In the Belly of the Beast: 5/10/11: U.S. tries to assassinate U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki

INDEX (stories follow)

The WikiLeaks News & Views Blog for Wednesday, Day 165

from The Nation Blogs: Media Fix by Greg Mitchell

“Fascism is the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary sector of monopoly capital”

Will Greece leave the euro?





Headlines for May 11, 2011

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The WikiLeaks News & Views Blog for Wednesday, Day 165

from The Nation Blogs: Media Fix by Greg Mitchell

Labor calls for next step in health reform – single-payer coverage

from PA Editors Blog by Political Affairs
Remarks by AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker, National Nurses United Press Conference, America Health Security Act, Washington, DC

May 10, 2011

We in the labor movement have long insisted that health care is a fundamental human right and an important measure of social justice.

And for more than 100 years, we have fought for universal health care coverage based on a social insurance model, an approach that has proven to be cost-effective and efficient in countries across the globe and in this country to provide health security for seniors.

In September of 2009, as Congress debated the Affordable Care Act, the AFL-CIO passed a resolution saying:

Whatever the outcome of the debate over health care reform in the 111th Congress, the task of establishing health care as a human right, not a privilege, will still lie before us.  We continue to believe that the social insurance model should be our goal, and we will continue to fight for reforms that take us in that direction.

I am here today to make good on that commitment and stand in unity with the hundreds of International Association of Machinist brothers and sisters who have come to Washington to deliver a message to Congress that the fight to reform our nation’s healthcare system has only just begun.

We are enormously proud of our role in helping to pass the Affordable Care Act of 2010, which was an historic milestone on our path toward a more just society.  But we also know that much work is left to be done.

Two months ago, our executive council pledged to “continue working with Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to introduce legislation that provides a social insurance model for health care reform that is progressively financed and provides a single high standard of comprehensive care for all.”

Now that Rep. McDermott and Sen. Sanders have introduced their companion bills, I want to reiterate something else our convention resolution said loud and clear: the single payer approach is one that the AFL-CIO supports and that deserves dedicated congressional support and enactment.  And I want once again to renew the AFL-CIO’s longstanding call for congressional leaders to unite behind such a plan.

As our country continues to wrestle with and debate our federal budget priorities, we cannot ignore the experience of other industrialized countries, which shows that the most cost-effective and equitable way to provide quality health care for all is through the social insurance model.

We simply cannot fix our long-term deficits without making our health care system more cost-effective.

Projected long-term budget deficits are driven not by Social Security, nor by the aging of the baby boomers, nor by domestic discretionary spending, as many of the deficit hawks would have us believe.

The truth is, our long-term deficits are driven by health care costs that are projected to grow much faster than the economy—even after the trillions of dollars of deficit reduction achieved by the Affordable Care Act.

The problem is not Medicare and Medicaid in isolation, but rather cost growth in our health care system as a whole.

Medicare and Medicaid actually hold down health care costs better than private insurance companies do.  And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Medicare is poised to drive a new revolution in payment and delivery system reforms that promise to lower costs even further.

This point was driven home by the Congressional Budget Office when it analyzed the House Republican budget drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan.  According to CBO, turning Medicare into a privatized voucher system would simply shift health care costs onto our seniors pay, not bring down costs overall.  In fact, vouchers would increase the total price of health care, because private insurance companies are so much less effective than Medicare in containing costs.

Republicans are wrong to say that projected long-term deficits leave us no choice but to shred the social safety net. That’s nonsense.  The social insurance model—which Medicare embodies—is the solution, not the problem.

There is so much that we can do right now to make our health care system more cost-effective without cutting benefits. Medicare could negotiate drug prices, for instance, and allow the importation of prescription drugs, and we could build on the Medicare payment and delivery system reforms in the Affordable Care Act.  The AFL-CIO supports every one of these proposals, while Republicans in the House and Senate oppose them all.  We will have to fight for each one of them, and we will.

But if we want to truly and successfully hold down costs without sacrificing health care, we must do more.  We must move towards the social insurance model, and that is what the American Health Security Act will do. The AFL-CIO applauds Senator Sanders and Rep McDermott for introducing their single payer bills and we look forward to working with them to make a single high standard of health care the right of all Americans.

Florida doctors to be fined if they ask about guns in the house

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When people use the word “Floridiot” they’re talking about people who make stupid laws like this. It’s going to be a painful period for Floridians who were on the losing side of recent elections. This is just nuts.

The Florida state legisla has passed a bill that would make it illegal for pediatricians and other physicians to ask patients or their parents whether they have guns in their home.

Pediatricians often ask the question at initial well-child visits as a platform to discuss how to safely store guns in the home in order to prevent accidental shootings.

But under the law — expected to be signed soon by Florida’s governor — doctors would face a $500 fine for inquiring about gun ownership and recording it in a patient’s medical record. That fine would increase if a physician asked about guns at more than one visit.

