Tag Archive: World


Julian Assange (The News Update)

Terrorist, really?

Few people in the past year have sparked debate in the manner that Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, has. His organization has become well-known for publishing material that is leaked by anonymous whistleblowers that often show wrongdoing on the parts of governments and corporations around the world, though a good deal of its notoriety stems from the publication of the Iraq War Logs and its bringing to light actual U.S. military footage of a helicopter crew shooting reporters and civilians in Baghdad, a video that the group entitled “Collateral Murder”.

The release of documents pertaining to the U.S. military and the U.S. Department of State resulted in an outcry by conservatives across the country who claimed that Assange had hurt the national security of the United States and that he had exposed a number of U.S. military informants in Afghanistan, claims that Assange strongly denies. Fox News Correspondents and familiar Republican faces such as Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin called Julian Assange a traitor, though he is actually Australian and therefore can not commit treason against the U.S., and they even went so far as to call for his assassination within days of the shooting of Gabriel Giffords in Arizona.

While calls for assassination rang out at Fox News, the rest of the American media played up the angle that WikiLeaks had damaged American national interests because it had published diplomatic cables that contained confidential and embarrassing information about foreign dignitaries and diplomats. The cables did certainly create a good deal of awkwardness at the State Department, but rather than focus on any specifics, the general treatment among the major networks was downright tabloid. For example, in this piece, ABC News focused on non-substantive comments in the cables that essentially resort to the level of name calling. And far from being hard hitting, ABC did not make a terribly strong case. From the piece, we find out that Libya’s Ghadafi is considered “wierd”. This could hardly be of any surprise, but we learn nothing of the real nuggets of information found in the documents from the ABC piece – a trend that you will see is quite prominent in American media.

The Administration’s Response – and from Corporate America

The reaction from the Obama Administration was rather strong. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the release of the diplomatic cables. Their release certainly made her job difficult. But did the release of the cables truly affect the relations between the U.S. and other countries to the degree that she has claimed? For her part, Julian Assange did suggest that Secretarty Clinton should resign, “if it can be shown that she was responsible ordering U.S. diplomatic figures to engage in espionage in the United Nations.” (Go to 2:20 in the video for the quote.) Unfortunately, most of the American press reported that with the headline to the effect: Assange: Clinton Should Resign, ignoring a rather important subjunctive clause, but also skillfully avoiding the reasoning behind Assange’s statement. Mr. Assange made that statement with the revelation from his group that the U.S. State Department had begun a program to try to gain information about foreign dignitaries by the use of biometrics and espionage. If the State Department is trying to spy on other leaders, suddenly the peaceful and “candid discussions” that Secretary Clinton mentioned in the ABC News video would certainly take a very different tone, but once again, there is no information in the ABC report about these potentially unethical clandestine actions by the State Department.

Presidential Candidate Obama discusses open government in 2008 (Glass Booth.org, via YouTube)

President Obama campaigned in part on the notion of openness in the Federal Government. Obama had also signed whistleblower protections early during his presidency. One bill strengthened whistleblower protections for the employees of companies contracting with the Federal Government and he strengthened whistleblower rights in the recently-passed Food Safety Act. Yet, despite this early support for openness in government, President Obama was now in the rather uncomfortable position that he was in charge of the organization losing leaked information.

Despite the discomfort, the White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, challenged Fox News by saying that the White House is not afraid of one guy with a laptop. He also went on to say that those who leaked information are subject to a Department of Justice criminal investigation as well. But while president Obama claimed to be in support of an open, censorship-free internet after the Diplomatic Cables release, it was quite clear that his Justice Department was in fact strongly pursuing an investigation into the the potential for ties between Julian Assange and the alleged leaker, Private Bradley Manning.

