In the USA...United Surveillance AmericaIran nuclear deal shows US is now prepared to act independently of allies
Historic partners of US – Saudi Arabia and Israel – circumspect and angry over deal hailed by Syria and tolerated by Russia
Ian Black in Riyadh
The Guardian, Sunday 24 November 2013 19.45 GMT
It is too early to tell whether the Geneva nuclear agreement heralds a genuinely new phase in the tangled and troubled web of relations between the west and the Middle East. But initial reactions suggest it is a big deal – and one that has the potential at least, over time, to change the status quo of more than 30 years.
Israel responded angrily, Saudi Arabia with sulky silence and Syria with a swift welcome as the dramatic news from Switzerland triggered the rumbling of what may yet come to be seen as a tectonic shift in the political landscape of the region.
Mutual hostility between Iran and the US has formed the backdrop to much that has happened since the great rupture of 1979, when the staunchly pro-American shah was toppled by the Islamic revolution. The eight-year war launched by Saddam Hussein against Ayatollah Khomeini and the subsequent Iraqi invasion of Kuwait took place in the shadow of that estrangement.
Efforts at peace-making between Israel and its Palestinian and other Arab enemies have also faced complications because of Iranian hostility to the US and Israel – whose own undeclared (but internationally-tolerated) nuclear arsenal is a significant element of this story. Lebanon's Hezbollah, the strongest non-state actor in the region, remains one of Tehran's most potent assets.
And the Middle East's worst current crisis, the devastating war in Syria, is in some ways the frontline of a strategic and sectarian confrontation, fought both directly and by proxy, between Iran and the US-backed conservative monarchies of the Gulf.
It was no coincidence that President Bashar al-Assad's government was so quick to hail what it called an "historic accord" in Geneva. Russia, his main international ally and protector, has also come out well of the P5 + 1 negotiations, enhancing its role as a mediator.
So the nuclear agreement may create some movement in the Syrian stalemate if – still a big if – Tehran and Moscow use their influence with Damascus. That may make it easier to convene the long-delayed Geneva II conference, though prospects for a diplomatic end to the war remain slim as long as the rebels insist Assad must go. Opposition supporters fear he will now feel emboldened – condemning Geneva as "another Munich".
There are plenty of other reasons for caution. The deal is an interim one for six months and the sanctions relief it brings will be reversible. It faces threats from hardliners in Tehran and Washington. It is also still hard to envisage the often-mentioned "grand bargain" between these old enemies – because there are so many other contentious issues that have not been addressed.
Israel, looking uncomfortably isolated, has made its position clear, with Binyamin Netanyahu lambasting the agreement as an "historic mistake" – and perhaps, ironically, thus helping President Hassan Rouhani sell the deal at home.
But Israel's ability to attack Iranian nuclear facilities – without overt or covert US help – now looks like a hollow threat, for political reasons as well as the limited capabilities of even its formidable air force. It will also fear renewed pressure to come clean about its own nuclear arsenal – still a regional monopoly.
Elsewhere the discomfort is most obvious in Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf states, which have long seen Iran as a greater threat and strategic rival than Israel. Pejorative talk of a "Zionist-Wahhabi" alliance reflects that. King Abdullah, as revealed by WikiLeaks, famously urged Barack Obama to "cut off the head of the (Iranian) snake". Instead the US president has done a deal with it.
The silence in Riyadh on Sunday was thunderously eloquent. It would be smart of the Iranians to extend their current charm offensive to the Gulf neighbours but it will be difficult to allay suspicions. The UAE, interestingly, gave the agreement a terse welcome.
Viewed from the heartlands of the Middle East, the most striking conclusion of the Geneva drama is that the US is now prepared to act more independently of its traditional allies – the Israelis and Saudis – than ever before. That appears to confirm the dawning realisation that Obama is simultaneously pivoting away from the region – while helping craft its new realities.
****************Obama’s Diplomatic Approach Brings About a Landmark Deal Over Iran Nuclear Program
By: Sarah Jones
Sunday, November, 24th, 2013, 9:52 am
The war mongers aren’t digging the landmark deal that the United States and five other world powers (P5 plus 1 partners: the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China, as well as the European Union) announced on Sunday to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief. It’s called diplomacy, and it’s what Obama ran on regarding his preferred approach to most foreign policy.
The President’s sanctions against Iran and hopes for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear program have had a rather large first step success with this deal. Announcing it, Obama said, “Today, that diplomacy opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure — a future in which we can verify that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful and that it cannot build a nuclear weapon.”
The President explained that he used diplomacy because he preferred to resolve this issue peacefully if possible, “Since I took office, I’ve made clear my determination to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. As I’ve said many times, my strong preference is to resolve this issue peacefully, and we’ve extended the hand of diplomacy. Yet for many years, Iran has been unwilling to meet its obligations to the international community. So my administration worked with Congress, the United Nations Security Council and countries around the world to impose unprecedented sanctions on the Iranian government.”
The sanctions that Republicans scoffed at have actually worked. Obama explained that they have had a “substantial impact on the Iranian economy”.
And the big deal (and it is a very big deal that the war mongers will try to play down in a desperate attempt to prove that peaceful diplomacy never works), “Today, that diplomacy opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure — a future in which we can verify that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful and that it cannot build a nuclear weapon.”
