Chris Ott, right, helps her son, former Marine John Thomas Doody, J.T., who was shot while serving in Fallujah, Iraq, subsequently suffering an infection and a series of strokes that left him in a coma and relying on a ventilator to survive in Riverview, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
In 2010, I began to follow US soldiers down a long trail of waste and sorrow that led from the battle spaces of Afghanistan to the emergency room of the trauma hospital at Bagram Air Base, where their catastrophic wounds were surgically treated and their condition stabilized. Then I accompanied some of them by cargo plane to Ramstein Air Base in Germany for more surgeries at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, or LRMC (pronounced Larm-See), the largest American hospital outside the United States.
Once stabilized again, those critical patients who survived would be taken by ambulance a short distance back to Ramstein, where a C-17 waited to fly them across the Atlantic to Dover Air Base in Delaware. There, tall, multilayered ambulances awaited the wounded for the last leg of their many-thousand-mile journey to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington DC or the Naval Hospital at Bethesda, Maryland, where, depending upon their injuries, they might remain for a year or two, or more.
Now, we are in Germany, halfway home. This evening, the ambulance from LRMC heading for the flight line at Ramstein will be full of critical-care patients, so I leave the hospital early and board the plane to watch the medical teams bring them aboard. They’ve done this drill many times a week since the start of the Afghan War. They are practiced, efficient and fast, and so we are soon in the air again. This time, with a full load. MORE
In this Friday, Nov. 22, 1963 photo, seen through the foreground convertible's windshield, President John F. Kennedy's hand reaches toward his head within seconds of being fatally shot as first lady Jacqueline Kennedy holds his forearm as the motorcade proceeds along Elm Street past the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas. (AP/James W. Ike Altgens)
Audio of the Boston Symphony Orchestra's music director Erich Leinsdorf making the announcement that John F. Kennedy had died and the music that followed.
Matt Gertz was kind enough to point me to this terrific piece by James Inverne, about how the Boston Symphony Orchestra handled their obligation to announce the death of President John F. Kennedy when the news was confirmed shortly before the start of their regularly-scheduled Friday afternoon concert.
Inverne spoke with the BSO’s librarian William Shisler, who was one of the first people to know that President Kennedy had been fatally shot and who pulled the sheet music to Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony for the musicians and then waited to hear how the audience would react: MORE
“The Yellen doctrine” –> After watching her hearing testimony yesterday, The New Yorker’s John Cassidy says that Janet Yellin, Obama’s nominee to take Ben Bernanke’s job at the Fed, may be the “most dovish head of the Fed since Marriner S. Eccles, the Mormon banker whom F.D.R. appointed during the Great Depression.” ALSO: The Week on what the Federal Reserve could learn from Strike Debt.
Not fond of democracy –> In the middle of the night, the Wisconsin assembly rejected a call for non-partisan districting, and approved a slew of voter restrictions, anti-choice license plates and a no-go zone around the site of a controversial proposed iron mine, report Patrick Marley and Jason Stein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Genuine grassroots activism –> The campus arm of Fix the Debt — a group dedicated to cutting Social Security and Medicare so its billionaire backers can pay lower taxes — was caught publishing identical op-eds from different “students” in various college newspapers, complete with the same first-person accounts. Mary Bottari reports for CAF.
Turns out we’re the problem –> Claudia Ciobanu reports for IPS News that a leaked document suggests that the big divide in the latest round of climate change negotiations is between the US and 77 developing countries.
Bailout-weary –> The Financial Times reports that Moody’s has cut three mega-banks’ credit ratings because they’re less likely to get bailed out if they get burned making bad bets.
This week Bill previewed the new film Following the Ninth, a documentary exploring the worldwide cultural and political influence of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. “Ode to Joy,” has inspired flashmob performances by musicians in countries around the world. We have collected some of our favorites here and hope they inspire you, as much as they inspired us. MORE
A petition to the Securities and Exchange Commission to require more sunlight around corporate political spending has garnered hundreds of thousands of public comments, and almost all of them are in support of the rule change. Of the 643,599 public comments on the proposal to require that public companies disclose use of corporate resources for political activities to shareholders, more than 99.7 percent were in support of such a rule.
