Saturday, December 31, 2011

Obama, GOP set stage for 2012 war in Iran

(Map of US Bases surrounding Iran)

[NEW: See Short Video reviewing the last 60 years of History between Iran and the USA at the end of this post]

From his home in Hawaii, President Barack Obama signed the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act into law today, imposing the strongest economic sanctions to date on Iran, and increasing the probabilities of oil disruptions, rising gasoline prices, and military conflict.

The current sanctions are in response to Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear program, which Iran claims is for energy production, but which is suspected of developing weapons. Sanctions on Iran by the United States, however, go back long before the nuclear program. Sanctions started in 1980, when US Embassy workers were taken hostage for 444 days in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution that toppled the US-backed Shah. These sanctions prohibited almost all trade with Iran, except for activity "intended to benefit the Iranian people", including the export of medical and agricultural equipment to Iran, humanitarian assistance, and "informational" materials such as films and publications. Under the bill signed today, entities doing business with Iran’s central bank (Bank Markazi) will be prohibited from access to the US banking system, thus potentially crippling Iran’s ability to receive revenue from its oil exports.

According to BBC, “The bill specifically targets anyone doing business with Iran's central bank [and is] an attempt to force other countries to choose between buying oil from Iran or being blocked from any dealings with the U.S. economy.” The sanctions apply to foreign governments as well as to private companies.

Speaking anonymously, some U.S. officials believe that Tehran will view the bill signing itself as an act of war. The move could push Iran to take drastic measures, including an attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz, the world's busiest shipping lane for crude oil, with its ample supply of marine mines. 20% of the worlds crude oil passes through the Straight of Hormuz; a blockade of the Straight would send oil prices skyrocketing. Even if Iran chooses not to take this action, fear on world markets of the mere possibility of oil disruptions will likely lead to speculation at the New York Mercantile Exchange, where traders will be placing purchase and sale orders for millions of gallons of future deliveries of crude oil, creating lucrative profits for commodity traders and oil companies.

Iranian officials view the sanctions as an intolerable assault on the country's economy and have vowed to retaliate. Israel’s Ha’aretz News Service quoted Iran's Revolutionary Guard Deputy Chief Hossein Salami as saying, "If they impose sanctions on Iran's oil exports, then even one drop of oil cannot flow from the Strait of Hormuz." Pentagon officials said they would meet the closing of the Hormuz straight with force.

Meanwhile, in a game of one-upsmanship, Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, speaking in a campaign appearance in Iowa today, renewed his call for a proactive overthrow of the Iranian regime by the US through covert operations. All of the GOP candidates (with the stark and notable exception of Ron Paul) have called for tougher provisions against Iran.

For Iran’s part, it notes that the United States currently occupies 43 different military bases in the immediate vicinity of Iran; Pakistan, Russia, the US, and, it is widely suspected, Israel, all have nuclear weapon capability in the area.

It would appear that US soldiers are leaving Iraq just in time to return to Iran.

The bill also includes a highly controversial (and Unconstitutional) provision permitting terrorism suspects – including American citizens - to be held in detention indefinitely without a trial. While President Obama downplayed this clause by promising that his administration "will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens," he was contradicted by a senior administration official who explained that the President "is not saying that a U.S. citizen can never be held in military custody."


Friday, December 30, 2011

Progressive-Libertarian Coalition: Ron Paul, Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich & Noam Chomsky

Will the American People throw off the false Left-Right Paradigm and the Republican-Democratic Duopoly?

(Let's hope so...)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Year in Review: The Top 10 News Stories of 2011

From this Blogger's perspective, here are the top 10 news stories of 2011. Each was chosen based on their potential on-going long-term effects on humanity. In no particular order, they are:

1) The Arab Spring: Erupting in Tunisia and spreading across the Arab world, the entire year was characterized by protests and political changes in Northern Africa and the Middle East. Regime changes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, as well as on-going protests in a dozen nations (currently (most serious in Syria and Yemen) represent serious winds of change throughout the geo-political sphere. A timeline of protests throughout the Arab world can be found at The Guardian

