PNN - 2/15/15
rws 7:01 - 7:07
Lori Price 7:08 - 7:47
Cris Costello 7:50 - 8:05
Greg Palast 8:15 - 8:45pm
1. Gov. Koch Walker from TPM
It slashes public broadcasting funding in the state, cuts $300 million from the University of Wisconsin system, shrinks the secretary of state's office (which battled Walker over his push to roll back collective bargaining rights), proposes drug testing for recipients of food stamps, Medicaid, and jobless benefits, and makes major changes to the state's judicial branch (including targeting the liberal chief justice of the Supreme Court with a pay cut).
It really hits all the right notes: keeping people as ignorant as possible while targeting the people Walker and his kind really don't like—anyone who's vulnerable and anyone who doesn't like their ideas.
The budget is a dreamboat of conservative overreach that aims to whip up the GOP base and confound liberals by targeting everything they hold dear: education, public broadcasting, justice, and a public safety net for the disadvantaged.
"I think everybody believes it's tied to the presidential campaign," University of Wisconsin political scientist Barry Burden told TPM. "It's not just that the government is going to grow at a slower rate than it had been or that it's going to grow slower than inflation, in at least one of the years in the next budget, there's actually a reduction in the total spending of the state. So it's a pretty dramatic budget."
If you want to get a good understanding of how thoroughly corrupted and sold-out our government in Washington is, check out the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the latest in a series of trade "deals" that is heading towards passage right now in Congress, and that, like its predecessors, NAFTA and CAFTA, as well as the World Trade Organization, will be sucking jobs out of the US for years to come.
The key point to notice about TPP, as with earlier trade deals, is that it is being negotiated in secret. The reason for this is that there are so many outrages in it which undermine US sovereignty and democratic control, and so many things in the deal that benefit multinational corporations at the expense of the American worker and the broader American public that there would be almost universal outrage if they were known.
What really demonstrates the collapse of US democracy is that even though the Republican Party claims to loath and distrust President Obama, Republican majorities in both House and Senate have voted to give him "fast-track" authority to negotiate the TPP. That means Republicans in Congress want this man whom they claim to completely distrust to negotiate the whole TPP treaty, and then to present it to them as an unalterable take-it-or-leave it deal, with no amendments or changes allowed.
Why are they doing this? Because the Republicans and Democrats in Congress, like the president, want to pass this bill without letting the public find out what's in it. And the members of Congress of both parties, who have been flooded with campaign contributions (really bribes) and other perks by corporate America to ensure that TPP is passed without discussion.
Where else could you find a government body that would willingly -- no enthusiastically -- surrender its power to investigate, debate and amend a major bill or, in this case, treaty? Especially a government body that is run by one party that is surrendering its power to the leader of the supposed opposing party -- a man who is openly loathed and distrusted by them?
What this demonstrates is that the whole government in Washington -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- is owned now by corporate America. What corporate America wants is what this thoroughly corrupted government gives it.
So what are they giving away in TPP? Well, the main thing is that the TPP cedes to an unelected supra-national body of government bureaucrats the right to decide in secret tribunals whether some law in a member country -- say the US -- unfairly restricts trade. And if that secret tribunal concludes that the law does restrict trade or interferes with some multinational company's ability to make obscene profits doing something that the country in question has democratically decided it shouldn't be able to do, the nation's law is ruled to be invalid.
This is true even if the company that is filing a complaint with the tribunal is based in the country whose law is being challenged!
Take a hypothetical example. If General Electric, a huge US-based multinational company that actually earns most of its revenues and profits and has most of its employees these days based overseas, were to file a complaint with the TPP claiming that a US law banning the import of microwave ovens that leak dangerous microwaves when they are used is interfering with sales of a product that they are making in China for sale in the US, the TPP bureaucrats could rule that America's safety laws concerning microwave devices is illegal.
Outrageous? Of course it is. Product safety rules in the US are voted into law by the elected representatives of the people of the US, and the idea that unelected bureaucrats from other countries could simply toss them out runs counter to any principle of democracy.
