War

The War on Veterans

Congress and the White House are much better at starting wars than cleaning up after them.

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Do you remember Cory Remsburg? He’s the Army Ranger who received a standing ovation from Congress during President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address a few weeks ago.

Applause is nice, especially from such influential people. It sure beats those cuts the Pentagon wants to make to veteran benefits.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is now trying to sell vets on his plan to scale back the number of U.S. troops, as well as what taxpayers are spending on active-duty and retired forces. After he announced his ideas, Hagel brought them straight to a town hall meeting with soldiers at Fort Eustis in Virginia. “There was no applause,” Military.com reported.

Before and After a War, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Before and After a War, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Whenever Washington winds down its wars and our troops become needy veterans, interest in their welfare always flags. Senate Republicans just blocked a comprehensive $21 billion bill that would have beefed up veteran education, health, and other benefits.

But that’s not all. Food stamps were just cut for some 170,000 vets, pensions will soon decline, and the Department of Veterans Affairs admits a backlog of 393,000 benefit claims after making great progress toward getting caught up.

About 30 percent of the vets who serve in war zones return from the battlefield with undiagnosed or untreated post-traumatic stress disorder. Some half a million are suffering from it now.

Clearly, Congress and the White House are much better at starting wars than cleaning up after them.

Military debates in Washington generally revolve around the costs of manpower, equipment, and logistics. Finding the money needed to cover the medical bills and pensions of veterans is always harder to squeeze into the federal budget.

The Pentagon only lists 19,000 troops officially wounded by enemy action in Afghanistan and gives them good care. The other hundreds of thousands with mysterious brain or emotional injuries have to prove it. But first they need to succeed in gaining an appointment at the Department of Veterans Affairs — better known as simply the VA — and demonstrating that they were honorably discharged.

That can be tough.

William Dolphin, a Purple Heart Vietnam veteran, is now fighting for that right in federal court. The Army gave him a bad conduct discharge years ago for being AWOL upon confusion over where he was supposed to convalesce after leaving the hospital. He’s been suffering from PTSD for four decades.

“All I’m asking is that the Army recognize that I served my country proudly,” Dolphin says.

There’s another new lawsuit filed in March by a group of Vietnam vets who went through a similar ordeal. It’s seeking class-action status.

And things haven’t changed much since the Vietnam War. Washington still sees wasting record sums of money on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as a high priority while vast numbers injured veterans go without adequate psychiatric care. At least 55,000 veterans remain homeless despite the existence of dozens of programs that specifically target this problem.

If our leaders really want to honor Cory Remsburg, they should stop making people go through what he experienced. It’s time to stop waging unnecessary wars and start taking better care of our wounded warriors.

Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. Follow her on Twitter @ESGrecoOtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. OtherWords.org

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Govt Assessment of Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons—August 21, 2013

SyriaThe United States Government assesses with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21, 2013. We further assess that the regime used a nerve agent in the attack. These all-source assessments are based on human, signals, and geo-spatial intelligence as well as a significant body of open source reporting.Our classified assessments have been shared with the U.S. Congress and key international partners. To protect sources and methods, we cannot publicly release all available intelligence – but what follows is an unclassified summary of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s analysis of what took place.

Syrian Government Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21

A large body of independent sources indicates that a chemical weapons attack took place in the Damascus suburbs on August 21. In addition to U.S. intelligence information, there are accounts from international and Syrian medical personnel; videos; witness accounts; thousands of social media reports from at least 12 different locations in the Damascus area; journalist accounts; and reports from highly credible nongovernmental organizations.

A preliminary U.S. government assessment determined that 1,429 people were killed in the chemical weapons attack, including at least 426 children, though this assessment will certainly evolve as we obtain more information.

We assess with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out the chemical weapons attack against opposition elements in the Damascus suburbs on August 21. We assess that the scenario in which the opposition executed the attack on August 21 is highly unlikely. The body of information used to make this assessment includes intelligence pertaining to the regime’s preparations for this attack and its means of delivery, multiple streams of intelligence about the attack itself and its effect, our post-attack observations, and the differences between the capabilities of the regime and the opposition. Our high confidence assessment is the strongest position that the U.S. Intelligence Community can take short of confirmation. We will continue to seek additional information to close gaps in our understanding of what took place.

Background:

The Syrian regime maintains a stockpile of numerous chemical agents, including mustard, sarin, and VX and has thousands of munitions that can be used to deliver chemical warfare agents.

Syrian President Bashar al-Asad is the ultimate decision maker for the chemical weapons program and members of the program are carefully vetted to ensure security and loyalty. The Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) – which is subordinate to the Syrian Ministry of Defense – manages Syria’s chemical weapons program.

We assess with high confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year, including in the Damascus suburbs. This assessment is based on multiple streams of information including reporting of Syrian officials planning and executing chemical weapons attacks and laboratory analysis of physiological samples obtained from a number of individuals, which revealed exposure to sarin. We assess that the opposition has not used chemical weapons.

