Friday, October 31, 2014

Will Catalonia Secede From Spain?

Published on Portside (https://portside.org)

Will Catalonia Secede From Spain?

http://www.thenation.com/article/184305/will-catalonia-secede-spain

Andy Robinson

Tuesday, October 21, 2014
The Nation - November 10, 2014 edition

Catalans are fed up with Madrid's austerity and corruption - making November's referendum nonbinding has only postponed the confrontation.

The United Kingdom as we know it survived by a whisker in Scotland's referendum on secession, after three centuries of union. Next in line is Spain, one of the oldest nation-states in the world, but one eternally racked by tensions from its peripheral nationalities: Catalan, Basque and, to a lesser extent, Galician. Catalonia has decided to recast its planned November 9 referendum on independence as a nonbinding consultation, after Spain's Constitutional Court opened an inquiry into a referendum's legality. This avoided a possible violent clash with the Spanish state, but given the huge turnout at a September 11 demonstration in favor of independence, the next Catalan elections are likely to give independence parties a majority. This would bring the breakup of Spain a step nearer, and along with it a new phase of the Eurocrisis.

Why are so many Scots (45 percent in September's referendum) and Catalans (50 percent in recent polls) set on leaving now? The answer is surely a desperate search for sovereignty by voters with longstanding resentments over discrimination by the power centers in their respective states. Like many other Europeans, they feel cheated by their governments' response to the Great Recession.

**An estimated 1.5 million Catalans demonstrated in support of the referendum in September, flooding the main boulevards in their capital city of Barcelona with the Catalan star and stripes: five red bands over a yellow background, signifying the trails of blood left by a dying martyr during the Catalan defeat by the Spanish in 1714. But such visceral imagery hardly reflects the sociology of the growing Catalan secession movement. Hundreds of thousands of smiling families were bused in from the Catalan heartland, many sporting the shirts of their world-famous Barça soccer team. They joined a perfectly choreographed protest, visible from the surrounding Art Nouveau apartment blocks as an enormous "V" for Votar-the demand for Catalonia's right to vote on independence, just as Scotland had done.

This is what radical protest looks like in Catalonia, a stateless nation of 7.5 million inhabitants known for their pragmatic seny (a difficult-to-translate Catalan term denoting coolheadedness). The same holds true for Oriol Junqueras-the leader of the secessionist Esquerra Republicana, or Republican Left party, which helped organize the protest-who is not the wild-eyed nationalist painted by the Madrid media.

"We are not nationalists; we are republicans. We are inspired by the US Declaration of Independence and the French Revolution," Junqueras told me in an interview in Esquerra's modest offices in downtown Barcelona. "One of our influences is the Transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson." Junqueras, who teaches history at the University of Barcelona and is mayor of Sant Vicenç dels Horts, a working-class (and Spanish-speaking) dormitory town west of the Catalan capital, is the anti-politician, scholarly and unflappable. He is now the de facto leader of the independence movement, eclipsing the smooth, technocratic president of the Catalan Generalitat, or regional government, Artur Mas, who heads up the center-right Convergència i Unió (CiU) alliance. Already losing ground to the more radical Junqueras, Mas has been undermined further by a tax-evasion scandal this year affecting the former CiU leader and iconic president of the Generalitat, Jordi Pujol. In the next elections, many expect Junqueras and Esquerra to win an overall majority.

Esquerra's reluctant decision to support Mas's minority government despite the CiU's austerity policies seemed politically risky, given the widespread popular rejection of budget cuts and tax hikes in Catalonia. "We are a social-democratic party, basically-center-left, though we're in the Green group in Europe. So we believe in growth, but with redistribution. We don't support these public-spending cuts, but ultimately the people who are deciding our budget are in Madrid, not Barcelona," Junqueras told me. "So we are constrained. To protect the welfare state, we need to have our own state."

The same argument won over many Scots to independence, as the Conservative government in London carried out massive cuts to health and social spending. It has proved most persuasive in the Catalan heartland, from the depressed textile towns that staged the Catalan industrial revolution on the outskirts of Barcelona to the rural communities that dot the landscape north to the Pyrenees. Support for independence in these areas is strong and growing. The people of Barcelona remain less convinced that independence is the best way to fight economic injustice, though even in the capital, most say they want a referendum-the "right to decide," as it is called here-even if they decide to vote no.

According to the latest polls, support for a referendum is at 80 percent, and one in every two Catalans would vote for secession. These are extraordinary figures, incomprehensible to the millions of tourists who flock to Barcelona and buy souvenirs of Spanish matadors and flamenco dancers on the city's Ramblas boulevard. Nor do they please the fat cats of Catalan big business in the powerful Caixa savings bank or in companies like the oil giant Repsol, which is controlled by Caixa. Spain, after all, is Catalonia's biggest market, and it is still not clear whether secession is compatible with Catalonia's continued membership in the European Union. The snowballing independence movement is a huge concern in corporate HQs on Barcelona's Diagonal Avenue. Executives at Freixenet, for example, the Catalonia-based producer of cava sparkling wine, complained that its Christmas sales were hit last year not just by Spanish consumer boycotts of Catalan products, but also Catalan consumer boycotts of a company publicly opposed to independence.

Just as the independence movement in Scotland reflects a rejection by most Scots of London-centric neoliberalism, it is impossible to understand the steady march of Catalan public opinion toward independence without considering the fury that the Eurocrisis has unleashed in Spain and the rest of the EU periphery. For, as the late novelist Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, the creator of Catalan noir, always pointed out, it wasn't seny that made Catalonia the world center of revolutionary anarchism in the first half of the twentieth century. It was another self-defined national characteristic: la rauxa (rage).

Esquerra, a minority party since the 1978 rebirth of democracy in Spain, is running ahead not only of Convergència i Unió but also the apparently moribund Socialist Party. (Partido Popular, or PP, the party now governing Spain as a whole, is insignificant in Catalonia.) Blame for the cuts that have ravaged the Catalan public-health service, hitherto one of the best in Europe, is placed squarely on the PP government of Mariano Rajoy, which has cut funding to Catalonia. Public opinion in Catalonia is now enraged by stories of misspending by successive Spanish governments on high-speed trains, underused motorways and white elephants like the Castellón Airport in Valencia (which has yet to see a single plane land or take off), or the massively oversized fourth terminal at Madrid Barajas airport. This compounds a fundamental difference in perspective between Catalonia and most of the rest of Spain as to whether the state should use infrastructure spending to build links to Madrid in a centralized national economy, or invest in the main export route to the rest of Europe-the so-called Mediterranean corridor, from Andalusia north through Valencia and Catalonia. The PP has chosen the radial model, with Madrid at its center: it is almost as fast to travel by train from Barcelona to Alicante-on the Mediterranean, south of Barcelona-via Madrid as it is to go direct, despite covering twice the distance.
Catalonia is a net contributor to the quasi-federal Spanish state, with a net yearly payment to Madrid of around 8 percent of the Catalan GDP in fiscal transfers. This used to be a moot point in Barcelona, but misspending
during the recent boom and the subsequent austerity have turned the so-called fiscal deficit into a time bomb.

While the Madrid media caricature Catalans as self-interested and Machiavellian-prepared to play the victim card to increase their share of spending and investment-the view from Barcelona is quite different. Socialist economist Germa Bel, a Catalan and professor at Princeton, calculated how taxes should be distributed among Spain's seventeen autonomous regions by adhering to basic ethical principles: no poor region should transfer net income to a rich one, and any transfer should be proportional to a region's relative income. By his count, Catalonia transfers more than ?5 billion (3.6 percent of its GDP) every year in excess of what it should. The biggest beneficiary of Spain's complex fiscal system is the Basque Country, home of the terrorist group ETA, which only recently laid down its arms. This may explain the strange reversal of historical stereotypes, as firebrand Basque nationalist leaders now criticize their traditionally pragmatic Catalan counterparts for moving too quickly toward independence.

* * *

The immediate trigger to the surge in support for independence occurred when, in 2010, conservative judges on the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional the Catalan Statute, a new declaration of rights approved by Catalans in a 2006 referendum. This would have granted more autonomy to Catalonia and defined it as a nation. Attempts by the Rajoy government to counter the use of Catalan-mother tongue of the majority of Catalans, who are bilingual-and give greater weight to Spanish have also raised hackles in Barcelona: the centralist conservative PP, after all, was founded by Manuel Fraga, who supported the dictator Francisco Franco's ban on Catalan. Education Minister José Luis Wert's announcement in 2012 that Catalan education should be castellanizado (made Spanish) may soon enter the history books as a faux pas of epic proportions. (Ironically, Catalan children perform better than the Spanish average in tests on the use and understanding of the Spanish language.)

Economist Bel, who supports a federal Spain, doubts the PP government will correct these imbalances, since almost all of its support comes from regions outside Catalonia. Instead, the PP will support a centralized Spanish state with less recognition of peripheral nationalisms, which is unacceptable to the majority of Catalans. Bel expects a fierce confrontation. "Most Spaniards want a uni-national state because any other sort of structure makes them feel insecure; the majority of Catalans prefer their own state to a uni-national state," he says in his new book, Anatomía de un desencuentro (Anatomy of a Misunderstanding).

So far, Mariano Rajoy's government has refused point-blank to recognize Catalonia's right to decide, insisting with undeniable logic that a referendum whose result would effectively dissolve the Spanish state is anti-constitutional. The most likely outcome of this position is that Mas and Junqueras will call referendum-style elections in 2015, in which the pro-independence parties will run in coalition. "The pro-independence parties would win an election and then declare some kind of independence," the legal expert Juan-José López Burniol told me in Barcelona. "Then it will be up to Europe to persuade Rajoy to negotiate changes in the Constitution that would meet some of Catalonia's demands."

Rather than imposing austerity, Europe in this area could help Spain overcome the stalemate caused by its own history and politics. The stakes are high. While the Eurozone debt crisis has eased significantly in the past year, the prospect of Catalonia-with 19 percent of Spanish GDP-leaving would rekindle those flames. "Once markets imagined Catalonia being forced out of the EU and the Eurozone, all hell would break loose," former Bank of England board member Adam Posen told me last year in an interview in Washington.

* * *

A visit to the small town of Arbúcies, a hotbed of secessionism seventy miles north of Barcelona and run by Esquerra, is a testament to how anger at austerity and misspending has been diverted toward Madrid. This mass display of Catalan rauxa crosses class borders, from the workers in small manufacturing plants on the outskirts of town to the shopkeeping botiguers in the center. A wall-length banner proclaims Independencia opposite the iconic Freedom Tree, which commemorates the 1868 revolution against autocratic Spanish rule. The star and stripes of the "free nations" of Catalonia (a greater Catalonia embracing Perpignan in southeastern France, the Balearic Islands, and chunks of Aragon and Valencia) are draped from small terraced houses alongside bedsheets painted with the anti-austerity logo (scissors under a red cross). The local health center is now closed at night. Two plants making bodywork and interiors for buses closed last year, as demand slumped in Spain.
Anti-eviction demonstration in Barcelona Oct. 23, 2014, outside offices of CatalunyaCaixa, the fourth largest bank in Spain, that was rescued with billions in state aid. Earlier this year, Spain launched the sale of $9.6 billion of residential home loans - one of the largest mortgage deals in Europe this year.