But why be hypothetical? As the always spot-on political gadfly Jim Hightower notes, a WTO tribunal in 2012 overturned a popular law passed by Congress in 2002 that mandates that food companies always note on the label the country of origin of the food we buy in the US. Hightower notes that since passage of that Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) Act, US corporations in the food industry have lobbied furiously, but unsuccessfully, to get it overturned. They always failed because some 90% of Americans want to know where their food comes from (understandably since so many countries have even worse food safety laws than our own) and even our corrupted Congress has not had the guts to challenge that powerful a public sentiment, at least openly.
So instead, they let the WTO do it by ceding to the WTO the power to overturn national laws passed by WTO member states!
Now if you are angry that COOL is no longer the law of the land, your Congresscritter can say, "Gee, that's terrible, but what can we do. We passed that law, but the WTO overturned it."
And it gets worse. These international trade treaties that Congress keeps passing also allow companies that win in an international tribunal to get "damages" from the country whose law was overturned. But in a particularly nasty turn of the knife, since most big corporations are multinational now, with subsidiaries all over the globe, it turns out that the very companies that were unable to get Congress to repeal a law like COOL can have an overseas subsidiary file a protest with the WTO, or NAFTA or, if it passes, the TPP, and then accomplish what the parent company couldn't accomplish through domestic lobbying (bribery). And it can get the US taxpayer to fork over damages, which then accrue to the parent company back in the US.
3. CCR _ Guantanamo Closure must remain a priority - CCR
ebruary 4, 2015 — In light of Ashton Carter's confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee today, the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement:
The next secretary of defense will play a pivotal role helping President Obama fulfill his commitment to close Guantanamo. If Ashton Carter is confirmed by the Senate, as appears likely, he must make it a priority to take a leading role in maintaining the current momentum of transfers. Twenty-seven men have been released from Guantanamo since November— bringing the population down to 122. Of those remaining, 54 have been cleared for release by every prominent military and intelligence agency in the U.S. government, including the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security; still others have been cleared for release after close review by the military’s Periodic Review Board. There is absolutely no moral or legal justification for their continued detention. With Guantanamo entering its 14th year in operation and two years left in President Obama’s final term, it is paramount that the next secretary of defense, together with the president, be personally engaged in closing the prison.
4.Free Speech Case on Right to Boycott Goes Before Washington Supreme Court
January 20, 2015, Olympia, WA – The constitutionality of a Washington State law protecting citizens from meritless lawsuits that undermine free speech rights was defended today in oral arguments before the Washington Supreme Court. The lawsuit at issue had challenged the Olympia Food Co-op board's decision to boycott goods from Israel in support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement to end Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands. The law protects against Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, which are filed against defendants because of their speech or public participation on a matter of public concern. SLAPPs are brought to silence the defendants by burdening them with the costs and stress of a lawsuit, irrespective of the ultimate merit and outcome of the case. The case was filed by five co-op members against 16 current and former board members. A lower court swiftly dismissed the case as a SLAPP and held that participation in the boycott is protected by the First Amendment, a decision upheld by the Court of Appeals.
“This case is part of a nationwide orchestrated effort to silence speech critical of Israel and supportive of Palestinian human rights,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Staff Attorney Maria LaHood. “It is also a prime example of the importance of Anti-SLAPP laws: three years after this meritless SLAPP was filed, concerned citizens who were once volunteer co-op board members―and no longer even serve on the board―remain embroiled in a lawsuit over speech protected by the First Amendment. It’s long past time for this harassment-by-lawsuit to be stopped.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights has fought myriad forms of repression against people who speak out on behalf of Palestinian rights in the United States. These silencing efforts have included attempts to curb student activism; to pass legislation that limits the right to boycott; and to punish university faculty for their speech critical of Israel, as in the case of Professor Steven Salaita, whom CCR also represents.
“We believe that Washington law appropriately protects the rights of ordinary citizens to take a stand on the Israeli-Palestinian controversy without fear of a retaliatory lawsuit designed, in the words of our Legislature, to cause ‘great expense, harassment, and interruption of their productive activities,’” said Bruce E.H. Johnson of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, who argued the case before the Washington Supreme Court today.
