Armed With Naïvete

Bill McKibben
Author of a dozen books, including ‘The End of Nature’ and ‘Deep Economy’

Time to Stop Being Cynical About Corporate Money in Politics and Start Being Angry

My resolution for 2012 is to be naïve — dangerously naïve.

I’m aware that the usual recipe for political effectiveness is just the opposite: to be cynical, calculating, an insider. But if you think, as I do, that we need deep change in this country, then cynicism is a sucker’s bet. Try as hard as you can, you’re never going to be as cynical as the corporations and the harem of politicians they pay for. It’s like trying to outchant a Buddhist monastery.

Here’s my case in point, one of a thousand stories people working for social change could tell: All last fall, most of the environmental movement, including 350.org, the group I helped found, waged a fight against the planned Keystone XL pipeline that would bring some of the dirtiest energy on the planet from Canada through the U.S. to the Gulf Coast. We waged our struggle against building it out in the open, presenting scientific argument, holding demonstrations, and attending hearings. We sent 1,253 people to jail in the largest civil disobedience action in a generation. Meanwhile, more than half a million Americans offered public comments against the pipeline, the most on any energy project in the nation’s history.

And what do you know? We won a small victory in November, when President Obama agreed that, before he could give the project a thumbs-up or -down, it needed another year of careful review. (The previous version of that review, as overseen by the State Department, had been little short of a crony capitalist farce.) Given that James Hansen, the government’s premier climate scientist, had said that tapping Canada’s tar sands for that pipeline would, in the end, essentially mean “game over for the climate,” that seemed an eminently reasonable course to follow, even if it was also eminently political.

A few weeks later, however, Congress decided it wanted to take up the question. In the process, the issue went from out in the open to behind closed doors in money-filled rooms. Within days, and after only a couple of hours of hearings that barely mentioned the key scientific questions or the dangers involved, the House of Representatives voted 234-194 to force a quicker review of the pipeline. Later, the House attached its demand to the must-pass payroll tax cut.

That was an obvious pre-election year attempt to put the president on the spot. Environmentalists are at least hopeful that the White House will now reject the permit. After all, its communications director said that the rider, by hurrying the decision, “virtually guarantees that the pipeline will not be approved.”

As important as the vote total in the House, however, was another number: within minutes of the vote, Oil Change International had calculated that the 234 Congressional representatives who voted aye had received $42 million in campaign contributions from the fossil-fuel industry; the 193 nays, $8 million.

Buying Congress

I know that cynics — call them realists, if you prefer — will be completely unsurprised by that. Which is precisely the problem.

We’ve reached the point where we’re unfazed by things that should shake us to the core. So, just for a moment, be naïve and consider what really happened in that vote: the people’s representatives who happen to have taken the bulk of the money from those energy companies promptly voted on behalf of their interests.

They weren’t weighing science or the national interest; they weren’t balancing present benefits against future costs. Instead of doing the work of legislators, that is, they were acting like employees. Forget the idea that they’re public servants; the truth is that, in every way that matters, they work for Exxon and its kin. They should, by rights, wear logos on their lapels like NASCAR drivers.

If you find this too harsh, think about how obligated you feel when someone gives you something. Did you get a Christmas present last month from someone you hadn’t remembered to buy one for? Are you going to send them an extra-special one next year?

And that’s for a pair of socks. Speaker of the House John Boehner, who insisted that the Keystone approval decision be speeded up, has gotten $1,111,080 from the fossil-fuel industry during his tenure. His Senate counterpart Mitch McConnell, who shepherded the bill through his chamber, has raked in $1,277,208 in the course of his tenure in Washington.

If someone had helped your career to the tune of a million dollars, wouldn’t you feel in their debt? I would. I get somewhat less than that from my employer, Middlebury College, and yet I bleed Panther blue. Don’t ask me to compare my school with, say, Dartmouth unless you want a biased answer, because that’s what you’ll get. Which is fine — I am an employee.

But you’d be a fool to let me referee the homecoming football game. In fact, in any other walk of life we wouldn’t think twice before concluding that paying off the referees is wrong. If the Patriots make the Super Bowl, everyone in America would be outraged to see owner Robert Kraft trot out to midfield before the game and hand a $1,000 bill to each of the linesmen and field judges.

If he did it secretly, the newspaper reporter who uncovered the scandal would win a Pulitzer. But a political reporter who bothered to point out Boehner’s and McConnell’s payoffs would be upbraided by her editor for simpleminded journalism. That’s how the game is played and we’ve all bought into it, even if only to sputter in hopeless outrage.

Far from showing any shame, the big players boast about it: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, front outfit for a consortium of corporations, has bragged on its website about outspending everyone in Washington, which is easy to do when Chevron, Goldman Sachs, and News Corp are writing you seven-figure checks. This really matters. The Chamber of Commerce spent more money on the 2010 elections than the Republican and Democratic National Committees combined, and 94% of those dollars went to climate-change deniers. That helps explain why the House voted last year to say that global warming isn’t real.

It also explains why “our” representatives vote, year in and year out, for billions of dollars worth of subsidies for fossil-fuel companies. If there was ever an industry that didn’t need subsidies, it would be this one: they make more money each year than any enterprise in the history of money. Not only that, but we’ve known how to burn coal for 300 years and oil for 200.

Those subsidies are simply payoffs. Companies give small gifts to legislators, and in return get large ones back, and we’re the ones who are actually paying.

Whose Money? Whose Washington?

I don’t want to be hopelessly naïve. I want to be hopefully naïve. It would be relatively easy to change this: you could provide public financing for campaigns instead of letting corporations pay. It’s the equivalent of having the National Football League hire referees instead of asking the teams to provide them.

Public financing of campaigns would cost a little money, but endlessly less than paying for the presents these guys give their masters. And it would let you watch what was happening in Washington without feeling as disgusted. Even legislators, once they got the hang of it, might enjoy neither raising money nor having to pretend it doesn’t affect them.

To make this happen, however, we may have to change the Constitution, as we’ve done 27 times before. This time, we’d need to specify that corporations aren’t people, that money isn’t speech, and that it doesn’t abridge the First Amendment to tell people they can’t spend whatever they want getting elected. Winning a change like that would require hard political organizing, since big banks and big oil companies and big drug-makers will surely rally to protect their privilege.

Still, there’s a chance. The Occupy movement opened the door to this sort of change by reminding us all that the system is rigged, that its outcomes are unfair, that there’s reason to think people from across the political spectrum are tired of what we’ve got, and that getting angry and acting on that anger in the political arena is what being a citizen is all about.

It’s fertile ground for action. After all, Congress’s approval rating is now at 9%, which is another way of saying that everyone who’s not a lobbyist hates them and what they’re doing. The big boys are, of course, counting on us simmering down; they’re counting on us being cynical, on figuring there’s no hope or benefit in fighting city hall. But if we’re naïve enough to demand a country more like the one we were promised in high school civics class, then we have a shot.

A good time to take an initial stand comes later this month, when rallies outside every federal courthouse will mark the second anniversary of the Citizens United decision. That’s the one where the Supreme Court ruled that corporations had the right to spend whatever they wanted on campaigns.

To me, that decision was, in essence, corporate America saying, “We’re not going to bother pretending any more. This country belongs to us.”

We need to say, loud and clear: “Sorry. Time to give it back.”

Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, founder of the global climate campaign 350.org, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. To catch Timothy MacBain’s first Tomcast audio interview of the new year in which McKibben discusses how the rest of us can compete with a system in which money talks, click here, or download it to your iPod here.

To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.

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The Decline of Public Good

Robert Reich
Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley; Author, ‘Aftershock’

Meryl Streep’s eery reincarnation of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady brings to mind Thatcher’s most famous quip, “there is no such thing as ‘society.’” None of the dwindling herd of Republican candidates has quoted her yet but they might as well considering their unremitting bashing of everything public.

What defines a society is a set of mutual benefits and duties embodied most visibly in public institutions — public schools, public libraries, public transportation, public hospitals, public parks, public museums, public recreation, public universities, and so on.

Public institutions are supported by all taxpayers, and are available to all. If the tax system is progressive, those who better off (and who, presumably, have benefitted from many of these same public institutions) help pay for everyone else.

“Privatize” means pay-for-it-yourself. The practical consequence of this in an economy whose wealth and income are now more concentrated than any time in 90 years is to make high-quality public goods available to fewer and fewer.

Much of what’s called “public” is increasingly a private good paid for by users — ever-higher tolls on public highways and public bridges, higher tuitions at so-called public universities, higher admission fees at public parks and public museums.

Much of the rest of what’s considered “public” has become so shoddy that those who can afford to find private alternatives. As public schools deteriorate, the upper-middle class and wealthy send their kids to private ones. As public pools and playgrounds decay, they buy memberships in private tennis and swimming clubs. As public hospitals decline, they pay premium rates for private care.

