Sunday, April 8, 2012

April 9, 2012, Issue #178


1.   BIG BROTHER'S GETTING BIGGER (Civil liberties)
2.   THE U.S. IS NUMBER 2 (China's gaining)
5.   THE NEW JIM CROW  (By Michelle Alexander)


Before our next quote it is useful to recall the three formal definitions of "radical" — (1) Arising from or going to a root or source, such as proposing a radical solution to the problem. (2) Departing markedly from the usual or customary such as radical opinions on education. (3) Favoring or effecting fundamental or revolutionary changes in current practices, conditions, or institutions, i.e., radical political views.

All three are contained in this paragraph from the great Brazilian educator Paulo Freire in his extraordinary book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968):

“The radical, committed to human liberation, does not become the prisoner of a 'circle of certainty' within which reality is also imprisoned. On the contrary, the more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can better transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.”

Freire also notes, from his The Politics of Education: Culture, Power and Liberation (1985):  “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”

Marx, who influenced Paulo Freire, had a word to say about entering reality to transform it — as opposed to abstract speculation —in his Theses on Feuerbach (1845): "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it."

By Jack A. Smith, the Activist Newsletter

Government surveillance and attacks on the privacy of American citizens were bad enough under the Bush regime but they are getting even worse during the Obama years.

In addition to retaining President George W. Bush's many excesses, such as the Patriot Act,  new information about the erosion of civil liberties emerges repeatedly during the era of President Barack Obama from the federal government, the courts and various police forces.

The Supreme Court added judicial insult to personal injury April 2 when it ruled 5-4 that jail officials may strip-search anyone arrested for any offense, even a trifle, as they are being incarcerated, even if they are awaiting a hearing or trial. The four ultraconservative judges were joined by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

According to the ACLU's Steven R. Shapiro, the "decision jeopardizes the privacy rights of millions of people who are arrested each year and brought to jail, often for minor offenses. Being forced to strip naked is a humiliating experience that no one should have to endure absent reasonable suspicion."

A day before the strip-search outrage, the New York Times reported that "law enforcement tracking of cellphones... has become a powerful and widely used surveillance tool for local police officials, with hundreds of departments, large and small, often using it aggressively with little or no court oversight, documents show.... One police training manual describes cellphones as 'the virtual biographer of our daily activities,' providing a hunting ground for learning contacts and travels."

Other abuses of civil liberties are taking place with increasing frequency, but the public outcry has mainly been muted, an enticement for the authorities to go even further.  On March 23, the American Civil Liberties Union reported:

"The Obama administration has extended the time the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) can collect and hold on to records on U.S. citizens and residents from 180 days to five years, even where those people have no suspected ties to terrorism. The new NCTC guidelines, which were approved by Attorney General Eric Holder, will give the intelligence community much broader access to information about Americans retained in various government databases....

"Authorizing the 'temporary' retention of non-terrorism-related citizens and resident information for five years essentially removes the restraint against wholesale collection of our personal information by the government, and puts all Americans at risk of unjustified scrutiny. Such unfettered collection risks reviving the Bush administration's Total Information Awareness program, which Congress killed in 2003."

The news, evidently, was underwhelming. Tom Engelhardt wrote April 4: "For most Americans, it was just life as we've known it since September 11, 2001, since we scared ourselves to death and accepted that just about anything goes, as long as it supposedly involves protecting us from terrorists. Basic information or misinformation, possibly about you, is to be stored away for five years — or until some other attorney general and director of national intelligence thinks it's even more practical and effective to keep you on file for 10 years, 20 years, or until death do us part — and it hardly made a ripple."

A week earlier, new information was uncovered about Washington's clandestine interpretation of the Patriot Act. Most Americans are only aware of the public version of the Bush Administration's perfidious law passed by Congress in a virtual panic soon after 9/11. But the White House and leaders of Congress and the Justice department have a secret understanding of the Patriot Act's wider purposes and uses.

Alex Abdo of the ACLU's National Security Project revealed March 16:

"The government has just officially confirmed what we've long suspected: there are secret Justice Department opinions about the Patriot Act's Section 215, which allows the government to get secret orders from a special surveillance court (the FISA Court) requiring Internet service providers and other companies to turn over 'any tangible things.' Just exactly what the government thinks that phrase means remains to be seen, but there are indications that their take on it is very broad.

"Late last night we received the first batch of documents from the government in response to our Freedom of Information Act request for any files on its legal interpretation of Section 215. The release coincided with the latest in a string of strong warnings from two senators about how the government has secretly interpreted the law. According to them both, the interpretation would shock not just ordinary Americans, but even their fellow lawmakers not on the intelligence committees.

"Although we're still reviewing the documents, we're not holding our breath for any meaningful explanation from the government about its secret take on the Patriot Act."

The Senators involved were not identified, but they were Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), both of whom went public about the secret Patriot Act last May. Wyden declared at the time: “When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.” Udall echoed, “Americans would be alarmed if they knew how this law is being carried out.”

The Obama Administration has not sought to mitigate much less abandon the Patriot Act. Indeed, in the 10 ½ years since the act was passed the law has only become stronger, paving the way for other laws assaulting civil liberties and increasing government surveillance.

Three months ago, for example, Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) containing a sweeping worldwide indefinite detention law allowing the U.S. military to jail foreigners and U.S. citizens without charge or trial.

Just last month, Wired magazine revealed details about how the National Security Agency "is quietly building the largest spy center in the country in Bluffdale, Utah."

Investigative reporter James Bamford  wrote that the NSA established listening posts throughout the U.S. to collect and sift through billions of email messages and phone calls, whether they originate within America or overseas.  The Utah surveillance center will contain enormous databases to store all forms of communication collected by the agency. The NSA previously denied domestic spying was taking place.

In his article Bamford quoted a former NSA official who "held his thumb and forefinger close together" and said: “We are that far from a turnkey totalitarian state.”