Photo credit: Jay Schaffner // Portside

"The economy is in terrible shape, and we are losing traditional industries. Most people blame Madrid," said Roger Zamorano, former mayor of Arbúcies and an Esquerra militant. Long-term unemployment has soared, especially in immigrant communities. Junqueras has cleverly defined the new Catalan identity as a demand for democratic rights for all residents of Catalonia, including Spanish speakers and immigrants. "What unites us is a common desire to decide our own future. It doesn't matter whether you are Muslim, Christian or where you're from," he told me. Most visitors will be surprised to hear Senegalese or Moroccan children conversing in Catalan in towns like Arbúcies, despite the de facto segregation there. But older immigrants appeared less convinced. "Independence wouldn't be good for us, and most immigrants are against it," said a Guinean immigrant worker in an Internet cafe, speaking in French.

If Esquerra can present itself as both the party of independence and the defender of public services, it may soon wield the power lost when Lluís Companys, leader of the party and president of autonomous Catalonia throughout the Civil War, was executed by a firing squad at Montjuïc Castle in October 1940 (barefoot at his request, to feel the earth of Catalonia in his last moments) as Franco began to eliminate ruthlessly all traces of the Republic and of Catalan dissidence. It is yet another instance of Europe's past returning transformed during the current crisis, as citizens seek spaces to recover their lost sovereignty and vent their rage. After four years of remorseless austerity and wage cuts in Spain and Catalonia, and a severe recession that has turned national and regional governments into mere pawns of Brussels and Berlin, the European technocracy may soon reap what it has sown.

Andy Robinson, a reporter for the Barcelona daily La Vanguardia, has written on Spain for the Guardian and the New Statesman.

Copyright c 2014 The Nation. Reprinted with permission. May not be reprinted without permission [1]. Distributed by Agence Global[1].

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Baltimore Activist Alert - October 31 - November 1, 2014

56] THE LATINO VOTE – Oct. 31
57] Public opinion in the Arab world – Oct. 31
58] Iran’s nuclear issue – Oct. 31
59] Vigil for peace at White House – Oct. 31
60] Vigil for Justice in Palestine – Oct. 31
61] See CITIZENFOUR – Oct. 31- Nov. 6
62] Silent peace vigil – Oct. 31
63] Fundraiser for child deportees – Oct. 31
64] Ballroom Dancing – Oct. 31
65] 2nd Annual 5k Walk/Run & Children's Race – Nov. 1
66] Take Back Your Health Conference - Nov. 1 - 2
67] Save the planet march – Nov. 1
68] THE LIBERATION OF ASSATA SHAKUR – Nov. 1
69] Teach-In on Iraq and Syria – Nov. 1
70] Ethical Society's Urban Farm Volunteer Event – Nov. 1
71] Olney Peace vigil – Nov. 1
72] West Chester, PA demo – Nov. 1
73] Slutwalk – Nov. 1
74] Silent peace vigil – Nov. 1
75] Drone Death Walk – Nov. 1
76] National March on the White House – Nov. 1 – 2
77] Beyond Extreme Energy – Nov. 1
78] Returning Hope to Gaza – Nov. 1
79] State of Hip-Hop in Baltimore – Nov. 1
80] The New Climate Reality – Nov. 1
81] Halloween fundraiser – Nov. 1
82] Sign up with Washington Peace Center
83] Join Fund Our Communities
84] Donate books, videos, DVDs and records
85] Do you need any book shelves?
86] Join Global Zero campaign
87] War Is Not the Answer signs for sale
88] Join Peace Park Antinuclear Vigil
--

56] – At the National Press Club, 529 14th St. NW, 13th Floor, WDC 20045, hear about THE LATINO VOTE Reality and Myths on Fri., Oct. 31 at 10 AM. The moderator is MARGARET (PEGGY) SANDS ORCHOWSKI Ph.D., Congressional correspondent and Washington Bureau Chief, the Hispanic Outlook magazine; and the PANELISTS are Mark Hugo Lopez, director, Hispanic Research, Pew Research Center Hispanic Trends Project, and Esther Aguilera, president & CEO, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.

The Latino voting block is growing, powerful and fluid. Investment in them will hold the future balance of political power in the Presidential, Congressional and local elections. Today, there are nearly 53 million Latinos in the US of which 34 million are US-born and an additional two million are foreign born US citizens. It's almost a mantra in the press that the political power of Latinos in the U.S. and the immigration reform issue is increasing because Latinos are the fastest growing demographic in America. Both parties have active outreach programs to attract Latinos whose vote cannot be taken for granted. However, the facts regarding this group are rarely seen in the media. Call 202-662-7500.

57] – On Fri., Oct. 31 from 10 AM to noon at the U.S. Institute of Peace, 2301 Constitution Ave. NW, WDC 20037, hear about Public Opinion in the Arab WorldWhat do the latest surveys tell us? The Arab uprisings were a vivid demonstration of the importance of public opinion in the Middle East. Frustrated by poor governance and the lack of economic opportunity, citizens demonstrated in mass protests on the streets, and online, throughout the region. As autocrats fell, instability and extremism rose. Although democracy appears to be succeeding in Tunisia, in most of the Arab Spring countries the future is far from secure.

To learn how citizens in these countries view government, religion and economic opportunities, join the U.S. Institute for Peace (USIP), the Arab Barometer, the Arab Reform Initiative, the Project on Middle East Democracy, and the Project on Middle East Political Science for discussion on how people view the situations in their respective countries. The event will highlight new findings from the third wave of surveys (late 2012-2014) of the Arab Barometer across 12 Arab countries including Egypt, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, and more.

This event will feature the following speakers: Amaney Jamal, Edward S. Sanford Professor of Politics, Princeton University, Non-Resident Senior Fellow, Project on Middle East Democracy; Michael Robbins, Project Director, Arab Barometer; Khalil Shikaki, Director, Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research; Mark Tessler, Samuel J. Eldersveld Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan; and Steven Riskin, Senior Program Officer for Grants, U.S. Institute of Peace. RSVP at http://www.usip.org/pages/visit-us#building.

58] – On Fri., Oct. 31 from 10:30 to noon., Yukiya Amano, IAEA, will address "Challenges in Nuclear Verification: The IAEA’s Role on the Iranian Nuclear Issue" at Brookings Institution, Falk Auditorium, 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW, WDC. RSVP at http://www.brookings.edu/events/2014/10/31-challenge-nuclear-verification-iran-iaea-amano.

59] – On Fri., Oct. 31 from noon to 1 PM, join the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker in a vigil urging the powers that be to abolish war and torture, to disarm all weapons, to end indefinite detention, to close Guantanamo, to establish justice for all and help create the Beloved Community! The vigil takes place at the White House on Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Contact Art @ artlaffin@hotmail.com or at 202-360-6416.

60] – A vigil for Justice in Palestine/Israel takes place every Friday from noon to 1 PM at 19th & JFK Blvd., Philadelphia, across from Israeli Consulate. It is sponsored by Bubbies & Zaydes (Grandparents) for Peace in the Middle East. Email cswartz@pil.net. Go to http://phillyjewishpeace.org/.

61] – There is usually a silent peace vigil on Fridays, from 5 to 6 PM, outside the Cathedral of the Incarnation, University Parkway and St. Paul St. The Oct. 31 vigil, sponsored by Homewood Friends and Stony Run Meetings, reminds us that War Is Not the Answer and that there is the need to stop torture.

62] – CITIZEN FOUR is being shown at The charles, 1711 N. Charles St., from at least Oct. 31 through Nov. 6. The show times are 1:40, 4:15, 6:55 and 9:20 PM. Call 410-727-FILM.

63] –At Haydees Restaurant, 3102 Mount Pleasant St. NW, WDC, on Fri., Oct. 31 at 6 PM, the Multicultural Artist Collective presents a fund and awareness raising musical showcase of bands, artists, poets, and more from NYC and D.C. Donations from the show will be given to children who were deported from U.S. and Mexican borders on their attempt to escape the violence and corruption from their native countries. The Salvadoran Consulate will designate an organization to disperse the funds. Call Alex Iraheta at 202.573.5677 or email lexirt@gmail.com.

64] – There is an opportunity to participate in ballroom dancing, usually every Friday of the month, in the JHU ROTC Bldg. at 8 PM. Turn south on San Martin Dr. from the intersection of Univ. Parkway and 39th St. Drive on campus by taking the third left turn. The next dance will be Oct. 31. Call Dave Greene at 410-599-3725.

65] – The United Workers are hosting the 2nd Annual 5k Walk/Run & Children's Race on Sat., Nov. 1 to raise funds to sustain the fight for fair development and universal healthcare. Team Exercise Your Rights is a collective of United Workers leaders ranging from seniors to youth with a goal of raising $12,000. Go to http://www.razoo.com/story/Team-Exercise-Your-Rights-5k-Run-1-Mile-Walk to Sponsor Team Exercise your Rights by donating today. Your donation of $10, $25, $50, $100, $250, or more will help sustain the growing network of Human Rights Committees across Baltimore and throughout Maryland. Human Rights Committee members participate in year-long study courses on political economy, history, human rights, and current struggles for social and economic justice.

66] – Join the Organic Consumers Association at the Take Back Your Health Conference on Sat., Nov. 1 from 8 AM to 5 PM and Sun., Nov. 2 from 8 AM to 1 PM at Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel, 2800 S. Potomac Ave., Arlington 22202. Buy tickets here http://clubtbyh.com/the-conference/tickets/.

67] – Be at the Elm Street Urban Park near the Bethesda Metro Station on Sat., Nov. 1 at 8:30 AM, and then at 9:30 AM march into D.C. for climate justice. Follow Wisconsin Avenue, and end at Lafayette Park. The route is at https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zLKFJl3xdg3k.k86C-EE7-V4Q. On March 1, 2014, dozens of climate patriots set out from Los Angeles, CA, walking 3,000 miles across America to Washington, D.C., inspiring action to resolve the climate crisis. This is one of the largest coast-to-coast marches in U.S. history. The March seeks to build the broadest possible public consensus and is focused strictly on the climate crisis.
At 7 PM, there will be a reflection and celebration of the March, at St. Stephen & the Incarnation Episcopal Church, 1525 Newton St. NW. Fill out the volunteer form at http://bit.ly/1uieD10. Go to https://www.facebook.com/events/697523390337643/.