Obama explained that this is just a first step. “While today’s announcement is just a first step, it achieves a great deal. For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and key parts of the program will be rolled back. Iran has committed to halting certain levels of enrichment and neutralizing part of its stockpiles. Iran cannot use its next-generation centrifuges, which are used for enriching uranium. Iran cannot install or start up new centrifuges, and its production of centrifuges will be limited. Iran will halt work at its plutonium reactor. And new inspections will provide extensive access to Iran’s nuclear facilities and allow the international community to verify whether Iran is keeping its commitments.”
In exchange, the U.S. and her allies will provide Iran with “modest relief”. “Over the next six months, we will work to negotiate a comprehensive solution.”
The President made the case for diplomacy again and stuck it to the war mongers (many of whom have been trying to paint Obama as weak on this issue because he wouldn’t escalate matters with force), “Ultimately, only diplomacy can bring about a durable solution to the challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear program. As President and Commander-in-Chief, I will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But I have a profound responsibility to try to resolve our differences peacefully, rather than rush towards conflict. Today, we have a real opportunity to achieve a comprehensive, peaceful settlement, and I believe we must test it.”
Gee, this is being hailed as a landmark deal and yet we’ve been told that this president’s presidency is over because of website glitches. If that were even remotely true, he’d have no influence in foreign policy and yet here he is, bringing home the diplomatic solution he championed on this issue.
While many are unhappy with this deal and Republicans will pick it apart until you want to tear your hair out in frustration, don’t miss the salient point that diplomacy and sanctions worked to bring parties to the table. Yes this is just a first step, but it’s also a BFD.
November 24, 2013Court Confronts Religious Rights of Corporations
By ADAM LIPTAK
WASHINGTON — Hobby Lobby, a chain of crafts stores, closes on Sundays, costing its owners millions but honoring their Christian faith.
The stores play religious music. Employees get free spiritual counseling. But they do not get free insurance coverage for some contraceptives, even though President Obama’s health care law requires it.
Hobby Lobby, a corporation, says that forcing it to provide the coverage would violate its religious beliefs. A federal appeals court agreed, and the Supreme Court is set to decide on Tuesday whether it will hear the Obama administration’s appeal from that decision or appeals from one of several related cases.
Legal experts say the court is all but certain to step in, setting the stage for another major decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act two years after a closely divided court sustained its requirement that most Americans obtain health insurance or pay a penalty.
“The stakes here, symbolically and politically, are very high,” said Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Virginia, citing the clash between religious teachings and the administration’s embattled health care law.
In weighing those interests, the Supreme Court would have to assess the limits of a principle recognized in its 2010 decision in Citizens United, which said corporations have free speech rights under the First Amendment. The question now is whether corporations also have the right to religious liberty.
In ruling for Hobby Lobby, the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit said it had applied “the First Amendment logic of Citizens United.”
“We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression,” Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich wrote for the majority.
A dissenting member of the court, Chief Judge Mary Beck Briscoe, wrote that the majority’s approach was “nothing short of a radical revision of First Amendment law.”
But Judge Harris L Hartz, in a concurrence, said the case was in some ways easier than Citizens United. “A corporation exercising religious beliefs is not corrupting anyone,” he wrote.
Among Hobby Lobby’s lawyers is Paul D. Clement, who led the 2012 Supreme Court challenge to the health care law. The new case opened another front in a larger war on the law, which, as Hobby Lobby put it in its Supreme Court brief, “imposes massive obligations on individuals and corporations alike in the process of attempting to fundamentally reorder the nation’s health care system.”
Mr. Clement’s main adversary in the 2012 case, Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr., told the justices that the 10th Circuit’s “unprecedented ruling” in this case would allow “for-profit corporations to deny employees the health coverage to which they are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the individuals who own a controlling stake in the corporations.”
The Supreme Court is generally receptive to appeals from the solicitor general, especially when a lower court has effectively held a federal law unconstitutional. The justices are also apt to step in when, as here, lower courts are divided on an important legal question. Even Hobby Lobby, which won in the appeals court, agrees that the justices should hear the administration’s appeal.
“This is a perfect storm,” said Richard Garnett, a law professor at Notre Dame, adding that it is also a worrisome one. “Debates about campaign finance in Citizens United and abortion and Obamacare,” he said, “could distort the court’s analysis of religious freedom.”
Hobby Lobby was founded in 1970 in Oklahoma City by David Green, and it now has more than 500 stores and 13,000 employees of all sorts of faiths. Mr. Green and his family own Hobby Lobby through a privately held corporation.
The Greens told the justices in their brief that some drugs and devices that can prevent embryos from implanting in the womb are tantamount to abortion and that providing insurance coverage for those forms of contraception would make the company and its owners complicit in the practice. They said they had no objection to 16 other forms of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including condoms, diaphragms, sponges, several kinds of birth control pills and sterilization surgery.
But Hobby Lobby’s failure to offer comprehensive coverage could, it said, subject it to federal fines of $1.3 million a day. Dropping insurance coverage for its employees, it added, would be disruptive and unfair and lead to fines of $26 million a year.
