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What does Independence Day mean to you? The holiday can be a time to gather with family, friends and community. But it can also be an opportunity to reassess the direction of the country, the past struggles that secured rights and freedom, the challenges to power that rose up in the face of adversity, and the inequalities that still exist.
Today, voters in Mexico head to the polls in a presidential election that has been shaken up in the last few weeks by student-led protests that are challenging the front-runner status of Enrique Peña Nieto. A victory for Peña Nieto, the candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, would mark a return to the executive office by the political party that dominated Mexican politics for more than 70 years. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City and candidate in 2006, is also running and, according to polls, is considered the second place contender.
For more, we’re joined by FSRN reporter Shannon Young. She’s been following the race and joins us from Oaxaca.
Listen to FSRN's interview here.
By Linn Washington, Jr.
A new book by former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell is another display of this man’s savvy proclivity for self-promotion.
However, irrespective of the monstrous ego of this man known in Philadelphia as "Fast Eddy," Rendell is on target with the alarmingly accurate title of that book: A Nation of Wusses: How America’s Leaders Lost the Guts to Make Us Great.
Carl Levin Says Cutting 0.05% of a Military Budget That Has Doubled This Decade Will Endanger Us All
Last summer, during the crisis over raising the debt limit, Congress passed the Budget Control Act. That legislation established a so-called "supercommittee" to try to agree on $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years.
Because the supercommittee could not reach agreement, at the beginning of next year, automatic spending cuts called sequestration will kick in, divided equally between defense and domestic spending, cutting programs and activities across the board.
These automatic cuts are large, across-the-board cuts that set no priorities. They will do tremendous harm if we don't avoid them.
As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I'm concerned about the impact sequestration could have on our national security. Men and women in uniform could lose their jobs. Training would be curtailed. Acquisition programs would be disrupted.
But when I look beyond defense, I'm also concerned. These cuts could leave us not just with a hollowed-out military, but a hollowed-out economy.
Sequestration threatens our ability to continue the economic recovery, to educate our children, to care for the sick, to rebuild crumbling roads and bridges, to protect the environment, to invest in new technologies.
Our only option to avoid the economic train wreck from sequestration is to produce a balanced, bipartisan deficit reduction package. Balance requires three things. First, we need additional spending cuts -- but prudent, prioritized cuts. Second, we have to consider reforms of our entitlement programs. And third, we must include additional revenue.
Historically, federal tax revenue has been about 19-20 percent of our economic output. Today it's closer to 15 percent. Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton all reached deficit deals that got at least one-third of their deficit reduction from revenue.
Our tax code is full of loopholes, including offshore tax havens to help wealthy Americans avoid paying their taxes. Closing them down would restore billions of dollars in revenue.
We also must consider reversing Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, who have prospered in recent years even as middle-class incomes have stagnated.
Most Republicans in Congress have signed a pledge they will oppose any attempt to add new revenue to reduce the deficit and protect vital programs. Those opponents have to choose: Will they continue to defend tax breaks and loopholes that benefit the wealthiest Americans, which is the only group that has done well in the recession? Or will they choose to protect national security, students, seniors, and workers?
Ultimately, I think we will reach a balanced deficit reduction agreement. But if it comes too late -- during the lame duck session in December, for example -- much of the economic damage will already be done.
We know the way out. The way out is compromise. And if we know the path, we shouldn't wait to take it.
As of Monday evening, Charlottesville City Council has joined the list of over 250 localities, several state legislatures, 22 state attorneys general, the Supreme Court of Montana, four Supreme Court justices, dozens of Congress members, countless clubs and organizations and political parties, and -- in poll after poll -- the vast majority of the people of the United States -- all of whom want the U.S. Constitution amended or by other means wish to undo the Citizens United ruling that opened the flood gates on corporate election spending.
A group of local citizens met, one at a time, with four of the five City Council members ahead of time to win their support. Several of us spoke at Monday's meeting. When I spoke I asked people to stand up if they believed that Congress and states and cities should be allowed to limit or ban corporate and private spending on elections.
A delegation of over a dozen Afghans, mostly women, was attending the meeting. I encouraged them to stand up if they thought the model for Afghanistan's future should be democracy rather than corruption.
I didn't spot a single person left seated.
But there probably was one, because a woman had spoken against the resolution. She'd falsely accused those of us speaking in support of not being from Charlottesville and not caring about local people or local issues. We of course had explained the importance of local governments representing their constituents to higher governments on matters of great importance.