Governor Rick Scott’s continuing assault on Florida

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Here’s a fascinating Rachel Maddow segment that hits several recent themes:
    Republican governors doing to the down-trodden what Sherman did to Atlanta;
      Republican governors systematically


     the financial crises in their states;
    Republican governors slashing benefits to finance tax cuts for businesses and the wealthy;
      and Charles Koch purchasing

faculty hiring rights

     at a publicly funded university (Florida State).

All of it, amazing. It’s fairly short; watch to the end.

Welcome to Florida.

There are a number of noteworthy points here.

▪ Extended unemployment hurts the whole economy.
▪ Paying unemployment benefits has a 160% benefit in bang-for-buck-spent.
▪ FSU faculty hiring rights? Really?

If FSU is for sale, no school is impenetrable. Most have in fact been breached already, but this moving in with an army.

Maddow even takes on the “ideological argument” — that these actions are motivated by people’s ideas. (I’ve been pinging Paul Krugman on just this point recently, his thinking that ideas motivates his critics and nemeses.)

Maddow’s conclusion on that score is exactly right (4:35 in the clip). These so-called small-government freedom-lovers are hypocrites who actually want the government stick to break as many heads as possible, so long as they’re the ones swinging it and their enemies are wearing the heads in question.

There’s a word for people who do that. And a word for those who vote them into office. Welcome to Florida. 

Historian Adam Hochschild: Lessons for the Antiwar Movement from the Pacifists of World War I

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Adam_buttonAs the Obama administration continues to engage in military operations abroad, we turn now to the making—and sustaining—of war from a historical perspective. How do politicians galvanize populations to support wars? Why do people continue fighting in unpopular conflicts even after nationalist fervor has waned? In his new book, the historian Adam Hochschild examines these questions and many others through the prism of one of the world’s bloodiest conflicts, World War I. The book is called To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918. [includes rush transcript]

CATO: How Bush lost bin Laden

Whatever one thinks about Musharraf, my problem lies primarily with Bush. The article explains:

A few months after Tora Bora, as part of the preparation for war in Iraq, the Bush administration pulled out many of the Special Operations and CIA forces that had been searching for bin Laden in Afghanistan, according to several U.S. officials who served at the time.

Even the drones that U.S. forces depended on to track movements of suspicious characters in the Afghan mountain passes were redeployed to be available for the Iraq war, Lt. Gen. John Vines told The Washington Post in 2006. Once, when Vines’s troops believed they were within half an hour of catching up to bin Laden, the general asked for drones to cover three possible escape routes. But only one drone was available — others had been moved to Iraq. The target got away.

That’s right folks! The Bush White House lost whatever opportunity it had to get bin Laden by diverting scarce resources to Iraq. Of course, it should go without saying that even if America hadn’t gone into Iraq, it would’ve been difficult for Bush to have captured or killed bin Laden. But what really “grinds my gears” is to hear members of the Bush team claim credit for bin Laden’s recent demise—torture was “critically important”—while simultaneously ignoring their culpability for not helping to capture bin Laden when they had the chance.

“Fascism is the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary sector of monopoly capital”

U.S. tries to assassinate U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki

That Barack Obama has continued the essence of the Bush/Cheney Terrorism architecture was once a provocative proposition but is now so self-evident that few dispute it (watch here as arch-neoconservative David Frum — Richard Perle’s co-author for the supreme 2004 neocon treatise — waxes admiringly about Obama’s Terrorism and foreign policies in the Muslim world and specifically its “continuity” with Bush/Cheney).  But one policy where Obama has gone further than Bush/Cheney in terms of unfettered executive authority and radical war powers is the attempt to target American citizens for assassination without a whiff of due process.  As The New York Times put it last April:

It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing, officials said.  A former senior legal official in the administration of George W. Bush said he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president. . . .

That Obama was compiling a hit list of American citizens was first revealed in January of last year when The Washington Post‘s Dana Priestmentioned in passing at the end of a long article that at least four American citizens had been approved for assassinations; several months later, the Obama administration anonymously confirmed to both theNYT and the Post that American-born, U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki was one of the Americans on the hit list.

Yesterday, riding a wave of adulation and military-reverence, the Obama administration tried to end the life of this American citizen — never charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime — with a drone strike in Yemen, but missed and killed two other people instead:

A missile strike from an American military drone in a remote region of Yemen on Thursday was aimed at killing Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric believed to be hiding in the country, American officials said Friday.

The attack does not appear to have killed Mr. Awlaki, the officials said, but may have killed operatives of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen.

The other people killed “may have” been Al Qaeda operatives.  Or they “may not have” been.  Who cares?  They’re mere collateral damage on the glorious road to ending the life of this American citizen without due process (and pointing out that the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution expressly guarantees that “no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law” — and provides no exception for war — is the sort of tedious legalism that shouldn’t interfere with the excitement of drone strikes).