The Syrian regime has the types of munitions that we assess were used to carry out the attack on August 21, and has the ability to strike simultaneously in multiple locations. We have seen no indication that the opposition has carried out a large-scale, coordinated rocket and artillery attack like the one that occurred on August 21.

We assess that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons over the last year primarily to gain the upper hand or break a stalemate in areas where it has struggled to seize and hold strategically valuable territory. In this regard, we continue to judge that the Syrian regime views chemical weapons as one of many tools in its arsenal, including air power and ballistic missiles, which they indiscriminately use against the opposition.

The Syrian regime has initiated an effort to rid the Damascus suburbs of opposition forces using the area as a base to stage attacks against regime targets in the capital. The regime has failed to clear dozens of Damascus neighborhoods of opposition elements, including neighborhoods targeted on August 21, despite employing nearly all of its conventional weapons systems. We assess that the regime’s frustration with its inability to secure large portions of Damascus may have contributed to its decision to use chemical weapons on August 21.

Preparation:

We have intelligence that leads us to assess that Syrian chemical weapons personnel – including personnel assessed to be associated with the SSRC – were preparing chemical munitions prior to the attack. In the three days prior to the attack, we collected streams of human, signals and geospatial intelligence that reveal regime activities that we assess were associated with preparations for a chemical weapons attack.

Syrian chemical weapons personnel were operating in the Damascus suburb of ‘Adra from Sunday, August 18 until early in the morning on Wednesday, August 21 near an area that the regime uses to mix chemical weapons, including sarin. On August 21, a Syrian regime element prepared for a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus area, including through the utilization of gas masks. Our intelligence sources in the Damascus area did not detect any indications in the days prior to the attack that opposition affiliates were planning to use chemical weapons.

The Attack:

Multiple streams of intelligence indicate that the regime executed a rocket and artillery attack against the Damascus suburbs in the early hours of August 21. Satellite detections corroborate that attacks from a regime-controlled area struck neighborhoods where the chemical attacks reportedly occurred – including Kafr Batna, Jawbar, ‘Ayn Tarma, Darayya, and Mu’addamiyah. This includes the detection of rocket launches from regime controlled territory early in the morning, approximately 90 minutes before the first report of a chemical attack appeared in social media. The lack of flight activity or missile launches also leads us to conclude that the regime used rockets in the attack.

Local social media reports of a chemical attack in the Damascus suburbs began at 2:30 a.m. local time on August 21. Within the next four hours there were thousands of social media reports on this attack from at least 12 different locations in the Damascus area. Multiple accounts described chemical-filled rockets impacting opposition-controlled areas.

Three hospitals in the Damascus area received approximately 3,600 patients displaying symptoms consistent with nerve agent exposure in less than three hours on the morning of August 21, according to a highly credible international humanitarian organization. The reported symptoms, and the epidemiological pattern of events – characterized by the massive influx of patients in a short period of time, the origin of the patients, and the contamination of medical and first aid workers – were consistent with mass exposure to a nerve agent. We also received reports from international and Syrian medical personnel on the ground.

We have identified one hundred videos attributed to the attack, many of which show large numbers of bodies exhibiting physical signs consistent with, but not unique to, nerve agent exposure. The reported symptoms of victims included unconsciousness, foaming from the nose and mouth, constricted pupils, rapid heartbeat, and difficulty breathing. Several of the videos show what appear to be numerous fatalities with no visible injuries, which is consistent with death from chemical weapons, and inconsistent with death from small-arms, high-explosive munitions or blister agents. At least 12 locations are portrayed in the publicly available videos, and a sampling of those videos confirmed that some were shot at the general times and locations described in the footage.

We assess the Syrian opposition does not have the capability to fabricate all of the videos, physical symptoms verified by medical personnel and NGOs, and other information associated with this chemical attack.

We have a body of information, including past Syrian practice, that leads us to conclude that regime officials were witting of and directed the attack on August 21. We intercepted communications involving a senior official intimately familiar with the offensive who confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime on August 21 and was concerned with the U.N. inspectors obtaining evidence. On the afternoon of August 21, we have intelligence that Syrian chemical weapons personnel were directed to cease operations. At the same time, the regime intensified the artillery barrage targeting many of the neighborhoods where chemical attacks occurred. In the 24 hour period after the attack, we detected indications of artillery and rocket fire at a rate approximately four times higher than the ten preceding days. We continued to see indications of sustained shelling in the neighborhoods up until the morning of August 26.

To conclude, there is a substantial body of information that implicates the Syrian government’s responsibility in the chemical weapons attack that took place on August 21.As indicated, there is additional intelligence that remains classified because of sources and methods concerns that is being provided to Congress and international partners.