68] – At UDC David A. Clarke School of Law, 4340 Connecticut Ave. NW, WDC, on Sat., Nov. 1 from 9 AM to 5:30 PM begins the 2ND ANNUAL DAY OF CELEBRATION & EDUCATION ON THE LIBERATION OF ASSATA SHAKUR. She has been living in Cuba since 1986, after escaping from prison where she was serving a life sentence imposed in a highly disputed trial. Assata was a Black Panther then a Black Liberation Army (BLA) leader in the early '70s, so she was a target of the FBI's COINTELPRO. Before her daring escape from prison in 1979, Assata Shakur served a total of six years behind bars where she would also give birth to her daughter Kakuya. Visit http://www.afrocubaweb.com/assata.htm. Call Paulette at 646-271-4677.

See a short film about Assata before listening to speakers from the National Coalition for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Youth and The Law, the US Human Rights report, and George Jackson University. Childcare will be provided by the Childcare Collective.

69] – Go to Georgetown University, 3700 O St. NW, WDC, on Sat., Nov. 1 from 9 AM to 4 PM for a Teach-In on Iraq and Syria. Reflecting the importance of the topic, the Teach-In is sponsored by three organizations: the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, the Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, and the World Affairs Council of D.C.

The morning session, from 9 AM (with 8:30 AM breakfast) to noon is for educators, and will be held in the CCAS Boardroom, Intercultural Center (ICC) Rm. 141, with background on the current crisis in Iraq and Syria, and teaching resources to help convey these complex and urgent topics to students. Following a free lunch for registrants, educators will take part in the afternoon panel from 1 to 4 PM in the ICC Auditorium, which is open to public and press. An expert panel will discuss issues and prospects in the ongoing conflict, featuring Georgetown faculty Marwa Daoudy, Daniel Neep, Emad Shahin, and Tamara Sonn, and Imam Mohamed Magid of ADAMS Center and the Islamic Society of North America. RSVP to Susan Douglass at sld58@georgetown.edu.

70] – Sign up at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1tXXGE-zZwPV2NTSXLfaVQyGsqSh8HOBefL_PMSCJLoo/viewform for the Baltimore Ethical Society's Urban Farm Volunteer Event with the Real Food Farm, 2801 St Lo Dr, Baltimore 21213, on Sat. Nov. 1 from 9 AM to noon! The BES leader, Hugh, will be bringing bagels and coffee for the early-birds starting at 8:30 AM. By participating in this event, you are contributing to a self-sustaining community and to the elimination of food deserts and food insecurity in Baltimore. Remember to wear sturdy shoes, dress for the weather, and bring water and a snack. It should be cool and calm, a great day for planting.

71] – Friends House, 17715 Meeting House Rd., Sandy Spring, MD 20860, hosts a peace vigil every Saturday, 10:30 to 11:30 AM, on the corner of Rt. 108 and Georgia Ave. [Route 97] in Olney, MD. The next vigil is Nov. 1. Call Chuck Harker at 301-570-7167.

72] – Each Saturday, 11 AM – 1 PM, Chester County Peace Movement holds a peace vigil in West Chester in front of the Chester County Courthouse, High & Market Sts. Go to www.ccpeace.org. Email ccpeacemovement@aol.com.

73] – SlutWalk is a worldwide movement against victim-blaming, survivor-shaming, and rape culture. Originated in Toronto in 2011, it started as a direct response to a Toronto Police Services officer perpetuating rape myths by stating “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized“. The march and the issues it addresses have struck such a chord that marches have been organized in over 200 communities in North, Central & South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa.

This year's event will be a concert twist to the annual SlutWalk D.C.! It takes place on Sat., Nov. 1 at 11 AM at the Sylvan Theatre, 15th St. and Independence Ave. SW on the grounds of the Washington Monument, National Mall. See https://www.facebook.com/events/420699071372669.

74] – There will be a peace vigil on the West Lawn of the Capitol at noon on Sat., Nov. 1. Look for the blue banner with the message, "Seek Peace and Pursue It.--Psalms 34:14." The vigil lasts one hour and is silent except when one responds to the occasional questions. Go to http://www.quaker.org/langleyhill/seekpeace.htm or email seekpeacevigil@yahoo.com.

75] – It can be argued that the drone war is the most extreme terrorist war in history according to Noam Chomsky. On Sat., Nov. 1 from noon to 1 PM, join the Philadelphia Center City Monthly Drone Death Walk and Vigil. Gather at 12th & Market Sts and bring signs and banners. White Masks will be provided. RSVP Marge Cleef at 267-763-1644.

76] – On Sat., Nov. 1 and Sun., Nov. 2, the Black is Back Coalition (BIBC) is bringing together the many mothers, families and friends of those African-Americans killed by a police officer. The BIBC will be holding a march and conference under the slogan of “Peace Through Revolution: Resist U.S. Wars on Africa, African People and Peoples of the World!” Stand with all of the mothers in occupied Palestine, Afghanistan, Mexico and elsewhere, where the U.S. government is killing people. Call 224.572.9887.

Join the rally and march to the White House on Sat., Nov. 1 at noon at Malcolm X Park, before marching to the White House. There will be a teach-in on Sun., Nov. 2 at Howard University. Visit http://www.blackisbackcoalition.org/.

77] – On Sat., Nov. 1 at 2 PM, a coalition of frontline communities, regional and national organizations, and concerned individuals will begin to take nonviolent direct action in Washington, D.C. to interfere with business as usual. Business as usual is the collusion of government and industry to fast track new fossil fuel infrastructure investments while ignoring the warnings of climate scientists and the voices of ordinary people. Visit https://sites.google.com/site/beyondextremeenergy/.

78] – On Sat., Nov. 1 at 6 PM, get involved with RETURNING HOPE TO GAZA – a Benefit Dinner with MIKO PELED at the McLean Community Center, 1234 Ingleside Ave., McLean, VA 22101. Miko fits loosely into the category of "New Israeli Historians" who are probing archives and discovering what they call myths of the founding and history of Israel. For Miko it is not academic, but personal family history. His revelations set him on a campaign for truth, justice, and peace. He condemns Zionism, but he seeks harmony and reconciliation, not retribution. Best of all, he is hopeful for a just resolution in our time. In 2012 he published a book, “The General's Son, Journey of an Israeli in Palestine.” See http://mikopeled.com/. Tickets, which include a buffet dinner, are $25 for adults, $15 for students and $10 for children [12 and under]. See www.eventbrite.com.

79] – The Exchange: Dissecting the History and State of Hip-Hop in Baltimore is happening on Sat., Nov. 1 at 7 PM @ Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse, 30 W. North Ave., Baltimore 21201. It will be an evening of healthy and progressive dialogue with some of the city’s most influential voices. Speaking on the evolution of Baltimore’s Hip-Hop culture, the panelists will be highlighting the history, socioeconomic influences and current state of Baltimore Hip-Hop. The discussion will be moderated by Capri Shorter. Call 443-602-7585. Go to http://www.redemmas.org.

80] – Join Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility for a discussion of The New Climate Reality on Sat., Nov. 1 from 7:30 to 9:30 PM at 8710 2nd Ave., Silver Spring 20910. Listen, learn, ask questions, and share your thoughts as Dr. Sara Via, Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Maryland, gives a presentation: The new climate reality and what we can do about it. Hear from 350 Montgomery County (350MoCo) on its efforts to have Montgomery County sell off its $112 million in oil and gas investments, and from Chesapeake PSR on efforts to move Maryland away from fossil fuels. The event will be sponsored by Chesapeake PSR and 350MoCo. RSVP to twhitehouse@psr.org.

81] -- Not for the faint of heart, nor the weak of spirit...it is the Halloweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeen Extravaganza 2014 on Sat., Nov. 1 from 9 PM til the wee hours at 405 Beech Ave., Takoma Park 20912. Costumes are Strongly Encouraged. This is a FUNdraiser with a suggested donation from $10 to $50. The funds will support local groups & efforts to make the world a better place! Go to https://www.facebook.com/events/709128725822043/?ref_dashboard_filter=upcoming or call Nadine at 202-412-7611.

82] -- The Washington Peace Center has a progressive calendar & activist alert! Consider signing up to receive its weekly email: info@washingtonpeacecenter.org.

83] -- Fund Our Communities campaign is a grass roots movement to get support from local organizations and communities to work together with their local and state elected officials to pressure Congresspersons and senators to join with Congresspersons Barney Frank and Ron Paul, who have endorsed a 25% cut to the federal military budget. Bring home the savings to state and county governments to meet the local needs which are under tremendous budget pressures. Go to www.OurFunds.org.

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88] – A Peace Park Antinuclear Vigil takes place every day in Lafayette Park, 1601 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 24 hours a day, since June 3, 1981. Go to http://prop1.org; call 202-682-4282.

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/.

"One is called to live nonviolently, even if the change one works for seems impossible. It may or may not be possible to turn the US around through nonviolent revolution. But one thing favors such an attempt: the total inability of violence to change anything for the better" - Daniel Berrigan

Thursday, October 30, 2014

USDA sells out organics

http://www.courier-journal.com/story/opinion/contributors/2014/10/29/usda-sells-organics/18111573/

USDA sells out organics

Bruce Friedrich, Special to The Courier-Journal

When you think about an organic farm that raises animals, what do you picture?
I'll bet you think about animals who are allowed to root in the soil and feel sun on their backs. I'll bet, more generally, that you assume the animals are treated fairly well, from birth to death.

But if that's how you think about organic, you're mistaken, because good animal welfare is not a requirement of USDA's organic standards, which certify as "USDA organic" factory farms with tens of thousands of chickens crammed into massive sheds. These birds have no access to soil and extremely limited outdoor access.

And as the National Organic Standards Board wraps up its meetings in Louisville this week, they won't be talking about farm animal welfare during their three full days of meetings. It appears that they have given up in the face of USDA's unwillingness to follow their recommendations.

That's too bad, because Americans care about farm animal welfare — fully 95 percent of Americans say that it matters to them how farm animals are treated. I'll bet that percentage is even higher among organic consumers.

The concern about farm animal welfare makes sense: Farm animals feel pain just like we do. And scientists report that chickens and pigs are more cognitively and behaviorally complex than dogs or cats. So barren conditions affect chickens and pigs just like such conditions would affect our pets.

Unfortunately, standard anti-cruelty laws exempt practices that are common on modern farms; that means that cramming pigs and chickens into tiny crates where they cannot even turn around is both the norm and legal. To ensure that they only support better animal welfare, consumers should be able to count on the organic label. But if they are, they're being deceived.

Since 2002, the Organic Standards Board has made recommendations on poultry outdoor access; animal transport and slaughter; and animal welfare and stocking densities. The USDA has ignored all of it, much to the Organic Standards Board's annoyance.

The Board stated unanimously that lack of regulation has "restricted the welfare of animals to a considerable degree" and noted that its recommendations were just a "first step" that would "not provide for a comprehensive review in favor of animal welfare." But USDA won't even take this first step.

