Something myth-ing? What they don’t tell us about African agriculture

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Ian Fitzpatrick on truths, lies and stereotypes.
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The Australian General Strike, 1917

New Internationalist - 6 hours 7 min ago
Sean Michael Wilson gives us an insight into the thought behind each chapter in Fight the Power!
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The True Cost of Citizens United: The Roberts Court’s Darkest Hour Revisited

AlterNet.org - 8 hours 13 min ago
Five years ago, conservatives on the high bench changed American elections forever. Here's what happened next.

It’s been five years since the Supreme Court decided Citizens United, which allowed unlimited corporate money into the political system and increased the domination of democracy by the wealthy elite. Money has indeed overwhelmed the system since 2008. This rise of big money in politics has endangered democracy and emboldened those who want to put democracy up for sale to aggressively attack the modest campaign spending regulations that still remain.

A recent Demos report explores how, since Citizens United, the following have occurred:

  • In the 2012 election .01 percent of all Americans contributed more than 28 percent of all individual contributions.
  • In the 2012 election, Sheldon Adelson spent an estimated $150 million, $98 million through dark money channels. In 1980, by contrast, the largest donor gave $1.72 million (inflation-adjusted).
  • A 2013 study finds, “millionaires receive about twice as much representation when they comprise just 5 percent of the district’s population than the poorest wealth group does when it makes up 50 percent of the district.”
  • Another 2013 study finds that the richest 1 percent of Americans are “extremely active politically and that they are much more conservative than the American public as a whole with respect to important policies concerning taxation, economic regulation, and especially social welfare programs.”

Americans are increasingly skeptical of claims that democracy by the wealthy is compatible with their interests. In a recent study commissioned by CNBC and Burson-Marsteller, 73 percent of American consumers believe that the government is more on the side of corporations than average citizens. Research by Pew suggests that trust in government has reached an almost record low, and the most recent ANES data find that 63.4 percent of Americans earning less than $30,000 agree (24.5 percent “strongly agree”) that public officials don’t care what people think.

As Jedediah Purdy notes in Dissent, “Unlike early Americans, who were obsessed with the decline and fall of republics, the justices seem to suppose that, once established, democracy cannot fail. This view flies in the face of history. It also suggests why the justices seem so complacent about the danger that their own rulings will erode democracy.” Purdy is correct, and the evidence is strong the dominance of money in politics has already overpowered the voices of middle-class Americans and Americans of color. As the evidence above suggests, Americans have very little voice in democracy, and increasingly feel that their government is not responsive. Low voting rates, particularly among the poor (far below average among OECD countries), are a symptom of our crisis of democracy. A recent poll finds that 54 percent of Americans who don’t vote say they don’t pay attention to politics because the political system is too corrupt.

But this is not the end of the story. Although a small group of unelected justices has attempted at every turn to weaken democracy — since 2006 the Roberts Court has struck down every money-in-politics law it has considered and removed critical protections for voting when it gutted the landmark Voting Rights Act —  it’s up to Americans to take it back.

Here are some proposals:

Public Financing

To counter the influence of big money in politics we need structures that encourage small donors to get involved. Such a system would mean that politicians would be dependent on, and thus responsive to, their constituents, not just rich donors. Connecticut is a great example of public financing. In Connecticut, 90 percent of legislative candidates and both gubernatorial candidates participated in that state’s clean elections program. Thesecandidates report being able to spend more time with their constituents. Once candidates were no longer exclusively dependent on wealthy donors and businesses, the influence of lobbyists decreased, which has been cited as an important step in guaranteeing paid sick leave to workers and raising the minimum wage.

Disclosure

In Citizens United, the justices upheld the constitutionality of disclosure, and in fact assumed that all the new money allowed into our politics would be transparent to voters,writing, “prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters.” But an effective disclosure system does not yet exist, and our political system is awash with undisclosed political contributions (see chart). Disclosure of political spending serves voters’ interests in knowing who is funding a political message and about a candidate’s financial allegiances; protects against corrupt political deal-making; and prevents circumvention of campaign finance protections such as contribution limits by allowing monitoring. In the current system, corporations and unionsface different disclosure regimes, with unions required to disclose their political spending. The FEC should update their rules, which a federal judge found created an “easily exploited loophole.”

Legal Reframing

It is key that the Court recognize a more commonsense standard for corruption (one supported by a majority of Americans). Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has said, “if there is one decision I would overrule, it is Citizens United. I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be.” Leading First Amendment scholar and former University of Chicago Law School dean Geoffrey Stone writes “that these five justices persist in invalidating these regulations under a perverse and unwarranted interpretation of the First Amendment is, to be blunt, a travesty. These decisions will be come to be counted as among the worst decisions in the history of the Supreme Court.” That’s quite a feat for our Supreme Court, given its ugly history.

Getting money out of politics should not be a partisan issue – a recent survey of likely voters finds that likely voters (including Republicans) are more apt to support than oppose public matching funds for small donations and public funding for elections. Majorities from both parties support disclosing corporate spending (see chart) and more than a million people have signed a petition supporting a proposed SEC rule to require publicly traded corporations to disclose their political spending.

The problem, of course, is that the same people who benefit from money in politics are pulling the strings right now. The American citizens are united in opposing money in politics. Now, we need a mass movement from ordinary Americans to take back our democracy.

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Super Bowl for the Rich: Upper-Class 91, Middle-Class 9

AlterNet.org - January 25, 2015 - 6:40pm
Making money is all a game to the super-rich.

Just 10% of Americans own 91 percent of the nation's stocks and mutual funds, according to economist Edward Wolff (Table 7). Most of the remainder is held by a "middle class" that is steadily losing ground. The bottom 60% is almost entirely shut out (Table 2). 

Stock owners, some of whom made billions of dollars last year, can defer their income taxes indefinitely, pay a reduced capital gains tax when they decide to cash in, or pass on the capital gainstax-free to their heirs. 

Making money is all a game to the super-rich -- redistribution toward the top, trickle-down delusions, tax avoidance, and even, for some of them, dabbling in criminal activities. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) once said, "It's really American to avoid paying taxes, legally...It's a game we play...I see nothing wrong with playing the game because we set it up to be a game." Here's part of their game plan: 


Blitz 

$2 of every $5 owned today was created in the last five years, most of it from the financial markets, and almost all of it going to the richest 10%. 

Unfathomably, the richest 1% took anywhere from 95 percent to 116 percent of the new income gains after the recession. Yes, 116 percent, because almost everyone else went backwards. Median wealth dropped about 40 percent from 2007 to 2013. 


Taunting 

JP Morgan CEO Jaime Dimon said, "I am not embarrassed to be a banker." On the contrary, he and his banking buddies can sit back and gloat, knowing that not a single Wall Street banker has been prosecuted for the financial collapse, and that the little fines they pay for their misconduct simply amount to the cost of doing business. 

Their crimes include faulty mortgages, lying to the U.S. Senate, and conspiring to hide billions of dollars of trading losses from regulators. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission used variations of the word 'fraud' over 150 times in describing the buildup to the crisis. 


Piling On 

The superrich team tries to convince us that all is well. From the Wall Street Journal: The U.S. economy is on a tear. From a Moody's analyst: Our economy is firing on most cylinders. And fromPresident Obama himself: Tonight, we turn the page. 

People with stocks are happy, but the news is a lot different for middle America, which has seen itspay drop a stunning 23 percent since 2009, and its median wealth plummet by about 40 percent


Holding 

Even though corporate profits are at their highest level in 85 years, corporations aren't pumping it back into the economy. Instead they're holding it. S&P companies last year spent an incredible 95% of their profits on stock buybacks to enrich executives and shareholders. 

Meanwhile, as the rest of us dutifully pay our taxes, we get blind-sided by wealthy individuals and corporations who defer their taxes, stash income in tax havens, enjoy a special capital gains tax rate, invest their money in tax-free foundations, or simply don't pay. Boeing, Ford, Chevron, Citigroup, Verizon, JP Morgan, and General Motors, with a combined income last year of $74 billion,paid no taxes, and instead received a combined refund of nearly $2 billion. 