The Associated Press has been dogging the New York City police department for several months to uncover its domestic spying activities. On March 23 it reported that "Undercover NYPD officers attended meetings of liberal political organizations [for years] and kept intelligence files on activists who planned protests around the country, according to interviews and documents that show how police have used counterterrorism tactics to monitor even lawful activities." Some of these snooping activities took place far from New York — in New Orleans in one case.

Commenting on the new guidelines allowing Washington "to retain your private information for 5 years," the satirical Ironic Times commented March 26: "If you're guilty of no crimes, never owed money, don't have a name similar to that of someone who has been in trouble or owed money and there are absolutely no computer glitches in the government's ancient computer system during the next five years, then you have nothing to worry about."

The American people, of course, have a lot to worry about since both ruling political parties are united in favor of deeper penetration into the private lives and political interests of U.S. citizens. The only recourse for the people is much intensified activism on behalf of civil liberties.

By Dean Baker

WASHINGTON — Politicians in the United States must ritualistically assert that the U.S. is and always will be the world's leading economic, military and political power. This chant may help win elections in a country where respectable people deny global warming and evolution, but it has nothing to do with the real world.

Those familiar with the figures know that China is rapidly gaining on the U.S. as the world's leading economic power. According to data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), China's economy is currently about 80% of the size of the U.S. economy. It is projected to pass the U.S. by 2016.

However, there is a considerable degree of uncertainty about these numbers. It is difficult to accurately compare the output of countries with very different economies. By many measures China is already well ahead of the U.S.

It passed the U.S. as the world's biggest car market in 2009. In most categories of industrial production it is far ahead of the United States and it is a far bigger exporter of goods and services. The number of people graduating college each year with degrees in science and engineering far exceeds the number in the U.S., and China has nearly twice as many cell phone and Internet users as the U.S.

China still has close to half of its population living in the countryside. The living standards of the 650 million people living in rural areas are much lower than in urban areas and also much more difficult to measure. The main reason that living standards are difficult to gauge is that prices are much lower in rural areas.

A new study that carefully examined China's prices and consumption patterns concluded that it is far wealthier than the widely used data indicate. According to this study, China's economy may already be as much as 20% larger than the U.S. economy.

Furthermore, even if its growth rate slows to the 7.0% annual rate that many now expect, China's economy may be close to twice the size of the U.S. economy in the span of a decade.

This raises all sorts of interesting questions about the future of the U.S. and China in international relations. Regardless of whether China's economy is bigger than the U.S. economy, it clearly does not exercise anywhere near as much influence internationally. China's leaders have been content to let the U.S. continue to play the leading role in international bodies and in dealing with international conflicts, intervening only where it felt important interests were threatened.

This pattern should not be surprising since the U.S. was slow to assert itself internationally, even though by every measure it was the world's preeminent power following World War I. The result was that for the next quarter century, the United Kingdom ended up imagining itself to be far more important to the world than it actually was. Perhaps, the U.S. is doomed to play a similar role.

The growing power and influence of China will have both positive and negative aspects. On the negative side, democracy in the U.S., even with the corrupting impact of money on politics and the abuses of freedom carried out in the name of the "war on terror," still presents a better political model than one-party rule in China.

Fortunately, China has shown no interest in trying to impose its political system elsewhere. For this reason, the ascendancy of China may not pose a threat to the spread of democracy elsewhere. (Of course, in spite of its ideals, the United States has hardly been a consistent supporter of democracy in other countries.)

The growing power of China has already increased the options available to many countries in the developing world. Since China can provide far greater amounts of capital than the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other U.S.-dominated institutions, it provides developing countries with an important alternative. They need not adopt policies to appease these institutions to weather economic storms.

One area in which China's policy can have an enormous impact is intellectual property. The rules on patents and copyrights that the U.S. has sought to impose on the rest of the world are incredibly wasteful. This is most apparent in prescription drugs, where patent monopolies allow companies to charge hundreds or even thousands of dollars for drugs that would sell for $5-$10 in a free market.

Not only do patents make cheap drugs incredibly expensive, they also lead to bad medicine, as huge patent rents encourage drug companies to lie and cheat to sell more of their drugs. It's rare that a month passes when we do not hear of a scandal where a drug company concealed information about the safety or effectiveness of its drugs.

Of course, the problems with the U.S. system of intellectual property go well beyond drug patents. Patents in high tech are primarily about harassing competitors. The difficulty of enforcing copyrights in the Internet Age has led to absurdities like the Stop Online Piracy Act.

China does not itself enforce intellectual property with the same vigor as the U.S.. Rather than following the U.S. blindly and imposing the same sort of archaic and inefficient system domestically, China could do the world an enormous service if it would promote alternative mechanisms for supporting research and creative work.

It's clear that the rise of China will lead to many changes around the world. Political leaders in the U.S. will no doubt catch up with the reality of the new U.S. position in the world — probably about the time that they accept global warming and evolution.

— Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, based in Washington, DC. This article was published April 6 by Inter Press Service, under an agreement with Al Jazeera.


[The following article is by Robert Scheer, one of the very best American liberal journalists and a communication professor at the University of Southern California. The article was published on Truthdig, a website Scheer edits, under the headline "Obama By Default." We agree with some of his points, and disagree with others. We will comment on just four of our differences in the article following this one, titled  "Obama By Default — The Left View." We've assigned numbers to the four paragraphs in question.)

By Robert Scheer

The Republicans are a sick joke, and their narrow ideological stupidity has left rational voters no choice in the coming presidential election but Barack Obama. With Ron Paul out of it and warmongering hedge fund hustler Mitt Romney the likely Republican nominee, the GOP has defined itself indelibly as the party of moneyed greed and unfettered imperialism.

