Saturday, December 31, 2011

On Symbolism of Renewal, Baptisms, and Anniversary Celebrations: December 31

December 31, 2011

On Symbolism of Renewal, Baptisms, and Anniversary Celebrations: December 31

By Kevin Anthony Stoda

Why did we we get married on December 31? Why questions are important--especially this time of year--wherever you are and whoever you are.


By Kevin Stoda, Oman

When my wife and I married back in December 2008, we had originally intended to undertake a civil marriage ceremony as immediately as possible--right --after Christmas, e.g. approximately on either the 26th or 27th of December.
That ceremony was to be in Kuwait where my wife and I had met.
Alas, in Kuwait,--officially--only people of Ibrahimic faiths are allowed to conduct a civil ceremony. The Ibrahimic faiths (or Abrahimic faiths) are, of course, Christian, Islamic, and Jewish. The civil servant conducting the ceremony requires, therefore , a statement from either a mosque, church, or temple or a state-recognized religious authority that verifies that one is from one of the three faiths.
We were not aware of the trouble involved in gaining this particular document--and so eventually we had had to end up waiting till the very last moments of 2008 to accomplish a civil wedding ceremony. (Moreover, I need to add that previously there was another delay caused by the wait for a single document from the Filipino Embassy, which had also initially led to another delay for us that same week after Christmas 2008).

December 31 MarriagesNaturally, love and marriages are (or should be) guided by our Lord and our faith, so (in the end) my wife and I can state that for some special reason, the All-Mighty had determined that we should first get married on the very last date of the year: December 31.
Finally, as we are celebrating this 3rd anniversary of the civil marriage, I can state that I now know why the Lord ended up choosing the date of December 31 for our marriage.
I should add, however, that I just discovered this insight yesterday at the baptism of another husband and wife yesterday here in Muscat. Let me explain:
It was explained to us during the sermon which preceded the baptisms that December 31 is the date when we look forward to a new beginning or a new star t in life. For example, in the Philippines people like to purchase a new set of clothing at the end of each year, so as to be wearing a set of new clothes on New Years Day. It is hoped or believed that by wearing new clothes on New Years Day, one will be blessed with many new things--and better things--in the coming year.
"This idea of the end of the year and the wearing of new clothes," said the leader of the congregation, "is similar to the symbolism of baptism itself, whereby one is baptized in water--not to cleanse the person--but to arise from the surface of the water as a new born person who is ready to follow the Lord and change his life and ways."
Similarly, as husband and wife, who were married on December 31, my wife and I need to see that our December 31 anniversary marks a renewal --not just of our vows--but of our commitment to living a new and better life while putting the sins and intrapersonal struggles of our past year behind us.
In summary, my wife and I were blessed to be married on the cusp of a new year and on the final edge of an old year. We can take time to reflect not only on renewing our wedding vows now, but on the renewal of our entire spiritual, physical, mental, and familial selves.
Moreover, we can reflect on our friends' baptism, too, (yesterday) and see that this is the time when we need to be arising anew from our old selves and our old ways of 2011--or whatever long year--and really begin putting on our new clothes for whatever roles we are up to in the coming years. In our family that means the roles of either (1) husband or wife, (2) son or daughter, (3) father or mother, and (4) friend or lover.
Interestingly, we are going to a small new years celebration with those who were at the baptism I attended yesterday. Not only will the baptized couple from Muscat be there--but another couple, named Ray and Jackie, who also were married on December 31 a few years ago are hosting the New Year's Eve Bash at their home.
Happy Anniversary, Ray and Jackie!
Happy New Year!
Happy Renewal, too--wherever and whoever you are!

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011



Yesterday I was listening to a DEMOCRACY NOW interview with director and author, John Sayles, from Thanksgiving day. It is appropriate that it was played on Thanksgiving because Americans should always take that long weekend to recall 400 or more years of American history.

Speaking of history, John Sayle’s movie, LONE STAR, was played several times on TV last spring in Taiwan and Asia. His films provide a much more nuanced and almost real photo snapshots of the continuing ongoing cultural wars in the USA. These wars are over memory and how to narrate them. Here is the text from a great clip of that film. The text deals with a parent and teacher debate in a local Texas School:

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a clip of Lone Star, set near the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, a parent-teacher meeting erupting into clear fault lines between white parents and Chicano parents, who want a more diverse portrait. The two teachers leading the meeting—one white, one Latina—try to resolve the tension.

TEXTBOOK COMMITTEE WOMAN: Just tearing everything down, tearing down our heritage, tearing down the memory of people who fought and died for this land.

MEXICAN-AMERICAN FATHER: We fought and died for this land, too. We fought the U.S. Army, the Texas Rangers.

ANGLO FATHER: Yeah, you lost, buddy. Winners get the bragging rights. That’s just the way it goes.

MODERATOR: People! People! I think it would be best if we don’t view this thing in terms of winners and losers.

TEXTBOOK COMMITTEE WOMAN: Well, the way she’s teaching, it’s got everything switched around. I was on the textbook committee, and her version is not—

MODERATOR: We think of the textbook as a guide, not as an absolute.

TEXTBOOK COMMITTEE WOMAN: It is not what we set as the standard. Now you people can believe whatever you want, but when it comes to teaching our children —

MEXICAN-AMERICAN MOTHER: They’re our children, too. And as the majority in this community, we have the right.

ANGLO FATHER: Oh, yeah? Well, the men that founded this state have the right, the right to have their story told the way it happened, not the way somebody wanted it to happen.

DANNY: Eh, eh. The men who founded this state broke from Mexico because they needed slavery to be legal to make a fortune in the cotton business.

PILAR: I think that’s a bit of an oversimplification.

ANGLO FATHER: Are you reporting this meeting, Danny, or are you running it now, huh?

DANNY: Just adding a little historical perspective.

ANGLO FATHER: Oh, yeah? Well, you call it history; I call it propaganda. Now, I’m sure they’ve got their own account of the Alamo on the other side, but we’re not on the other side.

PILAR: There’s no reason to be so threatened by this.

ANGLO FATHER: And we’re not about to have our schools taught that way!

PILAR: Excuse me. I’ve only been trying to get across part of the complexity of our situation down here, cultures coming together in both negative and positive ways.

TEXTBOOK COMMITTEE WOMAN: If you’re talking about food and music and all, I have no problem with that. But when you start changing who did what to who.

TEACHER: We’re not changing anything. We’re just trying to present a more complete picture.

TEXTBOOK COMMITTEE WOMAN: And that’s what’s got to stop.

TEACHER: Look, there’s enough ignorance in the world without us encouraging it in the classroom.

TEXTBOOK COMMITTEE WOMAN: Now who are you calling ignorant?

The idea that winners get the bragging rights over those peoples that American colonialism stomped on has been rejected in the USA for more than half a century but in response, cultural wars of backlash have been financed by the same people who fought reconstruction and a 100 years of post Civil War deprivations of the masses in the South.

What have you been teaching our youth this holiday season, America?

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The Neo-Nazi Scandal of Germany Should be Leading Americans to Reflect on their Own Neglect of Fascist and Racist Groups in America over the Past Dec

The Neo-Nazi Scandal of Germany Should be Leading Americans to Reflect on their Own Neglect of Fascist and Racist Groups in America over the Past Decade

This story below has continued to be the number one story in German Newspapers over the past 2 Weeks. Americans should understand the institutional neglect there and then look closely at its failure to stop racism and fascism in the USA over the past 50 years.–KAS
Neo-Nazi terror scandal grows in GermanyFurther evidence emerges of German security service failures that let far-right terrorists commit 10 murders

Helen Pidd in Zwickau, Germany, Wednesday 16 November 2011
More damaging evidence has emerged of the German authorities’ failure to stop a group of neo-Nazi terrorists who killed 10 people, robbed 14 banks and planted two nail bombs during 13 years on the run.

On Tuesday, the Hessen branch of the domestic intelligence service, the Verfassungsschutz, or BfV, admitted that one of its agents had been present in April 2006 when two members of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) shot dead a 21-year-old Turk in an internet café.

It has now emerged that the agent, who was transferred to less-sensitive work following an investigation at the time, openly held rightwing views and was known in the village where he grew up as “Little Adolf”. When police raided his flat following the murder, they found a cache of guns, for which he had a legitimate licence, and extracts from Mein Kampf, according to Der Spiegel. There are unconfirmed reports that the man was present at three or more other neo-Nazi murder scenes.

Hajo Funke, one of Germany’s most foremost experts in rightwing extremism, said on ARD television: “It can’t be ruled out that his BfV employee took part in the murder, and that is a scandal.” He has called the case “a Watergate-scale” crisis for German secret intelligence.

The interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, has called for a national register listing all neo-Nazis. The database should hold “information about potentially violent rightwing extremists and rightwing politically motivated acts of violence”, he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung. It should be accessible to all 16 regional branches of the domestic intelligence service, as well as the national umbrella organisation, plus police authorities, he said.

Following the discovery of the terror cell’s base in the quiet town of Zwickau, near the Czech border, the German government is under pressure to explain how the group managed to carry out their murderous acts undetected for so long. The two men and one woman believed to be founder members of the NSU were known to police in their home town of Jena, east Germany, after a bomb-making factory was discovered in the garage rented by the woman, Beate Zschäpe, in 1998.

The local branch of the Thuringian secret service allegedly had 24 lever-arch files on the trio and yet they only uncovered the cell years after they carried out at least 10 murders – and after the men were found dead, apparently following a joint suicide pact, and Zschäpe turned herself in to police.

