Hillary Clinton to Jewish donors: I’ll be better for Israel than Obama

Politico reports: Hillary Clinton is privately signaling to wealthy Jewish donors that — no matter the result of the Iranian nuclear negotiations — she will be a better friend to Israel than President Barack Obama.

But, even as donors increasingly push Clinton on the subject in private, they have emerged with sometimes widely varying interpretations about whether she would support a prospective deal, according to interviews with more than 10 influential donors and fundraising operatives.

Clinton’s private responses in some ways resemble a foreign policy Rorschach test; donors who see a deal as important to world peace have come away thinking that Clinton shares their perspective, but so, too, do donors who oppose any prospective agreement as compromising Israeli security. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Naomi Oreskes: Why climate deniers are their own worst nightmares

When I go out with my not quite three-year-old grandson, his idea of a good time is hide-and-seek. This means suddenly darting behind a bush too small to fully obscure him or into a doorway where he remains in plain sight, while I wander around wondering aloud where in the world he could possibly be. In this, there’s a kind of magical thinking and denial of reality that has great charm. When similar acts of denial are committed by adults, when they refuse to see what’s right before their eyes — the melting sidewalks and roads of India, the emptying reservoirs of parched California, the extreme rain and flooding in parts of Texas and Oklahoma, the news that last year was a global heat record for the planet and this year is already threatening to be another, or that Alaska just experienced its hottest May ever, or that 13 of the 14 hottest years since temperatures began to be recorded took place in this century, or that a supposed post-1998 “pause” in the planetary warming process was a fantasy — the charm fades fast. When you discover that behind this denial of reality lies at least $125 million in dark money, it fades even faster. In just three years, unidentified conservative sources have poured that eye-popping figure into a web of think tanks and activist outfits dedicated to promoting climate denial (and not even included in that amount are the vast sums that Big Energy continues to contribute to the promotion of denialism, as it has done since the 1980s). In other words, some of the most powerful and profitable interests on the planet are determined to deny reality with a ferocity meant to confuse the public and put a damper on any moves or movement to save a planetary environment that has long nurtured humanity. It’s a charmless spectacle.

The well-funded climate deniers and the politicians who support them (and are, in turn, supported by the same set of funders) repeatedly yell “hoax.” In truth, they are the hoax and by now, were we looking, we would see that they are standing in a nearby doorway stark naked and in clear sight. And yet, backed by all that money, they essentially control the Republican Party and the Republican Congress. (Seventy-two percent of the Republican Senate caucus, for instance, now qualify as climate deniers.) This means that, for the party’s increasing horde of presidential candidates, the phrase “I’m not a scientist, but…” followed by doubts about or the rejection of climate science will be a commonplace of election year 2016. It couldn’t be a grimmer vista, even though in the decades to come achieving a relatively speedy changeover to non-greenhouse-gas-releasing fuels seems ever more possible.

This means, of course, that taking on the climate deniers directly couldn’t be more important. That’s why TomDispatch is lucky to have historian of science Naomi Oreskes return — having only recently given testimony before a Republican-controlled congressional committee dotted with climate deniers — to take on their false claims, fantasies, and lies. She co-authored with Erik Conway the now-classic book Merchants of Doubt on how the fossil fuel companies, like the tobacco companies before them, created a public sense of uncertainty about the dangers of their products when a scientific one didn’t exist. More recently, again with Conway, she wrote The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, a look back at the effects of global warming and climate denialism from the point of view of a historian of 2393. Tom Engelhardt

The hoax of climate denial
Why “politically motivated” science is good science
By Naomi Oreskes

Recently, the Washington Post reported new data showing something most of us already sense: that increased polarization on Capitol Hill is due to the way the Republican Party has lurched to the right. The authors of the study use Senator John McCain to illustrate the point. McCain’s political odyssey is, in some dismaying sense, close to my own heart, since it highlights the Republican turn against science.

As unlikely as it might seem today, in the first half of the twentieth century the Republicans were the party that most strongly supported scientific work, as they recognized the diverse ways in which it could undergird economic activity and national security. The Democrats were more dubious, tending to see science as elitist and worrying that new federal agencies like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health would concentrate resources in elite East Coast universities.

In recent decades, of course, the Republicans have lurched rightward on many topics and now regularly attack scientific findings that threaten their political platforms. In the 1980s, they generally questioned evidence of acid rain; in the 1990s, they went after ozone science; and in this century, they have launched fierce attacks not just on climate science, but in the most personal fashion imaginable on climate scientists.