President Obama discusses open internet in December, 2010 (Stop the War Coalitino, via YouTube)

It was around that time in early December, 2010, that Swedish allegations of “sex by surprise”, not rape as reported by the American media, forced Assange to remain in place in Britain, even serving some time in solitary confinement until his bond was secured. He remains without charge from Sweden, though he has been fighting his extradition to Sweden out of concern that he would be extradited again to the United States. It was also made public that one of the women who had accused Assange of rape was actually tied to the CIA. WikiLeaks also found it difficult to receive donations because companies like PayPal, Visa and Mastercard cut off services to WikiLeaks, though the latter two do allow donations to the KKK! It is strongly suspected that the Obama Administration was partially responsible for convincing those companies to cut their financial ties to WikiLeaks.

One company, VISA, did hire a firm to investigate WikiLeaks to determine whether it could find any wrongdoing by the group and found none. VISA has yet to allow donations to flow back to WikiLeaks, despite the findings having come out roughly three months ago.

Assange in his own words

So who is this Julian Assange? Is he the terrorist described by Fox News? The guy who is hurting American national security like the U.S. mainstream press argues? Is he a supporter of free speech and open government?

To this point we have heard from virtually everyone but Julian Assange himself. But to fully understand his comments, we can not confine ourselves to the American mass media. First, let us take a look at a speech that he gave to the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2010.

Julian Assange speaks at the Oslo Freedom Forum, April 2010 (Oslo Freedom Forum, via YouTube)

In that speech, Assange describes how his organization tries not to know the names of the whistleblowers in order to protect itself as well as the whistleblowers. WikiLeaks tries to protect whistleblowers as much as possible, while using freedom of speech laws around the world to their maximum extent to ensure that the leaked information remains public and protected from attempts to shut websites down.

The stakes are quite high. After minute 5:15 in the Oslo Speech, Assange mentions the salient point that with today’s electronic media, the information repositories of the West are becoming concentrated in fewer hands. While it was once true that people could see missing pages in book in Soviet Libraries, it is now possible to remove websites without a trace. This is a very well-thought out position on transparency of information in the electronic era. There have already been examples, as Assange continues, in which stories of scandals have slipped into the Orwellian “memory hole”. The protection of information against consolidated control is to make it public and to ensure that thousands of copies of that information can be found across the internet. By making information public, WikiLeaks says that it provides the tools that the public needs in order to hold its leaders accountable for their actions.

Julian Assange speaks at TED, July 2010 (TED, via YouTube)

In another speech at TED, Assange discusses some of the types of documents that WikiLeaks has released to the public, including the release of Collateral Murder (around 5:30). At one point, Assange makes a very intriguing statement, “Capable and generous men do not create victims, they nurture people.” This is hardly a statement by the vindictive radical of Fox News’ imaginings.

Listen to Assange discuss his own reaction to the video in the following video from an interview conducted by Al Jazeera. At not point does Assange attempt to hyperbolize what can be seen on the video screen.

Julian Assange discusses 'Collateral Murder' (Al Jazeera, via YouTube)

The Al Jazeera interview also includes commentary by Ivan Eland, a national security analyst from the Cato Institute (hardly an anti-military institution). Eland describes the actions from the lens of the military while Assange describes the situation from the perspective of the victims. Al Jazeera does a great job of showing similarities and dissonances between the two perspectives to give the viewer a rather impressive perspective of the incident in which American helicopter pilots gunned down a number of innocent bystanders. This is not the type of portrayal of the U.S. military that one sees in the United States. Rather, a better example of American portayal can be seen here:

Wolf Blitzer reports on 'Collateral Murder' (CNN, via YouTube)

CNN did not show the entire video. They did not mention that the “weapons” described by the helicopter pilots were actually cameras, but they did stop just before the helicopter opened fire and just after the letters “RPG” appear on the screen. The net effect of this editing is to give the viewer the impression that the helicopter pilots were in the right by defending themselves against a potential rocket propelled grenade attack. Wolf then cuts to Barbara Starr, CNN’s Pentagon correspondent, who touts the Pentagon’s line without question: That the people had been investigated and that no fault was found. Yet Starr never describes the extent of the investigation, nor does she comment on the rest of the video. She also propagates the lie that other troops were attacked nearby that day. Finally, the journalist Starr rather callously mentions that the deaths of these journalists can simply be added to the death toll of 129 to that point in the Iraq War.

