Monday, January 30, 2012

NASCAR and the US Senate

Thanks to Alan Brodrick / Fluxed Up World

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Friday, January 27, 2012

OWS Could Take Lessons from This, Part 2

A march in Ådalen, Sweden, in 1931.

How Swedes and Norwegians broke the power of the ‘1 percent’
By George Lakey | January 25, 2012

While many of us are working to ensure that the Occupy movement will have a lasting impact, it’s worthwhile to consider other countries where masses of people succeeded in nonviolently bringing about a high degree of democracy and economic justice. Sweden and Norway, for example, both experienced a major power shift in the 1930s after prolonged nonviolent struggle. They “fired” the top 1 percent of people who set the direction for society and created the basis for something different.

Both countries had a history of horrendous poverty. When the 1 percent was in charge, hundreds of thousands of people emigrated to avoid starvation. Under the leadership of the working class, however, both countries built robust and successful economies that nearly eliminated poverty, expanded free university education, abolished slums, provided excellent health care available to all as a matter of right and created a system of full employment. Unlike the Norwegians, the Swedes didn’t find oil, but that didn’t stop them from building what the latest CIA World Factbook calls “an enviable standard of living.”

Neither country is a utopia, as readers of the crime novels by Stieg Larsson, Kurt Wallender and Jo Nesbro will know. Critical left-wing authors such as these try to push Sweden and Norway to continue on the path toward more fully just societies. However, as an American activist who first encountered Norway as a student in 1959 and learned some of its language and culture, the achievements I found amazed me. I remember, for example, bicycling for hours through a small industrial city, looking in vain for substandard housing. Sometimes resisting the evidence of my eyes, I made up stories that “accounted for” the differences I saw: “small country,” “homogeneous,” “a value consensus.” I finally gave up imposing my frameworks on these countries and learned the real reason: their own histories.

Then I began to learn that the Swedes and Norwegians paid a price for their standards of living through nonviolent struggle. There was a time when Scandinavian workers didn’t expect that the electoral arena could deliver the change they believed in. They realized that, with the 1 percent in charge, electoral “democracy” was stacked against them, so nonviolent direct action was needed to exert the power for change.

In both countries, the troops were called out to defend the 1 percent; people died. Award-winning Swedish filmmaker Bo Widerberg told the Swedish story vividly in Ådalen 31, which depicts the strikers killed in 1931 and the sparking of a nationwide general strike. (You can read more about this case in an entry by Max Rennebohm in the Global Nonviolent Action Database.)

The Norwegians had a harder time organizing a cohesive people’s movement because Norway’s small population—about three million—was spread out over a territory the size of Britain. People were divided by mountains and fjords, and they spoke regional dialects in isolated valleys. In the nineteenth century, Norway was ruled by Denmark and then by Sweden; in the context of Europe Norwegians were the “country rubes,” of little consequence. Not until 1905 did Norway finally become independent.

When workers formed unions in the early 1900s, they generally turned to Marxism, organizing for revolution as well as immediate gains. They were overjoyed by the overthrow of the czar in Russia, and the Norwegian Labor Party joined the Communist International organized by Lenin. Labor didn’t stay long, however. One way in which most Norwegians parted ways with Leninist strategy was on the role of violence: Norwegians wanted to win their revolution through collective nonviolent struggle, along with establishing co-ops and using the electoral arena.

In the 1920s strikes increased in intensity. The town of Hammerfest formed a commune in 1921, led by workers councils; the army intervened to crush it. The workers’ response verged toward a national general strike. The employers, backed by the state, beat back that strike, but workers erupted again in the ironworkers’ strike of 1923–24.

The Norwegian 1 percent decided not to rely simply on the army; in 1926 they formed a social movement called the Patriotic League, recruiting mainly from the middle class. By the 1930s, the League included as many as 100,000 people for armed protection of strike breakers—this in a country of only 3 million!

The Labor Party, in the meantime, opened its membership to anyone, whether or not in a unionized workplace. Middle-class Marxists and some reformers joined the party. Many rural farm workers joined the Labor Party, as well as some small landholders. Labor leadership understood that in a protracted struggle, constant outreach and organizing was needed to a nonviolent campaign. In the midst of the growing polarization, Norway’s workers launched another wave of strikes and boycotts in 1928.

The Depression hit bottom in 1931. More people were jobless there than in any other Nordic country. Unlike in the U.S., the Norwegian union movement kept the people thrown out of work as members, even though they couldn’t pay dues. This decision paid off in mass mobilizations. When the employers’ federation locked employees out of the factories to try to force a reduction of wages, the workers fought back with massive demonstrations.

Many people then found that their mortgages were in jeopardy. (Sound familiar?) The Depression continued, and farmers were unable to keep up payment on their debts. As turbulence hit the rural sector, crowds gathered nonviolently to prevent the eviction of families from their farms. The Agrarian Party, which included larger farmers and had previously been allied with the Conservative Party, began to distance itself from the 1 percent; some could see that the ability of the few to rule the many was in doubt.

By 1935, Norway was on the brink. The Conservative-led government was losing legitimacy daily; the 1 percent became increasingly desperate as militancy grew among workers and farmers. A complete overthrow might be just a couple years away, radical workers thought. However, the misery of the poor became more urgent daily, and the Labor Party felt increasing pressure from its members to alleviate their suffering, which it could do only if it took charge of the government in a compromise agreement with the other side.

This it did. In a compromise that allowed owners to retain the right to own and manage their firms, Labor in 1935 took the reins of government in coalition with the Agrarian Party. They expanded the economy and started public works projects to head toward a policy of full employment that became the keystone of Norwegian economic policy. Labor’s success and the continued militancy of workers enabled steady inroads against the privileges of the 1 percent, to the point that majority ownership of all large firms was taken by the public interest. (There is an entry on this case as well at the Global Nonviolent Action Database.)

The 1 percent thereby lost its historic power to dominate the economy and society. Not until three decades later could the Conservatives return to a governing coalition, having by then accepted the new rules of the game, including a high degree of public ownership of the means of production, extremely progressive taxation, strong business regulation for the public good and the virtual abolition of poverty. When Conservatives eventually tried a fling with neoliberal policies, the economy generated a bubble and headed for disaster. (Sound familiar?)

Labor stepped in, seized the three largest banks, fired the top management, left the stockholders without a dime and refused to bail out any of the smaller banks. The well-purged Norwegian financial sector was not one of those countries that lurched into crisis in 2008; carefully regulated and much of it publicly owned, the sector was solid.

Although Norwegians may not tell you about this the first time you meet them, the fact remains that their society’s high level of freedom and broadly-shared prosperity began when workers and farmers, along with middle class allies, waged a nonviolent struggle that empowered the people to govern for the common good.

Source / Waging Nonviolence

Fluxed Up World

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Better Question May Be, "How Is It NOT Fascism?"

The 14 Defining Characteristics Of Fascism
Free Inquiry / Spring 2003

Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.
2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.
3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.
4. Supremacy of the Military - Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.
5. Rampant Sexism - The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.
6. Controlled Mass Media - Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.
7. Obsession with National Security - Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.
8. Religion and Government are Intertwined - Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed
to the government's policies or actions.
9. Corporate Power is Protected - The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.
10. Labor Power is Suppressed - Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.
11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts - Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.
12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment - Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.
13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption - Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.
14. Fraudulent Elections - Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

Source /

And many thanks to an article by Thomas S. Harrington on Common Dreams for identifying the list from Rense.

Fluxed Up World

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Friday, January 20, 2012

When Will YOU Acknowledge the Democratic Facade That is the USA?

Aurelie Marie-Lisette Talate, the ageless face of the Chagossian people’s “sagrin” in exile, and mouthpiece of their collective experience and memory. Photo: Source.

The World War on Democracy
By John Pilger / January 19, 2012

Lisette Talate died the other day. I remember a wiry, fiercely intelligent woman who masked her grief with a determination that was a presence. She was the embodiment of people’s resistance to the war on democracy. I first glimpsed her in a 1950s Colonial Office film about the Chagos islanders, a tiny creole nation living midway between Africa and Asia in the Indian Ocean. The camera panned across thriving villages, a church, a school, a hospital, set in a phenomenon of natural beauty and peace. Lisette remembers the producer saying to her and her teenage friends, “Keep smiling girls!”

Sitting in her kitchen in Mauritius many years later, she said, “I didn’t have to be told to smile. I was a happy child, because my roots were deep in the islands, my paradise. My great-grandmother was born there; I made six children there. That’s why they couldn’t legally throw us out of our own homes; they had to terrify us into leaving or force us out. At first, they tried to starve us. The food ships stopped arriving [then] they spread rumours we would be bombed, then they turned on our dogs.”