It is with chilling certainty that one can predict that a single Romney appointee to the Supreme Court would seal the coup of the 1 percent that already is well on its way toward purchasing the nation’s political soul. Romney is the quintessential Citizens United super PAC candidate, a man who has turned avarice into virtue and comes to us now as a once-moderate politician transformed into the ultimate prophet of imperial hubris, blaming everyone from the Chinese to laid-off American workers for our problems. Everyone, that is, except the Wall Street-dominated GOP, which midwifed the Great Recession under George W. Bush and now seeks to blame Obama for the enormous deficit spawned by the party’s wanton behavior.

Without a militarily sophisticated enemy anywhere on the planet, the United States, thanks to the Bush-bloated budget, now spends almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. Yet the GOP honchos dare claim they are for small government even as their chosen candidate chomps at the bit to go to war with Iran.

[1] They obviously learned nothing from the disasters of Bush the Second, who hijacked the tragedy of 9/11 to launch the most wasteful orgy of military spending in U.S. history in his failed effort to take out an al-Qaida enemy that had no significant military arsenal. That enemy was later eliminated by Obama, whom the Republicans still obstinately refuse to credit for accomplishing what Bush failed to. Can you imagine the explosion of preening self-congratulation that would have resulted if a GOP president had done the deed?

The red-ink deficits that had been stanched under Bill Clinton came to gush uncontrollably because of the swollen military budgets, compounded by the severe costs of the recession that occurred on Bush’s watch.

[2] But the Republicans refuse to take ownership of the collapse resulting from their longstanding advocacy of radical financial deregulation that led to the derivatives bubble, hundreds of trillions of dollars of toxic junk, now a permanent, nightmarish feature of the world’s economy. Romney, who made his fortune through such financial finagling, even has the effrontery to call for more of the same and blame Obama’s tepid efforts at establishing some sane speed limits for the financial highway as a cause of our ongoing crisis.

So insanely gullible are Republican voters that they buy Mitt’s line that bailing out the auto industry to save the heart of America’s legendary industrial base was an example of big-government waste. Yet to them the almost unimaginable sum spent on the Wall Street bailout represents prudent small-government fiscal responsibility.

The incumbent president has his failings, but compared to Mitt Romney he is a paradigm of considered and compassionate thought. As Obama put it in a speech before a journalism group this week, we are saddled with a national debt “that has grown over the last decade, primarily as a result of two wars, two massive tax cuts, and an unprecedented financial crisis, [and] that will have to be paid down.” But instead of dealing with the causes of that debt, Romney has called for an increase in military spending, continued tax breaks for the rich and reversal of the very limited restraints on corporate greed that Obama managed to get through Congress. He has endorsed the House-passed Paul Ryan budget, which, as Obama noted, even Newt Gingrich once derided as “radical” and an effort at “right-wing social engineering.”

[3] Such radicalism leaves Obama as the “moderate” choice in the coming election, defending centrist programs that Republicans in the past helped originate. Indeed, the big attack on Obama will involve what the Republicans call Obamacare—which was modeled in every important respect on Romneycare, enacted when the GOP candidate was governor of Massachusetts.

The overarching lesson of this primary season is that Romney and the Republicans he seeks to win over are incapable of embracing the very moderation that, particularly in the golden era of Dwight Eisenhower, defined the party. Instead, they are now a reckless force bent on destroying the essential social contract that has been the basis of America’s economic and social progress.

[4.] As Obama said Tuesday in addressing the editors and reporters: “... We’re going to have to answer a central question as a nation. ... Can we succeed as a country where a shrinking number of people do exceedingly well, while a growing number struggle to get by? ... This is not just another run-of-the-mill political debate. ... It’s the defining issue of our time.”

By the Activist Newsletter

Here are our comments responding to the four paragraphs noted in that article above titled "Obama By Default — The Liberal View." We  agree with a number of his points," but...

[1] It is said Obama "eliminated" al-Qaeda, but the "Republicans still obstinately refuse" to give him the credit. What credit does he deserve? Osama bin-Laden, not al-Qaeda, has been eliminated. At issue isn't the death of bin-Laden but why is the U.S. fighting in Afghanistan and planning to stay many years after the "official" withdrawal date? Why did Washington bring about violent regime change in Libya, and seems anxious to do the same in Syria? Why is the Obama government continuing to send killer drones into Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other countries? Why is the U.S. threatening war with Iran after the election? Why is Washington coming close to a new cold war with China? Why is Pentagon and national security spending amounting to $1 trillion in the next fiscal year? When Obama puts an end to all this is when he will deserve credit, and his Nobel Peace Prize as well.

[2] Tut-tut about those Republicans "refusing to take ownership" for the economic collapse and its origins. But the implication that the Democrats were innocent bystanders in this affair is incorrect. The Clinton Administration played a major role in this process — and facilitating the demise of the Glass-Steagall Act was only part of it. President Obama than made some of these same people his treasury and economic officials. Both parties must take "ownership" of the Great Recession, going back through decades of deregulation and obsessive allegiance to the interests of big business.

There's no question Bush's millionaire tax cuts and war spending created much of today's large deficit. Obama could have terminated the tax cuts when he took office with a Democratic House and Senate, but decided to let them run their course for another two years and then made a deal that kept them going longer. As far as war spending is concerned, Obama, not Bush, has been president these last three years and three months.

[3] Obama may be "moderate" in relation to the far right Republicans but he must also be judged in relation to the needs of the working class, middle class and poor — the great majority of the American people — not simply to fanatical  reactionaries. His politics are those of the center right, which renders him incapable of duplicating the policies of a Roosevelt or a Johnson — and they were Democratic centrists, not leftists. To suggest that Obama is "defending centrist programs that Republicans in the past helped originate," is misleading. Those programs came from the GOP center right (the now-extinct "Moderate" Republicans). There's a big difference.