And the Middle Class Keeps Losing 

This is the middle class of a nation in which over half of public school students are poor enough to qualify for lunch subsidies. 

It is a middle class so poor that almost two-thirds of polled Americans said they didn't have enough money to cover a $500 repair bill or a $1,000 emergency room visit. 

The only hope of the middle class may be for someone like Elizabeth Warren to lead it against the team of Wall Street bankers who keep winning year after year. 

 

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Greece Elections: Anti-Austerity Syriza Party Sweeps to Stunning Victory

AlterNet.org - January 25, 2015 - 6:35pm
A big victory in the fight against foreign banks.

Syriza, the radical leftists who have pledged to roll back austerity and renegotiate Greece’s mammoth debt, swept to a stunning victory in the country’s elections on Sunday – but looked like falling agonisingly short of an outright majority.

With more than 70% of the results in, official interior ministry results put Alexis Tsipras’s party on 36%, eight points clear of their chief rivals, the conservative New Democracy of outgoing prime minister Antonis Samaras, on 28%.

But even with the 50-seat bonus awarded to the winning party, that translated to 149 seats – two less than Syriza needs to govern alone in the 300-seat parliament. The extreme-right, anti-immigrant, Nazi-inspired Golden Dawn, several of whose 18 MPs are in jail awaiting trial for membership of a criminal organisation, clinched third place ahead of the new, centrist To Potami party.

In front of an ecstatic crowd of cheering, flag-waving supporters outside Athens university, Tsipras said that “today, the Greek people have made history. Hope has made history.”

The Greek people, he said, had “given a clear, strong, indisputable mandate. Greece has turned a page. Greece is leaving behind destructive austerity, fear and authoritarianism. It is leaving behind five years of humiliation and pain.”

Tsipras, 40, will lead the first eurozone government to openly oppose bailout conditions imposed by the European Union and International Monetary Fund, seemingly setting Athens on a collision course with Brussels and particularly Berlin. The result had “made the Troika [the EU, IMF and European Central Bank] history,” he said.

Criticism was not slow in coming. The president of Germany’s Bundesbank, Jens Weidmann, said Greece should stick to its budget commitments. “I hope the new government won’t call into question what is expected and what has already been achieved,” he told ARD television.

After five brutal years of austerity and recession, Greece’s 9.8m voters went to the polls under clear skies. Looking confident and relaxed, Tsipras cast his ballot in a primary school in the Kipseli district of Athens, saying the day represented the Greek people’s “last step towards regaining our dignity”.

Voters there said the poll felt like the most important in Greece’s recent history. “I just voted for the party that’s going to change Greece – in fact, the party that is going to change the whole of Europe,” said Panagiotis, 54, a self-employed electrician.

“There has to be change, big change. The economy has collapsed. Poverty has reached proportions … People, ordinary people like you and me, are poking around in dustbins to get food to eat. The young can only find work abroad. Syriza is Greece’s hope.”

Maria, 78, a lifelong conservative, said she had voted Syriza for the first time because she had “no confidence left in anyone, any party, who has governed us up until now”.

She added: “Things are in a very bad way here. But at least Syriza seem to care. My grandson – he’s seven – said to his mother, just now: ‘Vote Tsipras, mummy. He talks about the poor people.’”

Samaras appeared on national television to concede defeat, saying he had “assumed charge of a country that was on the brink of collapse … and restored its international credibility.” But he said the Greek people had spoken and the country must respect their decision.

Tsipras’s fierce anti-austerity, anti-bailout message has found an enthusiastic audience across a now visibly strung-out and worn-down country. Since 2009, Greece’s GDP has plummeted by a quarter and its household income by more than a third, while joblessness has trebled, to 26%.

Swingeing spending cuts and soaring unemployment have seen about 3.1 million people, or a third of the population, lose their social security and health insurance, leaving the country on the brink of humanitarian crisis. Almost third of Greece’s population now lives below the poverty line, while 18% are unable to afford basic food needs.

If Syriza does need a coalition partner, its choices are limited. Golden Dawn is clearly not an option and the Communist party has refused all cooperation with Syriza. Possible allies could include To Potami, whose leader said he was willing to talk, or the populist Independent Greeks, who agree with Syriza that austerity has to end, but disagree on almost everything else. Neither alliance would be easy.

The prospect of a Syriza victory spooked creditors who worry that Athens will seek a write-off of at least part of its €320bn debt. Some analysts fear that a tough Syriza approach to negotiations could push Greece out of the eurozone, although Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, insisted on Friday that this was not what she wanted.

Tsipras’s line has softened markedly in recent weeks, but several EU capitals are still alarmed by promises to cancel the most draconian budget cuts imposed as part of the country’s €240bn bailout package.

“We will start with the things we can easily do, that we can afford, but will make a difference,” said Gabriel Sakellaridis, a young Syriza candidate in central Athens.

“We don’t have a magic wand; people know that. But we can take simple steps to restore some social justice: raise the minimum wage and pension, abolish the most unfair new taxes.”

Above all, he said, Syriza could “restore the hope that has been missing from the Greek people through the past five years of fear, anxiety, despair. Syriza has convinced them we not just that we want to change things, but that we can.”

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Are You Living in a "Bible-Minded City?"

AlterNet.org - January 25, 2015 - 6:28pm
A scary report shows the purported Christian religiosity of American cities.

Ever wonder what makes a city bible-minded? According to an annual list put together by the American Bible Society (ABS) and the Barna Group (a Christian-based polling outfit), a Bible-minded city is made up of "Individuals who report reading the Bible in a typical week and who strongly assert the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches are considered to be Bible-minded."

The list of the most, and the least, bible-minded cities, is based on interviews with over 60,000 people from across the country.

So, which cities topped the list & which cities bottomed out and remain biblically-challenged?

According to a story posted at the Barna Group's website, while "Hollywood has been betting big money that America still loves the Bible. From Noah to Exodus to the forthcoming Last Days in the Desert, a fictional look at Jesus' temptation in the desert, Scripture has returned to the screen.

"But what is America's relationship with the Bible? In the annual 'Bible-Minded' cities report, Barna Group explores how Bible engagement plays out regionally in the United States. The study, based on interviews with 62,896 adults over a 10-year period, shows how people in the nation's 100 largest media markets view and use the Bible."

Most of the top spots are held by cities in the South -- Birmingham, AL, tops the list "with 51% of its population qualifying as Bible-minded" --  while most of the most biblically-challenged cities are in the North -- Providence, RI/New Bedford, MASS were the least bible-minded, registering a scanty 9%.

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Michael Moore Tells Fox News ‘Quit Making Shit Up About Me’

AlterNet.org - January 25, 2015 - 6:23pm
Moore confronts the smear artists.

Filmmaker Michael Moore went on offense on Facebook today, pushing back at the attacks upon him over a comment he made on Twitter about military snipers by listing the multitude of ways he has supported veterans, before calling on Fox News to “quit making sh*t up about me.”

Moore has become the target of conservative fans of the film American Sniper who have claimed he attacked the subject of the film, Chris Kyle, when he tweeted: “My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot u in the back. Snipers aren’t heroes. And invaders r worse.”

Since that time Fox News hosts, television commentators Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, and other celebrities have hammered Moore, calling him “Un-American,” while pointing out that he never served in the military.

On Facebook, Moore detailed his extensive history of support for veterans, saying those who supported sending the troops into a “senseless war Iraq in the first place,” are the ones who should be apologizing.

“I would like to address this one insane mantra that the right-wing has twisted my tweet into: ‘Michael Moore hates the troops,’ ” Moore wrote. “Well, who would know better about hating our troops than those who supported sending them into a senseless war Iraq in the first place? And, for 4,482 of them, a senseless, unnecessary and regrettable death.”

He continued, “Republicans and Democrats who backed this war, then you are the ones who have some ‘splainin’ to do. Not me. You.”