Gated communities and office parks now come with their own manicured lawns and walkways, security guards, and backup power systems.

Why the decline of public institutions? The financial squeeze on government at all levels since 2008 explains only part of it. The slide really started more than three decades ago with so-called “tax revolts” by a middle class whose earnings had stopped advancing even though the economy continued to grow. Most families still wanted good public services and institutions but could no longer afford the tab.

From that time onward, almost all the gains from growth have gone to the top. But as the upper middle class and the rich began shifting to private institutions, they withdrew political support for public ones. In consequence, their marginal tax rates dropped — setting off a vicious cycle of diminishing revenues and deteriorating quality, spurring more flight from public institutions. Tax revenues from corporations also dropped as big companies went global — keeping their profits overseas and their tax bills to a minimum.

But that’s not the whole story. America no longer values public goods as we did before.

The great expansion of public institutions in America began in the early years of 20th century when progressive reformers championed the idea that we all benefit from public goods. Excellent schools, roads, parks, playgrounds, and transit systems would knit the new industrial society together, create better citizens, and generate widespread prosperity. Education, for example, was less a personal investment than a public good — improving the entire community and ultimately the nation.

In subsequent decades — through the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War — this logic was expanded upon. Strong public institutions were seen as bulwarks against, in turn, mass poverty, fascism, and then communism. The public good was palpable: We were very much a society bound together by mutual needs and common threats. (It was no coincidence that the greatest extensions of higher education after World War II were the GI Bill and the National Defense Education Act, and the largest public works project in history called the National Defense Interstate Highway Act.)

But in a post-Cold War America distended by global capital, distorted by concentrated income and wealth, undermined by unlimited campaign donations, and rocked by a wave of new immigrants easily cast by demagogues as “them,” the notion of the public good has faded. Not even Democrats any longer use the phrase “the public good.” Public goods are now, at best, “public investments.” Public institutions have morphed into “public-private partnerships;” or, for Republicans, simply “vouchers.”

Mitt Romney’s speaks derisively of what he terms the Democrats’ “entitlement” society in contrast to his “opportunity” society. At least he still envisions a society. But he hasn’t explained how ordinary Americans will be able to take advantage of good opportunities without good public schools, affordable higher education, good roads, and adequate health care.

His “entitlements” are mostly a mirage anyway. Medicare is the only entitlement growing faster than the GDP but that’s because the costs of health care are growing faster than the economy, and any attempt to turn Medicare into a voucher — without either raising the voucher in tandem with those costs or somehow taming them — will just reduce the elderly’s access to health care. Social Security, for its part, hasn’t contributed to the budget deficit; it’s had surpluses for years.

Other safety nets are in tatters. Unemployment insurance reaches just 40 percent of the jobless these days (largely because eligibility requires having had a steady full-time job for a number of years rather than, as with most people, a string of jobs or part-time work).

What could Mitt be talking about? Outside of defense, domestic discretionary spending is down sharply as a percent of the economy. Add in declines in state and local spending, and total public spending on education, infrastructure, and basic research has dropped from 12 percent of GDP in the 1970s to less than 3 percent by 2011.

Only in one respect is Romney right. America has created a whopping entitlement for the biggest Wall Street banks and their top executives — who, unlike most of the rest of us, are no longer allowed to fail. They can also borrow from the Fed at almost no cost, then lend the money out at 3 to 6 percent.

All told, Wall Street’s entitlement is the biggest offered by the federal government, even though it doesn’t show up in the budget. And it’s not even a public good. It’s just private gain.

We’re losing public goods available to all, supported by the tax payments of all and especially the better off. In its place we have private goods available to the very rich, supported by the rest of us.

Even Lady Thatcher would have been appalled.

Robert Reich is the author of Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future, now in bookstores. This post originally appeared at RobertReich.org.

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American Space Exploration Leadership — Why and How

Buzz Aldrin
Apollo 11 Moonwalker

As we flip the calendar to 2012, we get the first blast of space news, and the resurgent relevance of human space exploration. China just announced plans to lead humanity in to the moon and beyond, the tail of their comet a strong defense mindset. The Chinese challenge comes at a time of a dangerous convergence, the international debt crisis and a contentious, highly consequential presidential election. In short, 2012 is an inflection year — the year we will and must decide whether the U.S. has the will and ability to lead the world in human space exploration. For me, I am betting we do — and here is how I suggest we begin.

In 1969, Neil Armstrong and I walked on the moon. Shortly thereafter, I participated in work on the “next generation of space transportation systems.” Without getting too technical, my strong tendency was to support a two-stage reusable launch system, with crew only in the second stage, allowing a first stage to return to Earth unmanned. This seemed both efficient and safer than the alternatives. I found myself on the minority side of the discussion, and relented. Over the past forty years, I have had multiple of occasions to regret that decision. We are now at another turning point — and this time, we must resolve to do it right.

In short, to make a real difference — from an exploration, science, national security and international leadership perspective — our Nation needs to commit to seeking a permanent presence on Mars. This idea has already been widely supported by leaders in both political parties — and seems central to the vision many Americans have for the country. While the goal uniquely protects U.S. leadership in space exploration, provides insurance for our national security, uniquely presses the envelope of science, and is certain to trigger a fusillade of economic opportunities here on Earth, there are big questions that loom — and now compel answers. Specifically, two questions leap off the page: When and how. If China’s ambitions help create new urgency, the how becomes central.

Space architectures capable of supporting a permanent human presence on Mars are extraordinarily complex, with many different interdependent systems. It is too much information for one short article. But for now, I want to focus on just one element: crew transportation systems.

From the outside looking in, we have two competing programs to provide Crew transportation to space — the NASA’s MPCV and a variety of possible private Commercial Crew Transport Systems. We only need one. As we crystallize the country’s level of commitment — what we can afford and how we make the move to action from theoretical agreement to go forward, there are big reasons to make the commercial sector an engine of action. The U.S. government would then become a purchaser of crew transportation from the U.S. commercial sector, the same way we are currently purchasing launches today from Russia. The MPCV should evolve to become a dedicated exploration system. Initially, it may work in concert with commercial crew systems.

But NASA is critical to success and always will be. Chris Kraft has pointed out that we already have a fairly robust set of launch vehicles being provided by the commercial sector. So, in this area, we do not need the government competing to develop another launch vehicle. One could — on another day — even discuss whether we need a 130 metric ton launch vehicle, but assuming we do, the U.S. launch industry is capable of building a vehicle capable of such lift reasonably soon. After all, only four years were needed for the U.S. space launch industry to develop EELV. Likewise, Falcon 9 was developed in a little more than seven years.

No, NASA’s role is more important that simple lift to orbit. NASA needs to focus on the things that are really important, and that we do not know how to do. The agency is a pioneering force, and that is where its competitive advantage lies. While the list is long of what we do not yet know how to do in the private sector, two things stand out as critical path technologies.

Interestingly, both needs are defined by one scientific fact: The vast majority of mass required to get to Mars is contained in propellants. Think about it. The physics of the effort dovetail with common sense. You need propellants to accelerate toward Mars, then to decelerate at Mars, again to re-accelerate from Mars to Earth, and finally to decelerate back at Earth. Accordingly, the mass of these required propellants, in short, drives our need for innovative launch vehicles.

Where do we go from that realization? First, developing in-space crew habitation systems capable of transporting people safely to and from Mars will be needed. Common sense says these vehicles need to be dedicated, single-purpose vehicles. Known requirements for reusable in-space habitation and transportation are quite different from the more basic requirements of delivering people from Earth to orbit.

Notably, the Apollo program provided clear testimony for this factual reality. Von Braun’s original concept of using a single, multipurpose spacecraft required two Saturn V launches for a single lunar mission. But the NASA’s revised plans properly allocated the functionality of the missions across separate vehicles (e.g. the Command Module, and the Lunar Module). The resulting efficiencies allowed these seminal Apollo missions to be completed in a single launch.

What do we really need right now to migrate from America’s commitment to human exploration and eventual permanent presence on Mars — with all the Earth side advantages in exploration, national security, science and economic activity — from vision to reality? The vision that comes first to mind is this: In addition to commercially provided Earth-to-orbit crew transportation, I envision two NASA developed, complementary interplanetary transportation systems, one to get people and a small amount of cargo to a second system, a “cycling mother ship,” that offers longer range and long-term habitability.

Explore this idea one level deeper with me. This two module exploration system would intercept a larger habitation system which would cycle between Earth and Mars, providing a means for getting crew and cargo to Mars on regular 26 month intervals. Regular, long-term cargo transportation would also support a permanent presence on the Red Planet or its highly attractive inner moon, Phobos.

