In the USA...Obama says budget that cuts Social Security and Medicare benefits aims to reinvigorate middle class
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, April 6, 2013 12:26 EDT
US President Barack Obama said on Saturday his budget blueprint due to be unveiled next week will aim to reinvigorate America’s middle class while introducing reforms to curb the mushrooming deficits.
“Our top priority as a nation, and my top priority as president, must be doing everything we can to reignite the engine of America’s growth: a rising, thriving middle class,” Obama said in his weekly radio address. “That’s our North Star. That must drive every decision we make.”
The comments followed reports that in his budget proposal, Obama will make key concessions to Republicans by offering to cut some entitlement programs like the Social Security retirement program and Medicare, a health care plan for the elderly.
According to a senior administration official, the president’s fiscal blueprint will slash the deficit by $1.8 trillion over 10 years, in what the official described as a “compromise offer” that cuts federal spending, finds savings in Social Security and raises tax revenue from the wealthy.
While the annual budget deficit is projected at 5.5 percent of gross domestic product for the fiscal year ending in September, under the Obama budget, that would decline to 1.7 percent of GDP by 2023.
Combined with the $2.5 trillion in savings already achieved since negotiations in 2010, the Obama budget would bring total deficit reduction to $4.3 trillion over 10 years, slightly higher than the overall goal agreed to by both parties for stabilizing the national debt.
But the plan has drawn fire from both conservatives and liberals. Republican House Speaker John Boehner warned that Obama had “moved in the wrong direction” by making skimpier entitlement cuts than he had offered in negotiations with Republicans last year.
Liberals immediately were upset by what they saw as Obama caving in to Republicans, with left-wing Senator Bernie Sanders pledging to “do everything in my power to block” Obama’s proposal.
But the president defended his ideas, saying his budget will reduce deficits not through spending cuts that will hurt students, seniors and middle-class families, “but through the balanced approach that the American people prefer, and the investments that a growing economy demands.”
Obama said his budget blueprint would reduce the deficits by nearly $2 trillion.
According to the president, that will surpass the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that many economists believe will stabilize US finances.
The proposal will also include closing tax loopholes for the wealthy, the president said.
“It’s a budget that doesn’t spend beyond our means,” he argued. “And it’s a budget that doesn’t make harsh and unnecessary cuts that only serve to slow our economy…. And we’ll keep our promise to the next generation by investing in the fundamentals that have always made America strong — manufacturing and innovation, energy and education.”
In a Republican address, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback said that Washington was broke and big spending programs were running out of money.
He called for boosting the entrepreneurial spirit of America to achieve growth.
“Our Republican message is a belief in the power of the people more than the control of government,” Brownback said. “This unleashes the creativity of entrepreneurs and the strength of hope and dreams.”
The Christian Science Monitor Obama's budget offends just about everybody. Is that compromise?
By Brad Knickerbocker, Staff writer / April 6, 2013 at 1:35 pm EDT
Tough economic times make for tough political times for any president, and that’s increasingly true for President Obama.
The budget he’ll formally propose this coming week is getting hammered left and right. That may indicate a willingness to compromise on his part in hopes of striking a bipartisan, middle ground deal with congressional Republicans. But it also illustrates the limits on his aspirations. (See higher taxes on the wealthy or reigning in some entitlement programs, including Social Security – the “third rail” of politics.)
In his weekly address Saturday, Obama called the budget he’ll unveil Wednesday “a fiscally-responsible blueprint for middle-class jobs and growth.”
“My budget will reduce our deficits not with aimless, reckless spending cuts that hurt students and seniors and middle-class families – but through the balanced approach that the American people prefer, and the investments that a growing economy demands,” he said, "investments" meaning more spending on some programs.
“We’ll make the tough reforms required to strengthen Medicare for the future, without undermining the rock-solid guarantee at its core," Obama said. "And we’ll enact commonsense tax reform that includes closing wasteful tax loopholes for the wealthy and well-connected."
Republicans in Congress more or less called Obama’s plan – especially its tax elements – DOA (dead on arrival).
In a statement, House Speaker John Boehner complained that Obama was holding “modest” entitlement savings “hostage for more tax hikes.”
From the left, those “modest” entitlement savings – including changing the way cost-of-living increases are calculated for those on Social Security – provoked outrage and threats to challenge Democratic lawmakers who might go along with Obama.
"Cutting benefits now, when people are already struggling to make ends meet, will mean unnecessary hardship for millions of people," Reps. Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva, the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, wrote in a joint statement. "It is unpopular, unwise and unworkable."
"Let's be clear: President Obama, when it comes to cutting Social Security, Medicaid, or Medicare benefits, over 200,000 progressive members of your own party don't ‘have your back’ and we are prepared to fight you every step of the way," said Jim Dean, chairman of Democracy for America, a Vermont-based political action committee.
Meanwhile, one senior Republican on Capitol Hill said the president's budget proposal "does little or nothing to bring both parties closer to a fiscal agreement" because, in the eyes of Republicans, it's essentially the same offer that was rejected by Speaker Boehner during negotiations with the president last December,” ABC News reports.
Obama acknowledges that what he’s putting forward amounts to “the compromise I offered the Speaker of the House at the end of last year.” The question is: Will time and the results of the 2012 elections – not great news for the GOP – have made such a “compromise” more palatable to Republicans, whose main political concerns may be the 2014 and 2016 elections?
Obama’s job isn’t made any easier by the disappointing jobs and unemployment reports out Friday.
“We’ve got more work to do to get the economy growing faster, so that everybody who wants a job can find one,” he acknowledged in his Saturday address. “And that means we need fewer self-inflicted wounds from Washington, like the across-the-board spending cuts that are already hurting many communities – cuts that economists predict will cost our economy hundreds of thousands of jobs this year.”
In the GOP address Saturday, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said "the ideas on how to fix the federal government are now percolating in the states, 30 of which are led by Republican governors.”
"You see, you don't change America by changing Washington,” he said. “You change America by changing the states. And that's exactly what Republican governors are doing across the country, taking a different approach to grow their states' economies and fix their governments with ideas that work.”