[Read more…]

facebooktwittermail

Nomi Prins: Hillary, Bill, and the big six banks

She eats at Chipotle. (Order: chicken burrito bowl.) She travels by van. (Model: A Chevy Express Explorer Limited SE nicknamed the “Scooby” van.) She barely figures in her own presidential campaign announcement video. (Entrance timing: A minute and a half into the two-minute clip.) Her campaign staff is so cheap they don’t have business cards, they commute by Bolt Bus, and they aren’t even equipped with real phones.

This is the “new” Hillary Clinton in the early days of her 2016 presidential bid. Absent — for now — are the swagger, the grand pronouncements, the packed gymnasiums and auditoriums, and the claques of well-paid consultants falling over each other to advise and guide her that we saw in Clinton’s last presidential bid. This time around, Clinton is casting herself in a new role: as the humble and understated people’s candidate. She cares about “everyday Iowans” and “everyday Granite Staters.” She really does! Her carefully staged events with those “everyday” Americans at small-town coffee shops and local businesses give her the chance to “share ideas to tackle today’s problems and demonstrate her commitment to earning their votes.”

This effort to recast Clinton as a folksy, down-to-earth, woman of we-the-people is, however, about to collide with the reality of American politics in the money-crazed, post-Citizens United era. Winning the White House in 2016 will cost somewhere between $1 billion and $3 billion — money raised by the candidate’s own campaign and outside groups like super PACs and dark-money nonprofits. And this in an election where it’s already estimated that the overall money may hit $10 billion. Jeb Bush, arguably the most formidable candidate in the GOP field, is on his way to raising $100 million in just the first few months of 2015, a year and a half before the actual election. The prospect of being drastically outgunned by Bush has prodded Clinton to speed up her fundraising schedule and hit the donor circles in New York City and Washington in settings that couldn’t be more removed from the local Chipotle. “I need to get out there earlier,” Politico quoted her telling one of her aides.

In the coming months, whatever hours Clinton spends introducing herself to voters in small-town America, she will spend hundreds more raising money in four-star hotels and multimillion-dollar homes in Hollywood and San Francisco, New York and Boston, Washington and Miami. She will court wealthy liberals across the land and urge them to collectively give tens of millions of dollars to her campaign. The question underlying this inevitable mad dash for cash isn’t “Can Hillary Clinton raise the funds?” The Clintons are practiced buckrakers.

The question is: “Can Clinton claim to stand for ‘everyday Americans,’ while hauling in huge sums of cash from the very wealthiest of us?”

This much cannot be disputed: Clinton’s connections to the financiers and bankers of this country — and this country’s campaigns — run deep, as Nomi Prins, former Wall Street exec and author of All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Power (just out in paperback), writes in today’s dispatch. As she documents in her book, the Clintons have longstanding ties to the mightiest banks on Wall Street. Those alliances will prove vital as Hillary tries to keep up in the “money primary” of the 2016 campaign. But as she tries to appeal to working and middle class people, you can expect her opponents to use Clinton’s Wall Street connections against her. And it’s reasonable to ask: Who counts more to such a candidate, the person you met over that chicken burrito bowl or the Citigroup partner you met over crudités and caviar? Andy Kroll

The Clintons and their banker friends
The Wall Street connection (1992 to 2016)
By Nomi Prins

[This piece has been adapted and updated by Nomi Prins from chapters 18 and 19 of her book All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Powerjust out in paperback (Nation Books).]

The past, especially the political past, doesn’t just provide clues to the present. In the realm of the presidency and Wall Street, it provides an ongoing pathway for political-financial relationships and policies that remain a threat to the American economy going forward.

When Hillary Clinton video-announced her bid for the Oval Office, she claimed she wanted to be a “champion” for the American people. Since then, she has attempted to recast herself as a populist and distance herself from some of the policies of her husband. But Bill Clinton did not become president without sharing the friendships, associations, and ideologies of the elite banking sect, nor will Hillary Clinton.  Such relationships run too deep and are too longstanding.

[Read more…]

facebooktwittermail

Debate over war authorization in Congress fades with little result

The Washington Post reports: As lawmakers continue to spar with President Obama over his use of executive power on an Iran nuclear deal and a slew of domestic matters, most appear willing to let him have his way on at least one issue — the war against the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria and potentially beyond.

It has been nearly three months since Obama, responding to congressional demands and his own pledge to seek legislative blessing, sent proposed war authorization language to Capitol Hill. Now, the subject appears to be dying a quiet death.