So CNN all but asks the viewer not to worry, nothing to see here people… just journalists dying despite the fact that journalists are given legal protections even in war zones – protections that are never mentioned despite the large number of deaths of journalists by the U.S. military. That is the American mainstream media in a nutshell. When the need for information and transparency is palpable, CNN obscured the facts in order to provide the Pentagon a blanket of plausible deniability. Later, CNN posted an article online entitled “Secretive website WikiLeaks may be posting more U.S. military video”, a clear effort to discredit WikiLeaks without bringing any new information to the fore.

This is not to say that high-ranking officials should necessarily be charged with corruption because of the actions of much lower-ranking pilots. Nor does Assange make that case. However, the incident may certainly warrant a review of the specific ways in which loose rules of engagement may have resulted in the deaths of a number of innocent people that way. Perhaps there is a way to address civilian deaths that will heighten the safety for troops and civilians alike – neither we nor the Pentagon will know unless the matter is investigated and that will not happen unless there is public pressure to do so.

The added benefit for political leaders may be that after having encountered a number of incidents in which mistakes were made, the public may develop a more nuanced view regarding the myriad ways in which such unfortunate instances could happen. That may mean that the public could better differentiate between instances in which an undesirable outcome resulted from good-faith efforts, versus cases of corruption. The public would likely be more forgiving in the former cases, which could give politicians more latitude in their efforts to improve conditions at home as well. That is why there is a need to bring details about events like these to light.

More on the media perception of Assange

After the release of Collateral Murder and the release of Iraq and Afghanistan War documents, the line in the media became the accusation that Julian Assange and WIkiLeaks were attempting to attack U.S. national security. That is a charge that Julian Assange deftly handles here in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper.

Anderson Cooper interviews Julian Assange (CNN, via YouTube)

After the release of the American diplomatic cables, Julian Assange was of course charged with sex crimes in Sweden and the timing is clearly suspicious. The American press wasted no time in ensuring that future interviews with Assange were about him rather than the information that he was attempting to present.

Increasingly, the theme in American media was about Julian Assange himself. For example, an October, 2010 interview with CNN avoided the contents of WikiLeaks releases, but rather focussed on Julian Assange’s personality and the early reports of allegations of rape. This led to Assange walking out of the interview while he was attempting to steer the interview back toward the contents of WikiLeaks’ latest document release.

A short time later, Assange related to Larry King why he had walked out of the interview, namely to ensure that media attention remains on the deaths of innocent victims during a time of war. When Daniel Ellsberg (the leaker of the Pentagon Papers) calls for an investigation over the matters that WikiLeaks released, Larry King called an end to the segment:

Larry King interviews Julian Assange and Daniel Ellsberg (CNN, via YouTube)

In January, CBS’ 60 Minutes did an interview with Assange in Britain at the location of his house arrest. You will find the entire interview is chock full of references to the “mysterious” “strange” or “enigmatic” Assange – but you will hear very few details regarding the actual contents of WikiLeaks releases. Interviewer Steve Kroft asks questions that essentially carry water for the Pentagon throughout the interview. Assange actually instructs Kroft on a number of points regarding the practice of journalism in Part I, as well as reminding Kroft of the importance of America’s First Amendment in his own work. Part II of the interview covers Assange’s past, with descriptions of his “frequently uprooted” childhood and his hacking activities. There are a number of great exchanges where Assange is able to directly respond to Pentagon and State Department accusations and he does it quite well.

60 Part I: Minutes interviews Julian Assange (CBS News)

Part II: 60 Minutes interviews Julian Assange (CBS News)

Unfortunately, 60 Minutes played the “enigmatic” angle heavily during its normal showtime, but Steve Kroft and the production staff do discuss (in rather surprising contrast) how they perceived Assange to be rather genuine in his beliefs and actions during their own reflections on 60 Minutes Overtime. And the disappointing dearth of information regarding WikiLeaks’ revelations is described in detail in an article by David Swanson.