One of the major problems with long-term deep space human flight is the requirement for radiation shielding. Shielding requires mass, and yet there are well-understood ways for accommodating the need for such mass. For instance, water contained in the outside wall of an inflatable habitat makes for excellent shielding. By keeping all of this mass on a single spaceship which cycles between Earth and Mars, requiring minimal thrust and no high-energy lift and descent from Earth, we strikingly reduce Earth-to-orbit launch costs.

Now, consider one other part of the “how” problem, what we call aero-capture. Put simply, aero-capture is a technique for using the atmosphere to decelerate to orbit, rather than burning precious fuel, be it Mars or a return to Earth. This is the extraterrestrial equivalent of free money. By using the atmosphere to decelerate, we again reduce the amount of propellant required to get to and from outer orbits. Like hunting and finding synergies in other areas of economic and national security, these systems offer hope, opportunity and a challenge that can be embraced by both the private and public sectors. While not simple, they offer real ways for converting our collective ambition — which in increasingly urgent — into a multi-generational reality, and commitment to long term U.S. leadership in human space exploration.

In a nutshell, the advantages — not least for the U.S. economy and permanent leadership in space — are almost incalculable if we begin from this first step. On the other hand, if we wander aimlessly, pick our way from one short-term goal to another, lose vision, ambition or commitment, we will find ourselves spending the next fifty years the way we have spent the last — without significant outward movement. We can no longer afford that kind of approach, or an attitude of leisurely investment in the future. Needed now is vision and commitment — with common sense. There, I have said it. I have spoken up as I did not when last the opportunity presented itself. Now, together, we should reaffirm the value of NASA, private sector engagement in space transportation, and America’s leadership in manned space exploration. The sooner we make these commitments, the sooner we all benefit from their extraordinary returns.

Follow Buzz Aldrin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/therealbuzz

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Will Fossil Fuel Companies Face Liability for Climate Change?

by Christine Shearer

It is one thing to do your own research, but it is another to deliberately deceive people, contributing to widespread harm primarily to retain profits.

January 2, 2012 | In a recent article in National Journal, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) President Tim Phillips said there is no question that AFP and others like it have been instrumental in the rise of Republican candidates who question or deny climate science: “We’ve made great headway. What it means for candidates on the Republican side is, if you … buy into green energy or you play footsie on this issue, you do so at your political peril.”

AFP is a section 501(c)(4) organization, meaning it does not have to disclose its donors, but has been tied to significant funding from the Koch Family Foundations – founded by the billionaire Koch brothers of Koch Industries – as well as smaller donations from companies like ExxonMobil. Koch Industries and ExxonMobil are among the largest funders of studies questioning climate change science, often drawn upon by conservative politicians to legitimize their view that regulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) is not needed because the science is still under debate.

These organizations and their supporters say they are just funding their own independent studies of climate change science. Yet these studies almost all go against observable scientific data to question global warming – so much so that one study funded in part by the Kochs that confirmed a rise in average world land temperature was regarded as an anomaly. Which raises the question: if these studies are largely designed not to shed light on climate change, but to create doubt and confusion to delay greenhouse gas regulations, why is it legal, and do those deliberately spreading misinformation face liability?

The first question, as far as I can tell, apparently boils down to: it’s legal because we have yet to make the deliberate manipulation of science illegal.

Yet while people and companies enjoy the First Amendment right to free speech, legal scholars have argued that right does not extend to influencing people under false pretenses. According to former tobacco industry lawyer Stephen Susman, when it comes to fossil fuel companies and supporters funding their own research on climate change, if “they knew the information they were spreading was false and being used to deliberately influence public opinion—that would override their First Amendment rights.”

This question may soon be playing out in the courts.

History of the science

Research on climate change goes back over a century. Spencer Weart’s The Discovery of Global Warming lays out the long trajectory: from realizing GHGs trap heat and help warm the planet, to identifying them, to tracking GHG emissions into the atmosphere and oceans from the burning of fossil fuels, to measuring the effects.

The research was developed enough that a 1965 report to the Johnson administration,Restoring the Quality of Our Environment, discussed the increase in global carbon dioxide emissions and the possible dire effects. In a 1969 memo, President Nixon’s Democratic adviser, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, wrote that it was “pretty clearly agreed” that carbon dioxide levels were rising fast and would increase the average temperature near the earth’s surface, and that such dangers justified government action.

Attempts to water down the implications of the science soon followed. Science historian Naomi Oreskes and others found that, in 1983, a committee of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences chaired by physicist William Nierenberg reframed the growing consensus around anthropogenic warming as a “nonproblem” that would have limited effects humans could adapt to, as with past changes in human history. Nierenberg was cofounder of the conservative George C. Marshall Institute, and – as documented in Oreskes and Eric Conways’s Merchants of Doubt (2010) – part of a group of government scientific advisers that went from Cold War warriors supporting nuclear weapons to staunch corporate defenders questioning the science on tobacco smoke, acid rain, the hole in the ozone layer, and eventually climate change science, among other issues.

Yet the science marched on. In 1988, NASA scientist James Hansen testified to the U.S. Congress that he believed with 99 percent confidence that substantial global warming was under way, and would rise significantly unless greenhouse gas emissions were reduced. That same year, the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of about 2,500 international climate scientists who evaluate the research on climate change (which often end up being conservative estimates of likely effects, arguably because of the need for agreement among government representatives).

In 1990, IPCC scientists completed their first assessment report for policymakers, stating they were certain human activities were increasing greenhouse gas emissions and warming, with the second report, in 1995, concluding there was a discernible human influence on climate.

The stage seemed set for an international treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

History of the nonscience

That’s when fossil fuel companies and their supporters sprang in to fund their own research. In 1988 the coal industry founded the Western Fuels Association (WFA), headed by Fred Palmer, who later became vice president of Peabody Energy, the largest private coal company in the world. As outlined in Ross Gelbspan’s The Heat Is On (1998), the WFA actively sought to refute the growing consensus on climate change, stating in its report that “when [the climate change] controversy first erupted at the peak of summer in 1988, Western Fuels Association decided it was important to take a stand.… [S]cientists were found who are skeptical about the potential for climate change.”

A 1998 memo leaked from the National Environmental Trust to the New York Times detailed that a dozen people working for big oil companies, trade associations, and conservative think tanks had been meeting at the American Petroleum Institute’s Washington headquarters to propose a $5 million campaign to convince people that global warming science was riddled with controversy and uncertainty.

Industries like oil and large manufacturers created the lobbying group Global Climate Coalition (GCC) in 1989, with the stated purpose of “cast[ing] doubt on the theory of global warming.” A Freedom of Information Act request unearthed 2001 U.S. State Department documents to the GCC suggesting former President George W. Bush’s decision to pull out of UN international negotiations on climate change had been shaped in part by GCC and Exxon.

The George W. Bush Administration not only resisted GHG regulations, but actively edited government reports to question the science of climate change, one time drawing upon research funded in part by ExxonMobil. As documented by Greenpeace and others, ExxonMobil and Koch Industries went on to become major donors of such research, finding a platform in conservative think tanks and media.

The result? The U.S. perception of scientific consensus about climate change went down in line with the growth of corporate-funded research, particularly among Republicans, even as the science became more clear and the effects more apparent. While the awareness of a consensus is inching back up (although there is still much more confusion than there arguably should be over whether humans are a factor), the U.S. has yet to regulate greenhouse gases, even as the International Energy Agency warns that we may be five years away from being deadlocked into runaway warming.

Social scientists have noted internal barriers to action on climate change – that even people who acknowledge the science may not necessarily alter how they live to match that knowledge. In other words, accepting the consensus on climate change science might not have been enough for swift, immediate action.

Yet the evidence also seems clear that comprehensive understanding of the issue for the nation was muddled, and deliberately so: in 2009, an internal Global Climate Coalition document was leaked to the New York Times – a primer written in 1995 for coalition members admitting that the “scientific basis for the greenhouse effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide on climate is well established and cannot be denied.”

Yet we are now at the stage where denying climate change, or at least the human factor, is apparently a prerequisite for being the Republican nominee for President, as Phillips has bragged. This stance would be completely unacceptable if not for the studies funded by fossil fuel industries and supporters. And it has been disastrous for creating U.S. policies to address climate change.

Liability?

In 2008, the small Inupiat nation and city of Kivalina, Alaska, filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil and 23 other fossil fuel companies for federal public nuisance – the damage of their homeland, which will be uninhabitable within a few decades, as sea ice no longer sufficiently buffers the barrier reef island against erosion from fall storms. Their claim argues that Kivalina has an identifiable, discrete harm, traceable to greenhouse gas emissions, of which the defendant companies are among the world’s largest contributors. They seek damages: their relocation costs.