Zschäpe has remained silent since turning herself in to police last week, but some local media reports suggested she had told police she was ready to be interviewed about her involvement on Wednesday.

On Tuesday evening, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) voted at its party conference in Leipzig for a ban on the NPD (German Nationalist party), a legal far-right group which has seats in a number of local parliaments in former east Germany. The opposition Social Democrat (SPD) party has also called for the NPD to be outlawed.

Such calls have been criticised by politicians in Merkel’s own coalition. Hans-Peter Uhl, an expert in interior security from the CSU, the Bavarian sister party of the CDU, said: “There is no better sign of democracy than for the electorate to vote against the NPD at elections,” he said. “That’s the most noble way.”

Uhl said it would be better for Germany’s strict data protection laws to be changed to allow detectives to analyse communications. “The whole country is wondering how big the neo-Nazi quagmire is in Germany. Without using internet and telephone data collected from the Zwickau cell that is going to be difficult to establish,” he told the Neue Osnabrücke Zeitung.

Earlier this week Merkel described the case as a “disgrace” for Germany


Scores of Unanswered Questions
Neo-Nazi Terror Cell Still Shrouded in Mystery

An investigator combs through the remains of the burned-out house in Zwickau looking for clues.
German authorities face scores of questions after the discovery that a neo-Nazi terrorist cell murdered immigrants and robbed banks for over a decade without anyone apparently knowing it existed. There are growing calls for a reform of the security services. In a strange twist, it emerged that an intelligence agent was at the scene of one of the crimes.

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The discovery that a neo-Nazi group was behind the murders of several immigrants during a six-year killing spree is threatening to erupt into a full-blown scandal for Germany’s security services which face awkward questions about their failure to tackle right-wing terrorism.

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday described the emergence of right-wing terrorism as a “disgrace to Germany” and pledged a thorough investigation.

The “National Socialist Underground,” consisting of at least three members, two men and a woman, has claimed responsibility for the killing of eight Turks and one Greek man between 2000 and 2006, as well as the murder of a German policewoman in 2007, and two bombings in which more than 20 people, primarily with immigration backgrounds, were injured.

In a bizarre twist, politicians on Tuesday called for an urgent investigation into reports that an employee of the domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, was at the scene of one of the crimes — the killing of 21-year-old Halit Y. in an Internet cafe in Kassel on April 6, 2006.

That fact is not new — the employee was interviewed by police years ago and eliminated from their enquiries. But even if it is found to be irrelevant, the development makes the case even more embarrassing to the agency, which is under intense fire for having been apparently unaware of the presence of a murderous neo-Nazi cell in Germany for over a decade.

The agent, reportedly described as “Little Adolf” by colleagues because he himself held far-right views, told police at the time that he was in the Internet cafe by chance, to seek contact with women via chat rooms, and that he didn’t see the killing, which happened in another part of the cafe. It is unclear if he left the cafe shortly before the shooting or if he didn’t hear the shots because the killers used a silencer. During a search of the man’s home around that time, investigators found copies of Third Reich propaganda as well as extracts from Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” which is effectively banned in Germany.

Officials said, however, that the man was close to the scenes of four of the other shootings. Hans-Peter Uhl, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, said on Tuesday that the behavior of the agent raised “considerable questions.” The agent was fired and now works for the local government authority in the western state of Hesse.

Chilling DVD

The two men in the terrorist trio, Uwe Böhnhardt and Uwe Mundlos, were found dead on Nov. 4 in a camper van in the eastern city of Eisenach after having apparently committed suicide. The woman, Beate Zschäpe, turned herself into the police after having apparently set fire to a villa in the eastern town of Zwickau in which the trio had lived.

Police searching the burnt-out house found four DVDs, packed and ready to be sent to the Left Party, several news organizations and Islamic cultural centers, in which the group bragged about the killings, poked fun at the police, and showed photos of blood-soaked victims, apparently taken by the killers themselves. The murdered men were all shopkeepers with two of them running doner kebab shops. As a result, the murders became known as the Doner Killings.

For years, police had insisted that the killings were committed by the Turkish mafia or shadowy nationalist groups and had effectively ruled out a far-right link. Muslim groups and the children of the men who died have accused the authorties of being blind to the threat of far-right violence, and having focused too heavily in recent years on combating Islamist terrorism.

Victim’s Daughter Criticizes Police

Gamze K., 22, the daughter of Mehmet K. who was shot dead in his kiosk in Dortmund on April 4, 2006, recalled how the police speculated that her father had gambling debts or was killed by a protection racket or the Turkish mafia.

“We were suddenly under suspicion,” she told Bild newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday. The police kept looking for dodgy business dealings supposedly done by my father. The police didn’t take seriously our suspicion that it could have been neo-Nazis.”

“I think something’s wrong here,” she said. “Why did the attackers suddenly kill each other? It wasn’t just the three of them, there are influential men behind them.”

The case has prompted urgent calls for a reform of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, which was set up to combat extremist groups and protect the democratic order in postwar Germany. It has 16 regional departments, one for each of Germany’s federal states, and the department for the state of Thuringia, where the trio lived, has come under particular scrutiny.

Terrorists Were on Police Files

According to information obtained by SPIEGEL, Böhnhardt, Mundlos and Zschäpe were known to the agency’s Thuringia department in the 1990s, when they became involved with the neo-Nazi scene there. They built fake bombs and hoarded weapons and explosives, but authorities lost sight of them in January 1998, when they went underground and embarked on a 13-year spree of murder, bombings and a suspected total of 14 bank robberies.

The case has also called into question the agency’s practice of running paid informants in the neo-Nazi scene and in the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD). Critics are saying the system evidently isn’t working, and that it may even be unintentionally funding the activities of the far right.

For example, the Thuringia agency paid a total of 200,000 marks (€102,258) to a man named only as Tino B. The man is the head of Thuringia Homeland Protection, a neo-Nazi group that the three terrorists belonged to in the 1990s. He doesn’t appear to have warned the authorities about his three dangerous comrades.

The presence of paid informants is controversial for another reason — it thwarted a legal bid to outlaw the NPD in 2003 when the Constitutional Court ruled that the presence of agency informants, some in senior positions within the party, would prejudice the case.

Chancellor Angela Merkel called on Monday for a review into whether the NPD should be banned. The party is seen as a flagship of the neo-Nazi scene in Germany. But to have any chance of succes, a legal bid to outlaw the NPD would require severing ties with informants, effectively sacrificing the authorities’ ability to monitor the inner workings of the party.

Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich has called for better coordination between the regional and national security authorities.

Scores of Questions

There are many unanswered questions in this case, the most pressing being whether the NSU had more members or helpers within the far-right scene. One suspected helper, a forklift driver named only as Holger G., was taken into custody on Monday on suspicion of helping the trio by giving them his driver’s license in 2007 and his passport four months ago. There may well be more. Some have also wondered how the group financed itself. Their bank robberies since 1999 are reported to have raised up to €70,000 — not nearly enough to live on over that time period.

Further questions surround the apparent suicides of Böhnhardt and Mundlos in their camper van. One of them was reportedly shot in the chest, the tabloid Bild reported — an unusual suicide method. Also, both died from rifle bullets. Pistols are more usual in suicides.

The killing of a policewoman in 2007 in the southern city of Heilbronn is also a mystery. She was shot in the head while sitting in her car. Her colleague was also shot and seriously injured. Why take the huge risk of killing a police officer? Why did the killers hold on to weapons that would incriminate them? Investigators searching the burnt-out camper van and the Zwickau apartment found the police officers’ Heckler & Koch P 2000 pistols and the Ceska 7.65 millimetre Browning used in the Doner killings. They also found the policewoman’s handcuffs, her pepperspray and her Victorinox Swiss Army knife. Were they kept as trophies?

And what about the DVDs? How did they survive a fire that even melted weapons? “According to our official information the DVDs were secured in the rubble of the Zwickau flat,” says one investigator. “But I admit that this fact raises questions.”

Finally, are there more neo-Nazi terror cells out there? Anti-racism groups say right-wing extremism has been allowed to fester in parts of eastern Germany, with neo-Nazis left in charge of running the voluntary fire departments, organizing youth leisure activities and even running citizen’s advice bureaus for welfare claimants in rural regions that have suffered from depopulation and economic decline since unification in 1990.

That is fertile ground, experts say, for violent cliques to get together and to graduate from beating up foreigners to planning murders and bomb attacks.

With reporting by Matthias Gebauer,1518,797947,00.html


Street Banks Earned Billions In Profits Off $7.7 Trillion In Secret Fed Loans Made During The Financial Crisis

Street Banks Earned Billions In Profits Off $7.7 Trillion In Secret Fed Loans Made During The Financial Crisis

Wall Street Banks Earned Billions In Profits Off $7.7 Trillion In Secret Fed Loans Made During The Financial Crisis

By Travis Waldron on Nov 28, 2011 at 9:25 am

In the lead-up to the financial crisis that crippled the American economy and plunged the country into a recession, the Federal Reserve made trillions in undisclosed loans to struggling banks and financial institutions, according to official documents obtained by Bloomberg News. Six of the country’s largest banks then turned those loans into more than $13 billion in previously undisclosed profits.

The total cost of the Fed loans amounted to $7.77 trillion, and unlike the funds made available by the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the loans came with virtually no strings attached for the banks:

The amount of money the central bank parceled out was surprising even to Gary H. Stern, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 1985 to 2009, who says he “wasn’t aware of the magnitude.” It dwarfed the Treasury Department’s better-known $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Add up guarantees and lending limits, and the Fed had committed $7.77 trillion as of March 2009 to rescuing the financial system, more than half the value of everything produced in the U.S. that year.

