outlet. The article reports that Doggart

is on federal bond awaiting sentencing in the case…. Doggart was first ordered detained; however, Federal Magistrate Susan Lee later allowed his release on certain conditions after attorneys said he had weaned himself from pain medication and had stopped abusing alcohol. The government opposed his release, saying he remains a danger.

Later other local outlets picked up on the story, with a modest article appearing in the Chattanooga Times Free Press (5/18/15) that quoted Doggart’sFacebook boast: “We shall be Warriors who will inflict horrible numbers of casualties upon the enemies of our Nation and World Peace.” Stories appeared a couple of days earlier in the Arizona Republic (5/16/15), as well as the Rock Hill, S.C., Herald (5/16/15), which ran an article focusing on the reaction of a similar Muslim community in northern South Carolina.

Nexis also turns up brief reports in the London Independent (5/18/15) andSky News (5/18/95), as well as a handful of Pakistani papers. But nothing in major US papers like the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Todayor LA Times. While Nexis’ broadcast transcripts are not exhaustive, there was no indication that the story had been picked up by any US TV outlet, or by National Public Radio.

There were a handful of online news outlets that carried the story, often making reference to the lack of coverage in other media (“Guess Why This Christian Terrorist Plot Against Muslims Isn’t Getting Any Press,” Daily Beast, 5/18/15) or the evident double standard in the criminal justice system (“Would This Man Be Charged With Terrorism if He Were Muslim?,” Think Progress, 5/18/15).Wonkette (5/18/15) highlighted the sensationalized Fox News coverage that may have motivated Doggart’s terror scheme. One of the most substantive articles appeared on the web publication Heavy (5/18/15), with a report that cited Muslim reactions to the plot and examined Doggart’s 2014 independent congressional bid, which garnered 6 percent of Tennessee’s 4th District vote.

The Daily Beast report, noting that “it goes without saying that if Doggart had been Muslim and had planned to kill Christians in America, we would have seen wall-to-wall media coverage,” pointed to a major reason that the case has not gotten more attention: the tendency for journalists to rely on official sources to tell them what stories are important. Beast contributor Dean Obeidallah wrote:

One big reason for the lack of media coverage was that neither the FBI nor the US Attorney’s office put out a press release about Doggart’s arrest.  In contrast, the FBI office in Knoxville, the one that handled this investigation, has posted press releases for numerous other recent arrests, such as for drug crimes and robbery charges.  (My calls to the FBI about this issue have not been returned.)

However, when a Muslim is arrested in a sting-type operation, as we saw recently in Brooklyn, the FBI touts that arrest to the media with a detailed press release. We have also seen US attorneys hold press conferences to announce the arrest of Muslims, as we witnessed recently with the six Minnesota men charged with planning to join ISIS. But not here.

Categories: Netted News

A Disaster Waiting to Happen

Canadian Dimension - May 21, 2015 - 1:37pm

Photo by United States Navy

According to a 29 April report in The New York Times, leaders from the U.S.-led coalition at war with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) will meet in the coming weeks to consider broadening the mission to other countries. At present, the Obama administration is attempting to secure congressional support for a measure that would authorize expanding the war to such nations as Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen. Extending U.S.-led military operations would be disastrous and should be resisted.

Western military intervention is not the way to solve the ISIS crisis. Thus far it has made few gains against the group and ISIS is still strong – despite the coalition being at war against them since the U.S. began carrying out airstrikes in August of last year. The coalition has gone on more than 3,700 bombing runs in Iraq and Syria but still ISIS holds important territories such as Mosul in Iraq and Deir Ezzor in Syria.

Recently ISIS has advanced on Damascus and attacked both Ramadi, the capital of Iraq’s Anbar province, and Baiji, Iraq’s largest oil refinery. There is also evidence that the number of people leaving Europe to join ISIS has actually increased in recent months. Meanwhile, there are signs of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra working together at Yarmouk, the Palestinian refugee camp in Syria. Therefore, coalition bombings are facilitating cooperation between ISIS and al-Nusra, as some earlier reports also suggest.

It’s possible that all this might change and that the Western-led coalition might eventually help disperse ISIS from the territories it controls. But unless the underlying conditions that enable a group like ISIS to flourish are addressed, another similarly ruthless organization will simply take its place. Furthermore, it is absurd to expect that the killing and oppression carried out by ISIS or any other actor will by halted by U.S.-led military action, because ending tyranny and violence is plainly not the objective of the U.S. and its allies’ approach to the Middle East.

Goals of U.S. Policy: Follow the Money

As the Canadian scholars Greg Albo and Jerome Klassen write in Empire’s Ally, U.S. strategy in the region has long been guided by three goals: “(1) to liberalize the economic space of the Middle East through the Gulf Cooperation Council and the ‘normalization’ of Israel; (2) to access and regulate the distribution of oil supplies in the face of increased competition with Europe and Asia; (3) to implant U.S. military bases for the purpose of regional stabilization under U.S. hegemony.” These goals are incompatible with peace and justice and in fact undermine prospects for these.

There is no reason to believe that U.S. policymakers have moved away from these objectives since ISIS’s rise to power. Available evidence suggests, in fact, a continuity of U.S. priorities. The enrichment of American weapons manufacturers in Middle Eastern markets is a long-time feature of relations between the U.S. and the region. This is continuing to happen during the coalition’s war against ISIS. The New York Times reports that U.S. arms sales are fuelling war in “a boom for American defence contractors looking for foreign business” as Saudi Arabia spent $80-billion on weaponry in 2014 and Qatar signed an $11-billion deal with the U.S. that same year.

The United Arab Emirates are using American F-16s to bomb Yemen and Syria and want to purchase U.S.-made Predator drones; while representatives from the defence industry have told Congress that they expect a request for weapons from other “Arab allies fighting the Islamic State” such as Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan.

Addressing Root Causes

As the Times’ article points out, U.S. weapons makers are “following the money”: since 2011 both Boeing and Lockheed Martin have opened offices in Doha, Qatar. In December, moreover, the U.S. Defence Security Cooperation Agency informed Congress that it planned to sell the Iraqi government just under $3-billion worth of weapons. Flooding the region with weapons and arming dictatorships demonstrates that U.S. policymakers care about profiting from war and repression rather than combating them.