2) Weather Extremes and Global Warming: Once a matter of debate, the vast majority of the world’s climatologists agree that global warming is happening at an even faster rate than expected, with significant changes in the ocean temperatures and subsequent weather patterns. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there were an all-time record of twelve weather disasters costing more than $1 billion each in 2011 (for a total of 45 billion dollars in damage). The previous record was nine such disasters in 2008. Weather events included a blizzard across much of North America on February 2, record wilfires in the US west, a tornado outbreak that levelled Joplin, Missouri, Hurricane Irene (which uncharacteristically inundated and devastated inland communities in Vermont and Upstate New York), and a foot-and-half snowfall at Halloween in the northeast US. Elsewhere, record high temperatures were recorded in Iraq and Kuwait, an all-time record low volume of Arctic sea was recorded, record floods inundated Australia and Asia, and the worst droughts in three decades affected Africa.

3) Osama bin Laden Killed: A decade after he masterminded the 9/11 attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center, Osama bin Laden was killed in a surgical strike on his hideout in Pakistan. This represented the most visible and significant victory in the global fight against terrorism and the al Qaeda organization.

4) New York State Enacts Marriage Equality: Four days after its scheduled adjournment for the season, the New York State Senate gave its approval to Marriage Equality by a larger-than expected margin of 33-29 when four Republicans broke rank and joined the majority of Democrats, making New York the seventh and largest jurisdiction in the US to permit same-sex marriage. Full story at Tully's Page

5) Occupy Wall Street and Police Brutality: Beginning on September 17 in New York City, the “Occupy Wall Street” movement in many ways inaugurated an American version of the Arab Spring. Spreading to other cities across the nation, thousands of Americans from all walks of life took to the streets to protest persistent unemployment, indebtedness, foreclosures and economic injustice in raw juxtaposition to the trillions of bailouts received by Wall Street financial houses and executives. The movement elicited a brutal response by police forces, and the use of pepper spray against peaceful protesters, young women, and veterans became a national outrage. The movement propelled Time magazine to name “The Protester” as it’s Person of the Year.

6) Federal Reserve Bailouts Revealed: For almost 100 years, the Federal Reserve System, which serves as the nations Central Bank, operated without an audit or significant political oversight. In the aftermath of the bank bailouts commencing in 2008, Congress began looking into the Fed’s activities using taxpayer dollars. In all, it was revealed that over 16 trillion in secret unpaid loans were made to both American and foreign banks. Sen. Bernie Sanders

7) Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Meltdown in Japan: On March 11, an 8.9 Magnitude earthquake rocked Japan, the worst earthquake in modern history. Over 16,000 people died from the quake and the tsunami that followed. When the Fukushima Daiichi power plant site in Fukushima was inundated by a 49-foot high tsunami wave, the nuclear reactors could not be cooled, began to overheat, and meltdowns began at three of the reactors. What followed was a release of radioactive cesium, evacuation of the surrounding area, and subsequent government and industry cover-ups of the extent of radiation. Fukushima Radiation

8) John Wheeler Murdered: On New Year’s Eve, after the death of 100,000 fish and 5,000 blackbirds in Arkansas, John P. Wheeler, a decades-long government expert in toxic chemicals, was found murdered in a dump as he was en route to Washington DC. The kills and murder came in the wake of the US Government’s Pine Bluffs Arsenal "disposal” of mustard and nerve gas in the area, as well as active “fracking” by energy companies. The incidences awakened a national concern for the environmental effects of these activities, and was the single most visited and cited webpage on this site: John Wheeler

9) Milton Hershey Rejects HIV Positive Student: In an almost incomprehensible burst of ignorance, prejudice, and chutzpah, the highly-vaunted Milton Hershey School (a private, tuition-free boarding school), issued a statement coinciding with World AIDs Day explaining their refusal to admit a student due to his HIV positive status, in direct violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Outrage was swift, and brought additional publicity to continuing ignorance about HIV transmission. Milton Hershey

10) European Debt Crisis: Beginning in Greece, the ability of some Eurozone member nations to repay their government debts created continental – and global – concern. Ireland, once seen as the “Celtic Tiger” for its explosive, high-tech-driven growth found itself enacting austerity measures and slashing government spending; Italy, Portugal, and Spain found themselves in a similar condition. The downgrading of these nations bonds began a record weakening of the Euro against the US Dollar that continued throughout the year. A weakened Euro makes it more difficult for the Eurozone members to purchase American goods, endangering the US recovery.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Thoughts....