A feisty bipartisan minority is not prepared to let it go without a fight. Thirty House lawmakers from both parties Thursday signed a letter to Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) demanding that he force action on the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF, against the Islamic State.

If not, wrote its primary authors, Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), “this shirking of our duty will have lasting effects, serving to expand the scope of executive power at the expense of Congress.”

But Boehner and other GOP leaders, blaming the Democrats, have already effectively announced the demise of the AUMF. They say they see no way to bridge deep partisan disagreements over how much authority to give the president.

The AUMF saga is a twist on conventional Washington wisdom in more ways than one. Unlike virtually every other issue before lawmakers, it is the Democrats who have argued for narrowing Obama’s latitude. They worry that vague language in his proposal, including about the possibility of ground troops, would deprive Congress of its ability to check executive action and allow Obama or his successor unlimited expansion of global military actions. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Activists skeptical about Clinton’s willingness to tackle climate change

The Guardian reports: After years of watching climate change fail to emerge as a central issue in US presidential elections, environmental activists are warily eyeing a coded message from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair that this might finally become the cycle when the future of the planet gets top billing.

The advocates are not just wondering about voters and their priorities, which a new wave of billionaire backers insist are at a “crossroads”. They are worried about the candidate herself.

Interviews with environmentalists, pollsters, donors and Democratic strategists reveal a deep vein of doubt over Clinton’s political will in committing to the environment, mixed with an eagerness to hear much, much more about specific policies. At the very least, they are waiting to hear her say the words “climate change” on the campaign trail, which alone might be an advantage over Republicans who would reject science in the White House.

Green activists say they are watching whether Clinton moves beyond talking vaguely about the climate – politically safe terrain for any Democratic candidate – to backing strategies that could make a difference but incur a political price, such as imposing new caps on carbon emissions or opposing the Keystone oil pipeline to run from the Canada tar sands to the Gulf Coast.

Bill McKibben, the environmentalist, author and founder of 350.org, said that in her decades in public life, Clinton had not established a strong record on climate issues. He cited her failure to lead the US to a deal at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change conference, and other episodes that have left the former secretary of state not at the forefront of the debate so much as playing catch-up. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Republicans strongly pro-torture, Democrats divided

Pew Research Center reports: Following the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA interrogation practices in the period following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, 51% of the public says they think the CIA methods were justified, compared with just 29% who say they were not justified; 20% do not express an opinion.

The new national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Dec. 11-14 among 1,001 adults, finds that amid competing claims over the effectiveness of CIA interrogation methods, 56% believe they provided intelligence that helped prevent terrorist attacks, while just half as many (28%) say they did not provide this type of intelligence.

Partisan divides on these questions are wide. A large majority of Republicans (76%) say the interrogation methods used by the CIA after 9/11 were justified. Democrats are divided – 37% say the methods were justified, while 46% disagree. About twice as many liberal Democrats (65%) as conservative and moderate Democrats (32%) say the CIA’s interrogation techniques were not justified. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

Hillary Clinton sympathizes with #Israel’s ‘PR problem’

hillary-bibiIn case anyone has the slightest doubt whether Hillary Clinton is running for president in 2016, read her interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic.

She dutifully supports every position the Israel lobby demands and even deftly conjures up a rhetorical connection between jihadists and the nuclear threat from Iran, introducing a piece of non-proliferation jargon into counterterrorism when she refers to the breakout capacity “of jihadist groups that can affect Europe, can affect the United States.”

For a few neocons in Washington who are indulging in fantasies about their political rehabilitation, much of what Clinton says, must be music to their ears. She shares the view frequently expressed by Israel apologists during its assault on Gaza, that Israel is getting more criticism than it deserves.

When it comes to killing Palestinian civilians, Israel still suffers from its “old PR problem.” Indeed, hundreds of dead children always cause a PR problem.

Hillary Clinton: [W]e do see this enormous international reaction against Israel, and Israel’s right to defend itself, and the way Israel has to defend itself. This reaction is uncalled for and unfair.

Jeffrey Goldberg: What do you think causes this reaction?

HRC: There are a number of factors going into it. You can’t ever discount anti-Semitism, especially with what’s going on in Europe today. There are more demonstrations against Israel by an exponential amount than there are against Russia seizing part of Ukraine and shooting down a civilian airliner. So there’s something else at work here than what you see on TV.

