Category: Middle East


Republican Congressman Peter King (Manuel Balce Ceneta, AP)

Cracks in the Façade

Since President George W. Bush (not Congress!) declared America’s Global War on Terror during the tragic fall of 2001, its armed forces have been engaged in conflicts around the world. American engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan have received the lion’s share of the press coverage, owing as much to the intensity of the action as well as to the falsity of the claims that led to the Iraqi action, though the U.S. is still active in both countries, along with Yemen and now Pakistan. Support for all of these wars has been spurred by the meme: The threat of violent Islam.

Louie Gohmert (R-TX) even decried terror babies that were being born and bred to infiltrate the United States. That is right, terrorists are born that way even if gays are not! Regardless of the “financial advantage that terrorists gain” Gohmert claims by living in the United States, do we not have confidence that terrorists might come to peace with their new standard of living?

Louie Gohmert and Anderson Cooper on 'terror babies'

We are told that everything that one need concern themselves about the wars are encapsulated in that phrase. The threat of violent Islam. It tells us Islam is violent by nature. We are threatened by it. In our fear, we react (ironically, violently) in order to protect ourselves – because they do not know peace. Presidents Bush and Obama both promised to attack this extremism wherever it can be found, lest the threat ever reach our shores.

But worldwide conflicts require military equipment and the fighting have been incredibly lucrative for American defense contractors. The profit-driven media conglomerates that derive their revenue by selling ad spots for these defense companies have found a honey pot in hard times. Hence there should be no surprise that the main stream media have been complicit in beginning wars under false pretenses as well as promoting the meme: The threat of violent Islam. “They hate us because of who we are!” “They want to destroy America!” They must be stopped!

The attacks on reason and the coercions are broadly based. All while we hear the slogans and calls for action on TV, salon monkeys such as David Brooks – a politically active commentator for the New York Times – goes on the writers circuit touting his book while encouraging people to make spontaneous and emotionally charged decisions, as if he were working in a vacuum.

Yet the spreading peaceful demonstrations against dictatorships that had been supported by the American military industrial complex (remember Made in the U.S.A. in Tahrir Square?) has placed a crimp in both the popularity in supporting puppet dictators as well as a realization that there is another route to peace: Peace itself. Peace, solidarity and human rights are now the considerations of Americans when they look to the Middle East as the labor and democracy movements there inspire the growing labor and democracy movement at home. Many Americans no longer see Islam as violent by nature, but they do see Muslims, Christians and Secular Arabs working together in order to ensure a better life for themselves. They are beginning to realize that democratically-elected leaders who prop up dictators have no respect for the democracy that they protect.

The defense industry and the media have an advertising problem because people are now becoming aware of the misinformation that they have spread for the sake of corporate profits and lowering wages at home. Most of all, when Americans look to the Middle East, they are increasingly seeing themselves.

As a result, people who see an alternative have been flocking away from the mainstream media and toward NPR and PBS, whose coverage of international affairs has been very good in stark contrast to the corporate media. Listeners to NPR routinely rank higher than Fox, CNN and Network news in terms of their knowledge about current events. And the situation is even more stark in radio: Right wing radio is being eviscerated at a time when NPR ratings are on the rise. People can now tell the difference between information and propaganda.

That NPR, a non-profit organization, is now directly competing with profit-driven organizations like Fox and CNN makes NPR very dangerous indeed. It means that the profit-driven news model, already teetering on collapse, faces new pressures from an organization that does not need to pay dividends to stockholders. For the political class, the quality of NPR’s reporting it means that listeners are increasingly hearing dissenting points of view and that makes them less likely to listen to the propaganda – including the propaganda that capitalism is the best economic model always. (Just ignore that NPR is a non-profit. Look over here! A muslim radical! And he is a SOCIALIST!) People will be less likely to support wars in distant places, now understanding the true costs involved. That will affect profit margins in defense, the news and politics alike.

In the world of American politics as infected with aggressive mendacity as it is, whither the news organization at the head of the class?

Coordinated attack?

Last Thursday was yet another highly ironic day in Washington D.C. Two days after the major media widely promoted the sting operation on NPR by James O’Keefe that supposedly led to NPR CEO Vivian Schiller and executive Ron Schiller (no relation) to step down. NPR denies it, though many corporate news organizations argued it was because of their biased views of the Tea Party being a racist and xenophobic organization, Tea Party Republican Congressman Peter King opened his hearings on Muslim Extremism in the United States.

The recent activity revolving around Islam seems to be a coordinated distract, divide and confuse operation by the right. It would be a way to divide the NPR audience, to place the attention of the news cycle on militant Islam once again, to distract from the pro-democracy movements and to cause people to think emotionally again – going against the grain of NPR programming.

The plan to hold hearings on Muslim extremists had been known long in advance. Here is a link to a Talking Points Memo article regarding the hearings, dated 17 December, 2011. There would have been plenty of time for James O’Keefe to coordinate the February 22nd meeting with Ron Schiller of NPR, and there would have been time to release the hidden video tape prior to the hearings on March 9th – just in time to distract attention from Peter King’s hearings, which in addition to a more complete conversation regarding violent extremism in the U.S. as a whole, had already received well-balanced treatment by NPR in January.

The January NPR piece discussed violent extremism in its widest sense, primarily in the wake of Gabriel Giffords shooting earlier that month. In addition to discussing radical Islam, its conversation included comments about right-wing extremists such as Timothy McVeigh and other individuals such as Ted Kaczynski and Jared Loughner. The piece brought in voices as various as the heads of the Tea Party Express and the Southern Poverty Law Center, but this was not the type of attention that Peter King was seeking for his high-profile hearings.