Moore went on to explain that the U.S. propped up Saddam Hussein in the years prior to the invasion and that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

He  wrote “… only “haters” of our brave young men and women would recklessly send them into harm’s way for something that had absolutely nothing to do with defending the United States of America.”

Moore then called out Fox News specifically, writing, “I’M the one who has supported these troops – much more than the bloviators on Fox News,” before listing support he has extended to veterans through the years; pushing businesses to hire veterans like he has done, raising money for wounded veterans, offering free admission to veterans and their families at the theaters he owns in Michigan, and allowing his theaters to be used free of charge to veterans groups counseling those suffering from PTSD.

Moore also noted that he is showing American Sniper at one of his theaters, writing, “I am currently showing “American Sniper” at my theater that I helped restore and that I program and help run in Manistee, MI. Not because I like it, but because, unlike the other side, I’m not a censor. I trust smart people and people of good heart will know what to do. ”

He then concluded by calling Fox News and other media outlets “cowards” hiding behind “falsehoods.”

“So, Fox News and the other lazy media — quit making shit up about me! You look ridiculous. If you want to have a debate with me about the ISSUES and the POLICIES, then let’s have it. If you want to debate a movie that’s trying to rewrite history, then let’s have that,” he wrote. “But when you hide behind falsehoods and then use them to try and manipulate the public, then all you are is afraid. Afraid of me, an unarmed American, and the truth I bring along as my sidekick. Only cowards have to lie.”

“Be brave. Report the truth. It will feel good.”

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How Israeli High-Tech Firms Are Turning the U.S.-Mexico Border into a New Kind of Hell

AlterNet.org - January 25, 2015 - 6:07pm
U.S. borderlands are laboratories for nightmarish innovations.

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.

 

It was October 2012. Roei Elkabetz, a brigadier general for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), was explaining his country’s border policing strategies. In his PowerPoint presentation, a photo of the enclosure wall that isolates the Gaza Strip from Israel clicked onscreen. “We have learned lots from Gaza,” he told the audience. “It’s a great laboratory.”

Elkabetz was speaking at a border technology conference and fair surrounded by a dazzling display of technology -- the components of his boundary-building lab. There were surveillance balloons with high-powered cameras floating over a desert-camouflaged armored vehicle made by Lockheed Martin. There were seismic sensor systems used to detect the movement of people and other wonders of the modern border-policing world. Around Elkabetz, you could see vivid examples of where the future of such policing was heading, as imagined not by a dystopian science fiction writer but by some of the top corporate techno-innovators on the planet.

Swimming in a sea of border security, the brigadier general was, however, not surrounded by the Mediterranean but by a parched West Texas landscape. He was in El Paso, a 10-minute walk from the wall that separates the United States from Mexico.

Just a few more minutes on foot and Elkabetz could have watched green-striped U.S. Border Patrol vehicles inching along the trickling Rio Grande in front of Ciudad Juarez, one of Mexico’s largest cities filled with U.S. factories and the dead of that country’s drug wars. The Border Patrol agents whom the general might have spotted were then being up-armored with a lethal combination of surveillance technologies, military hardware, assault rifles, helicopters, and drones. This once-peaceful place was being transformed into what Timothy Dunn, in his book The Militarization of the U.S. Mexico Border, terms a state of “low-intensity warfare.”

The Border Surge

On November 20, 2014, President Obama announced a series of executive actions on immigration reform. Addressing the American people, he referred to bipartisan immigration legislation passed by the Senate in June 2013 that would, among other things, further up-armor the same landscape in what’s been termed -- in language adopted from recent U.S. war zones -- a “border surge.” The president bemoaned the fact that the bill had been stalled in the House of Representatives, hailing it as a “compromise” that “reflected common sense.” It would, he pointed out, “have doubled the number of Border Patrol agents, while giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship.”

In the wake of his announcement, including executive actions that would protect five to six million of those immigrants from future deportation, the national debate was quickly framed as a conflict between Republicans and Democrats. Missed in this partisan war of words was one thing: the initial executive action that Obama announced involved a further militarization of the border supported by both parties.

“First,” the president said, “we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings and speed the return of those who do cross over.” Without further elaboration, he then moved on to other matters.

If, however, the United States follows the “common sense” of the border-surge bill, the result could add more than $40 billion dollars worth of agents, advanced technologies, walls, and other barriers to an already unparalleled border enforcement apparatus. And a crucial signal would be sent to the private sector that, as the trade magazine Homeland Security Today puts it, another “treasure trove” of profit is on the way for a border control market already, according to the latest forecasts, in an “unprecedented boom period.”

Like the Gaza Strip for the Israelis, the U.S. borderlands, dubbed a “constitution-free zone” by the ACLU, are becoming a vast open-air laboratory for tech companies. There, almost any form of surveillance and “security” can be developed, tested, and showcased, as if in a militarized shopping mall, for other nations across the planet to consider. In this fashion, border security is becoming a global industry and few corporate complexes can be more pleased by this than the one that has developed in Elkabetz’s Israel.

The Palestine-Mexico Border

Consider the IDF brigadier general’s presence in El Paso two years ago an omen. After all, in February 2014, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agency in charge of policing our borders, contracted with Israel’s giant private military manufacturer Elbit Systems to build a “virtual wall,” a technological barrier set back from the actual international divide in the Arizona desert. That company, whose U.S.-traded stock shot up by 6% during Israel’s massive military operation against Gaza in the summer of 2014, will bring the same databank of technology used in Israel’s borderlands -- Gaza and the West Bank -- to Southern Arizona through its subsidiary Elbit Systems of America.

With approximately 12,000 employees and, as it boasts, “10+ years securingthe world’s most challenging borders,” Elbit produces an arsenal of “homeland security systems.” These include surveillance land vehicles, mini-unmanned aerial systems, and “smart fences,” highly fortified steel barriers that have the ability to sense a person’s touch or movement. In its role as lead system integrator for Israel’s border technology plan, the company has already installed smart fences in the West Bank and the Golan Heights.

In Arizona, with up to a billion dollars potentially at its disposal, CBP has tasked Elbit with creating a “wall” of “integrated fixed towers” containing the latest in cameras, radar, motion sensors, and control rooms. Construction will start in the rugged, desert canyons around Nogales. Once a DHS evaluation deems that part of the project effective, the rest will be built to monitor the full length of the state’s borderlands with Mexico. Keep in mind, however, that these towers are only one part of a broader operation, the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan. At this stage, it’s essentially a blueprint for an unprecedented infrastructure of high-tech border fortifications that has attracted the attention of many companies. 

This is not the first time Israeli companies have been involved in a U.S. border build-up. In fact, in 2004, Elbit’s Hermes drones were the first unmanned aerial vehicles to take to the skies topatrol the southern border. In 2007, according to Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine, the Golan Group, an Israeli consulting company made up of former IDF Special Forces officers,provided an intensive eight-day course for special DHS immigration agents covering “everything from hand-to-hand combat to target practice to ‘getting proactive with their SUV.’” The Israeli company NICE Systems evensupplied Arizona’s Joe Arpaio,“America’s toughest sheriff,” with a surveillance system to watch one of his jails.

As such border cooperation intensified, journalist Jimmy Johnson coined the apt phrase “Palestine-Mexico border” to catch what was happening. In 2012, Arizona state legislators, sensing the potential economic benefit of this growing collaboration, declared their desert state and Israel to be natural “trade partners,” adding that it was “a relationship we seek to enhance.”

In this way, the doors were opened to a new world order in which the United States and Israel are to become partners in the “laboratory” that is the U.S.-Mexican borderlands. Its testing grounds are to be in Arizona. There, largely through a program known as Global Advantage, American academic and corporate knowhow and Mexican low-wage manufacturing are to fuse with Israel’s border and homeland security companies.

The Border: Open for Business

No one may frame the budding romance between Israel’s high-tech companies and Arizona better than Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild. “If you go to Israel and you come to Southern Arizona and close your eyes and spin yourself a few times,” he says, “you might not be able to tell the difference.”