Mr. Verrilli countered that requiring insurance plans to include comprehensive coverage for contraception was justified by the government’s interest in “the promotion of public health” and in ensuring that “women have equal access to health care services.” Doctors rather than employers should decide which form of contraception is best, he added.
The administration has excluded many religious organizations from the law’s requirements; it has grandfathered some insurance plans that had not previously offered the coverage; and, under the health care law, small employers need not offer health coverage at all. In June, a federal judge in Tampa, Fla., estimated that a third of Americans are not subject to the requirement that their employers provide coverage for contraceptives.
But the administration drew a line at larger, for-profit, secular corporations.
“Congress has granted religious organizations alone the latitude to discriminate on the basis of religion in setting the terms and conditions of employment, including compensation,” the Justice Department told the 10th Circuit appeals court, in Denver.
“No court has ever found a for-profit company to be a religious organization for purposes of federal law,” the brief went on. “To the contrary, courts have emphasized that an entity’s for-profit status is an objective criterion that allows courts to distinguish a secular company from a potentially religious organization, without conducting an intrusive inquiry into the entity’s religious beliefs.”
The appeals court disagreed, ruling that Hobby Lobby is a “person” for purposes of the relevant federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
Religious liberty, Judge Tymkovich wrote, cannot turn on whether money changes hands. “Would an incorporated kosher butcher really have no claim to challenge a regulation mandating non-kosher butchering practices?” he asked.
Other federal appeals courts considering challenges to the health care law’s so-called contraception mandate have ruled that the 1993 law does not apply to corporations.
After finding that Hobby Lobby was entitled to the law’s protections, the 10th Circuit went on to say that the company’s sincere religious beliefs had been compromised without good reason, noting the limited number of contraception methods at issue and the many employers exempt from the law’s requirements.
Professor Laycock said that only one thing was certain about the issues presented in the case, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, No. 13-354.
“They’re almost sure to take it,” he said of the justices, “and no one has any idea how it’s going to come out.”
November 24, 2013Medicaid Expansion Faces Major Logistical Challenges Among the Homeless
By ANNIE LOWREY
CHICAGO — In a back room at the Franciscan House of Mary and Joseph, one of the largest homeless shelters in Chicago, a social worker named Sheena Ward guided Terry Cannon through a Medicaid application.
A wet cough punctuated Mr. Cannon’s often wry answers to Ms. Ward’s questions about his disability status, military service and marital history. “I have glaucoma, I’m going blind. I have lung disease, I’m dying,” he said. “How can they deny me? If they do, give me a couple years and I’ll be gone.”
Today, most state Medicaid programs cover only disabled adults or those with dependents, so Mr. Cannon and millions of other deeply impoverished Americans are left without access to the program. But starting Jan. 1, President Obama’s health care law will expand Medicaid coverage to adults with incomes under 138 percent of the federal poverty line, and enrollment is expected to increase by about nine million next year. Thousands of homeless people will be among the newly covered.
Housing advocates say they believe that the Medicaid expansion has the potential to reduce rates of homelessness significantly, both by preventing low-income Americans from becoming homeless as a result of illness or medical debt and by helping homeless people become eligible for and remain in housing.
“We really feel like this is the last piece of the puzzle that we need to end chronic homelessness,” said Steve Berg, the vice president for programs and policy at the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
But signing up homeless people for Medicaid is a huge logistical challenge, as housing advocates acknowledge. Homeless individuals often do not have an email address, phone number or permanent address. Many are unaware of the health care law or are skeptical of public programs.
Housing advocates and social workers across the country are now on a major push to inform impoverished and homeless people that they are eligible for Medicaid in the 25 states that are expanding the program and in the District of Columbia, and to enroll them.
For homeless people, experts said, the Medicaid expansion will mean more consistent treatment for medical conditions, including alcoholism, drug addiction, chronic pain and depression. For states and cities, they said, it will mean a more effective safety net, and perhaps even a cheaper one.
“You cannot successfully treat someone for diabetes if they’re living under a bridge,” said Ed Blackburn, the executive director of Central City Concern, a nonprofit agency in Portland, Ore. “And serious mental illness and chronic health conditions are barriers to getting housing.”
To help spread the word, Heartland Alliance, the nonprofit organization where Ms. Ward works, has stationed employees in soup kitchens, shelters and medical clinics to increase awareness and encourage enrollment. “They’re accustomed to a no,” Ms. Ward said of her homeless clients. “You really have to encourage them and let them know it’s their right to be covered.”
The conditions of homeless life can also make it difficult to enroll. At the House of Mary and Joseph, Julie Nelson, associate director of outreach, benefits and entitlements at Heartland Alliance, huddled with 48-year-old Marvin Cosper. “I heard about Obamacare,” he said, nodding, as Ms. Nelson walked him through the basics of the available plans.
But when she explained that it might take 60 days for him to be enrolled, he bristled. “I’m just passing through,” he said.
Mr. Cosper is a former drug addict and onetime crack cocaine dealer who has spent much of the past 20 years homeless, moving from state to state. “I was under the impression it was federal,” he said. “I thought it was federal, so whatever state you were in, you could use that card.”
“That’s a really good question,” Ms. Nelson said. “It goes state by state.” About half of states have opted out of the Medicaid expansion, a decision made possible by the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling on the law.