The Players

Last year, Andrew Breitbart attacked the US Department of Agriculture for its handling of legal settlements for African American farmers who have faced discrimination from the USDA. Breitbart alleged fraud and discrimination against whites in claims that continued from an earlier scandal during the case of Shirley Sherrod during the spring of 2010. Sherrod has since sued Breitbart for defamation of the case, and she is certain to win it due to the fact that Andrew Breitbart publicized a snippet of her comments in the exact opposite context in which they were intended. (Here is the Breitbart video. And here is the whole thing.) The entire issue had been reported heavily by NPR.

Andrew Breitbart is the same person who brought James O’Keefe to fame in the now infamous case where O’Keefe dressed as a (rather unconvincing) pimp and spliced video together to falsely claim that the community action group Acorn was supporting prostitution for public funds. Acorn won a lawsuit over defamation, but still lost public funding due to the wild political connotations that were now associated with its reputation. Breitbart was instrumental in having the segment aired on Fox and Friends.

Since that time, O’Keefe’s other “journalistic” adventures include trying to lure CNN’s Abbie Boudreau into a “den of sin”. He had planned to essentially sexually harass her while she was supposed to interview him in an effort to discredit CNN, but she found out and exposed the plot.

In another incident, O’Keefe was arrested for infiltrating Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu’s office in New Orleans to wiretap her office – a felony. O’Keefe mentioned that he was trying to expose Landrieu’s support for the health care reform bill. O’Keefe plead guilty but was only sentenced to 75 hours of community service and $1,500 in fines.

As early as October, 2010, Representative King had called to defund NPR. On the 22nd of that month, Politico quoted him after NPR’s firing of Juan Williams over his racist statement regarding how he felt nervous when Muslims boarded his flights:

“NPR has disgraced itself by caving into CAIR [Council on American-Islamic Relations] and by firing Juan Williams for exercising his right of free speech. This is political correctness carried to its extreme form. Congress should move to defund NPR because of its indefensible bias.”

This led to a row between Fox News and NPR regarding the supposedly “politically-motivated” firing of a conservative journalist. Actually, Juan Williams was fired for his bigoted comments on the O’Reilly Factor. With Fox losing viewership to NPR, there could be a concern that Fox was merely working with leftovers from NPR. So what does one do? What Fox was designed to do: Make relentlessly repeated petty political attacks until people begin to memorize the slogans. In fact, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. is giving millions of dollars to Fox News to support its war on NPR. And most ironically of all, Fox News is complaining about bias!

It has not worked – NPR is still growing – and Peter King is a very frequent guest on Fox News – especially in segments regarding race. Peter King also receives a good deal of political contributions from defense contractors, communications companies and lobbying groups – Koch Industries, too, like any good Tea Partier.

King rather infamously took part in a television show just prior to the hearings. The show was produced for a group called Act! for America, a conservative group that is against the spread of radical Islam. The tactics of this group, however, leave much to be desired. In her book, Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America, founder Brigitte Gabriel claims that she says “what many in America are thinking but afraid to say out loud, for fear of being labeled a racist, bigot, Islamophobic, or intolerant.” Yet Representative King decided to participate in a rather one-sided show for the group anyway. See for yourself:

The ACT for America Show (Act! for America, via Youtube)

Remember, those were Muslim rockets! This group clearly has an axe to grind, yet Peter King resisted complaints that suggested that he was enacting the hearings for political gamesmanship and he refused to discuss the notion of violent extremism on the whole.

Act! for America has cooperated with the Chino Tea Party (the branch of the Tea Party based in Chino, CA) to support demonstrations against Muslims and Muslim groups. A screenshot of an announcement for a February Act! America/Tea Party demonstration against a fundraising event for the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) is shown here:

Chino Tea Party/Act! America Announcement of anti-muslim protest (Chino Tea Party)

Given the tone of the rhetoric in such an announcement, one may be curious about the nature of that protest. Here is video of the protest:

Chino Tea Party/Act! America anti-muslim protest, Yorba Linda, CA, 2/13/2011 (George M. Collins, via RealityDictates on YouTube)

The cheers after the death threats in the above video are typically reserved in mainstream media for “Islamic militants”, though you clearly heard that from caucasian citizens of Orange County, CA. The demonstrated ignorance with the assumption of a difference between “God” and “Allah” was an added bonus around 4:17. Why would Peter King associate himself with this group just prior to holding hearings in which to inform himself on the issue of violent extremism?

The Hearings

There is also irony that Peter King would hold a hearing on violent extremism to say the least. As it happens, Representative King has a long history of support for another violent and extreme group, the Irish Republican Army. At one point in 1985, he told a pro-I.R.A. rally:

“If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the I.R.A. for it.”

Representative King’s hearings did not include the vast majority of the thousand or so violent or hate-driven groups that are organized around the country. Still, they led to an interesting view both into the mindset of the Congressman and his influence on people around him. Here are King’s opening statements:

Rep. King opening comments to Homeland Security Committee Hearing on radical Islam (House Committee on Homeland Security, via YouTube)

Not only is radical Islam a problem, but so too are the forces of political correctness! But Neo-nazis are apparently not a problem for Rep. King.

“There is no equivalency of threat between al Qaeda and Neo-Nazis, environmental extremists, or other isolated mad men. Only al-Qaeda and Islamist affiliates in this country are a part of an international threat to our nation.”