[4] If growing inequality is "the defining issue of our time," will President Obama and his party take concrete measures to reverse this dreadful situation? Working class and lower middle class wages have been stagnant and declining since the mid-70s, as have government social service programs, and the so-called American Dream. The rich have been getting wildly richer for decades due to our bi-partisan government's de facto collusion with great wealth, big business and Wall St. What have Democratic Presidents Carter, Clinton and Obama ever done to reverse this trend?

Obama has adopted moderate populist campaign rhetoric at a time when far right Republicans seem to be committing political hari-kari. This combination should get him reelected despite the economic downturn. But the Democratic Party's rightward shift over the last four-and-a-half  decades, combined with Obama's first-term performance, are hardly the ingredients required to adequately address the daily problems of American families, much less the "defining issue of our time."

Obviously, Obama is a less dangerous choice than a ruinous Romney or stupefying Santorum. It's understandable that virtually all our many liberal readers will vote for him, given the narrow choices available in a country without a mass left party. But it won't do to ignore Obama's or the Democratic Party's vast shortcomings in the process. To do so only helps perpetuate America's ever-further drift to the right.

Working people in the United States deserve a much better democracy than our present system will allow, a system based on inequality, where elections are bought and sold by the wealthy, and where the two ruling parties — despite certain differences between them — owe their primary allegiance to what is today called the 1%.

One of the two parties ordained by the 1% will win in November, but for those who seek real social and economic change there are other smaller parties running as well. None, of course, will win. We take leave, in this regard, with a quote from union leader and five time socialist candidate for president Eugene V. Debs: "It's a whole lot better to vote for what you want and not get it than it is to vote for what you don't want and get it."


[The following article, originally titled "How the War on Drugs Gave Birth to a Permanent American Undercaste," is written by Michelle Alexander, the author of the bestselling book "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness." Currently, she holds a joint appointment with the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University. The article was published March 25 by]

By Michelle Alexander

Ever since Barack Obama lifted his right hand and took his oath of office, pledging to serve the United States as its 44th president, ordinary people and their leaders around the globe have been celebrating our nation’s “triumph over race.” Obama’s election has been touted as the final nail in the coffin of Jim Crow, the bookend placed on the history of racial caste in America.

Obama’s mere presence in the Oval Office is offered as proof that “the land of the free” has finally made good on its promise of equality.  There’s an implicit yet undeniable message embedded in his appearance on the world stage: this is what freedom looks like; this is what democracy can do for you.  If you are poor, marginalized, or relegated to an inferior caste, there is hope for you.  Trust us.  Trust our rules, laws, customs, and wars.  You, too, can get to the promised land.

Perhaps greater lies have been told in the past century, but they can be counted on one hand.  Racial caste is alive and well in America.

Most people don’t like it when I say this.  It makes them angry.  In the “era of colorblindness” there’s a nearly fanatical desire to cling to the myth that we as a nation have “moved beyond” race.  Here are a few facts that run counter to that triumphant racial narrative:

• There are more African American adults under correctional control today -- in prison or jail, on probation or parole -- than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.

• As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.

• A black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery.  The recent disintegration of the African American family is due in large part to the mass imprisonment of black fathers.

• If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas have been labeled felons for life.  (In the Chicago area, the figure is nearly 80%.) These men are part of a growing undercaste -- not class, caste -- permanently relegated, by law, to a second-class status.  They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits, much as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era.

There is, of course, a colorblind explanation for all this: crime rates.  Our prison population has exploded from about 300,000 to more than 2 million in a few short decades, it is said, because of rampant crime.  We’re told that the reason so many black and brown men find themselves behind bars and ushered into a permanent, second-class status is because they happen to be the bad guys.  

The uncomfortable truth, however, is that crime rates do not explain the sudden and dramatic mass incarceration of African Americans during the past 30 years.  Crime rates have fluctuated over the last few decades -- they are currently at historical lows -- but imprisonment rates have consistently soared.  Quintupled, in fact.  The main driver has been the War on Drugs. Drug offenses alone accounted for about two-thirds of the increase in the federal inmate population, and more than half of the increase in the state prison population between 1985 and 2000, the period of our prison system’s most dramatic expansion.

The drug war has been brutal -- complete with SWAT teams, tanks, bazookas, grenade launchers, and sweeps of entire neighborhoods -- but those who live in white communities have little clue to the devastation wrought.  This war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, even though studies consistently show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates.  In fact, some studies indicate that white youth are significantly more likely to engage in illegal drug dealing than black youth.  Any notion that drug use among African Americans is more severe or dangerous is belied by the data.  White youth, for example, have about three times the number of drug-related visits to the emergency room as their African American counterparts.

That is not what you would guess, though, when entering our nation’s prisons and jails, overflowing as they are with black and brown drug offenders.  In some states, African Americans comprise 80%-90% of all drug offenders sent to prison.

This is the point at which I am typically interrupted and reminded that black men have higher rates of violent crime.  That’s why the drug war is waged in poor communities of color and not middle-class suburbs.  Drug warriors are trying to get rid of those drug kingpins and violent offenders who make ghetto communities a living hell.  It has nothing to do with race; it’s all about violent crime.

Again, not so. President Ronald Reagan officially declared the current drug war in 1982, when drug crime was declining, not rising. President Richard Nixon was the first to coin the term “a war on drugs,” but it was President Reagan who turned the rhetorical war into a literal one. From the outset, the war had relatively little to do with drug crime and much to do with racial politics. The drug war was part of a grand and highly successful Republican Party strategy of using racially coded political appeals on issues of crime and welfare to attract poor and working class white voters who were resentful of, and threatened by, desegregation, busing, and affirmative action. In the words of H.R. Haldeman, President Richard Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff: “[T]he whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”

A few years after the drug war was announced, crack cocaine hit the streets of inner-city communities.  The Reagan administration seized on this development with glee, hiring staff who were to be responsible for publicizing inner-city crack babies, crack mothers, crack whores, and drug-related violence.  The goal was to make inner-city crack abuse and violence a media sensation, bolstering public support for the drug war which, it was hoped, would lead Congress to devote millions of dollars in additional funding to it.