Ultimately the only way to stop campaigns of rape, exploitation, sectarianism, torture and murder is to address their root causes. Central among these is Western policy toward the Middle East and North Africa as is amply demonstrated by the case of Libya, which NATO destroyed for political and economic reasons, thereby creating conditions that have allowed ISIS to emerge in that country. In Iraq, similarly, the U.S. and its allies have themselves killed far more people than ISIS during the brutal invasion and occupation that gave birth to the group.

There will be terrible consequences if the war on ISIS brings to even more countries the same Western-led forces that have repeatedly undertaken profit-driven slaughters and created conditions for local parties to enslave, kill, terrorize and ethnically cleanse. Given that the U.S. elite has interests in the Middle East that are far from humanitarian, and given the continued power of ISIS, extreme credulity is required to believe that the many civilians killed by the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria are the necessary costs of defeating ISIS.

As the independent journalist Sarah Lazare writes: if the people of the Middle East are to have a brighter future, “The U.S. government must withdraw and demilitarize its failed war on terror, not only by pulling its own forces from the Middle East, but by putting out the fires it started with proxy battles and hypocritical foreign policies – including its alliances with governments that directly and indirectly support ISIS, from Saudi Arabia to Turkey.” For this to happen, social movements inside the U.S. and allied states against war and for socio-economic equality will need to be revitalized.

Gregory Shupak is an author and activist who teaches media studies at the University of Guelph in Canada.

This article first appeared on

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What's New: Scottish Left Project

Socialist Project - May 21, 2015 - 1:30pm
Scotland needs a new citizens' politics. The days of a professional political class running our lives are numbered. Hundreds of thousands of citizens in Scotland want radical change and their voices must be heard. Let's talk, lets act, and lets work together to ensure that at 2016 there is a co-ordinated socialist challenge engrained in the communities and campaigns who are at the forefront of changing Scotland.
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All (Hopefully) of the Bad Arguments About Rape on 'Game of Thrones' Debunked - May 21, 2015 - 1:03pm
Bad arguments makes it easier for anti-feminists to paint feminists as a bunch of overly emotional, censorious creatures.

One way you can tell that people are starting from a conclusion and arguing backwards is when they bust out the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink strategy: Trying a bunch of different arguments in hopes that one “sticks” and justifies a conclusion you’ve already arrived at and are trying to rationalize. That strategy was out in spades with the critics of the Ramsay Bolton/Sansa Stark rape on Game of Thrones. I’ve defended the scene, and I will note that my argument remains unchanged: It comported with the way the series exists, above all other things, to subvert common fantasy and adventure tropes that glamorize war by twisting certain cliches that we’ve become accustomed to, including the cliche that sexual violence is always thwarted at the last minute by a brave act of heroism.

But the arguments against it are classic moving goalposts: If not this, then this. Or this. Or this. Anything to justify the pre-existing conclusion that because this scene made viewers uncomfortable, it shouldn’t have been shown. Anyway, not to pick on anyone specific, but Jen Trolio of Vox manages to accumulate so many of the bad arguments in one piece that I figured I’d use her as a starting point for this debunking.

It doesn’t tell us anything new. “We were already quite familiar with Ramsay’s sadistic tendencies, because of his season-long torture of Theon and, as Myranda the kennel master’s daughter reminded us while trying to intimidate — or perhaps warn? — Sansa during bath time, his habit of hunting his former lovers for sport,” Trolio writes. So? It did answer a question that was legitimately vexing a lot of people—including the critics, as you will soon see—which was whether or not Ramsay was going to be able to hold back once he got Sansa alone. Answer: no. So yes, that is new information.

In addition, plot points have value other than revealing new things about characters. For instance, the relationship between Theon and Sansa, which was ice cold for understandable reasons, just got completely altered. They have been through some shit together now. The one person in the world who actually knows and gives a shit about her is someone she hates. If you don’t think that’s going to matter, you might not be very good at reading narrative texts. Which is all the more reason to keep watching and see how this plays out.

More to the point, this criticism is incoherent. If we already know that Ramsay is a sadist, then wouldn’t it have been terrible writing to have him suddenly and without cause start acting of character by not raping Sansa?

Why didn’t Theon hulk out? “And so, one of my first thoughts while watching that scene was, Is this where Theon finally snaps? In that moment, I thought he might attack, and maybe even kill, Ramsay,” Trolio writes. Yep, I think a lot of us were wondering that, too. Certainly, we have been conditioned by most narrative fiction, particularly adventure and genre stories, to believe that this is the moment where our hero finally overcomes and, in one last act of will, saves the day. That’s the cliche that we see over and over again.

But that’s what Game of Thrones does: It takes those cliches and expectations of the audiences and turns them on their head. The fact that we’re surprised every single time—every time a Ned Stark or Oberyn Martell dies—shows how much we are trained into certain rhythms of storytelling, including the daring last minute rescue. There’s nothing wrong with those cliches. But if those cliches are all there is or is allowed to be in storytelling, then that’s going to be stale. Game of Thrones is so addictive precisely because they resist your expectations about how these kinds of stories go. Because you expect the princess to be rescued in a last minute escape is exactly why you’re not getting that story.

Why didn’t Sansa hulk out? “There’s also the question of Sansa’s agency, which until recently had been increasing by the day. Urged on by Littlefinger (which, ugh — more on him in a second), Sansa willingly agreed to marry Ramsay to avenge her family, only to revert to a more passive stance and ultimately pay a terrible price. It was awesome to see Sansa stand her ground against Myranda, but what a step backward for her to then be raped offscreen as we ‘watched’ through Theon’s eyes.”

I have to say this argument is the one that personally hurts me the most, because it relies on the ugly and sexist belief that being a victim of sexual assault means you are weak or lack agency. The notion that Sansa is weak or somehow failed herself by getting raped is victim-blaming, flat out. As Laura Bradley at Slate noted, it’s arguable that this whole storyline shows how strong Sansa is, because she went into this with open eyes and a will to survive—and to try to take Winterfell back.

More to the point, this line of argumentation assumes that responsibility for rape belongs to the victim, for not fighting back hard enough. Nope nope and nope. This plot actually laid out how rape is a structural and cultural issue. Sansa cannot get out of this by running or fighting, because there are guards and an entire society around her that believes she is Ramsay’s property and will return her to him if she runs. The notion that she’s somehow weak or lacking agency because she can’t hulk out and destroy millennia of tradition or even just a couple dozen guards is just wrong. I enjoy a fantasy of a woman whipping ass and taking names as much as anyone else. But this is a different story, a story of a woman showing strength and agency by working within the system. Which is also an interesting story and no less a story of strength and agency.