Since the Supreme Court’s 5 to 4 Citizens Unitedruling in 2010, corporations have been free to spend as much money as they want on independent expenditures in support of or opposition to political candidates. While some of these expenditures are subject to existing disclosure rules, many keep their spending hidden by funneling the money through tax-exempt groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, and Pat Boone’s 60 Plus Association. Legislation to require meaningful disclosure of who is really behind these ads has been blocked by Congressional Republicans since 2010.
Supporters of transparency have urged the SEC to use its rule-making authority to solve part of the problem. In 2011, ten professors of law petitioned to the Commission, urging it to require public companies to disclose all significant political spending so shareholders can hold their companies accountable. MORE
In this photo taken Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, during a session of The Last Mile at San Quentin State Prison in San Quentin, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
As of last year, according to a report released yesterday by the American Civil Liberties Union, more than 3,200 people were serving life in prison without parole for nonviolent crimes. A close examination of these cases by the ACLU reveals just how petty some of these offenses are. People got life for, among other things… MORE
Noa Bashuk uses a tablet to follow along with her teacher in an eighth grade Spanish class at Autrey Mill Middle School in Johns Creek, Ga. on Thursday, May 9, 2013. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Major electoral contests – governor’s races in New Jersey and Virginia, and wins by mayors-elect Martin Walsh in Boston and Bill de Blasio in New York City – caught progressives’ attention a week ago. Voters concerned about the future of public education, however, might want to pay more attention to what happened last week in Bridgeport, Conn. As this website and Salon both noted, that city’s school board race was among the top “under-the-radar” races to watch. Indeed, Bridgeport is a microcosm of education policy battles taking place across the country, and its activities have broad implications for many districts and states confronting similar issues.
Bridgeport is the largest school district in Connecticut – one of the nation’s wealthiest states and also the one with the largest achievement gaps – and among its lowest-performing (it ranks 159 out of 162 districts based on average student math and reading test scores). This should not be a surprise; Bridgeport was hard hit by the deindustrialization wave that swept across New England in the 1970s and 1980s and has since struggled to recover. In 2010, median household income in the racially mixed city was $34,658. In New Canaan, whose schools post the state’s highest average test scores, median household income among the town’s residents, 95 percent of whom are white, was $141,788.
Large achievement gaps in Bridgeport and other Connecticut cities led Gov. Dannel Malloy to advance a series of education policies, from substantial new investments in pre-K programs and in low-income school districts to tying teacher tenure to student test scores. The gaps have also drawn the attention of prominent self-proclaimed reformers, including NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former chancellor of the Washington, DC public schools Michelle Rhee as well as her Students First advocacy group. As such, Bridgeport has become an epicenter of increasingly heated battle over not only education policies, but also which voices should be central to the discussions about them. MORE
Ever since Veterans Day, I have been re-reading and pondering President Obama’s remarks at the customary official celebration of the occasion in Arlington Cemetery. Something about the familiar words reminded me uncomfortably of remarks by past presidents that have now become virtually standard every year. Obama sounded the opening theme:
“Today we gather once more to honor patriots who have rendered the highest service any American can offer this nation — those who fought for our freedom and stood sentry for our security. In the life of our nation, across every generation, there are those who… put on the uniform and …put their lives on the line. They do this so that the rest of us might live in a country and a world that is safer, freer and more just.”
Then, after invoking the magic place names — Lexington Green, Gettysburg, the beaches of Europe and the islands of the Pacific, with a nod to Korea — he got to recent history. “From the jungles of Vietnam to Desert Storm to the mountains of the Balkans, they have answered America’s call. And since America was attacked on that clear September morning, millions more have assumed that mantle, defining one of the greatest generations of military service this country has ever produced.”