How stark is the American media portrayal of Julian Assange? Thanks to the wonderful world of the internet, it is possible to directly compare American interviews such as those by CBS and CNN with interviews by reporters from the Netherlands and Australia. Viewing the last two sample videos and the Al Jazeera interview earlier shows American just what they have been missing: A press that seeks to inform the public rather than to cover up excesses by the U.S. Government.

Without such transparency as that displayed by international news sources, it is unlikely that citizens of the United states will be able to ensure the safety of their own family members who are sent into harm’s way from the excesses of a national security state that creates an environment in which otherwise well-intentioned soldiers can become excited for the next kill. How much less violence might there have been in Iraq and how many fewer people – Iraqis and Americans alike – if the people in Iraq were not subject to such unfair rules of operation that ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ should be the rule of the day? That is, after all, what WikiLeaks claims to do: To provide the transparency required for citizens to make informed decisions on their own.

Now that you have finally seen the major players give their cases in their own words, you can finally decide for yourself: Is Julian Assange truly an ideological terrorist acting to destroy the United States, or is he facing attacks by the same people who profit from unceasing wars whose current estates are now jeopardized by WikiLeaks, or is there some other combination of factors taking place? How would one even be able to consider all of the possibilities, given American mainstream reporting alone? Now that you have seen actual details and reporting, you have the ability to decide for yourself.

Advertisements

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?

War Room (Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press)

This article is Part III in a series of articles regarding government spending. To read the other related pieces, go to my U.S. Federal Debt: Sources and Solutions page.

The Gripes and Wrath

Of all of the portions of the longstanding American dissonance over the U.S. Federal Budget, the king of all disagreements lies in taxation. It should not be a surprise then to understand that it is in taxation where the information regarding the Federal Budget is the most suspect due to all of the myriad political influences involved.

During the 2010 election cycle, the airwaves were filled with Tea Partiers railing against government spending and the need for lower taxes. We often heard of corporate taxes being too high and how they should be lowered. We heard of the economic benefits of reducing taxes. The Tea Party floated on a crimson tide of red ink into Washington D.C. and is now trying to drive the Republican agenda even further toward tax decreases, regardless of what happens with federal spending.

What is the current status of taxes in the United States? Who pays taxes in the U.S.? How do various taxes affect the population and job growth? We will investigate each of these questions in this article. These are rarely addressed in the news, despite the fact that the current budget battles are on the TV all of the time. We will address some of the political motivations of the Media that prevent them from accurately reporting issues of federal finance in a later article.

Tax Rates: The U.S. vs. the World

Considering the invective that can be overheard at any Tea Party rally, one would think that the people in the crowd are being taxed within an inch of their lives. The mere mention of the word ‘tax’ results in a bitter, emotional spew of slogans and booing – a visceral, angry reaction that is fueled by the rhetoric of Republican political candidates. It is one version of their five-minute hate. But is it realistic?

Figure 1 shows the 2006 rate of taxation in the U.S. relative to the world. This includes the total federal, state and local taxes or their equivalents in each case.

Fig. 1: Total Tax Burden by Country (OECD, via Get Rich Slowly)

As you can see, the total tax rate is much lower than that of most other developed countries, and it is roughly half that of nations like Denmark and Sweden.

“Ah, that’s SOCIALISM!”shouts the Tea Partier. Yes, Denmark and Sweden do have socialist economies. But given that information, we should at least see whether there is a benefit. Below are lists of the top 10 nations in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Other lists can be found as well on Wikipedia.

Rank IMF (2010) GDP per capita ($)
1. Luxembourg 104,390
2. Norway 84,543
3. Qatar 74,422
4. Switzerland 67,074
5. Denmark 55,113
6. Australia 54,869
7. Sweden 47,667
8. United Arab Emirates 47,406
9. United States 47,132
10. Netherlands 46,418

Excepting Qatar and the United Arab Emirates which do not have income taxes due to the fact that those nations are run on revenues from their oil reserves, each of the countries with a higher GDP per capita has higher taxes than the United States.

In addition, as we will find, considering the higher tax rates, each of those countries has a lower Gini Coefficient, a measure of income inequality. World Gini Coeffficients are found in Figure 2.