“TARP at least had some strings attached,” says Brad Miller, a North Carolina Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, referring to the program’s executive-pay ceiling. “With the Fed programs, there was nothing.”

In one month, Morgan Stanley — one of the most vulnerable financial companies at the time — took $107 billion in secret loans, enough to pay off a tenth of the nation’s delinquent mortgages. The loans, like those made to other institutions, were never reported to Morgan Stanley’s shareholders or the taxpayers who subsidized them.

Other banks drew similar loans without disclosing them. Bank of America, for instance, held $86 billion in public debt on the day then-CEO Ken Lewis declared his company “one of the strongest and most stable major banks in the world.” Bank of America’s Fed borrowing peaked at $91.4 billion in February 2009; at the same time, it benefited from $45 billion in TARP loans.

And even while members of Congress were working to overhaul the nation’s financial regulatory system, the banks and the Fed kept them in the dark about the loans. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), one of the architects of the Wall Street reform act that eventually became law, and former Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), the GOP’s lead negotiator on TARP, told Bloomberg they were unaware of the specifics of such loans.

Had Congress had such information, members of both parties would have changed their votes to favor Wall Street reform, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said. Former Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), meanwhile, said knowledge of the loans could have led to a push to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, which prohibited banks from owning investment companies and vice versa, thereby limiting their size and vulnerability to such crises.

The secret nature of the loans, however, instead helped Wall Street work to “preserve a broken status quo” that allowed its biggest banks to grow even larger than they were before the crisis. The nation’s largest banks have turned more in profit in the last 30 months than they did in nearly eight years preceding the crisis, all while spending millions to derail significant reform legislation. And since the Dodd-Frank Act became law, they have spent millions more to weaken its rules and prevent certain regulations from taking effect. Bank lobbying, in fact, is now on pace to reach a record high this year.


Escobar and many Asian Analysts fail to take seriously China and USA need to Cooperate in Reducing Climate Change Tempo

This is a good article (below) on China and the USA but it fails to touch upon the biggest issue on which China and the USA are intricately involved, namely by the simple fact that combined they create 40% of the worlds global warming gas emissions annually. This is an area in which both parties could cooperate and be global leaders but both the Chinese and the USA have worked to undermine the KYOTO CLIMATE REGIME since its inception. Currently, their abstinance from Global Warming Solutions are threatening the planet–no only for our generation but for ALL TIME.

The Asian author (below) needs to incorporate this Horror into his Asian and partially pro-Chinese narration.–KAS

China and the US: The roadmaps
While Beijing tries to address the West’s concerns, Hillary Clinton has a conflicting vision for the 21st century.

by Pepe Escobar

Inquiring minds scattered across the world have been pondering whether Washington elites are sneakily slouching towards Beijing – as in eventually focusing on China as the ultimate bogeyman and catalyst of the Pentagon-denominated Long War.

It’s as if Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention Libya and the fight for African resources, were mere pawns in the master chess game of the 21st century featuring the US and China.

The Arab Spring, in its early Tunisian and Egyptian chapters, led to the impression that the neo-conservatives promoted ‘clash of civilisations’ was over.

But the 2012 race to the White House has revealed that it is a return of the living dead. With the troubling add-on that Washington reserves for itself the right of nuclear first strikes against any possible confrontation with competitors – China and Russia.

So it’s time to back off and examine how the leadership in Washington and Beijing is interpreting the future.

Exhibit A is China’s Peaceful Development, a white paper released by the State Council Information Office, the cabinet at the heart of the system in Beijing.

Exhibit B is America’s Pacific Century, a wittily-titled essay published by Foreign Policy magazine and written by “global superstar” (according to CNN) and smart power practitioner US Secretary of State Hillary “We came, we saw, he died” Clinton.

Readers are strongly encouraged to read both documents and draw their own conclusions.

Don’t rock my domestic boat

First a word on how Beijing works. The 370-member Central Committee – including ministers, provincial leaders, the top military brass, heads of state companies – is a sort of mega-board of directors of the Chinese Communist Party.

The Central Committee selects the 25-member Politburo. And the Politburo selects the nine-member Standing Committee, the holy of the holies. It’s fair to assume the white paper has been commissioned and approved by these gentlemen.

The Politburo and the Standing Committee are responsible for the Communist Party’s tight grip on the Chinese state, the economy, the civil service, the military, police, education, the media, and last but not least, the carefully constructed official narrative of how China finally got rid of repeated historical humiliations by foreigners and is now a resurgent civilisation.

The white paper has a crystal clear objective; to explain the Chinese model – and the mind-bending subtleties of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” – to the West.

The target audience is Washington and London, Paris, Berlin and Rome.

Yet the fact that Western corporate media barely noticed – not to mention discussed – the paper is already troubling.

The white paper stresses China’s “strong collective consciousness” and “sense of social responsibility” as much as the “multipolarity” of international relations. At the same time, in a subtle nod towards Washington, it rejects a “dangerous cold and hot war mentality”.

Three ultimate fears prevail in Beijing’s narrative. 1) A hardened Cold War mentality blinding the West; 2) The possibility of a trade war with the West; 3) Luan (“chaos”) of the political kind, provoked by outsiders who resent China’s phenomenal economic success.

Even while discussing foreign policy, the paper makes it clear China’s top priority is domestic stability.

China’s interpretation of foreign investment, for instance, is that it is welcomed as long as it enhances domestic stability.

Thus everything is subordinated to “harmonious development” – Chinese President Hu Jintao’s trademark doctrine.

“China’s top priority is domestic stability.”

- Pepe Escobar

That even implies, in the future, mechanisms to allow the Chinese people to “supervise the government” – something that in the West may be interpreted as democracy, even though not related to Scandinavia’s.

While Beijing endlessly worries about domestic stability, the paper also stresses how dangerously easy it would be for a global economic crisis to force countries – another nod to Washington – to go to war.

So, essentially, Beijing wants “a peaceful mainly economic development in a peaceful multipolar world”. Yet the multi-trillion dollar question is whether the ‘Atlanticist’ West will let it happen.

Hillary’s concerns

Hillary’s essay is bound to express the views of the State Department, which may not necessarily be shared by the Pentagon and the CIA.

For all the smart power rhetoric, the stress is on “continued American leadership well into this century”.

Beijing will also be slightly disturbed that “our treaty alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, the Philippines and Thailand are the fulcrum for our strategic turn to the Asia-Pacific”.

Hillary feels obliged to nod to her “Chinese counterparts, State Councillor Dai Bingguo and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi”, as they have been engaged in “candid discussions about important challenges like North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and developments in the South China Sea.”

“Challenges” is the understatement of the century; China and the US fiercely disagree on all these dossiers.

A measure of wishful thinking is at hand, as in “we look to China to take steps to allow its currency to appreciate more rapidly, both against the dollar and against the currencies of its other major trading partners.”

It won’t happen – and Beijing has already made it clear.

As in a Freudian slip, Hillary let it know that “Europe, home to most of our traditional allies, is still a partner of first resort”. And then “we move forward to set the stage for engagement in the Asia-Pacific over the next 60 years”.

So what is it going to be; a special relationship with Europe and just “engagement” with Asia-Pacific?

Unlike Beijing in the white paper trying to address the West’s concerns, Hillary only seems bothered to address Americans.

What she does not say, but leaves implied, has more impact than the text itself. The eternal notion of the US as the indispensable nation. The barely disguised feeling of “danger” about the rise of China. The US in Asia as a benevolent outside power.

Beijing would have noticed there is not a word on Washington’s global drive to control remaining sources of oil, while trying to make life to Beijing as hard as possible.

Not a word on the Pentagon-defined “arc of instability”: from the Maghreb to – you guessed it – Western China.

Not a word on the “need of strategic stability” for the Indian Ocean – which will put the US on a collision course not only with China but also with India.

“Unlike Washington and Tehran, who never talk to each other, at least Washington and Beijing are talking, even if past one another.”

- Pepe Escobar

Not a word on the US Navy’s 2007 maritime strategy – “sustained, forward presence” in the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific. Or the US Marine Corps 2008 “Vision and Strategy” – covering up to 2025 – defining the Indian Ocean as a privileged theatre of conflict.

Unlike Washington and Tehran, who never talk to each other, at least Washington and Beijing are talking, even if past one another.

Beijing has already announced its peaceful intentions. But when it looks at Africa – and sees its trade and commercial deals being counter-acted by a Pentagon-led militarisation drive – the conclusion is self-evident.

One can only hope that the parties will keep speaking softly – while carrying no big stick.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times. His latest book is named Obama Does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.


Here is a great collection of conversation topic questions for EFL or ESL students at the intermediate or higher levels

Here is a great collection of conversation topic questions for EFL or ESL students at the intermediate or higher levels

By Kevin Stoda, ESL Instructor

Here is a great collection of conversation topic questions for EFL or ESL students at the intermediate or higher levels.

I don’t currently teach students at the intermediate and advanced levels, but many of the questions on this wonderful link can be modified for discussion. Otherwise, the teacher can glean each topic for questions appropriate to the levels and appropriate to the cultures and geographic location of one’s students.


Foreclosures on houses with delinquent mortgages have doubled since 2010, with housing prices expected to drop another 10% before stabilizing

Tomgram: Steve Fraser, “De-Fault Is Ours”

Change a single letter in what is and, lo and behold, you get what if.