Kivalina also charged a smaller subset of companies with secondary claims of conspiracy and concert of action for creating a false debate about climate change science. In other words, these companies knew they were contributing to harm, but rather than change their practices, they instead funded a false debate about climate change science.

The lawsuit was dismissed one year later as a “political question” – the district court ruled that climate change was a matter for the executive and legislative branches, not the judicial branch, which is how three prior global warming public nuisance cases had been ruled. The judge also denied Kivalina’s legal standing to bring the suit. The secondary claims involving the misinformation campaigns of defendant companies went unaddressed.

Kivalina appealed the decision, with oral arguments heard in November of this year. If the claim is allowed to move forward, it could reach the discovery phase, which may unearth more documents similar to that leaked to the New York Times, suggesting deliberate intent to deceive.

Defendant companies argue that climate change is not a matter for the courts – the problem is too big, and we are all responsible. Yet we have not all embarked on multi-million dollar campaigns to fund our own research and prevent change. It is these secondary claims that could be the crux of establishing whether fossil fuel companies will eventually bear liability for harm from greenhouse gas emissions. As prior cases involving lead, asbestos, and tobacco lawsuits show, people seem to think it is one thing to do your own research, but it is another to deliberately deceive people, contributing to widespread harm primarily to retain profits.

Christine Shearer is a researcher for CoalSwarm, part of SourceWatch, and a postdoctoral scholar at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at UC Santa Barbara. She is managing editor of Conducive, and author of the book, “Kivalina: A Climate Change Story” (Haymarket Books, 2011).

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Will Public Outrage Finally Force the President and the States to Prosecute Outlaw Bankers?

Richard (RJ) Eskow
Consultant, writer and Senior Fellow, Campaign for America’s Future

The president has adopted the language of the 99%, and it’s paying off for him. He’s surged from a position slightly behind Mitt Romney in last month’s CNN polling to a 52%-45% lead against the Republican this week. While other factors were involved, his new rhetoric about income inequality and forcing everybody to “play by the same rules” resonated especially well with voters who have seen their government enforce one rule of conduct for Wall Street and another for the rest of us.

Unfortunately, his Administration hasn’t backed up that rhetoric with action. It has steadfastly refused to investigate and prosecute the bank crimes who brought this economy to its knees. So have the chief law enforcement officials for most states. Instead they’re trying to cut sweetheart deals that would let crooked bankers go with a slap on the wrist.

People are getting fed up. Grassroots outrage against the lack of prosecutions is giving rise to organized citizen action who are protesting these injustices under a “fair settlement” banner. Will this public backlash become strong enough to finally force national and state governments to enforce the law and protect the economy?

The Excuse Makers

If excuses were investigations there’d be justice for everyone. But only a handful of state Attorneys General, led by New York’s Eric Schneiderman, have been willing to stand up to big bankers and their friends in high places. The president himself has been serving as Excuse Maker-in-Chief, as when he told 60 Minutes that “Some of the most damaging behavior on Wall Street, in some cases, some of the least ethical behavior on Wall Street, wasn’t illegal.”

That’s right, of course, in a literal “what the meaning of ‘is’ is” sense… Some of the damaging behavior wasn’t illegal. And some car accidents aren’t caused by drunk drivers. But many, if not most of them, are. If a country road was littered with whisky bottles and corpses, and the county sheriff hadn’t booked anyone for a DUI in three years, people would be asking why he’s not doing his job.

That’s what many people are asking about this president and his Justice Department.

You can’t set your foot down around this place without stepping in excuses. Another Administration official told a bank-friendly reporter at the Wall Street Journal that it’s too difficult to win convictions for crimes that are as as complicated as banking fraud. “Our job is too hard,” the Justice Department seems to be saying.

But it wasn’t too hard in the 1980s, when a fairly bank-friendly president named Ronald Reagan was running the Federal government. More than 1,000 bankers were convicted in the Savings & Loan scandal for crimes that were very similar to the ones that led to the 2008 financial crisis. A man named Bill Black led the investigations that resulted in those convictions, and the Obama Justice Department hasn’t even asked for his advice.

It isn’t hard for juries to understand lying, either, and stock fraud is usually a case of somebody lying to someone else. There seem to be some pretty clear-cut cases of it lying around waiting to be prosecuted, very possibly including some at my old employer AIG.

And it isn’t hard to understand widespread and organized rings designed to forge court documents, commit perjury, and evade state taxes. And yet that’s exactly what big banks did in order to commit massive foreclosure fraud on US homeowners.

The Doers

People who are familiar with Wall Street fraud have come to believe that the Obama Justice Department just doesn’t want to investigate and prosecute bankers.It’s gone to great lengths to avoid prosecuting them. In fact, that’s become so clear to Steve Linnick, Inspector General of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, that he’s stopped referring potential criminal cases to the Justice Department at all. Instead he’s started sending them to Mr. Schneiderman, who has broad power to bring prosecute financial wrongdoing under a 1927 New York law called the Martin Act.

There is one Attorney General for each of the fifty states. Each of them has the ability to prosecute the crimes committed by banks in their own jurisdictions. They can also cooperate with Mr. Schneiderman, whose authority under the Martin Act extends across state lines. That power gives state AGs another tool for protecting their state’s residents from fraud and bringing criminal bankers to justice.

And yet, only a handful of brave Attorneys General are willing to enforce the law against bankers. In one way or another, Schneiderman’s battle is also being waged by Martha Coakley in Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California, Beau Biden of Delaware, Jack Conway of Kentucky, and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada.

That leaves forty-two other states whose AGs are refusing to enforce the law. And the Obama Administration isn’t content to just let bad bankers go free to commit more crimes. It’s also pressuring the AGs to accept a cushy deal with the banks that would leave crimes unpunished, homeowners unsafe, and bank fraud victims uncompensated.

The People

It’s been a long time coming, but the backlash is here. Occupy Wall Street lit the fire with its “one demand” — an end to the insanity and a realization that bankers and other oligarchs rule the economy like a medieval fiefdom. And now the demand for economic justice is reaching into state governments and the Department of Justice.

A loose coalition of groups is demanding that more Attorneys General prosecute of bank crimes aggressively, offering support for those who are already moving, and calling on the states to reject the cushy deal that the Federal government and some of the AGs are trying to cut with the banks.

Independent citizen groups and progressive organizations are forming alliances at the state level with unions like the AFL-CIO and SEIU, as well as groups such as Clergy and Laity for Economic Justice. Californians for a Fair Settlement, Pennsylvanians for a Fair Settlement, Nevadans for a Fair Settlement and other state teams have begun putting pressure on each state’s Attorney General to reject the Administration-backed deal and immediately begin aggressive investigations and prosecutions.

Like David Dayen, I’m hesitant to embrace the “fair settlement” framing completely until some of those investigations are further along. Based on the overwhelming evidence we’ve seen so far, a truly fair resolution will probably involve handcuffs, orange jumpsuits, and perp walks along with a financial deal. Financial restitution will need to include, at a minimum:
substantial principal reductions for underwater homeowners, along with lower interest rates;
a breakup or restructuring of the “MERS” shell game so that it no longer enables deceit, tax evasion, and the conversion of home mortgages from a two-party contract to a commodity bankers can trade and sell without regard to property rights;
the right to rent a home that has become distressed; and,
a loan modification facility that is not administered by the banks themselves.
“Fair Settlement” is a good enough umbrella under which to place these demands, as long as it’s clear that prosecutions and real restitution are vital elements of fairness. The question now is, how strong will this movement become? Will the public back these groups in demanding justice and rejecting any more cushy bank deals? If they don’t, the country will have serious problems in the years to come.
The president is enjoying the fruits of his rhetoric this week, and it’s excellent rhetoric. But he’ll need to match his words to his deeds if he wants the rewards to continue, and that means directing his Justice Department to drop the cushy bank agreement and start prosecuting Wall Street wrongdoers. And voters are likely to be unforgiving of state politicians who won the office of Attorney General by promising to uphold the law and then turn a blind eye to “wrong” acts by the “right” people.

It’s bad enough to watch powerful people break the law with impunity, shatter the economy, get rescued with taxpayer dollars, and then get to scoff at the law as they walk away unpunished. Here’s what’s even worse: If they’re not brought to justice, they’ll do it again.

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Why the Republican Crackup is Bad For America

Robert Reich
Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley; Author, ‘Aftershock’

Two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, the Republican crackup threatens the future of the Grand Old Party more profoundly than at any time since the GOP’s eclipse in 1932. That’s bad for America.

The crackup isn’t just Romney the smooth versus Gingrich the bomb-thrower.

Not just House Republicans who just scotched the deal to continue payroll tax relief and extended unemployment insurance benefits beyond the end of the year, versus Senate Republicans who voted overwhelmingly for it.