There are certain civil liberties debates where, even though I hold strong opinions, I can at least understand the reasoning and impulses of those who disagree; the killing of bin Laden was one such instance.  But the notion that the President has the power to order American citizens assassinated without an iota of due process — far from any battlefield, not during combat — is an idea so utterly foreign to me, so far beyond the bounds of what is reasonable, that it’s hard to convey in words or treat with civility.

How do you even engage someone in rational discussion who is willing to assume that their fellow citizen is guilty of being a Terrorist without seeing evidence for it, without having that evidence tested, without giving that citizen a chance to defend himself — all because the President declares it to be so?  “I know Awlaki, my fellow citizen, is a Terrorist and he deserves to die.  Why?  Because the President decreed that, and that’s good enough for me.  Trials are so pre-9/11.”  If someone is willing to dutifully click their heels and spout definitively authoritarian anthems like that, imagine how impervious to reason they are on these issues.

And if someone is willing to vest in the President the power to assassinate American citizens without a trial far from any battlefield — if someone believes that the President has that power:  the power of unilaterally imposing the death penalty and literally acting as judge, jury and executioner — what possible limits would they ever impose on the President’s power?  There cannot be any.  Or if someone is willing to declare a citizen to be a “traitor” and demand they be treated as such — even though the Constitution expressly assigns the power to declare treason to the Judicial Branch and requires what we call “a trial”with stringent evidence requirements before someone is guilty of treason — how can any appeals to law or the Constitution be made to a person who obviously believes in neither?

What’s most striking about this is how it relates to the controversies during the Bush years.  One of the most strident attacks from the Democrats on Bush was that he wanted to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants.  One of the first signs of Bush/Cheney radicalism was what they did to Jose Padilla:  assert the power to imprison this American citizen without charges.  Yet here you have Barack Obama asserting the power not to eavesdrop on Americans or detain them without charges — but to target them for killing without charges — and that, to many of his followers, is perfectly acceptable.  It’s a “horrific shredding of the Constitution” and an act of grave lawlessness for Bush to eavesdrop on or detain Americans without any due process; but it’s an act of great nobility when Barack Obama ends their lives without any due process.

Not even Antonin Scalia was willing to approve of George Bush’s mere attempt to detain (let alone kill) an American citizen accused of Terrorism without a trial.  In a dissenting opinion joined by the court’s most liberal member, John Paul Stevens, Scalia explained that not even the War on Terror allows the due process clause to be ignored when the President acts against those he claims have joined the Enemy — and this was for a citizen found on an actual active battlefield in a war zone (Afghanistan) (emphasis added):

The very core of liberty secured by our Anglo-Saxon system of separated powers has been freedom from indefinite imprisonment at the will of the Executive.  Blackstone stated this principle clearly:  “Of great importance to the public is the preservation of this personal liberty:  for if once it were left in the power of any, the highest, magistrate to imprison arbitrarily whomever he or his officers thought proper … there would soon be an end of all other rights and immunities. … To bereave a man of life, or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole kingdom.” . . . .

Subjects accused of levying war against the King were routinelyprosecuted for treason. . . The Founders inherited the understanding that a citizen’s levying war against the Government was to be punished criminally. The Constitution provides: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort”; and establishes a heightened proof requirement (two witnesses) in order to “convic[t]” of that offense. Art. III, §3, cl. 1.

There simply is no more basic liberty than the right to be free from Presidential executions without being charged with — and then convicted of — a crime:  whether it be treason, Terrorism, or anything else.  How can someone who objected to Bush’s attempt to eavesdrop on or detain citizens without judicial oversight cheer for Obama’s attempt to kill them without judicial oversight? Can someone please reconcile those positions?

One cannot be certain that this attempted killing of Awlaki relates to the bin Laden killing, but it certainly seems likely, and in any event, highlights the dangers I wrote about this week.  From the start, it was inconceivable to me that — as some predicted — the bin Laden killing would bring about a ratcheting down of America’s war posture.  The opposite seemed far more likely to me for the reason I wrote on Monday:

Whenever America uses violence in a way that makes its citizens cheer, beam with nationalistic pride, and rally around their leader, more violence is typically guaranteed. Futile decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may temporarily dampen the nationalistic enthusiasm for war, but two shots to the head of Osama bin Laden — and the We are Great and Good proclamations it engenders — can easily rejuvenate that war love. . . . We’re feeling good and strong about ourselves again — and righteous — and that’s often the fertile ground for more, not less, aggression.