Syria: Damascus Areas of Influence and Areas Reportedly Affected by 21 August Chemical Attack

Syria-Aug-21

The War on Terror Has Not Made Us Safer

Congress shouldn’t have passed the measure that gives the president wide military powers to pursue al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the first place and 12 years later a repeal is long overdue.

— by Phyllis Bennis

Phyllis Bennis

Two days after the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001, I was sitting in front of my institute’s office around the corner from the White House. We had just been evacuated again. The police patrolling the streets didn’t have a clue what was going on. So we sat on the curb with red pens, marking up the draft of what would become Congress’s gift to President George W. Bush: Authorization for the Use of Military Force. It should never have been passed in the first place.

WBUR/Flickr

We put a lot of red marks in that draft. The text abandoned any campaign to bring to justice the perpetrators of this massive crime against humanity in favor of permanent war unlimited by time, borders, targets or victims. The next day Congress passed it almost unanimously – only the brave Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-Calif., voted no.

Read the rest on the US News & World Report Debate Club website, then vote on which writer makes the strongest case for repealing the the Authorization for Use of Military Force (or not).


Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Her books include "Before & After: US Foreign Policy and the War on Terrorism."  Photo Credit to: WBUR/Flickr

Obama Sharpens His Nuclear Posture

A new Pentagon document indicates that contingent plans for the use of nuclear weapons are being made, with the self-evidently impossible task of minimizing collateral damage.

— by Peter Weiss

Peter Weiss

Soon after President Barack Obama began his first term, he called for a world free of nuclear weapons. His address, which quickly became known as Obama’s Prague Speech, helped him win the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.

Then, he dropped the ball.

The Pentagon finally followed up in late June with a strange document that fails to explain how Obama intends to make progress toward full nuclear disarmament.

Even though the Report on Nuclear Employment Strategy of the United States doesn’t do that, it still should have been news. Instead, the mainstream media took a pass.

In the past, these documents, the last of which the Pentagon issued in 2010, were called “Nuclear Posture Reviews.” They focused largely on the role of nuclear weapons for deterrence. Now for the first time the word “employment” — another word for “use” — is in the title.

Is this a not-so-subtle way of telling our enemies, actual and potential, that we are not afraid to use these weapons of mass annihilation?

To drive home that point, the report states that, while the “2010 Nuclear Posture Review established the (Obama) administration’s goal of making deterrence of a nuclear attack the sole purpose of U.S. nuclear weapons…we cannot adopt such a policy today.”

WashingtonGoesAWOL

Instead, this report explains, “the new guidance re-iterates the intention to work towards that goal over time.”

What are the other purposes of U.S. nuclear weapons besides trying to stop nuclear attacks by others?

Alas, the report doesn’t really say. Instead, it vaguely states that while the threat of global nuclear war has become remote since the Cold War ended, the risk of nuclear attack has increased.

Presumably, this refers to nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists rather than governments. But it doesn’t explain how U.S. nuclear weapons could be “employed” to deter the use of nuclear weapons by, for instance, al-Qaeda.

The phrase “new guidance” appears repeatedly in the report. But it leaves readers guessing about the nature of such guidance as it relates to the most important goal of U.S. nuclear-weapons strategy: “strategic stability” with Russia and China.

The report indicated that our government is sticking with its longtime concept of “extended deterrence,” a commitment to also use our nuclear arsenal for the benefit of U.S. allies and partners. But what does “partners” mean in this context? The report doesn’t say.

And it looks like the government remains sold on the idea that it must maintain a stockpile of non-deployed nuclear warheads in case deterrence with deployed ones should fail.

There are other mysteries.

The Pentagon’s report states, “The new guidance makes clear that all plans must also be consistent with the fundamental principles of the Law of Armed Conflict. Accordingly plans…will seek to minimize collateral damage to civilian populations and civilian objects.”

Thus, plans for the use of nuclear weapons are being made, but the planners have been given the self-evidently impossible task of minimizing collateral damage.

There’s more.

In February, Germany sponsored a conference in Berlin on creating the conditions for a nuclear-weapons-free world. Washington didn’t participate.

In March, Norway held a conference in Oslo on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. Delegates from 127 countries attended. None were from the United States.

In May, the Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament created by the UN General Assembly held its first meeting in Geneva. The United States skipped it.

Obama’s recent declaration in Berlin that Washington might be willing to reduce its stockpile of more than 1,500 deployed nuclear warheads by one-third to 1,000 drew applause from some arms-control supporters. I’m holding my applause until he demonstrates the political will to work on the goal of scrapping nuclear weapons altogether.