In an online editorial Saturday, the Kansas City Star was quick to label some of what Brownback said about his own record as “exaggerated or misleading.”
Among the editorial’s points:
“Kansas, like most states, was in deep trouble when Brownback took office in 2011. What lifted Kansas out of its hole was a one-cent sales tax that Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson signed into law and which took effect in July 2010. Brownback has benefited from that tax increase his entire term. He also is lobbying the Legislature to keep it in place, even though part of it is supposed to expire this July….”
“Brownback plays games with education funding, counting factors like bond debt, capital improvement funds and mandatory increases in teachers’ retirement contributions in the total. But he cut more than $100 million from basic elementary and secondary school funding in 2011, and reduced the amount of state aid allotted per pupil further last year. And thanks to the overdose on income tax cuts, funds for schools, universities and corrections are all on the chopping block this year.”
***********North Carolina Republicans pushing bill to put two-year hold on all divorces
By David Ferguson
Saturday, April 6, 2013 12:11 EDT
North Carolina Republican lawmakers may have abandoned their plan to declare Christianity as the state’s religion, but conservative legislators in the state are still pushing forward with a plan to require a two-year waiting period on all divorces, a plan that require the couple to attend classes and workshops designed to prevent them from divorcing.
According to the Charlotte Observer, state Senators Austin Allran (R) and Sen. Warren Daniel (R) proposed the “Healthy Marriage Act” last week, which mandates a two-year wait before judges will grant married couples a divorce, two years during which they must complete counseling courses and workshops designed to improve “communication skills” and “conflict resolution.”
Couples in the state currently face a mandatory one year wait for divorces, but the Observer reported that the lines are blurry about what constitutes the end or resumption of a relationship.
The new law would “strike from the current law a provision that says ‘isolated incidents of sexual intercourse’ don’t count against” the legal waiting period, meaning that if the court can establish that a divorcing couple has had sex, it could potentially start their waiting period over.
The Christian Science Monitor Kansas anti-abortion law: How divided can the states get?
By Patrik Jonsson, Staff writer / April 6, 2013 at 11:15 am EDT
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is set to sign a tough new anti-abortion law that says life begins at conception and bans sex-selection abortions. In response, states like Washington and New York are scrambling to reduce restrictions on the procedures, such as loosening rules around late-term abortions.
The recent bipolar moves in Kansas and New York suggest that US states are increasingly leaving gridlocked Washington in the dust on policy ranging from abortion to marijuana, from immigration to guns. The result is a disparate patchwork of laws and policies that some suggest are beginning to turn America from a homogenous land of centrists and moderates into a partisan land of balkanized rules, economies, and lifestyles.
“There is nothing especially new about states going their own way,” New York Times columnist Bill Keller wrote late last month. “We fought a civil war, after all. And we have become accustomed to categorizing states as red or blue, based on their electoral choices. But it feels as if every news cycle brings another seemingly random example of a state veering off the mainstream… What’s up with that?”
To be sure, the rise of the tea party movement has helped fuel a nearly unprecedented situation where 75 percent of US statehouses are under single party control even as Washington seems mired in perpetual partisan gridlock. The widening policy gap between states, too, comes against another backdrop: The decision by the Obama administration, particularly though Obamacare, to use states as proxies to install federal policy.
“This is an administration that doesn’t take the states and locals as it finds them. It has an agenda,” Paul Posner, a federalism expert at George Mason University in Virginia, has said, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Yet while corralling states by dangling federal money may be in part successful, it hasn’t enabled the administration to end run its agenda around Congress.
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Gun control is one example. While Washington has so far failed to pass post-Newtown gun control laws, a handful of liberal states in the Northeast have gone ahead with new restrictions, including expanded background checks. But 15 other states have loosened gun restrictions in the wake of the massacre. On Friday, the Kansas Senate passed legislation that would prevent federal agents from confiscating guns made in Kansas.
And states are making broader arguments about how state policy can impact regional economies. While critics say Mr. Brownback, for example, has put the state’s economy in jeopardy by spearheading the abolishing of a state income tax, the Governor, in giving the GOP weekly address on Saturday, touted “red state” models as creating economic activity while Washington seems bent on stifling economic growth.
"The ideas on how to fix the federal government are now percolating in the states, 30 of which are led by Republican governors," he says. “You see, you don’t change America by changing Washington – you change America by changing the states. And that’s exactly what Republican governors are doing across the country – taking a different approach to grow their states’ economies and fix their governments with ideas that work."
So far, empowered states may be winning the policy struggle with Washington, some experts suggest.
“Divided national government gives states flexibility, and divided government gives states wider range of opportunities to influence feds, and makes it harder for feds to resolve issues,” writes Thomas Gais of the Rockefeller Institute in a recent paper.
In academic circles, there are two schools of thought to explain the phenomenon of runaway states: One is that legislative hubris by political “elites” are running roughshod over the wishes of moderate voters, who make up the vast majority of the electorate.
“In America today, there is a disconnect between an unrepresentative political class and the citizenry it purports to represent,” Morris Fiorina and Samuel Abrams write in their recent book “Disconnect.”
“The political process today not only is less representative than it was a generation ago and less supported by the citizenry, but the outcomes of that process are at a minimum no better,” they write. “The present disconnect is cause for concern and not something that can be discounted as either normal or unimportant.”
The countervailing argument is that voters have become more partisan, and are, in fact, the ones pushing state legislators to move forward on pet policy projects.
“There is no disconnect between elected officials and the voters who put them in office,” Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz writes in “The Polarized Public.” “There is, in fact, a close connection between them. Polarization is not a result of a failure of representation; it is a result of successful representation.”
Some Americans, including Mr. Keller at the New York Times, are cautious about the states’ newfound policy leadership. “These experiments may produce smart ideas … or the state labs may cook up poisons,” he writes.
Other Americans welcome the states’ newfound policy leadership.