Mr. Cosper decided to sign up for Medicaid anyway.
Another client, Donna Terrell, who is 54 and has been homeless for a decade, worked with Ms. Nelson to sort out whether she was enrolled already.
“I’m in limbo,” Ms. Terrell said, settling onto a cot with a plastic mattress in a room that would hold about 40 women that night. She said she had filled out the paperwork but had never received an enrollment card, ending up with $6,000 in medical bills instead. She and Ms. Nelson determined that Ms. Terrell did have coverage, but her card had been sent to a shelter that had shut down months before.
If the logistical challenges of signing up homeless people for Medicaid can be mitigated, housing advocates and social workers say, the Medicaid expansion could provide profound benefits for them, even though some experts caution that finding doctors who accept Medicaid will continue to be a challenge in many states.
Studies suggest that most chronically homeless Americans are uninsured. It can be logistically difficult for people with very low or nonexistent incomes to gain access even to charity care and free clinics, because getting there costs money and because clinics’ hours and ability to provide care are limited.
The Medicaid expansion is expected to greatly improve access to care for hundreds of thousands of homeless Americans, who would be able to see physicians and specialists, often at no cost.
It might also shift the burden of care from emergency rooms to doctors’ offices, with benefits for state budgets. Homeless people tend to use health care services in the most expensive ways, said Jennifer Ho, a senior adviser at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. “They show up when they’re sicker,” she said. “They stay longer. And it’s harder to discharge them because they don’t have a place to go.”
Housing advocates emphasized that the Medicaid expansion would not directly help homeless people find housing. But officials at federal agencies, national housing organizations and local nonprofit organizations pointed to several ways it could reduce rates of homelessness.
In addition to helping prevent homelessness due to medical debt or untreated illness, the expansion could free up money for nonprofit groups to spend on housing, rather than on health care, officials at the National Alliance to End Homelessness said.
The expanded coverage might also make it easier for homeless people to find and stay in housing. For instance, some housing units require prospective tenants to have Medicaid, Ms. Nelson said. Moreover, the expanded Medicaid program would “pay for services that help people become stable so that they can remain in housing,” said Karen Batia, the executive director of Heartland Alliance’s health outreach operations.
“It’s a means to an end,” said Ms. Ward, the social worker, adding that it would help organizations like Heartland “treat the person holistically.”
Some states might try to bring down medical costs by asking the federal government for waivers to spend Medicaid dollars on supportive housing, experts said.
But first, the challenge is expanding Medicaid to a fragile and hard-to-reach population.
***************Mark Zuckerberg Smacks Down the Media Myth That The Website Rollout Has Doomed the ACA
By: Jason Easley
Sunday, November, 24th, 2013, 1:27 pm It took just a couple of sentences for Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to destroy the media myth that the Affordable Care Act is doomed on ABC’s This Week.
WRIGHT: And there’s the program where the president himself admits the government blew it, big time. The troubled website, health care.gov. What advice would you have for the president on his poor website?
ZUCKERBERG: You know, sometimes stuff doesn’t work when you want it to. We’ve certainly had plenty of mistakes and things that haven’t worked the way that we want to. The right thing here is just to keep on focusing on building the service that you think is right in the long-term.
Well, that certainly wasn’t the answer that ABC News was looking for. Notice the bias in the ABC News piece. ABC called the website troubled without admitting that most of the problems have already been fixed. ABC was hoping that Zuckerberg would feed into their narrative that website is a horrible disaster, but instead the Facebook founder told them the truth.
The problems that the website had really aren’t a big deal. Anyone who works online knows that sometimes things break. Sometimes things don’t work the way you want them to, but people don’t abandon their long term goals because of a tech problem. You fix the problem, and move on.The media refuses to move on.
To them, the website hasn’t changed at all since the first week of October. They keep acting like the ACA website is still broken even though it isn’t. The issues with the website were never going to be the end of the ACA. The website was always going to be fixed. People were and are going to sign up.
Zuckerberg was right. The problems with the website rollout have nothing to do with reforming the health insurance system. The media is wrong. The Republicans are wrong. The goal is still there, and Democrats are close to making the historic reform of our broken healthcare system a reality.
The media is rooting for the ACA to fail, but just like the Republicans that they are taking their lead from, they will be the ones who live with the bitter taste of failure.
***************Corporate Welfare Republican Hypocrites Claim the ACA is Economic Redistribution
By: Sarah Jones
Sunday, November, 24th, 2013, 2:32 pm
With website glitches going nowhere and the GOP playbook almost played out, Byron York, chief political correspondent for the Washington Examiner and Fox News contributor, is busy trying to concern troll the “redistribution” structure of ObamaCare to the mainstream media like John Harwood (a very sane, responsible journalist). York is not alone in this venture.
York tweeted Harwood, “Obama totally misrepresented plan, ignoring its redistributive structure in his public appeals.”
And again, “BTW, you are absolutely right to say that ‘the redistribution of wealth has always been a central feature of [Obamacare].’”
