Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The war against American citizens

In 1971, before becoming a Supreme Court justice, Lewis F. Powell Jr. penned a memo to his friend Eugene Sydnor of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce advocating a comprehensive strategy in favor of corporate interests. Powell wrote, “Under our constitutional system, especially with an activist-minded Supreme Court, the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change.”
In last week’s ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission , the Supreme Court was not a mere instrument so much as a blowtorch, searing a hole in the fabric of our fragile democracy.
This predictable decision from the 1 Percent Court to repeal federal limits on overall individual campaign contributions overturns nearly 40 years of campaign finance law.
It also completes a trifecta of rulings that started in 1976 with Buckley v. Valeo, and the Midas touch of judicial malpractice, turning money into speech. As Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in an impassioned dissent to McCutcheon, taken together with the 2010 ruling in Citizens United, “today’s decision eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”
This, foreshadowed in Powell’s decades-old memo, has always been the right’s plan — to shift the system in favor of the wealthy and powerful. Put it this way: If the limit hadn’t existed in 2012, the 1,219 biggest donors could have given more money than over 4 million small donors to the Obama and Romney campaigns — combined.
But McCutcheon was not the only body blow to our democracy, in what was possibly the worst week in the history of campaign finance reform.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) let his proposal for publicly financed statewide elections die after years of promises to restore the public trust. In a state that’s often a laboratory of democracy, the governor has agreed to what is little more than a clinical trial — a single comptroller’s race this year — that some experts claim is “designed to fail.”
The American experiment seems to be run by a smaller and smaller control group as billionaires — like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson — get expanding seats at the shrinking political table.
NASCAR drivers wear the corporate logos of their sponsors on their suits. The justices who sided with plutocracy ought to wear sponsorship logos on their robes, too.
Conversations about court rulings and policy proposals can obscure what’s really at stake: the well-being of the American people. The Court and Cuomo gave the 1 percent even more opportunities to, effectively, buy the kind of access to elected officials that most voters and small donors could never dream of. The weakening of campaign finance laws tracks with the widening income gap, as the wealthiest have secured policies, from lower taxes to deregulation — that enrich themselves at the expense of everybody else.
This, to paraphrase Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D), is why the system is rigged. Metastasizing money drowns out the voices of actual Americans, and suffocates policies such as raising the minimum wage and equal pay that would benefit workers. It also skews the playing field, not just between the haves and have-nots, but also between male and female candidates.
We live in a world where elected officials care less about checks and balances and more about their checkbooks and balance sheets. Where fundraising is more important than legislating. Where public policy is auctioned off to the highest bidder.
That’s why getting money out of politics is not a partisan issue. According to Gallup, nearly eight out of 10 Americans think campaigns should be limited in what they can raise and spend, while a 2012 CBS poll shows that about two-thirds of Americans believe in limiting individual campaign contributions.
Hopefully, popular outrage will boost the pressure for reform; there has already been a sharp increase in grassroots action. In the hours and days after the ruling, coalitions such as Public Citizen have mobilized thousands of people in 140 demonstrations across 38 states to protest the McCutcheon ruling. Nearly 500 local governments and 16 states and the District have called for a constitutional amendment to wrest our elections back from the elite. Move to Amend, which supports a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United and McCutcheon, and end the fiction that corporations are people and money equals speech, already has over 300,000 members.
A resolution from Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) — with a House companion introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) — calling for a constitutional amendment to allow Congress to fully regulate campaign contributions, and to encourage states to regulate and limit campaign spending, already had 29 co-sponsors and picked up 3 more on the day the Roberts Court announced its decision. Citizens in New York, who are furious at Cuomo for failing to enact reform, are renewing the drive to hold him accountable for his actions. And even while pushing for a constitutional amendment — an uphill battle —supporters of clean elections in Congress and outside are fighting for increased disclosure and public financing of elections.
The all-out assault against campaign finance reform, on the heels of the Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder , is just one more example of our democratic system in crisis. “Under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts,” my Nation colleague Ari Berman recently wrote, “the Supreme Court has made it far easier to buy an election and far harder to vote in one.” But the fear of democracy’s premature death doesn’t look like it’s silencing people; instead, it is inspiring a renewed commitment to fight for its survival.

