Daily Archive: 11/13/2013

Nov 13 2013

Raising the Minimum Wage Growing Momentum

The push for an increase in the minimum wage has grown with the recent passing of an increase in New Jersey from $7.25 to 8.25 with annual increases based in inflation. The amendment to the state’s constitution passed with 61% of the vote over newly reelected Governor Chris Christie’s objection. A Gallup poll conducted Nov. 5-6 shows that an even greater percentage of Americans would vote for an even higher minimum wage. According to a White House official, the Obama administration supports the bill introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour in increments of 95 cents.

The same Gallup poll that showed 76% of Americans support for the increase, also showed support across party lines with 58% of self-identified Republicans supporting it. So what’s the problem? The issue is congress’ feral children, the Tea Party coalition in both houses who have vowed to block it and would completely abolish the minimum wage if they had their way. These are the same extremists who would repeal child labor laws, as well.

Despite the objections of the radical minority, the wave for an increase of the minimum wage is swelling as RJ Eskow observes:

There’s something happening here/what it is ain’t exactly clear …”

When Steve Stills wrote the dystopian anthem “For What It’s Worth” in 1966, it resonated with listeners who understood that great if half-hidden transformations were underway. There’s been a turn toward the dystopian in recent economic and social trends as well: Wall Street greed and criminality. The growing power of wealth over the political process. The rise of the Tea Party. The collapsing middle class. Growing inequalities of wealth. Lost social mobility.

But there were encouraging signs in 1966, as well as troubling ones, and that’s equally true today. Take the movement for a minimum wage. Voters in the state of New Jersey and the city of Tacoma, Washington voted to increase the minimum wage in last week’s election. These victories follow a series of polls which confirm that the general public holds strongly progressive views on issues which range from taxation to Medicare and Social Security.

Something is happening here.

Noam Scheiber, senior editor for The New Republic, spoke with Rachel Maddow about why economic populism is a wise strategy for Democrats.

Nov 13 2013

A Little Conflict of Interest

As it turns out Dylan Davies’ book The Embassy House which was the basis of the 60 Minutes Benghazi report by Lara Logan is published by Threshold, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, which is a division of…

Wait for it.

CBS.

It has been withdrawn from publication.

Nothing to see here.  Move along.

“60 Minutes” and the Benghazi Scandal Trap

Posted by Amy Davidson, The New Yorker

November 12, 2013

There are really two charges against CBS: that they were duped, and that the segment itself was an example, to borrow Logan’s terms, of misinformation, confusion, and intense partisanship. Journalists make mistakes; sources lie. DeYoung’s story ran in the Post on October 31st, and was followed up with passion elsewhere. (Dave Weigel has written about Media Matters’s role.) CBS lost some sympathy by apparently accepting, for a number of days, Davies’s explanation that the incident report, which was in his voice but didn’t have his signature, was the byproduct of lies he told a supervisor out of his immense respect for the man whose orders he hadn’t followed. Perhaps Logan thought that tracked; her apology-preview appearance on CBS’s “This Morning” only partly clarified the thinking. She was still defending Davies days after DeYoung’s report, telling the Times that the criticism was political. “We worked on this for a year. We killed ourselves not to allow politics into this report.” Then came the F.B.I. report, and there went the clarity Logan claims to have finally found in Davies’s story.

It’s a sad aspect of this story that Logan claims the segment was more than a year in the making. Where did the time go? In the fairly long piece, Logan fails to offer any real statement about the Administration’s perspective. Only two other people are interviewed on camera. One is a military man who doesn’t understand why the diplomats didn’t get out of Benghazi months earlier. Another is a diplomat who doesn’t understand why, at the critical moment, significant military forces didn’t move into Benghazi from across the border. Davies, who is somehow supposed to tie these threads together, doesn’t understand why, on the first day he first arrived in the city, he found Libyan guards “inside, drinking tea, laughing and joking” rather than looking sharp, and why everyone didn’t heed a private contractor, like him. Not that Davies is identified as such: he’s a “security officer,” Logan says. “A former British soldier, he’s been helping to keep U.S. diplomats and military leaders safe for the last decade.” (Nor does she mention that his book, promoted in the segment, was published by Simon & Schuster, a unit of CBS, something she has admitted was a mistake.) But who knows what Davies said before or during the attack. His account is about as good as a spilled cup of tea, making the rest unreadable.