The killing of bin Laden got the testosterone pumping, the righteousness pulsating, and faith in the American military and its Commander-in-Chief skyrocketing to all-time highs.  It made America feel good about itself in a way that no other event has since at least Obama’s inauguration; we got to forget about rampant unemployment, home foreclosures by the millions, a decade’s worth of militaristic futility and slaughter, and ever-growing Third-World levels of wealth inequality.  This was a week for flag-waving, fist-pumping, and nationalistic chanting:  even — especially — among liberals, who were able to take the lead and show the world (and themselves) that they are no wilting, delicate wimps; it’s not merely swaggering right-wing Texans, but they, too, who can put bullets in people’s heads and dump corpses into the ocean and then joke and cheer about it afterwards.  It’s inconceivable that this wave of collective pride, boosted self-esteem, vicarious strength, and renewed purpose won’t produce a desire to replicate itself.  Four days after bin Laden is killed, a missile rains down from the sky to try to execute Awlaki without due process, and that’ll be far from the last such episode (indeed, also yesterday, the U.S. launched a drone attack in Pakistan, ending the lives of 15 more people:  yawn).

Last night, in a post entitled “Reigniting the GWOT [Global War on Terrorism]” — Digby wrote about why the reaction to the killing of bin Laden is almost certain to spur greater aggression in the “War on Terror,” and specifically observed:  “They’re breathlessly going on about Al Qaeda in Yemen ‘targeting the homeland’ right now on CNN. Looks like we’re back in business.”  The killing of bin Laden isn’t going to result in a reduction of America’s military adventurism because that’s not how the country works: when we eradicate one Enemy, we just quickly and seamlessly find a new one to replace him with — look over there:  Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is the True Threat!!!! — and the blood-spilling continues unabated (without my endorsing it all, read this excellent Chris Floyd post for the non-euphemistic reality of what we’ve really been doing in the world over the last couple years under the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Winner).

A civil liberties lawyer observed by email to me last night that now that Obama has massive political capital and invulnerable Tough-on-Terror credentials firmly in place, there are no more political excuses for what he does (i.e.he didn’t really want to do that, but he had to in order not to be vulnerable to GOP political attacks that he’s Weak).  In the wake of the bin Laden killing, he’s able to do whatever he wants now — ratchet down the aggression or accelerate it — and his real face will be revealed by his choices (for those with doubts about what that real face is).  Yesterday’s attempt to exterminate an American citizen who has long been on his hit list — far from any battlefield, not during combat, and without even a pretense of due process — is likely to be but a first step in that direction.

Obama attempts killing of an American citizen, misses, kills several others instead

There’s really no other way to tell the story without lying about the facts.
    President Obama unilaterally ordered the assassination of an American citizen. The weapon was a predator drone. The drone failed to kill the intended victim. The drone did kill several others.

The rest is just framing. Let me guess how they’ll spin it:

■ The president is the hero who gave us the head of Osama BL on the point of a spear. Osama needed killing, but he’s the exception.

■ The American was Muslim. He was a talk show host who said bad things about us on the Internet. Worse yet, he said those things in English so people would understand them. He carried kittens on the point of a spear as he walked around the house. He needed killing too. But there’s only four Americanswho need killing like he does. These four are the exception.

■ The guys actually killed were possibly bad. They might have needed killing too. But even if they were children, Collateral Damage. They’re always the exception.

■ This will never happen to you, because you’re not bad. Or standing next to someone who is. Or collateral.

Let’s check to see if I got that framing right. Here’s the New York Times on the story:

A missile strike from an American military drone in a remote region of Yemen on Thursday was aimed at killing Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born clericbelieved to be hiding in the country, American officials said Friday.

The attack does not appear to have killed Mr. Awlaki, the officials said, but may have killed operatives of Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen.

It was the first American strike in Yemen using a remotely piloted drone since 2002, when the C.I.A. struck a car carrying a group of suspected militants, including an American citizen, who were believed to have Qaeda ties. And the attack came just three days after American commandos invaded a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and killed Osama bin Laden, the founder of Al Qaeda.

Muslim, check. Radical, check. Death of unknown others who may have been operatives, check. Hero-killer of Osama bin Laden, check. Kittens … the jury’s still out, but JSOC has pictures.

Glenn Greenwald has exactly the right take. Please read it through. But note this:

There are certain civil liberties debates where, even though I hold strong opinions, I can at least understand the reasoning and impulses of those who disagree; the killing of bin Laden was one such instance. But the notion that the President has the power to order American citizens assassinated without an iota of due process — far from any battlefield, not during combat — is an idea so utterly foreign to me, so far beyond the bounds of what is reasonable, that it’s hard to convey in words or treat with civility.

Did you note that Bush last tried this in 2002? Obama has revived the practice. Makes that little“predator drone” joke he made last year a little grisly, doesn’t it. Or telling.

But hey, where else you gonna go? The Republicans are far worse. And besides, he’s got this head on the point of his spear.