Both the trial court and the Court of Appeals previously rejected the challenge to the constitutionality of the Anti-SLAPP statute. Both courts also awarded and affirmed, respectively, $10,000 in statutory damages for each of the sixteen defendants, as well as attorneys’ fees and costs.
5. was jeffrey starlings trial a gvt effort to divide journalists & whistle-blowers
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Norman, I also want to ask you about the recent conviction of Jeffrey Sterling, the former CIA officer who leaked classified information about a secret operation to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program to journalist James Risen of The New York Times. You were in the courtroom for the trial. Can you talk about the significance of the case?
NORMAN SOLOMON: An extremely important case, very underreported by the news media, a tremendous selective prosecution against one of the only African-American case officers in the CIA, somebody who went through channels as a whistleblower to the Senate Intelligence Committee to report in 2003 about a dumb and dangerous CIA operation aimed at Iran with nuclear design component information back in 2000. So, Sterling went on trial last month in federal court for revealing to the Senate Intelligence Committee something that the Senate Intelligence Committee needed to know, but the actual charges were, as you mentioned, that he leaked the classified info to James Risen. Being in the courtroom day after day for the seven-day trial, very disturbing, not only the selective prosecution, but also the fact no African Americans on the jury, 23 CIA officials testifying, and a tremendous amount of innuendo against the defendant in that case.
So, I really urge people to look into it more closely, because Jeffrey Sterling deserves support. All of the evidence presented by the prosecution was circumstantial. It was metadata, email and phone call metadata, without content of any incriminating nature. So the bottom line is, Jeffrey Sterling is facing a nine-count sentencing of federal felonies, up to 80 years in prison, on the basis of circumstantial evidence that is metadata. And let me announce right now that RootsAction.org today is launching a support campaign for the Sterling family fund, and people who want to find out more about that fund can go to RootsAction.org.
AMY GOODMAN: Norman Solomon, of course, James Risen got a lot more attention, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist who was being prosecuted, persecuted by both—from the Bush administration right through the Obama administration, but he was saying, no matter what happened, whether he would go to jail or not, he would not reveal his source. So, the fact that he didn’t do this, but did ultimately—did agree to be questioned, what was the significance of this?
NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, ultimately, I think that James Risen was very honorable and principled. He never gave any information to the court or anyone else to help the government identify any of his sources. And the government was clearly trying to push Risen up against the wall. He refused to flinch, and he stuck with his principles.
Speaking of principles, at RootsAction.org and elsewhere, in organizing campaigns on behalf of James Risen and now on behalf of Jeffrey Sterling, we’re really resolute with the principle that we’ve got to support investigative journalists and whistleblowers. We can’t allow the government to drive a wedge between the two. You can’t have the informed consent of the governed unless you have whistleblowers who give us the unofficial stories and journalists who are willing and able to report them.
AMY GOODMAN: Norman Solomon, we want to thank you for being with us, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, co-founder of RootsAction.org, author of many books, including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
6. Keystone xl / GOP vision for 2016
By accelerating the exploitation of fossil fuels across the continent, reducing governmental oversight of drilling operations in all three countries, and building more cross-border pipelines like the Keystone XL, Christie explained, all three countries would be guaranteed dramatic economic growth. “In North America, we have resources waiting to be tapped,” he assured business leaders in Mexico City. “What is required is the vision to maximize our growth, the political will to unlock our potential, and the understanding that working together on strategic priorities... is the path to a better life.”
At first glance, Christie’s blueprint for his North American energy renaissance seems to be a familiar enough amalgam of common Republican tropes: support for that Keystone XL pipeline slated to bring Canadian tar sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast, along with unbridled energy production everywhere; opposition to excessive governmental regulation; free trade… well, you know the mantra. But don’t be fooled. Something far grander -- and more sinister -- is being proposed. It’s nothing less than a plan to convert Canada and Mexico into energy colonies of the United States, while creating a North American power bloc capable of aggressively taking on Russia, China, and other foreign challengers.