Nov 13 2013

Wikileaks Releases TPP Secret Text on International Property Rights

SOPA Reddit Warrior photo refresh31536000resize_h150resize_w1.jpg Details of a highly secretive, multi-national trade agreement in the works have been published by WikiLeaks, and a warning there will be vast implications for much of the modern world if the contract is approved.

WikiLeaks has released the draft text of a chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, a multilateral free-trade treaty currently being negotiated in secret by 12 Pacific Rim nations.

The full agreement covers a number of areas, but the chapter published by WikiLeaks focuses on intellectual property rights, an area of law which has effects in areas as diverse as pharmaceuticals and civil liberties.

Negotiations for the TPP have included representatives from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Mexico, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, and Brunei, but have been conducted behind closed doors. Even members of the US Congress were only allowed to view selected portions of the documents under supervision.

Here is the full text of press release by Wikileak’s founder Julian Assange

Today, 13 November 2013, WikiLeaks released the secret negotiated draft text for the entire TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) Intellectual Property Rights Chapter. The TPP is the largest-ever economic treaty, encompassing nations representing more than 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. The WikiLeaks release of the text comes ahead of the decisive TPP Chief Negotiators summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 19-24 November 2013. The chapter published by WikiLeaks is perhaps the most controversial chapter of the TPP due to its wide-ranging effects on medicines, publishers, internet services, civil liberties and biological patents. Significantly, the released text includes the negotiation positions and disagreements between all 12 prospective member states.

The TPP is the forerunner to the equally secret US-EU pact TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), for which President Obama initiated US-EU negotiations in January 2013. Together, the TPP and TTIP will cover more than 60 per cent of global GDP. Both pacts exclude China.

Since the beginning of the TPP negotiations, the process of drafting and negotiating the treaty’s chapters has been shrouded in an unprecedented level of secrecy. Access to drafts of the TPP chapters is shielded from the general public. Members of the US Congress are only able to view selected portions of treaty-related documents in highly restrictive conditions and under strict supervision. It has been previously revealed that only three individuals in each TPP nation have access to the full text of the agreement, while 600 ‘trade advisers’ – lobbyists guarding the interests of large US corporations such as Chevron, Halliburton, Monsanto and Walmart – are granted privileged access to crucial sections of the treaty text.

The TPP negotiations are currently at a critical stage. The Obama administration is preparing to fast-track the TPP treaty in a manner that will prevent the US Congress from discussing or amending any parts of the treaty. Numerous TPP heads of state and senior government figures, including President Obama, have declared their intention to sign and ratify the TPP before the end of 2013.

WikiLeaks’ Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange stated: “The US administration is aggressively pushing the TPP through the US legislative process on the sly.” The advanced draft of the Intellectual Property Rights Chapter, published by WikiLeaks on 13 November 2013, provides the public with the fullest opportunity so far to familiarise themselves with the details and implications of the TPP.

The 95-page, 30,000-word IP Chapter lays out provisions for instituting a far-reaching, transnational legal and enforcement regime, modifying or replacing existing laws in TPP member states. The Chapter’s subsections include agreements relating to patents (who may produce goods or drugs), copyright (who may transmit information), trademarks (who may describe information or goods as authentic) and industrial design.

The longest section of the Chapter – ‘Enforcement’ – is devoted to detailing new policing measures, with far-reaching implications for individual rights, civil liberties, publishers, internet service providers and internet privacy, as well as for the creative, intellectual, biological and environmental commons. Particular measures proposed include supranational litigation tribunals to which sovereign national courts are expected to defer, but which have no human rights safeguards. The TPP IP Chapter states that these courts can conduct hearings with secret evidence. The IP Chapter also replicates many of the surveillance and enforcement provisions from the shelved SOPA and ACTA treaties.