And what you see on TV is so effectively stage-managed by Hamas, and always has been. What you see is largely what Hamas invites and permits Western journalists to report on from Gaza. It’s the old PR problem that Israel has. Yes, there are substantive, deep levels of antagonism or anti-Semitism towards Israel, because it’s a powerful state, a really effective military. And Hamas paints itself as the defender of the rights of the Palestinians to have their own state. So the PR battle is one that is historically tilted against Israel.

JG: Nevertheless there are hundreds of children —

HRC: Absolutely, and it’s dreadful.

JG: Who do you hold responsible for those deaths? How do you parcel out blame?

HRC: I’m not sure it’s possible to parcel out blame because it’s impossible to know what happens in the fog of war. Some reports say, maybe it wasn’t the exact UN school that was bombed, but it was the annex to the school next door where they were firing the rockets. And I do think oftentimes that the anguish you are privy to because of the coverage, and the women and the children and all the rest of that, makes it very difficult to sort through to get to the truth.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Hamas initiated this conflict and wanted to do so in order to leverage its position, having been shut out by the Egyptians post-Morsi, having been shunned by the Gulf, having been pulled into a technocratic government with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority that might have caused better governance and a greater willingness on the part of the people of Gaza to move away from tolerating Hamas in their midst. So the ultimate responsibility has to rest on Hamas and the decisions it made.

That doesn’t mean that, just as we try to do in the United States and be as careful as possible in going after targets to avoid civilians, that there aren’t mistakes that are made. We’ve made them. I don’t know a nation, no matter what its values are– and I think that democratic nations have demonstrably better values in a conflict position — that hasn’t made errors, but ultimately the responsibility rests with Hamas.

facebooktwittermail

Video: Why Democrats may sabotage Obama’s Iran deal

facebooktwittermail

Record-high 42% of Americans identify as independents

Gallup: Forty-two percent of Americans, on average, identified as political independents in 2013, the highest Gallup has measured since it began conducting interviews by telephone 25 years ago. Meanwhile, Republican identification fell to 25%, the lowest over that time span. At 31%, Democratic identification is unchanged from the last four years but down from 36% in 2008.

The results are based on more than 18,000 interviews with Americans from 13 separate Gallup multiple-day polls conducted in 2013.

In each of the last three years, at least 40% of Americans have identified as independents. These are also the only years in Gallup’s records that the percentage of independents has reached that level.

Americans’ increasing shift to independent status has come more at the expense of the Republican Party than the Democratic Party. Republican identification peaked at 34% in 2004, the year George W. Bush won a second term in office. Since then, it has fallen nine percentage points, with most of that decline coming during Bush’s troubled second term. When he left office, Republican identification was down to 28%. It has declined or stagnated since then, improving only slightly to 29% in 2010, the year Republicans “shellacked” Democrats in the midterm elections.

Not since 1983, when Gallup was still conducting interviews face to face, has a lower percentage of Americans, 24%, identified as Republicans than is the case now. That year, President Ronald Reagan remained unpopular as the economy struggled to emerge from recession. By the following year, amid an improving economy and re-election for the increasingly popular incumbent president, Republican identification jumped to 30%, a level generally maintained until 2007.

Democratic identification has also declined in recent years, falling five points from its recent high of 36% in 2008, the year President Barack Obama was elected. The current 31% of Americans identifying as Democrats matches the lowest annual average in the last 25 years.

facebooktwittermail

Koch-backed political coalition, designed to shield donors, raised $400 million in 2012

The Washington Post reports: The political network spearheaded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch has expanded into a far-reaching operation of unrivaled complexity, built around a maze of groups that cloaks its donors, according to an analysis of new tax returns and other documents.

The filings show that the network of politically active nonprofit groups backed by the Kochs and fellow donors in the 2012 elections financially outpaced other independent groups on the right and, on its own, matched the long-established national coalition of labor unions that serves as one of the biggest sources of support for Democrats.

The resources and the breadth of the organization make it singular in American politics: an operation conducted outside the campaign finance system, employing an array of groups aimed at stopping what its financiers view as government overreach. Members of the coalition target different constituencies but together have mounted attacks on the new health-care law, federal spending and environmental regulations.

Key players in the Koch-backed network have already begun engaging in the 2014 midterm elections, hiring new staff members to expand operations and strafing House and Senate Democrats with hard-hitting ads over their support for the Affordable Care Act.

Its funders remain largely unknown; the coalition was carefully constructed with extensive legal barriers to shield its donors. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

The Democratic Party is the graveyard of social movements

Arun Gupta and Steve Horn write: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker did not win the June 5 recall vote because a parade of Daddy Warbucks stuffed his suit full of six-figure checks. The Democratic challenger Tom Barrett did not lose because he raised a scant $4 million to Walker’s $30 million war chest.