This outlook -- call it North Americanism -- is hardly unique to Christie. It pervades the thinking of top Republican leaders and puts their otherwise almost inexplicably ardent support of Keystone XL in a new light. As most analysts now concede, that pipeline will do little to generate long-term jobs or promote U.S. energy independence. (Much of the tar sands oil it’s designed to carry will be refined in the U.S., but exported elsewhere). In fact, with oil prices plunging globally, it looks ever more like a white elephant of a project, yet it remains the Republican majority’s top legislative priority. The reason: it is the concrete manifestation of Christie-style North American energy integration, and for that reason is considered sacred by Republican proponents of North Americanism. “This is not about sending ‘your oil’ across ‘our land,’” Christie insisted in Calgary. “It’s about maximizing the benefits of North America’s natural resources for everybody.”
While North American energy integration may, in part, appeal to Republicans for the way it would enrich major U.S. oil companies, pipeline firms, and some energy-industry workers -- the “everybody” in Christie’s remarks -- its real allure lies in the way they believe it will buttress the more hawkish and militarized foreign policy that so many in the GOP now favor. By boosting fossil fuel production in North America, Keystone’s backers claim, the U.S. will be less dependent on imports from the Middle East and so in a stronger position to combat Russia, Iran, ISIS, and other foreign challengers.
Authorization for Keystone XL and related energy infrastructure is important “not just for economic development, not just for jobs and growth,” Senator Ted Cruz of Texas declared in January, “but also for the enormous geopolitical advantages that it will present to the United States [by strengthening] our hands against those who would be enemies of America.”
7.The FCC’s Latest Net Neutrality Proposal: Pros, Cons, and Question Marks
Last week, we received some welcome news: the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) publicly confirmed that it is finally going to put its open internet rules on the right legal footing by reclassifying broadband providers as common carriers. That said, the goal was never just reclassification; that’s just an essential step for open internet rules to survive the inevitable court challenge. The real goal, though, has always been for the FCC to adopt targeted rules of the road for broadband. Will it?
That’s still hard to know, because the FCC has been pretty quiet, at least publicly, on the details of the final rules that will be put to a vote on February 26. Here are some thoughts on what we know so far – and what we’d like to know.
The FCC’s statements have stressed three bright-line rules:
No Blocking: broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
No Throttling: broadband providers may not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
No Paid Prioritization: broadband providers may not favor some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration – in other words, no “fast lanes” – including fast lanes for affiliates.
These are all good ideas. If net neutrality means anything, it means no unfair discrimination based on application or service, and these rules seem aimed at just that. But there’s at least one worrisome bit: the repeated reference to “lawful content.” Does the FCC intend to suggest that throttling unlawful content is OK? How are ISPs to determine what is and is not lawful without snooping on their users? Can an ISP block access to the Pirate Bay without fear of violating open internet rules?
Another good idea is requiring providers to be more transparent. We can’t hold broadband providers accountable if we don’t know what they’re up to. The FCC can make that requirement more meaningful, though, if it makes sure that “transparency” includes an obligation to make the information public and fully accessible, online, so watchdog groups can parse it and make it understandable for the general public.
Also good: the FCC has promised to forbear from rate regulation and imposing new taxes and fees. It also promises that there won’t be “burdensome” filing requirements or accounting. Let's hope it fulfills those promises.
Less good: the FCC appears to have taken the notion of unbundling off the table completely. That’s too bad, because unbundling rules (meaning, rules requiring service providers to lease out their lines on fair and nondiscriminatory terms) were essential to the existence of real service competition in the early days of the Internet. Those 20th century rules probably could not be adopted wholesale for broadband, but we urged the FCC to seek further comment on what rules might be appropriate for the 21st century. It should still do so, perhaps in a separate proceeding.
Back in May, the FCC asked for comment on whether and how it should address interconnection and it has now promised to address ISP interconnection practices that are unjust and unreasonable. Based on what we know, the FCC plans to address such complaints on a case-by-case basis. That, unfortunately, could be a recipe for litigation and confusion, as the FCC, providers, and customers fight over what qualifies as “unjust and unreasonable.”