Peter Weiss is the President Emeritus of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy.  Distributed via OtherWords. OtherWords.org

What I’ve Been Reading Lately— Monday, 3/25/2013

Lean in, Women; Corporations and Government, Brush Off Your Hands

Veena Trehan, Op-Ed: Fifty years ago, Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” explained how wives were not fulfilled by homemaking and childbearing. Woman couldn’t get credit, were fired when their pregnancy showed and held mostly assistant or teaching positions in the 1960s. We’ve come a long way. Today, women comprise 58 percent of college students, 33 percent more college graduates than men, and a strong presence in most industries. Yet, they make up only 20 percent of Congress, 4 percent of Fortune 500 companies’ CEOs, and 15 percent of senior executives.

Senate Passes Monsanto Protection Act Granting Monsanto Power Over U.S. Govt.

Anthony Gucciardi, News Report: In case you’re not familiar, the Monsanto Protection Act is the name given to what’s known as a legislative rider that was inserted into the Senate Continuing Resolution spending bill. Using the deceptive title of Farmer Assurance Provision, Sec. 735 of this bill actually grants Monsanto the immunity from federal courts pending the review of any GM crop that is thought to be dangerous. Under the section, courts would be helpless to stop Monsanto from continuing to plant GM crops that are thought even by the US government to be a danger to health or the environment.

Drone Warfare is Neither Cheap, Nor Surgical, Nor Decisive

William Astore, Op-Ed: Today’s unmanned aerial vehicles, most famously Predator and Reaper drones, have been celebrated as the culmination of the longtime dreams of airpower enthusiasts, offering the possibility of victory through quick, clean and selective destruction. Those drones, so the (very old) story goes, assure the U.S. military of command of the high ground and so provide the royal road to a speedy and decisive triumph over helpless enemies below. Fantasies about the certain success of air power in transforming, even ending, war as we know it arose with the plane itself.

Don’t Like Your Health Insurance? Make Your Own

Nina Rogozen, News Report: Millions of Americans lack adequate health care, using emergency rooms as a costly alternative or getting no care at all. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), often called “Obamacare,” opened the door for an affordable option. The December 31, 2012 deal between Congress and the administration that avoided the so-called “fiscal cliff” has, at least for the moment, closed that door for 26 states. The ACA funds private, nonprofit health insurers called Consumer Operated and Oriented Plans—CO-OPs. It originally set aside $3.4 billion for low-interest loans—seed money for at least one health cooperative in each state, plus Washington, D.C.

Capitalism in Crisis: Richard Wolff Urges End to Austerity, New Jobs Program, Democratizing Work

Amy Goodman, Video Interview: As Washington lawmakers pushes new austerity measures, economist Richard Wolff calls for a radical restructuring of the U.S. economic and financial systems. We talk about the $85 billion budget cuts as part of the sequester, banks too big to fail, Congress’ failure to learn the lessons of the 2008 economic collapse and his new book, “Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism.” Wolff also gives FOX news host Bill O’Reilly a lesson in economics 101.

America Split in Two: Five Ugly Extremes of Inequality

Paul Buchheit, Op-Ed: The first step is to learn the facts, and then to get angry and to ask ourselves as progressives and caring human beings, what we can do about the relentless transfer of wealth to a small group of well-positioned Americans. End the capital gains giveaway, which benefits the wealthy almost exclusively. Institute a Financial Speculation Tax; both to raise needed funds from a currently untaxed subsidy on stock purchases and to reduce the risk of the irresponsible trading that nearly brought down the economy.

Thirteen Offensive Things Justice Scalia’s Compared to Homosexuality

Ian Millhiser, News Report: Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear the first of two cases which could end discrimination against same-sex couples and ensure that all Americans can marry the person they love. Whatever happens in those two cases, one thing is all but certain: Justice Antonin Scalia will vote to maintain marriage discrimination and he will spend much of this week’s oral arguments making insulting comments about LGBT Americans. After the offensive things Scalia compared homosexuality to in his past opinions, Scalia concludes his Lawrence dissent with a plea that he is not in the least bit anti-gay. “Let me be clear,” Scalia writes, “that I have nothing against homosexuals.”

Asia and a Post-American Middle East

Yuriko Koike, Op-Ed: When the consequences of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq ten years ago are fully assessed, the importance of the subsequent rise of political Islam there—and throughout the wider Middle East—may well pale in comparison to that of a geostrategic shift that no one foresaw at the time. That shift, however, has now come into view. With America approaching energy self-sufficiency, a U.S. strategic disengagement from the region may become a reality. China’s dependence on Middle East energy imports means that it is almost certain to seek to fill any regional security vacuum.

How to Avoid Fake Organic Products

Anthony Gucciardi, News Report: Thanks to corporate loopholes and profit-driven manufacturers, it’s harder than ever to really know what you are putting into your body — or perhaps even more importantly the mouths of your children. That said, it is possible to make sure you’re getting what is not just labeled organic and shipped from a contaminated facility in China, but actually high quality. The fact of the matter is that the decision to switch to organic food is one that signifies a serious change in lifestyle across the board, leading to a wealth of information and serious optimizations for your health.