Fig. 2: Income disparity (dark red =worst, dark blue = best) (Wikipedia)

Economies with higher Gini Coefficients can face instability and corruption in government as lower classes tend to be crowded out of the political process by wealthy and powerful individuals. Considering that the Gini Coefficient of the United States is actually worse than that of nations like Egypt, there should be no surprises that labor demonstrations are taking place in America.

The Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) index is a measure of the relative purchasing power of currencies around the world. This index is dependent on the development in an economy, the strength of the currency and also on the wages of the people. Nations with a higher Purchasing Power Parity are able to more easily afford a similar, pre-described “basket” of everyday goods (food, clothing, etc.) and services in countries with lower PPP indices. In essence, the PPP is one measure of the wealth of a country in slightly different way than GDP per capita. The GDP per capita describes how much money someone earns on average in a country where the PPP indicates how much one could do with that money.

Remember those countries whose citizens earn more than Americans? All of them – and even the Netherlands, which also has far higher tax rates than the U.S. – have higher PPP than the U.S. This can be seen in Figure 3. It essentially means that when someone travels from Norway to the U.S., they consider prices to be cheap in the way Americans find prices to be lower in Mexico.

Fig. 3: 2003 Adjusted Purchasing Power Parity (Wikipedia)

There are several great reasons for this. Well, taxes actually raise incomes. Progressive radio host Thom Hartmann explains:

When I was in Denmark in 2008 doing my radio show for a week from the Danish Radio studios and interviewing many of that nation’s leading politicians, economists, energy experts, and newspaper publishers, one of my guests made a comment that dropped the scales from my eyes.

We’d been discussing taxes on the air and the fact that Denmark has an average 52 percent income-tax rate. I asked him why people didn’t revolt at such high taxes, and he smiled and pointed out to me that the average Dane is very well paid, with a minimum wage that equals roughly $18 per hour. Moreover, what Danes get for their taxes (that we don’t) is a free college education and free health care, not to mention four weeks of paid vacation each year and notoriety as the happiest nation on earth, according to a major study done by the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom.

But it was once we were off the air that he made the comment that I found so enlightening.

“You Americans are such suckers,” he said. “You think that the rules for taxes that apply to rich people also apply to working people, but they don’t. When working peoples’ taxes go up, their pay goes up. When their taxes go down, their pay goes down. It may take a year or two or three to all even out, but it always works this way—look at any country in Europe. And that rule on taxes is the opposite of how it works for rich people!”

My Danish guest was right. So before we get into the larger consequences of tax increases or tax cuts for the nation’s economic health, let’s parse this business about what tax increases or cuts mean for the rich and for the not-so-rich.

Why is this so? It is a matter of an economic phenomenon called tax incidence that essentially describes how the laws of supply and demand work with taxes on wages. If a government introduces a tax on worker salaries, it happens that those workers will need a little more money in order to be able to purchase food and supplies necessary for daily life. In the very short term this can be a slight problem, though after about a year it means that a number of workers who are taking new jobs would have negotiated higher wages than they would have without the tax increase. The increased wages they receive mean a higher demand for jobs, and that increases wages even more. When all is said and done after a year or two, wages more than make up the amount of money lost to the tax increase!

Companies in the United States understand this quite well – why else do you think that the “business-friendly” party, the Republicans continually asks for tax cuts? Not only does this help Republicans pretend they are on the side of workers, but it is one way of forcing labor prices lower for the wealthy while being able to retain more money for themselves.

But taxes are not fun to pay, you say. Well, then one would expect that people who live in countries with high tax burdens would be unhappy. Yet in 2011, Forbes reported a survey conducted by the Legatum Institute in which they asked citizens around the world about their happiness and standards of living and compiled these into a “Prosperity Index”. Their results were interesting. The United States fared alright at #10. But it was beaten by strong social democracies that each have higher taxes! Here is the top ten, with total tax rates listed just for fun:

Rank Legatum Prosperity Index Rank (2011) Total Tax Rate (%)
1. Norway 43
2. Denmark 49
3. Finland 42
4. Australia 31
5. New Zealand 38
6. Sweden 49
7. Canada 32
8. Switzerland 30
9. Netherlands 39
10. United States 28

Sure, the United States did alright, but the odds are very low that every country ranked higher than the U.S. would have higher taxes by coincidence. In fact the U.S. is ranked more highly than it otherwise would be due to the fact that it holds the world’s reserve currency, which offers the U.S. a extra wealth that other countries do not have access to.