Walker won because he had a vision, however brutish, and he forged a rich-poor alliance that supports it. Barrett lost because he stood for nothing, because the Democrat Party shuns organized labor, because labor retreats from street politics even when they have the upper hand and because progressives confuse elections with movements.

In short, Walker’s cakewalk is a microcosm of why American politics tilts further and further right year after year, and why the Democrats, progressives and unions have an endless capacity for self-inflicted wounds. As much as liberals whine “big money thwarts people power” and the Obama campaign dismisses the loss as due to local conditions, the election portends deep trouble for a president and party facing an energized right in November’s election.

The recall is also a study in the paths not taken for the Wisconsin Uprising and why the Democratic Party is the graveyard of social movements. There was an expression among activists in Wisconsin that went, “One year longer, one year stronger” a year after the beginning of the “Uprising.” But the reality is that, one year longer, the left as an organizing force is, in actuality, “one year weaker.” [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

MoveOn’s 99 Percent Spring, Obama and the Dems march in lock-step

“The Insider” writes: In an earlier installment, I noted that eight smoking guns point to the fact that the much-ballyhooed “99-Percent Spring,” taking place from April 9-15, is merely a front group for MoveOn.org and the Democratic Party. More specifically, it is a front for the Obama Administration and the Party’s 2012 electoral efforts.

The article has proven contentious in many circles, and was analyzed in many lefty publications, including Salon.com, The Huffington Post, The Nation, TaylorMarsh.com, and Dissent Magazine, to name several. Those articles wrestled with the ongoing battle occurring between genuine, mostly volunteer grassroots Occupy activists and well-paid full-time Democratic Party-allied “activists.” ‘

In the main, the articles dug into the whether or not The 99 Spring was playing a constructive, supportive role of the real on-the-ground Occupy movements in cities nationwide and worldwide, or on the contrary, if The 99 Spring’s raison d’etre is simply to co-opt the Occupy movement and steal it as its own, while pooling those efforts into the Democratic Party’s electoral efforts in 2012.

These liberal commentators shared similar observations:

● “All parties seem mindful of the dreaded accusations of co-option, but rarely does such an annexation occur overnight,” explained The Nation’s Allison Kilkenny on April 6.

● “It seems to me that the 99 Percent Spring does indeed complement large sections of Occupy efforts – the sorts of actions, accessible to media narratives, that directly protest institutions like Bank of America, ALEC or rulings like Citizens United,” posited Salon.com’s Natasha Lennard.

The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim wrote, “It’s a reflection of how the Occupy movement has forced some institutional liberal groups to radicalize — or at least appear to — to meet the new fervent climate, as stubborn unemployment and yawning inequality push activism outside the confines of traditional electoral politics.

The so-called “independent media” and news shows, such as AlterNet, TruthOut, The Nation on multiple occasions, Bill Moyers‘ new show, The Thom Hartmann Show on two occasions, and The Nation Washington Editor Chris Hayes’ show “Up with Chris Hayes,” have also offered shameless plugs and interviews for The 99 Spring’s organizers, and have been likely been “in on the take,” so to speak and in varying degrees, of this well-coordinated effort.

Above and beyond softball coverage of the prospective “movement,” though, is a fundamental misunderstanding, among all factions, of the type of co-option MoveOn.org and Friends have already achieved and continue to achieve, of the Occupy movement.

There are a number of ways to derail or co-opt social justice movements.

Government agents and/or corporate agents can go right in, infiltrate it with informants and agent provocateurs, and behave in such a way so as to delegitimize the movement in the public sphere. This is generally done by intelligence agencies and police forces, such as the FBI, CIA and NYPD, both at home and abroad.

Governments, corporations and foundations can also seduce the leadership of movements with money and power, and get organizations to work in ways palatable to them.

In this case, the co-option of the Occupy Movement has occurred in a classic fashion developed by MoveOn.org and its network of liberal foundation funded, Democratic Party allies. All claim to be “responsible progressives working for fundamental social change,” yet the reality is far more mendacious.

MoveOn.org directed networks, such as The 99 Spring, excel at the creation of dog and pony shows, pageantry, and theatrical performances to co-opt the imagery, language, and ideas of a movement, including the very idea of direct action itself.