Dozens Arrested as Keystone XL Protests Erupt Across the U.S.

News Report: One month after the largest climate rally in U.S. history urging President Obama to deny the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline’s northern segment, protesters in dozens of cities throughout the U.S. are confronting Keystone XL’s corporate backers directly. Thirty-seven have been arrested over the last 10 days for disrupting business as usual at TransCanada and their investors’ offices, with more actions planned over the next couple of days.

Debt Friendly Stimulus

Robert J. Shiller, Op-Ed: With much of the global economy apparently trapped in a long and painful austerity-induced slump, it is time to admit that the trap is entirely of our own making. We have constructed it from unfortunate habits of thought about how to handle spiraling public debt. People developed these habits on the basis of the experiences of their families and friends: when in debt trouble, one must cut spending and pass through a period of austerity until the burden (debt relative to income) is reduced.

Fox: Americans Need Assault Weapons to Protect Themselves from an Iranian Invasion, Al Qaeda

Igor Volsky, News Report: During a roundtable discussion on Friday, Fox News’ Lou Dobbs agreed with a network contributor who argued that Americans need to access military-style assault weapons to protect themselves from an Iranian invasion. “What scares the hell out of me we have a president, as we were discussing during break, that wants to take away our guns, but yet he wants to attack Iran and Syria. So if they come and attack us here, we don’t have the right to bear arms under this Obama administration,” Angela McGlowan, a former lobbyist for News Corp., said in the midst of a conversation about violence in Syria.

Climate Change Now Seen as Security Threat Worldwide

Jim Lobe, News Report: Defense establishments around the world increasingly see climate change as posing potentially serious threats to national and international security, according to a review of high-level statements by the world’s governments released here Thursday. The review, “The Global Security Defense Index on Climate Change: Preliminary Results,” found that nearly three out of four governments for which relevant information is available view the possible effects of climate change as a serious national security issue.

Tea Party Aligned S. Carolina Candidate Bankrolled by Kentucky Natural Gas Exec

Michael Beckel, News Analysis: Natural gas executive James Willard Kinzer of Kentucky is one of more than 100 small business owners listed online as supporting Curtis Bostic, the former Charleston County council member who appears to have advanced to a runoff against former Gov. Mark Sanford following Tuesday’s 16-way GOP primary in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District. But he’s much more than that. Not only did Kinzer donate the legal maximum to Bostic’s underdog campaign, he pumped $30,000 into a pro-Bostic super PAC called the “Coastal Conservative Fund.”

BBC-Guardian Exposé Uses WikiLeaks to Link Iraq Torture Centers to U.S. Col. Steele and Gen. Petraeus

Amy Goodman, Video Feature: A shocking new report has been released by The Guardian newspaper and BBC Arabic detailing how the United States armed and trained Iraqi police commando units that ran torture centers and death squads. It’s a story that stretches from the U.S.-backed involvement in Latin America to the imprisoned Army whistleblower Bradley Manning. Amy Goodman is joined by Chief Reporter Maggie O’Kane

Beware the New Corporate Tax-Cut Scam: LIFT is a Big LIE

Dave Johnson, Op-Ed: The executives who run the giant multinationals want to be let off the hook for paying taxes on profits they make outside our borders. As an Apple executive said to The New York Times, giant multinationals “don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems.” And to prove it, American corporations are holding $1.7 trillion in profits outside the country—just sitting there—rather than bringing that money home, paying the taxes due and then paying it out to shareholders or using it to “create jobs” with new factories, research facilities and equipment.

Full Show: What Has Capitalism Done for Us Lately?

Bill Moyers, Video Interview: Sheila Bair, the longtime Republican who served as chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) during the fiscal meltdown five years ago, joins to talk about American banks’ continuing risky and manipulative practices, their seeming immunity from prosecution and growing anger from Congress and the public. Also, Richard Wolff, whose smart, blunt talk about the crisis of capitalism the first time around now answers questions sent in by viewers, diving further into economic inequality, the limitations of industry regulation and the widening gap between a booming stock market and a population that increasingly lives in poverty.

An Open Letter to Mitch McConnell, From a Kentuckian

Carl Gibson, Op-Ed: Kentuckians live by the phrase, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.” It’s emblazoned on our flag, and shows two men, a frontiersman (Daniel Boone) and a statesman (Henry Clay) standing together. They may be standing on opposite sides of the seal, but their embrace symbolizes a spirit of cooperation and caring for your fellow man even though you may sometimes disagree with him. Yet, as Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell proudly announced that his chief goal as the top Republican member was not to create jobs or help schools or look out for struggling middle class, but to deny President Obama a second term.