The consolidated text obtained by WikiLeaks after the 26-30 August 2013 TPP meeting in Brunei – unlike any other TPP-related documents previously released to the public – contains annotations detailing each country’s positions on the issues under negotiation. Julian Assange emphasises that a “cringingly obsequious” Australia is the nation most likely to support the hardline position of US negotiators against other countries, while states including Vietnam, Chile and Malaysia are more likely to be in opposition. Numerous key Pacific Rim and nearby nations – including Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and, most significantly, Russia and China – have not been involved in the drafting of the treaty.

In the words of WikiLeaks’ Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange, “If instituted, the TPP’s IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons. If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.”

Current TPP negotiation member states are the United States, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, New Zealand and Brunei.

President Barack Obama wants to fast track this travesty through Congress which means there would be little or no debate and it could not be amended. This is a dangerous agreement that will endanger sovereign and individual rights, plunge millions of people around the world into poverty and condemn many of them to death by  limiting access to affordable medicines. It is time to stop this. Join the movement to Stop the TPP and send a message to your representatives telling them to reject the TPP.

As an addendum, I suggest you read Yves Smith at naked capitalism to further understand how secret panels would undermine our law and regulations.

Jump below the fold for the text of the 95 page agreement.

Nov 13 2013

Wikileaks Releases TPP Secret Text on International Property Rights

Details of a highly secretive, multi-national trade agreement in the works have been published by WikiLeaks, and a warning there will be vast implications for much of the modern world if the contract is approved. Here is the full text of press release by Wikileak’s founder Julian Assange

Today, 13 November 2013, WikiLeaks released the secret negotiated draft text for the entire TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) Intellectual Property Rights Chapter. The TPP is the largest-ever economic treaty, encompassing nations representing more than 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. The WikiLeaks release of the text comes ahead of the decisive TPP Chief Negotiators summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 19-24 November 2013. The chapter published by WikiLeaks is perhaps the most controversial chapter of the TPP due to its wide-ranging effects on medicines, publishers, internet services, civil liberties and biological patents. Significantly, the released text includes the negotiation positions and disagreements between all 12 prospective member states.

The TPP is the forerunner to the equally secret US-EU pact TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), for which President Obama initiated US-EU negotiations in January 2013. Together, the TPP and TTIP will cover more than 60 per cent of global GDP. Both pacts exclude China.

Since the beginning of the TPP negotiations, the process of drafting and negotiating the treaty’s chapters has been shrouded in an unprecedented level of secrecy. Access to drafts of the TPP chapters is shielded from the general public. Members of the US Congress are only able to view selected portions of treaty-related documents in highly restrictive conditions and under strict supervision. It has been previously revealed that only three individuals in each TPP nation have access to the full text of the agreement, while 600 ‘trade advisers’ – lobbyists guarding the interests of large US corporations such as Chevron, Halliburton, Monsanto and Walmart – are granted privileged access to crucial sections of the treaty text.

The TPP negotiations are currently at a critical stage. The Obama administration is preparing to fast-track the TPP treaty in a manner that will prevent the US Congress from discussing or amending any parts of the treaty. Numerous TPP heads of state and senior government figures, including President Obama, have declared their intention to sign and ratify the TPP before the end of 2013.

WikiLeaks’ Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange stated: “The US administration is aggressively pushing the TPP through the US legislative process on the sly.” The advanced draft of the Intellectual Property Rights Chapter, published by WikiLeaks on 13 November 2013, provides the public with the fullest opportunity so far to familiarise themselves with the details and implications of the TPP.

The 95-page, 30,000-word IP Chapter lays out provisions for instituting a far-reaching, transnational legal and enforcement regime, modifying or replacing existing laws in TPP member states. The Chapter’s subsections include agreements relating to patents (who may produce goods or drugs), copyright (who may transmit information), trademarks (who may describe information or goods as authentic) and industrial design.

The longest section of the Chapter – ‘Enforcement’ – is devoted to detailing new policing measures, with far-reaching implications for individual rights, civil liberties, publishers, internet service providers and internet privacy, as well as for the creative, intellectual, biological and environmental commons. Particular measures proposed include supranational litigation tribunals to which sovereign national courts are expected to defer, but which have no human rights safeguards. The TPP IP Chapter states that these courts can conduct hearings with secret evidence. The IP Chapter also replicates many of the surveillance and enforcement provisions from the shelved SOPA and ACTA treaties.