Is Obama more Bush than Bush? I think so

“The US government has frozen the bank accounts belonging to Hatem Abudayyeh, a Palestinian community organizer and director of a social service organization serving the Arab community in Chicago, and his wife, Naima.  Meanwhile, several members of Congress have written to the Obama administration to express their concerns about violations in civil liberties as a result of earlier government actions toward Abudayyeh and other activists.  The freezing of the Abudayyeh family’s bank accounts on Friday, 6 May is the latest development in a secret grand jury investigation that has been launched by US District Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s office in Chicago. The freezing of the accounts has raised concerns that criminal indictments in the case may be imminent.
“I was downtown [in Chicago] on Friday, I had parked my car in a garage and when I tried to use my debit card to get out, it was declined,” Hatem Abudayyeh, director of the Arab American Action Network, told The Electronic Intifada. “I talked to Naima right away and she said she had no access with her card either, so I had to call a friend in the [Chicago] Loop to borrow money to get my car out of the garage.””

Obama Calls for Immigration Reform amidst Record Levels of Deportations

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Obama_buttonOn Tuesday, President Obama visited the U.S.-Mexico border for the first time since his election in 2008 to deliver a major policy speech on comprehensive immigration reform. Meanwhile, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and 38 New York state lawmakers have asked to withdraw from Obama’s flagship immigration enforcement program, Secure Communities, which has led to a record number of deportations. We get reaction from Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, and Sunita Patel, staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “This enforcement-first-and-reform-later approach is just not working. And the states and Congress are losing patience at this point,” Patel says. Acknowledging the political hurdle Obama faces in passing immigration reform with a divided Congress, Noorani notes, “The President has administrative or executive authority to better prioritize his enforcement resources, so that those who are causing real harm to our communities are the ones that are removed, not the students, not the families who are working hard.” [includes rush transcript]

Presbyterians will allow LGBT people to be ordained

from PA Editors Blog by Political Affairs
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Institute for Welcoming Resources hails historic Presbyterian Church (USA)

vote on opening up ordination

WASHINGTON, May 10 — The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and its Institute for Welcoming Resources congratulate the Presbyterian Church (USA), which today crossed a historic threshold to eliminate official barriers to the ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as ministers and lay leaders in the 2.4 million-member denomination. Twin Cities Presbyterians became the 87th Presbytery, a regional governing body for the denomination, to vote to ratify this constitutional amendment giving the denomination the majority of votes needed to approve this landmark change.

Presbyterians join a growing Protestant movement of Lutherans, Episcopalians and members of the United Church of Christ who have eliminated official barriers to leadership for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Read joint statement from Presbyterian groups.

The Rev. Dr. Janet Edwards, a co-moderator of More Light Presbyterians, was jubilant with this milestone. “More Light Presbyterians has been working for justice and equality since 1974 when the first gay minister came out in our denomination. Today, we celebrate the elimination of the last official barrier to the open service of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Passage of amendment 10-A restores our longstanding Presbyterian emphasis upon faith and character regarding ordination. Now, faithful and qualified lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Presbyterians can openly serve the church with energy, intelligence, imagination and love.”

More Light Presbyterians, along with other mainline Protestant denominations, comprise the leadership of the welcoming church movement, which works closely with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Institute for Welcoming Resources.

“One of the most powerful gifts a religious tradition can give to another is the witness of choosing love over fear and justice over exclusion,” said the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, faith work director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and its Institute for Welcoming Resources. “We in the larger religious world have been given that gift today as the Presbyterian Church has witnessed to the world its sacred persistence, its faithful pursuit of justice, and its joyful celebration of the gifts God has given to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons called to ministry. Thanks be to God!”

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Institute for Welcoming Resources, with welcoming church leaders, sponsored the Believe Out Loud Power Summit last fall where organizers and trainers worked together with 500 participants to lift up and further develop best organizing practices for policy change in both political-based and faith-based organizations. This coalition demonstrated a deep commitment to liberation and full equality in all realms of society.

“Change within the Presbyterian Church did not occur in a vacuum. The witness of change from the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the example of the Metropolitan Community Churches inspired Presbyterians to end discrimination and take this stand for justice. Being part of the larger welcoming church movement is a key factor as we learn from each other and support one another. We’re so grateful for the partnership with and support from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The impact of today’s change goes beyond the church by motivating Presbyterians to keep working for justice and equality in civil society and around the world. The thousands of conversations, prayers and the sharing of hopes and dreams are all part of building a church that reflects God’s heart and a world that respects all persons,” said Dr. Michael Adee, executive director of More Light Presbyterians.

In July 2010, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted for the third time to end ordination discrimination for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. This time, after years of work for justice, a majority of regional Presbyteries ratified the policy change.