GMO Boycott: Major Supermarkets Say NO to GM Salmon

Anthony Gucciardi, News Report: Whether or not the FDA chooses to approve genetically modified salmon for sale in the marketplace, supermarkets themselves have decided to take a stand in the form of a mass boycott. One that would serve to crush the profits of the unlabeled seafood abomination. In a move that signifies the growing opposition to genetically modified creations from a grassroots level all the way to corporate understanding of consumer demand, chains like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Aldi, and others are now all reporting that they will refuse the sale of AquaBounty Technology’s modified salmon.

Faced with F-35 Failures, Costs; Congress Says to Push On

William Boardman, News Report: The F-35 is a case study of government failure at all levels—civilian and military, federal, state, local, even airport authority. Not one critical government agency is meeting its obligation to protect the people it presumably represents. Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who wrote the F-35 critique above, is hardly unique as an illustration of how government fails, but he sees no alternative to failure. The F-35 is a nuclear-capable weapon of mass destruction that was supposed to be the “fighter of the future” when it was undertaken in 2001.

In the News—What I’ve Been Reading

Dean Baker | Economists and Future Living Standards

Dean Baker, Op-Ed: At this point everyone has heard the story of how Social Security and Medicare are going to bankrupt our children. There is a whole industry dedicated to promoting the idea that our kids risk having much lower standards of living than their parents or grandparents because of these programs. This story is routinely repeated in various forms by politicians and columnists who decry the fact that we don’t care enough for our children and that the elderly have too much political power. The remarkable part of this story is that there is no conceivable way that it is true and every economist knows it.

Monsanto Protection Act Proves Corporations More Powerful than US Government

Anthony Gucciardi, News Analysis: It’s called the Monsanto Protection Act among activists and concerned citizens who have been following the developments on the issue, and it consists of a legislative ‘rider’ inside (Farmer Assurance Provision, Sec. 735) a majority-wise unrelated Senate Continuing Resolution spending bill. You may already be aware of what this rider consists of, but in case not you will likely be blown away by the tenacity of Monsanto lobbyist goons.

Monsanto’s Death Grip on Your Food

Fritz Kreiss, News Report: Monsanto has yet another case pending in the court system, this time before the U.S. Supreme Court on the exclusivity of its genetically modified seed patents. Narrowly at issue is whether Monsanto retains patent rights on soybeans that have been replanted after showing up in generic stocks rather than being sold specifically as seeds, or whether those patent rights are “exhausted” after the initial planting. But more broadly the case also raises implications regarding control of the food supply and the patenting of life—questions that current patent laws are ill-equipped to meaningfully address.

My Food Fight: IBD vs. Monsanto

Dhruv Shah and Fritz Kreiss, News Report: “1 in every 250 persons in the UK are affected by inflammatory bowel diseases. Two years ago, I was diagnosed with a type of inflammatory bowel disease called Ulcerative Colitis. It affects up to 120,000 people in the UK, that’s about 1 in 500 and between 6,000 and 12,000 new cases are diagnosed every year.(i) For me it meant that I had to keep running to the bathroom up to 25 times a day. My large bowel at the worst of times would produce bloody mucus and I would have severe cramps. Due to the toxins created by the inflammation it also meant that I would be severely nauseous and could not hold down liquids, let alone food.”

Ten Years Later, U.S. has Left Iraq with Mass Displacement and Epidemic of Birth Defects, Cancers

Amy Goodman, Video Interview: In part two of our interview, Al Jazeera reporter Dahr Jamail discusses how the U.S. invasion of Iraq has left behind a legacy of cancer and birth defects suspected of being caused by the U.S. military’s extensive use of depleted uranium and white phosphorus. Jamail has also reported on the refugee crisis of more than one million displaced Iraqis still inside the country, who are struggling to survive without government aid, a majority of them living in Baghdad.

Right To Heal: Iraqi Civilians Join U.S. Veterans in New Effort to Recover from War’s Devastation

Amy Goodman, Video Interview: On the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, we look at how U.S. military veterans and Iraqi civilians have come together to launch “The Right to Heal” campaign for those who continue to struggle with the war’s aftermath. The video interview features U.S. Army Sgt. Maggie Martin, who was part of the invading force in March 2003 and is now director of organizing for Iraq Veterans Against the War. Also Yanar Mohammed, president of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, joins the conversation and describes how the condition of women has deteriorated in Iraq.

Back to Work Budget is Defeated, But the Struggle Will Continue

Isaiah J. Poole, Op-Ed: The Congressional Progressive Caucus Back to Work Budget, as expected, did not prevail on the floor of the House of Representatives today. It went down to defeat, 84-327. In fact, it did not even win support from a majority of Democrats. But it did win a dramatic outpouring of support from ordinary Americans, which was demonstrated when one of the sponsors of the Back to Work Budget, Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., held a stack of papers representing the more than 102,000 people who signed our petition calling for a “yes” vote for the budget and a “no” vote on the Republican budget of Rep. Paul Ryan, D-Wis.