The same concern applies to the FCC’s promise to adopt a “general conduct” rule. The FCC says its proposal will “create a general Open Internet conduct standard that ISPs cannot harm consumers or edge providers.” Understandably, the FCC wants to have the flexibility to address future unfair practices that we can’t yet anticipate, without having another decade-long fight. But it’s also very easy to see it as a recipe for FCC overreach.
The FCC could help put these concerns to rest (or at least alleviate them) by sharing more details about its proposal with the public, before the February 26th vote. So why haven't they done so?
One reason is standard legal procedure doesn’t require it. The law that ultimately governs FCC rulemaking procedures doesn’t require the FCC to publish every iteration of the rules it votes on—it just needs to base the rules on the public record. Having taken in more than 4 million comments about net neutrality in the past year, the FCC likely feels it has an adequate public record that reflects input from all sides of this debate. And it may be concerned that releasing the full rules in advance of the meeting could lead to calls for another full comment period, which would delay what has already been a pretty exhausting process for everyone.
So we get it -- but we won't pretend it's not an issue. We hope we are close to sustainable and sensible open Internet rules, and there are things to like about what we're heard so far. But we are also worried about some of what the FCC seems to be contemplating, and we certainly can’t fully support rules we haven’t read. Instead of trusting the FCC to do the right thing, we need to verify, and that means we need more details—but not more delay.
8. BBC Dismisses a Real Greek Economist as a Sexy ideologue
Yves here. I know some readers have begged to differ, but Very Serious People are not described in the same terms as pop culture icons. Thus, as Bill Black points out, the “rock star” branding of Varoufakis is a way to depict him as a colorful, entertaining lightweight.
I’m loath to use the term, but objectification is a commonly used device to put women in their place. For instance, since in a professional setting, in a meeting with one woman only, the fastest way to discredit the woman is to comment on her appearance (which reinforces “she’s not one of us, her proper role is to be someone’s date/husband”) or worst, make an out and out sexist remark (I’ve had this happen, for instance, someone accusing me of getting an account by virtue of having slept with the client. In this case, it was particularly off base because the client exec in question was a closeted gay man).
Contrast the fixation of Varoufakis’ dress and appearance with say, that of Timothy Geithner, who had a big following among the female members of the press corps (men who’ve been mystified by his sex appeal have often mentioned this to me) and was also athletic. You’d see an occasional mention made, but it was never the core of his image.
By Bill Black, the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One and an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Originally published at New Economic Perspectives
In its web version, the BBC “News” has you click on a tease titled “Yanis Varoufakis, charismatic ideologue” to access a story dated February 13, 2015 entitled “Profile: Yanis Varoufakis, Greek bailout foe.” Neither the tease nor the title make any sense. Varoufakis is the Greek finance minister. Except, of course, we’re reading this in the BBC, so the description actually reads “Greece’s left-wing Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis.” Funny, the BBC never describes the head of the ECB as “the ultra-right-wing” economist Mario Draghi or Jeroen Dijsselloem, the Dutch Finance Minister and troika hit man as the “ultra-ultra-right-wing” non-economist.
The BBC “profile” is not unremittingly hostile to Varoufakis – it simply refuses to take him seriously. Varoufakis is a highly competent academic economist. His policy views have proven correct, as even the BBC (back-handedly) concedes by calling him Greece’s “Cassandra.” So why does the BBC treat Varoufakis as a sexy leftist and Dijsselboem as the respected spokesperson for the troika even though Dijsselboem is a fanatic ideologue who has caused massive human misery because of the intersection of his inflexible ideology and economic incompetence?
Varoufakis’ views on the self-destructive nature of austerity as a response to the Great Recession are mainstream economic views. He certainly is a leftist, but his policy views arise from different ideological traditions most people would find antagonistic. That makes him a non-ideologue as the term is defined. The troika, by contrast, is led entirely by ideologues. The primary difference is that they are exceptionally bad economists and exceptionally indifferent to the human misery they inflict on the workers of the periphery that they despise and ridicule. The BBC, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal will never write a “profile” of the troika’s leadership that makes any of these points. The BBC profile is another example of what I call “revealed biases.” “Journalists” and media organs routinely reveal and betray their biases – biases that they hotly deny but rarely escape.