With a start like that, how did the hearings go? As Talking Points Memo states it: Peter King Hearing Focuses On Whether Peter King Hearing Was A Good Idea. Rep. Charlie Dingell (D-MI) cautioned against the McCarthyite atmosphere around the hearings. But some of the most emphatic testimony from the hearings was from Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN), the lone Muslim in Congress, shown here.

Rep. Ellison comments to Homeland Security Committee Hearing on radical Islam (House C-Span 3, via YouTube)

One interesting comment by Ellison: The best protection against violent extremism is social and economic inclusion. That is not the type of statement that supports the militarization of the planet.

But what of the threat of violent Islam? It is certainly true there are violent Islamic extremists. One, supported by the U.S. since the end of the Bush Administration, is currently attacking his own citizens in Libya. They had the temerity to stand up and demand democracy. Another extremist is a dictator in Yemen, who is currently supported by the U.S. military as it enacts drone strikes on Al Qaeda cells in that country – acts that have led to the uprising for democracy that are taking place there. Osama bin Laden is still at large, likely in the mountains of western Pakistan, and he himself was supported by the U.S. while he and the Taliban were part of the Mujahadeen during the war between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. Everywhere that one finds violent Islamic organizations, one finds dealings the U.S. military and the dictator de jour who is supported to keep the oil spigots running. Perhaps we should listen to Keith Ellison. Unfortunately, each of the major cable news networks, Fox New, MSNBC and CNN, showed Rep. King’s statements, but they cut away before the Democrats Bennie Thompson and Keith Ellison spoke! There is a reason why the Keith Ellison clip above was from C-Span 3.

Schiller’s comments

Let us consider who is right in the argument regarding NPR. Here is what Schiller said:

Ron Schiller discusses the Tea Party with a fake muslim group (AP, via Youtube)

While it might be disconcerting to hear a news executive give his own personal opinions on politics, what part of what he said was wrong? It would be incorrect to claim that all Tea Partiers are racist and that all of them are fundamentalist Christians, but Schiller does not specifically make that claim. It is certainly true that the Tea Party is connected to racist groups. That case has been made in this article, and in addition, a white supremacist played an important role in writing the Arizona immigration law last year. Which group is currently supporting elimination of restrictions on firearms? Which one is enacting anti-immigration laws all over the country? It is the Tea Party in each case. NPR should not have repudiated Schiller’s statements.

As for the liberal bias of NPR, here is a piece that it aired regarding the entire James O’Keefe affair. Listen to it and ask the question, “Would Fox News ever be so complete and self-critical in any of the stories it airs?”

NPR also refused the false $5 million donation prior to the release of the O’Keefe video.

Postscript

Despite all of the posturing over radical Muslims, the fact remains that the dominant form of extremism in the United States is right-wing extremism. One case of right-wing extremism came to light Friday when Francis “Schaeffer” Cox and four accomplices, all “sovereign citizens” who believe they are subject to no governmental authority, were arrested for plotting to kill a federal judge and a number of Alaska State Troopers.

UPDATE

The Atlantic is now reporting that NPR has released a couple of internal emails. They show that NPR was not duped by the fake muslim organization and they also demonstrate strict adherence to the law when it regards donations. In short, James O’Keefe’s dishonesty managed to show just how great a public organization NPR truly is. On the other hand, aren’t there laws against entrapment?

Artist depiction of Michele Bachmann's inner thoughts (yo2boy)

US Federal Budget

Fear not! Michele Bachmann know’s who to turn to to solve the Federal Budget Deficit! Sure, we all know that the Tax Code is a Weapon of Mass Destruction, but who better to handle WMDs than Glenn Beck? Do not get all of the apocalypse porn get to you and do not let the fact that he can not tell the difference between a socialist and a fascist bother you, but he is full of … it.

Returning to the real world, the US Budget is a big point of contention, with Republicans gearing up to defund everything that makes America a modern nation. Rachel Maddow has a great piece on how the GOP is defunding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting but how it wants to give more money ($40 billion) to big oil. Meanwhile, Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY) asks the GOP why they want to get rid of government health care for the middle class, but they do not want to get rid of their own government health care. Current Office of Management and Budget (OMB) estimates suggest that the Tea Party/Republican proposal to cut $100 billion in discretionary spending would kill nearly 1 million jobs and cause the second Republican-induced recession in three years.

News from Abroad

A number of people are dead after a shallow 6.3-magnitude earthquake strikes Christchurch, New Zealand. The earthquake was followed by magnitude 5.5 and 5.6 aftershocks as well.

Fired upon in a sneak attack Thursday evening, protestors swelled in numbers Friday as they took back Pearl Square in Manama, Bahrain. They had been calling for a constitutional monarchy and now they are calling for the king’s head. After the king told hospitals not to treat demonstrators, Britain and France have stopped exporting crowd control weapons to Bahrain, but will the US do the same in the nation where it holds a huge naval base?

While students protest in Algiers, Trade Unions continue to protest in the streets in Tunisia. Workers are also calling for higher wages in Egypt, though the mention of the labor movements that brought down dictatorships in these two countries is simply called a “democracy” movement by the corporate American press.
Cracks appear in the Gadhafi regime as the military attacks jets to attack the crowds. Violence against the nonviolent protests has been fruitless throughout the Middle East and Libya is no different: Demonstrators now occupy several major cities, including the second largest city Banghazi, despite reports of heavy casualties there and in Tripoli. Two Libyan military jets also landed in Malta seeking asylum rather than fire on civilians.

In Pakistan, an American arrested for murder in Lahore is a CIA covert agent. Relations with Pakistan are already tense due to numerous civilian deaths after a large number of American drone attacks on its supposed ally. This also comes just a day after American airstrikes in Afghanistan kill 64 civilians, according to the Kunar provicial governor.