The plan worked like a charm.  For more than a decade, black drug dealers and users would be regulars in newspaper stories and would saturate the evening TV news.  Congress and state legislatures nationwide would devote billions of dollars to the drug war and pass harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes -- sentences longer than murderers receive in many countries.

Democrats began competing with Republicans to prove that they could be even tougher on the dark-skinned pariahs.  In President Bill Clinton’s boastful words, “I can be nicked a lot, but no one can say I’m soft on crime.”  The facts bear him out.  Clinton’s “tough on crime” policies resulted in the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history.  But Clinton was not satisfied with exploding prison populations.  He and the “New Democrats” championed legislation banning drug felons from public housing (no matter how minor the offense) and denying them basic public benefits, including food stamps, for life.  Discrimination in virtually every aspect of political, economic, and social life is now perfectly legal, if you’ve been labeled a felon. 

But what about all those violent criminals and drug kingpins? Isn’t the drug war waged in ghetto communities because that’s where the violent offenders can be found?  The answer is yes... in made-for-TV movies.  In real life, the answer is no.

The drug war has never been focused on rooting out drug kingpins or violent offenders.  Federal funding flows to those agencies that increase dramatically the volume of drug arrests, not the agencies most successful in bringing down the bosses.  What gets rewarded in this war is sheer numbers of drug arrests.  To make matters worse, federal drug forfeiture laws allow state and local law enforcement agencies to keep for their own use 80% of the cash, cars, and homes seized from drug suspects, thus granting law enforcement a direct monetary interest in the profitability of the drug market.

The results have been predictable: people of color rounded up en masse for relatively minor, non-violent drug offenses.  In 2005, four out of five drug arrests were for possession, only one out of five for sales.  Most people in state prison have no history of violence or even of significant selling activity.  In fact, during the 1990s -- the period of the most dramatic expansion of the drug war -- nearly 80% of the increase in drug arrests was for marijuana possession, a drug generally considered less harmful than alcohol or tobacco and at least as prevalent in middle-class white communities as in the inner city.

In this way, a new racial undercaste has been created in an astonishingly short period of time -- a new Jim Crow system.  Millions of people of color are now saddled with criminal records and legally denied the very rights that their parents and grandparents fought for and, in some cases, died for.

Affirmative action, though, has put a happy face on this racial reality.  Seeing black people graduate from Harvard and Yale and become CEOs or corporate lawyers -- not to mention president of the United States -- causes us all to marvel at what a long way we’ve come. 

Recent data shows, though, that much of black progress is a myth. In many respects, African Americans are doing no better than they were when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and uprisings swept inner cities across America. The black child poverty rate is actually higher now than it was then. Unemployment rates in black communities rival those in Third World countries. And that’s with affirmative action!

When we pull back the curtain and take a look at what our “colorblind” society creates without affirmative action, we see a familiar social, political, and economic structure: the structure of racial caste.  The entrance into this new caste system can be found at the prison gate.

This is not Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream.  This is not the promised land.  The cyclical rebirth of caste in America is a recurring racial nightmare.

By Glenn Greenwald

When the U.S. wants to fund, train, arm or otherwise align itself with a Terrorist group or state sponsor of Terror — as it often does — it at least usually has the tact to first remove them from its formal terrorist list (as the U.S. did when it wanted to support Saddam in 1982 and work with Libya in 2006), or it just keeps them off the list altogether despite what former Council on Foreign Relations writer Lionel Beehner described as “mounds of evidence that [they] at one time or another abetted terrorists” (as it has done with close U.S. allies in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, along with the El Salvadoran death squads and Nicaraguan contras armed and funded in the 1980s by the Reagan administration). But according to a new, multi-sourced report from The New Yorker‘s Seymour Hersh, the U.S. did not even bother going through those motions when, during the Bush years, it trained the Iranian dissident group Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) at a secretive Department of Energy site in Nevada:

"It was here that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) conducted training, beginning in 2005, for members of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, a dissident Iranian opposition group known in the West as the MEK . . . The MEK’s ties with Western intelligence deepened after the fall of the Iraqi regime in 2003, and JSOC began operating inside Iran in an effort to substantiate the Bush Administration’s fears that Iran was building the bomb at one or more secret underground locations. Funds were covertly passed to a number of dissident organizations, for intelligence collection and, ultimately, for anti-regime terrorist activities. Directly, or indirectly, the MEK ended up with resources like arms and intelligence. Some American-supported covert operations continue in Iran today, according to past and present intelligence officials and military consultants.

"Despite the growing ties, and a much-intensified lobbying effort organized by its advocates, MEK has remained on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations — which meant that secrecy was essential in the Nevada training. ”We did train them here, and washed them through the Energy Department because the D.O.E. owns all this land in southern Nevada,” a former senior American intelligence official told me. “We were deploying them over long distances in the desert and mountains, and building their capacity in communications — coƶrdinating commo is a big deal."

A JSOC spokesman told Hersh that ”U.S. Special Operations Forces were neither aware of nor involved in the training of MEK members,” but a MEK lawyer refused to confirm or deny the report, arguing that any such training would undercut the U.S. Government’s claims that MEK belongs on the Terrorist list.

In February, NBC News‘ Richard Engel and Robert Windrem reported, based on two anonymous “senior U.S. officials,” that MEK was the group perpetrating a series of “sophisticated” assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists (using bombs and rifles). NBC also reported that Israel — specifically its Mossad intelligence service — is “ financing, training and arming” MEK: in other words, that Israel is a state sponsor of this designated Terrorist group. Various reports have also indicated that the MEK, with Israeli support, was responsible for a string of explosions on Iranian soil. Hersh obtained independent confirmation of all these claims:

"The former senior intelligence official I spoke with seconded the NBC report that the Israelis were working with the MEK, adding that the operations benefited from American intelligence. He said that the targets were not 'Einsteins'; 'The goal is to affect Iranian psychology and morale,' he said, and to 'demoralize the whole system — nuclear delivery vehicles, nuclear enrichment facilities, power plants.' Attacks have also been carried out on pipelines. He added that the operations are 'primarily being done by MEK through liaison with the Israelis, but the United States is now providing the intelligence.' An adviser to the special-operations community told me that the links between the United States and MEK activities inside Iran had been long-standing. 'Everything being done inside Iran now is being done with surrogates,' he said."