The Supreme Court Gutted the Voting Rights Act. What Happened Next in These 8 States Will Not Shock You.

The Supreme Court Gutted the Voting Rights Act. What Happened Next in These 8 States Will Not Shock You.

When his court weakened the civil-rights-era law last year, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that "our country has changed." We crunched the numbers. He was wrong.

Voters waiting to vote at Wagner Middle School in New York City, Nov 6, 2012. 

When the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to overturn a key section of the Voting Rights Act last June, Justice Ruth Ginsburg warned that getting rid of the measure was like "throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet." The 1965 law required that lawmakers in states with a history of discriminating against minority voters get federal permission before changing voting rules. Now that the Supreme Court has invalidated this requirement, GOP lawmakers across the United States are running buck wild with new voting restrictions.
Before the Shelby County v. Holder decision came down on June 25, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required federal review of new voting rules in 15 states, most of them in the South. (In a few of these states, only specific counties or townships were covered.) Chief Justice John Roberts voted to gut the Voting Rights Act on the basis that "our country has changed," and that blanket federal protection wasn't needed to stop discrimination. But the country hasn't changed as much as he may think.
We looked at how many of these 15 states passed or implemented voting restrictions after Section 5 was invalidated, compared to the states that were not covered by the law. (We defined "voting restriction" as passing or implementing a voter ID law, cutting voting hours, purging voter rolls, or ending same-day registration. Advocates criticize these kinds of laws for discriminating against low-income voters, young people, and minorities, who tend to vote for Democrats.) We found that 8 of the 15 states, or 53 percent, passed or implemented voting restrictions since June 25, compared to 3 of 35 states that were not covered under Section 5—or less than 9 percent. Additionally, a number of states not covered by the Voting Rights Act actually expanded voting rights in the same time period.
States that were previously covered in some part by Section 5 moved quickly after it was invalidated. Within two hours of the Shelby decision, Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that the state's voter identification law—which had previously been blocked by a federal court—would be immediately implemented. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, another Republican, also immediately instated his state's voter ID law. About one month after the Shelby decision, Republicans in North Carolina pushed through a package of extreme voting restrictions, including ending same-day registration, shortening early voting by a week, requiring photo ID, and ending a program that encourages high schoolers to sign up to vote when they turn 18. In October, Virginia purged more than 38,000 names from the voter rolls. Mississippi's Republican secretary of state, Delbert Hosemann, told the Associated Press in November that the state was going to start implementing its voter ID law by the June 2014 elections. (This proposal was undergoing Justice Department review when the Shelbydecision came down.) In January, Republican Gov. Rick Scott attempted again (unsuccessfully) to purge noncitizens from Florida's voting rolls, a move he had tried previously in 2012, before being blocked by Section 5. And thanks to the Supreme Court ruling, South Carolina was able to implement a stricter photo identification requirement. 
But as Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justiceat New York University, notes, "Perhaps the biggest impact of Section 5 has always been at the local level." And there's been a lot of movement there, as well: After Shelby, Jacksonville, Florida, allegedly moved a voting center that had one of the highest African American voter turnouts in the state to a new site that's not near public transportation. In Texas, Galveston County eliminated virtually all of the black- and Latino-held constable and justice positions in the county, a move that was previously blocked under Section 5.
Data shows that the law really did work at preventing voting restrictions: Between 1982 and 2006, the Justice Department blocked more than 700 voting changes on the basis that the changes were discriminatory. But experts say it's hard to say definitively whether all of these new laws would have been blocked if Section 5 had still been in place. The new birth certificate requirements in Arizona and Kansas, for example, would likely have gone forward regardless of the Shelby decision. But Katherine Culliton-Gonz├ílez, a senior attorney and director of voter protection for Advancement Project, notes, "There is a heavier concentration of voting restrictions in those states that were previously covered."
Three outliers are Kansas, Ohio, and Wisconsin, all of which passed or implemented voting restrictions this year, and were never covered under Section 5. But Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's voting rights project, argues that they could have still been influenced by the Supreme Court decision. "When you see half a dozen or more states immediately passing laws to restrict voting after Shelby, that spreads to other parts of the country," he says. "It's not like Vegas. What happens in one state doesn't stay there."
Members of Congress have attempted to introduce legislation that would resurrect the key protections shot down by the Supreme Court, but have not yet been successful. And none of this is great news for Democrats, who could lose the Senate in 2014. On Monday, Vice President Joe Biden denounced the GOP effort and urged Democrats to stand up for voting rights. He said, "If someone had said to me 10 years ago I had to make a pitch for protecting voting rights today, I would have said, 'You got to be kidding.'"