It will come as a shock to most organic consumers that there are not already legal requirements for organic where basic animal welfare issues are considered. Indeed, the USDA was charged by Congress with developing standards, yet it announced without meaningful explanation that it will make no progress on any of it.

USDA's announcement was brief, and it cited only an "economic impact analysis" done by a third-party consulting firm and "other urgent priorities."

I don't know what the "other urgent priorities" are and USDA didn't say, but the economic report considers only the poultry guidelines, which have been sitting on a shelf for 12 years, and indicates that implementing the board's recommendations would involve a significant cost for only the five "organic" farms (not five percent — five farms) that are cramming more than 100,000 hens into their barns.
These five so-called organic mega-farms represent one percent of organic egg farms but 16 percent of organic egg production, and they would have to allow access to soil and sunlight and reduce stocking densities. In other words, they would have to do what organic consumers expect.

Instead, USDA is allowing the worst producers to stamp "organic" on their products and is thereby encouraging hundreds of organic farmers that are already in compliance with the proposed regulations to treat animals worse, in order to compete with the few massive farms that provide the worst animal welfare.

USDA is also telling organic farmers and consumers that it doesn't care about animal space allowances, bedding and environmental concerns, environmental enrichment, pain relief for mutilations — or the enforcement of any of it.
Something stinks in the organic hen house, it's the hen house regulators, and USDA's Organic Standards Board should be talking about it and demanding change.

Bruce Friedrich is director of advocacy and policy for Farm Sanctuary, a national farm animal protection organization, farmsanctuary.org

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

U.S. Sends Planes Armed with Depleted Uranium to Middle East

U.S. Sends Planes Armed with Depleted Uranium to Middle East
By David Swanson

http://warisacrime.org/content/us-sends-planes-armed-depleted-uranium-middle-east

The U.S. Air Force says it is not halting its use of Depleted Uranium weapons, has recently sent them to the Middle East, and is prepared to use them.

A type of airplane, the A-10, deployed this month to the Middle East by the U.S. Air National Guard's 122nd Fighter Wing, is responsible for more Depleted Uranium (DU) contamination than any other platform, according to the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW). "Weight for weight and by number of rounds more 30mm PGU-14B ammo has been used than any other round," said ICBUW coordinator Doug Weir, referring to ammunition used by A-10s, as compared to DU ammunition used by tanks.

Public affairs superintendent Master Sgt. Darin L. Hubble of the 122nd Fighter Wing told me that the A-10s now in the Middle East along with "300 of our finest airmen" have been sent there on a deployment planned for the past two years and have not been assigned to take part in the current fighting in Iraq or Syria, but "that could change at any moment."

The crews will load PGU-14 depleted uranium rounds into their 30mm Gatling cannons and use them as needed, said Hubble. "If the need is to explode something -- for example a tank -- they will be used."
Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright told me, "There is no prohibition against the use of Depleted Uranium rounds, and the [U.S. military] does make use of them. The use of DU in armor-piercing munitions allows enemy tanks to be more easily destroyed."

On Thursday, several nations, including Iraq, spoke to the United Nations First Committee, against the use of Depleted Uranium and in support of studying and mitigating the damage in already contaminated areas. A non-binding resolution is expected to be voted on by the Committee this week, urging nations that have used DU to provide information on locations targeted. A number of organizations are delivering a petition to U.S. officials this week urging them not to oppose the resolution.

In 2012 a resolution on DU was supported by 155 nations and opposed by just the UK, U.S., France, and Israel. Several nations have banned DU, and in June Iraq proposed a global treaty banning it -- a step also supported by the European and Latin American Parliaments.

Wright said that the U.S. military is "addressing concerns on the use of DU by investigating other types of materials for possible use in munitions, but with some mixed results. Tungsten has some limitations in its functionality in armor-piercing munitions, as well as some health concerns based on the results of animal research on some tungsten-containing alloys. Research is continuing in this area to find an alternative to DU that is more readily accepted by the public, and also performs satisfactorily in munitions."

"I fear DU is this generation's Agent Orange," U.S. Congressman Jim McDermott told me. "There has been a sizable increase in childhood leukemia and birth defects in Iraq since the Gulf War and our subsequent invasion in 2003. DU munitions were used in both those conflicts. There are also grave suggestions that DU weapons have caused serious health issues for our Iraq War veterans. I seriously question the use of these weapons until the U.S. military conducts a full investigation into the effect of DU weapon residue on human beings."

Doug Weir of ICBUW said renewed use of DU in Iraq would be "a propaganda coup for ISIS." His and other organizations opposed to DU are guardedly watching a possible U.S. shift away from DU, which the U.S. military said it did not use in Libya in 2011. Master Sgt. Hubble of the 122nd Fighter Wing believes that was simply a tactical decision. But public pressure had been brought to bear by activists and allied nations' parliaments, and by a UK commitment not to use DU.

DU is classed as a Group 1 Carcinogen by the World Health Organization, and evidence of health damage produced by its use is extensive. The damage is compounded, Jeena Shah at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) told me, when the nation that uses DU refuses to identify locations targeted. Contamination enters soil and water. Contaminated scrap metal is used in factories or made into cooking pots or played with by children.
CCR and Iraq Veterans Against the War have filed a Freedom of Information Act Request in an attempt to learn the locations targeted in Iraq during and after the 1991 and 2003 assaults. The UK and the Netherlands have revealed targeted locations, Shah pointed out, as did NATO following DU use in the Balkans. And the United States has revealed locations it targeted with cluster munitions. So why not now?

"For years," Shah said, "the U.S. has denied a relationship between DU and health problems in civilians and veterans. Studies of UK veterans are highly suggestive of a connection. The U.S. doesn't want studies done." In addition, the United States has used DU in civilian areas and identifying those locations could suggest violations of Geneva Conventions.

Iraqi doctors will be testifying on the damage done by DU before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commissionin Washington, D.C., in December.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration said on Thursday that it will be spending $1.6 million to try to identify atrocities committed in Iraq . . . by ISIS.
--
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson's books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio.

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

When the Public Has a Right to Classified Information

http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/26658-when-the-public-has-a-right-to-classified-information

Edward Snowdwn in Moscow. (photo: Washington Post)
When the Public Has a Right to Classified Information

By Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic
29 October 14

The anonymous whistleblower who leaked details about the terror watchlist served the national interest.

Months ago, The Intercept reported that "nearly half of the people on the U.S. government’s database of terrorist suspects are not connected to any known terrorist group." Citing classified documents, Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Devereaux went on to report that "Obama has boosted the number of people on the no fly list more than ten-fold, to an all-time high of 47,000—surpassing the number of people barred from flying under George W. Bush." Several experts were quoted questioning the effectiveness of a watch list so expansive, echoing concerns expressed by the Associated Press the previous month as well as the ACLU.

The Intercept article offered a long overdue look at one of the most troubling parts of the War on Terrorism. Being labeled a suspected terrorist can roil or destroy a person's life—yet Team Obama kept adding people to the list using opaque standards that were never subject to democratic debate. Americans were denied due process.
Innocent people were also put on a no-fly list with no clear way to get off.

As the ACLU put it, "The uncontroversial contention that Osama bin Laden and a handful of other known terrorists should not be allowed on an aircraft is being used to create a monster that goes far beyond what ordinary Americans think of when they think about a 'terrorist watch list.' If the government is going to rely on these kinds of lists, they need checks and balances to ensure that innocent people are protected." The status quo made the War on Terror resemble a Franz Kafka novel.

On Tuesday, Michael Isikoff reported that the FBI has identified a federal contractor suspected of leaking the classified documents The Intercept cited in its story:

The FBI recently executed a search of the suspect's home, and federal prosecutors in Northern Virginia have opened up a criminal investigation into the matter, the sources said. But the case has also generated concerns among some within the U.S. intelligence community that top Justice Department officials—stung by criticism that they have been overzealous in pursuing leak cases—may now be more reluctant to bring criminal charges involving unauthorized disclosures to the news media, the sources said. One source, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, said there was concern "there is no longer an appetite at Justice for these cases."

That quote is hard to parse. Was anonymity granted to government sources so that they could offer unauthorized leaks complaining about disinterest in prosecuting unauthorized leaks? Or was this an authorized leak from an intelligence community trying to pressure the Justice Department using the cover of anonymity? Either way, the concerns of these intelligence sources should be ignored. If the DOJ is reluctant to prosecute here, it's absolutely right to be.

The information revealed by The Intercept should never have been treated as a state secret. Federal authorities are trying to figure out who leaked a classified document, but they ought to be identifying whoever was responsible for wrongly classifying it in the first place. Its contents do not threaten national security. Suppressing them was an affront to democracy that undermined accountability in government.

The bad actors are the ones who kept it secret.

The opaque watch lists of the Bush and Obama administrations are flagrant examples of the over-classification long thought to be endemic in Washington, D.C. Exposing them as such served the public interest. As with Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, and FBI persecution of anti-Vietnam protestors, whistleblowers and journalists have once again proved better than government at judging how best to navigate the tension between state secrets and democracy.

Most self-described advocates of law and order who insists on the need to prosecute Edward Snowden and this second leaker ignore a key feature of their civil disobedience: These whistleblowers leaked in part to expose more serious lawbreaking.

It is perverse to target them while ignoring the lawbreakers they exposed.

The only reasonable argument for prosecuting the whistleblower who leaked this watch-list document is that, regardless of the salutary consequences, a duly enacted law was broken. Some people maintain that the rule of law is threatened if any lawbreaking goes unpunished, regardless of context. But that is not an argument that the intelligence community or its apologists can credibly make until they also begin advocating for the punishment of all perjurers, torturers, and civil-rights violators in their midst, as well as leakers who talk to reporters while advancing an establishment line. Does anyone take that internally consistent position? Anyone who surveys lawbreaking in the national-security bureaucracy and insists on legal consequences only for its whistleblowers makes a mockery of the rule of law.

© 2014 Reader Supported News

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Meet The Hedge Fund Wiz Kid Who’s Shrinking America’s Pensions

Published on Portside (https://portside.org)

Meet The Hedge Fund Wiz Kid Who’s Shrinking America’s Pensions

http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/10/28/3585128/arnold-pensions-retirement-manufactured-crisis/

Alan Pyke

Tuesday, October 28, 2014
ThinkProgress

When longtime private equity analyst Gina Raimondo won her bid to become treasurer of her home state in 2010, Rhode Island’s public pension system was in such disarray that federal regulators were sniffing around to make sure the state was reporting the funding levels accurately.

Within two years, Raimondo (D) would push through the most significant cuts to public worker retirement benefits [1] in the country and begin a campaign for the Governor’s mansion. The changes she masterminded in 2011 shrank the state’s pension funding gap by billions of dollars almost overnight, an achievement that would have taken years under the more moderate reforms other states have tried. But the rapid, aggressive approach came at a steep cost for the 66,000 men and women who teach, fight fires, and administer public programs in the state.