Not just Speaker John Boehner, who keeps making agreements he can’t keep, versus Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who keeps making trouble he can’t control.

And not just venerable Republican senators like Indiana’s Richard Lugar, a giant of foreign policy for more than three decades, versus primary challenger state treasurer Richard Mourdock, who apparently misplaced and then rediscovered $320 million in state tax revenues.

Some describe the underlying conflict as Tea Partiers versus the Republican establishment. But this just begs the question of who the Tea Partiers really are and where they came from.

The underlying conflict lies deep into the nature and structure of the Republican Party. And its roots are very old.

As Michael Lind has noted, today’s Tea Party is less an ideological movement than the latest incarnation of an angry white minority — predominantly Southern, and mainly rural — that has repeatedly attacked American democracy in order to get its way.

It’s no mere coincidence that the states responsible for putting the most Tea Party representatives in the House are all former members of the Confederacy. Of the Tea Party caucus, twelve hail from Texas, seven from Florida, five from Louisiana, and five from Georgia, and three each from South Carolina, Tennessee, and border-state Missouri.

Others are from border states with significant Southern populations and Southern ties. The four Californians in the caucus are from the inland part of the state or Orange County, whose political culture has was shaped by Oklahomans and Southerners who migrated there during the Great Depression.

This isn’t to say all Tea Partiers are white, Southern or rural Republicans — only that these characteristics define the epicenter of Tea Party Land.

And the views separating these Republicans from Republicans elsewhere mirror the split between self-described Tea Partiers and other Republicans.

In a poll of Republicans conducted for CNN last September, nearly six in ten who identified themselves with the Tea Party say global warming isn’t a proven fact; most other Republicans say it is.

Six in ten Tea Partiers say evolution is wrong; other Republicans are split on the issue. Tea Party Republicans are twice as likely as other Republicans to say abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, and half as likely to support gay marriage.

Tea Partiers are more vehement advocates of states’ rights than other Republicans. Six in ten Tea Partiers want to abolish the Department of Education; only one in five other Republicans do. And Tea Party Republicans worry more about the federal deficit than jobs, while other Republicans say reducing unemployment is more important than reducing the deficit.

In other words, the radical right wing of today’s GOP isn’t that much different from the social conservatives who began asserting themselves in the Party during the 1990s, and, before them, the “Willie Horton” conservatives of the 1980s, and, before them, Richard Nixon’s “silent majority.”

Through most of these years, though, the GOP managed to contain these white, mainly rural and mostly Southern, radicals. After all, many of them were still Democrats. The conservative mantle of the GOP remained in the West and Midwest — with the libertarian legacies of Ohio Senator Robert A. Taft and Barry Goldwater, neither of whom was a barn-burner — while the epicenter of the Party remained in New York and the East.

But after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as the South began its long shift toward the Republican Party and New York and the East became ever more solidly Democratic, it was only a matter of time. The GOP’s dominant coalition of big business, Wall Street, and Midwest and Western libertarians was losing its grip.

The watershed event was Newt Gingrich’s takeover of the House, in 1995. Suddenly, it seemed, the GOP had a personality transplant. The gentlemanly conservatism of House Minority Leader Bob Michel was replaced by the bomb-throwing antics of Gingrich, Dick Armey, and Tom DeLay.

Almost overnight Washington was transformed from a place where legislators tried to find common ground to a war zone. Compromise was replaced by brinkmanship, bargaining by obstructionism, normal legislative maneuvering by threats to close down government — which occurred at the end of 1995.

Before then, when I’d testified on the Hill as Secretary of Labor, I had come in for tough questioning from Republican senators and representatives — which was their job. After January 1995, I was verbally assaulted. “Mr. Secretary, are you a socialist?” I recall one of them asking.

But the first concrete sign that white, Southern radicals might take over the Republican Party came in the vote to impeach Bill Clinton, when two-thirds of senators from the South voted for impeachment. (A majority of the Senate, you may recall, voted to acquit.)

America has had a long history of white Southern radicals who will stop at nothing to get their way — seceding from the Union in 1861, refusing to obey Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s, shutting the government in 1995, and risking the full faith and credit of the United States in 2010.

Newt Gingrich’s recent assertion that public officials aren’t bound to follow the decisions of federal courts derives from the same tradition.

This stop-at-nothing radicalism is dangerous for the GOP because most Americans recoil from it. Gingrich himself became an object of ridicule in the late 1990s, and many Republicans today worry that if he heads the ticket the Party will suffer large losses.

It’s also dangerous for America. We need two political parties solidly grounded in the realities of governing. Our democracy can’t work any other way.

Robert Reich is the author of Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future, now in bookstores. This post originally appeared at RobertReich.org.

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8 Stories Buried By the Corporate Media That You Need to Know About

AlterNet / By Rania Khalek -

Not all news stories are treated equally.

December 15, 2011 |

As 2011 comes to a close, we will see lists of the year’s most memorable events and most important people, as is the pattern every year. But not all stories are created equal. When the corporate media bury significant developments in the back pages of the paper or the second to last paragraph of an article, it’s easy for stories to go unnoticed.

As usual, this year was packed with critical, newsworthy and insufficiently covered stories that should have, but didn’t, make the front page. Below are eight explosive must-read stories of 2011 that you may have missed.

1) Our Planet Saw the Largest Increase in Carbon Emissions Since the Industrial Revolution

Global emissions of carbon dioxide increased 5.9 percent in 2010, the largest increase on record, according to Global Carbon Project, an international group of scientists tracking the numbers. This increase, reports the New York Times, is “almost certainly the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution, and the largest percentage increase since 2003.”

Another study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, traces an estimated three-quarters of the planet’s warming since 1950 to human activities. On top of that, the World Meteorological Organization warned that 10 of the hottest years ever recorded have occurred in the last 15 years, with temperatures this year registering as the 10th highest on record.

It’s obvious that the world is getting warmer at an accelerating rate and it’s our fault. What are world leaders going to do about it? Wait another eight years to cut emissions.

These statistics were released before last week’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, which ended with an agreement to kick the can down the road – they will negotiate a new climate treaty by 2015, which would postpone emission cuts until 2020.

To avoid the most devastating effects of climate change, we must limit the earth’s warming to 2°C. For that to happen, emission volumes cannot exceed 450 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide. Since emissions have already reached 390 ppm, higher than any other time in recorded history, the International Energy Agency warns that action cannot be delayed past 2017. Based on the Durbin agreement, emissions won’t be cut until 2020.

Unless something drastic pushes our leaders to change the destructive path we’re on, 2011 may go down in the history books as the year that humans irreversibly screwed themselves and the planet.

2) Widespread Trafficking Of Iraqi Women And Girls Thanks To The Iraq War

Since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, over 100,000 Iraqis have been killed and another 4.4 million displaced, leaving many women and girls widowed or orphaned.

As a result of the conflict more than 50,000 Iraqi women find themselves trapped in sexual servitude in Syria and Jordan, giving rise to a lucrative and growing sex industry that feeds off the chaos from the Iraq war.

Women and girls inside Iraq fare no better, often working in brothels run by female pimps. In an interview with the Inter Press Service, Rania, a former trafficker who now works as an undercover researcher for a women’s support group in Iraq, detailed a visit to “a house in Baghdad’s Al-Jihad district, where girls as young as 16 were held to cater exclusively to the U.S. military. The brothel’s owner told Rania that an Iraqi interpreter employed by the Americans served as the go-between, transporting girls to and from the U.S. airport base.”

Although human trafficking is illegal in Iraq, the country lacks a robust criminal justice system to enforce the law. Sadly, the victims of trafficking and prostitution are often the ones who are punished.

3) More Iraq Veterans Committed Suicide Last Year Than Active-Duty Troops Died In Combat

In 2010, 468 active duty and reserve troops committed suicide while 462 died in combat, marking the second year in a row that more US soldiers killed themselves than died at war, according to Congressional Quarterly’s John Donnelly.

Over the past decade, over 2,000 soldiers have taken their own lives, yet they receive little attention in our corporate media. In August the New York Times ran a story with the celebratory headline, “Iraq War Marks First Month With No U.S. Military Deaths.” That same month, the Department of Defense reported19 possible suicides among active-duty soldiers. In July, that number reached a record high of 32. America’s decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan leave troops with deep emotional scars that can be just as dangerous as a combat wound. Perhaps it’s time we gave them the attention they deserve.

4) Drone Strikes Kill Innocent Civilians, Not Just ‘Militants’

After Jon Brennan, President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, claimed in June that no civilians had been killed in US drone attacks in nearly a year, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that at least 45 civilians were killed in 10 US attacks during that period.