The Plague of Wall Street Banking

Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, Op-Ed: The economic news this week highlights what happens when governments are unable to confront the root cause of the financial collapse—the risky speculation and securities fraud of the big banks. What happens? They blame the people, cut their benefits, tax their savings and demand they work harder for less money. In the U.S. there have been no criminal prosecutions for securities fraud in the big banks. Just as the Justice Department has made it clear that the big banks are too big to jail because doing so jeopardizes the stability of the banking system; financial fraud investigator Bill Black points out that the SEC cannot institute fines that are too big for the same reason.

Dumb Wars, Now and Forever

Robert Scheer, Op-Ed: Yes, a majority of Americans, 53 percent according to this week’s Gallup poll, think it was “a mistake sending troops to fight in Iraq” 10 years ago. But the lessons of our folly will likely not stick for long. The memories fade as we now see in that same Gallup poll with perceptions of the Vietnam War. A majority of Americans ages 18-29 believe sending U.S. troops to Vietnam was “not a mistake.” By contrast, 70 percent of those 50 and older, the generation with contemporary knowledge of the war, think it was.

SOPAC Expedites New Seabed Mining Legislation for Lockheed Martin

Arnie Saiki, News Report: Currently, U.S. military contractor Lockheed Martin is negotiating with Fiji’s Bainimarama administration to fast-track and sponsor new legislation that would allow the private U.S.-based transnational titan to delve into experimental deep seabed mining. Because the U.S. has not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), U.S. industries cannot engage in deep seabed mining in international waters, outside of a country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

The Wreckless, Heavy Toll of the Iraq War

Mar 19, 2013 | By ThinkProgress War Room

imageToday is one anniversary that is definitely not cause for celebration. Ten years ago today, President George W. Bush made the fateful decision to launch the unnecessary Iraq War.

The consequences of this decision have been overwhelming. A new report estimates that the Iraq War will end up costing American taxpayers at least $2.2 TRILLION, but perhaps as much as $4 TRILLION with interest since Bush put the war on the national credit card at the same he slashed taxes on the wealthy.

(Incidentally, $4 TRILLION is the total amount of deficit reduction that President Obama is seeking, including about $2 TRILLION in the current round of negotiations in order to replace the sequester and stabilize our long-term debt.)

The bill for the war may be large, but the human cost of the Iraq War is even more staggering. It’s estimated that 200,000 people, civilians and soldiers alike, were killed as a result of the war. A million other Iraqis were displaced by the conflict.

These topline figures are just the beginning. Our ThinkProgress colleagues outline five ways the U.S. is worse off because of the Iraq War:

1. The debt

At the start of the war, the Bush administration predicted that it would cost around $50-60 billion in total. They were wrong by more than a factor of ten, sending the U.S.’ debt soaring, a condition that has yet to be rectified. According to a recent study, the war is set to have cost the U.S $2.2 trillion, though that number may reach up to $4 trillion thanks to interest payments on the loans taken out to finance the conflict. Of that staggering amount, at least $10 billion of it was completely wasted in rebuilding efforts.

2. The physical and psychological strain on U.S. troops.

The soldiers charged with fighting the war were stretched to their limits, put through multiple tours, with increasing length of time overseas as the war stretched on and shrinking downtime in between each. All-told, over 4,000 U.S. troops died during the country’s time in Iraq, with another 31,000 wounded in action. In the aftermath, the cost of providing medical care to veterans has doubled, adding to the difficulties faced by those who served. Up to 35 percent of Iraq War veterans will suffer from PTSD according to a 2009 study, while the suicide rate among veterans has jumped to 22 per day.

3. The forgotten war in Afghanistan.

Even worse, the war in Iraq caused the U.S. to take its eye off the ball in Afghanistan. Rather than following through, the Bush administration allowed the country to stagnate, prompting a Taliban resurgence beginning in 2004. As the West focused almost exclusively on Iraq, Taliban fighters imported tactics seen in Iraq to great effect, keeping the Afghan government weak and U.S.-led NATO forces on their heels. The result: the United States is still attempting to tamp down on Taliban momentum today.

4. The opportunity costs.

Aside from missed opportunities in Afghanistan, the Iraq War-effort was all-consuming, pulling resources from all other areas of U.S. defense policy. Relationships with key allies were allowed to grow stale and U.S. prestige around the world plummeted. Fighting in Iraq was realized to be a diversion from combating al Qaeda, drawing funding that could have gone towards a litany of other efforts to effectively counter terrorism.

5. The strengthening of Iran and al Qaeda.

The power vacuum left after the fall of Saddam and the lack of adequate U.S. forces left room for U.S. adversaries to fill the void. Counter to what some still believe, Al Qaeda had no presence in Iraq prior to 2003. Instead, it was only in the post-Saddam climate that they gained a foothold in the form of Al Qaeda in Iraq. The group continues to carry out attacks against civilians to this day, keeping the Iraqi government on edge.