Global Advantage is a business project based on a partnership between the University of Arizona’s Tech Parks Arizona and the Offshore Group, a business advisory and housing firm which offers “nearshore solutions for manufacturers of any size” just across the border in Mexico. Tech Parks Arizona has the lawyers, accountants, and scholars, as well as the technical knowhow, to help any foreign company land softly and set up shop in the state. It will aid that company in addressing legal issues, achieving regulatory compliance, and even finding qualified employees -- and through a program it’s called the Israel Business Initiative, Global Advantage has identified its target country.

Think of it as the perfect example of a post-NAFTA world in which companies dedicated to stopping border crossers are ever freer to cross the same borders themselves. In the spirit of free trade that created the NAFTA treaty, the latest border fortification programs are designed to eliminate borders when it comes to letting high-tech companies from across the seas set up in the United States and make use of Mexico’s manufacturing base to create their products. While Israel and Arizona may be separated by thousands of miles, Rothschild assured TomDispatch that in “economics, there are no borders.”

Of course, what the mayor appreciates, above all, is the way new border technology could bring money and jobs into an area with a nearly 23% poverty rate. How those jobs might be created matters far less to him. According to Molly Gilbert, the director of community engagement for the Tech Parks Arizona, “It’s really about development, and we want to create technology jobs in our borderlands.”

So consider it anything but an irony that, in this developing global set of boundary-busting partnerships, the factories that will produce the border fortresses designed by Elbit and other Israeli and U.S. high-tech firms will mainly be located in Mexico. Ill-paid Mexican blue-collar workers will, then, manufacture the very components of a future surveillance regime, which may well help locate, detain, arrest, incarcerate, and expel some of them if they try to cross into the United States.

Think of Global Advantage as a multinational assembly line, a place where homeland security meets NAFTA. Right now there are reportedly 10 to 20 Israeli companies in active discussion about joining the program. Bruce Wright, the CEO of Tech Parks Arizona, tells TomDispatch that his organization has a “nondisclosure” agreement with any companies that sign on and so cannot reveal their names.

Though cautious about officially claiming success for Global Advantage’s Israel Business Initiative, Wright brims with optimism about his organization’s cross-national planning. As he talks in a conference room located on the 1,345-acre park on the southern outskirts of Tucson, it’s apparent that he's buoyed by predictions that the Homeland Security market will grow from a $51 billion annual business in 2012 to $81 billion in the United States alone by 2020, and $544 billion worldwide by 2018.

Wright knows as well that submarkets for border-related products like video surveillance, non-lethal weaponry, and people-screening technologies are all advancing rapidly and that the U.S. market for drones is poised to create 70,000 new jobs by 2016. Partially fueling this growth is what the Associated Press calls an “unheralded shift” to drone surveillance on the U.S. southern divide. More than 10,000 drone flights have been launched into border air space since March 2013, with plans for many more, especially after the Border Patrol doubles its fleet.

When Wright speaks, it’s clear he knows that his park sits atop a twenty-first-century gold mine. As he sees it, Southern Arizona, aided by his tech park, will become the perfect laboratory for the first cluster of border security companies in North America. He’s not only thinking about the 57 southern Arizona companies already identified as working in border security and management, but similar companies nationwide and across the globe, especially in Israel.

In fact, Wright's aim is to follow Israel’s lead, as it is now the number-one place for such groupings. In his case, the Mexican border would simply replace that country’s highly marketed Palestinian testing grounds. The 18,000 linear feet that surround the tech park’s solar panel farm would, for example, be a perfect spot to test out motion sensors. Companies could also deploy, evaluate, and test their products “in the field,” as he likes to say -- that is, where real people are crossing real borders -- just as Elbit Systems did before CBP gave it the contract.

“If we’re going to be in bed with the border on a day-to-day basis, with all of its problems and issues, and there’s a solution to it,” Wright said in a 2012 interview, “why shouldn’t we be the place where the issue is solved and we get the commercial benefit from it?”

From the Battlefield to the Border

When Naomi Weiner, project coordinator for the Israel Business Initiative, returned from a trip to that country with University of Arizona researchers in tow, she couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about the possibilities for collaboration. She arrived back in November, just a day before Obama announced his new executive actions -- a promising declaration for those, like her, in the business of bolstering border defenses.

“We’ve chosen areas where Israel is very strong and Southern Arizona is very strong,” Weiner explained to TomDispatch, pointing to the surveillance industry “synergy” between the two places. For example, one firm her team met with in Israel was Brightway Vision, a subsidiary of Elbit Systems. If it decides to set up shop in Arizona, it could use tech park expertise to further develop and refine its thermal imaging cameras and goggles, while exploring ways to repurpose those military products for border surveillance applications. The Offshore Group would then manufacture the cameras and goggles in Mexico.

Arizona, as Weiner puts it, possesses the “complete package” for such Israeli companies. “We’re sitting right on the border, close to Fort Huachuca,” a nearby military base where, among other things, technicians control the drones surveilling the borderlands. “We have the relationship with Customs and Border Protection, so there’s a lot going on here. And we’re also the Center of Excellence on Homeland Security.”

Weiner is referring to the fact that, in 2008, DHS designated the University of Arizona the lead school for the Center of Excellence on Border Security and Immigration. Thanks to that, it has since received millions of dollars in federal grants. Focusing on research and development of border-policing technologies, the center is a place where, among other things, engineers are studying locust wings in order to create miniature drones equipped with cameras that can get into the tiniest of spaces near ground level, while large drones like the Predator B continue to buzz over the borderlands at 30,000 feet (despite the fact that a recent audit by the inspector general of homeland security found them a waste of money).

Although the Arizona-Israeli romance is still in the courtship stage, excitement about its possibilities is growing. Officials from Tech Parks Arizona see Global Advantage as the perfect way to strengthen the U.S.-Israel “special relationship.” There is no other place in the world with a higher concentration of homeland security tech companies than Israel. Six hundred tech start-ups are launched in Tel Aviv alone every year. During the Gaza offensive last summer, Bloomberg reported that investment in such companies had “actually accelerated.” However, despite the periodic military operations in Gaza and the incessant build-up of the Israeli homeland security regime, there are serious limitations to the local market.

The Israeli Ministry of Economy is painfully aware of this. Its officials know that the growth of the Israeli economy is “largely fueled by a steady increase in exports and foreign investment.” The government coddles, cultivates, and supports these start-up tech companies until their products are market-ready. Among them have been innovations like the “skunk,” a liquid with a putrid odor meant to stop unruly crowds in their tracks. The ministry has also been successful in taking such products to market across the globe. In the decade following 9/11, sales of Israeli “security exports” rose from $2 billion to $7 billion annually.

Israeli companies have sold surveillance drones to Latin American countries like Mexico, Chile, and Colombia, and massive security systems to India and Brazil, where an electro-optic surveillance system will be deployed along the country’s borders with Paraguay and Bolivia. They have also been involved in preparations for policing the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. The products of Elbit Systems and its subsidiaries are now in use from the Americas and Europe to Australia. Meanwhile, that mammoth security firm is ever more involved in finding “civilian applications” for its war technologies. It is also ever more dedicated to bringing the battlefield to the world’s borderlands, including southern Arizona.

As geographer Joseph Nevins notes, although there are many differences between the political situations of the U.S. and Israel, both Israel-Palestine and Arizona share a focus on keeping out “those deemed permanent outsiders,” whether Palestinians, undocumented Latin Americans, or indigenous people.

Mohyeddin Abdulaziz has seen this “special relationship” from both sides, as a Palestinian refugee whose home and village Israeli military forces destroyed in 1967 and as a long-time resident of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. A founding member of the Southern Arizona BDS Network, whose goal is to pressure U.S. divestment from Israeli companies, Abdulaziz opposes any program like Global Advantage that will contribute to the further militarization of the border, especially when it also sanitizes Israel’s “violations of human rights and international law.”