After years of paying into a retirement system that promised fixed annual payments in their golden years, Rhode Island’s public workforce got herded into [2] a new, far riskier system. Raimondo’s policy is what’s known as a “hybrid pension,” where the system of guaranteed payments to retirees was replaced by a combination of individual investment accounts and a much smaller version of the traditional pension payments. The change amounted to a large benefit cut for thousands of workers.

“She knew what she wanted to do and it was all just a facade of engagement,” said John Adler, Retirement Security Campaign Director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). “She steamrolled it. The process was a fake process.”

Raimondo’s urgency carried the day in Providence. “It has to be done,” said state Rep. Nicholas Mattiello on the day the legislature approved the bill. “We have no choice [3].”

Such sweeping changes would be hard for someone with years of political experience and connections. For a person holding her first-ever political office, they should have been even harder. But Raimondo didn’t do it alone. Her campaign to rewire the smallest state’s pension system got a huge, quiet boost from one of the largest states, thousands of miles away.

The Man, The Money, And The Message

In Texas, a man named John Arnold is a few years into a sort of third career.

After earning a reputation as the smartest trader at Enron and walking away with several million dollars [4] before that notorious firm’s collapse, Arnold launched a hedge fund. He excelled, turned his millions into billions, and recently began a philanthropic career with his wife Laura that spans a diversity of interests and crosses some traditional political divides. The Laura and John Arnold Foundation and other Arnold-financed donation centers are backing everything from [5] bleeding-heart causes like sweeping reform of the criminal justice system and improved research on public health and diet to corporate-oriented projects like education reform that shifts control of public schools into private hands.

But Arnold has made his biggest splash in the pension fight, and not always in the way he wants. After his multi-million dollar donation to New York’s PBS affiliate for a series of reports on pensions was made public [6] by reporter David Sirota, the station returned the money[7]. Though the series was discontinued, WNET stands by [8] what The Newshour Weekend reported on public pension funding in “Pension Peril” — a name Sirota argued biases audiences toward Arnold’s favored position that pension promises should be revised urgently rather than honored in full.

“In many cases they’re forgoing better pay in the private sector”
Some of Arnold’s money found its way into Rhode Island too. There, an outside group called EngageRI that spent over $700,000 helping to drive Raimondo’s pension reform proposal through in 2011 received much of that money from the Arnolds [9] — “less than half a million,” a spokesman told the Wall Street Journal. When Raimondo moved on from her pension triumph to run for governor, Arnold was there again. Raimondo’s super PAC has gotten $200,000 [10] from the Arnolds in recent years.

Arnold’s spokespeople bristle at the suggestion that the billionaire is out to cut pensions, insisting that he only wants a realistic accounting of the under-funding problem. But the similarities between what Raimondo did in Rhode Island and what the Arnold Foundation advocates nationwide are striking.

A white paper [11] on the Arnold Foundation’s website depicts all forms of defined benefit pensions for public workers as doomed to failure, and lays out four principal ideas for addressing “this looming crisis” in public pension funding. As with Raimondo’s Rhode Island push, the Arnold vision of pension reform is motivated by a sense of impending disaster and unpayable obligations.

The paper proposes either wholly replacing traditional pensions with defined-contribution 401(k)-style plans, radically reforming the way traditional pensions are funded, or shifting to the sort of hybrid approach that Gina Raimondo employed.

In Rhode Island, the bulk of the money that Ocean State workers contributed to their old pension fund now goes to the new 401(k) system. That form of retirement savings requires workers to decide how they want their money invested by advisers who charge a wide variety of esoteric, poorly-disclosed [12] fees. Instead of being assured of a certain level of money coming in each year of their retirement, workers now count on a set amount of cash going out of their checks and into the 401(k) accounts in perpetuity. Fees extractas much as a third [13] of the investment gains a typical 401(k) earns over a person’s working career, according to research from Demos. Even if the remainder is well managed, a 401(k) balance can shrink drastically due to simple bad luck, as workers nearing retirement age learned when the financial crisis wiped out over $3 trillion [14] in savings in 2008.

The changes “completely screwed mid- and late-career workers,” said SEIU’s Adler. For someone with 20 years of public service under his belt and a decade to go before hitting retirement age, “you’re losing 10 years of wage increases and 20-plus percent of whatever that final average salary [used for calculating pension payments] was going to be. So it’s an enormous reduction.” (Earlier this year, the state struck a deal [15] that allows workers with at least 20 years on the job to pay significantly more to stay in the old system, but everyone else will still be placed into the new hybrid system.)

“Many folks take public sector jobs because they have good pensions and benefits, and in many cases they’re forgoing better pay in the private sector,” Adler said. “That got thrown out the window on a dime. If you’re late in your career you’re going to get the bulk of what you had coming to you, and if you’re early in your career you have time to decide if this job is still worth it. But if you’re mid-career, you’re stuck.”

Searching For A Crisis

Claims about the scope and immediacy of pension funding problems are seriously overblown, according to economists at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). While would-be pension reformers are fond of citing multi-trillion-dollar raw figures for future retirement system obligations, CEPR’s Dean Baker and David Rosnick wrote in 2012, “the numbers actually don’t seem that large [16]expressed relative to future GDP.” The year before, Baker crunched state-level pension numbers and found that those multi-trillion-dollar shortfalls are “less than 0.2 percent [17] of projected gross state product over the next 30 years for most states,” and less than 0.5 percent of projected future economic output even in the states with the worst-funded pensions.
Economists at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have also found claims of a multi-trillion-dollar pension shortfall to bemisleading and overblown [18], and say that a more accurate and “still troubling” figure is $700 billion [19]. Center for American Progress (CAP) research also cites that figure [20] in policy papers that argue for retaining defined-benefit pensions.

“Most of the time minor tweaks are all that’s required”

When journalists at McClatchy tried to sort out conflicting claims about the severity and urgency of the pension funding problem in 2011, they also concluded that the systems are not in crisis [21]. Some are more distressed than others, Boston College researchers told McClatchy, but none is on the brink of collapse or poised to devour state budgets entirely.

The Center for American Progress’s David Madland, who studies economics and pension issues, agrees. “For most plans it’s not a crisis. It’s something they can, over the longer run, get out of,” he told ThinkProgress. “When you have these shortfalls, yes there are tweaks you can make, but most of the time minor tweaks are all that’s required to get plans back on track.”

The key is for lawmakers to make the payments they’re supposed to make when they’re supposed to make them, Madland said. Trying to use past failures to make pension payments as a reason to ditch traditional pensions entirely is “saying we can’t really trust ourselves to do the right thing so we won’t really do the optimal thing in the first place.”

Like basic financial management for any working-class person, maintaining a healthy pension system requires getting into good habits and sticking with them. States that fund their pensions appropriately rather than reneging on the obligations “generally do it because that has been the practice in the state, but generally not because of state law,” according to SEIU’s Adler.

If a state can stay in the habit of funding its pension system adequately, that will pay bigger dividends for taxpayers than shifting risks to workers through a 401(k) plan. “There are lots of advantages of defined-benefit pensions. They’re actually less expensive for states to operate and they provide workers with more security,” Madland said. “You want to be providing as good of a system for the workers, as efficiently for the taxpayers [as you can].” A paper Madland co-authored explains how the defined-contribution plans that Arnold and other reformers favor are almost twice as costly for states to maintain [19] as traditional defined-benefit pensions.
“[Pension] opponents make it sound like every public pension is in crisis, unsustainable, providing lavish benefits to workers,” SEIU’s Adler said. “That’s malarkey.”

“The vast majority of public pension funds are looking at problems that are 30 or 40 or 50 years down the road,” said Adler, “and that means that we have 30 or 40 or 50 years to carry them.’ The weakness in pension funds from decades of underfunding by state governments needs to be addressed and there’s no reason not to start now, he said, but the radical revisions and abandoned retirement promises Raimondo and Arnold support are unnecessary.

‘Give Them Credit For Innovation’

Billionaires helping elect people they like to promote policies they favor is fairly normal in American politics. But Arnold’s money didn’t stop with Raimondo and her allies within the political system. It’s also funding those research organizations whose work conveys a sense of crisis around public pension funding.
The severe reforms Rhode Island adopted drew praise from the Brookings Institution, one of the old lions of the Beltway think tank business. A Brookings report [22] praised Raimondo’s political efficacy and legislative boldness, and even quoted someone from Arnold-backed EngageRI praising her work.

Brookings’ pension research is funded in part by John and Laura Arnold, who have given over $1.6 million [23] to the group for pension research and analysis since 2012. As Sirota notes, the Arnolds have a policy foundation that could have issued its own analysis of pension reform efforts in Rhode Island and elsewhere, but they chose to fund research from Brookings instead. The Arnolds also fund [23]pension research at the libertarian Reason Foundation, which also praised Raimondo’s efforts [24].

In an email, Arnold Foundation Vice President of Public Accountability Josh McGee called it “inaccurate to say that the Brookings report ‘praised’ the reforms in Rhode Island” and defended the foundation’s funding of “highly reputable, independent, and moderate think tanks to analyze our nation’s retirement security problems and propose solutions.” But in addition to extensively quoting praise of Raimondo’s efforts from a spokesman from the Arnold-backed EngageRI, The Brookings report says in its own voice that “one of the most important factors in the success of comprehensive pension reform in RI was the political courage and effective leadership of the state treasurer.”

On top of citing Arnold-funded political operatives, the Brookings report draws upon pension research from the Pew Charitable Trusts. Pew has received “up to $4,850,000 [23]” for its pension work from the Arnolds since 2012 according to the Arnold Foundation’s website.

"We're getting by with rubber bands and chewing gum”

Reporters who talk to Arnold usually ask how much he has spent on the pension reform fight. In 2013, he told Reuters the figure was $10 million [25]. In August, he told Bloomberg it was $12 million [26]. A spokeswoman for Arnold told ThinkProgress that out of $515 million in charitable giving, “approximately $10 million” has gone to pension reform work, and declined to provide a specific figure for separate, non-charitable political contributions tied to that policy area. Whatever the exact total amount the Arnolds have spent on pension causes would “pale in comparison to the $1.1 billion the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics estimates unions have spent on political activities between 2005 and 2011,” she said.

“I wish I had billions of dollars to spend on this,” SEIU’s Adler said when pressed on the comparison between Arnold’s spending and union activism. Compared to the major research departments Arnold supports at Pew and Brookings, the union official said, “we’re getting by with rubber bands and chewing gum.”

With union members now making up just 12 percent of the American workforce, and barely half that ratio of the private-sector workforce, Adler said, the balance of power between labor groups and arch-capitalists is roughly the opposite of how Arnold’s team paints things.