Labor protests in America – On Wisconsin!

Protests continue strong in Wisconsin as Egyptians purchase pizzas for state employees over the internet, saying ‘We Stand With You As You Stood With Us’ in a beautiful statement of solidarity. The protests in Madison met for the eight day as another round of mammoth protests are scheduled for Tuesday across the country.

Tea Party New Jersey Governor Christie faces the possibility of protests as he plans to force staff to pay more toward benefits. Labor unions have already marched in Trenton in solidarity with demonstrators in Wisconsin. Angry union workers filled the Statehouse in Indianapolis as Tea Partiers in a legislative committee approved a measure to eliminate collective bargaining rights for state employees, approving a Chamber of Commerce-supported “Right to Work” bill. The Tea Party Governor of Michigan will not push for a similar measure, saying he won’t “pick fights” with unions by following the same path as Wisconsin’s Walker. In nearby Illinois, workers from Chicago are joining the Madison protests. More workers joined protests across the state of Nevada in solidarity with the Wisconsin state employees, while hundreds gathered in Helena, MT to argue against state budget cuts, crazy legislation and for solidarity with Wisconsin.

More protests are scheduled around the country Tuesday, including:

Little Rock, Arkansas
Phoenix, Arizona
Palmdale, California
Sacramento, California
Denver, Colorado
Des Moines, Iowa
Annapolis, Maryland
Boston, Massachusetts
Springfield, Massachusetts
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Santa Fe, New Mexico
New York, New York
Columbus, Ohio
Providence, Rhode Island
Montpelier, Vermont
Madison, Wisconsin

Ohio state employees pack the Statehouse, Feb. 17 (AP Photo/Terry Gilliam)

Pro-labor protests

Huge rallies, vigils and protests are scheduled across the United States this week as the movement to support the middle class continues to grow. See the bottom of this post for locations and check here for details on the events. Show your support because the Republicans have a national strategy to repeal workers rights state by state. In Wisconsin, Governor Walker threatens dissenting Democratic Senators that the Republicans may pass non-spending bills in their absence. In response, the Dems say they will stay away until Walker decides to negotiate. Protests Sunday were smaller than the roughly 70,000 that showed up Saturday due to a blizzard, but protests will continue through next week. Tea Party counter-protests were outnumbered 35-1 Saturday. One anti-Walker protestor says “Thank you” for bringing back the labor movement.

Protests are scheduled to continue on Tuesday in Ohio, where nearly 4,000
people packed the Statehouse last Thursday.
Floridian teachers begin to weigh their options as their Tea Party Governor once again asks educators to pay for the deficit brought on by bankers and low taxes on the wealthy. Democratic Governor Cuomo is facing rebellion against his budget proposals in New York that could trap him between a Republican legislature and his own supporters. And New Jersey is ripe for new protests to begin as well.

Where the national discussion is not on worker cutbacks, it is on privatization. This includes concerns about the privatization of libraries across the country in which patrons find the standard privatization scenario: Fewer services for a higher price. Check Privatization Watch for more information on corporate attempts to take over public infrastructure near you.

Federal Budget

Robert Reich explains why there is not anything wrong with Social Security and why it should not be cut to help the federal budget deficit. (Cutting Social Security would actually increase the deficit.) The truth is that Republicans have been creating big budget deficits to shrink social programs for years. They want control and they want government to fund corporations, not people (and yes, they are different). Meanwhile, the Republicans are aiming to shut down the Federal Government which will give companies a while to work regulation-free. The House Republicans are looking for draconian cuts to social programs while leaving the military out of the fray while Obama wishes to “out-educate, out-innovate and out-build” the rest of the world. This brings about the prospect of a default on American debt which would usher in a Great-er Depression, according to Timothy Geithner, who also believes the Republicans are pyromaniacs playing with fire on the issue.

International News

Dissidents in China, buoyed by the demonstrations spreading through the Middle East have found it tougher going as the Chinese government begins arresting dissadents as plans begin to get underway. In Egypt, 15,000 are still striking at the nation’s largest factory for better wages as the military warns it may take action. Bahraini demonstrators retake the square in Manama after an attack by government forces kill several and wounded over 100. Libya and Yemen attempt to crack down on protestors in their countries. Museveni wins another election in Uganda, despite a rejection of the result by opposition as ethnic tensions rise and concerns over human rights resurface.

Protests and Demonstrations Monday 21 February – Saturday 26 February. (Sites listed in order by state.)

Show your support, even if you are not in Wisconsin so that the Tea Partiers do not come looking for your benefits too! We’re all in this together!

Monday
Chicago, IL
Indianapolis, IN
South Bend, IN
Helena, MT
Raliegh, NC
Carson City, NV
Las Vegas, NV
Salem, OR
San Juan, PR
Austin, TX
Olympia, WA
Charleston, WV
Madison, WI

Tuesday
Juneau, AK
Phoenix, AZ
Palmdale, CA
Sacramento, CA
San Diego, CA
Denver, CO
Des Moines, IA
Boston, MA
Springfield, MA
Annapolis, MD
Lansing, MI
Saint Paul, MN
Santa Fe, NM
Canton, OH
Cleveland, OH
Columbus, OH
Providence, RI
Salt Lake City, UT
Montepelier, VT
Madison, WI

Wednesday
Little Rock, AR
Hartford, CT
Atlanta, GA
Scranton, PA
Madison, WI

Thursday
Trenton, NJ
Pittsburgh, PA
Statewide, PA
Madison, WI

Saturday
Dallas, TX

Huge protests continue in Wisconsin (AP/Wisconsin State Journal, Michael King via Salon)