But Harwood, who covers Washington and national politics for CNBC and the New York Times, is not new to politics, nor is he a drama king/concern troll like many of these fools. He wondered, “what does it say abt our politics that saying “economic justice requires redistribution of resources” is red flag? http://nyti.ms/1h9OPPu
Harwood linked to his NYT article that discusses redistribution of ObamaCare in depth. He noted:
“Redistribution is a loaded word that conjures up all sorts of unfairness in people’s minds,” said William M. Daley, who was Mr. Obama’s chief of staff at the time. Republicans wield it “as a hammer” against Democrats, he said, adding, “It’s a word that, in the political world, you just don’t use.”
York had a very silly answer, “It says ‘economic justice’ is incredibly slippery, potentially dangerous concept. Reasonable to view as red flag.”
Harwood, “OK. But pretty much every political idea or value can present slippery slope problems”.
And there you have it. The truth.
Let’s take Republican ideas like Republicans’ defense of oil company subsidies and of Walmart’s refusal to pay a living wage thereby forcing employees on government programs (subsidizing Walmart’s profits with our tax dollars) — both of these are a redistribution of wealth – a socialization of corporate losses while refusing to let the people in on the profits.
ObamaCare returns the people’s money to the people.
Citizens want other citizens covered a lot more than they want to subsidize oil company losses and Walmart’s cheapness with their employees while getting screwed on the profits. And no matter what Republicans say or how entitled they act to make decisions about our money, it is OUR MONEY and OUR VOTE. We already voted on this issue and the polls back it up. The only real issue with ObamaCare is some liberals don’t think it goes far enough.
ObamaCare benefits those of us with private insurance already by cutting costs because those without insurance won’t be using hospitals as healthcare visits. Those with private insurance will still benefit from free well tests like mammograms and protection from insurance companies dropping us when/if we get sick.
All of this ObamaScare fear mongering is meant to justify scraping ObamaCare:
I don't believe Obamacare can be fixed to lower premiums and expand access. We need to scrap it & start over: https://t.co/LlBcNOK4SE
— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPWhip) November 24, 2013
Republicans want to scrap ObamaCare and start over – but not really. If they really wanted to start over, they’d have an idea and they don’t. But whatever they come up with will be a corporate giveaway that doesn’t protect patients, if their previous “solutions” are any indication.
So they’re going to rattle up so “redistribution” fears while totally ignoring their own very costly and dangerous welfare/redistribution to corporations. Republicans are the ultimate backseat drivers — yelling without telling the driver what the problem is, just so they can hopefully cause an accident in the service of stopping progress. Their hypocritical, Machiavellian “ends justify the means” tactics know no bounds.
This America – the one where other citizens want their fellow citizens to have access to affordable care, is not the GOP’s America. These are the same people who mock the sick and shame the poor, while cheering the death of the uninsured. Of course they think any monies going to the poor instead of Shell Oil Company is a very bad thing.
But the American people don’t share the GOP’s vision for America. And that is the real reason they won’t stop back-seat screeching and concern trolling.
It’s true – there’s redistribution in ObamaCare. Of course there is. Any time we spend tax dollars we are redistributing the wealth. The questions are, who benefits and what are the other ramifications/costs/benefits to society.
Don’t be afraid of “redistribution” charges, because this accusation is a phony distraction with very big holes for the party of Corporate Welfare. It just shows their rampant hypocrisy and feelings of entitlement to our money – which is ironic, since many of the corporations and very rich (Mitt Romney) don’t even pay taxes, so why should they have any say in how we redistribute them.
******************Wealthy Libertarians Are Driving Poverty, Unemployment, and Anti-Government Discontent
Sunday, November, 24th, 2013, 8:17 pm
For all the conservative’s claims that America is an exceptional nation, they are taking extraordinary steps to destroy everything that made this country exceptional by following Europe’s austerity agenda that is giving rise to neo-fascism gaining power and influence across the continent. The difference between Europe and America is that where European governments embraced austerity based on flawed economic data that is driving the threat of fascism, America is suffering a concerted effort by wealthy libertarians using austerity to create conditions driving high unemployment, poverty, anti-government discontent, and misplaced anger to foster an environment conducive to the rise of fascism.
The players behind the drive toward corporate and, to a lesser degree, religious fascism in America are rumored to have historical ties to, and were complicit, in Nazism’s rise in 1930s Germany and Stalin’s fascism in 1920s Soviet Union. Their support for government privatization is setting the stage for their particular brand of corporate fascism by funding efforts to gut social programs, increase joblessness, neuter the federal government, and incite anger among those most affected by their austerity economics. Some scholars consider fascism an ultra-right wing agenda due to its adherence to social conservatism and abject opposition to egalitarianism’s premise that all human beings are “equal in fundamental worth or social status.”
Corporate fascism entails “principles, doctrines, or a system of corporative organization of government founded on privatization and corporate ownership.” It is important to note that under Nazism, the needs of the individual were subordinate to the needs of the state, and in 21st century America there has been a definite trend towards giving preference to the needs of corporatists like the Koch brothers and Wall Street over the needs of the people. Subsequently, the Republican push to decimate government investment, eliminate social programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and other crucial safety nets, combined with killing jobs and increasing poverty among the population is leading America down the same austerity path giving rise to the dangerous neo-fascism threatening Europe. For a portent of what awaits America if its addiction to austerity economics is not broken soon, a brief history of how Europe is falling victim to the threat of fascism is reported here. It is a cautionary tale that both describes what lies in store for America if it continues pandering to corporatists and religious extremists, and reinforces what economists and liberals have proposed is a solution to save America from the threat of corporate and religious fascism.