Sansa Stark is strong. Unlike her brother and father and mother, she has learned to pick her battles and survive. Surviving is a strength. Not everything is about karate kicking your way out of danger.

They made it about Theon. “Not that I wanted to see it, of course, but I think the scene could’ve had more of an impact if it’d ended with a close-up on Sansa’s face, not Theon’s. That close-up left viewers with the impression that her rape was ultimately about him.” Wrong again. Yes, his was the last face we saw—as we are hearing her scream and cry. I don’t see why the visual information automatically trumps the audio information. (Ironically, the flip of this argument was all over the sexism charge levied against Age of Ultron. In that case, visual information—suggestions that Black Widow was forced to kill innocents—was ignored in favor of only paying attention to audio information about her forced sterilization.) We also saw her face, before we saw Theon’s. So both experiences were well-represented. But done so in a way that minimized seeing Sansa actually get fucked. Which was clearly done so that the scene was not titillating. If the focus had been on her head bobbing around, I guarantee the “titillating” charge would be the argument.

But there were other scenes in the past that got rape wrong. “This isn’t the first time Game of Thrones has come under fire for its depiction of rape; most recently, a season-four scene between Jaime and Cersei in the crypt that held Joffrey’s dead body drew widespread outcry, especially because it was written as more consensual in the books than it was in the show.” So, because someone did something wrong in the past, they aren’t allowed to get it right in the future? What’s the point of criticizing and engaging, if we refuse to allow people to grow and change? They screwed up in the past. I think they made up for it by listening and giving us a rape scene that actually hits all the marks.

This matters a lot, because, as Alyssa Rosenberg notes, sexual violence is an important and ongoing theme of A Song of Ice and Fire. It would be ludicrous to do a series that investigates the consequences of a patriarchal, semi-feudal society where women are used as objects to be sold and swapped in the game of thrones and then pretend that somehow rape isn’t a part of that process. That’s the kind of romanticizing—sure, we treat women like objects, but it’s not like we treat them like objects—that this series was written to criticize. In adapting the series for TV, they have to deal with this fact that rape is a part of this kind of society. It would be cowardly to suggest that you can somehow organize a society that disempowers women to such a degree without sexual violence being the immediate and predictable result of that.

“Either way, I hope the series won’t dishonor Sansa by reducing her to a pawn.” Just quoted directly. The series is not reducing Sansa to a pawn. The men around her are doing that. Watch with a more critical eye and you can see that the series is not siding with Ramsay and Littlefinger when it comes to using Sansa as a pawn. It’s asking us to see the world through her eyes, as well as the eyes of the one man in the mix, Theon, who has begun to realize how wrong all this is. (As an aside, I’ve seen the whole “but Theon did bad stuff and so I don’t care about him” reaction. Eh, this series is about rejecting that kind of dichotomous thinking and asking if people can have layers, or if they can grow and change. Theon did bad stuff. Theon regrets it. He’s not a mustache-twirling villain or a hero. He’s a person, which is more interesting, I think.)

Like I said, I don’t want to pick on Trolio, who, like us all, is caught up in the hot take needs of the internet. But she was far from the only one. So here’s a few more bad arguments I’ve seen around.

Ok, I'm done Game of Thrones.Water Garden, stupid.Gratuitous rape scene disgusting and unacceptable.It was a rocky ride that just ended.

— Claire McCaskill (@clairecmc) May 19, 2015

For the love of language, people, stop using “gratuitous” to mean “stuff that made me uncomfortable”. “Gratuitous” means “unwarranted”. I’m already uneasy with it as an argument, because it assumes that nothing can ever be put there just to elicit an emotional reaction or to look cool, but okay, when the subject makes people uncomfortable, it does require a little more work to justify it.

But this was not unwarranted. The rape was justified from a plot perspective, a thematic perspective, and a character perspective. Thematically, it’s important to understand the ugly consequences of a patriarchal society that treats women like pawns in the political games that men play to control power and wealth. Plot-wise, the rape was a straight up linchpin. The entire question of whether the Boltons control the North depends on how well they establish political legitimacy. Nothing matters more for that purpose than containing, ideally through marriage, the person who has the greatest historical claim to Winterfell, which happens to be Sansa Stark. And once that’s true, then the rape is just part of it. And again, it matters for character: For Ramsay, Sansa, and Theon to maintain consistent characterization, there is literally no other way this could have gone down.

A few other arguments I’ve seen around.

There doesn’t have to be any rape in the series! This is fantasy fiction, not history, and you can just choose to never have any rape in it. Mary Sue’s wretched freak-out over this epitomizes this argument, saying bluntly, “rape is not a necessary plot device.” Well, no. Nothing is a necessary plot device. In fact, you don’t have to tell stories at all. Or only tell stories about some things and not others.

And that’s fine, if that’s your taste. There are lots and lots of fantasy stories that don’t have rape. I recommend Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, which are both interesting and narratively complex and totally rape-free. Rape is not necessary to the stories they are telling, which are more traditional fantasy stories where the good guys always win, evil is always defeated, and the existing social systems are more or less just and correct.

That isn’t, however, the story that Game of Thrones is telling. Game of Thrones is telling a different story, one that explores the way that patriarchal systems that are often romanticized in fantasy would play out if they were more realistic. It’s one that is critical of the social systems in its world, holding them out as unjust and violent. And, like murder and war and poverty, rape is one of the consequences of that world.

I totally get not wanting to spend your time in a narrative that has a critical edge like that. A lot of the time, I am stressed out and just want to pour a glass of wine and watch The Flash, a show that has a black-and-white morality and takes an uncritical view of the social systems of its world. But I don’t want every show to be The Flash. There’s room for shows that ask harder questions.

They could have just made Ramsey not rape her. I’m unclear how people think that would work. Brain transplant? Broken foot? He drank too much at the wedding? Of course he’s going to rape her. He’s a sexual sadist in a world that tacitly permits—hell, basically expects, if she’s resistant—you to  rape your wife on her wedding night. It would have been bad writing to have him suddenly become a different person.

Well, they could have faded to black as they went into the room. This assumes rape is less awful if you don’t have to see it. More to the point, the episode was working some themes about bearing witness and accepting truths. That would make it feel especially like the audience was abandoning Sansa to her fate. Believe me, I was made profoundly uncomfortable by all this. The cat got a lot of hugs! But I think that is what I should have felt. Which leads me to another argument I’ve seen a lot.