The local newspaper, the Daily Progress, had devoted a big front-page story a few days beforehand to the point of view of the one city council member who opposed the resolution on the grounds that it was not a local matter. Following a 4-0 vote in favor of the resolution, the Daily Progress quickly produced a new article about the point of view of that same city council member who had abstained, not the four who had voted yes, not the crowd that supported them, not what it does to Charlottesville to have a Congress that ignores majority opinion and obeys its funders, not the people who had drafted and promoted the resolution, not the impact it might have, not the national trend, not the pending U.S. Supreme Court case, but the one councilwoman who abstained from voting and who -- during the course of Monday's meeting baselessly accused her four colleagues of being "manipulated" -- presumably by us.
City Councilman Dave Norris pointed out that every single locality in Virginia petitions the state goverment every year, and many petititon Congress every year. Councilwoman Kristin Szakos noted that when she and her colleagues devote 30 minutes to an important issue, they don't neglect others but simply extend the meeting 30 minutes.
The resolution text, or very close to it, follows. For exact wording check with Charlottesville City Council.
WHEREAS, We the people adopted and ratified the United States Constitution to protect the free speech and other rights of people, not corporations; and
WHEREAS, Corporations are not people but instead are entities created by the law of states and nations; and
WHEREAS, for the past three decades, a divided United States Supreme Court has transformed the First Amendment into a powerful tool for corporations seeking to evade and invalidate the people’s laws; and
WHEREAS, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, relying on prior decisions, interpreted the First Amendment of the Constitution to afford corporations the same free speech protections as natural persons; and
WHEREAS, Citizens United overturned longstanding precedent prohibiting corporations from spending corporate general treasury funds in our elections; and
WHEREAS, Citizens United unleashed a torrent of corporate money in our political process unmatched by any campaign expenditure totals in United States history; and
WHEREAS, Citizens United purports to invalidate state laws and even state Constitutional provisions separating corporate money from elections; and
WHEREAS, Citizens United presents a serious and direct threat to our republican democracy; and
WHEREAS, hundreds of municipalities across the nation are joining together to call for an Amendment to the United States Constitution to establish that political speech and spending by corporate entities to influence the political process must be regulated and made subservient to the people’s interest in authentic democracy and self-governance; and
WHEREAS, the people of the United States previously have used the constitutional amendment process to correct decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court that are deemed to be egregious and wrongly decided and which go to the heart of our democracy and self-government.
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT WE CALL UPON THE VIRGINIA STATE LEGISLATURE AND THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS TO SUPPORT A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT TO REVERSE CITIZENS UNITED V. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION AND TO RESTORE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS AND FAIR ELECTIONS TO THE PEOPLE. By the People of Charlottesville, Va.
First-of-its-kind "Refrain From Political Spending" Resolution to Be Voted on Today at Bank of America Shareholder Meeting
Resolution would ask the corporation to opt out of the unlimited, often secret spending ability afforded to it by the Supreme Court in Citizens United
*UPDATE:* On Tuesday, May 8, at 3M Corp.’s shareholder meeting, investors urged the board to adopt the resolution to refrain from spending the company’s general treasury funds on influencing elections. Despite evidence that political spending can lower stock performance, the board voted down the measure.
Rhode Island has just become the 4th state to officially call for a U.S. constitutional amendment:
"to effectively overturn the holding of Citizens United and it’s [sic] progeny and to permit the governments of the United States and the several states to regulate and restrict independent political expenditures by corporations and wealthy individuals"
Congratulations to the people of Rhode Island, who've made history today, and are now at the leading edge of our nationwide movement to take America back from corporate control and put our democracy back in the hands of we, the people.
By Dave Lindorff
There are two truths about the US that come clearly to the fore in the current diplomatic blow-up between the US and China over the case of people’s lawyer Chen Guangcheng, though neither is really getting stated in the corporate media coverage of the story.
The first is that the US does not, and has not really ever, cared about the issue of human rights abuses in China, and the second is that the Obama administration, including the supposedly “tough” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, doesn’t know squat about how to negotiate -- not when it comes to dealing with Republicans in Congress, and certainly not when it comes to China.
By Dave Lindorff
As we slog towards another vapid, largely meaningless exercise in pretend democracy with the selection of a new president and Congress this November, it is time to make it clear that the current president, elected four years ago by so many people with such inflated expectations four years ago (myself included, as I had hoped, vainly it turned out, that those who elected him would then press him to act in progressive ways), is not only a betrayer of those hopes, but is a serial violator of his oath of office. He is, in truth, a war criminal easily the equal of his predecessor, George W. Bush, and perhaps even of Bush’s regent, former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Let me count the ways:
By Dave Lindorff
(This article originally appeared in The Nation online, where it can be read in full)
By John Grant
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (or AIPAC) is having its three-day annual meeting in Washington DC beginning Sunday March 4th. AIPAC is arriving in an atmosphere of beating war drums and rattling sabers against Iran.
Israel preemptively starting a war with Iran would be bad enough, but the assumption that the United States will be part of that war should be very disturbing to Americans -- who are just getting over one misguided, costly war in Iraq and are still involved in another in Afghanistan.
By John Nichols, The Nation
The Constitution of the United States can be amended in two formal ways: from the top down and from the bottom up.
But New Mexico legislators have found a third way and, hopefully, other state legislators around the country will follow their lead.
The US Constitution is traditionally amended via a process that begins with the endorsement of an amendment by the US House and US Senate and then the ratification of that amendment by the requisite three-fourths of state legislatures. That’s the top-down route. The bottom-up route begins when two-thirds of the state legislatures ask Congress to call a national convention to propose amendments.
By Felix Salmon, Reuters
One of the saddest aspects of the financialization of the US economy is the way in which America’s best and brightest found themselves working on Wall Street, rather than in jobs which improved the state of the world. Proof of this comes from the absolutely astonishing 325-page comment letter on the Volcker Rule which has been put together by Occupy the SEC; it’s pretty clear, from reading the letter, that the people who wrote it are whip-smart and extremely talented.
Occupy the SEC is the wonky finreg arm of Occupy Wall Street, and its main authors are worth naming and celebrating: Akshat Tewary, Alexis Goldstein, Corley Miller, George Bailey, Caitlin Kline, Elizabeth Friedrich, and Eric Taylor. If you can’t read the whole thing, at least read the introductory comments, on pages 3-6, both for their substance and for the panache of their delivery. A taster:
By Douglas A. Berg
Nancy Goodman Brinker, a pioneer of “cause marketing”, founded Susan G. Komen For the Cure in 1982, reportedly as the fulfillment of a deathbed promise made to her sister, a victim of breast cancer. In 1994, Brinker founded In Your Corner, Inc., a for-profit company that markets health products and information. In 1998, Brinker sold In Your Corner to AstraZeneca, the third largest pesticide manufacturer in the world, primarily through Syngenta, a giant global agribusiness company it owns jointly with Novartis.
The Codepink "Pink Panther Ladies Investment Club" met with Goldman Sachs in their posh San Francisco offices
Unconstitutional War: Strategic Risk in the Age of Congressional Abdication
by Joseph V. Gallagher III
Wholesale Approval of Genetically Engineered Foods
Obama Administration Disappoints/Angers Public
Agent Orange Herbicide Ingredient Would be Widely Used
WISCONSIN - January 4 - Over the holidays, the United States Department of Agriculture announced its approval of a novel strain of genetically engineered corn, developed by Monsanto, purportedly being “drought tolerant.”
Despite receiving nearly 45,000 public comments in opposition to this particular genetically engineered (GE) corn variety (and only 23 comments in favor), the Obama administration gave Monsanto the green light to release its newest GE corn variety freely into the environment and American food supply, without any governmental oversight or safety tracking.
HELENA — The Montana Supreme Court on Friday overturned a lower court’s ruling and reinstated the state’s century-old ban on direct spending by corporations for or against political candidates.
The justices ruled 5-2 in favor of the state attorney general’s office and commissioner of political practices to uphold the initiative passed by Montana voters in 1912.
Western Tradition Partnership, a conservative political group now known as American Tradition Partnership, joined by Champion Painting Inc., and the Montana Shooting Sports Association Inc., had challenged the Montana ban after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The U.S. Supreme Court decision granted political speech rights to corporations.
District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock of Helena ruled that the U.S. Supreme Court decision rendered the Montana ban unconstitutional.
But the Montana Supreme Court’s majority saw it differently and overturned Sherlock.