Uzzah was a really good guy, but God blasted him. At least that’s how the story goes in the sixth chapter of 2 Samuel.

According to the story, the Israelites were transporting the Ark of the Covenant, the divinely-ordained chest that contained the tablets of the 10 Commandments (a replica of which was the central feature in the original Indiana Jones movie). By command, no mere human was allowed to touch the Ark. But in the sectarian wars that characterized (and continue to characterize) the Middle East, the Ark was captured by The Philistines, and then recaptured by David and the Israelites. Uzzah and his brother had the Ark placed on a cart driven by oxen to transport it back home.

This past summer I took the kids apple-picking at a large local orchard. We rode in the back of a cart pulled by horses out to the fruit trees. It was not smooth. Each hole and bump and uneven patch of ground was magnified by the cart as we bounced around up top. I have no doubt that an oxen-drawn cart through the Palestinian wilderness saw its share of bumps. And in fact, one such bump so jolted the cart that Uzzah, walking and watching behind, reached out his hand to steady the Ark from falling or being damaged.

And instantly, we are told, God struck him dead.

The books of the Torah give us ample examples of the mind of ancient peoples concerning the chasm-like division between God and Humankind, between Clean and Unclean, between Holy and Profane. The Levitical purity laws carefully divide much of life: Sheep, Deer, Locusts, and Fish are clean; rabbits, dogs, oysters and ostriches are not. All dead animals and all diseased people, and everything they touch, are unclean. Women are unclean during their period and after childbirth; men and everything they touch is unclean for any day in which they emit semen.

The extension of the these purity laws is two-fold:

First, anytime something “unclean” touched someone or something “clean,” that which was clean became defiled and unclean.

Second, God was so pure that when the impure came into contact with His purity – they were destroyed (as in Uzzah’s case).

It is for these reasons that, unlike many Christians, I see Christmas – not Easter – as the theological touchstone of faith.

At the Incarnation, as the Nicene Creed states, “He [Jesus] was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and Virgin Mary…”

Uzzah touched the Holiness of God and was killed for it; Mary came into direct contact with the Spirit of God, and henceforth, “all generations will call me Blessed!”

The Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ earthly ministry, in which he touched leprous body parts, prostitutes, half-breed Samaritans, women with “issues of blood,” dead children, the epileptic, the deranged, and unclean men and women of all varieties.

At no point does the touch of God strike any of these people down.

At no point does Jesus send anyone away as “unclean,” nor does he fear becoming unclean by their presence or touch.

If anything, the unclean are made clean. The fear that those who are “different” will infect and affect the “pure” is reversed: now, the different and the ‘unclean’ are brought into wholeness and community with the rest of society.

For me, the message of Christmas is not found in the familiar, heart-warming oohs and aahhs of a poor little newborn baby… but in the world-shaking change in attitude towards divisions in society, especially attitudes towards those who are ‘different.’

Many who claim to follow Christ – both politicians and harsh religious leaders – continue to operate in a world of clean vs. unclean, and under the fear that what is ‘different’ will infect everyone else. From telling the poor to “take a bath and get a job,” to dismissing immigrants as illegal law-breakers, to denying the poor who are seeking society’s crumbs to have food on the table and oil in their heater, to the irrational fear that some people’s love will ‘destroy traditional marriage and the foundations of society,’ to the fear-based refusal to permit an HIV-positive student to attend school, to blaming those who have lost their homes for their own foolishness, to refusing an interracial couple the right to marry….there is a blindness to the true Christmas message.

The Old Testament prophets that ‘set the stage’ for this theological change were strident in their condemnation of a divided society:

Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.'
– Zechariah 7:10

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?"

- Isaiah 58:6-7

Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds! At morning's light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud a man of his home, a fellowman of his inheritance. – Micah 2:1-2

Christmas and the Gospels show us that the artificial division between ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ is to come to an end: that holiness and godliness extends to all of humanity. And so, on this Christmas, my hope and prayer is that our tendency to see ‘an enemy, ‘ or ‘a danger,’ or ‘an evil’ in others based on any of the innumerable differences we have, will be swallowed by an intentional effort to recognize our common humanity instead.