A Tea Party person might interject here once again: But the U.S. has FREEDOM! Let us take a look at that idea a little bit more carefully. What does freedom mean? Of course it can mean things like freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, but it can also mean upward mobility. After all, failing other freedoms, being wealthy can often result in a very different perception of a person by the government. How likely is it for a person in the lower classes to rise up to the higher classes? Two Social scientists, Dorling & Henning have done a study on the relative (im)mobility of citizens in a variety of nations, especially the U.S. and other countries that are listed in the lists above. Their results are in Figure 4, where it can be seen that

Fig. 4: Upward immobility (higher numbers = lower mobility) (Views of the World)

the countries that pay higher taxes all have greater ease in moving from the lower classes to the higher ones in economic status and this may be correlated with income disparity. The U.S. does shine here in terms of educational mobility, though this amazing feature of American society is currently under attack.

At this point, the recalcitrant Tea Partier mutters, “Well, you still have not talked very much about taxation.” This is largely true, though so far we have discussed some of the possible results of taxation when it is done right. We will discuss taxation itself and some more of the side-effects in the next section, in which we specifically look at the history of taxation in the United States.

Taxes in the American Economy

Another farce about taxes, yet it is a commonly held belief that taxes in the United States are high right now even when compared to historical rates. In a recent article, Richard Wolff shows a plot that displays the historical income tax rates in the highest and lowest tax brackets in the U.S. (Figure 5).

Fig. 5: Highest and lowest bracket income tax rates in the U.S. (Richard Wolff)

Taxes on the wealthy had been at recent lows just prior to the Great Depression, but one of the policies that the Roosevelt Administration pursued was to raise income taxes on the wealthiest Americans to 90%. “How draconian!” you may say, “How could he do that?” Roosevelt was quite wealthy himself but his relationship with organized money was quite different from that of President Obama’s. For example, on the eve of the 1936 election FDR gave a speech at Madison Square Gardens. Here is a quote:

For twelve years this Nation was afflicted with hear-nothing, see-nothing, do-nothing Government. The Nation looked to Government but the Government looked away. Nine mocking years with the golden calf and three long years of the scourge! Nine crazy years at the ticker and three long years in the breadlines! Nine mad years of mirage and three long years of despair! Powerful influences strive today to restore that kind of government with its doctrine that that Government is best which is most indifferent.

For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.

I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.

(This speech is truly worth a listen as the mere words do not quite carry FDR’s oratory. He knew how to give a speech. Here is the link once again.)

Can you imagine President Obama saying something similar? During the week before an election?!! He had the perfect opportunity to do so when he was elected. Instead, he hired Timothy Geithner, one of the people who created the mess as his Secretary of Treasury and kept Ben Bernanke on at the Federal Reserve. The Tea Party may not believe so, but Obama is owned by Wall Street. Goldman-Sachs was one of his largest benefactors during his election.

The 90% tax rates on the wealthy by FDR were intended in part to break the political power of the most wealthy individuals in the country, whose unregulated financial speculation resulted in the Great Depression. (Sound familiar?) In part, the taxes were high in order to fund programs like Social Security and, yes, to redistribute wealth.

But wait a second! Redistributing wealth is bad for the economy, right? Well, let’s take a look. Figure 6 shows annual growth in U.S. GDP since 1929.

Fig. 6: Annual U.S. GDP growth rate, 1929-2009 (Wikipedia)

GDP growth rates in the United states were far higher during the times when the top income tax rates were REALLY high than they are today. In fact, the growth rates tend to be highest when top income tax rates are also highest. This is primarily due to two things.

First, the high tax rate created the Middle Class. With many more people able to purchase products that American companies produced, the economy boomed during the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.

