How We Can Wrench Independence from the Corporate State

From Alternet:

This week we learned what “extreme” in climate changed extreme weather means for human loss — so what are we doing about it?

By Subhankar Banerjee
July 3, 2013

“Within a few years we are going to have more people off the surface of this planet more often, and we’ll have to determine value in that new environment.”  —Jill Tarter, chairwoman of the SETI Institute, CNN Money, June 27, 2013

Do we write words of mourning? Or, do we write words of resistance? Those two braids have joined and from now on will flow together—in our age of the Antropocene.

On October 11, 2012 I participated as a panelist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC in what was perhaps the first public symposium on the Anthropocene. “A consensus has been reached that the tremendous scope of transformations now occurring on the Earth, with profound effects on plants, animals, and natural habitats, is primarily the result of human activities. Geologists have proposed the term Anthropocene, or the ‘Age of Man,’ for this new period in the history of the planet, which follows the relatively stable Holocene period. On a geological scale the planet has entered a new era,” the Smithsonian press release stated. Climate change and ocean acidification— the evil twins—are the two most destructive forces of this geologic era.

Two recent disasters: one in Uttarakhand, India and the other in Arizona, US show us—that not only ecological devastation but also human casualty—arise from climate change. In both cases, those who tried to save lives—lost their lives. On June 25 an Indian air force helicopter crashed on a steep hillside in Uttarakhand “while on a mission to rescue people stranded in monsoon floods,” the Times of India reported. Twenty people died in that crash. And last Sunday nineteen firefighters died in Arizona “as they were overcome … by the swift, erratic Yarnell Hill Fire,” the USA Today reported.

According to one estimate the flood in Uttarakhand has claimed more than 10,000 lives. If that indeed were true, then it would be the largest human casualty in a single climate change event. Two recent scientific studies: here and here make the connection between climate change and—erratic monsoon and extreme floods in India. And if you have any doubt about the connection between climate change and—extreme drought and fires in the desert southwest of America, take a look at William deBuys’ remarkable book, A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest (Oxford University Press).

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Can We Afford to Wait for Redistribution?

From Truth Out:

By Sam Pizzigati,
Sunday, 07 July 2013

The ‘market’ isn’t working for working people. The rich have rigged the rules. We ought to keep trying, of course, to reduce the resulting inequality. But why not, unions are asking, end the rule rigging?

Labor analysts are increasingly making the case for what they call “predistribution.”

Sometimes we need new words to get a grasp on new ideas. Frances O’Grady, Britain’s highest-ranking labor leader, has a new word for us. Predistribution.

Why does O’Grady, the general secretary of the UK’s Trades Union Congress, want us talking “predistribution”? In our staggeringly unequal modern times, her union federation argues in a new paper released last week, redistribution no longer gets us particularly far.

The rich — on both sides of the Atlantic — have seen to that. Over recent years, they’ve systematically dismantled progressive tax systems, the historic heart to public policies that aim to redistribute top-heavy concentrations of wealth.

Even worse, the rich and their cheerleaders have turned redistribution into a political four-letter word. They’ve branded anything that smacks of redistribution a dangerous assault on the “natural” wisdom of our market economy.

We have to sit back, their argument goes, and let the market reward the enterprising and punish the slothful. Or else risk eternal economic damnation.

In reality, of course, markets don’t just reward the enterprising. They reward the price-fixers and the union-busters, the monopolists and the just-plain lucky. And if you inherit grand fortune, the market will merrily heap rewards your way year after year, no matter how slothfully you may behave day-to-day.

Those who hold power shape the rules that determine how markets operate — and who profits the most from them. 

Markets, in short, don’t follow “natural” laws. They reflect existing power relationships. Those who hold power bend the rules, formal and informal, that determine how markets operate — and who profits the most from them.

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America’s founders would be horrified at this United States of Surveillance

From The Guardian UK:

How did we become so fearful and timid that we’ve given away essential liberties? Some are even afraid to speak up, Tuesday 2 July 2013

I’m a longtime subscriber to an Internet mail list that features items from smart, thoughtful people. The list editor forwards items he personally finds interesting, often related to technology and/or civil liberties. Not long after the Guardian and Washington Post first started publishing the leaks describing the National Security Agency’s vast surveillance dragnet, an item appeared about a White House petition urging President Obama to pardon Edward Snowden. The post brought this reply, among others:

“Once upon a time I would have signed a White House petition to this administration with no qualms. Now, however, a chilling thought occurs: what ‘watch lists’ will signing a petition like this put me on? NSA? IRS? It’s not a paranoid question anymore, in the United States of Surveillance.”

As we Americans watch our parades and fire up our grills this 4 July, the 237th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence – the seminal document of the United States – we should take the time to ask ourselves some related questions: how did we come to this state of mind and behavior? How did we become so fearful and timid that we’ve given away essential liberties? Do we realize what we’re giving up? What would the nation’s founders think of us?