BROADCAST EXCLUSIVE: Playwright Tony Kushner Speaks Out on CUNY Controversy, Academic Freedom and Israel

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Kushner_buttonIn a global broadcast exclusive, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tony Kushner appears on Democracy Now! to announce he will accept an honorary degree at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, following a controversy that sparked national attention. Last week, the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York voted to shelve the degree after one member cited Kushner’s critical views of Israeli government policies. But on Monday night, the CUNY board reversed its decision. Kushner says he is still hoping for an apology: “In lieu of an apology, I would accept what is clearly an admission of error of judgment and a lapse of responsibility on the part of the board in defending open exchange and academic freedom.” Kushner, one of the world’s leading playwrights, has long been a defender of the human rights of Palestinians and a critic of Israeli policies. “It’s impossible to shape a legitimate and successful path towards peace based on rhetoric and demagoguery and fantasy,” Kushner says. His new play, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, just opened at the Public Theater in New York City. [includes rush transcript]

The Battle for the Soul of the GOP

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The real battle for the soul of the GOP started today with a speech on Wall Street by Speaker of the House John Boehner.

Wall Street and big business fear Tea Partiers won’t allow House Republicans to raise the debt ceiling without major spending cuts – and without tax increases on the wealthy. Wall Street and big business know this would be unacceptable to the White House and congressional Democrats.

The Street and big business want to tame the budget deficit but they don’t want to play games with the debt ceiling. Credit markets are fine at the moment, but if the debt ceiling isn’t not raised within the month – weeks before August 2, when the Treasury predicts the nation will run out of money to pay its creditors and its other bills – credit markets could go into free fall. The full faith and credit of the United States would be jeopardized. Interest rates would skyrocket. The dollar could plummet.

The Tea Partiers don’t care about the debt ceiling. To them, it’s a giant bargaining chit to shrink government. Nor do they worry about credit markets. If the full faith and credit of the U.S. government is no longer honored, so much the better.

You see, Tea Partiers hate government more than they hate the national debt. They refuse to reduce that debt with tax increases, even with tax increases on the wealthy, because a tax increase doesn’t reduce the size of government. The Tea Partiers’ real aim is to shrink the government.

But the Street and big business dislike the national debt more than they dislike government. And they wouldn’t even mind a small tax increase on wealthy people like themselves in order to cinch a deal on raising the national debt. They have so much money they’d scarcely notice.

In truth, government has been good to Wall Street and big business. It bailed out the Street. It saved GM, Chrysler, and AIG. And most government spending improves the profits of big businesses – military contractors, big agriculture, giant health-care insurers, Big Pharma, large construction companies.

Tea Partiers have almost as much contempt for big business and the Street as they do for government. After all, the Tea Party was born in anger over the Wall Street bailout.

This is the heart of the civil war in the GOP.

House Speaker John Boehner, appearing today at the Economic Club of New York, tried to placate both wings, but he was far more in the Tea Party camp than with his audience. He said “everything is on the table” in order to reduce the nation’s debt – a bow to Wall Street and big business pragmatists. But in the next breath he ruled out tax increases.

Boehner says he won’t allow the U.S. to default on its obligations – exactly what the Street wants to hear. But then he insists on tying the debt-ceiling vote to a deficit-reduction deal. “The cuts should be greater than the accompanying increase in debt authority the president has given. We should be talking about cuts of trillions, not just millions.”

Boehner knows the only way to get cuts of this magnitude without increasing taxes on the rich (or cutting defense — something else the GOP wouldn’t think of) is to make mincemeat out of Medicare and Medicaid, slash education and infrastructure, and kill off most of everything else people of moderate means depend on.

In other words, Boehner’s conditions are just another version of the Paul Ryan plan House Republicans approved last month – the same plan that brought howls at recent Republican town meetings. Democrats will never agree to it, nor should they. Nor will the rest of America.

And that means no agreement to increase the debt ceiling.

Boehner is siding with the Tea Partiers. Wall Street and big business hold the purse strings in the GOP but the Tea Partiers are now the ground troops. Boehner and his GOP colleagues figure Wall Street and big business will stake them in any event. They need Tea Partiers to get out the vote in 2012. And they’re afraid angry Tea Partiers will get out the vote against them in their own primaries.

But Boehner is playing with fire. If the debt ceiling isn’t raised and the financial system begins to collapse, the GOP loses not only Wall Street and big business. It loses everyone who’s still sane.


The Green Gap with China: US falling Behind as Congress Fiddles (Cole in Truthdig)

from Informed Comment by Juan
In 1957, a United States shocked by the Soviet launch of the Sputnik 1 satellite bounced into action to compete on the world stage. More than 50 years later, in May of 2011, the U.S. is facing a new challenge. The Chinese Communist Party has decided to launch a crash program to produce green energy, a field where it already has a commanding lead over the U.S. The difference between 1957 and 2011 is that American politics in the meantime have been captured by parasitic or corrupt industries such as high finance and big oil and gas. The Green Gap produced by China’s increasing lead in the technologies of the future is not even headlined in America’s corporate mass media, much less galvanizing a nation of gas guzzlers and coal junkies.

The disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has causedthe Chinese Communist Party to reconsider its plans to vastly expand its own nuclear power industry. The government of President Hu Jintao is thinking instead of vastly expanding the green energy sector, aiming to produce50 gigawatts from solar energy by 2020, up from a previous goal of 20 gigawatts. If the new goal can be met, it will be an impressive accomplishment in its own right. The six reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, among the largest such plants in the world, produced 4.7 gigawatts, so the Chinese solar plants would be the solar equivalent of more than four such complexes.

The real promise, however, is that if the Chinese government really does throw a trillion and a half dollarsat solar and other renewables over the next decade and a half, the cost of producing energy in that way is likely to plummet. The Middle Kingdom already produces halfof the world’s solar panels. The bad news for the United States is that China could dominate the rapidly growing and crucial world market for green technology in coming decades, leaving literally in the dust a Rust Belt America wedded to dirty coal, oil and water-slurping shale extraction.

China’s production of green technology has been growing 77 percent a year, and solar panels, wind turbines and other green manufactures account for 1.4 percentof its gross domestic product. Only tiny Denmark outdoes China on this score, deriving 3.1 percent of its GDP from renewable energy technology. But of course in absolute terms China’s production in this sector, at $64 billion annually, leads the world. The U.S. derives only 0.3 percent of its GDP from green tech and substantially trails China in absolute terms. Last year Beijing installed three times as much new wind turbine capacity as the United States. It added 18.9 gigawattsof new wind power-generating capacity in 2010, or about half of all the new wind installations in the world.

Chinese officials, unlike many representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives, have no doubt that spewing carbon into the atmosphere is causing climate change of a sort that threatens the world’s and their own country’s future prosperity. China’s dirty coal-burning plants are a major source of this pollution, and it is they that the clean energy installations will replace.

The time is coming when the rest of the world will launch lawsuits at the World Trade Organization against the United States and its hydrocarbon corporations for destroying their cropsand submerging their shorelines through its deadly carbon emissions. China may face much less global anger because, although it is now the world’s leading source of carbon emissions, it is moving much more quickly and responsibly to address this global challenge than is the U.S., currently the world’s No. 2 carbon dioxide producer.

The Eisenhower administration responded vigorously to the Soviet Union’s Sputnik program. Americans were shocked to discover that they were No. 2 in so important a scientific and technological field. In the 1950s, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans were still paying their taxes, and so the government had the wherewithal to found the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and to bump up research and development in a number of other agencies, as well as promote science education in the K-12 system.

The anxiety did not stop with concern that Americans were not very good at mathematics and science. Rather, Washington suddenly realized that the United States needed a cadre of academics and officials who knew the languages and cultures of the societies over which capitalism and communism were competing. Congress therefore passed the National Defense Education Act (NDEA), providing funds to universities for the study of world areas such as China, India and Eastern Europe. The language of the act later became Title VI in the Department of Education, which supports nearly 120 National Resource Centers at universities across America, studying everything from Afghanistan to Brazil.

In contrast to the strenuous efforts of 1958 to expand Americans’ horizons, the House of Representatives in 2011 is full of politicians who actively despise science and higher education, hate environmentalism, deny global climate change and are in the back pocket of Big Oil. They have delivered themselves of a budget that increases funding for the Department of War, implies long-term and deeper cuts in taxes for the super-wealthy, and devours the seed cornof America’s K-12 and higher education programs. America has already fallen behind Macao and Latvia in math and science skillsand ranks only ninth globally in the percentage of its youths who are college graduates. (It used to be first.) Instead of increasing funding for Title VI and the area studies centers (the descendants of 1958’s NDEA), governmental agents of the proudly monolingual tea party in their wisdom have cut that program by half.

The U.S. won the space race that was kicked off in earnest by Sputnik. Now, this Congress, full of climate change contrarians, hasn’t even gotten up off the couch or laced up its sneakers in reaction to China’s solar challenge. It would be as though the 1958 House not only ignored Sputnik, but also denied that the Earth is round or could be orbited. Since Congress has halved the federal money for Chinese studies centers, American young people won’t have the opportunity to study Mandarin in the same numbers, and won’t even be able to understand the scientific papers of Chinese scientists or get jobs in the mailrooms of the burgeoning Chinese solar corporations. The original Tea Party kicked off the independence of the United States from a hegemonic power. This one seems intent on delivering us into the hands of a new one.

AP / Ng Han Guan

Another front in the green fight: The EK-2 electric car from Chinese automaker Geely is displayed at the Beijing Auto China 2010 show.

Will Greece leave the euro?

Chris in Paris has been doing a great job covering the Greek financial crisis, by far the worst in Europe. His latest pieces are herehere, and here.

Now we are starting to find speculation that the Greece may be forced by circumstances to abandon the euro, and the euro has responded with a sharp drop, from a high-flying $1.48 and change (fueled by talk of higher interest rates) to a chastened $1.43, thanks to speculation about Greece. That five-cent drop took just two days. (Oops, now $1.42 as we speak.)