“They depict us as big labor, billions of dollars,” he said, “and the reality is that we are fighting desperately to maintain the rights of our members under a furious, multifaceted right-wing assault.”

The political contributions Arnold’s staff declined to tabulate are listed on the Arnolds’ website [27], though only at imprecise ranges rather than exact dollar figures. According to that list, though, the Arnolds have spent as much as $53.1 million on pension-related research and advocacy. Much of that money goes to education reform groups that specifically target teacher pensions as a source of problems within the public education system. Much of it goes to places like Brookings and Pew that have traditionally been viewed as either at the political center or just to the left of it.

“I give them credit for innovation,” Adler said of the Arnolds. “You would expect someone with those views on pensions would fund the Heritage Foundation and Reason or Cato. His network is Pew and Brookings and Urban and public television. It’s brilliant.”

Arnold’s money has reached a variety of other pension policy showdowns around the country. In Ventura County, California, the Arnolds spent $150,000 [28] supporting a ballot initiative that would have pulled the county out of the state pension funding system they agreed to decades ago and replaced county workers’ pensions with a 401(k) system. They gave another $200,000 [29] to the mayor of San Jose, who was trying to put a similar initiative on the statewide ballot. The push to use ballot initiatives to break up the state pension systemgot the blessing of the Reason Foundation [30], which has received just over a million dollars [23] from the Arnolds for pension research since 2013.

A judge recently struck the Ventura initiative from the ballot [31] on a technicality. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed has abandoned his own Arnold-backed ballot initiative, at least for the time being.

Elsewhere, the innocuously-named Colorado Pension Project held a panel discussion of how pension rules influence teacher hiring and school performance. Panelists from Bellwether Education Partners, the National Council on Teacher Quality, and the New Teacher Project all argued that traditional pensions hurt school districts’ [32] ability to attract the best teachers.

All three groups are funded by John and Laura Arnold, whose foundation has given them a total of nearly $7 million.

Keeping Promises In The Garden State

For an example of the kind of pension reform deal that unions can endorse, Adler says, look no further than New Jersey.

After decades of underfunding by successive administrations in New Jersey, the state’s pension funds face one of the largest shortfalls in the country. After the 2010 elections, workers agreed to a pension overhaul that required higher contributions from employees but left their defined-benefit pensions otherwise unimpaired.

In exchange for those concessions, Gov. Chris Christie (R) promised to make large annual payments to the pension funds to put the state on track to close the gap over the coming decades. For workers, higher payments out of their own checks were an acceptable price for stabilizing the system in general.

“We have generally been willing to support negotiated increases in employee contributions in exchange for the employer making good on its contribution,” Adler said, pointing to dozens of similar state reforms enacted with union support. “It’s in our interests to make sure these funds are sustainable and are paid for and are there for generations to come,” provided that reforms “protect current employees who have made life decisions based on this pension being in place.”

“He’s replicating the kinds of problems that got the plan into trouble in the first place”

The pension fix was a fiscal feather in Christie’s political cap. But Christie is more committed to tax cuts, it turns out, and when the $3.4 billion in business tax breaks he’s handed out failed to produce enough economic activity to fill the state’s coffers, the pension payments he had promised workers became a liability.
Faced with a choice between sticking with his tax policy and living up to the 2013 pension deal, the governor opted to revoke the bulk of the retirement system payments [33]. Instead of $3.8 billion in 2014 and 2015, he will now put $1.4 billion into the plans — far less than promised, and too little to achieve the sort of major improvement in the funds’ finances that both sides wanted.

The episode is a prime example of what not to do in the face of a genuine underfunding problem created by years of missed payments, according to CAP’s Madland. “You create this supposed deal that’s going to get the pension up to reasonable funding levels, and Christie walks away from the obligations,” he said. “He’s replicating the kinds of problems that got the plan into trouble in the first place.”

To Adler, the union analyst, the episode illustrates how much more influence wealthy investors have in the debate over public retirement funds. Christie “said he wasn’t going to pay for the sins of his predecessors. But he didn’t say that I’m not going to pay the bond obligations that my predecessors took on,” he said.
“If you stiff your bondholders they won’t lend you money. So they have power. Workers, what are they going to do?” Adler asked. “They’re powerless.”

When Christie announced the pension reversal in May, he depicted the broken promise in ways that might be familiar to Rhode Island’s public servants. New Jersey, according to the business-friendly governor, simply has no other choice.

“Given the circumstances that we’ve been confronted with,” Christie said, “I believe this is not only the best but the only decision we’re left with [34] to deal with the magnitude of the problem that we have.”

Four months later, John Arnold found time to tweet mild criticism of the New Jersey governor. “Shame on Gov. Christie [35],” he wrote in September. At the time of the announcement in May, though, Arnold said Christie’s move proved his team’s point. “[Defined-benefit] pensions always enable politicians to abuse the system [36],” he tweeted.

Arnold expounded on that thought in an email to ThinkProgress. “By reneging on his promise to close the funding gap in New Jersey’s public pension system, Chris Christie showed once again why the design of most public pension systems is fatally flawed,” he wrote. “Politicians can and frequently do divert money that is meant to fund long-term worker retirements to solve their own short-term political problems.”

He seems skeptical that the good financial management habits that have kept other states out of pension funding trouble can be transferred to states that have failed to make full and timely payments in the past. A healthy pension system “won’t be achieved by simply slashing worker benefits, as some on the right propose, or by feeding more money into a broken system, as advocated by some on the left,” Arnold wrote. “Our foundation will continue to support local efforts to fix public pension systems because we believe this is a policy issue of significant importance.”

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” SEIU’s Adler said, ‘but I think in 2015 Christie is going to push for something like the Raimondo approach.”

Source URL: https://portside.org/2014-10-28/meet-hedge-fund-wiz-kid-who%E2%80%99s-shrinking-america%E2%80%99s-pensions

Links:

[1] http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/looting-the-pension-funds-20130926
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/business/for-rhode-island-the-pension-crisis-is-now.html?pagewanted=all
[3] http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B03E6D81E3EF93BA25752C1A9679D8B63
[4] http://lubbockonline.com/stories/072403/bus_072403001.shtml
[5] http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887323372504578466992305986654
[6] http://pando.com/2014/02/12/the-wolf-of-sesame-street-revealing-the-secret-corruption-inside-pbss-news-division/
[7] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/15/business/media/wnet-to-return-3-5-million-grant-for-pension-series.html
[8] http://www.pbs.org/ombudsman/2014/02/tensions_over_pensions_1.html
[9] http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324339204578171340979593744?mod=googlenews_wsj&mg=reno64-wsj
[10] http://wpri.com/2014/10/15/arnold-donates-another-100k-to-pro-raimondo-super-pac/
[11] http://www.arnoldfoundation.org/sites/default/files/pdf/LJAF-Pension%20Solution%20Paper%20%284-22%20v2%29.pdf
[12] http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/04/11/3425842/retirement-account-labels/
[13] http://www.demos.org/publication/retirement-savings-drain-hidden-excessive-costs-401ks
[14] https://www.bettermarkets.com/sites/default/files/Cost%20Of%20The%20Crisis_2.pdf
[15] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/15/us/rhode-island-reaches-deal-to-soften-pension-changes.html
[16] http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/pensions-2012-01.pdf
[17] http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/pensions-2011-02.pdf
[18] http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3372
[19] http://www.nirsonline.org/storage/nirs/documents/Bang%20for%20the%20Buck%20Report.pdf
[20] http://cdn.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/issues/2012/02/pdf/defined_benefit.pdf
[21] http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/03/06/109649_why-employee-pensions-arent-bankrupting.html?rh=1
[22] http://www.brookings.edu/%7E/media/research/files/papers/2014/02/26%20public%20pension%20reform/pension%20politics_final_225.pdf
[23] http://www.arnoldfoundation.org/grants
[24] http://reason.org/news/show/pension-reform-rhode-island
[25] http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/25/usa-pensions-arnold-idUSL2N0F01Z820130625
[26] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-08-22/billionaire-arnold-s-pension-push-makes-him-workers-bane.html
[27] http://www.lauraandjohnarnold.com/charitablegiving/
[28] http://capitalandmain.com/domino-effect-pension-cutters-gamble-on-a-california-ballot-measure/
[29] http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/the-state-worker/article2593133.html
[30] http://reason.org/files/ventura_county_pension_reform_actuarial_analysis.pdf
[31] http://www.vcstar.com/news/local-news/county-news/tentative-ruling-removes-pension-initiative-from-ballot_47085281
[32] http://co.chalkbeat.org/2014/10/16/advocates-pension-systems-a-disincentive-for-many-teachers/#.VEWusvldWSo
[33] http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/05/28/3442305/new-jersey-pensions-christie/
[34] http://www.nj.com/politics/index.ssf/2014/05/christie_defends_decision_to_cut_pension_payments_democrats_unions_and_wall_street_fume.html
[35] https://twitter.com/JohnArnoldFndtn/status/507535108740370433
[36] https://twitter.com/JohnArnoldFndtn/status/469835817175621632

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Oregon Poised to Mandate GMO Labeling

http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/271-38/26667-oregon-poised-to-mandate-gmo-labeling

Ben & Jerry's co-founder Jerry Greenfield unveiled the company’s new flavor, “Food Fight Fudge Brownie,” in Oregon, in support of the state’s GMO labeling campaign. (photo: Ben & Jerry's)

Oregon Poised to Mandate GMO Labeling

By Jane Ayers, Reader Supported News
30 October 14

Oregon’s organic farmers and consumers won a major victory earlier this year, when citizens in Southern Oregon voted to stop the introduction of GMO seeds in their pristine growing valleys. Even though Syngenta and Monsanto funded huge television campaigns to try to stop the grass-roots organizing, the majority of Oregonians voted to protect their land, farmers’ rights, and their own healthy food sources and seeds.

This week in Oregon the current campaign, Measure 92, is heating up with another show of force. The citizen initiative to be voted upon will mandate labeling of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and protect the public’s right to know when food they purchase contains GMOs. As the November 4th vote nears, Oregon’s early polling results are showing a very close margin (with “Yes for Labeling” in the lead, 49 to 44).

As expected, big agri-business companies are flooding Oregon with millions of dollars of marketing in an attempt to defeat the citizens’ concerns. This week Dupont donated a whopping $7.5 million ($4.5 million in Oregon and $3 million in Colorado, which has a similar measure) against labeling. This last-minute contribution has now trumped the record for the largest political campaign contribution in Oregon.
Dupont, Dow, and Monsanto have already spent three times more money to defeat this measure than companies have donated to mandate the GMO labeling. In the national arena, Monsanto and the Grocery Manufacturers Association had previously spent $100 million from 2012-2014 to block GMO labeling nationwide. In the first six months of 2014 alone, Dupont spent $27.5 million on lobbying to try to stop any such mandates.