“What the nation needs more than ever is federalism to allow New Yorkers to live how they would like and Nebraskans to live how they would like; and constitutionalism to ensure that all citizens are treated with respect for their individual rights,” writes Kyle Becker, a columnist for the Independent Journal Review.
************ACLU accuses Ohio courts of enacting ‘debtors’ prisons’
By Arturo Garcia
Friday, April 5, 2013 21:49 EDT
A report by the American Civil Liberties Union has accused courts in Ohio of jailing indigent defendants for not being able to pay court fines, an apparent revival of the 19th century practice of “debtors’ prisons.”
According to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, the organization named seven courts in the state in its report (PDF), compiled over the course of 2012.
“Today across Ohio, municipalities routinely imprison those who are unable to pay fines and court costs despite a 1983 United States Supreme Court decision declaring this practice to be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution,” the ACLU’s report said.
Courts in Cuyahoga, Erie and Huron counties were singled out in the report as the “worst offenders.” The ACLU said a survey of booking statistics for Huron County Jail revealed that 22 percent of the 1,171 people booked between May and October 2012 were incarcerated for not being able to pay their fines. And municipal courts in Parma and Sandusky counties jailed 45 and 75 people, respectively, between July 15 and August 31, 2012.
“Based on the ACLU of Ohio’s investigation, there is no evidence that any of these people were given hearings to determine whether or not they were financially able to pay their fines, as required by the law,” the report said.
Parma County Municipal Court Judge Deanna O’Donnell said the court had received a letter from the ACLU detailing its findings and that she was contacting the group for more information. She also said the court is treating the letter as “advisory” and not a complaint.
Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor has also promised to meet with the ACLU to discuss the report.
April 6, 2013Taping of Farm Cruelty Is Becoming the Crime
By RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr.
On one covert video, farm workers illegally burn the ankles of Tennessee walking horses with chemicals. Another captures workers in Wyoming punching and kicking pigs and flinging piglets into the air. And at one of the country’s largest egg suppliers, a video shows hens caged alongside rotting bird corpses, while workers burn and snap off the beaks of young chicks.
Each video — all shot in the last two years by undercover animal rights activists — drew a swift response: Federal prosecutors in Tennessee charged the horse trainer and other workers, who have pleaded guilty, with violating the Horse Protection Act. Local authorities in Wyoming charged nine farm employees with cruelty to animals. And the egg supplier, which operates in Iowa and other states, lost one of its biggest customers, McDonald’s, which said the video played a part in its decision.
But a dozen or so state legislatures have had a different reaction: They proposed or enacted bills that would make it illegal to covertly videotape livestock farms, or apply for a job at one without disclosing ties to animal rights groups. They have also drafted measures to require such videos to be given to the authorities almost immediately, which activists say would thwart any meaningful undercover investigation of large factory farms.
Critics call them “Ag-Gag” bills.
Some of the legislation appears inspired by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a business advocacy group with hundreds of state representatives from farm states as members. The group creates model bills, drafted by lobbyists and lawmakers, that in the past have included such things as “stand your ground” gun laws and tighter voter identification rules.
One of the group’s model bills, “The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act,” prohibits filming or taking pictures on livestock farms to “defame the facility or its owner.” Violators would be placed on a “terrorist registry.”
Officials from the group did not respond to a request for comment.
Animal rights activists say they have not seen legislation that would require them to register as terrorists, but they say other measures — including laws passed last year in Iowa, Utah and Missouri — make it nearly impossible to produce similar undercover exposés. Some groups say that they have curtailed activism in those states.
“It definitely has had a chilling effect on our ability to conduct undercover investigations,” said Vandhana Bala, general counsel for Mercy for Animals, which has shot many videos, including the egg-farm investigation in 2011. (McDonald’s said that video showed “disturbing and completely unacceptable” behavior, but that none of the online clips were from the Iowa farm that supplied its eggs. Ms. Bala, though, said that some video showing bird carcasses in cages did come from that facility.)
The American Farm Bureau Federation, which lobbies for the agricultural and meat industries, criticized the mistreatment seen on some videos. But the group cautions that some methods represent best practices endorsed by animal-care experts.
The videos may seem troubling to someone unfamiliar with farming, said Kelli Ludlum, the group’s director of Congressional relations, but they can be like seeing open-heart surgery for the first time.
“They could be performing a perfect procedure, but you would consider it abhorrent that they were cutting a person open,” she said.
In coming weeks, Indiana and Tennessee are expected to vote on similar measures, while states from California to Pennsylvania continue to debate them.
Opponents have scored some recent victories, as a handful of bills have died, including those in New Mexico and New Hampshire. In Wyoming, the legislation stalled after loud opposition from animal rights advocates, including Bob Barker, former host of “The Price is Right.”
In Indiana, an expansive bill became one of the most controversial of the state legislative session, drawing heated opposition from labor groups and the state press association, which said the measure violated the First Amendment.
After numerous constitutional objections, the bill was redrafted and will be unveiled Monday, said Greg Steuerwald, a Republican state representative and chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
The new bill would require job applicants to disclose material information or face criminal penalties, a provision that opponents say would prevent undercover operatives from obtaining employment. And employees who do something beyond the scope of their jobs could be charged with criminal trespass.
An employee who took a video on a livestock farm with his phone and gave it to someone else would “probably” run afoul of the proposed law, Mr. Steuerwald said. The bill will apply not just to farms, but to all employers, he added.
Nancy J. Guyott, the president of the Indiana chapter of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said she feared that the legislation would punish whistle-blowers.
Nationally, animal rights advocates fear that they will lose a valuable tool that fills the void of what they say is weak or nonexistent regulation.
Livestock companies say that their businesses have suffered financially from unfair videos that are less about protecting animals than persuading consumers to stop eating meat.
Don Lehe, a Republican state representative from a rural district in Indiana, said online videos can cast farmers in a false light and give them little opportunity to correct the record.
“That property owner is essentially guilty before they had the chance to address the issue,” Mr. Lehe said.
As for whistle-blowers, advocates for the meat industry say that they are protected from prosecution by provisions in some bills that give them 24 to 48 hours to turn over videos to legal authorities.