In this case, it’s the Occupy movement, showing the servile mainstream media, as well as the so-called “left” media (with which it shares the same funding streams) that The 99 Spring is the organized, more professional, and more responsible heir to the Occupy movement, with a suave spokesman, too: Van Jones, head of theRebuild the Dream “movement.”

For a group like MoveOn.org, the existence of an on-the-ground social justice movement, after all, is perfect — it relies on movements of this sort to co-opt for its own purposes: electing Democrats. [Continue reading…]

facebooktwittermail

The liberal betrayal of Bradley Manning

Charles Davis writes: More than three years into the presidency of Barack Obama, it’s almost a cliché now to ask: What if George W. Bush did it? From dramatically escalating the war in Afghanistan to institutionalizing the practice of indefinite imprisonment, Obama has dashed hopes he would offer a change from the Bush’s national security policies – but he hasn’t faced a whole lot of resistance from liberals who once decried those policies as an affront to American values.

Like those on the right who now crow about fascism but spent the Bush years gleefully declaring left-wing celebrities “enemies of the state,” many of those on the liberal-left treat issues of war and civil liberties as useful merely for partisan purposes. When a Democrat’s in power those issues become inconvenient. And usually ignored.

Former dean of the Yale Law School Harold Koh, for instance, used to rail against the imperial presidency, speaking of the horror of torture and “indefinite detention without trial.” Now a legal adviser for the Obama State Department, he recently declared that “justice” can be delivered with or with out a trial. Indeed, “Drones also deliver.” Don’t expect much more than a yawn from Democratic pundits, though, much less any calls for impeachment. It’s an election year, after all. And what, would you rather Mitt Romney be the guy drone-striking Pakistani tribesmen?

“Obama and the Democrats being in power in Washington defangs a lot of liberal criticism,” Chase Madar, a civil rights attorney in New York, told me in an interview. Indeed, but with a few exceptions – Michael Moore, Dennis Kucinich, The Nation – those who would be inclined to defend Manning were Bush still in office are the ones either condemning him or condoning his treatment, which has included spending the better part of a year in torturous solitary confinement, an all too common feature of American prisons. Even his progressive defenders, remaining loyal to the Democratic Party, tend to downplay Obama’s role in the Bradley Manning affair; his authorizing the abuse of an American hero is certainly no means not to vote for him again.

“The whole civil libertarian message only really seems to catch fire among liberals when there’s a Republican in the White House,” says Madar. When there’s not a bumbling Texan to inveigh against, all the sudden issues that were morally black and white become complex, and liberal media starts finding nuance where there wasn’t any before.

facebooktwittermail

The phony war over which U.S. party loves Israel most

Josh Ruebner writes: “No Aid to Israel?” wonders a recent Facebook ad sponsored by US President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. “Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Newt Gingrich say they would start foreign aid to Israel at zero. Reject their extreme plan now!” the ad implores, directing people to sign a petition to that effect on my.barackobama.com (“Stand against “zeroing out aid to Israel””).

After signing the petition, the caption underneath a beaming photo of the president declares that “Any plan to cut foreign aid to zero across the board is dangerous and ignorant. It’s up to us to get the word out about it. Donate now to help us spread the facts about the Romney-Perry-Gingrich plan to wipe out foreign aid to allies like Israel.”

As Salon writer Justin Elliott correctly notes, “the Obama ads are incredibly dishonest. First of all, the Republican candidates were talking about setting foreign aid at zero each year as a starting point in discussions about how much to give, not setting it at zero as a matter of policy” (“Obama’s dishonest Israel ads, Salon, 12 December 2011).

However, the Obama campaign is far from unique in employing a breathtakingly simplistic strategy of artifice and vituperation (both against opposing candidates and against Palestinians) to bolster their pro-Israel street cred in a transparent ploy to attract campaign donations and votes. US support for Israel, once a carefully nurtured bipartisan consensus, is fast degenerating in the context of the 2012 presidential election into a mud-slinging partisan contest as to which party, in the words of Mitt Romney, who leveled the accusation against Obama, is more guilty of having “thrown Israel under the bus” (“Mitt Romney accuses Obama of “throwing Israel under the bus”,” CBS News, 19 May 2011).

facebooktwittermail

Van Jones and Democratic Party operatives: You do not represent the Occupy Movement

Kevin Zeese writes: The corporate media is anointing a false leader of the Occupy Movement in Van Jones of Rebuild the Dream. 

The former Obama administration official, who received a golden parachute at Princeton and the Democratic think tank Center for American Progress when he left the administration, is doing what Democrats always do—see the energy of an independent movement, race to the front, then lead it down a dead end and essentially destroy it. Jones is doing the dirty work of a Democratic operative and while he and other Dem front groups pretend to support Occupiers, their real mission is to co-opt it. 