A military honor guard holds the Medal of Honor before President Barack Obama awards it to former Army Capt. William D. Swenson of Seattle, Wash., during a ceremony in the East Room at the White House. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
It was the old refrain: Veterans of all our wars have been “heroes,” and all the wars have been in defense of our liberty. My first reaction could be summed up in an eight-letter barnyard epithet, but I believe that the subject deserves a more nuanced and developed afterthought. I’ll begin with the part I played in the war of 1939-45. MORE
Not helping matters –> According to ABC News, HealthCare.gov has been targeted by 16 cyberattacks.
Political roundup? –> According to The Institute for Southern Studies, police conducted a drug sweep in a tiny, predominantly African-American town in North Carolina before polls opened on Election Day, arresting about five percent of the population. Critics are wondering whether voter suppression had anything to do with it.
Treason! –> Kate Nocera at Buzzfeed: “Tea Party Group Will Primary 87 Republican ‘Traitors’”
Pushing back –> A group of Dems are offering a bill that would bar states from chipping away at Americans’ reproductive rights.
Making progress –> With DC sidelined, a Western regional coalition is coming together to fight climate change, according to the NYT.
Liz ready to go nuclear –> Elizabeth Warren says Republicans are trying to “nullify” the 2012 election, urges the “nuclear option” to reform the filibuster. Philip Bump with the story for The Atlantic.
Classy! –> Catholic extremists disrupt interfaith Holocaust remembrance in Argentina, partly out of spite for Pope Francis, who said it was one of his favorite events. Michael Warren reports for the AP.
Left and right together –> Howard Schneider reports for the WaPo that an odd couple, left-right coalition is coming together to oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership.
WikiLeaks once again provided a valuable public service, releasing a working draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s (TPP) chapter on intellectual property. The chapter has many of the provisions that critics had feared.
Specifically, there are several provisions that will increase protectionism in the prescription drug market, pushing up prices in the countries that sign the agreement. There are also provisions that would strengthen copyright protection, increasing the responsibility of third parties to assist copyright holders in enforcing their copyrights.
The greater protection for prescription drugs takes a variety of forms. For example, there is wording that would require countries to allow patents for new combinations of existing drugs. This has been a hotly contested issue internationally.
Anti-union conservatives are worried that if the UAW successfully organizes Volkwagen's Tennessee plant, it will create a domino effect in the South. Here, protesters lift a sign supporting a UAW organizing campaign at a Nissan plant in Canton, Miss. (Photo from United Auto Workers on Facebook)
After Volkswagen issued a letter in September saying the company would not oppose an attempt by the United Auto Workers (UAW) to unionize its 1,600-worker Chattanooga, Tenn., facility, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) was flabbergasted.
“For management to invite the UAW in is almost beyond belief,” Corker, who campaigned heavily for the plant’s construction during his tenure as mayor of Chattanooga, told the Associated Press. “They will become the object of many business school studies — and I’m a little worried could become a laughingstock in many ways — if they inflict this wound.”
Corker isn’t the only right-winger out to halt UAW’s campaign. In the absence of any overt anti-union offensive by Volkswagen, conservative political operatives worried about the UAW getting a foothold in the South have stepped into the fray.
Leaked documents obtained by In These Times, as well as interviews with a veteran anti-union consultant, indicate that a conservative group, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, appears to be pumping hundred of thousands of dollars into media and grassroots organizing in an effort to stop the union drive. In addition, the National Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation helped four anti-union workers in October file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board claiming that Volkswagen was forcing a union on them.
“Everyone is definitely looking at this fight,” the anti-union consultant, Martin (not his real name), told In These Times. “This is the union fight going on right now and everybody [in the anti-union world] is looking to play their part and get compensated for playing their part.” MORE
Demonstrators march through Washington, DC, towards the National Mall to rally and demand that Congress investigate the National Security Agency's mass surveillance programs on Oct. 26, 2013. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
On our show last week, Bill spoke with Heidi Boghosian about illicit surveillance tactics being used by the government and corporate America to spy on all of us — not just suspected terrorists. We asked: Just how comfortable are you with the constant invasion of your privacy? Is it ever justified by the greater need of the public?