Merry Christmas! I'm now going to enjoy some good, unclean shrimp...


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Newt Gingrich: wrong on Palestine, Pandering for Fundamentalist votes

Growing up in a political family on the south shore of Long Island, I became aware of New York’s ethnic voting patterns at a very early age. Like all of the New York City metro area, Long Island was carved into small “election districts,” (the equivalent of a city “ward”) in order to be able to handle the large number of voters on election day. And like many New York neighborhoods, these districts had distinct ethnic ‘flavors.’

Our district was “the Fifteenth,” a neighborhood of working class, blue-collar Germans, Irish, and more recent Italians. I could stand on our street corner and see six houses where the fathers volunteered in the local fire department. Most of the houses were small, many of them one-story “bungalows.” And the “Fifteenth” was famous for bringing in the largest Republican margin of any district in town – often over 80%.

We were balanced by the “Seventeenth,” a district of relatively new split ranches and colonials, where Jewish professional families dominated. As a rule, the 17th could be counted on to turn out a Democratic margin as large as the Fifteenth’s Republican margin. In fact, one could easily determine the predominant ethnic makeup of Long Island neighborhoods simply by looking at election returns. Jewish and black districts consistently returned lopsided Democratic margins; older blue-collar, german-irish 'clamdigger' neighborhoods were staunch Republican.

But in the last few decades, an interesting phenomenon has occurred: as the Republican Party has been captured by the fringe Religious-Right, it has seen an opportunity to mobilize and capture parts of the “Jewish” vote, especially among the more conservative Orthodox Jewish communities.

One of the theological hallmarks of fundamentalist, “Literal-Bible” Protestantism is the belief that the Second Coming of Christ will be heralded by the re-establishment of the State of Israel, the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, and Christ’s last-ditch effort to convince Jews to accept him. This belief is precisely what launched the series of end-time Prophecy books and campaigns launched by Hal Lindsay, who profited nicely from his book (and subsequent movie), “The Late Great Planet Earth” in 1970. Initially popular in Pentecostal circles, the idea that “true” Bible-believing Christians had to provide unwavering support of Israel became a common premise throughout conservative Christianity. As this demographic votes heavily in Republican primary elections and caucuses, the opportunity for an alliance between Fundamentalist Protestantism and Orthodox Jews - based on support for Israel and social conservatism - became more evident.

In spite of the fact that New York City is 5:1 Democratic, Borough Park Brooklyn – a largely Hassidic Jewish community – votes Republican. Kiryas Joel, NY - the only community in America where Yiddish is the primary language – has often supported Republicans because of an alliance with the GOP over local school control. This pattern has emerged all over New York’s Hassidic communities, prompting national GOP conservative operatives like Eric Cantor to make personal visits to these communities encouraging their support for GOP candidates.

The Christian Right's embrace of unquestioned support for Israel (on theological grounds) and hatred of Muslim peoples (on racist grounds) is now complete. And in Iowa, the first caucus of the Presidential marathon, the Christian right is powerful: In 1988, goofy Televangelist Pat Robertson came in second place, defeating George H W Bush, and in 2008, Evangelical darling Mike Huckabee took first place.

So it is no accident, and should come as no surprise, that GOP Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich recently dismissed Palestinians as “an invented people.”

Let me say before going any further, that I am a supporter of Israel. Having been raised in a heavily Jewish community, and hearing my friends and classmates relate the stories of the holocaust they learned from their own grandparents and parents – I find it hard not to share in the human necessity that is the land of Israel. Having said that, that does not imply blind support of its government. One can be a patriotic American without blindly supporting everything America does; similarly, one can be a supporter of Israel without blindly supporting everything her government does.

Unless, of course, you’re a Theocrat who believes that God is directing the Israeli Government's actions. Or a Pandering Politician seeking to establish as extreme a position as possible in order to win the fundamentalist voting block.

And so, in an interview with The Jewish Channel, Gingrich said:

"Remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we've had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places."