So let’s review what we have here. If this report is true, it means the U.S. Government actively trained a group that the U.S. Government itself legally categorizes as a “foreign terrorist organization,” a clear felony under U.S. law:

"Whoever knowingly provides material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both, and, if the death of any person results, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.

That alone compels serious DOJ and Congressional investigations into these claims. Worse, this reportedly happened at the very same time that the U.S. aggressively prosecuted and imprisoned numerous Muslims for providing material support for groups on that list even though many of those prosecuted provided support that was far, far less than what the U.S. Government itself was providing to MEK. Meanwhile, right at this moment, America’s closest ally — Israel — is clearly a state sponsor of this designated Terrorist organization, providing training, funding and arms to it, and the U.S. may very well be as well (independent of all else, given that Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. aid, the U.S., at the very least, is financing a state sponsor of Terror).

At the same time, a glittering bipartisan cast of former Washington officials is receiving large payments from this designated Terrorist group, meeting with its leaders, and then advocating on its behalf — again, providing far more material support than many powerless, marginalized Muslims who have been and continue to be prosecuted under this law. All of this appears to be clearly criminal regardless of whether MEK belongs on the list — once a group is placed by the State Department on the list, whether justifiably or not, it is a felony to provide material support to it — but MEK appears to be doing exactly that which is typically considered Terrorism: assassinating civilian scientists (and severely wounding their wives) with bombs and causing other civilian-killing explosions on Iranian soil in order to induce fear.

In his October 2008 Op-Ed in the L.A. Times CFR’s Lionel Beehner derides the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism as ”one of the biggest farces of U.S. foreign policy.” Indeed it is, but that’s equally true of the pervasive, righteous use of the term “terrorist” or “terrorism supporter” in our political and media discourse generally. Anyone in government, media and think tank circles who routinely and angrily accuse others of being “terrorists” or “supporters of terrorism” without recognizing that the U.S. and its closest allies are plainly and routinely guilty of that is just a rank propagandist. That the U.S., in the midst of its vaunted "War on Terror," directly trained a group on its own terrorist list — while its closest ally and Washington’s venerated former officials continue to provide ample support to that group even as it escalates its violent acts – is about as conclusive a demonstration of that fact as one could have conjured.

— From Greenwald's column in Salon, April 6.

By Vineeta Anand

While millions of 99% Americans continue to be jobless and the nation’s unemployment rate hovers around 8.3%, chief executive officers of the nation’s largest companies received a 2% pay raise last year. While that may not seem like much of an increase, it came on top of a 27% hike in 2010, according to a report in USA Today.

The median, or mid-point, pay of top executives was $9.6 million in 2011, the newspaper noted, based on 138 companies in the Standard & Poor’s index of 500 largest companies whose pay data has been disclosed.

While CEO pay rose, average weekly earnings of workers, adjusted for inflation, fell 1.2% from the October 2010 peak through February 2012, the latest data available. The article was based on data from GMI Ratings of companies that had the same CEO in 2010 and 2011.

Philippe Dauman, CEO of Viacom, was the highest-paid top executive for the second consecutive year, collecting $431.1 million in 2011. Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, who would otherwise have had the dubious distinction of being the highest-paid chief executive, was not included in the survey because he was promoted only in August 2011. Cook received $378 million in 2011, a 540% increase from what he collected in 2010.

While the 99% continue to struggle, a new report by economist Emmanuel Saez shows that the richest Americans also rebounded faster from the effects of the financial crisis. In 2010, the first year of the economy’s recovery from the Great Recession, almost all of the growth in income went to the top 1%. According to Saez's data, the incomes of the top 1% of Americans grew 11.6% in 2010, while the income of the bottom 99% grew only by 0.2%.

Not only did continuing CEOs receive generous compensation, but departing CEOs also collected large paychecks while heading out. William Weldon, who announced on Feb. 21 that he would be retiring as the head of Johnson & Johnson in April, headed out with $144 million in retirement pay.

— From the AFL-CIO website, 3-29

By Gareth Porter

TEL AVIV (Inter Press Service March 31) — The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been telling Israelis that Israel can attack Iran with minimal civilian Israeli casualties as a result of retaliation, and that reassuring message appears to have headed off any widespread Israeli fear of war with Iran and other adversaries.

But the message that Iran is too weak to threaten an effective counter-attack is contradicted by one of Israel's leading experts on Iranian missiles and the head of its missile defense program for nearly a decade, who says Iranian missiles are capable of doing significant damage to Israeli targets.

The Israeli population has shown little serious anxiety about the possibility of war with Iran, in large part because they have not been told that it involves a risk of Iranian missiles destroying Israeli neighborhoods and key economic and administrative targets.

"People are not losing sleep over this," Yossi Alpher, a consultant and writer on strategic issues and former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, told Inter Press Service (IPS) in an interview. "This is not a preoccupation of the public the way the suicide bombers were a decade ago."

Alpher says one reason for the widespread lack of urgency about a possible war with Iran is that the scenarios involving such a war are "so nebulous in the eyes of the public that it's difficult for them to focus on it".

Aluf Benn, the editor in chief of Ha'aretz, told IPS in an interview, "There is no war mentality," although he added, "that could change overnight." One reason for the relative public calm about the issue, he suggested, is the official view that Iran's ability to retaliate is "very limited."