“If an abuse has occurred and they have evidence of it, why are they holding on to it?” said Dale Moore, executive director of public policy for the American Farm Bureau Federation.
But animal rights groups say investigations take months to complete.
Undercover workers cannot document a pattern of abuse, gather enough evidence to force a government investigation and determine whether managers condone the abuse within one to two days, said Matt Dominguez, who works on farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States.
“Instead of working to prevent future abuses, the factory farms want to silence them,” he said. “What they really want is for the whistle to be blown on the whistle-blower.”
The Humane Society was responsible for a number of undercover investigations, including the videos of the Wyoming pig farm and the Tennessee walking horses.
Video shot in 2011 showed workers dripping caustic chemicals onto the horses’ ankles and clasping metal chains onto the injured tissue. This illegal and excruciating technique, known as “soring,” forces the horse to thrust its front legs forward after every painful step to exaggerate the distinctive high-stepping gait favored by breeders. The video also showed a worker hitting a horse in the head with a large piece of wood.
The Humane Society first voluntarily turned over the video to law enforcement. By the time the video was publicly disclosed, federal prosecutors had filed charges. A week later, they announced guilty pleas from the horse trainer and other workers.
Prosecutors later credited the Humane Society with prompting the federal investigation and establishing “evidence instrumental to the case.”
That aid to prosecutors shows the importance of lengthy undercover investigations that would be prevented by laws requiring video to be turned over within one or two days, Mr. Dominguez said.
“At the first sign of animal cruelty, we’d have to pull our investigator out, and we wouldn’t be able to build a case that leads to charges.”
click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=gxVlxT_x-f0
April 6, 2013In History Departments, It’s Up With Capitalism
By JENNIFER SCHUESSLER
A specter is haunting university history departments: the specter of capitalism.
After decades of “history from below,” focusing on women, minorities and other marginalized people seizing their destiny, a new generation of scholars is increasingly turning to what, strangely, risked becoming the most marginalized group of all: the bosses, bankers and brokers who run the economy.
Even before the financial crisis, courses in “the history of capitalism” — as the new discipline bills itself — began proliferating on campuses, along with dissertations on once deeply unsexy topics like insurance, banking and regulation. The events of 2008 and their long aftermath have given urgency to the scholarly realization that it really is the economy, stupid.
The financial meltdown also created a serious market opportunity. Columbia University Press recently introduced a new “Studies in the History of U.S. Capitalism” book series (“This is not your father’s business history,” the proposal promised), and other top university presses have been snapping up dissertations on 19th-century insurance and early-20th-century stock speculation, with trade publishers and op-ed editors following close behind.
The dominant question in American politics today, scholars say, is the relationship between democracy and the capitalist economy. “And to understand capitalism,” said Jonathan Levy, an assistant professor of history at Princeton University and the author of “Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America,” “you’ve got to understand capitalists.”
That doesn’t mean just looking in the executive suite and ledger books, scholars are quick to emphasize. The new work marries hardheaded economic analysis with the insights of social and cultural history, integrating the bosses’-eye view with that of the office drones — and consumers — who power the system.
“I like to call it ‘history from below, all the way to the top,’ ” said Louis Hyman, an assistant professor of labor relations, law and history at Cornell and the author of “Debtor Nation: The History of America in Red Ink.”
The new history of capitalism is less a movement than what proponents call a “cohort”: a loosely linked group of scholars who came of age after the end of the cold war cleared some ideological ground, inspired by work that came before but unbeholden to the questions — like, why didn’t socialism take root in America? — that animated previous generations of labor historians.
Instead of searching for working-class radicalism, they looked at office clerks and entrepreneurs.
“Earlier, a lot of these topics would’ve been greeted with a yawn,” said Stephen Mihm, an associate professor of history at the University of Georgia and the author of “A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men and the Making of the United States.” “But then the crisis hit, and people started asking, ‘Oh my God, what has Wall Street been doing for the last 100 years?’ ”
In 1996, when the Harvard historian Sven Beckert proposed an undergraduate seminar called the History of American Capitalism — the first of its kind, he believes — colleagues were skeptical. “They thought no one would be interested,” he said.
But the seminar drew nearly 100 applicants for 15 spots and grew into one of the biggest lecture courses at Harvard, which in 2008 created a full-fledged Program on the Study of U.S. Capitalism. That initiative led to similar ones on other campuses, as courses and programs at Princeton, Brown, Georgia, the New School, the University of Wisconsin and elsewhere also began drawing crowds — sometimes with the help of canny brand management.
After Seth Rockman, an associate professor of history at Brown, changed the name of his course from Capitalism, Slavery and the Economy of Early America to simply Capitalism, students concentrating in economics and international relations started showing up alongside the student labor activists and development studies people.
“It’s become a space where you can bring together segments of the university that are not always in conversation,” Dr. Rockman said. (Next fall the course will become Brown’s introductory American history survey.)
While most scholars in the field reject the purely oppositional stance of earlier Marxist history, they also take a distinctly critical view of neoclassical economics, with its tidy mathematical models and crisp axioms about rational actors.
Markets and financial institutions “were created by people making particular choices at particular historical moments,” said Julia Ott, an assistant professor in the history of capitalism at the New School (the first person, several scholars said, to be hired under such a title).
To dramatize that point, Dr. Ott has students in her course Whose Street? Wall Street! dress up in 19th-century costume and re-enact a primal scene in financial history: the early days of the Chicago Board of Trade.
Some of her colleagues take a similarly playful approach. To promote a two-week history of capitalism “boot camp” to be inaugurated this summer at Cornell, Dr. Hyman (a former consultant at McKinsey & Company) designed “history of capitalism” T-shirts.
The camp, he explained, is aimed at getting relatively innumerate historians up to speed on the kinds of financial data and documents found in business archives. Understanding capitalism, Dr. Hyman said, requires “both Foucault and regressions.”
It also, scholars insist, requires keeping race and gender in the picture.