As the huge wave of protests continues in Wisconsin, the Republican State Senate Leader says negotiation is not an option. Yet 70,000 people showed up Saturday to demonstrate against their inhuman stripping of collective bargaining rights in the largest protest yet. The AFL-CIO says that the protests will continue even if the bill is passed. In the state assembly Friday, Republicans voted on two amendments to the draconian bill before the Democrats were scheduled to arrive, prompting one Democratic Assemblyman to ask “What is wrong with you people?” while another was surprised that the State is going to refuse Federal money that would result in shutting down public transport in his city. Meanwhile, Governor Walker plans to privatize publicly owned heating plants used by the University of Wisconsin. Word also comes out that the Koch brothers slashed jobs in Wisconsin as a part of a brazen orchestrated effort to get Walker elected. It turns out unhappy people vote Republican and Scott Walker is just following orders. The Koch brothers are now orchestrating pro-Walker counter protests that were dwarfed by the huge crowds rallying for labor rights Saturday. Wisconsin doctors support the teachers too! They said that they will write sick notes for teachers who would like to protest. Scott Walker sent state troopers to the home of one Wisconsin state senator.

Why are the Tea Partiers trying to cut wages for some people instead of trying to find a way to lift wages for EVERYONE?

Walker is now planning to sell a state-owned power plant used by the University of Wisconsin. The University would still need to use the plant, but they would be forced to pay for the profit margin of the company that would take it over, costing the state more money in the long term.

Around the Country…

Teacher’s collective bargaining rights are on the chopping block in Tennessee now, too, as Tea Partiers in that state continue the Koch’s national campaign against workers rights. Koch Industries has no union workers, so why are they attacking unions? The progressive advocacy group, Common Cause, is calling for an investigation into Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, whose wife is the leader of a Koch-funded organization, and who helped craft the Citizens United decision that slavishly undoes 150 years of campaign finance law allowing corporations to spend unlimited money on the campaigns.

The Tea Partiers in Florida have killed a high-seed rail line in that state, too.

The Koch brothers met with Republican members of the U.S. Congress to strategize how to gut the Clean Air Act. There, Iowa Tea Partier Peter King plans to use an endless stream of amendments to legislation necessary to pass the federal budget to force another government shutdown and to defund health care in the country.

In Bahrain, where several people were killed and hundreds more were wounded Friday as the government fired upon its own people after demonstrations to start a new constitutional monarchy, demonstrators returned the next day to call for the king’s ouster. Protests continue to spread through Africa and the Middle East, despite 180 dead in Libya after a government crackdown there. Protests have taken place or continue to occur in: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Palestine, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran.

MadTown (Paul Baker)

The state of Wisconsin elected the wrong Senator in November, 2010. Former 3-term Senator and long-time civil and labor rights defender Russ Feingold rallied the demonstrators Friday. His successor, while Tea Partier and Republican Senator Ron Johnson praised Governor Walker for his “courage…against incredible opposition”. Oh the bitter victimhood of having billionaire financiers on your side. The Tea Party and the Republicans continue to attack schools and teachers in Wisconsin, Ohio, New York and New Jersey, despite the fact that the Republicans have created most of the problems by failing to tax the wealthy. Common Dreams gives 10 good reasons to tax the rich. That alone will close most of the budget gaps across the country. In Minnesota, some wealthy families are willing to help by paying higher taxes.

Several years ago, orange signs lined the streets of wealthy homes in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, calling for higher taxes to preserve state programs, but Republican Governor Pawlenty refused. Instead he borrowed from the schools and now the schools are hurting.

In another tale of two parties, the Republicans in Congress have said “So be it” if federal budget cuts cost the 1 million jobs projected by the Center for American Progress. On the other hand, Democrats are proposing investment in schools, infrastructure and R&D to “Out-educate, out-innovate and out-build the rest of the world” while scaling back more tax loopholes and corporate subsidies. But a Pelosi aide says that a government shutdown is likely.

In the Middle East, Bahraini forces opened fire on protestors while Egyptian students publish a newspaper without government permission.

Demonstrations under the Rotunda of the Wisconsin State Capitol (AP Photo)

Labor rights are coming to the fore in the United States as the Tea Party begins the work that Conservative corporations paid for in the November election to dismantle labor rights and privatize public services across the country. Nothing is to be left untouched, not even the children as Tea Partier and Missouri State Senator Jane Cunningham (R-of course) seeks to end her state’s prohibition on the employment of children under the age of 14. The full text of her bill can be found on the Missouri State Senate website but here is the Summary:

SB 222 – This act modifies the child labor laws. It eliminates the prohibition on employment of children under age fourteen. Restrictions on the number of hours and restrictions on when a child may work during the day are also removed. It also repeals the requirement that a child ages fourteen or fifteen obtain a work certificate or work permit in order to be employed. Children under sixteen will also be allowed to work in any capacity in a motel, resort or hotel where sleeping accommodations are furnished. It also removes the authority of the director of the Division of Labor Standards to inspect employers who employ children and to require them to keep certain records for children they employ. It also repeals the presumption that the presence of a child in a workplace is evidence of employment.

That’s right, underage children can work in hotels and motels – and they can be asked to work hours as late and long as the management deems fit – sounds like a great idea, right? Hey, when push comes to shove these are Republican family values. This kind of hypocrisy is not new. Find out how Republicans Tom Delay and Jack Abramoff supported the sex trade in the Northern Marianas Islands on NPR and at Tom Paine.com.