We received hundreds of comments on our website, Facebook and via email. Most people were against the use of surveillance by the US government and many see corporations as collecting way too much information on consumers. Others thought some spying by the government was needed to protect us against terrorist attacks. Here’s a summary of what you wrote.
Beat it, Big Brother
Many people thought George Orwell would be horrified by the actions of Big Brother in America today. They saw the use of surveillance by the US government as overreaching and in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable government intrusion.
Joe Lendvai wrote: “It is never okay to make this undemocratic intrusion into our privacy acceptable, reasonable or right. Simply put, the Patriot Act is unpatriotic and should be repealed.”
A viewer named Viejito compared the NSA to the KGB adding: “I remember seeing Dick Cheney say on TV that since 9/11 the game had changed and he seemed to imply that we, too, now had to become a police state. It looks as if we are well on our way.”
Marina Antropow Cramer, like several others who wrote in, believes government surveillance is a waste of resources. “If we aspire to be a democracy, with personal freedoms guaranteed to citizens in the Constitution, then there is no justification for this egregious invasion. It is also a colossal waste of public funds. And it has also proved to be grossly ineffective.”
Get a Warrant
Some people said government surveillance may be needed to protect us from terrorist, but warrants should be mandatory.
As Stephen Stroud put it: “Government spying is never justified except on individuals who constitute an immediate threat of participating in actual terrorists acts … No spying on any US citizen should be permitted without a warrant being issued by a federal judge on the basis of actual evidence of planning or participation in actual terrorist activities.”
A number of viewers said that given the dangers of the world we live in, surveillance is required. Carol Radsprecher wrote: “I saw the twin towers fall and I don’t want anything like that to ever happen again.”
Mary Green said surveillance is justified because it helps track down terrorists and criminals. “Without [surveillance] we would still be looking for the Boston bombers, bin Laden and a whole slew of others. Also on a local level, we have been able to track kidnappers, robbers and numerous others who would harm innocent people.”
Richard Pawlowski wrote: “Surrounding us are many people who would like to harm ANY American. It isn’t our government who wants to harm us but people who think they can just do anything they want with our secrets and collective security. People who do so should be considered traitors … [Boghosian] makes some good points but goes off the deep-end when she makes a hero out of the traitor Edward Snowden. Bottom line — we need MORE security not less — and we need more ways to prevent traitors from selling our future to terrorists.”
Others disagreed with Pawlowski and believe that Snowden is a hero for revealing America’s spying tactics. Charlotte Glauser wrote: “Snowden should be released from any indictment or possible litigation NOW. We truly need to hear his story and there is no way he can tell it when he is trapped in Russia. It is the peak of irony that he is seeking refuge in one of the most repressive governments on earth.”
Others, while concerned about government eavesdropping, were equally, if not more disturbed, by corporations collecting data and marketing information on Americans.
Tom Mengel wrote: “There have definitely been overreaches but some monitoring is needed. I am much more concerned with large companies like Google, Microsoft and Facebook collecting and selling huge amounts of personal data without any real limits and controls.”
Fritz Korte is disturbed by the tracking of our sales. “Why does no one seem upset by the same thing happening in the private sector where you are measured so precisely that a marketer can tell to the minute when you will be buying your next can of a particular brand of soup?”
And L. Rivet wrote that social networks are not protecting young people enough when it comes to sharing personal data. “I have been concerned and disgusted with the ever-increasing intrusion into the privacy of individuals by governments and corporations for thinly-veiled “security” reasons. Social networks are brainwashing our youth into thinking that it is okay to lay out their vital information for all to see while they haven’t the maturity to discern the possible consequences of doing just that.”