Such violations matter little, of course, when there is money to be made, as Brigadier General Elkabetz indicated at that 2012 border technology conference. Given the direction that both the U.S. and Israel are taking when it comes to their borderlands, the deals being brokered at the University of Arizona look increasingly like matches made in heaven (or perhaps hell).  As a result, there is truth packed into journalist Dan Cohen’s comment that “Arizona is the Israel of the United States.”

 

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What's New: Greece: Hope Reborn

Socialist Project - January 25, 2015 - 5:45pm
Greek elections 2015 special. Tariq Ali interviews leading Syriza intellectual Stathis Kouvelakis about the rise of left wing party Syriza in Greece, on the dawn of the 2015 elections.
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'Sponsored' by My Husband: Why It’s a Problem That Writers Never Talk About Where Their Money Comes From

AlterNet.org - January 25, 2015 - 5:24pm
My husband's hefty salary makes my life as a writer easy. Pretending otherwise doesn't help anyone.

Here’s my life. My husband and I get up each morning at 7 o’clock and he showers while I make coffee. By the time he’s dressed I’m already sitting at my desk writing. He kisses me goodbye, then leaves for the job where he makes good money, draws excellent benefits and gets many perks, such as travel, catered lunches and full reimbursement for the gym where I attend yoga midday. His career has allowed me to work only sporadically, as a consultant, in a field I enjoy.

All that disclosure is crass, I know. I’m sorry. Because in this world where women will sit around discussing the various topiary shapes of their bikini waxes, the conversation about money (or privilege) is the one we never have. Why? I think it’s the Marie Antoinette syndrome: Those with privilege and luck don’t want the riffraff knowing the details. After all, if “those people” understood the differences in our lives, they might revolt. Or, God forbid, not see us as somehow more special, talented and/or deserving than them.

There’s a special version of this masquerade we writers put on. Two examples:

I attended a packed reading (I’m talking 300+ people) about a year and a half ago. The author was very well-known, a magnificent nonfictionist who has, deservedly, won several big awards. He also happens to be the heir to a mammoth fortune. Mega-millions. He’s a man who has never had to work one job, much less two. He has several children; I know, because they were at the reading with him, all lined up. I heard someone say they were all traveling with him, plus two nannies, on his worldwide tour.

None of this takes away from his brilliance. Yet, when an audience member — young, wide-eyed, clearly not clued in — rose to ask him how he’d managed to spend 10 years writing his current masterpiece (what had he done to sustain himself and his family during that time?), he told her in a serious tone that it had been tough but he’d written a number of magazine articles to get by. I heard a titter pass through the half of the audience that knew the truth. But the author, impassive, moved on and left this woman thinking he’d supported his Manhattan life for a decade with a handful of pieces in the Nation and Salon.

Example two. A reading in a different city, featuring a 30-sh woman whose debut novel had just been reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. I didn’t love the book (a coming-of-age story set among wealthy teenagers) but many people I respect thought it was great, so I defer. The author had attended one of the big East Coast prep schools, while her parents were busy growing their careers on the New York literary scene. These were people — her parents — who traded Christmas cards with William Maxwell and had the Styrons over for dinner. She, the author, was their only beloved child.

After prep school, she’d earned two creative writing degrees (Iowa plus an Ivy). Her first book was being heralded by editors and reviewers all over the country, many of whom had watched her grow up. It was a phenomenon even before it hit bookshelves. She was an immediate star.

When (again) an audience member, clearly an undergrad, rose to ask this glamorous writer to what she attributed her success, the woman paused, then said she had worked very, very hard and she’d had some good training, but she thought in looking back it was her decision never to have children that had allowed her to become a true artist. If you have kids, she explained to the group of desperate nubile writers, you have to choose between them and your writing. Keep it pure. Don’t let yourself be distracted by a baby’s cry.

I was dumbfounded. I wanted to leap to my feet and shout. “Hello? Alice Munro! Doris Lessing! Joan Didion!” Of course, there are thousands of extraordinary writers who have managed to produce art despite motherhood. But the essential point was that the quality of her book notwithstanding, this author’s chief advantage had nothing to do with her reproductive decisions. It was about connections. Straight up. She’d had them since birth.

In my opinion, we do an enormous “let them eat cake” disservice to our community when we obfuscate the circumstances that help us write, publish and in some way succeed. I can’t claim the wealth of the first author (not even close); nor do I have the connections of the second. I don’t have their fame either. But I do have a huge advantage over the writer who is living paycheck to paycheck, or lonely and isolated, or dealing with a medical condition, or working a full-time job.

How can I be so sure? Because I used to be poor, overworked and overwhelmed. And I produced zero books during that time. Throughout my 20s, I was married to an addict who tried valiantly (but failed, over and over) to stay straight. We had three children, one with autism, and lived in poverty for a long, wretched time. In my 30s I divorced the man because it was the only way out of constant crisis. For the next 10 years, I worked two jobs and raised my three kids alone, without child support or the involvement of their dad.

I published my first novel at 39, but only after a teaching stint where I met some influential writers and three months living with my parents while I completed the first draft. After turning in that manuscript, I landed a pretty cushy magazine editor’s job. A year later, I met my second husband. For the first time I had a true partner, someone I could rely on who was there in every way for me and our kids. Life got easier. I produced a nonfiction book, a second novel and about 30 essays within a relatively short time.

Today, I am essentially “sponsored” by this very loving man who shows up at the end of the day, asks me how the writing went, pours me a glass of wine, then takes me out to eat. He accompanies me when I travel 500 miles to do a 75-minute reading, manages my finances, and never complains that my dark, heady little books have resulted in low advances and rather modest sales.

I completed my third novel in eight months flat. I started the book while on a lovely vacation. Then I wrote happily and relatively quickly because I had the time and the funding, as well as help from my husband, my agent and a very talented editor friend. Without all those advantages, I might be on page 52.

OK, there’s mine. Now show me yours.

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What's New: The future has begun

Socialist Project - January 25, 2015 - 5:10pm
A great change has taken place in European politics. The left is back. SYRIZA has won a great victory in the Greek general election. We celebrate their victory and applaud the leadership that has brought the party to power.
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"The Struggle Doesn’t End:" Leak Reveals DOJ Not Likely to Charge Darren Wilson

AlterNet.org - January 25, 2015 - 4:22pm
The Department of Justice will likely not pursue federal civil rights charges against Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown

The purpose of leaks by “credible sources” is to manage expectations for the public. So the leak indicating that the Department of Justice will likely not pursue federal civil rights charges against Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown is likely a trial balloon to see how the public will react.

I hope that one of those reactions is a demand for police reforms across the board, imposed not only from the top down but also from within.

Justice – which we believe embodies accountability, blame, the restoration of equality, and a repair to some awful wrong between the aggrieved and the aggressor – loses its meaning in circumstances like this. Darren Wilson will probably never have to publicly account for his actions. And this may be a singular setback for the Brown family, even if they can steel themselves to pursue a civil suit for the wrongful death of their son .

We all had grander hopes for US attorney general Eric Holder and Civil Rights Division of the DOJ – among them, that they would resolve our lingering questions from the August shooting that set off 168 days of continuous protests in Ferguson and nationwide. In past high profile cases, DOJ was able to secure convictions for the LA cops who beat Rodney King and the NYPD officers who assaulted Abner Louima – although both these men lived to tell their side of the story. And we had a lot of grand hopes for this administration. Holder’s hands-on approach and his initiatives to address mass incarceration and commutations of sentences for nonviolent offenders offered promise, yet remain unfulfilled.

There were murmurs as early as late August – shortly after the DOJ announced a separate investigation – that it would always end up this way. The way the law is crafted creates a pretty steep burden for the federal government to prove that Wilson knowingly violated Brown’s civil rights, and that he did so with malice when he shot Brown at least six times, including two shots to the head. Intent is hard to prove because of optics of the shooting – black body, blue uniform. All a police officer has to say is I stopped a fleeing suspect and I feared for my life, as we already saw in the officer-involved killings of GarnerCrawford,Hunt and Hamilton that resulted in zero indictments.