As examples, they point to books like Nathan Connolly’s “World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida,” coming next year, and Bethany Moreton’s “To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise” (Harvard, 2009), winner of multiple prizes, which examines the role of evangelical Christian values in mobilizing the company’s largely female work force.
The history of capitalism has also benefited from a surge of new, economically minded scholarship on slavery, with scholars increasingly arguing that Northern factories and Southern plantations were not opposing economic systems, as the old narrative has it, but deeply entwined.
And that entwining, some argue, involved people far beyond the plantations and factories themselves, thanks to financial shenanigans that resonate in our own time.
In a paper called “Toxic Debt, Liar Loans and Securitized Human Beings: The Panic of 1837 and the Fate of Slavery,” Edward Baptist, a historian at Cornell, looked at the way small investors across America and Europe snapped up exotic financial instruments based on slave holdings, much as people over the past decade went wild for mortgage-backed securities and collateralized debt obligations — with a similarly disastrous outcome.
Other scholars track companies and commodities across national borders. Dr. Beckert’s “Empire of Cotton,” to be published by Alfred A. Knopf, traces the rise of global capitalism over the past 350 years through one crop. Nan Enstad’s book in progress, “The Jim Crow Cigarette: Following Tobacco Road From North Carolina to China and Back,” examines how Southern tobacco workers, and Southern racial ideology, helped build the Chinese cigarette industry in the early 20th century.
Whether scrutiny of the history of capitalism represents a genuine paradigm shift or a case of scholarly tulip mania, one thing is clear.
“The worse things are for the economy,” Dr. Beckert said wryly, “the better they are for the discipline.”
April 6, 2013A Secret Deal on Drones, Sealed in Blood
By MARK MAZZETTI
Nek Muhammad knew he was being followed.
On a hot day in June 2004, the Pashtun tribesman was lounging inside a mud compound in South Waziristan, speaking by satellite phone to one of the many reporters who regularly interviewed him on how he had fought and humbled Pakistan’s army in the country’s western mountains. He asked one of his followers about the strange, metallic bird hovering above him.
Less than 24 hours later, a missile tore through the compound, severing Mr. Muhammad’s left leg and killing him and several others, including two boys, ages 10 and 16. A Pakistani military spokesman was quick to claim responsibility for the attack, saying that Pakistani forces had fired at the compound.
That was a lie.
Mr. Muhammad and his followers had been killed by the C.I.A., the first time it had deployed a Predator drone in Pakistan to carry out a “targeted killing.” The target was not a top operative of Al Qaeda, but a Pakistani ally of the Taliban who led a tribal rebellion and was marked by Pakistan as an enemy of the state. In a secret deal, the C.I.A. had agreed to kill him in exchange for access to airspace it had long sought so it could use drones to hunt down its own enemies.
That back-room bargain, described in detail for the first time in interviews with more than a dozen officials in Pakistan and the United States, is critical to understanding the origins of a covert drone war that began under the Bush administration, was embraced and expanded by President Obama, and is now the subject of fierce debate. The deal, a month after a blistering internal report about abuses in the C.I.A.’s network of secret prisons, paved the way for the C.I.A. to change its focus from capturing terrorists to killing them, and helped transform an agency that began as a cold war espionage service into a paramilitary organization.
The C.I.A. has since conducted hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan that have killed thousands of people, Pakistanis and Arabs, militants and civilians alike. While it was not the first country where the United States used drones, it became the laboratory for the targeted killing operations that have come to define a new American way of fighting, blurring the line between soldiers and spies and short-circuiting the normal mechanisms by which the United States as a nation goes to war.
Neither American nor Pakistani officials have ever publicly acknowledged what really happened to Mr. Muhammad — details of the strike that killed him, along with those of other secret strikes, are still hidden in classified government databases. But in recent months, calls for transparency from members of Congress and critics on both the right and left have put pressure on Mr. Obama and his new C.I.A. director, John O. Brennan, to offer a fuller explanation of the goals and operation of the drone program, and of the agency’s role.
Mr. Brennan, who began his career at the C.I.A. and over the past four years oversaw an escalation of drone strikes from his office at the White House, has signaled that he hopes to return the agency to its traditional role of intelligence collection and analysis. But with a generation of C.I.A. officers now fully engaged in a new mission, it is an effort that could take years.
Today, even some of the people who were present at the creation of the drone program think the agency should have long given up targeted killings.
Ross Newland, who was a senior official at the C.I.A.’s headquarters in Langley, Va., when the agency was given the authority to kill Qaeda operatives, says he thinks that the agency had grown too comfortable with remote-control killing, and that drones have turned the C.I.A. into the villain in countries like Pakistan, where it should be nurturing relationships in order to gather intelligence.
As he puts it, “This is just not an intelligence mission.”
From Car Thief to Militant
By 2004, Mr. Muhammad had become the undisputed star of the tribal areas, the fierce mountain lands populated by the Wazirs, Mehsuds and other Pashtun tribes who for decades had lived independent of the writ of the central government in Islamabad. A brash member of the Wazir tribe, Mr. Muhammad had raised an army to fight government troops and had forced the government into negotiations. He saw no cause for loyalty to the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, the Pakistani military spy service that had given an earlier generation of Pashtuns support during the war against the Soviets.
Many Pakistanis in the tribal areas viewed with disdain the alliance that President Pervez Musharraf had forged with the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They regarded the Pakistani military that had entered the tribal areas as no different from the Americans — who they believed had begun a war of aggression in Afghanistan, just as the Soviets had years earlier.
Born near Wana, the bustling market hub of South Waziristan, Mr. Muhammad spent his adolescent years as a petty car thief and shopkeeper in the city’s bazaar. He found his calling in 1993, around the age of 18, when he was recruited to fight with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and rose quickly through the group’s military hierarchy. He cut a striking figure on the battlefield with his long face and flowing jet black hair.
When the Americans invaded Afghanistan in 2001, he seized an opportunity to host the Arab and Chechen fighters from Al Qaeda who crossed into Pakistan to escape the American bombing.