The consolidated text obtained by WikiLeaks after the 26-30 August 2013 TPP meeting in Brunei – unlike any other TPP-related documents previously released to the public – contains annotations detailing each country’s positions on the issues under negotiation. Julian Assange emphasises that a “cringingly obsequious” Australia is the nation most likely to support the hardline position of US negotiators against other countries, while states including Vietnam, Chile and Malaysia are more likely to be in opposition. Numerous key Pacific Rim and nearby nations – including Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and, most significantly, Russia and China – have not been involved in the drafting of the treaty.

In the words of WikiLeaks’ Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange, “If instituted, the TPP’s IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons. If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.”

Current TPP negotiation member states are the United States, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, New Zealand and Brunei.

Nov 13 2013

Congressional Game of Chicken: Filibuster Reform Discussed Again

The side show over filibuster and Republican obstruction of President Barack Obama’s appointments to cabinet positions and to vacant seats on the bench, especially to the DC Circuit which hears some of the most important constitutional cases, has once again begun amidst the main event of the failure the roll out of the ACA. Senate Republicans filibustered a judicial nomination to the DC Circuit Court

President Obama’s latest choice to fill one of the vacancies on a powerful appeals court went down in a filibuster on Tuesday as Senate Republicans blocked another White House nominee – the third in two weeks – and deepened a growing conflict with Democrats over presidential appointments.

By a vote of 56 to 41, the nomination of Cornelia T. L. Pillard, a Georgetown law professor, fell short of clearing the necessary 60-vote threshold. [..]

The disagreements carried over onto the Senate floor on Tuesday, as Democrats accused Republicans of blocking a perfectly qualified woman for political purposes, while Republicans said Democrats were desperately looking for a wedge issue.

Looming underneath their disagreements about Ms. Pillard is the likelihood – which appeared to grow considerably on Tuesday – that the fight will escalate and result in a change to the Senate rules to limit the minority party’s ability to filibuster judicial nominees.

Senator Richard J. Durbin, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, warned Republicans that they were pushing the Senate dangerously close to a tipping point.

The Republicans attempt to reframe the argument saying that the DC Circuit isn’t as busy as other courts such as the 2nd Circuit in New York. The court handles most of the legal challenges to federal agencies, putting it at the center of fights over regulations – including the healthcare reform law and Obama’s push to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. After Tuesday’s vote, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) said, “We’re going by the standards that Democrats set in 2006.”

Their strategy: lock in the current 4-4 court by eliminating the empty seats and redistributing them to other circuits, because some other courts (ones that aren’t the first recourse for people suing Congress over legislation) have more cases. “In 2012, there were 512 ‘administrative appeals’ filed in D.C.,” said Grassley on Tuesday. “In the 2nd Circuit, there were 1,493. Stated differently, in D.C. there were only 64 administrative appeals per active judge. The 2nd Circuit has nearly twice as many with 115.”

That framing, which seemed like a stretch-no one also denies that the D.C. Circuit gets more pivotal cases than the 2nd Circuit-has since been universally adopted by the right. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, the sort of Republican whom Democrats like to cut deals with, has endorsed Grassley’s Court Efficiency Act because it would “bring a reasonable end to the destructive partisan fights to which both parties have contributed.” A third-party ad hitting Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor (a Gang of 14 member) right now accuses him of trying to “pack a key court with liberal judges” because he doesn’t want to eliminate the three open seats. Grassley points out that Democrats blocked a 2006 Bush nominee on the grounds that the seat didn’t need to be filled-what more evidence does he need?

“We’re going by the standards that Democrats set in 2006,” said Grassley after Tuesday’s vote. “They said that we didn’t need any more judges. And that’s exactly what I’m telling ’em, what they said! We’re just doing what they said. They set the standard and they can’t say we’re doing this because we’ve got a Democratic president, because I got a judge removed, the 12th one removed, when we had a Republican president.””

The problem with Grassley’s argument is that in 2006, the Republican’s got what they wanted. By threatening the “nuclear option,” the Democrats backed down and three very conservative, ideologues were appointed to the DC circuit. Funny how the Republicans can now support that which they opposed seven years ago.