We don’t need to see rape to know it’s terrible. Technically, we don’t need stories that make us feel feelings at all to intellectually understand what feelings are. I don’t need happy stories to know, intellectually, that happiness is good. I don’t need tragic stories to know that sadness is bad. I don’t need stories of death to know that death sucks. I could go on forever.

Art isn’t about appealing to your intellectual knowledge of things. It’s about reaching you on a deeper, more emotional level. And the fact that a lot of people still expect things like the last minute daring rescue—or assume that being raped makes a character weak—shows that while they may intellectually know that rape is wrong, they haven’t really haven’t grappled with what rape is, what it does to people, and what is so wrong about it. Art, even art that makes you profoundly uncomfortable—hell, especially art that makes you profoundly uncomfortable—can drive those arguments home.

They could have made it like the books, where it’s some rando named Jeyne Pool instead of our beloved Sansa Stark. That assumes rape is less horrible if we don’t know the victim as well. Morally indefensible.

Look, watch or don’t watch Game of Thrones. This isn’t about making you like what I like.  I fully accept that my appetite for stuff that can get really dark and violent might be vaster than a lot of people’s. That’s not the issue here.

The issue here is bad arguments and why feminists need to avoid them. Feminism is supposed to be a movement against reactionary politics, so this kind of reactive, rationalizing behavior—the kind we see so often from conservatives—is a bad look. I spend a lot of my time trying to debunk conservatives whose entire worldview is built around coughing up bullshit rationales to justify their thoughtless reactions, from “abortion is icky” to “sexual women are gross” to “hip-hop doesn’t sound like the music of my youth so it must be wrong”. Being challenged or upset by stuff is not a reason to be against it. It often means you need to slow your roll and think about things harder. Plus, bad arguments makes it easier for anti-feminists to paint feminists as a bunch of overly emotional, thoughtless and censorious creatures. Don’t give them that.

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Young Black Boys Committing Suicide at Rates Higher Than Ever - May 21, 2015 - 12:25pm
For the first time, a cohort of African Americans is dying by their own hands at a rate higher than their white peers.

Researchers have found that between 1993 and 2012, the suicide rate for very young black children, between the ages of 5 and 11, nearly doubled. The increase was driven almost entirely by the suicides of young black boys, who took their own lives in numbers that rose steeply over the nearly two-decade study period. Suicides among young black girls remained essentially level, while the rate of suicide among white children of the same age dropped.

According to researchers, the suicide rate among black boys rose from about 1.8 to nearly 3.5 per one million children. That increase was enough to raise the overall rate of suicide deaths of black children aged 5 to 11 from 1.36 to 2.54 per one million. According to the New York Times, researchers were so stunned by the findings they were concerned about a data error, and delayed the release of their statistics by a year while they double-checked the numbers. The figures held up under scrutiny.

Contrast those findings with the suicides of white children aged 5 to 11, which declined significantly in the study period. Between the years 1993 and 2012, the number of suicides of white children in the aforementiond age cohort fell from 1.14 per million to 0.77. More specifically, the suicide rate among white boys fell from 2 to approximately 1.3 suicides per one million children.

Researchers also noted that gun deaths among white children in the study decreased by 50 percent, while remaining steady among black children. Hanging/suffocation, which was the primary means of suicide overall, increased significantly among black boys, rising by nearly one third.

While health outcomes have long been poorer for African Americans than for white Americans, this marks the first time blacks have outpaced whites in suicide rates for any age group. A number of theories have been posited in trying to determine the underlying cause of the change in those numbers, from the higher likelihood of exposure to violence and trauma among black children, to increases in depression, but researchers note they would need further studies to determine if those factors had also increased in the same time period. The numbers are particuarly sobering in light of other death statistics for young black people, particularly boys and men. 

The study was conducted by looking at the causes of death in 657 cases of suicide among children ages 5 to 11 from 1993 to 2012. Of the total, boys made up the overwhelming majority of those who had taken their own lives, at 84 percent.

To see the study in its entirety, visit the JAMA Pediatrics site

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The Truth about the G-Spot - May 21, 2015 - 12:19pm
The body is an incredible and mysterious thing.

The Grafenberg Spot, better known as the G-spot, has created a lot of talk and a lot of controversy over whether it exists. Some women experience it with pleasure. Some women don't experience it at all. Some women don't like the sensation they experience in association with it. So, is it "real"? Let's take a look

The Elusive G-Spot

The G-spot is generally stimulated on the front wall of the vagina; some believe it is just part of the labyrinthine internal clitoris. Others say it is the "female prostate;" the equivalent of the prostate in those who do not have one. The prostate is also known as the Skene's gland. It is a bundle of pockets around the urethra that expels liquid. Many say that explains "female" ejaculation or squirting.

People have been curious about the pleasure and function of female orgasm and ejaculation for a long, long time. Certainly, people have talked about it since well before Dutch physician Renier de Graaf in the 17th Century and Ernst Grafenberg, for whom the G-spot is named, started talking about it in the 20th century. In the book "The Story of V: A Natural History of Female Sexuality," author Catherine Blackledge proposes that the little stream, the black pearl, and the palace of yin in China, the skin of the earthworm in Japan, and saspanda nadi in the Indian sex manual Ananga Ranga are all referring to the Skene's gland.

Yet, with that conversation has come skepticism. There are many people who don't experience the G-spot. This is partially because it can take some work and training nerves to register what's going on. There's a lot of warmup involved. There's definitely some research and learning involved for most people. It's true that some experience it without all that extra work, but that is an exception. On top of that, some women just don't like how it feels. Everyone's body is different. We experience pleasure and sensation in different ways. That's just how it is.

The Problem with G-Spot Studies

The learning curve and associated cultural shame around sexuality, pleasure, and a lack of pleasure-based sex education means that many people don't have access to resouces explaining how to accomplish G-spot stimulation. There's a lot of argument over whether or not the G-spot even exists because when studies are conducted, they're pulling from a pool of people who may likely not have had an easy G-spot stimulation experience. Lack of the proper information will naturally skew the results. This has sparked a lot of disagreements over whether the spot and if it exists, where it is, and if it can be actually pinpointed as an independent structure in the body.

It also doesn't help that people who have and do experience G-spot stimulation pleasurably often talk endlessly about how great it is. Think Cosmo articles on 'How to Find Your G Spot' and the like. This creates pressure for others to experience it in a way that is pleasurable. It perpetuates a kind of shame in people who have not experienced it or don't like how it feels in the same way that the general discourse about orgasms does. Not everyone can have or enjoy an orgasm in all or any of its forms. We know that the orgasm is not the be-all-end-all of sexual activity, although some people treat it that way. After all, there are many ways to experience pleasure. Not all of them are chained to the contractions of your pelvic floor.