For Mr. Muhammad, it was partly a way to make money, but he also saw another use for the arriving fighters. With their help, over the next two years he launched a string of attacks on Pakistani military installations and on American firebases in Afghanistan.
C.I.A. officers in Islamabad urged Pakistani spies to lean on the Waziri tribesman to hand over the foreign fighters, but under Pashtun tribal customs that would be treachery. Reluctantly, Mr. Musharraf ordered his troops into the forbidding mountains to deliver rough justice to Mr. Muhammad and his fighters, hoping the operation might put a stop to the attacks on Pakistani soil, including two attempts on his life in December 2003.
But it was only the beginning. In March 2004, Pakistani helicopter gunships and artillery pounded Wana and its surrounding villages. Government troops shelled pickup trucks that were carrying civilians away from the fighting and destroyed the compounds of tribesmen suspected of harboring foreign fighters. The Pakistani commander declared the operation an unqualified success, but for Islamabad, it had not been worth the cost in casualties.
A cease-fire was negotiated in April during a hastily arranged meeting in South Waziristan, during which a senior Pakistani commander hung a garland of bright flowers around Mr. Muhammad’s neck. The two men sat together and sipped tea as photographers and television cameras recorded the event.
Both sides spoke of peace, but there was little doubt who was negotiating from strength. Mr. Muhammad would later brag that the government had agreed to meet inside a religious madrasa rather than in a public location where tribal meetings are traditionally held. “I did not go to them; they came to my place,” he said. “That should make it clear who surrendered to whom.”
The peace arrangement propelled Mr. Muhammad to new fame, and the truce was soon exposed as a sham. He resumed attacks against Pakistani troops, and Mr. Musharraf ordered his army back on the offensive in South Waziristan.
Pakistani officials had, for several years, balked at the idea of allowing armed C.I.A. Predators to roam their skies. They considered drone flights a violation of sovereignty, and worried that they would invite further criticism of Mr. Musharraf as being Washington’s lackey. But Mr. Muhammad’s rise to power forced them to reconsider.
The C.I.A. had been monitoring the rise of Mr. Muhammad, but officials considered him to be more Pakistan’s problem than America’s. In Washington, officials were watching with growing alarm the gathering of Qaeda operatives in the tribal areas, and George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director, authorized officers in the agency’s Islamabad station to push Pakistani officials to allow armed drones. Negotiations were handled primarily by the Islamabad station.
As the battles raged in South Waziristan, the station chief in Islamabad paid a visit to Gen. Ehsan ul Haq, the ISI chief, and made an offer: If the C.I.A. killed Mr. Muhammad, would the ISI allow regular armed drone flights over the tribal areas?
In secret negotiations, the terms of the bargain were set. Pakistani intelligence officials insisted that they be allowed to approve each drone strike, giving them tight control over the list of targets. And they insisted that drones fly only in narrow parts of the tribal areas — ensuring that they would not venture where Islamabad did not want the Americans going: Pakistan’s nuclear facilities, and the mountain camps where Kashmiri militants were trained for attacks in India.
The ISI and the C.I.A. agreed that all drone flights in Pakistan would operate under the C.I.A.’s covert action authority — meaning that the United States would never acknowledge the missile strikes and that Pakistan would either take credit for the individual killings or remain silent.
Mr. Musharraf did not think that it would be difficult to keep up the ruse. As he told one C.I.A. officer: “In Pakistan, things fall out of the sky all the time.”
A New Direction
As the negotiations were taking place, the C.I.A.’s inspector general, John L. Helgerson, had just finished a searing report about the abuse of detainees in the C.I.A.’s secret prisons. The report kicked out the foundation upon which the C.I.A. detention and interrogation program had rested. It was perhaps the single most important reason for the C.I.A.’s shift from capturing to killing terrorism suspects.
The greatest impact of Mr. Helgerson’s report was felt at the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center, or CTC, which was at the vanguard of the agency’s global antiterrorism operation. The center had focused on capturing Qaeda operatives; questioning them in C.I.A. jails or outsourcing interrogations to the spy services of Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt and other nations; and then using the information to hunt more terrorism suspects.
Mr. Helgerson raised questions about whether C.I.A. officers might face criminal prosecution for the interrogations carried out in the secret prisons, and he suggested that interrogation methods like waterboarding, sleep deprivation and the exploiting of the phobias of prisoners — like confining them in a small box with live bugs — violated the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
“The agency faces potentially serious long-term political and legal challenges as a result of the CTC detention and interrogation program,” the report concluded, given the brutality of the interrogation techniques and the “inability of the U.S. government to decide what it will ultimately do with the terrorists detained by the agency.”
The report was the beginning of the end for the program. The prisons would stay open for several more years, and new detainees were occasionally picked up and taken to secret sites, but at Langley, senior C.I.A. officers began looking for an endgame to the prison program. One C.I.A. operative told Mr. Helgerson’s team that officers from the agency might one day wind up on a “wanted list” and be tried for war crimes in an international court.
The ground had shifted, and counterterrorism officials began to rethink the strategy for the secret war. Armed drones, and targeted killings in general, offered a new direction. Killing by remote control was the antithesis of the dirty, intimate work of interrogation. Targeted killings were cheered by Republicans and Democrats alike, and using drones flown by pilots who were stationed thousands of miles away made the whole strategy seem risk-free.
Before long the C.I.A. would go from being the long-term jailer of America’s enemies to a military organization that erased them.
Not long before, the agency had been deeply ambivalent about drone warfare.
The Predator had been considered a blunt and unsophisticated killing tool, and many at the C.I.A. were glad that the agency had gotten out of the assassination business long ago. Three years before Mr. Muhammad’s death, and one year before the C.I.A. carried out its first targeted killing outside a war zone — in Yemen in 2002 — a debate raged over the legality and morality of using drones to kill suspected terrorists.