“Citizens United does not compel a conclusion that Montana’s law prohibiting independent political expenditures by a corporation related to a candidate is unconstitutional,” Chief Justice Mike McGrath wrote for the majority. “Rather, applying the principles enunciated in Citizens United, it is clear that Montana has a compelling interest to impose the challenged rationally tailored statutory restriction.”
The court held that corporations are not deprived of political speech by the Montana law.
They can form political committees, as many other groups have done, but must file reports disclosing where they raised their money and how they spent it. They also can hire legislative lobbyists.
“The many lobbyists and political committees who participate in each session of the Montana Legislature bear witness,” the majority opinion said. “Under the undisputed fact here, the political committee is an easily implemented and effective alternative to direct corporate spending for engaging in political speech.”
National security advisers to the Republican presidential candidates have ties to defense, homeland security and energy companies that have received at least $40 billion in federal contracts since 2008.
Five of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s 41 national security and foreign policy advisers have links to companies that last year alone received at least $7.9 billion in federal contracts, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Government analyst Christopher Flavelle. Of that, $7.3 billion came from the Department of Defense.
Romney and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, who are leading in the polls, have advisers who sit on the board of directors of BAE Systems Inc., which has received at least $37 billion in U.S. government contracts since 2008, the most of any of the companies with ties to Republican national security advisers.
William Schneider, an adviser to Gingrich, and Michael Chertoff, who counsels Romney, serve on the board of the U.S. subsidiary of BAE Systems Plc, Europe’s largest defense contractor. The American company makes the Army’s Bradley Fighting Vehicle and provides information technology systems to American intelligence agencies and repair services to the U.S. Navy.
19 December 2011 - Almost two-thirds of countries asked by human rights groups about their involvement in extraordinary rendition flights have failed to comply with freedom of information requests – with European nations in particular accused of withholding evidence of the controversial CIA programme.
From The New Bottom Line and the Public Accountability Initiative
According to a "mini-report" released today by the The New Bottom Line and the Public Accountability Initiative, Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, US Bank, and Wells Fargo are set to award themselves $156 billion in compensation (including salaries, benefits and bonuses) to executives in 2011, a 3.7 percent increase over 2010. (Although, they do not release data on compensation until next year, it is possible to estimate the size of the compensation pool based on the first three quarters of 2011.)
- To download the mini-report: click here.
- To see our blog post about the report (including info on bank bonus actions in Chicago and Minneapolis last week), click here
- To read the full press release, click here
- To see some infographics we cooked up (comparing BofA, Wells Fargo, Chase CEO compensation to that of hourly, daily, annual pay to average worker) click here
We recently called on the CEOs of Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase to forego holiday bonuses for their executives and use the money to write down mortgage principal for families facing foreclosure or who owe more than their homes are worth, make loans to small businesses, and pay their fair share of taxes. In Chicago and Minneapolis last week, National People's Action groups delivered more than 5,000 signatures from that online call to action. On Thursday, families in Chicago pledged to move $218,000 from Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase to community banks and credit unions that share their values (Move Our Money campaign in action!!). On Friday, in Minneapolis, about 50 people protested in front of Wells Fargo and urged the bank to create jobs and help people stay in their homes instead of dispersing huge bonuses. In January, when information about the banks’ compensation packages becomes more available, there will be more protests to come.
(Washington, DC) Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich just got 14 years in prison. He wheeled and dealed to leverage contributions and other favors based on his position as governor. He was indicted by former special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (who tanked the Valerie Plame case).
Maybe it was the former governor's colorful (and to some vulgar) language captured on audio tapes or his brash style. Regardless of the motives, the time, money and attention wasted on his indictment and trial stands in stark contrast to the crimes never prosecuted, crimes that resulted in death, unnecessary illness and suffering, and the loss of trillions of dollars caused by the perpetrators of the current economic crisis. (Image: michaelpickard)
While prosecutors pick easy targets like Blagojevich, serious crimes go unprosecuted.
President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney lied about the basis for invading Iraq. As a result, they are responsible for the deaths of soldiers resulting from that invasion and occupation.
Student Interrupts US Climate Destoyer, You Can Tell It's an International Forum Because They Applauded Rather Than Yelling U-S-A
At the Unmanned Systems Fair on September 21, the latest drone technology was on display. The drone fair, which took place in the lobby of the Rayburn House Office Building, also displayed the easy mix of government and business. Also on exhibit was the kind of bipartisan unity often seen when Democrats and Republicans rally around security and federal pork.
Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., and Henry Cuellar, D-Tex., co-chairs of the Unmanned Systems Caucus, welcomed the drone industry and its supporters to Capitol Hill.
The drone caucus, which has more than 50 members, cosponsored the drone fete with the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an industry group that brings together the leading drone manufacturers. Drone orders from the federal government are rolling in to AUVSI corporate members, including such top military contractors as General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman.
US to Pay $2.5M in Photo Editor's Anthrax Death
Although a number of lawsuits have been dismissed, the U.S. Government chose to settle in the case of Mr. Stevens' death. The deal comes on the heels of [ new evidence ] that further clouds the summary determination that Dr. Bruce Ivins, who committed suicide during the investigation, was the lone source of the anthrax attack. This deal forestalls the possibility of new details being revealed in court. - JPS/RSN
ore than a decade after tabloid photo editor Robert Stevens became the first victim of the 2001 anthrax attacks, the U.S. government has agreed to pay his widow and family $2.5 million to settle their lawsuit, according to documents released Tuesday.
Stevens, 63, died on Oct. 5, 2001, when a letter containing deadly anthrax spores was opened at the then-headquarters in Boca Raton of American Media Inc., publisher of the National Enquirer, Sun and Globe tabloids. Eventually four other people would die and 17 others would be sickened in similar letter attacks, which the FBI blames on a lone government scientist who committed suicide.
Stevens' widow, Maureen Stevens, sued the government in 2003, claiming its negligence caused her husband's death by failing to adequately safeguard anthrax at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md. The FBI probe concluded that Fort Detrick was the source of the spores used in the attacks in New York, Washington and Florida.
The government failed to carry out its "duty of care, the highest degree of care" in making sure the deadly microbes were kept tightly under lock and key, said the lawsuit filed in West Palm Beach federal court.
The case languished for years in procedural delays and appeals until the FBI announced in 2008 that a Fort Detrick scientist, Dr. Bruce Ivins, was responsible for the attacks. Although some of his colleagues and outside experts have raised doubts about his intent and ability to weaponize the anthrax, the FBI formally closed its "Amerithrax" investigation in 2010.
Ivins killed himself with an overdose of Tylenol and valium as investigators closed in. His attorney has maintained Ivins is innocent, but Justice Department prosecutors say they had more than enough evidence to convict him at trial.
Stevens' attorney, Richard Schuler, said when the FBI announced that Ivins was their man that it proved a key allegation in their lawsuit: "We've maintained all along this was an inside job," he said. Schuler called the settlement a "tremendous victory" for the Stevens family after years of litigation.
"They fought us at every turn and dragged this thing out," Schuler said. "You have to control access to these tremendously dangerous organisms and they didn't have any of that. You had security that was Swiss cheese out there."
The Justice Department declined comment beyond the settlement documents.
Government attorneys who handled the Stevens settlement said in the court papers that it is not "an admission of liability or fault on the part of the United States" and that the intent of the deal was "avoiding the expenses and risks of further litigation."
The settlement avoids a trial that had been set for early 2012 before Senior U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley, who had earlier rebuffed U.S. efforts to get the case dismissed.
The deal allows for attorney fees of up to 25 percent and requires that a host of sensitive documents be destroyed or returned to U.S. officials. In addition to Maureen Stevens, 68, the settlement will benefit her three grown children.
Schuler said he felt confident Stevens would prevail at a trial but likely would face years of appeals and uncertainty about whether she would ever collect. The settlement avoids all that.
"She's delighted that the case has come to a successful conclusion and with the improved security the government has engaged in," Schuler said.
For years the FBI investigation focused on another scientist, Steven Hatfill, who was identified as a "person of interest" in 2001 by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. Hatfill was eventually cleared and sued the government for invasion of privacy, eventually reaching a $5.8 million settlement.
Lawsuits filed by other victims have been dismissed, although at least one is on appeal. Employees of a postal facility in Washington, D.C., where two workers died, sued the Postal Service for allegedly failing to protect them, but a judge in 2004 ruled that the service was immune.
The 67,200-square foot AMI building in Boca Raton, meanwhile, took years to decontaminate and was finally reopened in 2007. AMI had long since moved its headquarters to New York, leaving behind an archive of some 5 million photographs, although many were digitally scanned for preservation.
An AMI mailroom worker, Ernesto Blanco, was sickened in the attack but recovered.