What does this mean for G-spots? Well, it means that they're complicated. There isn't really any way to pinpoint this kind of pleasure with scientific research because it is incredibly varied from person to person for a variety of reasons: because bodies vary, because experience of pleasure varies, and because access to pleasure-based sex education can be really hard to come by. It is also important to recognize that everyone's bodily experiences are legitimate regardless of whether or not they align with scientific findings and the experience of another person. That doesn't mean one shouldn't explore and try to experience new things. It does mean that you shouldn't be upset or feel broken if you don't experience them in the way you, or other people, expect you to.

The G-spot is real for many people. We need to stop minimizing their experiences by saying it isn't a credible experience just because we don't experience it or have a different experience. The body is an incredible and mysterious thing.

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One Month Later, Exposing Baltimore Police Lies In the Death of Freddie Gray - May 21, 2015 - 11:39am
Basically everything police said was either a lie or PR spin.

Last month we exposed many of the ugly lies about Freddie Gray being spread by conservatives—ranging from the lie that he broke his neck jumping from a window while evading police to the lie that he had a spinal surgery in the weeks before he was killed stemming from a car accident.

It's now been one month since 25-year-old Freddie Gray died because of critical injuries he suffered while in police custody. Six officers having been charged in his murder. And many facts continue to emerge, including a video that was just released showing one of the many stops made while Freddie was in the van.

Below, from the moment when police arrested Freddie Gray until now, we will expose each lie that has been told by the Baltimore police

LIE: The arrest of Freddie Gray was lawful.

TRUTH: Everything about the arrest of Gray was unlawful.

Sadly, we will never fully understand what happened on April 12, because Gray never spoke another word again after he emerged from the police van that day and died one week later from his injuries.

The police claim, in their own timeline, that they chased and subdued Gray (and another unnamed man), but never gave any legal reason for doing so other than making eye contact with them.

The Baltimore police commissioner, Anthony Batts, has already said clearly that "there is no law against running." What law, then, did Gray break to be pursued and arrested in the first place? It is not legal to simply look at a man and assume it must be a criminal.

Furthermore, while police claim that Gray was carrying an illegal knife at the time of his arrest, two facts about this need to be clarified:

1. The police themselves claimed to have found the knife after they hadchased, caught and cuffed him.

In charging documents, prosecutors say three officers were on patrol near Gilmor Homes when Gray spotted them and began to run.

Prosecutors say the officers chased Gray and soon caught him. They say the officers held him down, handcuffed him, and found the knife.

The officers "substantially found a knife clipped to the inside of his pants pocket," prosecutors wrote in the documents. "The blade of the knife was folded into the handle. The knife was not a switchblade and is lawful under Maryland law."

2. While officers contend that the knife was indeed a switchblade, Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby and her team said strongly that it isn't. Either way, the illegal pursuit and arrest took place before they found the knife.

LIE: Officer Garrett Miller, under oath, stated in his initial police report that Gray was arrested without force or incident. The report is below.

attribution: Police Report from Garrett MillerPolice report where Officer Garrett Miller claims, under oath, that Freddie Gray was arrested without force or incident. TRUTH: Nothing about this arrest was normal.

Witness Kevin Moore, who also filmed the arrest, said that police had Freddie folded up like "a piece of origami" and that the "heels of his feet were in his back" and that officers had their "knees on his neck" and that Freddie was "asking for an inhaler" and "telling them he couldn't breathe."

Harold Perry, another witness, said,

"I heard this boy hollering and screaming," said Harold Perry.

Perry said he heard the commotion near his home in the 1700 block of Presbury St. where the arrest occurred.

"You're hurting my neck! You're hurting my neck! Get your knee out my back!", Perry recalled.

Perry claims in an exclusive interview with WUSA9 that police shouted at Gray to "shut the f--- up."

See Harold Perry's interview starting at 1:08 in the video below.


The video below shows Gray in clear pain after he is arrested. He is screaming and his legs do not appear to be working. The people filming the video are clearly angry because they see him in pain as well and wonder if his legs are broken.


Starting at 1:41 in the video below, another onlooker filmed the arrest of Gray. In this video, his legs are limp, dangle in an unnatural motion, and he appears to be in serious pain.


 LIE: The police released the following timeline, which was deliberately misleading and missing key pieces of information, following the death of Gray.
8:39:12 a.m., Sunday, April 12

At the corner of North Avenue and Mount Street in Baltimore, a police officer makes eye contact with two individuals, one of them Gray. Both individuals start running southbound as officers begin pursuing them.

8:39:52 a.m.

One unit (officer) says "I got him" at 1700 Presbury Street, two blocks south of North and Mount.

8:40:12 a.m.

An officer says we've got one and confirms the address of 1700 Presbury, where Gray gave up without the use of force, according to Rodriguez. One officer took out his stun gun but did not deploy it, he said.

8:42:52 a.m.

Gray asks for an inhaler. Police request a "wagon" to transport him.

8:46:02 a.m.

The van's driver says he believes Gray is acting "irate" in the back, according to Rodriguez

8:46:12 a.m.

At the corner of Mount Street and Baker Street, an officer asks the vehicle driver to stop so they can finish paperwork. At that point, Gray is placed in leg irons and put back in the wagon. Police interviewed several witnesses in the community with regard to that specific stop, Rodriguez said. The videos that were filmed by bystanders show events similar to what Rodriguez describes happens at this point.

8:54:02 a.m.

The wagon clears Mount Street and heads southbound towards central booking.

8:59:52 a.m.

The van's driver asks for an additional unit to "check on his prisoner [Gray]," Rodriguez said.

Another individual is arrested and a wagon is requested.

Before the wagon leaves, there is "some communication" with Gray, according to Rodriguez.

They then travel to the police department's western district with Gray and the other suspect in the wagon. The two are separated by a metal barrier had no physical contact.

9:24:32 a.m.

A medic is called.

TRUTH: Beyond being deliberately vague, at least five critical pieces of information are missing from this misleading timeline.

1. Police claimed that at 8:46 AM they stopped the van to shackle Freddie Gray because he was acting irate. However, in newly released videos taken by a bystander at that stop, not only is Freddie not speaking, he's not moving whatsoever. He's the opposite of irate.