For someone claiming to be the highest-paid “Historian” in history while working for Freddie Mac, Newt has a very poor grasp of history. His statements above are simply nonsense, for the following reasons:

1) One doesn’t need to have a legal ‘country’ with boundaries in order to be a ‘nation’ or a ‘people.’ The Kurds are scattered throughout Iraq, Iran, and Turkey, and never had a country of their own; they are still a recognized ‘people.’ The Lakota have not had a land of their own since they were contained on reservations in the Great Plains in the 1880s, but they are still a recognizable people. And the Romani (“Gypsies”) never had a land of their own, but they are certainly a recognized people group.

2) Calling Palestinians “Arabs” is like calling all white caucasians “Europeans.” Yes, in a very broad human-family sense, we may say that Italians, Swedes, and Bosnians are “Europeans,” but their sense of nationhood are vastly different. Palestinians may share Arab genetics, but if Gingrich wishes to be a world leader, he better understand that Egyptians, Syrians, Saudis, Lebanese, and yes, Palestinians, all see themselves primarily as members of their specific ethnic, national group...not of some pan-continental “Arab” nation. The use of the term "Palestinians" to refer to the areas people is mentioned in Egyptian texts in 5 BC, in 250 Biblical references, among ancient Greeks, and in writings from the Byzantine empire. It is not 'an invention.'

3) Suggesting that Palestinians should “go elsewhere” is a cruel and brutal comment that borders on ethnic cleansing (and reminiscent of comments uttered in the 1800s about Native American nations). With unemployment exceeding 30%, 50% of Palestinians living in the West Bank live below the poverty level. The hardships resulting from living under refugee-lifestyles, military checkpoints, blockades on Gaza and “The Wall” on the West Point have exacerbated tensions between Israelis and Palestinians and increased the wealth disparity between the peoples.

At the 2007 Annapolis Conference, the Fatah government of the Palestinian West Bank, the Israelis and the Americans agreed on a two-state solution (Israel and Palestine) to the conflict. More than two-thirds of the nations in the world – including most in the western hemisphere – have already acknowledged Palestine as an existing independent state with uncertain borders (not a unique situation, since the borders between India and China, and between Saudi Arabia and Oman, remain undefined).

It is hard to believe that Gingrich’s comments are based on ignorance. If the Israelis have accepted the eventual reality of a Palestinian State, why can't Newt?

Because his disdainful and dismissive comments about Palestine have everything to do with pandering for knee-jerk Theocratic votes in the Iowa caucus, at the expense of a true Stateman's role: that of peace-making and supporting the yearnings of humanity.


Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Problem with an "Anti-Corporate Personhood" Amendment

Across the country, one of the rallying cries of the “Occupy” Movement has been the demand to eliminate “Corporate Personhood,” a concept that was cemented into law by a US Supreme Court decision commonly called the “Citizens United” decision [Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 08-205 (2010), 558 U.S. ––––, 130 S.Ct. 876 (2010)) The decision in essence, permitted corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns as an expression of First Amendment Speech rights. Since that decision, various groups and initiatives have arisen in an effort to overturn it and remove this Constitutional right from applying to Corporations. Unfortunately, in their passion to end corporate domination of US politics, it appears that some of these proposals may end up causing even greater potential harm to our society. A sober reflection on the issue suggests that a blanket “anti-Corporate-Personhood” amendment may not be the wisest route...and that better alternatives exist.

The effort to limit corporate control of the electoral process began in earnest with the McCain-Feingold Act, otherwise known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, which was adopted on March 27 of that year. The Act limited corporate contributions to campaigns, and prohibited the airing of corporate-sponsored political advertising in the weeks immediately preceding an election.

In an early test of that Act, Citizens United – a conservative advocacy group – challenged the right of the media to show the documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which was highly critical of the Bush Administration, during the 2004 campaign. When the Federal Elections Commission held that showing this film was not prohibited by the Act, Citizens United then geared up for its own documentary. In the 2008 campaign, it promoted it's film titled, "Hillary: The Movie," which was critical of then-Senator Hillary Clinton, to DirecTV Satellite subscribers. With some troublesome reasoning, the Federal Election Commission and subsequent courts ruled against this movie, and the case reached the U S Supreme Court.

In 2010, a highly fractured U S Supreme Court ruled in a landmark decision in favor of Citizens United, striking several sections of the McCain-Feingold Act as Unconstitutional. It was a decision that was (and remains) highly controversial.