I don’t know the depth of the disappointment Leslie McSpadden or Michael Brown Sr must feel, nor that of some of the activists and protesters in Ferguson who have fought so long for justice for Brown and for us all. I do hope that they remain resolved in their efforts to push their community – and by extension, our society – for sweeping reforms in every level of our legal system. The story doesn’t end here. The struggle doesn’t end here.

Traditionally, we look to the federal government to be the intercessor, the deliverer of equitable justice where states and municipalities fail. Reforms in the 21st century must be more meaningful than lip service and scrambling by municipalities facing federal oversight. It really means doing and being the things you said you’re going to do and be: train your police in non-racist practices; recruit people to reflect the plurality of your community; find alternative revenue streams for your municipality that don’t exploit your most vulnerable citizens.

There is some comfort in knowing that the Justice Department’s wider investigation of police practices in the St. Louis County area is ongoing. And we’ve got good reason to find faith in this effort. In 2012, the Justice Department began a 16-month long investigation of the Albuquerque Police Department , and last summer, DOJ and the city of Albuquerque reached an agreement on a set of police reforms; Wednesday, they named a DOJ monitor to oversee the reforms.

The Justice Department reached a similar accord with Cleveland days after the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice. DOJ’s investigation of the Cleveland PD and mandated reforms would have been pivotal. It could have meant relieving Timothy Loehmann of duty before he could even pull the trigger ending Rice’s short life.

The struggle between theory and practice comes into play here for me. I believe in the rule of law, though I know it’s applied inequitably. And yet, I don’t want to imagine what it means when we can’t look to the federal government to fix systemic abuses when the law falls short of justice. My faith in the law, as it’s applied in theory, is too strong for me to want to consider any alternative.

I question the mindset of people who apply the law; I challenge them to be mindful of biases and aware of structural inequalities. That blind spot is where we see patterns of abuse that inevitably require federal intervention.

The feds may be able to compel corrections for St Louis County, but they’d likely have to begin inquests in nearly every municipality to root out all the injustice. We can hope that the scrutiny that Albuquerque and Cleveland have endured will be a signal to other municipalities to preemptively address their patterns of abuse, and directly deal with issues of racism internally.

But is it too late? Last week, a Florida family discovered that a mugshot of their child and other black men were being used as targets to train police officers. How does a police administrator account for that? How do you fix a culture that allows that?

Apologizing isn’t enough. A ban of the use of those images for target practice is a step in the right direction, but a placebo. For officials to claim that this was an error in policy or judgment and not recognize the racism at work is disingenuous. Police managers must address racism from within their departments if they want to maintain our trust.

We’re still watching and waiting. But we won’t do either silently any more.

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Penises on the Fashion Catwalk – a Flesh Flash Too Far?

AlterNet.org - January 25, 2015 - 1:40pm
An American designer sent models down the runway wearing clothes with peepholes that showed full-frontal male nudity underneath.

Exposed nipples? Naked bottoms? Bare breasts? The insouciant editors who sit in the front row of fashion shows have seen the lot at womenswear shows – and will barely raise an eyebrow. But the flesh on show at Rick Owens’ menswear show in Paris on Thursday surprised even them.

In a highly unusual move, the American designer sent four of his models down the runway wearing clothes with peepholes that showed full-frontal male nudity underneath.

The flash of flesh was presented subtly, in an otherwise typically dramatic, drapey collection of dark colours and loose silhouettes. As the audience gradually realised that a taboo was being broken in front of their eyes, whispers and occasional giggles rippled down the front row like a Mexican wave. It was a move which earned him the Instagram hashtag: #dickowens.

Gender-specific body parts are notoriously ubiquitous during fashion week. At Acne’s spring/summer 2015 party, guests were fed penis-shaped canapes; after his spring/summer 2014 show a year previously, Walter Van Beirendonck popped penises onto his metallic snakeskin brogues. At the spring/summer 2015 shows, Tom Ford, Erdem and Christopher Kane featured exposed nipples, but while the latter have come to be almost routine – they tend to appear every season in some capacity – exposed phalli are less common. Still, Rick Owens has a history of winning headlines with his catwalk shows. For spring/summer 2014, he was widely applauded for sending a fierce, muscular Step Dance team down the catwalk stomping and scowling. That show was heralded as a significant moment in the rise of diverse casting in fashion shows.

If the fashion crowd’s interest was piqued, the models on the catwalk were a lot more laid-back about the experience, according to one. “It was not a thing at all,” he told the Guardian. Everyone knew what they would be wearing at early fittings. Having been chosen to model one of the show’s less exposing outfits himself, “I just noticed it when I looked at the photo board and saw that there were cocks hanging about. Ha!”

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LeftStreamed: Launching the Socialist Register 2015: Transforming Classes

Socialist Project - January 25, 2015 - 2:00am
This 51st annual Socialist Register completes the investigation of class formation and class strategies on a global scale begun with last year's volume. Presentations by David McNally, Sue Ferguson, Adolph Reed, John McCullough and co-editors Leo Panitch and Greg Albo. Recorded in Toronto, 15 January 2015.
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7 States That Are Next in Line to Legalize Marijuana

AlterNet.org - January 24, 2015 - 10:20pm
Four states and DC have already legalized—here's the next crop.

During a series of YouTube interviews Thursday, President Obama demonstrated a remarkably laissez-faire attitude toward marijuana legalization experiments in the states. And he signaled strongly that the Obama administration wouldn't be taking to the hustings to try to beat back legalization efforts, as previous administrations had been wont to do.

"What you're seeing now is Colorado, Washington through state referenda, they're experimenting with legal marijuana," the president said in response to a question from YouTube host Hank Green. "The position of my administration has been that we still have federal laws that classify marijuana as an illegal substance, but we're not going to spend a lot of resources trying to turn back decisions that have been made at the state level on this issue. My suspicion is that you're gonna see other states start looking at this."

Indeed. Legalization bills are already popping up in state legislatures around the country, and while it's unlikely—though not impossible—that any of them will pass this year, 2016 looks to be the break-out year for freeing the weed. One state is going to be the first to legalize it through the legislature, and next year seems reasonable. And the presidential election year is also likely to see successful legalization initiatives in several more.

Currently four states—Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington—and the District of Columbia have ended pot prohibition. But that's only about 18 million people. By the time they quit counting the votes on Election Day 2016, that number is likely to triple, and then some.

So, where's it going to happen? Here's where:

California

That California is the only state on the West Coast to not yet have legalized pot is an embarrassment to Golden State activists. They were first with medical marijuana in 1996, and they tried to be first to legalize it with Prop 19 in 2010, but came up short, garnering 46% of the vote on Election Day despite leading in the polls up until the final weeks. In 2012, with the big players sitting on their cash stashes, none of the competing initiative efforts even managed to make the ballot.

It will be different in 2016. The actors with deep pockets are all ready to get involved next year, the polling is good (if not great, hovering in the mid-50s), and the state's disparate and fractious cannabis community is already working to forge a unified front behind a community-vetted initiative. The main vehicle for activists is the California Coalition for Cannabis Law Reform, which has already started holding meetings statewide to try to a unified marijuana reform community.

With 38 million people, California is the big prize. It's also an expensive place to run an initiative, with the cost of getting on the ballot alone at around a million dollars. And it'll take several million more to pay for advertising in the key final weeks of the campaign. But the money is lining up, it'll take fewer signatures to qualify for the ballot (thanks to the dismal turnout in last year's mid-terms), and once it qualifies, it will have momentum from (by then) four years of legalization in Colorado and Washington and two years of it in Alaska and Oregon. California will go green in 2016.

Nevada

Nevada is the state that is actually furthest down the path towards legalizing it next year. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Nevada has already qualified a legalization initiative for the 2016 ballot. It would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by adults 21 and over and allow for taxed and regulated marijuana commerce.

Under Nevada law, the legislature now has a chance to approve the initiative. If it does so, it would become law; if it rejects it or fails to act on it, it then goes to the voters on Election Day 2016.