In an effort to prevent anti-GMO labeling measures from passing in Oregon and Colorado, Monsanto has spent $8.8 million, adding to Pepsi ($3 million), Coke ($2 million), Kraft Foods ($1.5+ million), General Mills ($1.5 million), and others such as Land O’Lakes, Snickers, Kellogg’s, Hormel Foods, and Bumble Bee, all contributing large amounts under $1 million.

In Oregon’s battle with the GMO issue, retired EPA scientist Dr. Ray Seidler has played a key role in educating the public. Seidler, a micro-biologist who started the first federal research program on biosafety issues of GMOs, states, “Back then we only wanted to regulate GMOs because we didn’t know anything about them. Now we see what damage they can cause.” Seidler emphasizes, “The pure vitamin-laden seeds grown here in Oregon (swiss chard and table beets) are now exported internationally to the 66+ countries that have banned GMOs in their countries.

The seeds grown in the Southern Oregon Valley are in demand worldwide. So Oregonians want to protect that too.”
Seidler has also focused on the widespread failure of the Bt insecticidal trait in genetically engineered corn, and especially on the rapidly emerging resistance in insects. Because of this resistance, there have been huge increases in coating seeds with insecticides and injecting insecticides into the soil nationwide. Seidler recently teamed up with David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, to coauthor a white paper on the dangers of GMOs entitled “Pesticide Use on Genetically Engineered Crops.” Bronner, who has a Biology degree from Harvard, has been one of the biggest contributors in Oregon and Colorado to the effort to demand GMO labeling.
Over the past two weeks, Bronner has placed advertorials in major publications such as Scientific American, The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Nation, Harvard, Progressive Magazine, and Mother Jones. However, the two leading scientific journals, Science and Nature Magazine, refused to publish the ad focusing on the dangers of GMOs. A Science magazine rep stated in an email to Dr. Bronner’s staff, “We’re concerned about … getting into a battle with the GMO industry.”

In a press release issued this week, Mr. Bronner stated:

The truth of the matter is the chemical industry has bought the seed industry and both political parties in this country, has pulled the wool over our media, political and scientific elites, and taken a page from Enron – gaming our food and agricultural systems in plain light of day. Unfortunately, prominent journalists and scientists are running interference, bamboozled and blind to their own bias focusing on irrational elements and straw men in the anti-GMO movement, while celebrating commercially insignificant or nonexistent applications of GE agriculture and ignoring the plain facts in US soil and the regulatory pipeline.

Over 99% of GMO crops in US soil are engineered to produce insecticide and/or tolerate heavy herbicide use, which like overdosing antibiotics in factory farms has rapidly created resistance in target weed and insect populations, which are now saturated with ever more toxic pesticides, including neonicotinoid insecticides banned in the EU due to suspected link to massive bee die-offs and Colony Collapse Disorder. GMO crops are not ‘feeding the world’: over 40% of GMO corn kernels are inefficiently converted to ethanol in another Big Ag boondoggle, and most of the rest is factory farm animal feed, as is the vast majority of GMO soy.

We have to transform our agricultural policies and dietary choices and eat more sustainably, which requires that citizens are properly informed and empowered to make wise choices. It’s embarrassing that in the land of the free we don’t even know whether our food is engineered to be saturated in pesticide, unlike 64 other countries including every country in the EU, and Japan.

Meanwhile in Oregon, the citizen’s initiative, Measure 92, has grown stronger, with its own influx of financial backing to counter the negative effects of Big Agriculture’s corporate donations.

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and the Center for Food Safety have each donated $1 million for GMO labeling. Grassroots donations have been matched by Mercola.com, and other healthy food companies such as Nature’s Path, Bob’s Red Mill, Nutiva, Stonyfield Farms, and Amy’s Organics have contributed as well. The Organic Consumers Association, Presence Marketing, Food Democracy Now, and the Consumers Union have also contributed substantially to the labeling initiative.

To counter a move by the Hormel Foods Company (which donated $170,000 against labeling), Tom Hormel, heir of the Hormel Foods fortune, donated $500,000 in favor of the crucial GMO labeling, citing concerns about the high health risks from eating GMO foods.

Sixty-six countries around the world have banned all use of GMO seeds and food products. Many independent scientific studies have been conducted that show the dangers and health risks of eating foods with GMOs, and consumers are now asserting a ‘right to know’ what is in their foods.

The GMO Labeling vote in Oregon and Colorado on November 4th will be instrumental in raising the standards for a healthy future in the U.S., for consumers, for farmers, and for the soil itself. The late President Dwight D. Eisenhower once stated, “The nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself.” The soil, the seed, and the harvest are all at stake in this effort to label GMOs.

Jane Ayers, director of Jane Ayers Media, is an independent journalist (stringer) with USA Today and Los Angeles Times, and has been published in The Nation and SF Chronicle. She is a regular contributor to Reader Supported News. She can be reached at JaneAyersMedia@gmail.com.

© 2014 Reader Supported News

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Hidden Story of How America and Britain Overthrew the Government of Their 'Ally' Australia

Published on Alternet (http://www.alternet.org)

AlterNet [1] / By John Pilger [2]

The Hidden Story of How America and Britain Overthrew the Government of Their 'Ally' Australia

October 23, 2014 |

Across the political and media elite in Australia, a silence has descended on the memory of the great, reforming prime minister Gough Whitlam, who has died. His achievements are recognised, if grudgingly, his mistakes noted in false sorrow. But a critical reason for his extraordinary political demise will, they hope, be buried with him.

Australia briefly became an independent state during the Whitlam years, 1972-75. An American commentator wrote that no country had “reversed its posture in international affairs so totally without going through a domestic revolution”. Whitlam ended his nation’s colonial servility. He abolished Royal patronage, moved Australia towards the Non-Aligned Movement, supported “zones of peace” and opposed nuclear weapons testing.

Although not regarded as on the left of the Labor Party, Whitlam was a maverick social democrat of principle, pride and propriety. He believed that a foreign power should not control his country’s resources and dictate its economic and foreign policies. He proposed to “buy back the farm”. In drafting the first Aboriginal lands rights legislation, his government raised the ghost of the greatest land grab in human history, Britain’s colonisation of Australia, and the question of who owned the island-continent’s vast natural wealth.

Latin Americans will recognise the audacity and danger of this “breaking free” in a country whose establishment was welded to great, external power. Australians had served every British imperial adventure since the Boxer rebellion was crushed in China. In the 1960s, Australia pleaded to join the US in its invasion of Vietnam, then provided “black teams” to be run by the CIA. US diplomatic cables published last year by WikiLeaks disclose the names of leading figures in both main parties, including a future prime minister and foreign minister, as Washington’s informants during the Whitlam years.

Whitlam knew the risk he was taking. The day after his election, he ordered that his staff should not be “vetted or harassed” by the Australian security organisation, ASIO – then, as now, tied to Anglo-American intelligence.

When his ministers publicly condemned the US bombing of Vietnam as “corrupt and barbaric”, a CIA station officer in Saigon said: “We were told the Australians might as well be regarded as North Vietnamese collaborators.”

Whitlam demanded to know if and why the CIA was running a spy base at Pine Gap near Alice Springs, a giant vacuum cleaner which, as Edward Snowden revealed recently, allows the US to spy on everyone. “Try to screw us or bounce us,” the prime minister warned the US ambassador, “[and Pine Gap] will become a matter of contention”.
Victor Marchetti, the CIA officer who had helped set up Pine Gap, later told me, “This threat to close Pine Gap caused apoplexy in the White House. … a kind of Chile [coup] was set in motion.”

Pine Gap’s top-secret messages were de-coded by a CIA contractor, TRW. One of the de-coders was Christopher Boyce, a young man troubled by the “deception and betrayal of an ally”. Boyce revealed that the CIA had infiltrated the Australian political and trade union elite and referred to the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, as “our man Kerr”.

Kerr was not only the Queen’s man, he had long-standing ties to Anglo-American intelligence. He was an enthusiastic member of the Australian Association for Cultural Freedom, described by Jonathan Kwitny of theWall Street Journal in his book, ‘The Crimes of Patriots [3]‘, as, “an elite, invitation-only group… exposed in Congress as being founded, funded and generally run by the CIA”. The CIA “paid for Kerr’s travel, built his prestige… Kerr continued to go to the CIA for money”.

When Whitlam was re-elected for a second term, in 1974, the White House sent Marshall Green to Canberra as ambassador. Green was an imperious, sinister figure who worked in the shadows of America’s “deep state”. Known as the “coupmaster”, he had played a central role in the 1965 coup against President Sukarno in Indonesia – which cost up to a million lives. One of his first speeches in Australia was to the Australian Institute of Directors – described by an alarmed member of the audience as “an incitement to the country’s business leaders to rise against the government”.

The Americans and British worked together. In 1975, Whitlam discovered that Britain’s MI6 was operating against his government. “The Brits were actually de-coding secret messages coming into my foreign affairs office,” he said later. One of his ministers, Clyde Cameron, told me, “We knew MI6 was bugging Cabinet meetings for the Americans.” In the 1980s, senior CIA officers revealed that the “Whitlam problem” had been discussed “with urgency” by the CIA’s director, William Colby, and the head of MI6, Sir Maurice Oldfield. A deputy director of the CIA said: “Kerr did what he was told to do.”

On 10 November, 1975, Whitlam was shown a top secret telex message sourced to Theodore Shackley, the notorious head of the CIA’s East Asia Division, who had helped run the coup against Salvador Allende in Chile two years earlier.

Shackley’s message was read to Whitlam. It said that the prime minister of Australia was a security risk in his own country. The day before, Kerr had visited the headquarters of the Defence Signals Directorate, Australia’s NSA where he was briefed on the “security crisis”.

On 11 November – the day Whitlam was to inform Parliament about the secret CIA presence in Australia – he was summoned by Kerr. Invoking archaic vice-regal “reserve powers”, Kerr sacked the democratically elected prime minister. The “Whitlam problem” was solved, and Australian politics never recovered, nor the nation its true independence. [4]

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/world/hidden-story-how-america-and-britain-overthrew-government-their-ally-australia

Links:

[1] http://alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/john-pilger
[3] http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0393336654/counterpunchmaga
[4] mailto:corrections@alternet.org?Subject=Typo on The Hidden Story of How America and Britain Overthrew the Government of Their 'Ally' Australia

Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at] verizon.net. Go to http://baltimorenonviolencecenter.blogspot.com/

"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs

The Movie That Completely Exposes the Myth of the 'Free Press'

Published on Alternet (http://www.alternet.org)

Truthdig [1] / By Chris Hedges [2]

The Movie That Completely Exposes the Myth of the 'Free Press'
October 27, 2014 |

There is more truth about American journalism in the film “Kill the Messenger,” which chronicles the mainstream media’s discrediting of the work of the investigative journalist Gary Webb, than there is in the movie “All the President’s Men,” which celebrates the exploits of the reporters who uncovered the Watergate scandal.