Here’s just a taste of what is:

Foreclosures on houses with delinquent mortgages have doubled since 2010, with housing prices expected to drop another 10% before stabilizing. Meanwhile, the executives of government-backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, institutions bailed out by taxpayers to the tune of $169 billion, are offering next to no significant relief to mortgage-holders in trouble. For such “work,” the top six executives of the two outfits raked in “$35 million in compensation, including millions in bonuses.”

One in every three Americans is now considered either poor or “near poor,” according to recent census data; that is, 49.1 million Americans are below the poverty line and another 51 million perilously close to it. This, of course, represents a significant increase in downward mobility. According to the New York Times, “over half of the near poor in the new tally actually fell into that group from higher income levels as their resources were sapped by medical expenses, taxes, work-related costs and other unavoidable outlays.”

On the upward mobility front, the news has been anything but upbeat. Recent evidence indicates that, if upward mobility happens to be your urge, you better move to Canada — or to “aristocratic” Europe, where they still have it (though for how long, given the Euro crisis, is anyone’s guess). One thing is clear: given what’s happening to American education, the next generation’s fate is likely to range from immobility to downward mobility. The average graduate who takes out loans to pay for college now emerges from his or her subprime education with a debt burden of more than $25,000 dollars, a figure growing by the year. Meanwhile, at state colleges, once the portals to an upward-mobile future, students are paying ever more for ever less educationally as tuitions rise and state support shrinks.

As for wealth in this country, from 2005 to 2009, median wealth among Hispanics fell 66% to $6,235, among African-Americans, 53% to $5,677, and among whites, 16%, to $113,149. These figures represent the largest wealth disparities in the quarter century the Census Bureau has been collecting data on the subject. As for income, between 1979 and 2007, according to a recent report from the Congressional Budget Office, the after-tax earnings of the top 1% of Americans grew by 275%, while those of the bottom 20% rose by only 18%. Meanwhile, American corporations are sitting on “record amounts of cash,” even as job-creation has been next to nil, capital investment in new plants and infrastructure stagnates, and companies are happy to invest their multibillions instead in stock-buyback deals.

Here’s the financial overview: the top 1% of Americans now take in more than 25% of the nation’s income and control at least 40% of its wealth. (A quarter of a century ago, the figures were 12% and 33%.) To make it into that top 1%, according to economist Emmanuel Saez, your family needs to make a minimum of $368,238 a year (based on 2008 income figures); for the 15,000 families that make up the top .01%, average annual income is $27,342,212.

In other words, if you aren’t in the top 1% right now, it’s all what is, and never what if — no dreams allowed.

When it comes to what is, the news is terrible. When it comes to what if, who knows? TomDispatch regular Steve Fraser, our preeminent historian of Wall Street and author of Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace and Every Man a Speculator: A History of Wall Street in American Life, offers his own ideas about how, here in the U.S. of A., what is might be challenged and turned back into what if? Tom

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Empowering people to pursue justice

Empowering people to pursue justice


One of the joys of our work at the Mississippi Center for Justice is getting to know our clients, hardworking individuals striving to improve their lives and care for their families. With generous support from people like you, we have spent 2011 fighting to reform predatory lending practices, to ensure equity in the BP oil disaster recovery and to provide safe, affordable housing for all Mississippians.

Helen Byrd is a vivacious community leader in Indianola, Miss. She is also a resident of South Delta Regional Housing Authority, a mismanaged public housing entity in the Mississippi Delta. South Delta’s complex is comprised of pre-fabricated homes that were built in the 1970’s and span six counties. Over the decades, little was done to maintain the properties, and the homes began to fall apart.

Tenants reported leaky roofs, rotten eaves, cracked floors and shifting foundations, yet few repairs were made. In one home, the front screen door was knocked off by a storm. South Delta never showed up to fix it, but they did send the family a bill for a new door.

When the tenants received notice of rent increases that would have more than doubled rent, without regard to income, Ms. Byrd and others fought back. With the help and support of people like you, the Center was able to file a lawsuit that resulted in a successful settlement that ultimately delivered lower rents and better maintenance for South Delta residents.

Donations from our supporters made our role in this case possible. As we look forward to next year, we need your help to continue serving inspiring individuals like Ms. Byrd. By supporting the Center, you will allow us continue our mission to achieve racial and economic justice for all. Please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to the Mississippi Center for Justice today.


Tom Hayden is Right–War could break out in Iraq any time again in the next months and years

Published by Tom Hayden, The Peace Exchange Bulletin is a reader-supported journal, critically following the Pentagon’s Long War in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, as well as the failed U.S. wars on drugs and gangs, and U.S. military responses to nationalism and poverty around the world.

A Strategy Note

In the coming year, peace groups will have to build linkages around domestic economic and environmental issues with the AFL-CIO, the Sierra Club and insurgent movements including Wisconsin and Occupy Wall Street. For the peace movement, the purpose is to build a stronger coalition than between longtime pacifist and religious communities. And domestic movements will have to be convinced that their goals are unattainable without ending the trillion dollar wars abroad. Democrats will have to decide that winning elections requires a platform commitment to rapidly end these wars. And the peace movement will have to build a mandate for peace into the 2012 election.
The Long Wars
Possible Sectarian War in Iraq
Iraq Nationalism May Falter and Divide

The Peace Exchange Bulletin

Another war in Iraq may begin, a sectarian war spurred by Shiite revenge and reflecting the geo-political tensions of the region, Shiite versus Sunni, Iran versus Saudi Arabia. While America bears responsibility for stirring the sectarian cauldron, a next war will not be America’s to fight. Despite global pretensions, the mythic days of Laurence of Arabia, when Kipling’s heroes saved the Arabs from themselves, are over.

With Western imperialism in retreat, Iraqi nationalism may falter and divide. The actual winner of the last Iraqi election was the Iraqiya bloc whose leadership includes Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite, former prime minister and American “asset”, supported by the vast majority of Sunnis. The Iraqiya leadership also includes Iraq’s current vice-president, Tariq al-Hashimi, and parliamentary leader Saleh al-Mutlaq. Iraqiya won 2.8 million votes (24.5%) and 91 parliamentary seats in the 2010 election, slightly more than Nuri al-Maliki’s Shiite coalition, which won 89 seats and 24.2% of the vote.

Maliki managed to maintain power, however, through consolidation of Shiite organizations, ignoring of parliament, and repression of dissidents – all accomplished under America’s watch, despite ineffective US appeals for unity.

Continue reading…
In Iraq, Peace at Last

America owes a debt of gratitude to the activists who opposed the Iraq war from the start, and who kept the pressure on.

The Peace Exchange Bulletin
A U.S. soldier walks past cables for media use before the start of ceremonies in Baghdad marking end of the American military mission in Iraq. (Mario Tama / Getty Images)
The American war in Iraq is over.

Another war in Iraq may begin, a sectarian war spurred by Shiite revenge and reflecting the geo-political tensions of the region, Shiite versus Sunni, Iran versus Saudi Arabia. While America bears responsibility for stirring the sectarian cauldron, a next war will not be America’s to fight. Despite global pretensions, the mythic days of Laurence of Arabia are over. (SEE FULL ARTICLE)

Four thousand four hundred eighty-seven Americans were killed during the war, and 32,226 wounded. We will never know exactly how many Iraqis died, because the authorities went to great lengths to cloud the numbers. The last of America’s 170,000 troops finally left Iraq under cover of secrecy, not even saying goodbye to their Iraqi allies, on December 18, thus exposing any lingering boasts of military victory as hollow.

Continue reading…
Americans Demand Withdrawal
Polling Reflects Call for Peace

As Obama pulls out of Iraq and considers the same course in Afghanistan, overwhelming majorities of Americans are with him.

On Iraq, 78 percent support Obama’s decision, including 90 percent of Democrats, 81 percent of Independents, and 58 percent of Republicans, while only 33 percent now think the Iraq War was worth fighting.(Washington Post-ABC Poll, November 6, 2011)

On Afghanistan, 62 percent of Americans say US troop levels should be decreased, while only 24 percent favored the same levels, and a marginal seven percent favor sending more troops. 38 percent of that 62 percent want “large numbers” withdrawn in one year, 24 percent want “large numbers” in one to two years. Only 18 percent want the American troops to stay “as long as it takes.” (CBS Poll, October 3, 2011)


The authors write, "If terrorists ever target Fargo, North Dakota, the local police will be ready."

The War at Home: Militarized Local Police Tap Post-9/11 Grants to Stockpile Combat Gear, Use Drones

Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.
George Schulz, works with the Center for Investigative Reporting. He is one of the reporters who runs the Homeland Security Project.

A new report by the Center for Investigative Reporting reveals that since 9/11, local law enforcement agencies have used $34 billion in federal grants to acquire military equipment such as bomb-detection robots, digital communications equipment and Kevlar helmets. "A lot of this technology and the devices have been around for a long time. But as soon as they have, for instance, a law enforcement capability, that’s a game changer," says George Schulz, with the Center for Investigative Reporting. "The courts and the public have to ask, how is the technology being used by a community of people—police—who are endowed with more power than the rest of us?’" Local police departments have also added drones to their toolkit. In June, a drone helped local police in North Dakota with surveillance leading to what may be the first domestic arrests with help from a drone. The American Civil Liberties Union has issued a new report that calls on the government to establish privacy protections for surveillance by unmanned aerial drones, especially of people engaged in protests. "We believe that people should not be targeted for surveillance via drones just because they’re they are engaged in First Amendment-protected activity," says Catherine Crump, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. [includes rush transcript]

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to a new report which shows, in the 10 years since 9/11, police departments across the country have acquired more and more military equipment. The authors write, "If terrorists ever target Fargo, North Dakota, the local police will be ready. In recent years, they have bought bomb-detection robots, digital communications equipment and Kevlar helmets, like those used by soldiers in foreign wars." For local siege situations requiring real firepower, the report notes officers can use a new $256,000 armored truck which has a rotating gun turret. The report, published by the Center for Investigative Reporting, finds police increasingly rely on quasi-military tactics and equipment acquired with the $34 billion in federal grants disbursed across the country since September 11, 2001.

Local police departments have also added unmanned Predator drones to their tool kit. Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times revealed new details about how domestic law enforcement agents have begun using unmanned drones inside the United States. In June, an unmanned Predator drone helped local police in North Dakota with surveillance leading to the arrest of three people. According to the Los Angeles Times, the incident marked the first time American citizens have been arrested domestically with the help from a Predator drone.
Now the American Civil Liberties Union has issued a new report that calls on the government to put protections in place to guard Americans’ privacy from surveillance by these unmanned aerial drones.

To talk more about this, we’re joined by George Schulz, who is with the Center for Investigative Reporting, one of the reporters who runs the Homeland Security Project. He’s joining us by Democracy Now! video stream. We’re also joined in our studio by Catherine Crump, senior—she’s a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, and she co-authored the report by the ACLU on the domestic use of drones.

Catherine, let’s start by laying out the story, for example, in North Dakota, where many of these stories around the militarization of police seem to focus. But tell us what happened there.

CATHERINE CRUMP: Well, in North Dakota, the police were engaged in a law enforcement action, and they thought that it would be to their benefit to have a drone take a view of the scene, and so they called on the federal government to help them. And Customs and Border Protection essentially loaned the local police a drone and helped them identify some suspects on private property, but also were able to tell, for instance, whether those individuals were armed. Now, in this particular instance, the police agents did have a warrant. But I think this broader story is showing how drones, and in fact other militaristic technologies, are increasingly being used for domestic law enforcement in ways that the American public doesn’t fully understand.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about—just discuss this further. Expand it from North Dakota. How are the drones being used?

CATHERINE CRUMP: Well, you know, in some extent, we don’t know. But it is clear that local police departments are keenly interested in getting a hold of drones. Helicopter technology is very expensive, but drones are cheap. And there aren’t legal protections in place to preserve Americans’ privacy when these are used. And so, we face a real possibility that drones will be used by law enforcement agents across the country with very little regulation. And the ACLU published a report on this because we think it’s vitally important that privacy protections be put in place now, so that before drones come to the U.S. airspace, there are rules and regulations in place to make sure we’re all safe from pervasive surveillance.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, in North Dakota, they had been using the drones for the border. And so, when they wanted to move in—and maybe you could explain more fully what this story was in North Dakota.

CATHERINE CRUMP: Well, the police actually were engaging in an investigation about some stolen cows, actually, and they were concerned that the people who were on the property were armed. And so, they asked—they called in the Border Patrol and said, "Hey, could you help back us up in this operation, and could you help us by engaging in drone surveillance?" And they did that and were able to give the police information about who was on the property and whether or not they had weapons. And it’s just—it’s a remarkable story, because although—even those of us who follow the use of drones quite closely weren’t aware that the federal government was actually loaning out its drones to local agencies to engage in surveillance. And then that, of course, poses the prospects that even smaller police departments are using this extremely advanced technology to engage in surveillance.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined by George Schulz, who is looking at the so-called toolkit of police, of which now drones is being—drones are being added, one of the reporters who runs the Homeland Security Project, who put out this report on the militarization of police. George Schulz, talk about the use of drones and—well, and much more, when it comes to stockpiling equipment by police in this country.

GEORGE SCHULZ: Now drones are among a number of 21st century technologies that local police in the United States are adopting very, very rapidly. And it’s a number of factors that are contributing to this. You know, prior to September 11th, there was a sort of militarization of police already underway as a result of the drug war, and now the rise of task forces and a couple of programs that enabled local police departments to acquire decommissioned equipment from the military. But after 9/11, there was an additional spending spree through federal Homeland Security grants that made it easier for police departments, large and small, in the United States to acquire equipment they couldn’t necessarily afford before or necessarily justify buying.

So, what we did was set out to approach every state in the United States, through open government laws, to try to collect records showing how communities were spending Homeland Security grants. And basically, what Congress did after 9/11 was say, "Well, communities around the country need to be ready for another 9/11-style attack, so we need to start funding preparedness programs." But the list of items you could buy every day grew bigger and bigger and bigger, because all of it feasibly could be used to help prepare for a terrorist attack. But terrorism scenarios are fairly unlikely in the U.S., so a lot of this equipment was being used for everyday law enforcement, if it was being used at all. Right? So what we saw among a lot of police departments was the purchase of combat-style equipment, tactical equipment—combat helmets, really expensive tactical vests, tactical shields, breach-entry equipment for tactical raids. Basically, you can buy anything you want with Homeland Security grants except the guns.

So what we saw parallel to the purchase of combat-style equipment with Homeland Security grants was also a wider adoption of the use AR-15 and M-16 military-style assault rifles. And when we talked to folks in the law enforcement community about that, part of the reason they were adopting that use, even though it was occurring to an extent before 9/11, a lot of the folks were pointing to events like the Mumbai attacks in India and terrorist attacks like that that were sort of lower-level and involved attackers using assault rifles, small explosive devices, things like that. So then bigger cities like Los Angeles and Las Vegas became concerned that if an event like that were to be replicated here, their officers would need things like AR-15 assault rifles to fight back. So, there were basically two tracks here over the last several years that we saw: the spending spree from Homeland Security grants on military-style protective gear and then the wider adoption of the use of AR-15s and M-16s among everyday patrol officers in the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN: Last month I spoke with the former chief of police of Seattle, Norm Stamper, who was the police chief in charge during the Battle of Seattle in November 1999. He wrote a critical article for The Nation magazine entitled "Paramilitary Policing from Seattle to Occupy Wall Street."

NORM STAMPER: I do believe that since 1999 and the Battle in Seattle there have been many changes. My concern is, many of those changes have been for the worse. The officers, for example, in Oakland were dressed as my police officers were in Seattle, which is, in effect, for full—in full battle gear. We were using military tactics. I authorized the use of chemical agents on nonviolent offenders. I thought I had good justification at that time. I did not. The police officer in me was thinking about emergency vehicles, fire trucks, aid cars being able to get through a key intersection. The police chief in me should have said, "This is wrong," and vetoed that decision. I will regret that decision for the rest of my life. We took a military response to a situation that was fundamentally nonviolent, in which Americans were expressing their views and their values, and used tear gas on them. And that was just plain wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: George Schulz, if you could respond to what the former chief of police of Seattle, Norm Stamper, had to say, as we see these militarized police everywhere from the Occupy Wall Street encampments to the Republican and Democratic conventions that we went through and are going to be dealing with again in Tampa and Charlotte?

GEORGE SCHULZ: Well, it was pretty extraordinary to see that op-ed from Chief Stamper. In the law enforcement community, the After Action Report from the so-called Battle in Seattle, it still circulates to this day as a document that warns other cities about what could happen if they allow protests to grow out of control. I mean, I hear police departments talk about those events to this day, and they’re petrified that an event like that is going to occur on their streets, and if they don’t control it early on, it’s going to be egg on their face. So I think that’s why you see these sort of aggressive responses to protesters, because a lot of law enforcement folks think back to Seattle, and they don’t want a perception globally that they’re allowing things to grow out of control.

But 10 years out, we’ve seen police respond to protests in a variety of different ways over the last decade. And we’ve seen some cities take what you might call a non-militaristic approach, where they have taken their time and attempted to negotiate, for instance, with Occupy protesters, over decamping rather than sort of rushing in to use force or gas, whatever is believed to be necessary to deal with those protesters. And what I think we’ve seen departments, especially in the last few months, demonstrate is that there are alternatives. There are a few different approaches you can take. And that’s, I think, what Chief Stamper is trying to indicate, that there were alternatives he could have used back then, and he didn’t, and he regrets that today. And it was pretty compelling to hear him say that.

AMY GOODMAN: Catherine Crump, I wanted to go back to the use of drones. We have an act, the Posse Comitatus Act, that said the military can’t operate here on U.S. soil. Explain then, are they getting around it by militarizing the police, bringing in National Guard? What have you found in your report?

CATHERINE CRUMP: Well, one way this works is that the federal law enforcement agencies have this technology and can simply lend it to the local law enforcement agencies. But actually the more alarming prospect is that drones are so cheap that any local surveillance—any local police department can afford them now. You have the large drones that are used in places like Iraq and Yemen, but you also have very small drones that can be used for local law enforcement agencies. They can—local law enforcement, they can stay aloft for a long time. They can have cameras that zoom in in great detail. They have thermal imaging that can allow the law enforcement agents to see things that aren’t visible with the naked eye. And I think this raises the prospect for a real transformation in American life.

AMY GOODMAN: We have visitors today from Colorado, from our radio station KGNU, community radio station in Boulder and Denver. Talk about Colorado, for example.

CATHERINE CRUMP: Well, Colorado is one state in which the police have gotten a hold of drones. But it’s really just one example of a broader phenomenon. Think about—

AMY GOODMAN: They got FAA approval.

CATHERINE CRUMP: They did get FAA approval. You know, so far, one reason we haven’t seen a great availability of drones is that the FAA has by and large stopped broader surveillance. However, the FAA is under tremendous pressure from industry and its allies in Congress to loosen the rules and to allow broader use of drones. And before that happens, it’s extremely important that there be safety—regulations put in place to preserve privacy, to make sure that drones don’t become a force for pervasive surveillance and instead are only used in limited circumstances.

AMY GOODMAN: So, we’re talking about drones for surveillance. Of course, drones can drop bombs. What about drones tasering?

CATHERINE CRUMP: Yes, that’s a very interesting point. Drones are known for having cameras attached to them. And overseas, they’ve been used to drop bombs. But actually, they can be used to deliver other kinds of force. For example, tasers. And while no local law enforcement agencies are currently using drones in that way, manufacturers are excitingly equipping them so that they can use that type of technology. And one police department in Texas has actually acquired drones that are capable of using that type of force.

AMY GOODMAN: And bombs?

CATHERINE CRUMP: Well, we haven’t heard about that yet, but, you know, technology is what it is. And it’s important to regulate it before it’s used in ways that Americans wouldn’t have anticipated five years ago and that seriously infringe on our freedoms.

AMY GOODMAN: And the recommendations around the issue of privacy in the use of drones that the ACLU is making now with this report?

CATHERINE CRUMP: Well, we recommend, first of all, that drones should only be used where the police have a reasonable suspicion to believe that there’s some criminal activity going on. And that’s specifically talking about drones for surveillance purposes. We also recommend that images not be—of identifiable people not be retained, where those people aren’t engaged in wrongdoing. And important to the protest issues that have been the focus of much of our attention these days, we believe that people should not be targeted for surveillance via drones just because they’re engaged in First Amendment-protected activity. Americans shouldn’t have to fear that when they go out and engage in lawful protest activity, that they’re going to be subject to surveillance by drones.

AMY GOODMAN: And just on that issue of Posse Comitatus, it applies to the U.S. Army and Air Force on U.S. soil, but not the National Guard?

CATHERINE CRUMP: Well, it applies to the Army and Air Force, but it doesn’t apply, for instance, to Customs and Border Protection, which has drones that it’s currently using to patrol the border. And one concern is that federal agencies will make their drones available to local law enforcement, as has happened in North Dakota, as we started out discussing.

AMY GOODMAN: George Schulz, the Center for Investigative Reporting report that you have just co-authored, "Local Police Stockpile High-Tech, Combat-Ready Gear," what were you most surprised by, as we wrap up this discussion?

GEORGE SCHULZ: I guess, you know, in the end, I think it was the dollar volumes that we were looking at. These programs, year after year, Congress was funding them with a few billion dollars a year, to the point that we’ve reached $34 billion 10 years after September 11th. And it was just such an explosion of spending that we hadn’t seen before. Some of these grant programs existed before 9/11, but they weren’t funded anywhere near what they were after September 11th. And there’s such, at this point, a dizzying array of grant programs that communities are eligible for, and the list goes on and on. If you don’t get a piece of equipment you want from one grant program, you can turn to another one and apply for that one. And there are similar programs available through the Justice Department. I think that was a key point that Catherine was making, was that the drone that was used in North Dakota was CBP-controlled, so it didn’t have anything to do with the military. It was a federal law enforcement agency sharing its equipment with the local law enforcement agency. And that’s a type of resource sharing I think you’re going to—it’s going to be really, really common.

But the courts on public opinion are struggling to keep up with a lot of this technology. We’re discussing drones today, but we could just as likely be discussing license plate scanners—an enormous amount of data is accumulated through license plate scanners—public surveillance cameras, remote digital fingerprinting. There are loads of these technologies that, when you think from a law enforcement perspective, it’s no surprise they want to use them. In their mind, it makes their job easier.

AMY GOODMAN: And then there’s, of course, the issue of then corporate use of drones.

GEORGE SCHULZ: Yeah, absolutely. It could eventually be an issue. How are private citizens going to use these aircraft? I mean, some of the equipment that’s being used, like Catherine said, it’s—they’re basically remote-controlled helicopters with a—small remote-controlled helicopters with a camera affixed to them. A lot of this technology and the devices have been around for a long time. But as soon as they have, for instance, a law enforcement capability, that’s a game changer. And if departments are using them more broadly, the courts have to and the public have to ask, how is the technology being used by a community of people—police—who are endowed with more power than the rest of us?

AMY GOODMAN: George Schulz, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Center for Investigative Reporting. Your report, "Local Police Stockpile High-Tech, Combat-Ready Gear." And Catherine Crump, with the American Civil Liberties Union, co-author with Jay Stanley of the ACLU’s report on the domestic use of drones called "Protecting Privacy from Aerial Surveillance: Recommendations for Government Use of Drone Aircraft." We’ll link to both of your reports. Thanks so much.

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Rob Kall: "A Congress of Cowards?"

I’m sure you are as disgusted as I am with congress.
I had an epiphany recently that I discuss in my newest article.

By Rob Kall

A Congress of Cowards
Congress is punting again, this time on the tax cut extension. This pattern, which has led to the lowest approval levels since measures of approval were taken, has become chronic. It’s really about the bulk of the members of congress being cowards who are intentionally destroying the balance of powers between legislative, Judiciary and Exectutive, so they can save their jobs.

We have a lot of work in front of us. The sites that support Obama and the current system are not going to get us where we need to go– to change that Democrats and Republicans will never legislate. Opednews is committed to being a voice for the REALLY BIG change that must happen. Won’t you support our work with a donation? Click here to give a generous donation to help Opednews keep up the fight.


The Life and Death of American Drones

Drones are certainly one reason the USA is still supporting the Salah family and its despotic arms from Yemen.-KAS

Tomgram: Nick Turse, The Life and Death of American Drones

It’s 10 pm. Do you know where your drone is?

Oh, the confusion of it all! The U.S. military now insists it was deeply befuddled when it claimed that a super-secret advanced RQ-170 Sentinel drone (aka ” the beast of Kandahar”) which fell into Iranian hands on December 4th — evidently while surveying suspected nuclear sites — was lost patrolling the Afghan border. The military, said a spokesman, “did not have a good understanding of what was going on because it was a CIA mission.”

Whatever happened, that lost drone story hit the headlines in a way that allowed everyone their Warholian 15 minutes of fame. Dick Cheney went on the air to insist that President Obama should have sent Air Force planes into Iran to blow the grounded Sentinel to bits. (Who cares about sparking off hostilities or sending global oil prices skyrocketing?) President Obama formally asked for the plane’s return, but somehow didn’t have high hopes that the Iranians would comply. ( Check out Gary Powers and the downing of his U-2 spy plane over Russia in 1960 for a precedent.) Defense Secretary Leon Panetta swore we would never stop our Afghan-based drone surveillance of Iran. Afghan President Hamid Karzai asked that his country be kept out of any “adversarial relations between Iran and the United States.” (Fat chance!) The Iranians, who displayed the plane, insisted proudly that they had hacked into it, “spoofed” its navigational controls, and brought it in for a relatively soft landing. And Kim Kardashian… oops, wrong story.

All in all, it was a little robotic circus. All three rings’ worth. Meanwhile, drones weren’t having such a good time of it elsewhere either, even if no one was paying much attention. The half-hidden drone story of the week wasn’t on the Iranian side of the Afghan border, but on the Pakistani side. There, in that country’s tribal borderlands, the CIA had for years been conducting an escalating drone air campaign, hundreds of strikes, often several a week, against suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban militants. In the wake of an “incident” in which U.S. air strikes killed 24 Pakistani troops at two border posts, however, the Pakistanis closed the border to U.S. supplies for the Afghan war (significantly increasing the cost of that conflict), kicked the U.S. out of Shamsi air base, the CIA’s main drone facility in the country, and threatened to shoot down any U.S. drones over its territory. In the process, they seem to have forced the Obama administration to shut down its covert drone air campaign. At this point, there have been no drone attacks for almost a month.

When he was still CIA Director, Leon Panetta termed the Agency’s drone campaign the “only game in town.” Now it’s “on hold.” (“There is concern that another hit [by the drones] will push US-Pakistan relations past the point of no return,” one official told The Long War Journal. “We don’t know how far we can push them [Pakistan], how much more they are willing to tolerate.”) After those hundreds of strikes and significant civilian casualties, which have helped turn the Pakistani public against the U.S. — according to a recent poll, a staggering 97% of Pakistanis oppose the attacks — it’s a stunning reversal, however temporary and little noted.

In other words, we’ve come a long way, baby, since the moment in 2001 when Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage reportedly stormed into the office of Pakistan’s intelligence director and told him to either ally with Washington in the fight against al-Qaeda or prepare to be bombed “back to the Stone Age.” As the U.S. leaves Iraq with its tail between its legs, the setback in Pakistan (as in Iran) should be considered a gauge of just how little Washington’s massive high-tech military edge, drones and otherwise, has been able to alter the shifting power equation on the planet.

In the latest piece in his new changing-face-of-empire series, TomDispatch Associate Editor Nick Turse explores why, despite its advocates’ claims, America’s newest wonder weapon will never prove a game changer. Tom

The Drone That Fell From the Sky
What a Busted Robot Airplane Tells Us About the American Empire in 2012 and Beyond
By Nick Turse

The drone had been in the air for close to five hours before its mission crew realized that something was wrong. The oil temperature in the plane’s turbocharger, they noticed, had risen into the “cautionary” range. An hour later, it was worse, and it just kept rising as the minutes wore on. While the crew desperately ran through its “engine overheat” checklist trying to figure out the problem, the engine oil temperature, too, began skyrocketing.

By now, they had a full-blown in-flight emergency on their hands. “We still have control of the engine, but engine failure is imminent,” the pilot announced over the radio.

Almost two hours after the first signs of distress, the engine indeed failed. Traveling at 712 feet per minute, the drone clipped a fence before crashing.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


A Time of Remembrance and Prayer For Peace, Remember the Cost of War

Friends Center | 1501 Cherry Street | Philadelphia

There is no victory and no victors in this war.


For 30 years the Iraqi people have endured three wars and for 20 years suffered under some of the most severe and comprehensive economic and political sanctions ever imposed against a nation and its people.

A war of choice starting in 2003 destroyed the infrastructure, left hundreds of thousands dead, opened the way to civil war/ethnic fighting, and created the largest movement of refugees and internally displaced in the region since the creation of Israel in 1948.

With the withdrawal of US combat troops by the end of this year it is time to look back on the past to better understand future challenges. Join us to explore the legacies of war in Iraq: war that has gutted our economy.


Kathy Kelly is a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, an outgrowth of a campaign to end economic sanctions against Iraq. With members of the Iraq Peace Team, she lived in Iraq during the 2003 U.S. invasion and initial weeks of the U.S. Occupation.

Mary Trotochaud was the AFSC country representative from 2004 – 2007. She worked with Iraqi women in early efforts to help create a new vision for their country. She later worked in Washington with the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL).

Rick McDowell has lead fifteen delegations to Iraq (1996-2003) to witness the impact of comprehensive economic sanctions. In 2002 he led a group of Nobel Laureates and was the AFSC Iraq Country Representative from 2004-2007 before working with FCNL.

Raed Jarrar is an Iraq specialist, political analyst and former AFSC consultant based in Washington, D.C. After the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Raed became the country director for CIVIC Worldwide, the only door-to-door casualty survey group in post-war Iraq.

Abdulla Al-Obeidi grew up in Baghdad. As a refugee in Egypt he worked with other Iraqi teens. He is now studying sociology/pre-med at Rowan University and active on campus – and community – efforts to bridge the gap between Middle Eastern and US cultures.

Celeste Zappala is a Gold Star Mother for Peace. Her son, PA Guard Sgt. Sherwood R. Baker, was killed in Iraq on April 2004. His unit was in charge of guarding those looking for Iraq’s non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Moderator: Peter Lems, AFSC Program Director, Education and Advocacy for Iraq and Afghanistan.
Friday 30 December | 5 – 7 PM
Arch Street United Methodist Church | Broad and Arch

This solemn Candlelight and Bell-Tolling vigil will be the formal closing of the monthly vigil held since 2005 at the corner of Broad and Arch Street by Celeste Zappala, Gold Star Mother for Peace. Her son, PA Guard Sgt. Sherwood R. Baker, was killed in Iraq, April 2004, guarding the unit looking for Iraq’s non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction. The vigil will be followed by a special time of remembrance with music, prayer, and reflection beginning at 6 PM inside the church

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Dear Kevin,

2012 is going to be a doozy.

Thanks to a Supreme Court whose members won’t even abide by the code of conduct established for all other federal judges, we have corporations masquerading as people and pouring millions of dollars into the first presidential election since the disastrous Citizens United decision.

Meanwhile, a coordinated effort by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and its corporate backers like the Koch brothers, is attempting to roll back voting rights and make it harder for eligible citizens – particularly students, the elderly, minorities and the working poor – to vote.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that we’re also seeing the growth of a true citizens’ movement that is ready and willing to take our democracy back. Whether we will be able to do it will depend on a commitment from each and every Common Cause member across the country.

Common Cause is leading the charge against the corporate takeover of democracy and working hard to maintain a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

And we’re counting on you to help us channel the anger and frustration that so many of us are feeling into meaningful reforms that stop the special interests in their tracks.

Let’s make 2012 the year that we get corporate profits out of politics, reverse Citizens United and take back our democracy.

On behalf of Robert Reich, our chairman, and the entire staff and board of Common Cause, thank you for all you do and best wishes for a happy holiday season.


Bob Edgar
President, Common Cause


Meet the Former Militiaman Behind the Fast and Furious Scandal

—By Stephanie Mencimer at MOTHER JONES

On December 8, when Eric Holder testified before the House Judiciary Committee about Operation Fast and Furious, the bungled federal attempt to combat gun smuggling to Mexico, his testimony was met with frequent snickers and occasional hostility. The source wasn’t Republican committee members, but rather a blogger seated at the press table. Wearing a homemade press pass in a National Rifle Association badge-holder, Mike Vanderboegh had arrived at the hearing toting an Army-issue laptop case that appeared capable of withstanding a roadside bomb.

A large, ruddy fellow with white hair and a mischievous smile, he had played a key role in turning Fast and Furious into a national scandal. From his home in Pinson, Alabama, Vanderboegh writes a little-known, far-right blog called Sipsey Street Irregulars. Last December, in a post titled, “Border Patrol agent killed with ATF-smuggled AR? Some ATF agents seem to think so,” he reported on rumors flying around law enforcement circles about the death of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. Two weeks earlier, Terry and his team had been tracking a Mexican “rip crew”—who specialize in robbing drug smugglers—in Nogales, Arizona. Shots were fired and Terry was hit in the back. He died the next day.

Vanderboegh reported that agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives believed that the gun that killed Terry had been part of an anti-gun smuggling operation—later known publicly as Operation Fast and Furious. Vanderboegh suggested that ATF agents had encouraged “snitches” to purchase hundreds of guns in the US and smuggle them into Mexico to track the weapons to high-level drug kingpins. He quoted a website set up by anonymous disgruntled ATF agents: It “appears that ATF may be one of the largest suppliers of assault rifles to the Mexican cartels!” one wrote.

Using what he calls the “desert telegraph” (an anonymous email system) to communicate with whistleblowers, Vanderboegh says he helped arrange for ATF agents to talk to the staff of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who was then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the Department of Justice. Later, Vanderboegh connected the whistleblowers with the staff of Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who took over as the committee’s chair in January.
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Acting on tips from the whistleblowers, congressional investigators turned up evidence that the ATF had allowed straw buyers in Arizona to purchase more than 2,000 high-powered weapons and smuggle them into Mexico in order to follow them up the chain to high-level drug traffickers. Yet hundreds of the guns disappeared in the process, some turning up later at grisly crime scenes in Mexico. So far, the missing arms have been connected to about 200 Mexican deaths.

Congressional Republicans, notably Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, have pursued the scandal relentlessly. At least 56 members of Congress have called for Holder to resign over of his handling of the debacle, as have presidential contenders Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, and Jon Huntsman. And the scandal has already claimed the jobs of the acting head of the ATF and the US attorney for Arizona.

The affair has been quite a coup for Vanderboegh, who is better known for inciting violence than for exposing wrongdoing. When Obama’s health care reform bill passed in March 2010, Vanderboegh encouraged readers to throw rocks through the windows of Democratic Party headquarters, writing:

[I]f you wish to send a message that [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and her party cannot fail to hear, break their windows. Break them NOW. Break them and run to break again. Break them under cover of night. Break them in broad daylight. Break them and await arrest in willful, principled civil disobedience. Break them with rocks. Break them with slingshots. Break them with baseball bats. But BREAK them.

A few people heeded his call, smashing the windows of a handful of congressional offices, including the Tucson office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was shot and seriously wounded last January.

“We will not disarm. You cannot convince us. You cannot intimidate us. You can try to kill us, if you think you can. But remember, we’ll shoot back.”In November, Vanderboegh made national news again, this time for his alleged role in inspiring a domestic terrorism plot. The FBI alleged that a handful of Georgia senior citizens had met at a Waffle House to plot a domestic bioterrorism attack. When they were arrested, word leaked that they’d been inspired by Vanderboegh’s unpublished novel, Absolved, in which underground militia groups plan to assassinate law enforcement and judicial officials to protest gun control and gay marriage. Vanderboegh has called the book “a combination field manual, technical manual, and call to arms for my beloved gunnies of the armed citizenry.” (Parts of the book are available online.)

Vanderboegh is unapologetic about his advocacy for armed resistance against what he views as a repressive government. He describes himself as a member of the Three Percent movement. It’s a reference to those who fought in the American Revolution, a minority that Vanderboegh claims “never amounted to more than 3% of the colonists.” On his website, Vanderboegh sums up the doctrine of the Three Percent: “We will not disarm. You cannot convince us. You cannot intimidate us. You can try to kill us, if you think you can. But remember, we’ll shoot back.”

Fiery rhetoric about resistance and revolution isn’t new for Vanderboegh, though the origins of his activism may seem a bit incongruous. “I used to be a communist,” he says. Vanderboegh, who is in his late 50s, claims he joined the anti-war movement in 1967, first with Students for a Democratic Society, then the Socialist Workers Party, and eventually the Maoist Progressive Labor Party.

Next Page: Vanderboegh authored a document titled “Strategy and Tactics for a Militia Civil War,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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Heroic football player stops potentially lethal teacher attack

If public and student hate were not bad enough for teachers in America–teachers who are facing lay-offs again and again due to public budget cuts–, we are now finding tales like this of teachers fighting on the web.–KAS

Heroic football player stops potentially lethal teacher attack

By Cameron Smith

By all accounts, the attack looked like it would be lethal.

In the moments after the school bell rang, a 40-year-old teacher brutally attacked a fellow teacher. With screwdriver blows from English teacher Ronette Ricketts raining on the victim, fellow English teacher Cynthia Glozier, a varsity football player thought quick, relied on his athletic instincts and stopped the attack in its tracks.

According to New York TV network WPIX and the Poughkeepsie Journal, among other sources, Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) High senior linebacker Justin Richardson is now being hailed as a hero and a likely lifesaver as a result.

“I saw Ms. Ricketts just hammering her in the side of head,” Richardson told PIX 11 TV. “I saw a lot of blood. It was shocking. I just jammed her really hard to get the screwdriver [to] fly out of her hand. If I didn’t step in she would have killed her.”

Luckily for all involved, Richardson did step in to stop a shocking attack before it became a deadly one. As it is, Ricketts is still facing charges of first-degree attempted assault, second-degree assault and criminal possession of a weapon, and is likely to lose a job in which she was previously highly respected.

It remains uncertain what caused the longtime English teacher to snap — the two teachers were reportedly talking in the hallway moments before the screwdriver attack — but Ricketts is now facing potentially life-changing charges, all while Glozier faces a long recovery to get back to her life as normal. The Poughkeepsie Journal reported that Glozier was in good condition at Saint Francis Hospital, but her attorney, Tom O’Neill, said she was “extremely traumatized” by the attack.

“It wasn’t two teachers arguing, it was one attacking another,” Poughkeepsie principal Edgar Glascott told PIX 11.

Want more on the best stories in high school sports? Visit RivalsHigh or connect with Prep Rally on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.


My dream was not to grow up to become a whistleblower. My dream was to become an FBI agent. But after 20 years at the FBI, I came face to face with co

My dream was not to grow up to become a whistleblower. My dream was to become an FBI agent. But after 20 years at the FBI, I came face to face with corruption. My moral compass allowed no other option: expose the truth

Dear Kevin,

My dream was not to grow up to become a whistleblower. My dream was to become an FBI agent. But after 20 years at the FBI, I came face to face with corruption. My moral compass allowed no other option: expose the truth.

Fortunately, I found the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC), an organization fighting every day for whistleblower rights. The NWC was created to advocate for whistleblowers who do not have a voice. Over the years, the NWC has created a vibrant whistleblower community. It consists of people throughout the country who put the greater good over their own financial and emotional security.

Please help me support the NWC by making a donation today.

One of the NWC’s contributions to the whistleblower community this year has been the launch of a new weekly radio show, Honesty Without Fear. I joined as a host because I see the radio show as an opportunity for the public to learn about the contributions whistleblowers make to our society and to become involved in the fight for stronger protections.

The NWC also works hard to educate whistleblowers and their advocates. In addition to their online resources and seminars, this year the NWC coordinated a campaign that encouraged whistleblowers to donate 1,000 copies of the new Whistleblower’s Handbook to public libraries across the country. This guide did not exist for me, but now it will be available to those who need it most.

But to be totally realistic, we live in a culture where being a whistleblower is not recognized as an honorable or positive thing. There are no national holidays for whistleblowers, no parades, no financial support, and until the NWC was founded, no real assistance. I am proud to be associated with the NWC in changing this culture and making things a little easier for individuals with a moral compass.

Every voice makes us stronger. Make your tax-deductible donation today to the National Whistleblowers Center so they can continue protecting and advocating for whistleblowers.

Jane Turner
FBI Whistleblower and 25-Year Veteran Agent


The Payroll Tax Cut Debate Masks Detrimental Reforms To Unemployment Insurance

The Payroll Tax Cut Debate Masks Detrimental Reforms To Unemployment Insurance

By John Retherford

Publicly, Democrats and Republicans are debating the length of time to extend the payroll tax cut for. However, these publicized debate parameters mask a fight of much greater significance. While the public’s focus is distracted by arguments over the time frame, Congress is negotiating sweeping reforms to the unemployment insurance system.


The standoff in Congress over how to extend the payroll tax cut and emergency unemployment insurance is nothing short of ridiculous. Working class Americans are suffering in a terrible economy. While those with work worry that their taxes are about to get hiked, and the unemployed worry that their aid is about to be cut off, congressional Democrats and Republicans are busy jockeying for a better political position. Publicly, both Democrats and Republicans portray this debate as a fight over the length of time to extend the payroll tax cut. However, these publicized debate parameters mask a fight of much greater significance. While the public’s focus is distracted by arguments over the time frame, Democrats and Republicans are negotiating sweeping reforms to the unemployment insurance system.

As things stand the Republican controlled House has passed a one year extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance. The Democrat controlled Senate passed only a two month extension before ending its session for the holidays, apparently assuming that the temporary extension would pass the house without problem. Yet the House Republicans refuse to pass the two month extension and are calling on the Senate to return to session to negotiate a compromise in a conference committee. At the same time , Senate Democrats are calling on the House to pass their temporary extension to prevent the tax hike next year.

Both the House GOP leadership and the Senate Democratic leadership are using the standoff to score political points by blaming a New Year’s Day tax hike on the inaction of the other side, but looking past this political wrangling reveals that the actual fight has little to do with extending the tax cut or unemployment insurance. This standoff is about the Senate Democrat’s rejection of the riders the House GOP leaders added to the bill to make a working class tax cut and support for the long term unemployed palatable to the rest of the Republican caucus.

The GOP leadership in the House has embarked on something of a media blitz to popularize the notion that they cannot stand for a two month extension which , as House Majority Leader Boehner characterizes it , “kicks the can down the road.” The Senate Democrats , on the other hand , say that the short time that exists before the tax cut expires at the end of 2011 is not enough time to negotiate the terms of a longer extension.

Most of the news media have bought into the Republican frame and are portraying the debate as a fight over whether to extend the tax cut for two months or for a whole year. This fits in nicely with the media’s standard narrative that Republicans want to cut taxes more than Democrats do. Framed this way it seems perfectly clear that if both sides support this tax cut they should extend it for the full year. What this frame ignores is the reason the Senate needs more time to negotiate , and the reason the House opposes a short term extension to allow that negotiation.

The current positions taken by both sides lack credibility and contradict their previous arguments. Democrats have pushed hard for most of this congressional session to get a yearlong extension, while Republicans have spent most of this session resisting the idea that these benefits even need extending. For the Republican leadership in the House to convince the rest of the GOP caucus to back these extensions, numerous contentious riders were attached to sweeten the deal. Senate Democrats have not been able to pass the year-long extension they favor, because the Republican Senate minority threatens to filibuster all year-long extensions that don’t contain these riders.

When Senate Democrats say they need more time to negotiate , they mean that they need more time to try and strip these riders from a long term extension . When House Republicans say they won’t pass a two month extension, they mean they won’t pass any extension without these riders attached. This isn’t a debate about how long the payroll tax cut should be extended for; it’s a debate about whether or not controversial riders that create major policy changes should pass along with the extensions.

Republicans won’t pass a short term extension because this gives Democrats a chance remove their riders. Democrats won’t pass the Republican’s one year extension because this would mean accepting these riders along with the extension. Democrats want a temporary measure because they think that during the full on Republican primary season they’ll have a better shot at passing an extension without the riders.

Some of these riders, such as the provision requiring the President to make a decision about the Keystone-XL pipeline within 60 days , were grudgingly added to the package passed by the Senate in the hopes that they would be enough to induce the House to go along with the temporary extension, but many other provisions have not been included in the temporary Senate bill.

Of the riders that are still being fought over, the sweeping reforms to unemployment insurance are the most unsettling for Democrats. Many of these reforms would effectively gut the unemployment insurance system by making it more difficult to enroll to collect benefits, by making it easier for employers to deny benefits by terminating employees rather than laying them off, and by slashing the period of eligibility from 99 weeks to 59 weeks.

A particularly contentious change would require all recipients of unemployment insurance who don’t have a high school diploma or GED to enroll to get one. This seems sensible on the surface, except that the bill does not provide any funding to pay for this education mandate. Since cash strapped States are already struggling to provide financial aid, this unfunded mandate would prevent the population most desperately in need of unemployment benefits from collecting them.

Another highly controversial provision would allow States to mandate drug testing for beneficiaries. This is a major invasion of privacy by the Federal Government (one that the Supreme Court has already ruled unconstitutional when passed by state governments). It is also a huge giveaway to big corporations. This reform would shift the multi-million dollar cost of pre-employment drug testing from corporate ledgers onto the public ledger.

As the end of the year deadline fast approaches both sides are digging in their heels. There are only a few possible outcomes in this fight. Republicans could give in and agree to pass an extension without attaching major reforms to it . This is the least likely outcome, since extending these benefits primarily helps the Democrats constituents. To most Republicans in Congress, the riders are more important than the extensions. Alternatively, Democrats could accept the Republican’s reforms in order to get the extensions passed. This is a definite possibility, since extending these benefits is a major priority for the Democrats. The most likely outcome is that neither side will give ground. In this case, working class American’s taxes will get raised , and emergency unemployment insurance will end. At this time both sides seem resigned to this stale mate and are posturing to blame the almost inevitable tax hike on the other side. No matter which side wins in this posturing contest, working class Americans will lose.

Submitters Bio:

I’m an author and a life long student student. I’m focused on advancing progressive ideas through writing, networking and activism. I write about wide ranging topics but am especially interested in public policy concerning the mass media, economics, labor struggles, and foreign relations. I am also interested in science, philosophy, dance, music, and art. When not writing I enjoy practicing martial arts and meditation, dancing, producing music and videos, and cooking good food.


Republicans and Lightbulbs being Out

This little article by MOTHER JONES again shows that many Republican leaders and candidates have tuned themselves out of reality in 2011 and look to do so next year.–KAS

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Inefficient Lighting

Republicans claim that a lightbulb efficiency law hurts industry. Just one problem: Industry actually likes the law. [READ MORE]