In the early 1960s, the Labour government of Harold Wilson secretly agreed to a demand from Washington that the Chagos archipelago, a British colony, be “swept” and “sanitised” of its 2,500 inhabitants so that a military base could be built on the principal island, Diego Garcia. “They knew we were inseparable from our pets,” said Lizette, “When the American soldiers arrived to build the base, they backed their big trucks against the brick shed where we prepared the coconuts; hundreds of our dogs had been rounded up and imprisoned there. Then they gassed them through tubes from the trucks’ exhausts. You could hear them crying.”

Lisette and her family and hundreds of islanders were forced on to a rusting steamer bound for Mauritius, a distance of 2,500 miles. They were made to sleep in the hold on a cargo of fertiliser: bird shit. The weather was rough; everyone was ill; two women miscarried. Dumped on the docks at Port Louis, Lizette’s youngest children, Jollice, and Regis, died within a week of each other. “They died of sadness,” she said. “They had heard all the talk and seen the horror of what had happened to the dogs. They knew they were leaving their home forever. The doctor in Mauritius said he could not treat sadness.”

This act of mass kidnapping was carried out in high secrecy. In one official file, under the heading, “Maintaining the fiction”, the Foreign Office legal adviser exhorts his colleagues to cover their actions by “re-classifying” the population as “floating” and to “make up the rules as we go along”. Article 7 of the statute of the International Criminal Court says the “deportation or forcible transfer of population” is a crime against humanity. That Britain had committed such a crime -- in exchange for a $14 million discount off an American Polaris nuclear submarine -- was not on the agenda of a group of British “defence” correspondents flown to the Chagos by the Ministry of Defence when the US base was completed. “There is nothing in our files,” said a ministry official, “about inhabitants or an evacuation.”

Today, Diego Garcia is crucial to America’s and Britain’s war on democracy. The heaviest bombing of Iraq and Afghanistan was launched from its vast airstrips, beyond which the islanders’ abandoned cemetery and church stand like archaeological ruins. The terraced garden where Lisette laughed for the camera is now a fortress housing the “bunker-busting” bombs carried by bat-shaped B-2 aircraft to targets in two continents; an attack on Iran will start here. As if to complete the emblem of rampant, criminal power, the CIA added a Guantanamo-style prison for its “rendition” victims and called it Camp Justice.

What was done to Lisette’s paradise has an urgent and universal meaning, for it represents the violent, ruthless nature of a whole system behind its democratic façade, and the scale of our own indoctrination to its messianic assumptions, described by Harold Pinter as a “brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.” Longer and bloodier than any war since 1945, waged with demonic weapons and a gangsterism dressed as economic policy and sometimes known as globalisation, the war on democracy is unmentionable in western elite circles. As Pinter wrote, “it never happened even while it was happening”. Last July, American historian William Blum published his “updated summary of the record of US foreign policy”. Since the Second World War, the US has:
  1. Attempted to overthrow more than 50 governments, most of them democratically-elected.
  2. Attempted to suppress a populist or national movement in 20 countries.
  3. Grossly interfered in democratic elections in at least 30 countries.
  4. Dropped bombs on the people of more than 30 countries.
  5. Attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders.

In total, the United States has carried out one or more of these actions in 69 countries. In almost all cases, Britain has been a collaborator. The “enemy” changes in name – from communism to Islamism -- but mostly it is the rise of democracy independent of western power or a society occupying strategically useful territory, deemed expendable, like the Chagos Islands.

The sheer scale of suffering, let alone criminality, is little known in the west, despite the presence of the world’s most advanced communications, nominally freest journalism and most admired academy. That the most numerous victims of terrorism – western terrorism – are Muslims is unsayable, if it is known. That half a million Iraqi infants died in the 1990s as a result of the embargo imposed by Britain and America is of no interest. That extreme jihadism, which led to 9/11, was nurtured as a weapon of western policy (“Operation Cyclone”) is known to specialists but otherwise suppressed.

While popular culture in Britain and America immerses the Second World War in an ethical bath for the victors, the holocausts arising from Anglo-American dominance of resource-rich regions are consigned to oblivion. Under the Indonesian tyrant Suharto, anointed “our man” by Thatcher, more than a million people were slaughtered. Described by the CIA as “the worst mass murder of the second half of the 20th century”, the estimate does not include a third of the population of East Timor who were starved or murdered with western connivance, British fighter-bombers and machine guns.

These true stories are told in declassified files in the Public Record Office, yet represent an entire dimension of politics and the exercise of power excluded from public consideration. This has been achieved by a regime of un-coercive information control, from the evangelical mantra of consumer advertising to sound-bites on BBC news and now the ephemera of social media.

It is as if writers as watchdogs are extinct, or in thrall to a sociopathic zeitgeist, convinced they are too clever to be duped. Witness the stampede of sycophants eager to deify Christopher Hitchens, a war lover who longed to be allowed to justify the crimes of rapacious power. “For almost the first time in two centuries”, wrote Terry Eagleton, “there is no eminent British poet, playwright or novelist prepared to question the foundations of the western way of life”. No Orwell warns that we do not need to live in a totalitarian society to be corrupted by totalitarianism. No Shelley speaks for the poor, no Blake proffers a vision, no Wilde reminds us that “disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue”. And grievously no Pinter rages at the war machine, as in American Football:

Praise the Lord for all good things ...
We blew their balls into shards of dust,
Into shards of fucking dust …

Into shards of fucking dust go all the lives blown there by Barack Obama, the Hopey Changey of western violence. Whenever one of Obama’s drones wipes out an entire family in a faraway tribal region of Pakistan, or Somalia, or Yemen, the American controllers in front of their computer-game screens type in “Bugsplat”. Obama likes drones and has joked about them with journalists. One of his first actions as president was to order a wave of Predator drone attacks on Pakistan that killed 74 people. He has since killed thousands, mostly civilians; drones fire Hellfire missiles that suck the air out of the lungs of children and leave body parts festooned across scrubland.

Remember the tear-stained headlines when Brand Obama was elected: “momentous, spine-tingling”: the Guardian. “The American future,” wrote Simon Schama, “is all vision, numinous, unformed, light-headed ...” The San Francisco Chronicle’s columnist saw a spiritual “lightworker [who can] usher in a new way of being on the planet”. Beyond the drivel, as the great whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg had predicted, a military coup was taking place in Washington, and Obama was their man. Having seduced the anti-war movement into virtual silence, he has given America’s corrupt military officer class unprecedented powers of state and engagement. These include the prospect of wars in Africa and opportunities for provocations against China, America’s largest creditor and new “enemy” in Asia. Under Obama, the old source of official paranoia Russia, has been encircled with ballistic missiles and the Russian opposition infiltrated. Military and CIA assassination teams have been assigned to 120 countries; long planned attacks on Syria and Iran beckon a world war. Israel, the exemplar of US violence and lawlessness by proxy, has just received its annual pocket money of $3bn together with Obama’s permission to steal more Palestinian land.

Obama’s most “historic” achievement is to bring the war on democracy home to America. On New Year’s Eve, he signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a law that grants the Pentagon the legal right to kidnap both foreigners and US citizens and indefinitely detain, interrogate and torture, or even kill them. They need only “associate” with those “belligerent” to the United States. There will be no protection of law, no trial, no legal representation. This is the first explicit legislation to abolish habeus corpus (the right to due process of law) and effectively repeal the Bill of Rights of 1789.

On 5 January, in an extraordinary speech at the Pentagon, Obama said the military would not only be ready to “secure territory and populations” overseas but to fight in the “homeland” and provide “support to the civil authorities”. In other words, US troops will be deployed on the streets of American cities when the inevitable civil unrest takes hold.

America is now a land of epidemic poverty and barbaric prisons: the consequence of a “market” extremism which, under Obama, has prompted the transfer of $14 trillion in public money to criminal enterprises in Wall Street. The victims are mostly young jobless, homeless, incarcerated African-Americans, betrayed by the first black president. The historic corollary of a perpetual war state, this is not fascism, not yet, but neither is it democracy in any recognisable form, regardless of the placebo politics that will consume the news until November. The presidential campaign, says the Washington Post, will “feature a clash of philosophies rooted in distinctly different views of the economy”. This is patently false. The circumscribed task of journalism on both sides of the Atlantic is to create the pretence of political choice where there is none.

The same shadow is across Britain and much of Europe where social democracy, an article of faith two generations ago, has fallen to the central bank dictators. In David Cameron’s “big society”, the theft of 84bn pounds in jobs and services even exceeds the amount of tax “legally” avoid by piratical corporations. Blame rests not with the far right, but a cowardly liberal political culture that has allowed this to happen, which, wrote Hywel Williams in the wake of the attacks on 9/11, “can itself be a form of self righteous fanaticism”. Tony Blair is one such fanatic. In its managerial indifference to the freedoms that it claims to hold dear, bourgeois Blairite Britain has created a surveillance state with 3,000 new criminal offences and laws: more than for the whole of the previous century. The police clearly believe they have an impunity to kill. At the demand of the CIA, cases like that of Binyam Mohamed, an innocent British resident tortured and then held for five years in Guantanamo Bay, will be dealt with in secret courts in Britain “in order to protect the intelligence agencies” – the torturers.

This invisible state allowed the Blair government to fight the Chagos islanders as they rose from their despair in exile and demanded justice in the streets of Port Louis and London. “Only when you take direct action, face to face, even break laws, are you ever noticed,” said Lisette. “And the smaller you are, the greater your example to others.” Such an eloquent answer to those who still ask, “What can I do?”

I last saw Lisette’s tiny figure standing in driving rain alongside her comrades outside the Houses of Parliament. What struck me was the enduring courage of their resistance. It is this refusal to give up that rotten power fears, above all, knowing it is the seed beneath the snow.

Source / Z-Net

Fluxed Up World

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Chris Hedges on Thwarting Threats to the Corporate State, AKA Facism Personified

Guards search detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility. Photo: Zuma Press.

Why I’m Suing Barack Obama
By Chris Hedges / January 16, 2012

Attorneys Carl J. Mayer and Bruce I. Afran filed a complaint Friday in the Southern U.S. District Court in New York City on my behalf as a plaintiff against Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to challenge the legality of the Authorization for Use of Military Force as embedded in the latest version of the National Defense Authorization Act, signed by the president Dec. 31.

The act authorizes the military in Title X, Subtitle D, entitled “Counter-Terrorism,” for the first time in more than 200 years, to carry out domestic policing. With this bill, which will take effect March 3, the military can indefinitely detain without trial any U.S. citizen deemed to be a terrorist or an accessory to terrorism. And suspects can be shipped by the military to our offshore penal colony in Guantanamo Bay and kept there until “the end of hostilities.” It is a catastrophic blow to civil liberties.

I spent many years in countries where the military had the power to arrest and detain citizens without charge. I have been in some of these jails. I have friends and colleagues who have “disappeared” into military gulags. I know the consequences of granting sweeping and unrestricted policing power to the armed forces of any nation. And while my battle may be quixotic, it is one that has to be fought if we are to have any hope of pulling this country back from corporate fascism.

Section 1031 of the bill defines a “covered person”—one subject to detention—as “a person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.”

The bill, however, does not define the terms “substantially supported,” “directly supported” or “associated forces.”

I met regularly with leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. I used to visit Palestine Liberation Organization leaders, including Yasser Arafat and Abu Jihad, in Tunis when they were branded international terrorists. I have spent time with the Revolutionary Guard in Iran and was in northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey with fighters from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. All these entities were or are labeled as terrorist organizations by the U.S. government. What would this bill have meant if it had been in place when I and other Americans traveled in the 1980s with armed units of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua or the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front guerrillas in El Salvador? What would it have meant for those of us who were with the southern insurgents during the civil war in Yemen or the rebels in the southern Sudan? I have had dinner more times than I can count with people whom this country brands as terrorists. But that does not make me one.

Once a group is deemed to be a terrorist organization, whether it is a Palestinian charity or an element of the Uighur independence movement, the military can under this bill pick up a U.S. citizen who supported charities associated with the group or unwittingly sent money or medical supplies to front groups. We have already seen the persecution and closure of Islamic charity organizations in the United States that supported the Palestinians. Now the members of these organizations can be treated like card-carrying “terrorists” and sent to Guantanamo.

But I suspect the real purpose of this bill is to thwart internal, domestic movements that threaten the corporate state. The definition of a terrorist is already so amorphous under the Patriot Act that there are probably a few million Americans who qualify to be investigated if not locked up. Consider the arcane criteria that can make you a suspect in our new military-corporate state. The Department of Justice considers you worth investigating if you are missing a few fingers, if you have weatherproof ammunition, if you own guns or if you have hoarded more than seven days of food in your house. Adding a few of the obstructionist tactics of the Occupy movement to this list would be a seamless process. On the whim of the military, a suspected “terrorist” who also happens to be a U.S. citizen can suffer extraordinary rendition—being kidnapped and then left to rot in one of our black sites “until the end of hostilities.” Since this is an endless war that will be a very long stay.

This demented “war on terror” is as undefined and vague as such a conflict is in any totalitarian state. Dissent is increasingly equated in this country with treason. Enemies supposedly lurk in every organization that does not chant the patriotic mantras provided to it by the state. And this bill feeds a mounting state paranoia. It expands our permanent war to every spot on the globe. It erases fundamental constitutional liberties. It means we can no longer use the word “democracy” to describe our political system.

The supine and gutless Democratic Party, which would have feigned outrage if George W. Bush had put this into law, appears willing, once again, to grant Obama a pass. But I won’t. What he has done is unforgivable, unconstitutional and exceedingly dangerous. The threat and reach of al-Qaida—which I spent a year covering for The New York Times in Europe and the Middle East—are marginal, despite the attacks of 9/11. The terrorist group poses no existential threat to the nation. It has been so disrupted and broken that it can barely function. Osama bin Laden was gunned down by commandos and his body dumped into the sea. Even the Pentagon says the organization is crippled. So why, a decade after the start of the so-called war on terror, do these draconian measures need to be implemented? Why do U.S. citizens now need to be specifically singled out for military detention and denial of due process when under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force the president can apparently find the legal cover to serve as judge, jury and executioner to assassinate U.S. citizens, as he did in the killing of the cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen? Why is this bill necessary when the government routinely ignores our Fifth Amendment rights—“No person shall be deprived of life without due process of law”—as well as our First Amendment right of free speech? How much more power do they need to fight “terrorism”?

Fear is the psychological weapon of choice for totalitarian systems of power. Make the people afraid. Get them to surrender their rights in the name of national security. And then finish off the few who aren’t afraid enough. If this law is not revoked we will be no different from any sordid military dictatorship. Its implementation will be a huge leap forward for the corporate oligarchs who plan to continue to plunder the nation and use state and military security to cow the population into submission.

The oddest part of this legislation is that the FBI, the CIA, the director of national intelligence, the Pentagon and the attorney general didn’t support it. FBI Director Robert Mueller said he feared the bill would actually impede the bureau’s ability to investigate terrorism because it would be harder to win cooperation from suspects held by the military. “The possibility looms that we will lose opportunities to obtain cooperation from the persons in the past that we’ve been fairly successful in gaining,” he told Congress.

But it passed anyway. And I suspect it passed because the corporations, seeing the unrest in the streets, knowing that things are about to get much worse, worrying that the Occupy movement will expand, do not trust the police to protect them. They want to be able to call in the Army. And now they can.


The text of Hedges' legal complaint

NDAA official text

Source / Truthout

Fluxed Up World

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Bright Side: Defeating the Forces of the 1%

Photo: A New Haven rally. Photo: Joelle Fishman/PW.

Lessons from the grassroots for 2012
By Joelle Fishman / January 13 2012

Last fall's municipal elections in New Haven, Connecticut made history. The implications, if heeded, bode well for 2012.

When the new 30-member Board of Aldermen was sworn into office on New Year's Day at the Hill Career High School, the auditorium was packed. This was no ordinary inauguration. It marked the largest number of new elected officials ever here, and the largest number of union members and pro-union community residents ever to take office at the same time. Their composition, including many African American, Latino, women and youth is the most representative of the city's population.

New Haven's new governing body is the product of a reawakened activism throughout the city. Union workers at Yale University, the dominant employer in the city, led the effort neighborhood by neighborhood, ward by ward, door knocking since last spring to find out what was on people's minds and lay the groundwork for 15 primary challenges to incumbent aldermen. When 14 won it was a stunning victory. In the general election a total of 21 aldermen elected are a part of the labor-community movement.

Anger and dissatisfaction was widespred at the lack of investment in neighborhoods compared to downtown, the lack of jobs for community residents created by big new development, and the shocking number of youth killed in street violence.

At first people shrugged off the home visits saying that nothing will ever change. But as the summer wore on and attitudes shifted, more and more residents began joining the team of door knockers in their wards. The idea became contagious that participation and unity can win positive change. Across the city over 400 people, many for the first time, and many youth, made the commitment to knock on the doors of their neighbors and make the case for why they should come out and vote.

There was electricity in the air at an overflow rally before primary election day. No one could remember a campaign rally with such a diverse turnout truly reflecting every section and population of the city including the youth. This composition was duplicated on a larger scale in December at a community gathering held to develop the grassroots agenda that will guide the priorities of these aldermen going forward.

As the bigger challenge of governing unfolds, leadership-building at the ward and neighborhood level to establish permanent organization that can mobilize year round will be the test.

It was the relationships built during door knocking that negated an all-out effort aided by the media to discredit the movement by claiming that union members holding public office would only represent their union's agenda and not the agenda of the neighborhoods. Residents could see for themselves that the agenda is one and the same. The working class values of these candidates were clear. The fact that these candidates had learned their leadership skills within the union became a positive factor. The anti-union split and divide tactic fell flat.

This leadership is already being tested with attempts to create racial divisions by the old political structure. They are going onto the offensive to support the priorities set out by the community. At a jammed crowd of students and parents protesting at the Board of Education and a big community meeting demanding that the Q House, a closed youth center, be re-opened, the newly elected aldermen provided direction and a unity message.

As the challenge to address extreme poverty in the midst of Yale's great wealth unfolds in New Haven, the lessons learned in this election will be critical for the 2012 elections in Connecticut and beyond.

The presidential campaign and the open U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut provide the bigger context. The right of workers to a voice at work with union representation, the role of government for the common good, the equal rights of racially oppressed people and women, the chance for youth to earn, learn and live are all at stake in 2012.

It will take the leadership of the labor movement, the mobilization of the community, and tireless one-on-one conversations about whose interests each candidate represents, in every election district across this country, to win this epic election battle on the side of working people.

Source / People's World

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Rapid Descent Into Police State Facism

10 Reasons the US is No Longer the Land of the Free
By Jonathan Turley / January 14, 2012

Every year, the State Department issues reports on individual rights in other countries, monitoring the passage of restrictive laws and regulations around the world. Iran, for example, has been criticized for denying fair public trials and limiting privacy, while Russia has been taken to task for undermining due process. Other countries have been condemned for the use of secret evidence and torture.

Even as we pass judgment on countries we consider unfree, Americans remain confident that any definition of a free nation must include their own — the land of free. Yet, the laws and practices of the land should shake that confidence. In the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, this country has comprehensively reduced civil liberties in the name of an expanded security state. The most recent example of this was the National Defense Authorization Act, signed Dec. 31, which allows for the indefinite detention of citizens. At what point does the reduction of individual rights in our country change how we define ourselves?

While each new national security power Washington has embraced was controversial when enacted, they are often discussed in isolation. But they don’t operate in isolation. They form a mosaic of powers under which our country could be considered, at least in part, authoritarian. Americans often proclaim our nation as a symbol of freedom to the world while dismissing nations such as Cuba and China as categorically unfree. Yet, objectively, we may be only half right. Those countries do lack basic individual rights such as due process, placing them outside any reasonable definition of “free,” but the United States now has much more in common with such regimes than anyone may like to admit.

These countries also have constitutions that purport to guarantee freedoms and rights. But their governments have broad discretion in denying those rights and few real avenues for challenges by citizens — precisely the problem with the new laws in this country.

The list of powers acquired by the U.S. government since 9/11 puts us in rather troubling company.

Assassination of U.S. citizens

President Obama has claimed, as President George W. Bush did before him, the right to order the killing of any citizen considered a terrorist or an abettor of terrorism. Last year, he approved the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaqi and another citizen under this claimed inherent authority. Last month, administration officials affirmed that power, stating that the president can order the assassination of any citizen whom he considers allied with terrorists. (Nations such as Nigeria, Iran and Syria have been routinely criticized for extrajudicial killings of enemies of the state.)

Indefinite detention

Under the law signed last month, terrorism suspects are to be held by the military; the president also has the authority to indefinitely detain citizens accused of terrorism. While the administration claims that this provision only codified existing law, experts widely contest this view, and the administration has opposed efforts to challenge such authority in federal courts. The government continues to claim the right to strip citizens of legal protections based on its sole discretion. (China recently codified a more limited detention law for its citizens, while countries such as Cambodia have been singled out by the United States for “prolonged detention.”)

Arbitrary justice

The president now decides whether a person will receive a trial in the federal courts or in a military tribunal, a system that has been ridiculed around the world for lacking basic due process protections. Bush claimed this authority in 2001, and Obama has continued the practice. (Egypt and China have been denounced for maintaining separate military justice systems for selected defendants, including civilians.)

Warrantless searches

The president may now order warrantless surveillance, including a new capability to force companies and organizations to turn over information on citizens’ finances, communications and associations. Bush acquired this sweeping power under the Patriot Act in 2001, and in 2011, Obama extended the power, including searches of everything from business documents to library records. The government can use “national security letters” to demand, without probable cause, that organizations turn over information on citizens — and order them not to reveal the disclosure to the affected party. (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan operate under laws that allow the government to engage in widespread discretionary surveillance.)

Secret evidence

The government now routinely uses secret evidence to detain individuals and employs secret evidence in federal and military courts. It also forces the dismissal of cases against the United States by simply filing declarations that the cases would make the government reveal classified information that would harm national security — a claim made in a variety of privacy lawsuits and largely accepted by federal judges without question. Even legal opinions, cited as the basis for the government’s actions under the Bush and Obama administrations, have been classified. This allows the government to claim secret legal arguments to support secret proceedings using secret evidence. In addition, some cases never make it to court at all. The federal courts routinely deny constitutional challenges to policies and programs under a narrow definition of standing to bring a case.

War crimes

The world clamored for prosecutions of those responsible for waterboarding terrorism suspects during the Bush administration, but the Obama administration said in 2009 that it would not allow CIA employees to be investigated or prosecuted for such actions. This gutted not just treaty obligations but the Nuremberg principles of international law. When courts in countries such as Spain moved to investigate Bush officials for war crimes, the Obama administration reportedly urged foreign officials not to allow such cases to proceed, despite the fact that the United States has long claimed the same authority with regard to alleged war criminals in other countries. (Various nations have resisted investigations of officials accused of war crimes and torture. Some, such as Serbia and Chile, eventually relented to comply with international law; countries that have denied independent investigations include Iran, Syria and China.)

Secret court

The government has increased its use of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has expanded its secret warrants to include individuals deemed to be aiding or abetting hostile foreign governments or organizations. In 2011, Obama renewed these powers, including allowing secret searches of individuals who are not part of an identifiable terrorist group. The administration has asserted the right to ignore congressional limits on such surveillance. (Pakistan places national security surveillance under the unchecked powers of the military or intelligence services.)

Immunity from judicial review

Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has successfully pushed for immunity for companies that assist in warrantless surveillance of citizens, blocking the ability of citizens to challenge the violation of privacy. (Similarly, China has maintained sweeping immunity claims both inside and outside the country and routinely blocks lawsuits against private companies.)

Continual monitoring of citizens

The Obama administration has successfully defended its claim that it can use GPS devices to monitor every move of targeted citizens without securing any court order or review. (Saudi Arabia has installed massive public surveillance systems, while Cuba is notorious for active monitoring of selected citizens.)

Extraordinary renditions

The government now has the ability to transfer both citizens and noncitizens to another country under a system known as extraordinary rendition, which has been denounced as using other countries, such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan, to torture suspects. The Obama administration says it is not continuing the abuses of this practice under Bush, but it insists on the unfettered right to order such transfers — including the possible transfer of U.S. citizens.

These new laws have come with an infusion of money into an expanded security system on the state and federal levels, including more public surveillance cameras, tens of thousands of security personnel and a massive expansion of a terrorist-chasing bureaucracy.

Some politicians shrug and say these increased powers are merely a response to the times we live in. Thus, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) could declare in an interview last spring without objection that “free speech is a great idea, but we’re in a war.” Of course, terrorism will never “surrender” and end this particular “war.”

Other politicians rationalize that, while such powers may exist, it really comes down to how they are used. This is a common response by liberals who cannot bring themselves to denounce Obama as they did Bush. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), for instance, has insisted that Congress is not making any decision on indefinite detention: “That is a decision which we leave where it belongs — in the executive branch.”

And in a signing statement with the defense authorization bill, Obama said he does not intend to use the latest power to indefinitely imprison citizens. Yet, he still accepted the power as a sort of regretful autocrat.

An authoritarian nation is defined not just by the use of authoritarian powers, but by the ability to use them. If a president can take away your freedom or your life on his own authority, all rights become little more than a discretionary grant subject to executive will.

The framers lived under autocratic rule and understood this danger better than we do. James Madison famously warned that we needed a system that did not depend on the good intentions or motivations of our rulers: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

Benjamin Franklin was more direct. In 1787, a Mrs. Powel confronted Franklin after the signing of the Constitution and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?” His response was a bit chilling: “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

Since 9/11, we have created the very government the framers feared: a government with sweeping and largely unchecked powers resting on the hope that they will be used wisely.

The indefinite-detention provision in the defense authorization bill seemed to many civil libertarians like a betrayal by Obama. While the president had promised to veto the law over that provision, Levin, a sponsor of the bill, disclosed on the Senate floor that it was in fact the White House that approved the removal of any exception for citizens from indefinite detention.

Dishonesty from politicians is nothing new for Americans. The real question is whether we are lying to ourselves when we call this country the land of the free.

[Jonathan Turley is a professor of law at George Washington University.]

Source / Washington Post

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Food Sovereignty: Taking Back Our Lives

Here's a Way to Eliminate the Regulators and Lawyers, and Build Community At the Same Time: Organize and Declare "Food Sovereignty," Like Sedgwick, Maine
By David E. Gumpert / March 7, 2011

Maybe the citizens of tiny Sedgwick on the Maine coast were listening to the calls of Dave Milano, Ken Conrad, and others for more trust and community, and less rigid one-size-fits-all food regulation.

On Saturday morning, Sedgwick became likely the first locale in the country to pass a "Food Sovereignty" law. It's the proposed ordinance I first described last fall, when I introduced the "Five Musketeers", a group of farmers and consumers intent on pushing back against overly aggressive state food regulators. The regulators were interfering with farmers who, for example, took chickens to a neighbor for slaughtering, or who sold raw milk directly to consumers.

The proposed ordinance was one of 78 being considered at the Sedgwick town meeting, that New England institution that has stood the test of time, allowing all of a town's citizens to vote yea or nay on proposals to spend their tax money and, in this case, enact potentially far-reaching laws with national implications. They've been holding these meetings in the Sedgwick town hall (pictured above) since 1794. At Friday's meeting, about 120 citizens raised their hands in unanimous approval of the ordinance.

Citing America's Declaration of Independence and the Maine Constitution, the ordinance proposed that "Sedgwick citizens possess the right to produce, process, sell, purchase, and consume local foods of their choosing." These would include raw milk and other dairy products and locally slaughtered meats, among other items.

This isn't just a declaration of preference. The proposed warrant added, "It shall be unlawful for any law or regulation adopted by the state or federal government to interfere with the rights recognized by this Ordinance." In other words, no state licensing requirements prohibiting certain farms from selling dairy products or producing their own chickens for sale to other citizens in the town.

What about potential legal liability and state or federal inspections? It's all up to the seller and buyer to negotiate. "Patrons purchasing food for home consumption may enter into private agreements with those producers or processors of local foods to waive any liability for the consumption of that food. Producers or processors of local foods shall be exempt from licensure and inspection requirements for that food as long as those agreements are in effect." Imagine that--buyer and seller can agree to cut out the lawyers. That's almost un-American, isn't it?

This from a press release put out after the vote by supporters:

"Local farmer Bob St.Peter noted the importance of this ordinance for beginning farmers and cottage producers. 'This ordinance creates favorable conditions for beginning farmers and cottage-scale food processors to try out new products, and to make the most of each season's bounty,' said St.Peter. 'My family is already working on some ideas we can do from home to help pay the bills and get our farm going.'

"Mia Strong, Sedgwick resident and local farm patron, was overwhelmed by the support of her town. 'Tears of joy welled in my eyes as my town voted to adopt this ordinance,' said Strong. 'I am so proud of my community. They made a stand for local food and our fundamental rights as citizens to choose that food.'"

The ordinance comes up for a vote in three other Maine towns upcoming--Penobscott, Brooksville, and Blue Hill.

(Thanks to Deborah Evans, a Sedgwick area farmer, for providing information for this post, and the photo above.)

Source / The Complete Patient

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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Moving Through the End of Growth

And Possibly the Collapse of the US
By Richard D. Jehn / January 9, 2012

Although my headline implies catastrophe, and I firmly believe that there are now factors beyond our control that strongly suggest we are in for an unprecedented hard time, this article is actually one of hope and a call to action for those who are inclined. First I will discuss briefly those things I think are conspiring to bring on the collapse of US society. I will conclude the article with things that I believe every one of us should become involved in to make the end of growth easier and the transition to a steady-state economy less painful.

It is now five years since Richard Heinberg published The Party's Over (2nd edition), a chronicle of peak oil and why there are few strategies that will help us come up with the shortage in energy as oil production truly begins to fall. He just published a more encompassing undertaking titled The End of Growth that provides some concrete evidence for things I have begun saying in the past two years.

I believe there are four prime factors which may bring us to economic and social collapse: (1) peak oil (which has just begun to have its effects; gasoline prices will never fall again); (2) climate change (which I now suspect cannot be reversed even if every nation world-wide adopted the equivalent of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change tomorrow); (3) the financial crisis (which is far from over; signs are that the US is even closer to bankruptcy than previously believed); and (4) the crisis of industrial agriculture (which is slowly killing us off, despite its best intentions). There are related factors which are of equal importance that I won't discuss, such as 'peak water' and 'peak food' (see The End of Growth).

I am not an expert on petroleum extraction or any of its related activities. Nonetheless, it is apparent from even casual reading that we have passed the point known as peak oil (where world oil production begins to decline), probably about 5 years ago. Alternative meaningful sources of energy have not seen the level of development that will be necessary to make a smooth transition from oil to something else (although China is pouring significant resources into the development of renewable energy). No matter what we do in the next 20 years, peak oil will have a profound impact on everything about our present-day lives. Remember that a typical grocery store will empty within three days with no truck deliveries, 80% of our electricity is supplied by generation plants that use some form of hydrocarbons, the source of all plastic goods is oil, and a myriad of other things too numerous to list.

Global warming is now a fait accompli in the eyes of most climate scientists world-wide. The polar ice caps are melting, California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico are burning, storms are becoming more intense with each passing season, and we have really just begun to see the first impacts of this new climate regime. I believe that each passing season we will witness more intense storms and greater climate chaos across the globe. I also believe that there is exactly one solution available to us: adaptation. We are no longer capable of reversing the effects of what has begun in earnest, and the impact, particularly on agriculture, will be devastating.

The financial crisis of 2008 was precipitated by a corrupt capitalist system in the US driven by greed, but it was dramatically accelerated by a largely unsupervised financial sector's activities that emulated gambling. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission report provides a large number of reasons for what happened, but what they fail to do adequately is summarize the structural issues that remain and will likely lead to the financial collapse that I believe is imminent. There are now numerous publications (see Reinventing Collapse, The Myth of Endless Growth: Exposing Capitalism's Insustainability, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed) suggesting that capitalism is really at fault.

Do you remember the advertising from the 1950s where some fellow with a deep, resonant voice reminds us that we will achieve "Better Living Through Chemistry"? Industrial agriculture is one of the results of that perspective, as are our toxic bodies and surroundings, numerous poisons used in war, and an endless reliance on unhealthy, unnatural solutions to our problems. Industrial agriculture is frequently touted as the solution to the imminent food shortages world-wide, but in Diet for a Hot Planet, Anna Lappé argues that industrial agriculture may not be necessary to feed a hungry world. Regardless, the use of poisonous substances on our food supply to control pests, weeds, and diseases is counterintuitive at best, sheer stupidity at worst. In more recent years, growth hormones and antibiotics used in raising our meat have yielded horrible results - antibiotic-resistant bacteria, MRSA in hospitals, and the proliferation of truly dangerous diseases that require ever-stronger drugs to combat.

All these negatives do not have to give us a catastrophic outcome; however, we really cannot waste time and we must personally start with concrete positive actions. What I believe has happened is that we have completely disconnected from a large number of the things that actually matter, such as ensuring we have a healthy food supply, expressing compassion for each other, cooperating to achieve common goals.

The first obvious step we all should be taking is to grow our own gardens including preserving the food produced to last the Winter. We should all make every effort to reject industrial agriculture completely, refusing to purchase processed foods, rejecting fruits and vegetables that are treated with chemical herbicides and pesticides (that are mostly based on chemicals left over from previous military research efforts into nasty things like nerve gas) and fertilizers that are based on petroleum products, and also rejecting meats that contain antibiotics and other drug or chemical treatments. Failing to do so could have quite negative impacts personally - cancer or other diseases such as asthma related to poisons in our immediate environment, or less obvious illnesses such as chronic allergies.

The second clear step is to reduce energy usage to the greatest extent possible. This is really not a trivial proposition, since it entails eliminating car travel from your life if you mean it. There is no realistic way that North America is going to keep up its oil/car habit at present levels for very long. The likelihood is that pricing will drive some to stop driving, but for others, it will take more to change their priorities. If you want to be realistic about what is coming, the time to do it is now - get cars out of your life to the extent possible.

Other energy conservation steps would be to install solar panels, or a wind or water power generator for your home, eliminating the purchase of plastics, and taking daily concrete steps to eliminate your reliance on hydrocarbons.

Another necessary step is to recycle everything. In today's world, there is not much excuse for failing to recycle as much as humanly possible, and laziness does not qualify as a good reason. Especially non-renewable natural resources such as mined metals and minerals, and hydrocarbons should be maximally recycled.

Finally, get involved in the Transition movement. Taken from the Transition Whatcom Web site, "The goal of [...] all Transition Initiatives is to create a long term Energy Descent Action Pathway, a blueprint - by the community, for the community - of how to significantly reduce energy use and yet provide for our basic needs in times of energy scarcity." There are other similar organizations that are moving toward a different world, for example Business Alliance for Local Living Economies and all its myriad local organization members such as Bellingham's Sustainable Connections. Get involved as it is very likely that you have a local organization that is doing remarkably good works to turn this planet around.

There are myriad examples of remarkable things happening around the country and around the world. For example, a New England town recently enacted 'food sovereignty' legislation that rejects federal and state overview of the production and distribution of local food. In Diet for a Hot Planet, Anna Lappé relates cases of replacing industrial agriculture with sustainable organic farming with comparable yields and much higher quality produce.

We must reject the status quo capitalist approach and build a new society. Welcome to the New World.


Diamond, Jared. 2005, 2011. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Penguin.
Flannery, Tim. 2010. Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet. Atlantic Monthly Press.
Heinberg, Richard. 2005. The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies, 2nd edition. New Society Publishers.
_______. 2011. The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality. New Society Publishers.
Lappé, Anna. 2010. Diet for a Hot Planet: The climate crisis at the end of your fork and what you can do about it. Bloomsbury.
Orlov, Dmitry. 2008. Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects. New Society Publishers.
Strauss, William. 2010. The Myth of Endless Growth: Exposing Capitalism's Insustainability. Lulu Press.

Fluxed Up World

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Thousand Words ....

Thanks to Kerry Johnson and Demand Progress / Fluxed Up World

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

William Blum: Leaving Iraq with Dishonor

Chris Floyd, The Moscow Times (June 2, 2006): Many observers have compared the methodical murder of 24 innocent civilians by U.S. Marines in the Iraqi town of Haditha (now confirmed by Pentagon and Congressional sources) to the infamous My Lai massacre in Vietnam, when American troops slaughtered hundreds of civilians in a bloody rampage. But this is a false equation, one that gravely distorts the overall reality of the Coalition effort in Iraq. Read more.

The Anti-Empire Report: Iraq. Began with big lies. Ending with big lies. Never forget.
By William Blum / January 3, 2012

"Most people don't understand what they have been part of here," said Command Sgt. Major Ron Kelley as he and other American troops prepared to leave Iraq in mid-December. "We have done a great thing as a nation. We freed a people and gave their country back to them."

"It is pretty exciting," said another young American soldier in Iraq. "We are going down in the history books, you might say." (Washington Post, December 18, 2011)

Ah yes, the history books, the multi-volume leather-bound set of "The Greatest Destructions of One Country by Another." The newest volume can relate, with numerous graphic photos, how the modern, educated, advanced nation of Iraq was reduced to a quasi failed state; how the Americans, beginning in 1991, bombed for 12 years, with one dubious excuse or another; then invaded, then occupied, overthrew the government, tortured without inhibition, killed wantonly, ... how the people of that unhappy land lost everything — their homes, their schools, their electricity, their clean water, their environment, their neighborhoods, their mosques, their archaeology, their jobs, their careers, their professionals, their state-run enterprises, their physical health, their mental health, their health care, their welfare state, their women's rights, their religious tolerance, their safety, their security, their children, their parents, their past, their present, their future, their lives ... More than half the population either dead, wounded, traumatized, in prison, internally displaced, or in foreign exile ... The air, soil, water, blood, and genes drenched with depleted uranium ... the most awful birth defects ... unexploded cluster bombs lying anywhere in wait for children to pick them up ... a river of blood running alongside the Euphrates and Tigris ... through a country that may never be put back together again.

"It is a common refrain among war-weary Iraqis that things were better before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003," reported the Washington Post on May 5, 2007.

No matter ... drum roll, please ... Stand tall American GI hero! And don't even think of ever apologizing or paying any reparations. Iraq is forced by Washington to continue paying reparations to Kuwait for Iraq's invasion in 1990 (an invasion instigated in no small measure by the United States). And — deep breath here! — Vietnam has been compensating the United States. Since 1997 Hanoi has been paying off about $145 million in debts left by the defeated South Vietnamese government for American food and infrastructure aid. Thus, Hanoi is reimbursing the United States for part of the cost of the war waged against it. (William Blum, Rogue State, p.304) How much will the United States pay the people of Iraq?

On December 14, at the Fort Bragg, North Carolina military base, Barack Obama stood before an audience of soldiers to speak about the Iraq war. It was a moment in which the president of the United States found it within his heart and soul — as well as within his oft-praised (supposed) intellect — to proclaim:

This is an extraordinary achievement, nearly nine years in the making. And today, we remember everything that you did to make it possible. ... Years from now, your legacy will endure. In the names of your fallen comrades etched on headstones at Arlington, and the quiet memorials across our country. In the whispered words of admiration as you march in parades, and in the freedom of our children and grandchildren. ... So God bless you all, God bless your families, and God bless the United States of America. ... You have earned your place in history because you sacrificed so much for people you have never met.

Does Mr. Obama, the Peace Laureate, believe the words that come out of his mouth?

Barack H. Obama believes only in being the President of the United States. It is the only strong belief the man holds.

Items of interest from a journal I've kept for 40 years, part VI

  • If the US really believed in 2002-3 that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction why did they send in more than 100,000 troops, who were certain to be annihilated?
  • In a letter released August 17, 2006, 21 former generals and high ranking national security officials called on President George W. Bush to reverse course and embrace a new area of negotiation with Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. The group told reporters Bush's "hard line" policies had undermined national security and made America less safe.
  • Throughout most of the 20th century, the Catholic Church in Latin America taught its flocks of the poor that there was no need to do battle with the ruling elite because the poor would get their just rewards in the afterlife.
  • The US overthrew the Sandinistas in Nicaragua because the Sandinistas "intended to create a country where there was only a colony before." — Eduardo Galeano, Uruguayan writer
  • "[George W.] Bush said last week that part of the purpose of the Indonesia trip 'is to make sure that the people who are suspicious of our country understand our motives are pure'." (Washington Post, October 22, 2003)
  • "Wars may be aberrant experiences in the lives of most human individuals, but some nations are serial aggressors. American society is unique in having been formed almost wholly by processes of aggression against external and internal Others." — The Black Commentator, June 8, 2006
  • President Obama should accompany the military people when they inform parents that their child has died in the latest of America's never-ending wars. And maybe ask George W. to come along as well.
  • During the Vietnam War some University of Michigan students created a brouhaha when they threatened to napalm a puppy dog on the steps of a campus building. The uproar of indignation at their cruelty was heard nationwide. Of course, when the time came they didn't do it, having successfully made the point that people cared more about napalming a dog than they did about napalming people.
  • "It's a lie and an illusion that we have an inefficient government. This government is only inefficient if you think its job is, as stated in the Constitution, 'to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.' These objectives are beyond our government's talents only because they are beyond its intentions." — Michael Ventura
  • "Get some new lawyers" - US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook when he told her he was informed that the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 (which Albright championed) was illegal under international law.
  • The two countries of the world, along with the United States, which have the greatest national obsession with baseball are two of the main targets of US foreign policy: Venezuela and Cuba.
  • The Cuban Five case: This is the first case in American history of alleged spying and espionage without a single page from a secret document. The government never presented any evidence of a stolen official document or any attempt to steal an official document. This is the first spy case without secrets from the government. (Read more)
  • "If a bomb is deliberately dropped on a house or a vehicle on the grounds that a 'suspected terrorist' is inside, the resulting deaths of women and children may not be intentional. But neither are they accidental. The proper description is 'inevitable'. So if an action will inevitably kill innocent people, it is as immoral as a deliberate attack on civilians." — Howard Zinn
  • "The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Saturday to impose limited sanctions on North Korea for its recent missile tests, and demanded that the reclusive communist nation suspend its ballistic missile program." (Associated Press, July 15, 2006) ... Internet commentator: "Test some missiles that land harmlessly in the ocean? Unanimous condemnation. Fire some missiles at targets on land, kill hundreds of people, and destroy hundreds of civilian targets including power plants, airports, roads, bridges, TV stations, etc., all in violation of the Geneva Convention? Hey, no problem."
  • For some nine years, American B-52 bombers relentlessly dropped tons of ordnance on a southeast Asian country (Vietnam) that still cultivated rice fields using draft animals.
  • "The messianism of American foreign policy is a remarkable thing. When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks it seems like Khrushchev reporting to the party congress: 'The whole world is marching triumphantly toward democracy but some rogue states prefer to stay aside from that road, etc. etc'." — Natalia Narochnitskaya, vice chairman of the international affairs committee in the State Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament. (Washington Post, April 3, 2006)
  • Washington ... Propagandistan
  • The bulldozer, driven by an Israeli army soldier on assignment to demolish a home, rolled over Rachel Corrie, who was 23 years old. She had taken a nonviolent position for human rights; she lost her life as a result. But she was rarely praised in the same US media outlets that had gone into raptures over the image of a solitary unarmed man standing in front of Chinese tanks at the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre. — Norman Solomon
  • American sovereignty hasn't faced a legitimate foreign threat to its existence since the British in 1812.
  • There are two major patterns in foreign policy: the rule of force or the rule of law. On February 8, 1819 the US decided, after a very long debate in the House, to reject the rule of law in foreign policy. The vote was 100 to 70 against requiring the Congress to approve illegal invasions of other countries or peoples. This pertained to the "Seminole War", actually the invasion of Florida. Since then every president has had the right to "defend America", code words for the use of force against whomever he chooses. — Kelly Gelgering