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in Bloomberg on March 20, "Some Israel officials believe Iran's leaders might choose to play down the insult of a raid and launch a handful of rockets at Tel Aviv as an angry gesture rather than declare all-out war."

But Uzi Rubin, who was in charge of Israel's missile defense from 1991 to 1999 and presided over the development of the Arrow anti-missile system, has a much more sombre view of Iran's capabilities.

The "bad news" for Israel, Rubin told IPS in an interview, is that the primary factor affecting Iran's capability to retaliate is the rapidly declining cost of increased precision in ballistic missiles. Within a very short time, Iran has already improved the accuracy of its missiles from a few kilometers from the target to just a few meters, according to Rubin.

That improvement would give Iran the ability to hit key Israeli economic infrastructure and administrative targets, he said. "I'm asking my military friends how they feel about waging war without electricity," said Rubin.

— The remaining two-thirds of this article is at


[Scientists have evidently unraveled the mystery of bee colony collapse. Here are reports about separate research teams that have arrived at similar conclusions, from Science Daily and Chemical & Engineering News]

Science Daily, April 5 — The likely culprit in sharp worldwide declines in honeybee colonies since 2006 is imidacloprid, one of the most widely used pesticides, according to a new study from Harvard School of Public Health.

The authors, led by Alex Lu, associate professor of environmental exposure biology in the Department of Environmental Health, write that the new research provides "convincing evidence" of the link between imidacloprid and the phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), in which adult bees abandon their hives. The study will appear in the June issue of the Bulletin of Insectology.

"The significance of bees to agriculture cannot be underestimated," says Lu. "And it apparently doesn't take much of the pesticide to affect the bees. Our experiment included pesticide amounts below what is normally present in the environment."

Pinpointing the cause of the problem is crucial because bees — beyond producing honey — are prime pollinators of roughly one-third of the crop species in the U.S., including fruits, vegetables, nuts, and livestock feed such as alfalfa and clover. Massive loss of honeybees could result in billions of dollars in agricultural losses, experts estimate.

Lu and his co-authors hypothesized that the uptick in CCD resulted from the presence of imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid introduced in the early 1990s. Bees can be exposed in two ways: through nectar from plants or through high-fructose corn syrup beekeepers use to feed their bees. (Since most U.S.-grown corn has been treated with imidacloprid, it's also found in corn syrup.)

Chemical & Engineering News, March 30 — Exposure to two common pesticides can interfere with the growth and viability of both honeybee and bumblebee hives, researchers have found. The exposure, they say, may therefore contribute to the devastating loss of bee populations known as colony collapse disorder. Because of bees’ role as crop pollinators, losses could cause a crisis for agriculture.

Since the CCD phenomenon was recognized in the mid-2000s, scientists have investigated possible causes, including fungal infections, viruses, and pesticides. But no study has been definitive. However, two new reports, one from entomologist Mickaƫl Henry at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research in Avignon and coworkers, and the other from biological sciences professor Dave Goulson at the University of Stirling, in Scotland, and colleagues, reinforce the pesticide theory.

The reports show that when exposed to pesticides known as neonicotinoids, honeybees have problems returning home after foraging, whereas bumblebee colonies grow poorly and produce fewer queens.

The Henry group used radio-frequency ID tags on individual bees to confirm known effects of pesticides on their foraging abilities. They tagged more than 600 free-range bees and then exposed some of them to sublethal doses of the neonicotinoid pesticide thiamethoxam. The exposed bees were twice as likely to die while foraging, implying that the bees’ homing abilities were impaired.

Even more damning for pesticides, says University of Maryland entomologist Dennis vanEngelsdorp, is the Goulson research, in which colonies of bumblebees were exposed to sublethal doses of the neonicotinoid imidacloprid. Six weeks after exposure, colonies were 8% to 12% smaller, and the number of queens produced dropped 85% compared with control hives.

The Goulson work “is likely a game changer,” vanEngelsdorp says. “This reemphasizes a need to develop a different standard by which we evaluate the safety of this class of pesticides,” he says.

[Environmental Health News reports that  "Approximately 60% of seeds used in agriculture around the world are now coated with neonicotinoids before planting. These nicotine-based pesticides are widely used because they target insects rather than mammals and because they are remarkably powerful. They work by blocking the transmission of nerve impulses from one nerve across the synapse to the next nerve."]

By John Schmidt

It is coming up on three years since the last increase in the federal minimum wage — to $7.25 per hour — in July 2009. By all of the most commonly used benchmarks — inflation, average wages, and productivity — the minimum wage is now far below its historical level. 

By all of these benchmarks, the value of the minimum wage peaked in 1968. If the minimum wage in that year had been indexed to the official Consumer Price Index, the minimum wage in 2012 (using the Congressional Budget Office’s estimates for inflation in 2012) would be at $10.52. Even if we applied the current methodology) for calculating inflation — which generally shows a lower rate of inflation than the older measure — to the whole period since 1968, the 2012 value of the minimum wage would be $9.22.

Using wages as a benchmark, in 1968 the federal minimum stood at 53% of the average production worker earnings. During much of the 1960s, the minimum wage was close to 50% of the same wage benchmark. If the minimum wage were at 50% of the production worker wage in 2012, the federal minimum would be $10.01 per hour.

A final benchmark for the minimum wage is productivity growth. Between the end of World War II and 1968, the minimum wage tracked average productivity growth fairly closely. Since 1968, however, productivity growth has far outpaced the minimum wage. If the minimum wage had continued to move with average productivity after 1968, it would have reached $21.72 per hour in 2012 — a rate well above the average production worker wage. If minimum-wage workers received only half of the productivity gains over the period, the federal minimum would be $15.34. Even if the minimum wage only grew at one-fourth the rate of productivity, in 2012 it would be set at $12.25.

— This article is from the Center for Economic Policy and Research. For chart,


[Money doesn't only buy your dinner, a movie admission, mortgage, airline seat, legislation and elections. It buys just about everything these days, as this excerpt from the April 2012 Atlantic Magazine suggests.]