Overall, drone strikes in Pakistan have killed 780 civilians, including 175 children. The bureau documents 309 CIA drone strikes carried out since 2004 that have killed as many as 2,997 people. Over 85 percent were launched by the Obama administration, an average of one strike every four days. Yet the casualties of the US drone war rarely receive mention in the corporate media, except when described as “Islamic militants” or “suspected terrorists.” This is challenged not only by the bureau’s data, but also by gruesome photographs of drone victims taken by local journalists.

The Guardian described the images captured by Noor Behram, a journalist from the North Waziristan region of Pakistan, whose work appeared in an exhibition at London’s Beaconsfield gallery in August:

The photographs make for difficult viewing and leave no doubt about the destructive power of the Hellfire missiles unleashed: a boy with the top of his head missing, a severed hand, flattened houses, the parents of children killed in a strike. The chassis is all that remains of a car in one photo, another shows the funeral of a seven-year-old child. There are pictures, too, of the cheap rubber flip-flops worn by children and adults, which often survive: signs that life once existed there. A 10-year-old boy’s body, prepared for burial, shows lipstick on him and flowers in his hair – a mother’s last loving touch.

Spencer Ackerman recently featured a number of Behram’s disturbing photographs at Wired, which can be seen here.

5) Record Number Of US Kids Face Hunger and Homelessness

A report released by National Center on Family Homelessness finds that one in 45 US children (1.6 million) are homeless, the majority under the age of seven. The Christian Science Monitor reports, “The number of homeless children in 2010 exceeded even the total in 2006, when thousands of families displaced by hurricanes Katrina and Rita produced a historic spike in homelessness.”

It doesn’t stop there. According to recent figures released by the USDA, 17.2 million American households (14.5 percent) are “food insecure,” one of the highest recorded rates since surveys were first conducted in 1995. As a result, 16.2 million American children – one in five– face the threat of hunger. According to emergency room doctors in cities around the country, this is leading to a dramatic spike in malnourishment in babies.

Over the summer, the Boston Globe reported on shocking levels of infant malnourishment in Massachusetts. Doctors at the Boston Medical Center (BMC) reported seeing “more hungry and dangerously thin young children in the emergency room than at any time in more than a decade of surveying families.” Pediatricians in other large cities, including Baltimore, Little Rock, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia, have also seen a rise in infant and child malnourishment since 2008.

BMC doctors also warn that “rising chronic hunger threatens to leave scores of infants and toddlers with lasting learning and developmental problems.”

The Globe likened child malnourishment and hunger among Boston’s poor to levels seen in the “developing world.”

6) Prisoners Are People Too

This summer, more than 6,000 California prison inmates went on a month-long hunger strike in solidarity with those held in solitary confinement at the Secure Housing Unit in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison. Pelican Bay is notorious for holding nearly half of its 1,111 prisoners in solitary confinement for longer than 10 years. The strike was suspended in July when inmates entered negotiations with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). They expected change, but prisoners who organized and participated in the strike were instead retaliated against by prison guards.

By September 26, the strike was back on, with 12,000 inmates throughout California and out-of-state facilities participating. But those numbers quickly dwindled as the CDCR disciplined those involved by limiting access to visiting family members and isolating participants from other prisoners. A string of prisoner suicides committed by inmates who participated in the hunger strikes followed. Colorlines’ Julianne Hing reported:

In recent months Alex Machado and Johnny Owens Vick, who were both housed in Pelican Bay’s notorious solitary confinement Security Housing Unit, and Hozel Alanzo Blanchard, who was incarcerated at Calipatria State Prison’s Administrative Segregation Unit, all committed suicide. Prisoner advocates say all three participated in a statewide hunger strike this summer to protest, among other things, prison discipline policies intended to identify prison gang members which punish innocent, unaffiliated inmates with decades of confinement to segregated units.

7) US Deports 46,000 Parents, Kids Left Behind In Foster Care

Under the Obama administration, deportations of immigrants have skyrocketed, with a record 397,000 people removed in 2011 alone and families torn apart as a result. According to an investigation carried out by Colorlines, the United States deported over 46,000 parents whose children were U.S. citizens between January and June of this year. With their parents detained or deported, at least 5,100 children have been placed in foster care, and many may never see their parents again. Our draconian immigration system is creating orphans. Investigative reporter Seth Freed Wessler writes:

These children, many of whom should never have been separated from their parents in the first place, face often insurmountable obstacles to reunifying with their mothers and fathers. Though child welfare departments are required by federal law to reunify children with any parents who are able to provide for the basic safety of their children, detention makes this all but impossible. Then, once parents are deported, families are often separated for long periods. Ultimately, child welfare departments and juvenile courts too often move to terminate the parental rights of deportees and put children up for adoption, rather than attempt to unify the family as they would in other circumstances.

8) FBI Teaches Agents That Muslims Are Violent Radicals

In September, Spencer Ackerman reported some disturbing findings about the FBI’s counterterrorism training materials. He revealed, among other things, that the FBI’s Training Division depicts all Muslims as potential terrorists. Ackerman writes:

The FBI is teaching its counterterrorism agents that “mainstream” American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers; that the Prophet Mohammed was a “cult leader”; and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is no more than a ‘funding mechanism for combat.

At the Bureau’s training ground in Quantico, Virginia, agents are shown a chart contending that the more “devout” a Muslim, the more likely he is to be “violent.” Those destructive tendencies cannot be reversed, an FBI instructional presentation adds: “Any war against non-believers is justified” under Muslim law; a “moderating process cannot happen if the Koran continues to be regarded as the unalterable word of Allah.”

Ackerman also came upon an alarming description of Sunni Muslims, which is included in the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces mandatory online orientation material:

Sunni Muslims have been prolific in spawning numerous and varied fundamentalist extremist terrorist organizations. Sunni core doctrine and end state have remained the same and they continue to strive for Sunni Islamic domination of the world to prove a key Quranic assertion that no system of government or religion on earth can match the Quran’s purity and effectiveness for paving the road to God.

The FBI immediately apologized for the derogatory training materials, promising to comprehensively review all training materials. But it turns out that the FBI’s counterterrorism culture is soaked in Islamophobia, as demonstrated by the inclusion of books by Islamophobic authors Robert Spencer and Daniel Pipes in the FBI Quantico library.

This comes on top of a troubling pattern in counterterrorism law enforcement training — the use of Islamophobic ”terrorism consultants” to school agents on the Islamic faith. According to the Washington Monthly, this “growing profession” of consultants rakes in taxpayer cash to educate our cops about evils of Islam. One example is Walid Shoebat, who reportedly told an audience at a counterterrorism conference last year that the way to solve the threat of Islamic extremism is to “kill them…including the children.” Shoebat’s extreme denunciations of Islam helped fuel the paranoia of right-wing terrorist Anders Breivik, who massacred some 90 people in Norway earlier this year. According to the American Prospect, Shoebat is cited in Breivik’s manifesto 15 times.

Rania Khalek is an associate writer for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @RaniaKhalek.

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Eric Holder Is Correct: Let the Federal Gov. Stop the Racism of Individual States

Rev. Al Sharpton
President, National Action Network

When African Americans and other disenfranchised groups were still vying for an opportunity to have their voices heard and participate in the social and political process of the nation they helped construct, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted to legally push forward this ability. When folks like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were entrenched in the struggle for civil rights, they achieved a victory with passage of the Voting Rights Act. And when states failed to comply with equal voting opportunities for all by creating literacy tests and other subliminal discriminatory practices, the federal Voting Rights Act superseded individual state’s attempts at bigotry and marginalization. Now, more than 40 years after the success of this historic legislation, many Republicans would like to slowly and covertly repeal the practice by establishing voter ID requirements in an effort to restrict individuals participating in the process. My message to them: don’t think you’re fooling anyone; we see your attempts at stealing the 2012 election and you will not get away with it.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder delivered a poignant message this week when he addressed an audience on this very issue at the Lyndon Johnson presidential library in Austin, Texas. Holder said he was calling on political parties to “resist the temptation to suppress certain votes in the hope of attaining electoral success” and stated that voting itself must be viewed “not only as a legal issue but as a moral imperative”. As someone who has been extremely concerned and vocal about this subject, I commend AG Holder and the administration for stepping in and tackling this pressing issue head on. We must support the AG in his efforts for not only are the most vulnerable among us at risk, but so too is our entire political structure as we know it.

The biggest (and most laughable) excuse proponents of voter ID laws like to use is the notion that they are somehow preventing ‘voter fraud’. When only some 38 cases of ‘voter fraud’ have actually been found to exist, the idea that this is somehow an inherent and urgent dilemma should be insulting to anyone with a semblance of intelligence. When other, more problematic issues like voter restriction have been proven to discriminate and hinder fair voting, the real focus should instead be on how we can allow for more citizens to cast their ballots – not less. If an elderly 80-year-old has been voting for decades with proof of a utility bill or other documentation, how can we ask him/her to go through a lengthy process of obtaining a copy of their birth certificate, going to the DMV, etc? Who will assist this person in wrangling through the bureaucracy?