A little over two weeks ago in Kansas, a neo-Nazi group held an event to commemorate a travesty in 1938 Germany when paramilitary and non-Jewish civilians swept through streets across Germany destroying and ransacking Jewish homes, synagogues, schools, and businesses to protest conditions many Americans are facing today as a result of Republican economic austerity. For the neo-Nazis, the Night of Broken Glass is an auspicious event and the white supremacist party that claims to be “the party for every patriotic white American” teamed up with white supremacist groups such as the white Christian Aryan Nations, the Sadistic Souls Motorcycle Club, and the Traditionalist American Knights (a KKK affiliate) to protest against granting amnesty to “illegal aliens” they claim are responsible for the “nation drowning in a free fall of economic collapse.” The group passed out leaflets for the rally that said, “If you are working for a slave’s wage, making barely enough to feed your family, and are tired of seeing the corruption that is crippling our land, the time to get active in this fight is now.”
The neo-Nazis have bought in to right-wing extremists’ (Republican) ploy to assign blame to immigrants (among others) for the nation’s economic woes characterized by pitiful wages and no jobs that make it impossible for millions of Americans to feed their families. However, it is not because of undocumented workers, it is the Koch brothers’ and Republican austerity they see is successfully contributing to the threat of fascism in Europe, and soon in America if it continues according to their plan. Like Hitler’s propaganda machine in Germany, there is a concerted effort by Republican conservatives, libertarian corporatists, and religious extremists to place blame for the nation’s ills on immigrants, atheists, gays, women, and particularly government regulations and taxation as the sole reason the masses are not thriving economically.
There is a reason the Koch brothers and their cohort ALEC are funneling millions to anti-government teabaggers and religious right anti-choice activists, and it is part of their plan to stir up opposition to equal rights, religious freedom, and particularly the federal government and social programs. Inciting discontent and division among the population, coupled with their job-killing austerity economics, stagnating wages, and domestic spending cuts is the recipe for the growth of fascism and at some point the people will look to a champion who will promise a path to economic prosperity if they are given authority to transform America according to the Koch brothers’ libertarian vision of no federal government, no regulations, no taxation, a return to Christian moral values, and free market capitalism that is code for corporate owned-and-operated government.
America is afforded a measure of protection from fascism because there are still social programs and protections set in place to prevent the entire population from falling into abject poverty, but they are under assault from surrogates for corporations and Wall Street. Republicans have attempted to destroy social programs under the guise of deficit reduction and instilling personal responsibility into the population, but their policies are responsible for the peoples’ economic plight that Kansas neo-Nazis protested against two weeks ago. For their part, conservatives have openly driven a wedge between the population that is crucial to the rise of fascism, and whether it is opposition to immigration reform, religious freedom, women’s rights, or workers’ rights, the goal is always to pit one set of Americans against another to distract attention away from the real culprits; Republicans, corporatists, and religious extremists all funded by the real advocates and benefactors of corporate fascism; the Koch brothers.
The people of this country are being given a preview of what lies in their future if they allow Republicans to continue doing the bidding of the Koch brothers. The teabaggers, religious extremists, and racists are all being manipulated to do the will of the Koch brothers, and when their corporate fascism does come to America, it will be wrapped in a corporate flag emblazoned with Koch Industries’ logo and no bible, guns, or copy of the Constitution will save them.
****************The Big Oil and Gas-Owned Republican House Trying to Do the Fracking Bidding of Big Gas and Oil
By: Dennis S
Sunday, November, 24th, 2013, 9:28 pm
Today, I’m addressing a political and corporate war that’s been out of the headlines of late due to the relentless Republican distortions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) replete with vicious criticisms of the president and HHS when in fact a bombastically incompetent trio of outside private contractors were essentially responsible for 99% of the mess and had the gall to blame the government for not realizing how incredibly lacking in skills they truly were.
So while Issa, Gowdy and the rest of the so-called Government and Oversight Committee clown-car passengers continue to waste time and money to get to the “bottom” of HealthCare.gov, an issue that could truly be the target of the committee sails blissfully along, its deadly byproducts ignored by today’s dubious crop of “compassionate conservatives.”
Yes, I’m talking about the recent phenomenon called “fracking” and how the health and well-being of Americans means precious little to Teapublicans and their Representatives in the House. Here’s a wonderful layman’s working definition of fracking from a splendid Website appropriately entitled “the Dangers of Fracking”; “Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks to release natural gas inside.”
The site goes on to present tidbits of information about fracking that inspire “shock and awe” in anybody with a brain and conscience. There’s stuff that leaches into wells, groundwater and aquifers that can mess you up; even kill certain people. But the baby-starvers proved long ago that they have much more in common with a pathetic young mother from the cable show “Lockup” than they do with caring human beings no matter the potentially deadly consequences of respiratory and neurological effects, especially in children and the elderly.