One of the voices recommending a euro exit is Mark Weisbrot (h/t Paul Krugman), who writes in theNew York Times:

Sometimes there is turmoil in the markets because a government threatens to do what is best for its citizens. This seemed to be the case in Europe last week, when the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that the Greek government was threatening to stop using the euro. The euro suffered its worst two-day plunge since December 2008.

Greek and European Union officials denied the report, but a threat by Greece to jettison the euro is long overdue, and it should be prepared to carry it out. As much as the move might cost Greece in the short term, it is very unlikely that such costs would be greater than the many years of recession, stagnation and high unemployment that the European authorities are offering.

Weisbrot then talks about Argentina, which was in a similar situation — a long and deep recession with very high international debt. Yes, they had their own currency, but the peso was hard-pegged to the dollar. With that peg in place, Argentina had as little control of its currency as Greece does today. Weisbrot notes that:

Argentina defaulted on its foreign debt and cut loose from the dollar. Most economists and the business press predicted that years of disaster would ensue. But the economy shrank for just one more quarter after the devaluation and default; it then grew 63 percent over the next six years. More than 11 million people, in a nation of 39 million, were pulled out of poverty.

So the first piece of information I want to point you to is this — it’s likely in Greece’s interest to cut loose from the euro; even the credible threat to do so would get Greece a better deal from the austerity-loving Germans and others like them in the core eurozone.

The second piece is this: Argentina indeed defaulted on its debt. That’s the national equivalent of declaring bankruptcy, and sometimes, that’s what you have to do. (As my amoral business friends like to say, “It’s not immoral, it’s business. It’s only immoral when humans do it.”) The same with Greece. As Weisbrot states, “Greece would not pay this debt,” so even the inevitable devaluation (and attendant increase in the debt burden) would not matter to them. Your debt can be anything if you’re not going to pay it.

Weisbrot recommends that Greece leave the euro, or at least make a credible threat to do so. Krugman goes less far:

I agree with a lot of what he says, but am still not ready to counsel that step, for a couple of reasons. First, while I agree that Argentina is the right parallel, it’s an imperfect parallel: although Argentina had a supposedly irreversible peg, it still had peso notes in circulation, so the mechanics of exit from the peg were much easier than exiting the euro would be. … Second, Greece, as a relatively poor country with a history of shaky governance, has a lot to gain from being a citizen in good standing of the European project[.]

The mechanics of a euro-exit matter a lot. (By the way, that link on the phrase “Argentina is the right parallel” is a very good read.)

My third piece of info is about those mechanics — they may be self-triggering. Krugman agrees that Greece will inevitably default, in any scenario. But, he writes in a separate article:

the main argument against the possibility of a euro breakup has been precisely that any hint of exit would unleash the mother of all bank runs.

He adds that while no one would deliberately want to trigger that, if a banking crisis were to occur anyway:

I can easily see how events could lead to a situation in which euro exit becomes the least bad option.

So if you’re watching the euro, for whatever reason, watch the banks in Greece. While no one may want the crisis that a euro-exit would cause, that crisis may show up first, making the exit eminently thinkable.

Top causes of the long-term deficit: Economic downturn and Bush tax cuts

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Via Ezra Klein.  The five main causes of the budget deficit are the economic downturn (tax revenues go down), the Bush tax cuts (which quickly become the largest part of the deficit), the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the stimulus plan (though that becomes meaningless in less than two years, as it’s being phased out).

So for the rest of this decade, the biggest single factor contributing to the deficit are the Bush era tax cuts that the Republicans say are off the table (meaning, they won’t discuss getting rid of them).  But just as importantly – guess what? – Obama isn’t responsible for the deficit.  The GOP is, along with whoever got us into those wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (oh right, that would be the GOP), and whoever was in charge of the government when the economy tanked (right again, George Bush). Oh, and a little of the deficit was caused by TARP (Bush again).




TEPCO executives to chop salaries due to crisis

Will they follow the Wall Street model of freeloading from taxpayer money and making up for the salary cuts in a year while praising themselves for a job well done? Somehow that does not sound likely.Bloomberg:

Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and President Masataka Shimizu and six executive vice presidents won’t receive a salary, Shimizu told reporters after a meeting with government officials in Tokyo today. Other directors will have their pay cut by 60 percent, he said.

The utility known as Tepco today asked for government help as it faces compensation demands after an earthquake and tsunami two months ago damaged the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant and forced the evacuation of 50,000 families. Tepco may need to pay claims of 4 trillion yen ($50 billion), the Asahi newspaper reported last week.

“The situation with respect to our fund-raising, both from bonds and loans from financial institutions, is very serious,” Tepco said in a document submitted to the government and distributed to the media. “About 750 billion yen needs to be repaid this fiscal year and if the present circumstances continue, our funding situation will eventually become untenable.”

The Japanese President is also giving up his salary until the crisis has been resolved.

This entry was posted in Civil Liberties, Corporations, Corruption, Obama, US Economy. Bookmark the permalink.

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