No one with common sense believes Obama is planning to become a dictator. But the mail list question was indeed not paranoid – because Obama, building on the initiatives of his immediate predecessors, has helped create the foundation for a future police state. This has happened with bipartisan support from patriotic but short-sighted members of Congress and, sad to say, the general public.

The American media have played an essential role. For decades, newspaper editors and television programmers, especially local ones, have chased readers and ratings by spewing panic-inducing “journalism” and entertainment that helped foster support for anti-liberty policies. Ignorance, sometimes willful, has long been part of the media equation. Journalists have consistently highlighted the sensational. They’ve ignored statistical realities to hype anecdotal – and extremely rare – events that invite us to worry about vanishingly tiny risks and while shrugging off vastly more likely ones. And then, confronted with evidence of a war on journalism by the people running our government, powerful journalists suggest that their peers – no, their betters – who had the guts to expose government crimes are criminals. Do they have a clue why the First Amendment is all about? Do they fathom the meaning of liberty?

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Lack of transparency means tainted justice for Bradley Manning

From The Guardian UK:

Military obfuscation and compliant media make for an Orwellian trial of managed misinformation against the WikiLeaks source, Saturday 6 July 2013

The lack of contemporaneous access to court documents has caused irreparable harm to the American public’s right to scrutinize the conduct of military prosecutors and the rulings of the presiding military judge. This will surely taint the final outcome of Pfc Bradley Manning‘s trial.

“Military confinement. That’s like a term of art,” said the spokesperson for the military district of Washington (MDW) – which is responsible for convening a fair and impartial trial for the accused – to an American TV reporter last summer. The reporter was known for investigating infotainment websites during pre-trial sessions. “The practical effect?” commented the spokesman to the reporter. “He’s in jail.”

As we wait for the second circuit to rule on the Department of Justice’s midnight appeal of Judge Katherine Forrest’s permanent injunction on indefinite military detention of American citizens without trial or charges, Jennifer Elsea, a legislative attorney who provides policy and legal analysis to the US Congress, reminds us that aiding the enemy (pdf) is “one of two offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice that apply to ‘any person’, rather than just members of the military, like Manning.”

Despite Manning having been held longer than any accused awaiting court martial in US military law, Judge Lind ruled in February that the government had not violated his speedy trial rights. Moreover, in a case where the first amendment is vulnerable to chill and prohibition – namely, because the accused is charged with aiding the enemy and espionage for disclosing government information to the public – the public was denied access to not only the court’s speedy trial ruling, but also over 30,000 pages of court documents until the third day of Manning’s trial, which was 1,103 days into his pretrial confinement and 18 months into the legal proceeding.

It was unfounded allegations by a confidential government informant that Manning had leaked top-secret material (he had not) that was used as the basis of his pre-trial confinement in May 2010. That misinformation was amplified in the mainstream media, spoon-fed into a feeding frenzy by prominent government officials, calling for the death penalty for Manning; the designation of WikiLeaks as a terrorist organization; and the criminal prosecution of Julian Assange.

At Fort George “Orwell” Meade, home of the NSA and the US Defense Information School, managing the message for a “docketless” pre-trial was facilitated by the spokesperson for the military district of Washington. He was tasked with explaining the proceedings to a press pool, forced to compare notes after mile-a-minute recitations into the court record by the presiding military judge, Colonel Denise Lind.

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Are Corporations Trying to Distract Us with Social Issues While They Take Control of Our Economy?

From Alternet:

Politicians are winning liberal hearts and minds on social issues, while embracing a corporate political agenda.

By RJ Eskow
July 4, 2013


I was having breakfast with a friend in North Carolina the day after that state voted against gay marriage, and after Barack Obama said on television that he now supported it. My friend knew I had supported the cause for a long time, so he asked me what I thought of Obama’s comments. I said “I think he’ll be tacking to the right economically once he’s re-elected.”

I was right, but not because I have any special predictive gifts. History had provided the background for Obama’s changed views while Republicans had pioneered his tactics.

One key to Obama’s “evolution” can be found in Thomas Frank’s 2004 book,  What’s the Matter with Kansas? In it, a frustrated Frank argued that conservatives had persuaded heartland Americans to vote against their own interests by using social issues like gay marriage and abortion. His arguments resonated with a lot of liberals. Many of my friends expressed anger, frustration, and even contempt for the way “values voters” (as Republicans called them) repeatedly undermined their own economic needs in the voting booth.

Is it their turn? Politicians are winning liberal hearts and minds on social issues, while at the same time embracing a corporate political agenda based on ever-greater wealth for the few and increasing austerity for the many.

Let’s be clear: The term “social issues” is not used dismissively. These are human rights issues which speak to our core values of personal freedom and social justice. But are these just causes being exploited by corporate-backed politicians?

The answer seems to be yes.

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