The Court held that the First Amendment Freedom of Speech prohibits government from censoring political broadcasts in elections when those broadcasts are funded by corporations or unions.

The Court decided by a slim 5-4 majority, but even the five Justices in the majority wrote three separate opinions. Justices largely seen as conservative (Alito, Roberts, Scalia, and Thomas) were joined by moderate/swing vote Justice Kennedy in the decision. The Courts liberal block (Breyer, Ginsberg, Sotomayor, and Stevens) opposed the decision.

The dissenting opinion was stinging in its criticism of the majority. In it, Justice Stevens argued that the Court's ruling

"…threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation. The path it has taken to reach its outcome will, I fear, do damage to this institution…”

and argued that by addressing issues not raised not even raised in the court pleadings by Citizens United, the majority

"changed the case to give themselves an opportunity to change the law…The Court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt.”

The case raised eyebrows in many circles: The American Civil Liberties Union, normally identified with “liberals,” actually filed a brief with the Court in support of Citizens United because of the over-riding free speech issue. After the decision, it was discovered that Justice Thomas’ wife was the founder and president of Liberty Central, a conservative political advocacy group whose operations were directly affected by the decision, bringing into question both his ethical and legal right to participate in the decision.

In the wake of the decision, a number of proposals have been suggested to overturn it, or to find alternative mechanisms to limit corporate contributions in elections. Some groups have arisen - with growing public support – promoting a Constitutional Amendment that would declare that Corporations are not “persons,” and therefore not entitled to Constitutional Protections. One such group, “Move to Amend,” has proposed an Amendment, that reads in part:

“The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only.

Artificial entities, such as corporations, limited liability companies, and other entities, established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law.”

While well-intentioned, I think this is a classic case of attempting to kill a gnat with a sledgehammer."

There are many rights guaranteed in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights in addition to Speech. The above amendment – which is growing in popularity and being promoted in towns and cities across the country – strips corporate entities of all Constitutional protections. Consider the following Constitutional Rights that could be affected:

Amendment I: Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of …the press.

Amendment III: No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Article IV: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

These are all Constitutional rights currently enjoyed by all residents of our nation, including non-citizens and corporations. Amendments similar to the one proposed would eliminate these Constitutional rights for corporations.

Do we really want to live in a country where the corporate media – our magazines, television stations, radio reports, and internet providers – are NOT protected from Government censorship?

Do we really want a country where the military – which has already vastly expanded its domestic jurisdiction through the Patriot Act – can be stationed in your workplace against the will of that company?

Do we really want warrantless searches of our office desks, file cabinets, computer servers and systems, and office spaces by the local police, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms?

What about rights to Due Process? Equal Protection of the Laws? How about the Constitutional clause that prohibits Eminent Domain without proper compensation? Do wwe really want to say that businesses dont have these protections?

For over 200 years, a broad array of Constitutional Rights have protected the American people from intrusive government actions at home and at work. It is understandable that citizens want to reverse Citizens United; but the complete removal of all rights enjoyed by companies is a ‘cure” worse than the disease itself.

Reasonable limits (or prohibitions) on corporate contributions can be achieved through amendments that are far more ‘precise’ and less draconian than this. Professors Lucian Bebchuk at Harvard Law School and Richard Squire at Columbia Law School have proposed that legislation could be adopted, consistent with the Citizens United decision, giving shareholders (rather than Corporate Executives) the right to determine if or how corporate money could be spent in political activities. Since this could be done through simple legislation, it would be far easier than a Constitutional Amendment. Others have called for an simple Amendment that would declare that money is not speech, thereby empowering states and the federal government to re-implement McCain-Feingold or similar statutes.

These would both be easier and more effective restraints on the Citizens United decision, and avoid the danger of an greater erosion of American citizen’s Constitutional Rights.


Monday, December 05, 2011

Mitt Romney: Bind US Spending to Foreign Corporate Investment

Mitt Romney, who prides himself on being the candidate with ‘business’ experience, has proposed some fiscal measures which evidence a decided lack of serious economic analysis.