Source / Anti-Empire Report

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Our Current Economic Situation Is a Choice !!! And We Can Change the Choice If We Want

How We Got Here With the Economy and How to Get Out
By Robert Freeman / January 1, 2012

It’s easy to get fixated with small-bore issues on the economy, even if they don’t seem so small-bore at the time. Stimulus packages. Bailouts. Debt ceilings. Deficit commissions. Payroll tax-cut extensions. They seem like life and death issues while they’re being fought out.

But, in fact, they are distractions from the one real question that dominates all others, which is this: for whom should the economy be run? Should it be operated “to promote the general welfare” of 297 million people, the 99 percent? Or should it be run to benefit 3 million, the one percent?

Right now, the answer is that the economy is a machine, with the government as its operator, for transferring two hundred years of accumulated national wealth to those who are already the most wealthy, the one percent. And we should be clear about two things: this is a choice; and it’s working. The rich are getting much richer while everyone else is being stripped of their incomes, their assets, their retirement security, and all the elements of the social safety net enacted since the Great Depression.

Until we confront the fact that the collective impoverishment of the many for the selective enrichment of the few is a choice — the consequence of an explicit policy regime going back 30 years — nothing will change. But if we can muster the maturity to confront this fact, that we are here by choice, and find the courage to act on it, we might yet be able to save the country. If we do not, then we are surely lost.

To understand how we got here, we need to quickly review the economic history of the last sixty years. Then we can discuss what to do going forward.

At the end of World War II, the U.S. bestrode the world like a colossus. Its only industrial rival, Europe, had blown its brains out 30 years before, in World War I. And it did it again, in World War II, with Japan joining in. In the history of the world, there has never been such asymmetry in power between one country and all the rest.

It was U.S. capital that rebuilt its allies’ economies, through the Marshall Plan in Europe, and through military spending in Asia. U.S. factories boomed, to service not only its own vast and ravenous market, but those of all the rest of the world. All the equipment (and much of the food) to rebuild the industrial world came from America.

It was truly the Golden Age. There was enough wealth so that capital, labor, and government could all drink deeply from the seemingly inexhaustible spring of capitalism.

But by the 1960s something began to go wrong. Our allies’ economies had by then been rebuilt, and with the newest equipment and technologies. Theirs were more efficient than ours. The Volkswagens and Toyotas that would later become a tsunami began to trickle in. Same with the Sonys and Panasonics in consumer electronics. Shipbuilding, steel, machine tools, industrial electronics and other major industries began to migrate out of the U.S. and into the hands of foreign companies.

At the same time, the then-99% began to place serious claims on national resources, and to insist on being a player in major national decisions.

Johnson launched the Great Society program withthe goal of eradicating poverty. The women’s rights movement, the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, and the environmental movement all proved dramatically effective in redirecting national priorities and resources away from those favored by the wealthy elites and toward those of the rest of the people.

In other words, at exactly the time the profits of corporations were under assault by growing international competition, the people began to claim a greater share of society’s fruits. It couldn’t square. There was not enough output from the faltering economy to both satisfy people’s expectations of middle class affluence and economic security and capital’s demands for higher and higher returns. Something had to give.

Equally, the elites who had run the country for decades were indignant at the presumption of a mangy mob of un-bathed, pot-smoking, long-haired, bra-less, draft card-burning, tree-hugging hooligans who didn’t even have a job but wanted a seat at the table of national decision-making (sound familiar?). They were certainly never again going to allow such a scabrous cabal to decide that the country should not fight a major war (Vietnam) that was so enriching to the elites who had lied the country into it.

So the elites decided to take “their” country back.

The election of 1980 was the real watershed in modern American history. Ronald Reagan ran for president promising to cut taxes, increase military spending, and balance the budget — all at the same time. He called it “supply side economics.” His rival for the Republican nomination, George H.W. Bush, called it “voodoo economics” which, of course, it was. But people bought it and Reagan proceeded to rearrange economic power more substantially than at any time since Roosevelt enacted the New Deal.

Reagan cut marginal tax rates on the wealthy from 75% to 35%. At the same time, he dramatically increased military spending. The result was entirely predictable: with less money coming in but more going out, the government began to run massive deficits. Where Jimmy Carter’s worst deficit was $79 billion, Reagan was soon running deficits of $150 billion a year, year after year and increasing.

By 1992, the end of George H.W. Bush’s presidency, the annual deficit had reached $292 billion. In only 12 years, the supply side “revolution” had quadrupled the nation’s debt, from $1 trillion to $4 trillion. And this, in a time of peace and prosperity.

But that was always the hidden intention of supply side economics, to bind the nation to massive debts, debts from which it would never be released. Despite their sanctimonious pretenses, Republicans love debt because they are lenders. When there is more demand for debt, as when the government borrows hundred of billions of dollar a year, it commands a higher price, which is interest. This is simply supply and demand. And if you’re a lender, higher interest rates are better. This is why, even though Republicans controlled the White House for 26 of the past 40 years, they never once in any of those years produced a single balanced budget.

Clinton came to power in 1993 but proved an ambiguous leader, at least from standpoint of economics. He once described himself as “an Eisenhower Republican” which seems fair. He did raise marginal tax rates on the rich, but only from 36% to 39%. (They were at 75% under the real Eisenhower.) For this, he was pilloried as a socialist. Worse, after the fall of the Soviet Union he cut military spending as a percent of GDP to the lowest level since before Vietnam.

With lower military spending, slightly higher taxes on the rich, and a technology-driven economic boom, Clinton was able to pay down the deficits left to him by Bush I. By 1997, the government actually produced budgetary surpluses, the first since the 1960s. The consequence was a 40% fall in long term interest rates. Again, it was simply supply and demand. With less demand for borrowed money, rates fell.

This is the real reason Clinton was so relentlessly hounded by the right. It wasn’t because he was being serviced by a stalking intern, though he played into that one with astonishing recklessness. It was because he interfered with the three primary mechanisms for transferring wealth to the already-wealthy: tax cuts, massive military spending, and skyrocketing national debt.

The rest of Clinton’s economic legacy is far less positive. He pushed through NAFTA, pitting blue collar workers from the industrial Midwest against workers in Mexico making $1 an hour. He “ended welfare as we know it,” destroying an essential element of the social safety net. He enacted telecommunications “reform” that ended up as grotesque consolidation in the nation’s media, to where five companies now control more than 80% of the nation’s media.

But by far the most damaging of Clinton’s economic accomplishments was the deregulation of the finance industry. He overturned Glass-Steagall, the Depression-era law that separated commercial and investment banking. Together with his deregulation of derivatives, what Warren Buffet called “financial weapons of mass destruction,” this opened the economy to what would be the financial mad house of the first decade of the twenty-first century.

George W. Bush took office in 2001 and would serve the very wealthy in six important ways. First, he cut their taxes substantially, first in 2001 and again in 2003. Over their life, the Bush Tax Cuts for the top 1% will cost more than it would take to restore Social Security to solvency forever.

Second, he massively increased military spending with his fraudulently-justified and incompetently-prosecuted War in Iraq, and his equally-over-hyped and phony Global War on Terror.

As with Reagan, these two actions produced his third gift to his “base,” as he called the rich: massive deficits. He turned Clinton’s budget surpluses into deficits within one year. He would eventually double the national debt in only eight years, from $5.6 trillion to $12 trillion.

Fourth, he helped major industrial corporations move some seven million high paying manufacturing jobs out of the country, to low-wage countries where they could pay less for labor while putting downward pressure on American wages.