 2. The police made another stop that they failed to mention and only admitted to after a private security camera confirmed it. Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis admitted this in a press conference,
Last week, Davis said there were three stops — one to put leg irons on Gray, the second “to deal with Mr. Gray” for an unexplained reason and the third to pick up another prisoner.

The new stop “was discovered from a privately owned camera,” Davis said, and came between the first and second stops. He did not elaborate.

Here is the video of that stop:

 3. In this video, police appear to be placing Freddie Gray on his stomach in the back of the police van. Mind you, his legs are shackled and his hands are cuffed behind his back. Beyond being against policy and protocol because of how dangerous it is, Freddie had already, according to their own timeline, communicated that he had asthma and could not breathe.
Joseph L. Giacalone, a retired New York Police Department detective sergeant who trains law enforcement, said, "You would never put a detainee struggling to breathe face down because that never promotes free breathing."4. At 8:59 a.m, during a stop, Freddie Gray told Officers Ceasar Goodson and William Porter that he needed medical care but they did nothing.
Goodson radioed for support from other officers to “check on the status of his prisoner”, said Mosby. He then made a third stop at Druid Hill Avenue and Dolphin Street at 8.59 a.m.. He and Officer William Porter inspected Gray. Mosby said Porter asked the 25-year-old if he needed medical care, and Gray “indicated at least twice he was in need of a medic”.

Yet Goodson and Porter still did not request medical care, the state’s attorney said. Despite moving Gray from the floor of the van to the bench, Porter once again failed to restrain Gray with a seatbelt. And despite Gray’s obvious distress, Goodson chose—“in a grossly negligent manner,” said Mosby—to respond to a separate arrest nearby.

5. Officers Goodson, Porter, and now Alicia White all observed Gray completely unresponsive at their fourth stop. Officer White spoke to Gray and he did not respond.
Goodson and Porter again inspected Gray, this time with Sergeant Alicia White. They “observed Mr Gray unresponsive on the floor of the wagon,” yet did not act. White “spoke to the back of Mr Gray’s head” and when he did not respond “she did nothing further despite the fact that she was advised that he needed a medic,” said Mosby.

“She made no effort to look or assess or determine his condition,” said Mosby. Gray, laid out on the floor of the wagon and not answering, was ignored.

“Despite Mr Gray’s seriously deteriorating medical condition, no medical assistance was rendered or summoned for Mr Gray at that time by any officer,” said Mosby. He was once again not restrained with a seatbelt in the back of the van as Goodson made the last leg of his journey to the police department’s western district headquarters.

LIE: Police leaked to The Washington Post that the man arrested and placed in the van behind a separate partition was a 38-year-old under protective order who claimed Gray was deliberately trying to injure himself in the van. They also claimed they couldn't reveal his identity.

TRUTH: Not only did the police blatantly lie about the identity of this man, who turned out to be 22-year-old Donta Allen, he openly came out to blast the lies in several interviews after the fact. Here he flat-out denies that he ever claimed Gray was intentionally trying to injure himself and says that he never heard him say anything. Furthermore, you must remember that police already stated in their reports to the prosecutor that Gray was completely unresponsive BEFORE this man was loaded into the van. This was a deliberate misinformation attempt.


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Janice Dickinson Sues Bill Cosby for Defamation - May 21, 2015 - 11:25am
The ex-supermodel says his team's labeling her a liar over sexual assault allegations has damaged her career.

Former supermodel Janice Dickinson has filed a lawsuit against Bill Cosby for defamation, stating that Cosby damaged her public image when his team said she lied about being raped by him in 1982. The suit, filed yesterday, leaves Cosby’s legal team 30 days to respond.

Dickinson is one of more than 30 women who have come forward since October of last year with allegations of rape against Cosby, with some of the charges dating back as far as the late 1960s. Like nearly every other woman allegedly assaulted by Cosby, Dickinson reports being drugged by the comedian—who she says invited her to dinner under the pretense of being able to help her career—then later awakening to find she had been raped. For the most part, it’s been assumed that Cosby won’t face prosecution, since nearly all of the cases are long past the statute of limitations. According to Reuters, Dickson is pursuing a jury trial and monetary damages, though the exact figure isn’t given.

Dickinson’s suit comes in response to a statement from Cosby’s lawyer, Martin Singer, who said in November, "The only story [Ms. Dickinson] gave 12 years ago to the media and in her autobiography was that she refused to sleep with Mr. Cosby and he blew her off. Documentary proof and Ms. Dickinson's own words show that her new story about something she now claims happened back in 1982 is a fabricated lie."

According to Dickinson’s attorney, Lisa Bloom—who is also the daughter of famed civil rights attorney Gloria Allred—a request for Cosby’s legal team to retract the accusation of lying was made. She says Cosby refused, leading Dickinson to file suit. 

In a televised interview with CNN, Dickinson said, “I want justice done. I want Lisa Bloom to depose Bill Cosby, get him on the stand and in front of a jury and let the law decide."

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WATCH: Letterman Gets Send-Off From U.S. Presidents Current, Former and Deceased - May 21, 2015 - 10:40am
Our long national nightmare of life without Letterman begins.

As you may have heard, David Letterman brought an end to his brilliant, groundbreaking, highly influential talk show last night after some 33 years behind the desk. The highlights in Letterman’s final episode were numerous. There was a star-studded Top Ten List (featuring Tina Fey, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carey, Steve Martin, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Alec Baldwin, Bill Murray and—only semi-oddly—Peyton Manning and Barbara Walters). There was a look back at the time Letterman worked a Taco-Bell drive-thru. And, to boot, a series of U.S. presidents, currently serving, living and dead, announcing that “Our long national nightmare is over"...because Letterman is finally retiring.

Check out the tribute, which compiles footage of Ford, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush Jr., and Obama (who just shrugs when Letterman asks if he’s kidding) sending the host on his way.

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Prime Sinister: Meet the New Faces of Netanyahu’s Israeli Cabinet - May 21, 2015 - 10:23am
Meet the people who make up Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's latest cabinet.

After two months of negotiations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced the composition of his new cabinet. In addition to Netanyahu, who will continue in his position as premier, two other ministers will retain their previous posts: Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz.

Below is a list of some of Netanyahu’s new political appointees and an appraisal of the developments that are likely to follow in each of their respective ministries.