In Washington, the GOP is planning to limit the new Federal Consumer Protection Agency that is intended to protect people against predation by credit card companies, bad mortgages and other types of corporate fraud. Now why would anyone want to prevent the prevention of fraud? Meanwhile, the Center for American Progress estimates that Republican spending cuts will cost about 1 million jobs in 2011. “So be it,” says John Boehner. And Jon Stewart catches Republican Jeff Sessions in a little bit of budgetary hypocriscy.

Despite some small cuts to it, both Obama and the Republicans plan to significantly cut spending on social programs rather than the bloated military. Though some legislators are beginning to consider cuts to the roughly 1,000 military bases that the U.S. runs overseas. Yet the national security state is very…well…secure. Just ask Bradley Manning who has been kept in solitary confinement for months, without being allowed to exercise. The U.S. military is trying to get him to admit a connection to Julian Assange – if only Bradley would just say the words…

There is a political war on labor and public and regulatory institutions in the country. It is being financed by the Koch Brothers, who own Koch Industries. The Koch Brothers fund the Tea Party and they run astroturf campaigns to repeal the Clean Air Act, ending labor rights, and being rather heavy polluters, they are aiming to defund the EPA. They are a big reason why we have politicians like Michele Bachmann, who is currently at war with Michele Obama over breastfeeding. The Koch Brothers also make the claims of socialistic fascism through people like Glenn Beck. Are you a Commie-Nazi? And it is all possible because the Republicans already live rich fantasy lives.

Wrecking Democracy is big business. Learn more about the right-wing corporate groups who hire crazy people to talk about “death panels” and deny climate change while we should be discussing relevant issues.

By contrast: In Minnesota, Democratic Governor Mark Dayton, a rather wealthy individual, has decided to balance the state budget by taxing wealthy Minnesotans. He is also planning to increase funding for K-12 education and to repay the loans the state took from schools under Republican Governor Pawlenty. Mark Dayton is also increasing the state’s Medicaid program by tapping federal money that Republican Pawlenty rejected. This will allow the state to save some money in health and human services.

But Minnesota has it’s share of kooks. Michele Bachmann refuses to acknowledge that President Obama is a U.S. Citizen and a Christian, even when asked directly by George Stephanopoulos. And Republican State Representative Mike Beard claims that Minnesota should resume coal mining because as he mentioned to MinnPost, “God is not capricious. He’s given us a creation that is dynamically stable. We are not going to run out of anything.” That is right, Earth – a planet of finite size – has infinite resources because Mike Beard says that God says so. Mike Beard, another Tea Partier, has an opinion on the issue that is diametrically opposed to many who actually study the nature of the Universe, like Stephen Hawking.

In Uganda, where American Republican and Christian Conservative Operatives are funding and assisting the passage of that nation’s “Kill the gays” bill, the government is banning the use of words such as “Egypt”, “bullet”, “people power”, “teargas”, “army”, “Ben Ali”, “Tunisia”, “Mubarak” and several others ahead of the upcoming election. Meanwhile, clashes with police are increasing as protests continue in Libya, Yemen and Bahrain. The U.S. State Department has called for restraint in the now violent Bahraini response to protests the the small island nation and home of a major U.S. naval base.

In health news, bad food makes you dumber according to a new study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Ancient Britons, hailing from an island not always renowned for its food, may have drunk from human skulls.

Oh, and on one final note: ‘Curveball’, the Iraqi informant used by the Bush Administration to sell the War in Iraq now claims that he lied to the Bush Administration about Weapons of Mass Destruction so that they would take out Saddam Hussein.

Laura Flanders on GRITtv (GRITtv)

More GRITtv

In Washington, House Speaker Boehner shows that he has little understanding of Economics 101 while Obama plays nice with the Republicans.

As demonstrators fight for their freedom in the Middle East, protestors are beginning to rise up to protect their rights against repressive pending anti-union legislation in Wisconsin.

Finally a discussion on the ramifications of the Egyptian revolution on Palestine.

Protestors stayed overnight in the Wisconsin State Capitol (Wisconsin State Journal via AP, MSNBC)

Wisconsin state employees and thousands of supporters continue their fight across the state to protest Tea Party Governor Scott Walker’s proposal for massive cuts to state worker pay along with plans to terminate their collective bargaining rights, after threatening at the beginning to call out the National Guard if protests were to erupt. Hundreds of protestors camped out in the rotunda of the State Capitol overnight to show their support for worker’s rights. This is all over a state budget deficit of $145 million – or $25 per person in the state. More protestors packed the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio as public employees in that state fight to keep their collective bargaining rights as well. The bill in the Ohio State Legistlature is sponsored by Tea Party member Shannon Jones (R-Clearcreek), who has a problem with people who wish to be paid living wages. Meanwhile, Florida’s Tea Party Governor Rick Scott has proposed cutting funding for historically black colleges. During discussions with state legistlators, he assumed all of Florida’s black state legislators had grown up poor. This comes roughly one month after Maine’s Tea Party Governor told the NAACP to “Kiss my butt” after declining an invitation to speak to the group on Martin Luther King Day. Undaunted by his own scandal, Florida Tea Party multimillionaire Governor Rick Scott has introduced his “7-7-7” mission – seven steps to eliminate 700,000 state jobs in seven years. That is right, he plans to eliminate jobs for 5% of the people in his state during the recession, but hey, everyone wants small government, no? Of course, each of these Tea Partiers and their multi-millionaire funders and many other Tea Partiers around the nation had planned to attack worker’s rights all along, even while claiming during the last election campaign that they would be fighting for jobs: Yours.