The mass media blindly support the ideology of corporate capitalism. They laud and promote the myth of American democracy—even as we are stripped of civil liberties and money replaces the vote. They pay deference to the leaders on Wall Street and in Washington, no matter how perfidious their crimes. They slavishly venerate the military and law enforcement in the name of patriotism. They select the specialists and experts, almost always drawn from the centers of power, to interpret reality and explain policy. They usually rely on press releases, written by corporations, for their news. And they fill most of their news holes with celebrity gossip, lifestyle stories, sports and trivia. The role of the mass media is to entertain or to parrot official propaganda to the masses. The corporations, which own the press, hire journalists willing to be courtiers to the elites, and they promote them as celebrities. These journalistic courtiers, who can earn millions of dollars, are invited into the inner circles of power. They are, as John Ralston Saul [3] writes, hedonists of power.

When Webb, writing in a 1996 series [4] in the San Jose Mercury News, exposed the Central Intelligence Agency’s complicity in smuggling tons of cocaine for sale into the United States to fund the CIA-backed Contra rebels in Nicaragua, the press turned him into a journalistic leper. And over the generations there is a long list of journalistic lepers, from Ida B. Wells to I.F. Stone to Julian Assange.

The attacks against Webb have been renewed in publications such as The Washington Post since the release of the film earlier this month. These attacks are an act of self-justification. They are an attempt by the mass media to mask the collaboration between themselves and the power elite. The mass media, like the rest of the liberal establishment, seek to wrap themselves in the moral veneer of the fearless pursuit of truth and justice. But to maintain this myth they have to destroy the credibility of journalists such as Webb and Assange who shine a light on the sinister and murderous inner workings of empire, who care more about truth than news.

The country’s major news outlets—including my old employer The New York Times, which wrote that there was “scant proof” of Webb’s contention—functioned as guard dogs for the CIA. Soon after the 1996 exposé appeared, The Washington Post devoted nearly two full pages to attacking Webb’s assertions. The Los Angeles Times ran three separate articles that slammed Webb and his story. It was a seedy, disgusting and shameful chapter in American journalism. But it was hardly unique. Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, in the 2004 article [5] “How the Press and the CIA Killed Gary Webb’s Career,” detailed the dynamics of the nationwide smear campaign.

Webb’s newspaper, after printing a mea culpa about the series, cast him out. He was unable to work again as an investigative journalist and, fearful of losing his house, he committed suicide in 2004. We know, in part because of a Senate investigation led by then-Sen. John Kerry, that Webb was right. But truth was never the issue for those who opposed the journalist. Webb exposed the CIA as a bunch of gunrunning, drug-smuggling thugs. He exposed the mass media, which depend on official sources for most of their news and are therefore hostage to those sources, as craven handmaidens of power. He had crossed the line. And he paid for it.

If the CIA was funneling hundreds of millions of dollars in drugs into inner-city neighborhoods to fund an illegal war in Nicaragua, what did that say about the legitimacy of the vast covert organization? What did it tell us about the so-called war on drugs? What did it tell us about the government’s callousness and indifference to the poor, especially poor people of color at the height of the crack epidemic? What did it say about rogue military operations carried out beyond public scrutiny?

These were questions the power elites, and their courtiers in the press, were determined to silence.
The mass media are plagued by the same mediocrity, corporatism and careerism as the academy, labor unions, the arts, the Democratic Party and religious institutions. They cling to the self-serving mantra of impartiality and objectivity to justify their subservience to power. The press writes and speaks—unlike academics that chatter among themselves in arcane jargon like medieval theologians—to be heard and understood by the public. And for this reason the press is more powerful and more closely controlled by the state. It plays an essential role in the dissemination of official propaganda. But to effectively disseminate state propaganda the press must maintain the fiction of independence and integrity. It must hide its true intentions.

The mass media, as C. Wright Mills [6] pointed out, are essential tools for conformity. They impart to readers and viewers their sense of themselves. They tell them who they are. They tell them what their aspirations should be. They promise to help them achieve these aspirations. They offer a variety of techniques, advice and schemes that promise personal and professional success. The mass media, as Wright wrote, exist primarily to help citizens feel they are successful and that they have met their aspirations even if they have not. They use language and images to manipulate and form opinions, not to foster genuine democratic debate and conversation or to open up public space for free political action and public deliberation. We are transformed into passive spectators of power by the mass media, which decide for us what is true and what is untrue, what is legitimate and what is not. Truth is not something we discover. It is decreed by the organs of mass communication.

“The divorce of truth from discourse and action—the instrumentalization of communication—has not merely increased the incidence of propaganda; it has disrupted the very notion of truth, and therefore the sense by which we take our bearings in the world is destroyed,” James W. Carey wrote in “Communication as Culture.”

Bridging the vast gap between the idealized identities—ones that in a commodity culture revolve around the acquisition of status, money, fame and power, or at least the illusion of it—and actual identities is the primary function of the mass media. And catering to these idealized identities, largely implanted by advertisers and the corporate culture, can be very profitable. We are given not what we need but what we want. The mass media allow us to escape into the enticing world of entertainment and spectacle. News is filtered into the mix, but it is not the primary concern of the mass media. No more than 15 percent of the space in any newspaper is devoted to news; the rest is devoted to a futile quest for self-actualization. The ratio is even more lopsided on the airwaves.

“This,” Mills wrote, “is probably the basic psychological formula of the mass media today. But, as a formula, it is not attuned to the development of the human being. It is a formula of a pseudo-world which the media invent and sustain.”

At the core of this pseudo-world is the myth that our national institutions, including those of government, the military and finance, are efficient and virtuous, that we can trust them and that their intentions are good. These institutions can be criticized for excesses and abuses, but they cannot be assailed as being hostile to democracy and the common good. They cannot be exposed as criminal enterprises, at least if one hopes to retain a voice in the mass media.

Those who work in the mass media, as I did for two decades, are acutely aware of the collaboration with power and the cynical manipulation of the public by the power elites. It does not mean there is never good journalism and that the subservience to corporate power within the academy always precludes good scholarship, but the internal pressures, hidden from public view, make great journalism and great scholarship very, very difficult. Such work, especially if it is sustained, is usually a career killer. Scholars like Norman Finkelstein [7] and journalists like Webb and Assange who step outside the acceptable parameters of debate and challenge the mythic narrative of power, who question the motives and virtues of established institutions and who name the crimes of empire are always cast out.

The press will attack groups within the power elite only when one faction within the circle of power goes to war with another. When Richard Nixon, who had used illegal and clandestine methods to harass and shut down the underground press as well as persecute anti-war activists and radical black dissidents, went after the Democratic Party he became fair game for the press. His sin was not the abuse of power. He had abused power for a long time against people and groups that did not matter in the eyes of the Establishment. Nixon’s sin was to abuse power against a faction within the power elite itself.

The Watergate scandal, mythologized as evidence of a fearless and independent press, is illustrative of how circumscribed the mass media is when it comes to investigating centers of power.

“History has been kind enough to contrive for us a ‘controlled experiment’ to determine just what was at stake during the Watergate period, when the confrontational stance of the media reached its peak. The answer is clear and precise: powerful groups are capable of defending themselves, not surprisingly; and by media standards, it is a scandal when their position and rights are threatened,” Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky wrote in “Manufacturing Consent [8]: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.” “By contrast, as long as illegalities and violations of democratic substance are confined to marginal groups or dissident victims of U.S. military attack, or result in a diffused cost imposed on the general population, media opposition is muted and absent altogether.

This is why Nixon could go so far, lulled into a false sense of security precisely because the watchdog only barked when he began to threaten the privileged.”

The righteous thunder of the abolitionists and civil rights preachers, the investigative journalists who enraged Standard Oil and the owners of the Chicago stockyards, the radical theater productions, such as “The Cradle Will Rock,” that imploded the myths peddled by the ruling class and gave a voice to ordinary people, the labor unions that permitted African-Americans, immigrants and working men and women to find dignity and hope, the great public universities that offered the children of immigrants a chance for a first-class education, the New Deal Democrats who understood that a democracy is not safe if it does not give its citizens an acceptable standard of living and protect the state from being hijacked by private power, are no longer part of the American landscape. It was Webb’s misfortune to work in an era when the freedom of the press was as empty a cliché as democracy itself.

“The Cradle Will Rock,” [9] like much of the popular work that came out of the Federal Theatre Project, addressed the concerns of the working class rather than the power elite. And it excoriated the folly of war, greed, corruption and the complicity of liberal institutions, especially the press, in protecting the power elite and ignoring the abuses of capitalism. Mister Mister in the play runs the town like a private corporation.
“I believe newspapers are great mental shapers,” Mister Mister says. “My steel industry is dependent on them really.”

“Just you call the News,” Editor Daily responds. “And we’ll print all the news. From coast to coast, and from border to border.”

Editor Daily and Mister Mister sing:

O the press, the press, the freedom of the press.
They’ll never take away the freedom of the press.
We must be free to say whatever’s on our chest—
with a hey-diddle-dee and ho-nanny-no
for whichever side will pay the best.

“I should like a series on young Larry Foreman,” Mister Mister tells Editor Daily. “Who goes around stormin’ and organizin’ unions.”

“Yes, we’ve heard of him,” Editor Daily tells Mister Mister. “In fact, good word of him. He seems quite popular with workingmen.”

“Find out who he drinks with and talks with and sleeps with. And look up his past till at last you’ve got it on him.”

“But the man is so full of fight, he’s simply dynamite, why it would take an army to tame him,” Editor Daily says.

“Then it shouldn’t be too hard to tame him,” Mister Mister says.

“O the press, the press, the freedom of the press,” the two sing. “You’ve only got to hint whatever’s fit to print; if something’s wrong with it, why then we’ll print to fit. With a he-diddly-dee and aho-nonny-no. For whichever side will pay the best.”
[10]

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/media/movie-completely-exposes-myth-free-press

Links:

[1] http://www.truthdig.com/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/chris-hedges
[3] http://www.johnralstonsaul.com/biography/
[4] http://www.narconews.com/darkalliance/shock/start.htm
[5] http://www.counterpunch.org/2004/12/17/how-the-press-and-the-cia-killed-gary-webb-s-career/
[6] http://infed.org/mobi/c-wright-mills-power-craftsmanship-and-private-troubles-and-public-issues/
[7] http://normanfinkelstein.com/biography/
[8] http://www.amazon.com/Manufacturing-Consent-Political-Economy-Media/dp/0375714499/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1414270234&sr=1-1&keywords=%22Manufacturing+Consent%3A
[9] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/cultureshock/flashpoints/theater/cradlewillrock.html
[10] mailto:corrections@alternet.org?Subject=Typo on The Movie That Completely Exposes the Myth of the 'Free Press'

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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs