Longwood Gardens. Photo by joanneleon. January, 2013
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News and Opinion
Russ Feingold: Democrats Sold Out in 2012 and Need to Quit Big MoneyWonder if you could hear the bleating of the veal pen from down the street. Maybe there is some progress here, I don't know. From reading this article, it still looks like they are focused on the Republicans instead of focusing on the left and right wing of the Corporatist party. Well, let's hope that that the grassroots Left gets it together.
President Obama's decision to let his 2013 inauguration committee accept corporate cash and million-dollar donations marks quite a reversal for the president: for his first inaugural in 2009, he capped individual donations at $50,000 and banned corporate money. The Associated Press calls the decision "part of a continuing erosion of Obama's pledge to keep donors and special interests at arm's length of his presidency." But for former Sen. Russ Feingold, it's yet another sell-out by his friends in the Democratic Party to the big-money forces so dominant in politics today.
No Democrat has so publicly ripped his own party for embracing super-PACs and dark-money nonprofits than Feingold. In a new article for the journal Democracy, Feingold, who co-wrote the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act, the last major campaign finance restriction in the US, takes Democrats to the mat. He calls 2012 "a big step" back for Democratic-led efforts to get big money out of politics, and singles out Obama's reversal on super-PACs.
Feingold says the most important thing big donors can do is stop giving—to super-PACs or any of the other Citizens United-enabled fixtures of our big-money politics. "Donors hold more leverage to create a movement for reform than almost any other actor in the political system," he says. If donors ignore super-PACs and nonprofits, "Washington will notice." And as for the liberal activists out there, they should redirect all the energy they've invested into passing a constitutional amendment reversing the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and channel it into "achievable goals"—public financing of elections, disclosure of donors to dark-money nonprofits and shell corporations, overhauling the dysfunctional Federal Election Commission, the nation's top elections cop.
Revealed: The Massive New Liberal Plan to Remake American Politics
A month after President Obama won reelection, America's most powerful liberal groups met to plan their next moves. Here's what they talked about.
A month after President Barack Obama won reelection, top brass from three dozen of the most powerful groups in liberal politics met at the headquarters of the National Education Association (NEA), a few blocks north of the White House. Brought together by the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Communication Workers of America (CWA), and the NAACP, the meeting was invite-only and off-the-record. Despite all the Democratic wins in November, a sense of outrage filled the room as labor officials, environmentalists, civil rights activists, immigration reformers, and a panoply of other progressive leaders discussed the challenges facing the left and what to do to beat back the deep-pocketed conservative movement.
At the end of the day, many of the attendees closed with a pledge of money and staff resources to build a national, coordinated campaign around three goals: getting big money out of politics, expanding the voting rolls while fighting voter ID laws, and rewriting Senate rules to curb the use of the filibuster to block legislation. The groups in attendance pledged a total of millions of dollars and dozens of organizers to form a united front on these issues—potentially, a coalition of a kind rarely seen in liberal politics, where squabbling is common and a stay-in-your-lane attitude often prevails. "It was so exciting," says Michael Brune, the Sierra Club's executive director. "We weren't just wringing our hands about the Koch brothers. We were saying, 'I'll put in this amount of dollars and this many organizers.'"
The liberal activists have dubbed this effort the Democracy Initiative. The campaign, Brune says, has since been attracting other members—and also interest from foundations looking to give money—because many groups on the left believe they can't accomplish their own goals without winning reforms on the Initiative's three issues. "This isn't an optional activity for us," Brune tells me. "It is mission critical."
Radford, Brune, Cohen, and others say the Democracy Initiative is no flash in the pan; they're in it for the long haul, for more than just this election cycle and the one after it. It took four decades, these leaders say, for conservatives to shape state and federal legislatures to the degree that they have, and it will take a long stretch to roll back those changes. "The game is rigged against us; the corporate right has done such a good job taking over the Congress and the courts," Radford says. "We're saying we need to step back and change the whole game."
Drones are fool's gold: they prolong wars we can't win
New appointments in the White House hail an era of hands-free warfare. Yet these weapons induce not defeat, but retaliation
The greatest threat to world peace is not from nuclear weapons and their possible proliferation. It is from drones and their certain proliferation. [...]