By Michael J. Sandel

There are some things money can’t buy—but these days, not many. Almost everything is up for sale. For example:

• A prison-cell upgrade: $90 a night. In Santa Ana, California, and some other cities, nonviolent offenders can pay for a clean, quiet jail cell, without any non-paying prisoners to disturb them.

• Access to the carpool lane while driving solo: $8. Minneapolis, San Diego, Houston, Seattle, and other cities have sought to ease traffic congestion by letting solo drivers pay to drive in carpool lanes, at rates that vary according to traffic.

• The services of an Indian surrogate mother: $8,000. Western couples seeking surrogates increasingly outsource the job to India, and the price is less than one-third the going rate in the United States.

• The right to shoot an endangered black rhino: $250,000. South Africa has begun letting some ranchers sell hunters the right to kill a limited number of rhinos, to give the ranchers an incentive to raise and protect the endangered species.

• Your doctor’s cellphone number: $1,500 and up per year. A growing number of “concierge” doctors offer cellphone access and same-day appointments for patients willing to pay annual fees ranging from $1,500 to $25,000.

• The right to emit a metric ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere: $10.50. The European Union runs a carbon-dioxide-emissions market that enables companies to buy and sell the right to pollute.

• The right to immigrate to the United States: $500,000. Foreigners who invest $500,000 and create at least 10 full-time jobs in an area of high unemployment are eligible for a green card that entitles them to permanent residency.

Not everyone can afford to buy these things. But today there are lots of new ways to make money. If you need to earn some extra cash, here are some novel possibilities:

• Sell space on your forehead to display commercial advertising: $10,000. A single mother in Utah who needed money for her son’s education was paid $10,000 by an online casino to install a permanent tattoo of the casino’s Web address on her forehead. Temporary tattoo ads earn less.

• Serve as a human guinea pig in a drug-safety trial for a pharmaceutical company: $7,500. The pay can be higher or lower, depending on the invasiveness of the procedure used to test the drug’s effect and the discomfort involved.

• Fight in Somalia or Afghanistan for a private military contractor: up to $1,000 a day. The pay varies according to qualifications, experience, and nationality.

• Stand in line overnight on Capitol Hill to hold a place for a lobbyist who wants to attend a congressional hearing: $15–$20 an hour. Lobbyists pay line-standing companies, who hire homeless people and others to queue up.

• If you are a second-grader in an underachieving Dallas school, read a book: $2. To encourage reading, schools pay kids for each book they read.

— The rest of Michael J. Sandel's article is worth reading as he analyzes why this social phenomenon has come about. The full article is at:


[Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard Law School professor and Democratic Party candidate in the Massachusetts election to the U.S. Senate in November, is a liberal par excellence. Readers will remember her when she served in the Obama Administration as Assistant to the President and Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which she organized. Liberals urged President Obama to name Warren director of the new bureau, but she was passed over to appease right wing opposition. There is  another side to Warren's liberalism, as this excerpt from an April 3 article in Dissident Voice suggests.]

By John V. Walsh

The battle for Senate has been joined in Massachusetts between Scott Brown, a hawk, and Elizabeth Warren — another hawk. Warren began as the darling of the progressives here, but as her stance on Iran, the ongoing wars and the plight of the Palestinians becomes known, the bloom is off the rose.

On the first day of her campaign, Warren was criticized far and wide, even among those who sympathized with her, for failing to answer questions from the press with anything but the most equivocal bromides. There was one exception, however. She was asked, in what sounded like a planted question, how she felt about the Palestinian effort to put a petition for statehood before the UN General Assembly. Warren’s answer was crisp and certain. She opposed it.

Warren is no anti-interventionist. Here are some examples from the deep recesses of her web site where an issues section can be found:

On Iran:  "Iran is a significant threat to the United States and our allies.  Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, it is an active state sponsor of terrorism, and its leaders have consistently challenged Israel’s right to exist. Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is unacceptable because a nuclear Iran would be a threat to the United States, our allies, the region, and the world. The United States must take the necessary steps to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. I support strong sanctions against Iran and believe that the United States must also continue to take a leadership role in pushing other countries to implement strong sanctions as well. Iran must not have an escape hatch."

What will be the human costs of these sanctions? Warren does not ask; but she could check with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to see if they are “worth it.” [Albright famously stated that the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children from U.S. sanctions was worth it.]

On Afghanistan:  "Our brave service members have done all that we could have asked them for and more in Afghanistan, but it is time for them to come home. We need to get out as quickly as possible, consistent with the safety of our troops and with a transition to Afghan control. I believe that this can be done faster than the current timeline.

"What our government has asked our brave service members to do is to terrorize the population with night raids and bombing runs and to prop up a corrupt and unpopular puppet government. Warren would have us leave Afghanistan, but not until we are assured that the puppet government is secured."

On Terrorism:  "These threats are not going away.  We must remain vigilant. Al Qaeda has operations or affiliates in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and elsewhere around the world. We need to continue our aggressive efforts against Al Qaeda, and we need to continue to support the efforts of our intelligence, law enforcement, homeland security, and military professionals."

In other words, the drone attacks and clandestine wars will continue if Warren has anything to say about it. The endless, phony “war on terrorism” must go on and on and on, in Warren’s view.

On Israel:  "As a United States Senator, I will work to ensure Israel’s security and success.  I believe Israel must maintain a qualitative military edge and defensible borders. The United States must continue to ensure that Israel can defend itself from terrorist organizations and hostile states, including Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and others"....

Warren’s opponent, Scott Brown, is no better. He too has been a poodle for the military industrial complex and for AIPAC in his brief and undistinguished sojourn in the Senate. Brown took office in a special election after the death of Teddy Kennedy at a time when disillusion with Obama was growing ever stronger, and many votes poured in for him as a form of anti-Obama protest....

— The full article is at