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Do you know that the US is FIGHTING public healthcare around the world, trying to force other countries to end their public healthcare so they have to pay more for drugs, etc. That THAT is the REAL reason we CAN'T have affordable healthcare in the US?

by christ0ph

That is an important fact that all Americans should be aware of, because it explains why we always get the same rehashed proposals for healthcare and never get real affordable health care. We need to look at how the US has been trying to block public healthcare systems through treaties like CAFTA, TPP, GATS and others, to really understand why we ended up with such bad proposals from presidential campaigns of Obama and Hilary Clinton in 2008.
They proposed pre-broken, for profit schemes because thats all the US-written trade agreements allow. AND THEY WERE NOT HONEST WITH THE AMERICAN PEOPLE ABOUT THAT.
Nor was Harry Reid who dishonestly implied that Obamacare was a "stepping stone to single payer" NOTHING COULD BE FARTHER FROM THE TRUTH, because in fact, the US is pushing mandatory irreversible blocks which BYPASSING DEMOCRACY- prevent public healthcare systems from being established in countries once they sign these agreements, and try to roll back existing ones..
They are doing the same coercive things here - to us. In fact, Obamacare's use of foreign contractors is likely to give those foreign contractors a legal entitlement to stay here selling their management services FOREVER (which is an awfully long time) blocking affordable healthcare by international treaties that are intentionally irreversible because of investor-state. People who want affordable healthcare [have to learn this unpleasant set of facts about the free trade "agreements" which reveals the fact that both parties have been scheming to trap the US into irreversible (because the lock-in will be - due to WTO agreement- i.e. out of US politicians hands - (something similar happened to South Africa)- So, even if we are soon in an unaffordable healthcare situation for the benefit of the big corporate interests such as the drug companies and the insurance companies, we wont be able to change it by means of anything we could do in an election, at all.. Oops! The recent WTO tribunal case with Antigua and the US dispute over online gambling (which the US lost) illustrates how this lock in can occur "inadvertently"- That's because its the default.
The reason we cannot have affordable healthcare ourselves, then, really is that since they want to export the horrible US for profit model around the world by coercive trade agreements, it would be inconsistent and therefore its in practical terms impossible for us to have affordable healthcare when we (the US policies and US promoted "agreements" don't want to let others have it.
They are using these agreements coercively, by mens of "investor-state" lawsuits, saying that privatization is the future, and the "agreements" "ratchet effect" make any movement towards privatization irreversible- So, not only is it a lie that Obamacare coud lead to single payer, their pointed refusal to tell the truth about this irreversible aspect of it, should tell us its a trap. One of the first things they did was hire an international prison and government services firm "the firm that is running britain" to administer the roll-out. That makes it international trade. Oops.
Also, they are making money by taking something very important from us, but we are not receiving any compensation for it, just grief. Also, eventually they will use the high cost of healthcare as a manufactured crisis to start trading away US jobs in health care for access to foreign markets under the "fourth mode of supply", thats also probably their plan with education. Their argument will be that public services are a form of stealing of markets from their rightful "owners"- The real reason is that public services are too damn efficient and they do not lend themselves to frequent "churning" to generate kickbacks and funnel money to supporters. (They are lying about that too)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Who knew that allowing kids to be kids was good for them?