I have not read one independent study of the current drone wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the horn of Africa that suggests these weapons serve any strategic purpose. Their "success" is expressed solely in body count, the number of so-called "al-Qaida-linked commanders" killed. If body count were victory, the Germans would have won Stalingrad and the Americans Vietnam.
Quite apart from ethics and law, I find it impossible to see what contribution these weapons make to winning wars. The killing of officers merely sees others replace them, eager for revenge. The original Predator was intended for surveillance but was adapted for bombing specifically to kill Osama bin Laden. When he was finally found, the drone was considered too inaccurate a device to risk, and old-fashioned boots-with-guns had to be sent instead.
In this the drone is fool's gold. Driven by high-pressure arms salesmanship, Obama (and David Cameron) are briefed that they are the no-hands war of the future, safe, easy, clean, "precision targeted". No one on our side need get hurt. Someone else can do the dirty work on the ground.
Nor will it just be suicide bombers. Drones are cheap and will easily proliferate. Eleven states deploy them already. The US is selling them to Japan to help against China. China is building 11 bases for its Anjian drones along its coast. The Pentagon is now training more drone operators than pilots. What happens when every nation with an air force does likewise, and every combustible border is buzzing with them?
NYT closes its environment desk, reassigns journalists
The nine journalists on The New York Times’ environment desk learned Wednesday they will be reassigned, Katherine Bagley reports.
Baquet said the change “was prompted by the shifting interdisciplinary landscape of news reporting,” Bagley writes.When the desk was created in early 2009, the environmental beat was largely seen as “singular and isolated,” he said. It was pre-fracking and pre-economic collapse. But today, environmental stories are “partly business, economic, national or local, among other subjects,” Baquet said. “They are more complex. We need to have people working on the different desks that can cover different parts of the story.”
Climate coverage, dominated by weird weather, falls further in 2012Another person weighs in and has the same opinion of those who oppose this movie (among all the praise for the movie, the leading actress, the director from the film critics and fans). The author is a law professor and expert on the subject of torture.
In a year of strange weather worldwide, climate change reporting by the world's journalists fell another 2 percent, according to DailyClimate.org's archive of media coverage.
But there were some surprises.
Widespread drought, super-storm Sandy, and a melting ice cap failed to revive the media's interest in climate change in 2012, with worldwide coverage continuing its three-year slide, according to a media database maintained by the nonprofit journalism site The Daily Climate.
Separate analyses by other media watchers even showed an uptick in some climate-related reporting. Whether this represents a one-year blip or the start of a trend remains unclear, journalists and media researchers say.
"I ask myself, 'In 20 years, what will we be proudest that we addressed, and where will we scratch our head and say why didn't we focus more on that?'" said Glenn Kramon, assistant managing editor of the New York Times.
The Times published the most stories on climate change and had the biggest increase in coverage among the five largest U.S. daily papers, according to media trackers at the University of Colorado.
Zero Dark Thirty: Torturing the FactsPoor daughter of billionaire dad, (LPOD) with many government contracts, Megan Ellison, is very mad that Kathryn Bigelow was not nominated for best director. So so sad. Her film company produced Zero Dark Thirty.
On January 11, eleven years to the day after George W. Bush sent the first detainees to Guantanamo, the Oscar-nominated film Zero Dark Thirty is making its national debut. Zero Dark Thirty is disturbing for two reasons. First and foremost, it leaves the viewer with the erroneous impression that torture helped the CIA find Bin Laden's hiding place in Pakistan. Secondarily, it ignores both the illegality and immorality of using torture as an interrogation tool.
The thriller opens with the words "based on first-hand accounts of actual events." After showing footage of the horrific 9/11 attacks, it moves into a graphic and lengthy depiction of torture. The detainee "Ammar" is subjected to waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and confined in a small box. Responding to the torture, he divulges the name of the courier who ultimately leads the CIA to Bin Laden's location and assassination. It may be good theater, but it is inaccurate and misleading.
Granting impunity to the torturers combined with propaganda films like Zero Dark Thirty, which may well win multiple Oscars, dilutes any meaningful public opposition to our government's cruel interrogation techniques. Armed with full and accurate information, we must engage in an honest discourse about torture and abuse, and hold those who commit those illegal acts fully accountable.
Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. Her most recent book is The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse.