Gila Gamliel, Likud
Gender Equality Minister

The appointment of Israel’s first-ever Minister of Gender Equality may be the only good thing that can be said about Netanyahu’s new government. Rape is rampant in Israel, and any efforts made by Gila Gamliel to combat this scourge on society will be a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, any pro-feminist points Netanyahu earned for creating this ministry were offset by his other coalition decisions. To assemble the cabinet, Netanyahu brought back his favored negotiator Natan Eshel, fired for secretly filming under a government worker’s skirt. Netanyahu also brought back the only two parties in the Knesset that consistently refuse to field any female candidates, the ultra-Orthodox Yehadut HaTorah and Shas.

Netanyahu also reinstated a minister recently accused of sex crimes (see Interior Minister, below). The State Prosecutor elected not to press charges against the minister due to the statute of limitations, but that does not mean the crimes did not occur. 

Tzipi Hotovely, Likud
Deputy Foreign Minister

Eli Ben Dahan, Jewish Home
Deputy Defense Minister

To the all-important Foreign and Defense Ministries, Netanyahu appointed the two religious Zionist lawmakers who have been the most outspoken opponents of so-called mixed marriages between Jews and non-Jews.

Even before Israel was established, there were fanatical outfits in Jewish society who were so incensed by biracial and bi-religious relationships that they would try to break up mixed couples using physical force, and sometimes even lethal force. Today, the most active anti-miscegenation movement in Israel is Lehava. It protests inter-racial weddings and its members firebombed one of the few schools in Israel where Jews and Arabs study together.

Lehava has powerful patrons within the Israeli government. The group’s leaders were invited to advise a Knesset committee by Tzipi Hotovely. After the group protested the wedding party of a daughter of Jews and a son of Muslims, Eli Ben-Dahan called such marriages “a silent holocaust." Ben Dahan’s desire to prevent mixed marriages would seem to stem from his supremacist religious beliefs. In his previous capacity as Deputy Religious Affairs Minister, Ben Dahan said that “a Jew always has a much higher soul than a goy,” and that Palestinians “are beasts, not humans.”

It is unclear what influence Hotovely and Ben Dahan will have on their respective ministries, being mere deputy ministers. But by crowning them with cabinet positions, Netanyahu legitimizes their repugnant views with a ministerial stamp of approval.

Uri Ariel, Jewish Home
Agriculture Minister

Ariel is a refreshing honest racist, by the strange standards of Israel’s off-kilter political spectrum. In 2014, when the mayor of Ashkelon responded to a Palestinian-on-Israeli terror attack in Jerusalem by firing all Arab citizens building bomb shelters for the municipality, the mayor of Jerusalem retorted, “You can’t outlaw an entire public, as was done in Nazi Germany 70 years ago.” Ariel, however, defended these firings as legitimate.

If there was any doubt about Ariel’s endgame, he made his feelings clear at a 2008 conference, where he said of Palestinian citizens of Israel: “We must encourage Arabs to willingly leave, both from the cities and from the state.”

Until now, as Construction Minister, Ariel ensured that Jewish settlements in the West Bank would continue to grow as rapidly as possible. As Rural Development Minister, Ariel will work to bring back the Prawer Plan, a program to dispossess Bedouin citizens of Israel, cordon them into smaller spaces and replace their former villages with new Jewish towns.

Naftali Bennett, Jewish Home
Education Minister

Polls show that Israeli youth are becoming less tolerant and more racist with each passing year. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Israeli teachers are now afraid to even bring up the topic of human rights, for fear of setting off a racist free-for-all in the classroom.

And yet, the Education Ministers appointed by Netanyahu have consistently tinkered with the curriculum, hoping to create new generations of Jews even more sectarian than previous ones. This year, Israeli children began to learn about the Nazi Holocaust in kindergarten.

As Religious Services Minister in the last Netanyahu government, Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett created a new bureaucratic body, the Jewish Identity Administration, to proselytize Orthodox Judaism to secular Israelis. Now that Bennett has been made Education Minister in the new Netanyahu government, he will not need to make use of a proxy organization in order to indoctrinate Israeli youth.

In the months to come, Bennett will likely keep ratcheting up the religious ultra-nationalism in Israeli schools. There’s no reason to expect any subtlety from the man who boasted in 2013, “I’ve killed many Arabs in my life and there’s no problem with that.”

Ayelet Shaked, Jewish Home
Justice Minister

Another member of the Jewish Home Party to be rewarded with a high office for dehumanizing Palestinian people is Ayelet Shaked. In July 2014, a day before a group of Israeli Jews kidnapped a Palestinian teen and burned him to death, Shaked told her Facebook followers that all Palestinian people deserve to die.

Specifically, she posted a screed stating: “Enough with the oblique references… words have meanings… the entire Palestinian people is the enemy… they are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers… otherwise, more little snakes will be raised…."

It is frightening to imagine the havoc Shaked could wreak in any position of power. But with her appointment to the Justice Ministry, it's obvious that her mission is to weaken the judicial branch of the government from within. Although Israel’s Supreme Court Justices usually rubber-stamp the government’s oppressive policies, on occasion they also overturns laws they consider too racist to whitewash. But Israel’s ultra-nationalists feel the country is not galloping toward Gomorrah with enough haste, so they wish to remove all constraints from the Knesset.

Once Shaked manages to sap the strength of the High Court, the first ones to suffer will be one of her favorite political punching bags: non-Jewish African asylum-seekers. After the court twice quashed a law criminalizing the would-be refugees, Shaked will ensure that the court is deprived of the power to pull off a hat trick.

Miri Regev, Likud
Culture Minister

Miri Regev is another lawmaker fond of inciting racial hatred and devoted to depopulating Israel of African asylum-seekers. Exactly three years ago, she triggered a mini-pogrom when she told thousands of anti-African protesters that the asylum-seekers are Israel’s “cancer." In the days following the racist frenzy, she apologized to Israeli cancer victims for daring to compare them to Africans. Six months later, Regev proclaimed in a televised interview that she was “happy to be a fascist.”

In the previous government, Netanyahu rewarded Regev by appointing her head of the Interior Committee, the very Knesset committee that determines the fate of asylum-seekers. In the new government, Regev will serve as Culture Minister, where she will continue the work begun by her predecessor Limor Livnat, silencing dissent by cutting funds to artists whose works she deems to be insufficiently patriotic.

Silvan Shalom
Interior Minister

Silvan Shalom is used to being treated with deference. His wife’s family owns Israel’s top-selling newspaper. He is the second-richest member of Knesset, with an approximate net worth of $39 million. He would have preferred to be Israel’s president by now, but he had to drop out of that contest after a former assistant accused him of sex crimes.