A new generation of C.I.A. officers had ascended to leadership positions, having joined the agency after the 1975 Congressional committee led by Senator Frank Church, Democrat of Idaho, which revealed extensive C.I.A. plots to kill foreign leaders, and President Gerald Ford’s subsequent ban on assassinations. The rise to power of this post-Church generation had a direct impact on the type of clandestine operations the C.I.A. chose to conduct.
The debate pitted a group of senior officers at the Counterterrorism Center against James L. Pavitt, the head of the C.I.A.’s clandestine service, and others who worried about the repercussions of the agency’s getting back into assassinations. Mr. Tenet told the 9/11 commission that he was not sure that a spy agency should be flying armed drones.
John E. McLaughlin, then the C.I.A.’s deputy director, who the 9/11 commission reported had raised concerns about the C.I.A.’s being in charge of the Predator, said: “You can’t underestimate the cultural change that comes with gaining lethal authority.
“When people say to me, ‘It’s not a big deal,’ ” he said, “I say to them, ‘Have you ever killed anyone?’
“It is a big deal. You start thinking about things differently,” he added. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, these concerns about the use of the C.I.A. to kill were quickly swept side.
The Account at the Time
After Mr. Muhammad was killed, his dirt grave in South Waziristan became a site of pilgrimage. A Pakistani journalist, Zahid Hussain, visited it days after the drone strike and saw a makeshift sign displayed on the grave: “He lived and died like a true Pashtun.”
Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, Pakistan’s top military spokesman, told reporters at the time that “Al Qaeda facilitator” Nek Muhammad and four other “militants” had been killed in a rocket attack by Pakistani troops.
Any suggestion that Mr. Muhammad was killed by the Americans, or with American assistance, he said, was “absolutely absurd.”
This article is adapted from “The Way of the Knife: The C.I.A., a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth,” to be published by Penguin Press on Tuesday.
*********Hillary Clinton Comes Out Swinging with Speech on Women’s Rights
By: Sarah Jones
Apr. 6th, 2013
With her memoir predicted to be a best seller next year, Hillary Clinton took the stage at the Women in the World summit at New York’s Lincoln Center on Friday to continue her surge for global women’s rights. Fans lined up to see the former Secretary of State, who called women’s rights “the unfinished business of the 21st century.” In what could be viewed as a hat tip to 2016, she vowed, “I look forward to being your partner in all the days and years ahead.”
Clinton said, “I have always believed that women are not victims. We are agents of change, we are drivers of progress, we are makers of peace. All we need is a fighting chance.”
Though she was speaking broadly about global women’s issues, she didn’t shy away from the fact that women in America are also still working to achieve equality, “We now have American women at the high levels of business, academia, government, you name it. But as we’ve seen in recent months, we’re still asking age old questions of how to make the women’s way in male dominated fields. For too many American women the opportunity, and the dream of upward mobility, the American dream, remains elusive. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.”
“If America is going to lead the way we expect ourselves to lead, we need to empower women here at home to participate fully in our economy and our society. We need to make equal pay a reality. We need to invest in our people so they can live up to their own God-given potential.”
“This truly is the unfinished business of the 21st century, and it is the work we are called to do. I look forward to being your partner in all the days and years ahead. Let’s keep fighting for opportunity and dignity. Let’s keep fighting for freedom and equality. Let’s keep fighting for full participation, and let’s keep telling the world over and over again that yes, women’s are human rights and human rights are women’s rights once and for all.”
Republicans thought they could destroy Hillary with their Benghazi conspiracy theories, but that was hardly her first rodeo wtih the GOP clown show. In spite of everythig they’ve done to try to destroy her, she’s one of America’s most popular politicians. Her SuperPAC is fired up and already taking out Karl Rove and Mitt Romney on social media. She’s a force to be reckoned with.
The Christian Science Monitor 'President Hillary Clinton?' In mock election, she wallops the competition.
By Brad Knickerbocker, Staff writer / April 6, 2013 at 3:19 pm EDT
It may be the weekend for the “Final Four” in the NCAA basketball championship. But for political junkies out there, the “Sweet Sixteen” already has been whittled down to the two major party candidates in the 2016 presidential race: Hillary Rodham Clinton and Marco Rubio.
That is, if you believe the chart concocted by the Washington Post the other day pitting 32 possible candidates among Republicans and Democrats who (in their dreams, at least) have a shot at the White House.
More on that later. But former first lady, US Senator, and Secretary of State Clinton seemed to be all over the news this week.
Among the headlines: “Be Afraid, GOP: Hillary Clinton Is Back and She Will Beat You in 2016” (The Daily Beast). “A viewer's guide to Hillary Clinton Fever” (Politico). “James Carville Joins Hillary Clinton Super PAC” (Huffington Post). “Hillary 2016 Supporters Are an Intrepid Bunch” (Slate).
Even the nay-sayers kept Clinton’s name in the news. “Hillary Clinton, a mistake for 2016” (CNN). “Hopefully the Worst Column Anyone Will Write About Hillary Clinton During This Slow News Week” (Slate again).
Part of the buzz no doubt is tied to the (not surprising) news that she has another book deal with Simon & Schuster – a memoir about her years in the Obama administration.
Financial terms have not been disclosed, the Associated Press reports. Clinton reportedly received $8 million for her 2003 memoir, "Living History," also published by Simon & Schuster. This new book is untitled so far, but it’s scheduled to come out in June 2014 – right in the middle of the mid-term elections campaign.
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Meanwhile, a “Ready for Hillary” political action committee has formed up.
“It’s a shadow campaign set up at least two years before Clinton will actually decide whether or not to run for president,” reports Slate’s David Wegel. “It’ll raise money, sell merchandise, and build lists until the actual Clinton campaign bursts to life. And then it will change its name to ‘Ready PAC,’ raise money, sell merchandise, and build lists, etc.”
"I’ve always looked at Hillary as a brand," Adam Parkhomenko, the new PAC’s 27 year-old executive director, told Wegel. "That’s been especially true in the last couple of years. It’s a brand I believe in. It’s a brand I want to protect. It’s a brand I want to build."