Second, it turns out that productivity increases during times when the top tax rate is highest. Higher taxes mean higher federal spending and higher spending boosts the economy.

Of course there is that caveat that one can not allow the federal debt to go too high, otherwise it is possible to create stagflation as I mentioned in Part II. Considering this, I was excited to see the correlation between National Debt and the income tax rate that Greg Hollingsworth put on his blog, shown in Figure 7.

Fig. 7: Income Tax Rates and National Debt (CBO data, via Greg Hollingsworth)

Did you notice how as the top income tax rate drops, the U.S. Federal Debt skyrockets? Well, the top tax rate on the wealthy seems rather high, but recall that wealthy people only earn a portion of their money in the form of income. They also earn a lot of money through capital gains. Those taxes are rather low, too. But as you can see lowering taxes has had a profound effect on the American economy. Not only is it running less efficiently than it once had, but the national debt is going through the roof, too.

There is also a growing problem of the income disparity that we mentioned earlier. One problem with having a billionaire is that the billionaire does not invest all of his or her money into the economy. Rather, there is always a sizable portion of those assets that is rather illiquid, meaning that it does not circulate through the economy. This effectively reduces the money supply for everyone else and a BILLION is a very large number, so it represents a rather large loss of capital in the economy. The more billionaires, the greater this problem becomes and this is a motivating factor for the high tax rates on the highest income brackets. The wealthy are, after all, most able to afford the taxes and they have certainly benefitted from having been born and raised in the American economy, so it is a way of paying back to society.

Still, the income disparity is continually growing. In fact, thanks to tax loopholes that are available to the wealthy (but not the Middle Class), the world’s third richest man, Warren Buffet, famously complained that he pays a lower tax rate than his middle-class secretary. He has class, so he asked the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration after that to raise his taxes. He even argued that it would be good for the economy. He is still waiting for that to happen. In fact, the disparity in incomes in the U.S. is at its greatest size ever – bigger than the disparity at the beginning of the Great Depression, as is seen in Figure 8.

Fig. 8: Share of pre-tax household income received by the top 1%, 0.1% and 0.01% incomes, 1917-2005 (Wikipedia)

Right now 1% of the population earns more than 20% of all of the income in the country. Much of that money sits idle when it could be re-invested into the economy.

Figure 9 shows just how bad the situation is. The three bars in the plot show the Real, Estimated and Ideal fractions of income held by each quintile of the population according to a survey of the U.S. population by Michael Norton of Harvard Business School.

Fig. 9: U.S. Income Distribution: Real, Estimated and Ideal (The Atlantic)

The results show that the actual income disparity is far worse than the perceived one, and very very far from the ideal held by the average American. In fact the American ideal has the top 20% of income earners only earning 30% of income! That is even more socialist than Denmark!!

People are beginning to realize this and they are beginning to wake up out of the hypnotized slumber they have felt since Ronald Reagan and they are getting angry about this. Especially when they take a look at the relative growth rates of each income bracket over time (Figure 10) But there is one more thing that REALLY makes people mad.

Fig. 10: Growth in US Wages by Tax Bracket (Discover Magazine)

Something is still missing, though… Hmm…

Corporate Taxes

…and that missing thing is the corporations. Now I know what a Tea Partier would say: “We can’t have high corporate taxes because companies will just move away.” Regulations could prevent that, and corporations should pay their share because they use and abuse our natural resources and national infrastructure all of the time.

If you were to ask the Heritage Foundation, they would show you this diagram (Figure 11):

Fig. 11: Corporate Tax Rates in OECD Countries (Heritage Foundation)

Oh no! America’s corporate tax rates are among the highest in the world! America is doomed!! All the companies will move away!

Not so much… Those are the official tax rates, not the actual ones. There are lots of tax loopholes for companies. Rachel Maddow did a great piece in October, 2010 in which she mentioned that GE, Bank of America and Citigroup (the latter two playing a significant role in starting the Great Recession) paid $0 in corporate taxes. Yes, companies that earn billions of dollars per year pay less than you do in taxes and that is closer to the rule than the exception, though most small businesses do not share in those benefits. And yet, the Republicans keep asking for tax breaks for the rich and for corporations – out of fear that tax loopholes might be closed. It is possible for them to make the argument for lower taxes because the current tax rate is ostensibly so high. That is why the difference between the official tax rate has not been lowered so that it reflects reality.