Nevadans approved medical marijuana in 1998 (59%) and again in 2000 (65%), but voted down decriminalization in 2002 (39%) and legalization in 2006 (44%). But it has since then effectively decriminalized possession of less than ounce, and it's now been a decade since that last legalization initiative loss at the polls. Either marijuana will be legal by Election Day 2016 thanks to the legislature or the voters will decide the question themselves at the polls.

Arizona

In Arizona, possession of any amount of pot is still a felony, but polling in the last couple of years shows support for legalization either hovering around 50% or above it. Those aren't the most encouraging polling numbers—the convention wisdom is that initiatives want to start out at 60% support or better—but a serious effort is underway there to put the issue before the voters in 2016.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is teaming with Safer Arizona and other state activist groups for the 2016 initiative campaign and has formed a ballot committee to begin laying the groundwork for a Colorado-style initiative.

The initiative language is not a done deal, and there are some signs that local activists aren't completely happy with MPP's proposed language, but that's why there are consultations going on.

Maine

The Marijuana Policy Project has been laying the groundwork for a statewide legalization initiative in 2016 with local initiative campaigns in some of the state's largest cities in 2014 and 2013 and is working on final initiative language now. But it is also seeing competition from a state-based group, Legalize Maine, that says it is crafting its own initiative and is criticizing both MPP and Maine politicians for advancing "out of state corporate interests" at the expense of Mainers.

Whether MPP and Legalize Maine can get together behind a single initiative remains to be seen. If they can, good; if they can't, well, Maine is a small and relatively inexpensive state in which to run a signature-gathering campaign. There could be not one, but two legalization initiatives in Maine next year.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Diane Russell has filed a legalization bill in the legislature this year. Maine is one of the states where the looming presence of legalization initiatives could actually move the legislature to act preemptively to craft a legalization scheme to its own liking.

Massachusetts

Massachusetts is another. As in Maine, but to a much greater degree, Bay State activists have been laying the groundwork for legalization for years. Groups such as MassCann/NORML and the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts have run a series of marijuana reform "public policy questions" in various state electoral districts each election cycle since 2000—and they have never lost! The questions are non-binding, but they're a clear indicator to state legislators where voter sentiment lies.

The state has also seen successful decriminalization and medical marijuana initiatives, in 2008 and 2012, respectively. In both cases, the initiatives were approved with 63% of the vote. And again as in Maine, the Marijuana Policy Project is organizing an initiative, but local activists with similar complaints to those in Maine are threatening to run their own initiative. Organized as Bay State Repeal, which includes some veteran Massachusetts activists, the group says it wants the least restrictive legalization law possible. Whether the two efforts can reach a common understanding remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the issue could move in the legislature in the next two years. New Republican Gov. Charlie Baker says he's opposed to legalization, but is praising Democratic Senate President Stanley Rosenberg's decision to appoint a special Senate committee to examine issues around legalization. Rep. David Rogers (D-Cambridge) isn't waiting. He's filed a legalization bill, and while previous such bills have languished in the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, incoming committee head Sen. Will Brownberger (D-Boston) has said he will give it a hearing. Something could happen this year, although it's more likely next year, and the voters doing it themselves on Election Day 2016 is more likely yet.

Vermont

Vermont could be the best bet for a state to legalize it this year and for the first state to legalize it through the legislative process. There is no initiative process in the state, so that's the only way it's going to happen. And the state has already proceeded well down that path.

Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has endorsed legalization in principle—the devil is the details—and the legislature last year approved a RAND study on the impacts of legalization, which was just released earlier this month. That study estimated that freeing the weed could bring the state $20 to $70 million in annual pot tax revenues.

Other state officials have expressed openness to the idea, and a May 2014 poll found 57% support for legalization. There's not a bill in the hopper yet this year, but one could move quickly in this state where a lot of the legislative groundwork has already been laid.

The Marijuana Policy Project has formed the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana to help push the process along. Stay tuned; this is one to watch.

Missouri

And there's a dark horse in the heartland. The Missouri activist group Show Me Cannabis has been running an impressive educational campaign about marijuana legalization for the past few years. The group tried to get an initiative on the ballot last year, but came up short.

They've already filed paperwork for 2016 for a constitutional amendment to make it legal to grow, sell, and use marijuana for people 21 and over.

One reason Show Me Cannabis came up short in 2014 was the lack of support from major players outside the state. Given the lack of polls showing strong support for legalization, the big players remain sitting on their wallets, but that could change if good poll numbers emerge. And there's still plenty of time to make the 2016 ballot. 

 

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Anti-Vaxxers Ruined Disneyland: Why this Public Health Nightmare Needs to be Stopped

AlterNet.org - January 24, 2015 - 7:41pm
At least 51 measles cases have been linked to the California theme park.

For children too young or sick to have received the MMR vaccine — or whose parents decided for them that they didn’t “need” to be vaccinated — the “happiest place on Earth” has been transformed into something far more sinister.

With at least 51 measles cases linked to initial exposure at Disneyland, the deputy director of California’s Center for Infectious Diseases announced that the theme park is no longer safe for the unvaccinated — the status of over 80 percent of those infected. The outbreak has spread to five states and Mexico, and includes six infants who were too young to have received the vaccine. A full quarter of the patients so far had to be hospitalized. And for 24 unvaccinated children in Orange County, where the theme park is located, school is no longer safe, either: They were told to stay home for three weeks after it emerged that an infected student had shown up on campus earlier this month.

Does that last part sound familiar? Over at the Daily Beast, pseudonym pediatrician Russell Saunders calls out our attention to this past autumn’s Ebola panic. Think of what’s now happening as the bizarro version of that: Instead of people overestimating their risk of contracting a disease, we’re now dealing with a real threat from what, while less deadly than Ebola, is “essentially the most contagious disease on the planet,” as one infectious disease specialist called it – all because some people underestimated the risk. As Dr. James Cherry, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at UCLA, confirmed to the New York Times, the outbreak is “100 percent connected” to Orange County’s low immunization rates.

For more on why we desperately need to readjust our expectations, it’s worth reading Tara C. Smith on how, contrary to what some anti-vaxxers argue, measles is definitely a big deal. The gist:

What many forget is that we had a massive outbreak of measles in the United States from 1989–1991. While our 644 cases in 2014 seems high compared with recent years, 25 years ago measles incidence spiked to 18,000 cases per year, with a total of more than 55,000 infections before the outbreak began to dwindle. It was the largest measles outbreak in this country since the 1970s.

…Despite our advances and our modernity and our status as a developed country, we still saw 123 measles deaths during this epidemic—here, in the United States, where we get plenty of Vitamin A. There were also 11,000 hospitalizations—fully one-fifth of people infected with measles became sick enough to be hospitalized.

In modern-day America.

Don’t expect, in other words, that modern medical advances will protect us from the ravages of measles — vaccines are the modern medical advancement that were doing a fine job of things until the misguided decisions of a few sacrificed the protection of herd immunity for all of us. If anything, the rapid emergence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs could make a modern-day measles epidemic even deadlier. The continual frustration is that measles was effectively eliminated from this country in 2000, but all it took was enough people buying into the junk science telling them that vaccines aren’t safe to give the disease a new foothold. Here’s the CDC data on measles’ resurgence:

Back when measles was beginning to make its comeback last year, Salon spoke with Stephen Morse, a professor of clinical epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, who predicted that, if the anti-vaxxer craze continues, we’ll keep seeing the disease come back. And at a certain point, he added, “I think people will feel very differently” about prioritizing the “risks” of vaccines over those of a major outbreak. Hopefully, we won’t have to get to the point where measles is once again endemic in the U.S. for that to happen — seeing what we’ve let it do to Disneyland should be the final straw.

 

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Bill Maher Takes a Shot at ‘American Sniper’ for Glorifying ‘Psychopath Patriot’ Chris Kyle

AlterNet.org - January 24, 2015 - 7:08pm
Maher wants to know why America is glorifying Chris Kyle.