A source familiar with the group's fund-raising plans told CNN that the group has brought on board a national finance director – Matt Felan, the deputy national finance director on Clinton's 2008 presidential bid – and is assembling a team of regional fund-raising leaders.
"Few people understand the Clinton donor network better than Matt," the source said. "He is making calls and has received widespread positive response. Checks are starting to come in the door. Money shouldn't be a problem."
Clinton's 2008 campaign raised $220 million from donors, some of whom have already begun pitching in to this effort.
But back to that 2016 bracket competition, put together by the WashPost’s political blogger Chris Cillizza.
“Clinton demolished her competition – winning easily over Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and, finally, Vice President Joe Biden in the Final 4,” Cillizza speculates.
“Rubio’s path was slightly rockier,” he goes on. “He easily dispatched former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman in the first two rounds before running into stiffer competition in the Elite 8 against former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. To make it to the final matchup, Rubio had to weather a nip and tuck vote against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. For much of the balloting the race was within a point but Rubio widened it out a bit to claim a 52 percent to 48 percent victory.”
In this made-up competition, Sen. Rand Paul plays the kind of role his libertarian father former Rep. Ron Paul did in 2012, making it to the Final Four before being bumped out by Gov. Christie.
(Rick Santorum is back, but loses in the first round to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Some readers are wondering why Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich were not included among the 16 Republican wannabes. Too shop-worn, perhaps?)
Through 5 pm ET Sunday, there’s an online election on Cillizza’s mock lineup. Vote here. Out of the 2,526 people who’ve weighed in at this writing, Clinton is whipping Rubio 76-24 percent. Not scientific, of course, but perhaps an indicator of the former Secretary of State’s strength in 2016 – if, as her many fans hope, she decides to run.
**********Cancer Patients Facing Death Thanks to the Republican Sequester
By: Adalia Woodbury
Apr. 6th, 2013
While conservatives whine about White House tours and look for praise over the great sacrifice of ending their tax payer subsidized haircuts, Americans are feeling the pinch of sequester in their ability to survive.
For some people the sequester means making ends meet harder and yes they are suffering in ways that doesn’t matter to the corporatists in the Republican Party. As noted by our guest contributor, Republicans in Tennessee call their version of a starve the poor policy an incentive to improve school performance.
Even before the Sequester, people on Medicaid were more likely to have chronic illnesses simply because there is a long established nexus between poverty and chronic health problems. Policies like the one in Tennessee will only increase illness and do nothing to improve school performance.
As Gallup‘s data shows, the poorest among us continue to be prone to chronic health problems.
Gallup chronic illness and poverty
It isn’t surprising that as poverty goes up illness trickles down much faster than prosperity.
According to a study in Kentucky released in February:
“While changes in our healthcare delivery system may provide more healthcare opportunities for low income Kentuckians, these results show how vital a strong economy, and jobs that pay well, are to our population’s health.”
Before the Republican Party’s policies gave us the great recesson, Steven Wolf conducted a similar study in Virginia. In 2006, he warned:
“More than half remained uninsured specifically because they simply couldn’t afford it, the CDC said. Research consistently highlights the negative link between reduced income and worsening health — as salaries drop, individuals tend to be more stressed, and generally lead less-healthy lifestyles.
These people are going to develop diseases at a higher rate and the health care system is going to feel the brunt of it,”
Simply put, there is a nexus between poverty and chronic health issues. There is also a nexus between jobs that provide a living wage and having a healthy way of living. I refuse to call it a healthy lifestyle, because that infers that people in poverty actually have the luxury of choosing expensive nutritious foods over affordable less nutritious ones. It suggests that there is enough flexibility in the resources of someone who lives in poverty to not only get nutritious foods but enough of them. People who are starving are less likely to exercise. Contrary to the GOP’s rhetoric, living in poverty means constant stress be it worrying about feeding the kids or if you’ll have a roof over your head next week.
Cuts to Medicaid mean that someone who is most in need of medical care will fall through the holes in the safety net that only got larger with the sequester. It’s bad enough that people who suffer from chronic ailments directly related to poverty will fall through these holes. However, the suffering that comes with Sequester doesn’t end there.
The Washington Post reports that cancer clinics are turning away thousands of cancer patients because of the Sequester. This isn’t limited to one or a few states. It’s happening across the country.
Oncologists say that because of the Sequester cuts to Medicaid they can’t administer expensive and lifesaving chemotherapy and stay afloat at the same time. They have to choose between providing patients with life-saving chemotherapy and staying in business to at least save someone’s life.
For patients, this means trying to get the treatment they need to survive at a hospital. Granted it’s more expensive, which is ironic since the alleged objective of cutting spending is to reduce costs.
One study from actuarial firm Milliman found that “chemotherapy delivered in a hospital setting costs the federal government an average of $6,500 more annually than care delivered in a community clinic.”
Even if the twisted logic of making things more expensive actually cuts spending, there is the added problem that since most Medicare patients receive their treatments at oncology clinics instead of hospitals, it’s doubtful that hospitals will have the ability to take these patients on.
There is no way around it. This means there are cancer patients who simply won’t get treatment. I lost both of my parents to cancer, but I remain forever thankful that they had access to treatment for cancer along with the depression and cluster of other things that are part of the package. They didn’t have to hunt for a hospital to treat them because some lawmakers were too cheap and greedy to give a damn about the people they were hired to represent. There is no diplomatic way to express the contempt I have for politicians who place a higher priority on handouts to corporations and people who not only have more than they will ever need, but more than their children and grandchildren will ever need than on the lives of parents, grandparents or children who don’t have enough to provide the bare necessities of life. To my way of thinking, this isn’t merely bad policy. It’s criminal. It amounts exterminating people simply because they are poor, or at least not rich enough to buy a corrupt politician.
There is no way around it. While Republicans whine about cuts to small portions of the handouts they and their friends get it isn’t as if their lives depend on travelling by private jet or getting a subsidized haircut. It isn’t as if paying some taxes will mean a difference between survival and a shorter life expectancy for the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson and others who think the world revolves around them.
The same cannot be said about cuts that literally take the food out of children’s mouth