In advertisements that have been running non-stop here in New Hampshire, Romney presents his three-point plan to reign in federal spending. In the ads, he proposes,

“…capping federal spending as a percentage of GDP at 20% or less…”

There are any number of issues Mitt is going to have to explain with this “plan.” He can start with any of these:

1) GDP, or Gross Domestic Product, is the value of all the goods and services produced within a society. In the United States, current annual GDP is approximately $14 Trillion dollars annually. With federal spending capped at 20% of this number, that would result in an annual federal budget of 2.8 Trillion dollars. The Fiscal Year 2010 budget is 3.45 Trillion, so Romney’s plan would require cutting spending by 650 Billion dollars.

To provide a sense of this proposal, the entire amount of Social Security payments made to retirees annually is 701 Billion. The total amount of “Discretionary Spending” (spending that excludes social security, medicare, interest, defense, and other ‘mandatory’ payments) is 660 Billion. If Mitt is not proposing cutting off social security or eliminating the military, it would appear that he is proposing an elimination of all discretionary spending whatsoever: Bridge Rehabilitation on Interstates, Superfund Cleanups of Toxic Waste sites, Food & Drug Administration approvals of cutting-edge pharmaceuticals, Coast Guard operations, Community Block Grants for Economic Development, Jobs Trainings Initiatives, and hundreds of other federally-designated programs. EVERYTHING.

2) By basing spending on GDP, his proposal means that the budget will always be out-of-synch with reality. The Budget for the future fiscal year is voted on during the current year, and it will be based on figures from the past year's GDP (which would still be in revision), resulting a two year ‘mis-match’ of GDP and spending authorizations.

3) By capping spending to a percent of GDP, Romney opens up the country to sudden, unexpected budget shocks since GDP is calculated after each quarter, but then revised in subsequent quarters.

For instance, on November 22 of this year, economists in Washington revised the third-quarter (July-August-September) GDP downward to a growth of 2% from their previous report of 2.5%. While a change in .5% may not sound like much, a .5% change in a 14 Trillion dollar GDP is a difference of 70 Billion Dollars in GDP. Under Romney’s plan, such a revision would result in the sudden elimination of 14 Billion in spending from the Federal Budget. For comparison purposes, that is greater than the entire annual budgets of the Departments of the Treasury, Commerce, Interior, and Environmental Protection.

4) Lastly, and perhaps most important, is the fact that Romney’s plan would make American Government expenditures dependent on the activities of foreign companies operating in the United States.

The GDP figure is obtained by adding up the value of all goods and services created in the US. It does not matter whether the goods produced are made by American or foreign companies, as long as they create the products on US soil. Currently, 3.2 Trillion dollars of our 14 Trillion GDP is derived from foreign companies doing business on US soil.

In other words, 22% of our total GDP comes from these firms. It also means, that under Romney’s plan, 22% of the American Government’s spending would depend on continuing product development by companies from foreign nations located in the US. That amounts to 760 Billion dollars of American spending being dependent on the level of foreign investment.

Again, for comparison purposes, that amount is the equivalent of our entire Defense Budget.

A curious proposal, coming from the candidate who has so willingly rattled sabers with Iran.


Friday, December 02, 2011

Milton Hershey rejects HIV-positive Student: Official Statement & Reaction

In an almost incomprehensible burst of ignorance, prejudice, and chutzpah, the highly-vaunted Milton Hershey School (a private, tuition-free boarding school), issued a statement coinciding with World AIDs Day explaining their refusal to admit a student due to his HIV positive status.

What follows is the official statement by the school (in italics), with my commentary following in boldface type.

HERSHEY, Pa., Dec. 1, 2011 -- /PRNewswire/ -- The following statement was issued today by Connie McNamara, Vice President, Communications at Milton Hershey School:

Milton Hershey School had planned to file a request in federal court asking the court to review our decision to deny enrollment to a child who is HIV positive because of concerns for the health and safety of our current students.

Nonsense. There ARE NO significant health or safety concerns. HIV is not transmitted by saliva, sneezing, sweat or tears; it is not transmitted by sharing toilets or bathrooms, drinking glasses, laundry facilities, towels, beds, dorm rooms, or eating utensils. In addition, the student in question is on antiretroviral medications, reducing the ability to transmit the virus, even in the most conducive of circumstances through specific kinds of sexual acts or blood interaction, to a fraction of 1%. It is not surprising that a Hershey spokeswoman, appearing on Anderson Cooper 360 tonight, was unable to name the doctor or medical personnel that advised the school of any such “concern.”