A Can of Worms
Some viewers said the collection of data might not bother us now, but that could change. Playitfair wrote: “All this spying and selling of our private information for cash may seem innocuous today, but what of future uses and future government controls? … What if some future administration took things a step further and started to arrest protesters and writers opposed to their actions? It could happen. Group think and totalitarian regimes are the unfortunate legacy of history.”
A good portion of people were apathetic, saying they have no problem with surveillance, but warned that eavesdroppers might be exceedingly bored listening in on their daily lives. We got plenty of messages similar to this one by Lucille York: “I don’t care. I’m really not that interesting but if they need information on me I say go for it!”
Have a comment on surveillance or anything else you read here? Share your views below.
The devastation in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan is a terrifying reminder that developing nations are hit hardest by severe weather brought on by climate change, which leads to even greater global inequality and suffering.
On Monday, during UN climate talks in Warsaw, a climate negotiator from the Philippines, Naderev “Yeb” Saño, took the floor to implore his colleagues to use the climate conference to achieve something substantive. He urged them to spare nations like his from a future in which devastation on the scale of what Haiyan wrought becomes common.
“Initial assessments show that Haiyan left a wake of massive destruction that is unprecedented, unthinkable and horrific,” Saño said. His voice broke, he paused, looking down as he teared up, then continued. MORE
Editor’s note: This is the third piece in a series looking at the fact that while Americans enjoy a lower overall tax burden than that of the citizens of other wealthy countries, we also pay four times as much as they do, on average, for out-of-pocket “social costs” in the private sector – health care, retirement security, disability and unemployment insurance and the rest of the social safety net. When you add up what we pay in taxes and what we pay out of pocket, Americans spend about the same share of their economic output on social costs overall as the citizens of some of the most generous, heavily taxed social democracies, but we a get far less secure safety net in return. You can read part one here, and part two, which focuses on health care spending, here.
Americans’ heavy reliance on the private sector to provide social goods and services doesn’t only result in us paying a lot and getting a lot less for it, compared to other wealthy countries. It also makes the financing of our entire social welfare system far less fair. It’s a great deal for the wealthiest, and a huge rip-off for the rest of us.
To understand how, we’ll need some background.
A Nasty Little Myth
The most pernicious myth in American politics holds that only around half the population pays taxes. Sean Hannity put it like this: “If half of Americans pay taxes, and the other half are the beneficiaries of the tax that the other half pay, at some point you say, OK, you got a full voting bloc.” In a call to raise taxes on the poor, Sen. Dan Coates (R-IN) said, “I think it’s important that this burden not just fall on 50 percent of the people but falls on all of us in some form.” He added, “Everyone needs to have some skin in the game.”
The narrative is the epitome of cherry-picking. While 43 percent of households won’t need to pay federal income taxes this year, that’s nothing more than a bit of tax trivia. Federal income taxes make up around 40 percent of federal revenues and a quarter of all taxes paid in this country, while payroll taxes – which virtually all working people pay – also make up around 40 percent of federal revenues (in 2011 and 2012, revenue from the payroll tax represented a smaller share due to the temporary tax reduction in effect during those years). MORE
Last week, Senate Republicans introduced a national abortion ban that would chisel away at the constitutional rights guaranteed under Roe v. Wade. Now, their Democratic colleagues are striking back with some abortion-related legislation of their own. On Wednesday, a group of pro-choice senators plan to introduce the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013, a measure intended to stem the barrage of state-level restrictions on reproductive rights.
Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) speaks during a news conference in Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Bob Child)
Despite the fact that Roe is still technically the law of the land, state legislatures have still managed to attack abortion access from all angles. Ever since the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision gave states the power to regulate abortion to protect the “health of the mother,” anti-choice lawmakers have rushed to enact several different types of restrictions that supposedly achieve this end. Those state laws — which include forced ultrasound requirements, mandatory waiting periods, restrictions on the administration of the abortion pill, and burdensome clinic regulations — have continued to mount. According to the Guttmacher Institute, this strategy peaked in 2011, when lawmakers enacted a record-breaking 92 new abortion restrictions at the state level. MORE