In Lockup, a mid 30′s crack-addicted mother of two, who was once an attractive former school secretary and president of her senior class, is in jail on some drug charges. When asked what was more important to her, crack or her two girls, she gave a devastatingly sad but honest answer. “Crack!” As in the Tea Party obsession with vast wealth and hatred of all things Obama, theirs is a ‘crack’ answer to the question of money over the health of the victims of the awesomely irresponsible practices of the major oil and gas companies.
The companies, at least as long as the House blocks any attempts to stop this offensive and dangerous juggernaut, drill away (37 states at last count), full speed ahead. When challenged, they reference a 2004 George Bush era multi-year EPA ‘study’ that concluded that “The drilling process poses “little or no threat” and “does not justify additional study at this time.”
Ben Grumbles, an EPA assistant administrator at the time, oversaw the study. He finally came clean in two interviews with ProPublica in 2009 and 2011 (also reported in the NY Times), admitting that these fraudulent assurances were proffered in spite of the fact that the agency had actually determined that fracking may release potentially hazardous chemicals into drinking water. It was also revealed that EPA staffers at the time cut an exception deal with Halliburton (Dick Cheney was an active participant in the talks) that eventually allowed drillers to piggyback on this squalid back-room devilry and bypass the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act passages applicable to fracking. And, five of the seven members of the EPA’s ‘review panel’ had conflicts of interest.
The 2004 version has pretty much been discredited by objective environmental scientists and a new EPA study is underway. The final report on the latest extraordinarily comprehensive EPA effort is not expected until 2014. That due date is, of course, another reason for billionaires to pour crazy money into Republican campaigns; probably second only to funding the destruction of the Affordable Care Act. You can background what’s involved in the latest study here. A point to be made; A site PDF covers all the areas of inquiry and analysis, including a list of chemicals involved. The list runs on for 44 pages with roughly 30 entries per most pages.
Meanwhile, it’s comforting to know that members of our House of Representatives will be doing everything in their power to protect us from those unfeeling oil and gas interests. Spoiler alert; I’m kidding! Let’s take a look at recent votes to see how the “Live by the Bible” crowd is protecting the health of the children and elderly, not to mention everybody else, including, interestingly enough, the rurals whose wells near drilling sites are playing host to any number of God-awful chemicals.
There’s HR 20 the GOP loves. That would prohibit federal fracking regulations on federal and tribal lands. What the hell, we’ve historically killed millions of Native Americans anyway, what’s a few more? The bill would anoint states as the sole regulatory authority (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). I know all the House vacuum-headed sellouts from my South Carolina Teapublican delegation heartily agreed with HR 20.
House Democrats tried to slide a requirement through to provide detailed public disclosures about fracking on federal and non-federal lands. Such esoteric considerations as chemicals used, disposal of fluids and assorted other information of interest to those possessed of love for their fellow man, woman and family members. Teapublicans were stunned. WHAAAA? They screamed in unison as they s**t-canned the Dems naïve assumption that their GOP colleagues might actually give a damn about their constituents. Again, the Republican menaces “serving” my state were unanimous in their desire to keep the negative affects of fracking a secret.
The next kissing oil’s ass vote saw mass Teapublican approval for HR 1900 setting deadlines for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and other agencies to act on natural gas pipeline applications. A one-year approval time-frame would be instituted. If no action was taken, there would be “legal consequences.” Other involved agencies would be given a totally impractical 90 days to complete environmental reviews and other evaluations. Wanna bet the agencies would be overwhelmed with applications? There’s also the matter of the key 2014 elections that might not be particularly friendly to the Tea Party set giving added urgency to deliver for the big boys.
Finally, there was a Democratic legislative attempt via motion to delay the above favor to the oil and gas industries. That was a 180 yea, 233 nay vote. Let’s see, how many Teapublicans are in the House? Yep, 233! Don’t know if all the nay votes were Teapublicans, but I suspect an overwhelming majority obeyed their oil and gas masters.
I guess it could be worse. A bunch of House members want to abolish the EPA. Michele Bachmann is one of them. She’s apparently not running again in 2014. Few colleagues will even realize she’s gone. Old school inveterate skirt-chaser Newt Gingrich, wants to erase the EPA as well. Last Republican Presidential primary, it was Newt who was erased.
There’s yet another bottom line here. Ruined drinking water? Time to go private!
So the wheels of billionaire-owned government trundle on, and, at least until 2014, thanks to Teapublicans, to the benefit of a very few.
**************The Audacity of Dope: Ted Cruz Claims Democrats Poisoned The Atmosphere of the Senate
By: Sarah Jones
Sunday, November, 24th, 2013, 4:48 pm
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) wailed about losing the ability to fundraise on the Senate floor, saying that Harry Reid change to the filibuster rule will “poison the atmosphere of the Senate,” in an interview with Bloomberg TV’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” that aired this weekend.
Yes, as if Cruz’s government shutdown that caused his own party to hate him even more didn’t poison the atmosphere of the Senate.
Transcript via Bloomberg TV:
HUNT: Big fight in the Senate this week over the rules change. Republicans are furious at what Harry Reid did. The atmosphere was pretty bad, anyway. This isn’t really going to change anything, is it?
CRUZ: Well, it’s unfortunate. It’s yet another abuse of power by the Democrats. And, frankly, it’s continuing the same pattern we’ve seen with Obamacare. It is a pattern of smoke and mirrors.
HUNT: Will it complicate passing budgets or debt ceilings or anything?
CRUZ: Of course it will. I mean, it will poison the atmosphere of the Senate, but, you know, it’s also an illustration of the Democrats breaking their word. Just like President Obama said, if you like your plan, you can keep it. And he said it over and over again. We now know that at the time he said that, he knew it was false.
Freshman Cruz was busy poisoning the atmosphere in the Senate on day one. In March, having been in the Senate for ten weeks, the brand new Senator told a Dallas paper that he was busy teaching veteran Republicans a thing or two. As if predicting Cruz’s future, the reporter asked him how he would get things done after burning so many bridges.
Cruz took refuge in “I can’t control what they do” answers and then pivoted.
In September, before Cruz shutdown the government and thereby ripped the last remaining shred of dignity from his fellow Republicans, the Republican Party has turned on Ted Cruz:
New York Republican Congressman Peter King: “My sound bite is to say he’s a fraud…I start with that, and then I go on. It takes me two or three minutes to explain it.”
Arizona Senator, and failed 2008 Republican Presidential Candidate, John McCain: “I spoke to Senator Cruz about my dissatisfaction.” I’m going to go out a limb here and characterize the famously fiery McCain’s paraphrase as the understatement of the month. McCain once publicly described his fellow lawmaker as a “wacko bird.”
Anonymous GOP Aide: “Some people came here to govern and make things better for their constituents. Ted Cruz came here to throw bombs and fundraise off of attacks on fellow Republicans. He’s a joke, plain and simple.”
No, Democrats didn’t “grab” any power by removing Ted Cruz’s ability to fundraise for himself instead of doing the job our tax dollars pay for — and that is what he’s really complaining about. Obama isn’t “stacking the courts” by getting a vote on his nominees and it’s hardly Democrats’ fault that the five year Republican war on Obama and the nation finally backfired.
Ted Cruz shut down the government over ObamaCare, but he doesn’t even have a suggestion or an idea for an alternative to ObamaCare. He is very, very good at blaming others for his actions though — to wit, pretending that it’s Democrats who poisoned the atmosphere in the Senate, which was obstruction central but still polite…
… Until this year when an unstoppable id with a penchant for grifting blew in with his big mouth, closed mind and a gaping hole of endless, childish need.
**************Sarah Palin Humiliates Herself On Fox News By Not Knowing What the Nuclear Option Is
By: Jason Easley
Sunday, November, 24th, 2013, 11:15 am
Sarah Palin hit a new low even for her today, by apparently not knowing what the nuclear option is during an interview on Fox News Sunday.
Well, there are a lot of wild outside the mainstream nominees and pals of Barack Obama that he wants to see help him usher in an agenda to transform America, so that is one thing that Congress has done right, and that is oppose some of these nominees. As for this rule change that some people are calling the nuclear option under Senate rules, you know, I guarantee this week, Thanksgiving dinner, people sitting around their tables, we’re not going to be talking about the president blessing this thwarting of the balance of power in Congress with new Senate rules called the nuclear option.
People are going to be talking about our failed big government policies that will bankrupt this country, so this distraction, this new talking point in the media, and with Congress, with Senators and with the president blessing this action. It’s a distraction. It’s a lot of double standard and Democrat hypocrisy, because just a few years ago they so anti antinuclear option. They were against thought of Republicans ever considering changing these rules, and yet now it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.
American people they don’t care about distractions like that. There not in that inside baseball, Senate rules stuff. They want government to be back on our side. They want it to get out of our lives, and uh, in order to do that we need those who will not fundamentally transform America, but will fundamentally restore what’s right about America. We do that by having good judicial nominees, and nominees in these regulatory agencies and elsewhere. So this new rule change, it stinks.
I don’t think Palin knows exactly what the nuclear option is. She seems to know that it was a rules change, and that it impacts nominees, but the president had nothing to do with the nuclear option. The president didn’t get to vote on it, or have a say in the change. Palin seemed to be suggesting that the nuclear option was some kind of Obama conspiracy to distract America.
Palin also claimed that Congress was involved in the nuclear option. The nuclear option had nothing to do with the House. When she was the Republican vice presidential nominee, Palin claimed that the vice president ran the Senate, so her statements today aren’t a surprise.
You can tell that Palin was on unstable ground because she kept repeating the fact that this was a rule change in the Senate as she searched her mind for 2008 talking points to link the nuclear option to.
She has no clue, which is why she should never be asked her opinion on anything. Sarah Palin doesn’t follow politics, but the media keeps propping her up and asking her for an opinion about things that she knows nothing about.
If Sarah Palin was capable of humiliation and embarrassment, she should be feeling those emotions right now. However, Palin is a narcissist who continues to defend her incorrect definition of slavery. Sarah Palin represents the stupidity of the Republican Party. She is an embarrassment who should not be given one second of airtime anywhere.
The media needs to be held accountable for giving her attention. The best way to do that is to call out her lack of knowledge every time they give her airtime. Her ignorance needs to be reflected back on the media.
Joe Lieberman could have been vice president too, but no one is asking him for his opinion on anything. It is time for the Palin madness to stop.