The draconian ID requirements don’t only target the elderly. Many states are now prohibiting college students from voting in the state where they attend school. Next fall, when many of these students are entrenched in their studies, they will tragically find out that they are not eligible to vote. And how many of them will be able to leave school to travel out-of-state just to vote? Think we all know the answer to that. And of course, it should come as no surprise that Black and Latino citizens will suffer the greatest with these new ID laws. It’s estimated that millions and millions of minority voters will be excluded from the process as many either don’t have the money, time or means to obtain new identification.

President Obama rode into office with massive support from both young people and minorities. When record numbers of Blacks, Latinos and the youth voted in the 2008 election, it’s blatantly clear why the right-wing is attempting to create these new ID requirements. Instead of trying to find ways to cheat the elections, perhaps they should understand why their antiquated policies are so disliked by the majority. They are attempting to change the rules because they realize they are doomed for failure — the nation is not on your side. And we, the people, will not allow you to block anyone’s right to vote; we’ve fought too hard and too long for justice

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Raise Taxes on Rich to Reward True Job Creators: Nick Hanauer

By Nick Hanauer

Dec. 1 (Bloomberg) — It is a tenet of American economic beliefs, and an article of faith for Republicans that is seldom contested by Democrats: If taxes are raised on the rich, job creation will stop.

Trouble is, sometimes the things that we know to be true are dead wrong. For the larger part of human history, for example, people were sure that the sun circles the Earth and that we are at the center of the universe. It doesn’t, and we aren’t. The conventional wisdom that the rich and businesses are our nation’s “job creators” is every bit as false.

I’m a very rich person. As an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, I’ve started or helped get off the ground dozens of companies in industries including manufacturing, retail, medical services, the Internet and software. I founded the Internet media company aQuantive Inc., which was acquired by Microsoft Corp. in 2007 for $6.4 billion. I was also the first non-family investor in Amazon.com Inc.

Even so, I’ve never been a “job creator.” I can start a business based on a great idea, and initially hire dozens or hundreds of people. But if no one can afford to buy what I have to sell, my business will soon fail and all those jobs will evaporate.

That’s why I can say with confidence that rich people don’t create jobs, nor do businesses, large or small. What does lead to more employment is the feedback loop between customers and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion a virtuous cycle that allows companies to survive and thrive and business owners to hire. An ordinary middle-class consumer is far more of a job creator than I ever have been or ever will be.

Theory of Evolution

When businesspeople take credit for creating jobs, it is like squirrels taking credit for creating evolution. In fact, it’s the other way around.

It is unquestionably true that without entrepreneurs and investors, you can’t have a dynamic and growing capitalist economy. But it’s equally true that without consumers, you can’t have entrepreneurs and investors. And the more we have happy customers with lots of disposable income, the better our businesses will do.

That’s why our current policies are so upside down. When the American middle class defends a tax system in which the lion’s share of benefits accrues to the richest, all in the name of job creation, all that happens is that the rich get richer.

And that’s what has been happening in the U.S. for the last 30 years.

Since 1980, the share of the nation’s income for fat cats like me in the top 0.1 percent has increased a shocking 400 percent, while the share for the bottom 50 percent of Americans has declined 33 percent. At the same time, effective tax rates on the superwealthy fell to 16.6 percent in 2007, from 42 percent at the peak of U.S. productivity in the early 1960s, and about 30 percent during the expansion of the 1990s. In my case, that means that this year, I paid an 11 percent rate on an eight-figure income.

One reason this policy is so wrong-headed is that there can never be enough superrich Americans to power a great economy. The annual earnings of people like me are hundreds, if not thousands, of times greater than those of the average American, but we don’t buy hundreds or thousands of times more stuff. My family owns three cars, not 3,000. I buy a few pairs of pants and a few shirts a year, just like most American men. Like everyone else, I go out to eat with friends and family only occasionally.

It’s true that we do spend a lot more than the average family. Yet the one truly expensive line item in our budget is our airplane (which, by the way, was manufactured in France by Dassault Aviation SA), and those annual costs are mostly for fuel (from the Middle East). It’s just crazy to believe that any of this is more beneficial to our economy than hiring more teachers or police officers or investing in our infrastructure.

More Shoppers Needed

I can’t buy enough of anything to make up for the fact that millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans can’t buy any new clothes or enjoy any meals out. Or to make up for the decreasing consumption of the tens of millions of middle-class families that are barely squeaking by, buried by spiraling costs and trapped by stagnant or declining wages.

If the average American family still got the same share of income they earned in 1980, they would have an astounding $13,000 more in their pockets a year. It’s worth pausing to consider what our economy would be like today if middle-class consumers had that additional income to spend.

It is mathematically impossible to invest enough in our economy and our country to sustain the middle class (our customers) without taxing the top 1 percent at reasonable levels again. Shifting the burden from the 99 percent to the 1 percent is the surest and best way to get our consumer-based economy rolling again.

Significant tax increases on the about $1.5 trillion in collective income of those of us in the top 1 percent could create hundreds of billions of dollars to invest in our economy, rather than letting it pile up in a few bank accounts like a huge clot in our nation’s economic circulatory system.

Consider, for example, that a puny 3 percent surtax on incomes above $1 million would be enough to maintain and expand the current payroll tax cut beyond December, preventing a $1,000 increase on the average worker’s taxes at the worst possible time for the economy. With a few more pennies on the dollar, we could invest in rebuilding schools and infrastructure. And even if we imposed a millionaires’ surtax and rolled back the Bush- era tax cuts for those at the top, the taxes on the richest Americans would still be historically low, and their incomes would still be astronomically high.

We’ve had it backward for the last 30 years. Rich businesspeople like me don’t create jobs. Middle-class consumers do, and when they thrive, U.S. businesses grow and profit. That’s why taxing the rich to pay for investments that benefit all is a great deal for both the middle class and the rich.

So let’s give a break to the true job creators. Let’s tax the rich like we once did and use that money to spur growth by putting purchasing power back in the hands of the middle class. And let’s remember that capitalists without customers are out of business.

(Nick Hanauer is a founder of Second Avenue Partners, a venture capital company in Seattle specializing in early state startups and emerging technology. He has helped launch more than 20 companies, including aQuantive Inc. and Amazon.com, and is the co-author of two books, “The True Patriot” and “The Gardens of Democracy.” The opinions expressed are his own.)

–Editors: Max Berley, Stacey Shick.

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To contact the writer of this article: Nick Hanauer at Nick@secondave.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net

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Moyers: Why ‘We The People’ Must Triumph Over Corporate Power

Berrett-Koehler Publishers
By Bill Moyers

Bill Moyers reminds us that repairing American democracy begins with reasserting that corporations do not have the same constitutional rights as citizens.

December 11, 2011

(Editor’s note: The following is the foreword to Corporations Are Not People: Why They Have More Rights Than You Do and What You Can Do About It, by Jeffrey Clements, a new book from Berrett-Koehler Publishers.)

Rarely have so few imposed such damage on so many. When five conservative members of the Supreme Court handed for-profit corporations the right to secretly flood political campaigns with tidal waves of cash on the eve of an election, they moved America closer to outright plutocracy, where political power derived from wealth is devoted to the protection of wealth. It is now official: Just as they have adorned our athletic stadiums and multiple places of public assembly with their logos, corporations can officially put their brand on the government of the United States as well as the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the fifty states.

The decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission giving “artificial entities” the same rights of “free speech” as living, breathing human beings will likely prove as infamous as the Dred Scott ruling of 1857 that opened the unsettled territories of the United States to slavery whether future inhabitants wanted it or not. It took a civil war and another hundred years of enforced segregation and deprivation before the effects of that ruling were finally exorcised from our laws. God spare us civil strife over the pernicious consequences of Citizens United, but unless citizens stand their ground, America will divide even more swiftly into winners and losers with little pity for the latter. Citizens United is but the latest battle in the class war waged for thirty years from the top down by the corporate and political right. Instead of creating a fair and level playing field for all, government would become the agent of the powerful and privileged. Public institutions, laws, and regulations, as well as the ideas, norms, and beliefs that aimed to protect the common good and helped create America’s iconic middle class, would become increasingly vulnerable. The Nobel Laureate economist Robert Solow succinctly summed up the results: “The redistribution of wealth in favor of the wealthy and of power in favor of the powerful.” In the wake of Citizens United, popular resistance is all that can prevent the richest economic interests in the country from buying the democratic process lock, stock, and barrel.