The Interior Ministry has traditionally been a powerful position in the Israeli government, as it inherited many of the functions of the British High Commissioner. Unfortunately for Shalom, just before he was appointed to the post, Netanyahu stripped the ministry of its authority over urban planning, leaving him in charge of not much more than issuing ID cards and entry visas.

To mollify Shalom, Netanyahu also named him Deputy Prime Minister, a powerless position, hoping to assuage his bruised ego. He also asked Shalom to coordinate peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, although as it now stands this is another empty gesture, since the two sides have not held talks in over a year. In any case, with Shalom at the helm, peace talks are unlikely to bear fruit, as he backs settlement construction and has never supported a two-state solution.

Despite all the changes made to the Interior Ministry, its top official will still determine the fate of the 50,000 non-Jewish African asylum-seekers living in Israel. Shalom is expected to continue the policies of his predecessors, if his public statements and voting record are any indication. In March 2011, upon learning that African asylum-seekers amounted to 13% of the population of Eilat, Shalom proclaimed that they “threaten the future of the city.” In December 2014, Shalom voted with the government to subvert the Supreme Court and continue rounding the refugees into desert detention centers, and from there back to Africa.

Yariv Levin, Likud
Public Security Minister

As the new Minister of Public Security, Yariv Levin will be in charge of those aforementioned desert detention centers for African immigrants. These new responsibilities are only fitting, since it was Levin’s racist scaremongering on the night of the May 2012 proto-pogrom that helped catalyze national sentiment into support for placing African asylum-seekers in those camps.

Levin will also inherit authority over Israel’s national police force, at a time when police are facing charges of racial prejudice. But don’t expect Levin to hold police to treat all citizens equally under the law, regardless of race or religion. In the last Knesset, he championed legislation that designated Christians as being separate from other Arabs, in order to weaken the standing of the country’s Muslim citizens.

Ze’ev Elkin, Likud
Immigrant Absorption Minister

As I write these words, Israelis of Ethiopian descent are marching through the streets of Tel Aviv, protesting police brutality and systemic racism. A significant chunk of their anger is directed at the Absorption Ministry, which has exploited them and made it difficult for them to succeed in Israeli society.

If Netanyahu wanted to make good on his promise to be responsive to the pleas of the protestors, he could have appointed an Ethiopian-Israeli as the new Minister of Absorption, as a sign of goodwill. Instead, he appointed Ze’ev Elkin, who was born in the former Soviet Union. 

Fellow Soviet-born Sofa Landver, who has served as Absorption Minister for the past six years, commented on the recent protests during her final days in office, saying that Israeli police are not racist against Ethiopian-Israelis, but rather, Ethiopian-Israelis are racist against her. Elkin was the author of the 2011 Boycott Law making it a civil crime for any Israeli to call upon others to boycott businesses because of their location. The purpose of the law is to invert the efforts of the few Israelis who wish to penalize the profiteers of the occupation of the West Bank, by forcing them to personally pay for the lost potential profits of any boycotted business. After the Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to the law last month, there is now no legal way for Israelis to effectively protest apartheid rule.

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Hundreds of Tech Companies Line Up to Oppose TPP Trade Agreement - May 21, 2015 - 10:05am
Letter signed by more than 250 companies demands greater transparency and says ‘dangerously vague’ language would criminalize whistleblowers.

More than 250 tech companies have signed a letter demanding greater transparency from Congress and decrying the broad regulatory language in leaked parts of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade bill.

The TPP would create an environment hostile to journalists and whistleblowers, said policy directors for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Fight for the Future, co-authors of the letter. “TPP’s trade secrets provisions could make it a crime for people to reveal corporate wrongdoing ‘through a computer system’,” says the letter. “The language is dangerously vague, and enables signatory countries to enact rules that would ban reporting on timely, critical issues affecting the public.”

Among the signatories is activist, sci-fi author and Guardian tech columnist Cory Doctorow. “Democracies make their laws in public, not in smoke-filled rooms,” Doctorow wrote. “If TPP’s backers truly believed that they were doing the people’s work, they’d have invited the people into the room. The fact that they went to extreme, unprecedented measures to stop anyone from finding out what was going on – even going so far as to threaten Congress with jail if they spoke about it – tells you that this is something being done to Americans, not for Americans.”

Also on the list are prominent members of the open source community, including David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of the popular Ruby on Rails web development framework, image hosting company Imgur and domain name manager Namecheap.

There was a notable absence from the letter of big international tech companies like Apple, Google and Facebook. Apple and AT&T are part of the president’s International Trade Advisory Committee (which advises the Oval Office on matters relating to industry) and their representatives have presumably been able to read sections of the bill that would apply to their industry.

The letter’s signatories also criticized the fast-track bill, known as the Trade Promotion Authority, which is being discussed in Congress this week. If passed, the TPA would give Obama a yes or no vote on the trade pact without the ability for legislators to amend it. The fast-track bill needs to be passed to even give the TPP a shot at approval.

Several other companies and industry trade groups sent statements to Congress in support of the legislation, among them Cisco and the Consumer Electronics Association. The Seminconductor Industry Association said: “SIA strongly supports trade promotion authority (TPA) and applauds the introduction of this bipartisan legislation. TPA paves the way for free trade by empowering US negotiators to reach final trade agreements consistent with negotiating objectives laid out by Congress. Free trade is especially critical to the US semiconductor industry, which designs and manufactures the chips that enable virtually all electronics.”

TPP has sparked a growing row within the Democrat party. Senator Elizabeth Warren renewed her attack on the pact this week, issuing a scathing report on past trade deals.

Of particular concern to the tech community is an “Investment Chapter” of the TPP drafted in 2010 and leaked by Wikileaks. The letter’s signatories argue the provisions would allow corporations to use an international legal system to override national sovereignty: “The TPP Investment Chapter contains text that would enable corporations to sue nations over democratic rules that allegedly harm expected future profits. Companies can use this process to undermine US rules like fair use, net neutrality, and others designed to protect the free, open internet and users’ rights to free expression online.”

The section has likely been revised in the last five years, but whether the provisions have changed has not, and cannot, be disclosed.

“The future of the internet is simply too important to be decided behind closed doors,” said Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future. “The Fast Track/Trade Promotion Authority process actively silences the voices of internet users, startups, and small tech companies while giving the biggest players even more power to set policy that benefits a few select companies while undermining the health of the entire web.”

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