Megan Ellison Calls Kathryn Bigelow Oscar Snub 'F---ed Up,' Jessica Chastain Praises Her Direction
The founder of Annapurna Pictures and daughter of Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison made very public her outrage over the Academy of Arts and Sciences' decision not to nominate Zero Dark Thirty helmer Kathryn Bigelow for a best director Oscar. In a tweet hours after the nominations were unveiled, Ellison wrote: "Kathryn Bigelow was robbed. So f---ed up. #recount."
Kathryn Bigelow was robbed. So fucked up. #recount— Megan Ellison (@meganeellison) January 10, 2013
Worth watching again.Jacob Hacker & Paul Pierson on Engineered Inequality
Bill Moyers explores how America’s vast inequality didn’t just happen, it’s been politically engineered.
Moyers & Company dives into one of the most important and controversial issues of our time: How Washington and Big Business colluded to make the super-rich richer and turn their backs on the rest of us.
Bill’s guests – Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, authors of Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer — And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, argue that America’s vast inequality is no accident, but in fact has been politically engineered.Goldman Sachs Caught Prop Trading Again
Despite new regulations and outright promises from CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs is once again engaging in proprietary trading. A practice that lead to a $550 million fine from the SEC when Goldman Sachs mislead clients in order to promote its own accounts. The solution under Dodd-Frank to this behavior was the Volker Rule but now it seems Goldman Sachs is prop trading anyway:Inside the Terror Factory
Award-winning journalist Trevor Aaronson digs deep into the FBI’s massive efforts to create fake terrorist plots.
Editor's note: This story is adapted from The Terror Factory, Trevor Aaronson's new book documenting how the Federal Bureau of Investigation has built a vast network of informants to infiltrate Muslim communities and, in some cases, cultivate phony terrorist plots. The book grew from Aaronson's award-winning Mother Jones cover story "The Informants" and his research in the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California-Berkeley.
Quazi Mohammad Nafis was a 21-year-old student living in Queens, New York, when the US government helped turn him into a terrorist.
His transformation began on July 5, when Nafis, a Bangladeshi citizen who'd come to the United States on a student visa that January, shared aspirations with a man he believed he could trust. Nafis told this man in a phone call that he wanted to wage jihad in the United States, that he enjoyed reading Al Qaeda propaganda, and that he admired "Sheikh O," or Osama bin Laden. Who this confidant was and how Nafis came to meet him remain unclear; what we know from public documents is that the man told Nafis he could introduce him to an Al Qaeda operative.
In truth, the stuff was inert. And Kareem was an undercover FBI agent, tipped off by the man who Nafis had believed was a confidant—an FBI informant. The FBI had secretly provided everything Nafis needed for his attack: not only the storage facility and supposed explosives, but also the detonator and the van that Nafis believed would deliver the bomb.
Nafis is one of more than 150 men since 9/11 who have been caught in FBI terrorism stings, some of whom have received 25 years or more in prison. In these cases, the FBI uses one of its more than 15,000 registered informants—many of them criminals, others trying to stay in the country following immigration violations—to identify potential terrorists. It then provides the means necessary for these would-be terrorists to move forward with a plot—in some cases even planting specific ideas for attacks. The FBI now spends $3 billion on counterterrorism annually, the largest portion of its budget. Our nation's top law enforcement agency, traditionally focused on investigating crimes after they occur, now operates more as an intelligence organization that tries to preempt crimes before they occur. But how many of these would-be terrorists would have acted were it not for an FBI agent provocateur helping them? Is it possible that the FBI is creating the very enemy we fear?
Blog Posts and Tweets of Interest
Dem Sen. Jeff Merkley has serious questions & concerns about John Brennan - I know other Dem Senators do as well is.gd/0cWkam— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 11, 2013
Please watch this short video at the NYT by the brilliant Laura Poitras on a Yemeni GITMO detainee who died in Sept is.gd/QwX8S3— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 11, 2013
Almost totally unreported: the Tuareg rebels in Mali are fighting for the "right" to hold slaves bit.ly/UTOF1h— Howie Klein (@downwithtyranny) January 12, 2013
Dave Brubeck - Strange Meadowlark
Remember when progressive debate was about our values and not about a "progressive" candidate? Remember when progressive websites championed progressive values and didn't tell progressives to shut up about values so that "progressive" candidates can get elected?
Come to where the debate is not constrained by oaths of fealty to persons or parties.
Come to where the pie is served in a variety of flavors.
"The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum." ~ Noam Chomsky