Support for filibuster reform picked up a new supporter after the vote, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

“If the Republican caucus continues to abuse the filibuster rule and obstruct the president’s fine nominees to the D.C. Circuit, then I believe … a rules change should be in order,” Leahy said on the Senate floor, just before Republicans blocked Nina Pillard’s confirmation to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“That is not a change that I’ve wanted to see happen,” he continued. “But if Republican senators are going to hold nominees hostage without consideration of a nominee’s individual merits, drastic measures may be warranted.”

Leahy, laughing at the Republican excuse that each judge costs $1 million per year, stated the Republican government shut down cost billions of dollars that would have funded those appointments for years.

Contributing editor at the National Journal and resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Norm Ornstein laid out his reasons why it was time to stop the filibuster madness

Mel Watt was nominated by President Obama to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency-and was blocked by a Republican filibuster. The rationale that Watt was not qualified for the position was flimsy at best. If individual senators wanted to vote against him, they certainly have the right to do so on any basis. But to deny the president his choice for this post, a veteran and moderate lawmaker with sterling credentials and moral character, via filibuster, is nothing short of outrageous. Only two Republicans in the Senate, Rob Portman and Richard Burr, Watt’s colleague from North Carolina, voted for cloture.

Watt was not the only victim of a drive-by filibuster; so was Patricia Millett, a superbly qualified and mainstream nominee for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Only two Republicans supported cloture here; Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, and three others voted “present” (which was no help, since anything but a vote for cloture is meaningless with a rule requiring 60 votes, period, to end debate). The rationale here was even more flimsy than that used against Watt, namely that Obama is trying to “pack” the D.C. Circuit. FDR tried to “pack” the Supreme Court by adding seats to the existing Court. Barack Obama is moving to fill long-standing vacancies on the D.C. Circuit. On this Circuit, thanks to a slew of retired judges appointed by presidents long gone, conservatives have an edge that Mitch McConnell is determined to keep no matter what.

When Harry Reid and McConnell reached a deal on filibusters in January, it was clear that a key component of that deal was that Republicans in the Senate would give due deference to a newly reelected president in his executive nominations, and would only oppose judicial nominations for courts of appeals under “extraordinary circumstances,” which clearly means judges without clear qualifications or experience, or extreme ideologies. No one could accuse Millett of either of those characteristics. This is all about denying a president the right to pick judges to fill existing vacancies. Two more nominees for the D.C. Circuit are coming up soon, the real test of whether Republicans will continue to flout the January agreement and threaten fundamental comity in the Senate. [..]

If the other two D.C. Circuit nominees are filibustered and blocked, I would support Harry Reid’s move to change the rules now, to move from a 60-vote requirement to stop debate and vote to a 40-vote requirement to continue debate. The argument that if he does so, Republicans will do the same thing when they take the White House and Senate is a bad one: Can anyone doubt that McConnell would blow up the filibuster rule in a nanosecond if he had the ability to fill all courts with radical conservatives like Janice Rogers Brown for decades to come? I hope it does not come to this-and that the problem solvers in the Senate keep their titles, preserve their institution, and stop the filibuster madness.

But does Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have the votes? Even with Leahy’s support this time, there may not be the 51 votes needed.

“If we can’t move ahead based on how the procedures have been perverted, we need to fix the procedures. That’s the deal,” said Larry Cohen, president of Communications Workers of America, which is leading a coalition lobbying for changes to filibuster rules.

Cohen said Reid “is willing” to change the rules but “the question is whether the leader can get 50 Democrats, not 49 or 48, to sustain that motion.”

A senior Democratic aide said Reid has not conducted a recent whip count and questioned how outside groups or rank-and-file Democratic senators would know the vote count if the leader attempted a rule change immediately.

“Any declarative statements at this point are extremely premature,” said the senior aide.

A cloture vote on the nomination on Robert Wilkins, a third nominee to the court, will be held in the near future. The Republicans have already indicated that his  nomination will also be filibustered. We’ll see if reform of this antiquated, misused rule gains more support after that.  

Nov 13 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Yves Smith: Student Debt Is Crushing the Economic Future of the Young

If a bad job market wasn’t damaging enough, the cost of paying off student loans does much more harm to the long-term prospects of young people than is commonly realized.