There is more.

The pre-New York Times FiveThirtyEight blog posted an entry with a plot, Figure 12, that is the coup de grace.

Fig. 12: Taxes as share of GDP by type, 1935-2014 (Tax Policy Center, via FiveThirtyEight)

Look at Figure 12. Look at the Corporate Tax Rate. Look at the Social Security Income & Retirement Tax Rate. The reason that corporations now pay very little in actual taxes now is that since the time of Eisenhower, the decrease in the corporate tax rate has been funded by the increase in taxes on entitlements as a direct result of Republican federal policy.

Corporations extract resources that are owned by the public. They make a profit for themselves from those resources and they do not repay the public. That is where tax policies are today. So when you see that the budget deficit has swelled and that the middle class is doing poorly, it is a direct result in the drop in high-income taxes and corporate taxes. The effect is so profound that wealthy industrialists like the Koch brothers will save money by spending hundreds of millions of dollars to corrupt the political process so that they can buy the policies that they would like. They get a free ride with billions of dollars in the bank, but you get to pay for their exploits with middle class wages. Isn’t it about time that we had a discussion with our Tea Party friends? I thought so.

References and Links

Views of the World: Income Mobility

Wikipedia: Income Disparity

Wikipedia: Legatum Prosperity Index

Wikipedia: GDP per capita

Wikipedia: Purchasing Power Parity

Wikipedia: Tax Incidence

Wikipedia: U.S. Recessions

This video, from RSA Animate, discusses the cognitive science behind empathy. There are some surprises in the video, including the fact that there are similarities between humans and animals in their empathic response.

Sure, the word ’empathy’ got a bad rap from the “greed is good” crowd, but never underestimate the power of politics for self-promotion to turn a noble virtue into something scorned. Hopefully this video will help restore it to the prominence it deserves:
RSA Animate: The Empathic Civilisation

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.

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.

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.

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.

Days after a labor-led movement ousted President Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian military dissolves parliament. The ruling Al’Hizb Al Watani Al Democrati (National Democratic Party) held 81% of the seats in the People’s Assembly and 84 of 88 seats in the upper chamber, the Shura Council. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will rule, arguing that it can issue new law until it sets up new elections, which will presumably be held in 6 months.

In response to successful protests in Egypt and Tunisa, the Palestinian Authority has hastily called for new elections to be held by September. Meanwhile, protests in Jordan have led to King Abdullah to swear in a new cabinet. Yemenis continue to demonstrate against the American-backed government. And protests have been held this weekend in Algeria and Syria, with more protests scheduled for Monday in Bahrain and Iran and on Thursday in Libya. Even Saudi Arabia has experienced protests as Muslims do peacefully what the Neo-Conservative Project for a New American Century once argued would take numerous American preemptive wars and countless lives.

In the US, President Obama is preparing a new federal budget that will come out Monday. According to the New York Times, the budget contains deep spending cuts totaling as much as $1.1 trillion for the next decade. We will offer a breakdown as well as comparisons with the draconian cuts in the House Appropriations Committee proposal later this week.

The meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) winds down with a number of notable moments, including Representative Peter King’s (R-IA) call to kill the government if President Obama will not repeal his health care reforms. How to do it? By not extending the federal debt ceiling this spring. Most economists, as well as Timothy Geitner and Ben Bernanke argue that failure to raise the federal debt ceiling would be catastrophic, likely resulting in a default on over $14.3 trillion in debt and causing markets to crash around the world.

Other moments at CPAC include former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld receiving the “Defending the Constitution Award” all while hearing simultaneous cheers and shouts of “War Criminal” (also going to Dick Cheney) for his work to endorse torture by the US military. Last year’s winner, Rush Limbaugh made numerous mistakes about the Constitution he defended during his conference-closing award acceptance speech.