Fifth, he turned a blind eye as the financial industry carried out one of the greatest economic frauds in American history: the housing bubble.

Bush’s ideological soul-mate, Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, held interest rates at historically low levels to induce a boom in housing. This created illusory “wealth” that served to distract and pacify the working class as their jobs were being shipped overseas. He turned a blind eye to massive fraud in mortgage lending so that busboys, bartenders, gardeners, and day workers could buy homes they could never hope to afford. And he encouraged the securitzation of mortgages so that banks could offload the toxic sludge to unsuspecting buyers around the world. It was all so carefully engineered.

However, as had happened in the 1960s, something started to go wrong. Incomes began to fall as jobs were shipped overseas. The Iraq war caused oil prices to jump from $26 a barrel the day Bush took office to over $100 a barrel. It was a massive gain for the oil companies, his family’s business, but the inflationary effect coursed through everything in the economy. The busboys couldn’t make the notes on their houses, so started unloading them. But there were no “greater fools” left to buy them so prices started a downward avalanche which is still under way.

Since the height of the bubble in 2006, more than $8 trillion of housing wealth has been wiped out. Eleven million homes have been lost to foreclosure. More than one in four mortgages are underwater, with more owed on them than the home is worth. The share of home equity owned by homeowners themselves is now at the lowest level it has been since World War II. The balance has been transferred from the owners to the mortgage holders, the banks.

But the banks, in an almost psychotic orgy of greed, had leveraged their equity 30-to-1. They borrowed 30 dollars for every one dollar they held in capital. It makes for prodigious profits when prices are rising. If they go up only 3% (1/30) you double your investment! But if prices fall by 3%, your capital is wiped out. That is what actually happened. Housing prices, inflated far beyond what a rational market could bear, fell for the first time in American history. The banks went bankrupt. That was the financial collapse of late 2008.

Fortunately for the banks, Bush and his Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, formerly head of Goldman Sachs, were there to bestow the sixth and greatest gift on the wealthy: they bailed out the banks and their owners.

They arranged for the Treasury and the Federal Reserve to buy the banks’ toxic sludge so they wouldn’t have to take any losses on it. They paid 100 cents on the dollar for crap securities that that couldn’t fetch 20 cents on the dollar in open markets. They gave the banks trillions of dollars of loans at effectively no interest. And they allowed the banks to print trillions of dollars which they then used to inflate commodity and stock markets around the world, greatly enriching their wealthy owners.

What Bush and company didn’t do was require any givebacks from the banks. No equity. No firings. No changes in bonuses. No regulation of explosive derivatives. No restructuring of “too big to fail.” No settlements with consumers for intentionally defective mortgages. No re-investment in the economy they had plundered. And certainly, no prosecutions for any of the willful perpetrators of the Greatest Economic Collapse Since the Great Depression.

By 2009, Obama inherited an economy in free fall, for which he is perhaps owed some sympathy. But his policy responses have been inept at best, complicit at worst. He carried through with Bush’s bailout of the banks, passed phony “financial reform” which changed nothing, and studiously refused to prosecute any wrong-doing. He pushed through a tepid stimulus package where fully one third went to tax cuts for the wealthy. And he groveled to get a payroll tax cut that, in fact, does more to damage Social Security than anything any Republican president has ever managed.

In many other ways, however, he has proven to be Clinton II, or Bush III. He staffed his economic team with the very intellectual lights — Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, Ben Bernanke — who had engineered the Collapse, ensuring that capital’s right to pillage would not be qustioned. He went back on his word to fight for a public option that would have lowered the cost of health care insurance. He waved through the Bush tax cuts, not once but twice.

He never attempted anything so ambitious as a Rooseveltian jobs program. He made sure the Copenhagen climate talks failed so as to not burden American industrialists. He more than tripled Bush II’s deficits. And in his most damning assault on the economic security of more than 80 million Americans, he “put Social Security on the table” as part of his budget negotiations. With “friends” like this we should pray for enemies. At least we would know them for what they are.

Which brings us to today.

Over 56 million people are in poverty. The Census Bureau reports that half of all Americans (!) are in or near poverty. Almost 30% of those in the middle class have fallen out of it, and the rate of collapse is accelerating. A smaller share of men have jobs today than at any time since World War II. The past ten year’s wage gains have been the worst for any ten year period in the nation’s history, even worse than during the Great Depression.

The national debt that stood at $1 trillion when Reagan took office now exceeds $15 trillion. Debt as a percent of GDP is higher than it was in 1929, the year before the Great Depression. Meanwhile, corporate profits are at record highs, with corporations sitting on $2 trillion in cash, not investing it in the economy. They have $1.3 trillion parked in offshore tax havens like the Cayman Islands, out of reach of U.S. tax collectors.

Who could have imagined we could have fallen so far, and so quickly? Actually, in retrospect, it all makes sense. As wealth was steadily transferred upward and incomes were undermined, the damaging effects were masked by increased recourse to debt, both public and private. And the debt itself served to both accelerate and consolidate the transfer. But eventually the burden of payments became too much for an enfeebled workforce to carry and the whole thing came crashing down.

Any meaningful recovery will require a major investment by the federal government. The combination of lost incomes and lost consumer wealth have undercut the ability of consumers to generate demand, leaving the government as the only agent in the economy with the capacity to do the job. Clearly, private markets are not going to do it. Indeed, corporations have learned how to prosper mightily by crushing their American workers, a truly dysfunctional state of affairs that cannot stand.

The government should invest in the nation’s infrastructure which the American Society of Civil Engineers rates a “D”, down from “D+” only three years ago. This would employ potentially millions of now-unemployed workers, turning unemployment checks into tax payments to the Treasury. It would also bring the platform on which all the rest of the economy operates up to twenty-first century standards. Fortunately, the government can borrow long term at 2%, a fraction of the payback from such investments.

I’ve written elsewhere about a Manhattan Project-like investment in a green economy. Such an investment would revive employment, restore American competitiveness, help pay down the national debt, reduce our crippling dependency on middle east oil, and reduce carbon emissions into the environment. In all of these ways, it would be a win for virtually everybody in the economy, everybody in the nation, and for much of the planet.

I say “virtually” because it would not benefit those who have wrecked the economy and profited so mightily in the process: the money lenders, who would see less demand for borrowed money; the weapons makers, who would face a less hostile world; and the oil companies, whose crippling grip on the economy would be reduced. And we shouldn’t have any illusions about how hard these forces will fight to ensure that nothing changes. They will, and unless we fight back, well, nothing will change.

It is important to state once again that virtually all of the predation, all of the plunder of the last thirty years has been a policy choice, primarily enacted by Republicans, but more and more abetted by Democrats who have thrown in for a piece of the action. It’s also important to understand that nothing has changed in carrying out the agenda. Obama is as much about true “Hope” and “Change” as Bush was about “Compassionate Conservatism.” In fact, he and his wealthy masters are accelerating the looting.

Military spending is still growing at almost double digit rates after a decade of such increases. He is clearly going to put the knife into Social Security and Medicare when re-elected. He clearly has no plan, no “grand narrative” to restore the nation to prosperity. He clearly will not, can not, go after the banking industry, his biggest underwriter. And he gives all the signals of starting a war with Iran, which will make Iraq look like a silly child’s board-game gone awry.

The wealthy elites, fronted by Obama, have effectively abandoned the U.S. economy and the American people who are trapped inside. What this means is that the elections of 2012 are the last chance for the American people to reclaim their economic security, to fight off the neo-feudal servitude that is being foisted on them, and reclaim their political self-determination. As you can see from the above, most of the damage to the economy is the result of political decisions made to carry out nefarious economic ends. And they’ve worked.

We desperately need to elect a reliably progressive Congress to serve as an effective counterweight to the hopelessly corrupt, craven, and cowardly Obama and company. We need to demonstrate that it is people, not money, and not rigged voting machines, that still matter most in American elections. We need every man, woman, and child on deck with a sense of existential urgency that if we do not reclaim our country now, it will be lost forever. For it will.

In the American Revolution, Thomas Paine declared, “We have the chance to make the world anew.” He was thinking of the escape from the European world of economic feudalism, social privilege, and political autocracy. Today, we have one last chance to save that “new world” from the retrograde civilization it pulled itself out of, but whose claim on it has never been renounced.

If we can muster a Paine-like courage to fight and win this new Revolution, the Revolution to Save the Country, we shall be worthy of respect equal to that which we reserve for Paine and his fellow Founders. If we do not, we will get what we deserve. As with so much of the past thirty years, it’s our choice.
Robert Freeman

[Robert Freeman teaches history and economics at a public high school in northern California. He is the founder of One Dollar For Life, a national non-profit that helps American schools build schools in the developing world with donations of one dollar. He can be reached at]

Source / Common Dreams

Fluxed Up World

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