Bill H at Angry Bear has been having a long-running argument over a dubious effort by the CBO to cook the books yet again (we’ve covered past efforts: for a partial list, see here here, here, and here). He’s been criticizing the CBO (correctly) for changing its valuation method for student loans to something called Fair Market Valuation. Bill H contends the new approach is bunk. Currently, because borrowers can’t escape student loans, servicers collect $1.22 on the $1 when a loan goes into default. But perversely, the “Fair Market Valuation” method anticipates that loans going into default result in losses. That’s awfully convenient, since it justifies charging higher interest rates. As Bill H argues by e-mail: :There is no history of government-backed student loans being risky and the cost is $.94 on each dolar loaned. A student loan is 99% inescapable.”

He continues that discussion in a current post, Ripping Off College Students’ Economic Future, and there is an additional part of his analysis that seldom gets much public attention, which namely is the lifetime cost of student loans. It’s much higher than you’d think, since the need to retire the debt means that young people start saving later, which means they buy house later (if ever) and accumulate less in the way of retirement assets. But the amount lost isn’t just the borrowings plus the interest payments. By not having savings early in their working life, they miss the effect of having them compound those extra years. That has a much bigger effect than you’d imagine.

Katrina vanden Heuvel: The ‘Democratic Wing’ of the Democratic Party Wakes Up

What a difference a year makes. In 2012, Politico was reporting that Democrats had gone “AWOL in class war.” Occupy had come and gone by the spring. Mitt Romney’s Republican primary rivals were harsher on his “vulture capitalism” than President Obama was. Labor was under siege across the country. Liberals were focused on social issues like gay rights and abortion. The Tea Party had captured the (faux) populist mantle and was still riding high.

No longer. The Tea Party discredited itself with its government shutdown and threat of defaulting on American obligations. And the populist temper in the Democratic Party has been unleashed, once the president was safely reelected.

Now the simmering tensions between what former Senator Paul Wellstone called “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” and the Wall Street wing of that party have begun to boil. Populist Bill de Blasio is elected mayor of New York calling for raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for pre-K for every child. Bill Daley, early favorite in the Illinois race for governor, doesn’t make it out of the Democratic primary, as he is skewered as an ex-lobbyist for JPMorgan Chase. The New Republic puts rows of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s face on its cover with the headline “Hillary’s nightmare.”

Zoë Carpenter: Twice Betrayed, Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma Face Discrimination at the VA

According to Ruth Moore, she was 18, just months out of Navy boot camp when an officer raped her, twice. Although Moore reported the crimes to a chaplain, her attacker was never prosecuted. After a suicide attempt and a stay in a psychiatric facility, Moore was repeatedly denied disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, because the VA said she could not prove the rape.

The VA discriminates against thousands of military sexual trauma (MST) survivors like Moore each year, alleges a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Service Women’s Action Network and the Veterans Legal Service Clinic at Yale Law School. In trying to obtain compensation for the impact of sexual trauma on their mental health, survivors face bureaucratic hurdles and long delays. Ultimately, a disproportionate number of their claims are rejected.

The report is based on previously withheld data that the VA released to settle Freedom of Information Act lawsuits brought by the Yale clinic. The numbers reveal that the VA grants disability claims for PTSD related to sexual assault at significantly lower rates than for PTSD caused by other types of trauma. In 2011, for example, the VA granted benefits to 74.2 percent of veterans who submitted non-MST-related trauma claims, but only to 44.6 percent of those with MST-related PTSD, a gap of nearly 30 percent.

Karen Johnson: Bad Food, Bad Policy, Bad Gut Reaction

That the macrocosm is in the microcosm is not conjecture, but the reality of good digestion. What we eat becomes our flesh and bone built directly from air breathed, water drank, and soil nourishing a plant. Clean air, water, and soil have long been the concerns of the environmental movement, but as a food advocate, I’ve gone beyond the farm and farmer to conclude that optimal functioning of the human microbiome, known as our “gut flora”, is a reflection of good health – within our selves, our culture, and the environment.

With the epidemic of obesity and other digestive disorders, the collective gut is telling us that the food system and supporting environment is flat out broken.