Glenn Greenwald says in a recent blog, “White House-aligned groups such as the Center for American Progress have made explicity clear that they are going to try to convert OWS into a vote-producing arm for the Obama 2012 campaign.”

Before he ran to the front of the Occupy Movement, Jones’ Rebuild the Dream had been saying that its first task was to elect Democrats. Now he is claiming there will be 2000 “99% candidates” in 2012. These Democrats will be re-branded as part of the 99% movement. Democrats will now be re-labeled and marketed as part of the 99% movement. Republican operatives did the same thing to the Tea Party.  Tea Party candidates, who often used to be corporate “Club for Growth” candidates, ran in the Republican Party.  See, e.g. Senator Pat Toomey – before and after.

Jones is urging the Occupy Movement to “mature” and move on to an electoral phase. This would only make us a sterile part of the very problem we oppose. The electoral system is a corrupt mirage where only corporate-approved candidates are allowed to be considered seriously. At Occupy Washington, DC, we recognize that putting our time, energy and resources into elections will not produce the change we want to see. What we need to do right now is build a dynamic movement supported by independent media that stands in stark contrast to both corporate-bought-and-paid-for parties.  

facebooktwittermail

Occupy Wall Street: The primary the president never had?

Matt Stoller writes: It’s been a little over a month since this bolt of political lightning known as Occupy Wall Street jolted through the political establishment. It’s time to assess just what Occupy Wall Street has gotten done. That it has accomplished a great deal is beyond dispute. Franklin Foer in the New Republic and John Nichols in the Nation have both noted that Occupy Wall Street profoundly challenged President Obama and the Republicans. But what an odd challenge. A few thousand people camped out in parks around the country? Really?

Yet this challenge has completely changed the dominant theme in Washington. Less than a year ago, JP Morgan’s Bill Daley was the glad-handling centrist du jour, praised by everyone from Howard Dean to Bob Reich. The “austerity class,” as Ari Berman so nicely put it, was in control of the debate, with the Tea Party waiting in the wings ready to slash and burn.

Fast forward to October 2011. Obama is increasingly taking on a populist tone and using executive orders to attempt stimulating the economy, with Democrats smacking around Mitt Romney for encouraging foreclosures as a way to clear the market (a policy Obama administration officials like HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan agree with. The centrists are losing, perhaps not power, but certainly the debate. Third Way, the political brain behind this centrist White House and Senate, is one of the few groups warning Democrats away from Occupy Wall Street, but few are listening.

There’s a reason; the themes put out by the protesters are overwhelmingly popular. The poll numbers are out. If Occupy Wall Street were a national candidate for president, it would be blowing away every other candidate on the stage, including Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Fifty-four percent of Americans agree with the protesters, versus 44 percent who think President Obama is doing a good job. Seventy-three percent of Americans want prosecutions for Wall Street executives for the crisis. Seventy-nine percent think the gap between rich and poor is too large. Eighty-six percent say Wall Street and its lobbyists have too much power in Washington. Sixty-eight percent think the rich should pay more in taxes. Twenty-five percent of the public considers itself upset, 45 percent is concerned about the country and 25 percent is downright angry.

That these themes are dominating establishment debates now is somewhat bizarre. It’s not as if people didn’t hate banks in 2008, 2009 or 2010. And when you think about it, camping out in various cities isn’t a particularly radical act, in and of itself. Occupy Wall Street can’t project political power, at least not in any traditional sense. It can’t make decisions about how to relate to the police, or politicians. It is ideologically incoherent. It can’t even stop drum circles from drumming at night, because drummers don’t recognize the legitimacy of the general assemblies that try to cut deals with the neighborhood. There are increasing reports of medical and safety problems in parks around the country. One person at the protests told me the World War I disease called trenchfoot is making an appearance due to damp conditions. The protests are a ball of raw energy, with one basic message: The 1 percent on Wall Street have taken advantage of the 99 percent of the rest of us.

facebooktwittermail

Meet New York City’s terror-linked political kingmaker

Max Blumenthal writes:

Bob Turner, the Republican candidate campaigning to replace disgraced Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner, picked up a crucial endorsement last week when Democratic Assemblyman Dov Hikind threw his support to him. Hikind is the former leader of the the Jewish Defense League (JDL), which the FBI lists as a terror organization. He was also a confidant of the fanatical Israeli settler leader Meir Kahane, who called for the “slaughter” of Palestinians. Under Kahane’s direction, Hikind operated a front group with the JDL cadre Victor Vancier (aka Chaim Ben Pesach), who served 10 years in prison for carrying out numerous firebomb attacks on innocent people, and openly contemplated killing the renowned Palestinian professor Edward Said. According to journalists Michael Karpin and Ina Friedman, “Hikind had been suspected [by the FBI] of similar activities” including a string of six bombings against Arab-American targets across the United States.