We had been in discussions with the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, which is representing this 13-year-old boy. Recognizing the complex legal issues, the School was preparing to ask the court to weigh in on this matter…

There are no “complex legal issues.” Persons with HIV are covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act. Under the ADA, all people, including those with disabilities, are given equal opportunity to use or enjoy a public accommodation’s goods, services, and facilities. Public accommodations include restaurants, hotels, theaters, doctors’ offices, dentists’ offices, hospitals, retail stores, health clubs, museums, libraries, private schools, and day care centers.

… Unfortunately, attorneys for the young man took the adversarial action of filing a lawsuit against the School.

The first resort of bullies when victims push back is to call the victims names; they attempt to characterize those who insist on their rights as crybabies, divisive or ‘adversarial.’ The young man’s legal suit is not out of place or adversarial; the fact is, Milton Hershey has no basis in medicine or law for denying the student admission, and the students suit against the School is an entirely appropriate avenue for redress. Hershey’s statement is the standard “blame-the victim” defense.

The decision to deny enrollment was a challenging one for us to make. Like all our enrollment decisions, we need to balance our desire to serve the needs of an individual child seeking admission with our obligation to protect the health and safety of all 1,850 children already in our care…

Again, the school takes the odd position that their school is somehow ‘unique,’ a phrase used later in this press release and used multiple times in media interviews. The ADA covers private schools; there is nothing about Hershey that would exempt them. There are hundreds of boarding schools in the United States, a number of which house over 1,000 students. There are schools designated as Military Academies, Therapeutic Schools, schools for Students in Recovery, Experiential, Learning Disabled, Religious, Fine-Arts based, Math & Science-based, and Performing Arts based. In spite of Hershey’s assertions, their duty to care for their residential students is no different than any other of these schools…and all are covered by the ADA.

Attorneys for this young man and his mother have suggested that this case is comparable to the Ryan White case. But this case is actually nothing like the Ryan White case.

Actually, it is precisely like the Ryan White case, which, ironically, we referenced in a blogpost yesterday [see below]. This is a decision to exclude a student based on ignorance of medicine and in violation of federal statute. It is based on the unreasonable fear & loathing of HIV, and nothing more.

Milton Hershey School is not a day school, where students go home to their family at the end of the day. Instead, this is a unique home-like environment, a pre-K -12 residential school where children live in homes with 10-12 other students on our campus 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Again, Hershey is by no means unique in this, as hundreds of boarding schools do likewise. Hershey is making the entirely illogical arguement that students with HIV should not live at their school because it is "home-like," "residential," and where "children live," (their words)...but should instead live at home - which is the ultimate 'residential setting.'

In order to protect our children in this unique environment, we cannot accommodate the needs of students …

Yes, Milton Hershey, you can, and you must. You must accommodate the daily medical needs of students with insulin-dependent Diabetes. Epilepsy. Asthmatics. It is part of running a boarding school. If you can not ensure that a resident takes a pill, you need to reconsider your ability to operate a boarding school.

…with chronic communicable diseases that pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others.

This is not an argument against admitting a student; this is evidence of your own medical ignorance. No health or safety threat is present.

The reason is simple. We are serving children, and no child can be assumed to always make responsible decisions that protect the well being of others.

This is a well-crafted innuendo concerning the prospective students sexual activities, implying that the student might attempt sexual activity with another student. Well guess what, Milton Hershey…if that is your concern, you have a much bigger problem than this one student: EVERY one of your hormone-exploding students might be tempted to engage in sexual relations with other students, and pass along not only HIV, but syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, genital warts, scabies, hepatitis, and HPV. Your reasoning suggests that you should reject ALL students who might be tempted to engage in sexual activity; In that case, you might want to consider closing down entirely, because all teenage students present that risk.

That is why, after careful review and analysis, we determined we could not put our children at risk.

No, this was not after “careful review and analysis.” There is no analysis of the medical or legal issues; there is only an unwise, illegal, and cruel response based on hysteria that tarnishes the reputation of a once-respected institution.