There is growing evidence that compromised, imbalanced gut flora, resulting from a combination of environmental toxins, genetically modified food, overuse of antibiotics, and chronic stress has a strong link to increasing incidence of disorders like autism, Alzheimers, and multiple sclerosis.

Taliesin Nyala: Work Should Adapt to Mothers: Human Shapes Don’t Fit Inhuman Holes

The argument over women – as workers, mothers, partners and wives – “having it all,” “opting out” or “leaning in” distracts and detracts from the fact that we’re squabbling over a failed economic system that doesn’t work for the majority of people.

As an employed mother, I keep coming back to this question: Why are we scrambling to figure out how to bend ourselves into the right shape to fit into a business culture that is inherently flawed?

Instead of having women change to fit the workplace, we need to overhaul the current system to fit the needs of women and their families. Working mothers need to have an equal voice in directing their workplaces and creating the mission, values and ethos of their organizations.

Medea Benjamin: Will Jeh Johnson Make the Homeland More Secure?

Jeh Johnson, President Obama’s pick to replace outgoing Secretary Janet Napolitano as head of the Department of Homeland Security, will appear before the Senate Homeland Security Committee this week for his confirmation hearing. Johnson is an obscure figure to the general public, but his likely confirmation does not bode well for human rights, or your civil liberties. Johnson is civil and criminal trial lawyer who made millions defending corporations such as Citigroup and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. His government positions included a stint as New York assistant US attorney and general counsel for the Pentagon from 2009 to 2012, during President Obama’s first term.  

Johnson’s nomination came as a surprise even to the Washington beltway crowd. In a July National Journal poll asking more than 100 defense and foreign policy experts who should replace retiring Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, suggestions included retired Coast Guard admiral Thad Allen (he oversaw relief efforts for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which is one of the department’s responsibilities), Homeland Security undersecretary Rand Beers, number two at department Jane Holl Lute, NYC police commissioner Ray Kelly, and former California Congresswoman Jane Harman. Not a single person cited Jeh Johnson. [..]

One reason for Johnson’s unexpected nomination might well have to do with money. He was a heavy-weight fundraiser for Obama, raising more than $200,000 during Obama’s first campaign for office, according to USA Today reported in 2009. During the 2008 race, Obama’s campaign website listed Johnson as a member of his national finance committee. Federal records show that Johnson has personally contributed over $100,000 to Democratic groups and candidates, including influential senators such as Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin and James Clyburn.

Erika Sánchez: America’s Dumbest Idea: Creating a Multiple-Choice Test Generation

Standardized testing means more rote memorization and less time for creativity. Students aren’t prepared for college and life

No Child Left Behind, which was passed in 2001, mandated that states use test scores to determine whether schools were succeeding or failing. Unfortunately, this emphasis on testing had dire consequences. Even initial supporters, such as Diane Ravitch, an education historian and former assistant secretary of education in George Bush senior’s administration, realized how detrimental these measures were. [..]

And Ravitch doesn’t believe that Common Core is the solution to this crisis in education either. Now all states must adopt Common Core or similar standards approved by state higher education officials if they want to receive federal waivers from No Child Left Behind. Ravitch feels that these new standards are being imposed on children with little evidence of how they will affect students, teachers, or schools.

“I only see it getting worse”, says one of my friends, a fourth grade teacher in Chicago. “Common Core standards have been added to our Illinois testing now, which are much, much more challenging standards. This means learning a whole new test for the teachers and students.” Not only are these requirements causing a lot of stress, she says that the materials for the tests are also very expensive. A report from Truthout has outlined Common Core’s various corporate connections. Clearly the objective is profit, not a rigorous and nuanced education that will benefit students in the long run.

Nov 13 2013

On This Day In History November 13

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

November 13 is the 317th day of the year (318th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 48 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1982, The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is dedicated in Washington, D.C. after a week long national salute to Americans who served in the Vietnam War.