Hikind once told the journalist Robert I. Friedman that he supported a Jewish terrorist underground that assassinates Nazis. “If it is a group that is made up of people who are intelligent professionals and their goal is to execute those clearly responsible for killing tens of thousands, then I would have no trouble with that,” Hikind said. Hikind added that he also favored the assassination of Arab-American supporters of the PLO. The JDL was widely suspected of killing Arab-American Anti-Discrimination committee western regional director Alex Odeh in 1985, though the FBI was never able to apprehend the likely perpetrators. In 2001, JDL leaders Irv Rubin and Earl Krugel were arrested for conspiring to blow up a Los Angeles-area mosque and assassinate Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, who is of Lebanese descent.

Hikind’s terrorist links were never raised by Bob Turner’s Democratic opponent, David Weprin. Instead, Weprin joined Turner in the pro-Israel competition that has become a hallmark of American political campaigns, attacking President Barack Obama’s policy towards Israel as “outrageous.”

facebooktwittermail

We’ve been warned: the system is ready to blow

From Britain, Larry Elliott writes:

For the past two centuries and more, life in Britain has been governed by a simple concept: tomorrow will be better than today. Black August has given us a glimpse of a dystopia, one in which the financial markets buckle and the cities burn. Like Scrooge, we have been shown what might be to come unless we change our ways.

There were glimmers of hope amid last week’s despair. Neighbourhoods rallied round in the face of the looting. The Muslim community in Birmingham showed incredible dignity after three young men were mown down by a car and killed during the riots. It was chastening to see consumerism laid bare. We have seen the future and we know it sucks. All of which is cause for cautious optimism – provided the right lessons are drawn.

Lesson number one is that the financial and social causes are linked. Lesson number two is that what links the City banker and the looter is the lack of restraint, the absence of boundaries to bad behaviour. Lesson number three is that we ignore this at our peril.

From Washington, Steven Pearlstein writes:

Another great week for Corporate America!

The economy is flatlining. Global financial markets are in turmoil. Your stock price is down about 15 percent in three weeks. Your customers have lost all confidence in the economy. Your employees, at least the American ones, are cynical and demoralized. Your government is paralyzed.

Want to know who is to blame, Mr. Big Shot Chief Executive? Just look in the mirror because the culprit is staring you in the face.

J’accuse, dude. J’accuse.

You helped create the monsters that are rampaging through the political and economic countryside, wreaking havoc and sucking the lifeblood out of the global economy.

Did you see this week’s cartoon cover of the New Yorker? That’s you in top hat and tails sipping champagne in the lifeboat as the Titanic is sinking. Problem is, nobody thinks it’s a joke anymore.

Did you presume we wouldn’t notice that you’ve been missing in action? I can’t say I was surprised. If you’d insisted on trotting out those old canards again, blaming everything on high taxes, unions, regulatory uncertainty and the lack of free-trade treaties, you would have lost whatever shred of credibility you have left.

My own bill of particulars begins right here in Washington, where over the past decade you financed and supported the growth of a radical right-wing cabal that has now taken over the Republican Party and repeatedly made a hostage of the U.S. government.

When it started out all you really wanted was to push back against a few meddlesome regulators or shave a point or two off your tax rate, but you were concerned it would look like special-interest rent-seeking. So when the Washington lobbyists came up with the clever idea of launching a campaign against over-regulation and over-taxation, you threw in some money, backed some candidates and financed a few lawsuits.

The more successful it was, however, the more you put in — hundreds of millions of the shareholders’ dollars, laundered through once-respected organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, phoney front organizations with innocent-sounding names such as Americans for a Sound Economy, and a burgeoning network of Republican PACs and financing vehicles. And thanks to your clever lawyers and a Supreme Court majority that is intent on removing all checks to corporate power, it’s perfectly legal.

And from Omaha, Nebraska, Warren Buffett writes:

Our leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.

If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot.

To understand why, you need to examine the sources of government revenue. Last year about 80 percent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.

I didn’t refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.

facebooktwittermail