Elections have consequences. Russ Feingold, the pro-labor progressive who lost to a Tea Partier in November has decided to continue to fight for workers rights even as his successor works against them in the U.S. Senate. But we were warned. The Tea Party are the party of, for and by unadulterated corporate power. Who has been invited to provide information at Tea Party-run Congressional hearings on the Federal Budget? Corporate Shills from Koch Industries, Big Oil, conspiracy theorists, and southern secessionists. Thank Ron Paul for the secessionist.

Protests have begun in Libya as the wave of disquiet continues to spread through the Middle East. This includes a march on government offices. More protests are scheduled across the country today (Thursday). Two protestors were shot and killed during continued unrest in Yemen as protestors step up their demonstrations against the government. Authorities in Bahrain have sneak-attacked sleeping protestors in the capital Manama’s Pearl Square. The Bahraini king is not yet ready to deliver the Constitutional Monarchy that has been proposed by the protestors, who continue to demonstrate after rejecting a $3,000 per family bribe to be paid by the government. In Iran, thousands attend the funeral of a man killed during protests earlier this week.

It is not a wave of protests, but feathery chaos spreading in other activity around the world as nations celebrate International Pillow Fight Day.

If the Saudi oil reserves are ‘overstated’ as reported here by Al Jazeera, the ramifications are tremendous. It would mean that the world has now consumed more than half of all of the oil that was ever in the ground and that there is less remaining than was once thought. The price impact could be very large, given the world’s increasing reliance on fossil fuels. Welcome to the world of Peak Oil.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces of Egypt mentioned Tuesday that work will soon begin on a new national constitution. Efforts continue to encourage protestors back to work. They are now arguing for labor rights and higher pay. After protests were put down by force in Iran, Iranian MPs call for the death penalty for opposition group leaders Mehdi Karroubi and Mirhossein Mousavi. This time, the US is strongly and quickly standing behind the protestors. On the other hand, the US reaction is not likely to be as eager in Yemen, where protests have continued into their fifth day. Protestors are not terribly happy about the US-back President, nor are they very happy about the American drone strikes against Yemeni nationals as part of the “War on Terror”. All of the strike activity continues to bring up the question “Where next?” While all eyes are on Pakistan, whose push for nuclear arms gives it one of the larger nuclear arsenals in the world, fears are rising that some nuclear weapons may be lost in this very unstable country. Oh, and one source of angst against the government in Pakistan is its cooperation with the US drone attacks that have led to a large number of civilian deaths. But Democracy is winning the day as protests continue in Baharain, despite the King’s gifting every family in the country with $3,000 to soothe the nerves. Sadly, America finds itself in the ironic situation where it is not the self-avowed bastion of democracy it once claimed itself to be. Perhaps this is a problem with marketing.

Few Americans know very much about the drone strikes in different countries, but it turns out they may not care. Many Americans, including a majority of Republican primary voters are preoccupied with whether Barack Obama is an American citizen. (He is.) Despite the falsity of the claim, House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor do not believe it is their job to correct their constituents. This comes even as Republicans plan to attack the 14th Amendment which argues that anyone born on American soil is a US citizen. This seemingly innocuous guarantee prompted an outcry from Representative Louie Gohmert (R-Tx) last summer. On the other hand, they are not very helpful on the economy either. After the Republicans campaigned on jobs, jobs, jobs, John Boehner says that if the proposed draconian cuts to the federal budget cost jobs, “so be it.” The loss of more jobs, would of course limit future federal revenue, creating more budgetary problems in the future.

Despite several costly provisions, the House succeeded on its third attempt in one week to extend several provisions of the PATRIOT Act. 27 Republicans voted against it and 65 Democrats voted for the extension which includes “roving wiretap” court orders and allows authorities to seize “any tangible things” in a search. See how your Representative voted here.

In other portions of the US Government, Supreme Court Justices Scalia and Thomas are taking heat for failing to recuse themselves from apparent conflicts of interest revolving around their involvement with the Koch Brothers prior to the Citizens United ruling last year, in which the two justices argued slavishly in favor of corporate interests such as those of the ultra-libertarian Koch brothers. Clarence Thomas’ wife is also head of a Tea Party group. While many Tea Party groups are financed in part by the billionaire Koch brothers, Clarence Thomas has failed to report income from his wife’s political activities for more than a decade now, prompting the Supreme Court Justice to uncomfortably claim that he did not understand the corresponding tax law when the news became public. Oops.

The US government is asking Twitter to divulge information pertaining to the whereabouts and names of people associated with WikiLeaks in a move that bodes poorly for internet privacy rights. This and other issues related to first amendment rights may be reasons that Julian Assange has brought civil liberties advocate Alan Dershowitz onto his legal defense team.

The New York Stock Exchange is being purchased by the German Börse, all while Republicans across the nation continue to argue against Socialism. Not to worry, the two leading shareholders in the Börse run an American hedge fund. The NYSE is struggling to maintain profitability by leaving retail investments for derivatives trading.

In Space, the probe NExT (formerly Stardust) makes history as it flies past its second comet, Tempel 1. It was first launched toward Comet Wild 2 12 years ago and has very limited fuel remaining onboard.

Save NPR and PBS!