America has a long record of conflict with corporations. Wealth acquired under capitalism is in and of itself no enemy to democracy, but wealth armed with political power — power to choke off opportunities for others to rise, power to subvert public purposes and deny public needs — is a proven danger to the “general welfare” proclaimed in the Preamble to the Constitution as one of the justifications for America’s existence.

In its founding era, Alexander Hamilton created a financial system for our infant republic that mixed subsidies, tariffs, and a central bank to establish a viable economy and sound public credit. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson warned Americans to beware of the political ambitions of that system’s managerial class. Madison feared that the “spirit of speculation” would lead to “a government operating by corrupt influence, substituting the motive of private interest in place of public duty.” Jefferson hoped that “we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and [to] bid defiance to the laws of our country.” Radical ideas? Class warfare? The voters didn’t think so. In 1800, they made Jefferson the third president and then reelected him, and in 1808 they put Madison in the White House for the next eight years.

Andrew Jackson, the overwhelming people’s choice of 1828, vetoed the rechartering of the Second Bank of the United States in the summer of 1832. Twenty percent of its stock was government-owned; the rest was held by private investors, some of them foreigners and all of them wealthy. Jackson argued that the bank’s official connections and size gave it unfair advantages over local competition. In his veto message, he said: “[This act] seems to be predicated on the erroneous idea that the present stockholders have a prescriptive right not only to the favor but to the bounty of Government. … It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes.” Four months later, Jackson was easily reelected in a decisive victory over plutocracy.

The predators roared back in the Gilded Age that followed the Civil War. Corruption born of the lust for money produced what one historian described as “the morals of a gashouse gang.” Judges, state legislators, the parties that selected them and the editors who supported them were purchased as easily as ale at the local pub. Lobbyists roamed the halls of Congress proffering gifts of cash, railroad passes, and fancy entertainments. The U.S. Senate became a “millionaires’ club.” With government on the auction block, the notion of the “general welfare” wound up on the trash heap; grotesque inequality and poverty festered under the gilding. Sound familiar?

Then came a judicial earthquake. In 1886, a conservative Supreme Court conferred the divine gift of life on the Southern Pacific Railroad and by extension to all other corporations. The railroad was declared to be a “person,” protected by the recently enacted Fourteenth Amendment, which said that no person should be deprived of “life, liberty or property without due process of law.” Never mind that the amendment was enacted to protect the rights of freed slaves who were now U.S. citizens. Never mind that a corporation possessed neither a body to be kicked nor a soul to be damned (or saved!). The Court decided that it had the same rights of “personhood” as a walking, talking citizen and was entitled to enjoy every liberty protected by the Constitution that flesh-and-blood individuals could claim, even though it did not share their disadvantage of being mortal. It could move where it chose, buy any kind of property it chose, and select its directors and stockholders from anywhere it chose. Welcome to unregulated multinational conglomerates, although unforeseen at the time. Welcome to tax shelters, at home and offshore, and to subsidies galore, paid for by the taxes of unsuspecting working people. Corporations were endowed with the rights of “personhood” but exempted from the responsibilities of citizenship.

That’s the doctrine picked up and dusted off by the John Roberts Court in its ruling on Citizens United. Ignoring a century of modifying precedent, the court gave our corporate sovereigns a “sky’s the limit” right to pour money into political campaigns for the purpose of influencing the outcome. And to do so without public disclosure. We might as well say farewell to the very idea of fair play. Farewell, too, to representative government “of, by, and for the people.”

Unless.

Unless “We, the People” — flesh-and-blood humans, outraged at the selling off of our government — fight back.

It’s been done before. As my friend and longtime colleague, the historian Bernard Weisberger, wrote recently, the Supreme Court remained a procorporate conservative fortress for the next fifty years after the Southern Pacific decision. Decade after decade it struck down laws aimed to share power with the citizenry and to promote “the general welfare.” In 1895, it declared unconstitutional a measure providing for an income tax and gutted the Sherman Antitrust Act by finding a loophole for a sugar trust. In 1905, it killed a New York state law limiting working hours. In 1917, it did likewise to a prohibition against child labor. In 1923, it wiped out another law that set minimum wages for women. In 1935 and 1936, it struck down early New Deal recovery acts.

But in the face of such discouragement, embattled citizens refused to give up. Into their hearts, wrote the progressive Kansas journalist William Allen White, “had come a sense that their civilization needed recasting, that the government had fallen into the hands of self-seekers, that a new relationship should be established between the haves and the have-nots.” Not content merely to wring their hands and cry “Woe is us,” everyday citizens researched the issues, organized public events to educate their neighbors, held rallies, made speeches, petitioned and canvassed, marched and exhorted. They would elect the twentieth-century governments that restored “the general welfare” as a pillar of American democracy, setting in place legally ordained minimum wages, maximum working hours, child labor laws, workmen’s safety and compensation laws, pure foods and safe drugs, Social Security and Medicare, and rules to promote competitive rather than monopolistic financial and business markets.

The social contract that emerged from these victories is part and parcel of the “general welfare” to which the Founders had dedicated our Constitution. The corporate and political right seeks now to weaken and ultimately destroy it. Thanks to their ideological kin on the Supreme Court, they can attack the social contract using their abundant resources of wealth funneled — clandestinely — into political campaigns. During the fall elections of 2010, the first after the Citizens United decision, corporate front groups spent $126 million while hiding the identities of the donors, according to the Sunlight Foundation. The United States Chamber of Commerce, which touts itself as a “main street” grass-roots organization, draws most of its funds from about a hundred businesses, including such “main street” sources as BP, Exxon-Mobil, JPMorgan Chase, Massey Coal, Pfizer, Shell, Aetna, and Alcoa. The ink was hardly dry on the Citizens United decision when the Chamber organized a covertly funded front and fired volley after volley of missiles, in the form of political ads, into the 2010 campaigns, eventually spending approximately $75 million. Another corporate cover group — the Americans Action Network — spent over $26 million of undisclosed corporate money in six Senate races and 28 House of Representative elections. And “Crossroads GPS” seized on Citizens United to raise and spend at least $17 million that NBC News said came from “a small circle of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls,” all determined to water down the financial reforms designed to avoid a collapse of the financial system that their own greed and reckless speculation had helped bring on. As I write in the summer of 2011, the New York Times reports that efforts to thwart serious reforms are succeeding. The populist editor Jim Hightower concludes that today’s proponents of corporate plutocracy “have simply elevated money itself above votes, establishing cold, hard cash as the real coin of political power. The more you spend on politics, the bigger your voice is in government, making the vast vaults of billionaires and corporations far superior to the voices of mere voters.”

Against such odds, discouragement comes easily. But if the generations before us had given up, slaves would be waiting on our tables and picking our crops, women would be turned back at the voting booths, and it would be a crime for workers to organize. Like our forebears, we will not fix the broken promise of America — the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for all our citizens, not just the powerful and privileged — if we throw in the proverbial towel. Surrendering to plutocracy is not an option. Confronting a moment in our history that is much like the one Lincoln faced — when “we can nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope on earth” — we must fight back against the forces that are pouring dirty money into the political system, turning it into a sewer.

How to fight back is the message of this book. Jeffrey Clements saw corporate behavior up close during two stints as assistant attorney general in Massachusetts, litigating against the tobacco industry, enforcing fair trade practices, and leading more than one hundred attorneys and staff responsible for consumer and environmental protection, antitrust practices, and the oversight of health care, insurance, and financial services. He came away from the experience repeating to himself this indelible truth: “Corporations are not people.” Try it yourself: “Corporations are not people.” Again: “Corporations are not people.” You are now ready to join what Clements believes is the most promising way to counter Citizens United: a campaign for a constitutional amendment affirming that free speech and democracy are for people and that corporations are not people. Impossible? Not at all, says Clements. We have already amended the Constitution twenty-seven times. Amendment campaigns are how we have always made the promise of equality and liberty more real. Difficult? Of course; as Frederick Douglass taught us, power concedes nothing without a struggle. To contend with power, Clements and his colleague John Bonifaz founded Free Speech for People, a nationwide nonpartisan effort to overturn Citizens United and corporate rights doctrines that unduly leverage corporate economic power into political power. What Clements calls the People’s Rights Amendment could be our best hope to save the “great American experiment.”

To find out why, read on, and as you read, keep in mind the words of Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, who a century ago stood up to the mighty combines of wealth and power that were buying up our government and called on Americans of all persuasions to join him in opposing the “naked robbery” of the public’s trust:

It is not a partisan issue; it is more than a political issue; it is a great moral issue. If we condone political theft, if we do not resent the kinds of wrong and injustice that injuriously affect the whole nation, not merely our democratic form of government but our civilization itself cannot endure.

Bill Moyers is the host of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS.

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