Bill Maher blasted Clint Eastwood’s film American Sniper during the Real Time panel discussion on Friday, comparing it unfavorably to Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker.

Hurt Locker made $17 million, because it was a little ambiguous. And thoughtful,” Maher said. “And this one is just ‘American hero, he’s a psychopath patriot and we love him.’”

Maher also criticized the subject of Eastwood’s movie, Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, and his statements in his autobiography regarding killing Iraqi “savages.”

“I dunno, [President Dwight] Eisenhower once said, ‘I hate wars as only a soldier who has lived it can.’ I just don’t see this guy in the same league as Eisenhower, I’m sorry,” Maher said. “And if you’re a Christian — I know this is a Christian country — ‘I hate the damn savages, I don’t give a f*ck what happens to them’ doesn’t seem like a Christian thing to say.”

Wall Street Journal foreign affairs columnist Bret Stephens pushed back against Maher, saying he could not believe that was the host’s impression of the film.

“What I saw was a movie that treats what veterans and soldiers go through in a way that was subtle,” Stephens said. “It was not just about war — it was about PTSD, it was about what the wives of soldiers go through.”

Maher’s fellow comedian, Bill Burr, also took issue with his viewpoint on Kyle.

“You can’t sum up a man by one quote taken out of context,” Burr said. “You don’t know how he said that. I think if you’re fighting a war, you say a lot of f*cked up sh*t in the middle of it.”

“That was after the war,” Maher countered, adding, “I’m just saying, the idea that Americans can not see any ambiguity, that somebody has to be either ‘pure hero’ or ‘pure traitor,’ is ridiculous.”

Washington Post political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson said that one reason American Sniper has grossed more than $90 million at the box office was that it fell in line with a tradition of Americans searching for the next “totemic war hero,” with Kyle fitting in alongside the likes of Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch.

“At some point, Americans want to do some sort of patriotic act,” Henderson said. “I think at some point, for people who went to go see this movie, it was sort of a patriotic act. People wanted to feel good about this war. You look at the polls, most Americans think this war wasn’t worth fighting.”

Former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean, however, argued that there was a political element to the film’s success.

“I bet you if you look at a cross-section of the Tea Party and people who go see this movie, there’s a lot of intersection,” Dean argued.

Watch the discussion, as posted online on Friday, below.

 

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Solar-Powered Sermon Kindles from US Evangelical Church Found on Captured Ukrainian Soldiers

AlterNet.org - January 24, 2015 - 2:53pm
The Georgia pastor tells Ukrainian soldiers not to be afraid and to have faith in God.

While clearing out the rubble of the recently captured Donetsk airport in Eastern Ukraine, separatist militia members discovered solar-powered Christian sermon players, reportedly from an Atlanta-based Baptist church, in the pockets of some of the dead and captured Ukrainian soldiers.

It’s not clear who gave the devices to Ukrainian soldiers, but the sermons are attributed to Pastor Charles Stanley, founder of In Touch Ministries, a Baptist group based in Georgia that broadcasts sermons on TV and radio stations around the world. On the recordings, translated to Russian, Stanley tells the Ukrainian soldiers not to be afraid and to have faith in God.

“Hello my name is Charles Stanley, you are listening to a gift from ‘In Touch Ministries’ on a solar-powered audio player,” said Stanley. “I hope the themes will be of encouragement and support to you, I hope that they will help you in your spiritual growth and knowledge of Jesus Christ. May the truth of God’s word fill your heart.”

On Twitter, In Touch Ministries commented on the revelations that their sermons were being listened to by Ukrainian soldiers.

Praying for peace in the Ukraine, and that God's Word would continue to go forth and shine light in dark places: http://t.co/jWjk3a4FfW

— In Touch Ministries (@InTouchMin) January 23, 2015

At least a dozen Ukrainian soldiers were captured Thursday after the Ukrainian Army retreated from the airport after days of intense fighting.

A commander of the Novorossiya Armed Forces (NAF), the pro-Russian separatist militia that captured the airport, played the recording for the Russian news service LifeNews.

“It just like hypnotizes them, such teachings, you start to believe that you can die and then everything will be great and they’ll welcome you with open arms. They’re simply zombifying them,” he said.

Check out the video below.

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When Wingnut Cavemen Attack: The Right Turns on Renee Ellmers with Stunning Misogyny

AlterNet.org - January 24, 2015 - 12:40pm
Hell hath no fury, apparently, like a male conservative who feels betrayed when a GOP woman disagrees with him.

I never thought I’d be spurred to defend GOP Rep. Renee Ellmers, but the misogyny coming from the right, in the wake of her helping torpedo the 20-week abortion ban, is appalling.

The boys over at Red State are leading the charge, with sexually insecure sad sack Erick Erickson calling her “the GOP’s Abortion Barbie” (his sick nickname for Wendy Davis) and now another Red Stater, Aaron Gardner, asking “Is Renee Ellmers worthy of life?”

In a country where abortion providers have been murdered and clinics bombed, that’s a particularly ugly provocation.

Gardner justifies his threatening question by explaining he’s the product of rape – his biological grandfather apparently raped his grandmother — and that the rape exemption to the abortion ban that Ellmers supports somehow makes the case that he’s not worthy of life.

Tell me why you are worthy of this life you have been given, Representative. It might seem like an unreasonable request, I am sure that many will find it impolite…But when the pro aborts call me an extremist, when they say, “exceptions for rape”, I hear, “you are not worthy of life.” I feel compelled to justify myself and explain that it isn’t extreme to defend one’s own existence.

So the staunchly antiabortion Ellmers is transformed into a “pro-abort” through the magic of male hysteria. This is a particular kind of paranoia and narcissism that should get Gardner into therapy, not on the front page of RedState (where they’re also calling Hillary Clinton “an elderly unaccomplished crone,” by the way, but we’re used to the anti-Democrat misogyny.)

Now, Ellmers has been reliably right-wing and anti-women most of the time, leading the charge against the Affordable Care Act’s mandating that insurance policies cover pregnancy-related healthcare with the memorable war cry: “Has a man ever delivered a baby?” As I noted at the time, you might think that was the opening salvo in a defense of sharing the costs of childbearing, but no, it was a defense of protecting men, and essentially returning to the days when being a woman was a preexisting condition.

To win her North Carolina seat narrowly in 2010, she campaigned against the so-called Ground Zero Mosque – that year’s Ebola scare, which also magically went away after the election – and called in Sarah Palin, who named Ellmers to her famous “Mama Grizzlies” pack.

She also tried to help the GOP win over women by advising that when talking issues, they “bring it down to a woman’s level” by talking about real women’s lives – advice that was widely interpreted as condescending to real women.

But she’s offended some right-wingers with her defense of a pathway to citizenship in immigration reform, and her role in defeating the 20-week abortion ban – for now, anyway; Sen. Lindsey Graham obviously thinks it has a future if the GOP can solve “the definitional problem of rape” – has now turned wingnut cavemen into enemies.

To be fair, plenty of conservative women have also criticized Ellmers, but not with the sexist savagery of their male counterparts.

It’s fascinating to me: Right-wingers love their Mama Grizzlies, tough gals like Palin and Sen. Joni Ernst to name two, as long as they stay in line. But when they stray from wingnut orthodoxy, they can expect the same abuse female Democrats get. I’ve been looking around to see if any conservative women have stood up for Ellmers, in the face of RedState’s ugly assault, but I haven’t found any. I will surely update this post if I do.

 

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What's New: A Historic Opportunity

Socialist Project - January 24, 2015 - 11:00am
On Sunday, Greece will hold a pivotal election. Opinion polls still have Syriza ahead of New Democracy by 3 per cent and the old party of the center-left, PASOK, behind even the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). Syriza's platform has no doubt moderated over the past months, and much debate can be had about how much the party can accomplish in power so long as Greece remains tied to the eurozone. How a government of the Left would relate to the movements that paved the way for its election also remains to be seen.
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