President Obama released his federal budget proposal Monday. The proposal includes an 11% increase for education, but also possessed a large number of cuts across the board – including caps on funding for the war in Afghanistan. The Republican response from the one they tout as their budget guru designee, Paul Ryan, was a bit too quick not to involve posturing. During the next few weeks, Congress with hash the details with the Administration, but some noted economists are up in arms over federal fiscal policy this recession. The EPA gets big cuts in either case, while the security state is alive and well. Though Obama does criticize the Republicans for not investing in infrastructure and education, school superintendents in the state of Texas are about to face the largest cuts to education since World War II. The Republican cuts are so targeted and so draconian that some wonder whether this is all part of a Republican ploy to ensure that Obama fails? On a side note, other nations such as France and Germany, who spent a good deal on investment in infrastructure to get out of the recession, left the recession in 2009. We will discuss the corresponding lack of stimulus and investment in the US in a piece coming out later this week.

There are new protests across the Middle East today, in a “day of rage” in Bahrain, the fourth day of protests in Yemen, and crowds were dispersed with tear gas and possibly hired thugs in Iran. In Egypt, rifts begin to form as the military asks workers and students now protesting for higher wages and the right to unionize to disperse while Hosni Mubarak now faces the challenge to pocket his cash and run before European banks are able to freeze his assets for repatriation to Egypt. What is a dictator to do? The Middle East is not alone as thousands of Italians, especially women, protest Premier Silvio Berlusconi after a sordid sex scandal, involving a 17-year-old girl.

NATO ships have seized a major pirate ship off the coast of Somalia, a libertarian paradise. And in Ecuador, a court rules that Chevron must pay the nation $8 billion in fines due to the massive environmental harm done by Texaco, a company now owned by Chevron.

The day after: How did you celebrate your Valentine’s Day?

Mohamed Hussein Tantawi (Defense Visual Information Center & Wikipedia)

Meet Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. As the Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces of Egypt, he is the new leader of Egypt. He does have ties with both the United States and Hosni Mubarak and is considered a potential candidate in the elections that will presumably be called in or around September, 2011.

 

This is the video, courtesy of Democracy Now!, that began the protests in Egypt that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. In Asmaa Mahfouz’ words you can hear the types of challenges that the protestors must have dealt with. Calls from the regime calling the Egyptian people disorderly were clearly intended to quell opposition before it began, while putting itself in the position of protector. From the way she describes these and other challenges, you can tell that the Egyptians have suffered under a very cruel regime but they never gave up their dignity.

Shortly after taking over, the Egyptian offers its assurances to the world and to its neighbors that it will ensure a transition to democracy and that it will uphold its peace treaty with Israel. Continuing protests across the region have rulers offering a variety of concessions in order to appease the masses, all while a new, more democratic pan-Arabism is beginning to take hold among the people who are looking at their own situations with less focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iraq as a result. In Iran, a Facebook page organizing protests against the government already has over 48,000 friends as of early Sunday. Despite promises of a crackdown, this may result in the largest wave of protests in Iran since the “Green Wave” after the 2009 presidential election.

There are other consequences of the protests, however. The Italian island of Lampedusa has seen an influx of nearly 4,000 refugees, mostly from nearby Tunisia after 4 weeks of protests toppled the government there. And despite an early reaction by citizens and the military to prevent looting, the Egyptian Museum is missing 17 artifacts and jewelry stolen from the gift shop.

In the U.S., more news of austerity rears its head as President Obama proposes his third federal budget. The cuts are not expected to be as deep as the competing Republican proposal, though progressive groups are upset as the poor are likely to bear the brunt once again – even in Obama’s proposals – at a time they need it the most. In addition, education will become more expensive once again as Obama’s proposal cuts Pell Grants to the tune of $100 billion over 10 years (the equivalent of a cut of $10,000 for 1 million students during that time). These cuts are likely to impact poor and middle class students the most, considering the historical rate of increase in college tuition. Meanwhile, House Speaker Boehner urges Obama to agree to immediate budget cuts in a show of posturing immediately before the already-planned release of the White House budget proposal. Yet the Republican proposal has virtually no cuts to defense or corporate subsidies, such as $4 billion in subsidies to petrochemical companies who have done quite well recently.

The Tea Party has ushered a new era of austerity in state budgets as well. Newly elected Governor Walker of Wisconsin, fresh from eliminating the clear and present danger of business associated with high-speed rail traffic through his state between Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul, has ordered a sudden 17% pay cut to state workers and plans to strip collective-bargaining rights from state employee unions. In a move that smells of political payback, Governor Walker has suggested that he will respond to the likely worker strikes by mobilizing the Wisconsin National Guard in a move similar to that we have seen on TV in Egypt during the early days of the protests.

With the upcoming release of incriminating documents by WikiLeaks, Bank of America has apparently hired a computer security group to look for ways to destroy WikiLeaks. Unfortunately for Bank of America, some of those discussions – have been leaked. A number of the proposed techniques are illegal. After Friday’s final day of extradition hearings, for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a British magistrate may deliberate the evidence for several weeks, though Assange remains on bail for the time being.

[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/gdElgqOADQI%5D

Some of the topics in this conversation include US involvement in the support of dictatorships around the world and the fact that American main stream media has been largely mute about the levels of abuse, class warfare and poverty in the countries where the protests are occurring. Unions have been significant in arranging the revolts as well. None of these topics fit the “national security” meme promulgated by the corporate media. In fact, at the beginning of the Egyptian protests, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton spoke widely about ‘our allies’ in the Middle East. Only later, after the writing was on the wall for Mubarak, did they extend their support for the protestors. This is a process, however that Noam Chomsky describes in a good deal of detail during a February 2nd interview with Amy Goodman:

Amy Goodman and Noam Chomsky on protests in the Middle East, Part I.

Amy Goodman and Noam Chomsky on protests in the Middle East, Part II.