The Memorial Wall, designed by Maya Lin, is made up of two gabbro walls 246 feet 9 inches (75 m) long. The walls are sunk into the ground, with the earth behind them. At the highest tip (the apex where they meet), they are 10.1 feet (3 m) high, and they taper to a height of eight inches (20 cm) at their extremities. Stone for the wall came from Bangalore, Karnataka, India, and was deliberately chosen because of its reflective quality. Stone cutting and fabrication was done in Barre, Vermont. Stones were then shipped to Memphis, Tennessee where the names were etched. The etching was completed using a photoemulsion and sandblasting process. The negatives used in the process are in storage at the Smithsonian Institution. When a visitor looks upon the wall, his or her reflection can be seen simultaneously with the engraved names, which is meant to symbolically bring the past and present together. One wall points toward the Washington Monument, the other in the direction of the Lincoln Memorial, meeting at an angle. Each wall has 72 panels, 70 listing names (numbered 1E through 70E and 70W through 1W) and 2 very small blank panels at the extremities. There is a pathway along the base of the Wall, where visitors may walk, read the names, make a pencil rubbing of a particular name, or pray.

Inscribed on the walls with the Optima typeface are the names of servicemen who were either confirmed to be KIA (Killed in Action) or remained classified as MIA (Missing in Action) when the walls were constructed in 1982. They are listed in chronological order, starting at the apex on panel 1E in 1959 (although it was later discovered that the first casualties were military advisers who were killed by artillery fire in 1957), moving day by day to the end of the eastern wall at panel 70E, which ends on May 25, 1968, starting again at panel 70W at the end of the western wall which completes the list for May 25, 1968, and returning to the apex at panel 1W in 1975. Symbolically, this is described as a “wound that is closed and healing.” Information about rank, unit, and decorations are not given. The wall listed 58,159 names when it was completed in 1993; as of June 2010, there are 58,267 names, including 8 women. Approximately 1,200 of these are listed as missing (MIAs, POWs, and others), denoted with a cross; the confirmed dead are marked with a diamond. If the missing return alive, the cross is circumscribed by a circle (although this has never occurred as of March 2009); if their death is confirmed, a diamond is superimposed over the cross. According to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, “there is no definitive answer to exactly how many, but there could be as many as 38 names of personnel who survived, but through clerical errors, were added to the list of fatalities provided by the Department of Defense.” Directories are located on nearby podiums so that visitors may locate specific names.

Nov 13 2013

Spying on Democracy for a Price

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is prohibited by law from spying on the domestic activities of Americans but that hasn’t stopped them from paying a giant telecommunications company for the phone records of Americans making call overseas, as reported by the New York Times in an article by Charlie Savage:

The C.I.A. is paying AT&T more than $10 million a year to assist with overseas counterterrorism investigations by exploiting the company’s vast database of phone records, which includes Americans’ international calls, according to government officials. [..]

The program adds a new dimension to the debate over government spying and the privacy of communications records, which has been focused on National Security Agency programs in recent months. The disclosure sheds further light on the ties between intelligence officials and communications service providers. And it shows how agencies beyond the N.S.A. use metadata – logs of the date, duration and phone numbers involved in a call, but not the content – to analyze links between people through programs regulated by an inconsistent patchwork of legal standards, procedures and oversight.

Author of Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power, and Public Resistance, Heidi Boghosian joined Bill Moyers on Moyers and Company to discuss spying and  our civil liberties



Transcript can be read here

Book Excerpt: Spying on Democracy

by Heidi Boghosian

In describing the National Security Agency’s (NSA) Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), best-selling author James Bamford, whose reporting in the 1980s revealed the existence of the NSA, calls the database used to store names gathered from the federal eavesdropping programs a disaster. The advent of digital communications and mass storage, he says, coupled with a failure of law and policy to keep abreast of technological advancements and an NSA “where the entire world’s knowledge is stored, but not a single word understood,” yields “the capacity to make tyranny total in America.”

Much of the information in government databases such as TIDE is collected with the cooperation of corporations. Although the US surveillance state is colossal in scope, Americans need not be complicit in sustaining it. Tethered to electronic gadgets, under watchful corporate and government command, Americans have a choice about the amount of information afforded to authorities. We can embrace the positive aspects of technology while electing to actively resist and dismantle its invasive and anti-democratic aspects.

To do so, it is essential to reject outright the premise on which a domestic surveillance grid has been erected: that it makes us safer. Comprehensive monitoring and the targeting of certain individuals and social networks for greater observation, is demonstrably ineffective in its purported function of making Americans more secure.