School ditches rules and loses bullies

Chaos may reign at Swanson Primary School with children climbing trees, riding skateboards and playing bullrush during playtime, but surprisingly the students don't cause bedlam, the principal says.
Ripping up the playground rulebook is having incredible effects on children at an Auckland school.
The school is actually seeing a drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing.
Principal Bruce McLachlan rid the school of playtime rules as part of a successful university experiment.
"We want kids to be safe and to look after them, but we end up wrapping them in cotton wool when in fact they should be able to fall over."
Letting children test themselves on a scooter during playtime could make them more aware of the dangers when getting behind the wheel of a car in high school, he said.
"When you look at our playground it looks chaotic. From an adult's perspective, it looks like kids might get hurt, but they don't."
Swanson School signed up to the study by AUT and Otago University just over two years ago, with the aim of encouraging active play.
However, the school took the experiment a step further by abandoning the rules completely, much to the horror of some teachers at the time, he said.
When the university study wrapped up at the end of last year the school and researchers were amazed by the results.
Mudslides, skateboarding, bullrush and tree climbing kept the children so occupied the school no longer needed a timeout area or as many teachers on patrol.
Instead of a playground, children used their imagination to play in a "loose parts pit" which contained junk such as wood, tyres and an old fire hose.
"The kids were motivated, busy and engaged. In my experience, the time children get into trouble is when they are not busy, motivated and engaged. It's during that time they bully other kids, graffiti or wreck things around the school."
Parents were happy too because their children were happy, he said.
But this wasn't a playtime revolution, it was just a return to the days before health and safety policies came to rule.
AUT professor of public health Grant Schofield, who worked on the research project, said there are too many rules in modern playgrounds.
"The great paradox of cotton-woolling children is it's more dangerous in the long-run."
Society's obsession with protecting children ignores the benefits of risk-taking, he said.
Children develop the frontal lobe of their brain when taking risks, meaning they work out consequences. "You can't teach them that. They have to learn risk on their own terms. It doesn't develop by watching TV, they have to get out there."
The research project morphed into something bigger when plans to upgrade playgrounds were stopped due to over-zealous safety regulations and costly play equipment.
"There was so many ridiculous health and safety regulations and the kids thought the static structures of playgrounds were boring."
When researchers - inspired by their own risk-taking childhoods - decided to give children the freedom to create their own play, principals shook their heads but eventually four Dunedin schools and four West Auckland schools agreed to take on the challenge, including Swanson Primary School.
It was expected the children would be more active, but researchers were amazed by all the behavioural pay-offs. The final results of the study will be collated this year.
Schofield urged other schools to embrace risk-taking. "It's a no brainer. As far as implementation, it's a zero-cost game in most cases. All you are doing is abandoning rules," he said.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

‘There was a class war, and the poor people lost’. “We are Reagan’s children, we are Thatcher’s children, ‘There is no society, there’s just you.’ We bought this stuff hook, line and sinker... We’re getting the America we’ve paid for.”

David Simon tells Bill Moyers: ‘There was a class war, and the poor people lost’

By Arturo Garcia

Former journalist and TV showrunner David Simon excoriated not only what he described as a broken American government in an interview with Bill Moyers on Friday, but a defeated labor movement.
“The fights gone out of labor,” Simon told Moyers. “Labor’s lost the fight. Capital’s won.”
“To the victor go the spoils,” Moyer retorted.
“There was a class war, and the poor people lost and the working people lost,” Simon continued, arguing that the country did best economically when labor activists and businesses had a more level playing field, ensuring that neither of them won “all the time.”
Simon also expanded on remarks he made at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Australia last month, saying “broken” was the only way to describe the government at this point, despite President Barack Obama’s inclusive language at the State of the Union address.
“You can buy these guys on the cheap,” Simon said. “And the capital’s been at it a long time and the rules have been relaxed. The Supreme Court has walked away from any sort of responsibility to maintain democracy at that level. That’s the aspect of government that’s broken.”
At the same time, Simon also ripped what he called the “juvenile” libertarian philosophy of letting the free market set the table for economic policy, as well as the opposition to the ideas of raising the minimum wage and providing universal health care.
“We are Reagan’s children, we are Thatcher’s children,” Simon said. “You know, ‘There is no society, there’s just you.’ We bought this stuff hook, line and sinker and we are building that. We’re getting the America we’ve paid for.”
Watch Simon’s discussion with Moyers, as aired on Moyers & Company on Friday, below.