In the end, it was not the United States that gained the most strategically from invading Iraq, but the Shiite-dominated Islamic Republic of Iran. In removing Saddam Hussein’s predominantly Sunni regime from power, the U.S. opened the door to a greater Iranian influence in the region. That influence has been seen playing out counter to U.S. interests in situations such as allowing Iranian planes bearing weapons for Syria to cross Iraqi airspace.

Given that we know now that the war was launched on false premises and have witnessed what has happened since, you’d think the architects of the war would at least admit they wrong or express some regret. You’d be wrong.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld took to Twitter today to pat himself on back:

“10 yrs ago began the long, difficult work of liberating 25 mil Iraqis. All who played a role in history deserve our respect & appreciation.”

Richard Perle argued in an opinion piece earlier this week that it was still right to have removed Saddam Hussein, even though he had no Weapons of Mass Destruction. Top war architect Paul Wolfowitz acknowledged that things “spiraled out of control,” but blamed others and argued that things would’ve been different if the war had been prosecuted his way (it was, incidentally).

Astonishingly, the American Enterprise Institute’s Danielle Pletka even went so far this week as to argue that the mess in Iraq is really President Obama’s fault. This view was echoed yesterday by Fouad Ajami, a conservative intellectual close to Wolfowitz and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who also criticized Obama for ending “an honorable war.”

It appears that the American people are smarter, or at least more honest, than the neocons who led us into perhaps the worst foreign policy blunder in American history. Polls out this week show that a majority of Americans believe the Iraq War was not worth fighting.

Check out our complete timeline of the Iraq War. For more on the true costs of the Iraq War, please see our updated Iraq War Ledger.

Evening Brief: Important Stories That You Might’ve Missed

This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.

Articles I’ve Been Reading: 2013-03-04

THE BOEHNER-QUESTER
Sequester: The Finger on the TriggerRichard (RJ) Eskow, Op-Ed: Today is the day the package of budget cuts they call the “Sequester” takes effect. There will be endless postmortems and real-time analyses. But as its draconian effects, there’s one thing to remember above all: Congress did this. Let’s hold the guilty parties accountable, especially as the chaos they’ve created rains down around us. Let’s not forget that the Sequester is really a weapon—a weapon whose purpose is to harm government and those it serves. In the end, that includes all but the most powerful among us. Let’s respond in a measured, appropriate and high-minded way to this act, but let’s not forget who’s committing the act.

The Truth and Consequences of Sequestration

Terrance Heath, Op-Ed: What if someone told you that a disastrous event is just days away from happening; one that will play havoc with the economy and bring pain and hardship to millions? What if the same someone told you that our government set this disaster in motion, and could easily stop it, but appears unable or unwilling to do so? You’d call them crazy, right? Well, welcome to the insanity called “sequestration.” Here’s why and how it could trickle down into your life. Here’s the truth and consequences of sequestration.

Of Sequester, Squander, and How Congress Sold Out the People

Carl Gibson, Op-Ed: Back in the days when I used to be a legislative reporter for Mississippi’s NPR affiliate, I was covering a story where Gov. Haley Barbour refused to stop cuts to mental health programs and schools in Mississippi with money from the rainy day fund. My favorite Southern legislator, Rep. Steve Holland of Plantersville, had this to say: “There’s hay in the barn, but we’re not feeding the horses.”

Robert Reich | The Sequester and the Tea Party Plot

Robert Reich, Op-Ed: Imagine a plot to undermine the government of the United States, to destroy much of its capacity to do the public’s business, and to sow distrust among the population. Imagine further that the plotters infiltrate Congress and state governments, reshape their districts to give them disproportionate influence in Washington, and use the media to spread big lies about the government. Finally, imagine they not only paralyze the government but are on the verge of dismantling pieces of it.

Obama on Sequester Impact: No Exaggeration to Struggling Families Facing a Pay Cut

Isaiah J. Poole, Op-Ed: “So I want to be very clear here. It is absolutely true that this is not going to precipitate the kind of crisis we talked about with America defaulting and some of the problems around the debt ceiling. I don’t anticipate a huge financial crisis, but people are going to be hurt. The economy will not grow as quickly as it would have. Unemployment will not go down as quickly as it would have – and there are lives behind that. And that’s real. And it’s not necessary – that’s the problem.”

ECONOMY

How Inequality Is Killing the Dinosaurs

dinosaurSalvatore Babones, Truthout: What killed the dinosaurs the first time around? Meteor? Global warming? Smoking? The culprit for the loss and destruction of what little is left of the dinosaurs today is economic inequality. Collectors argue that as long as they break no laws they should be free to collect what they want, be it art, coins, fossils. But let’s be serious: Who really wants a 40-foot long tyrannosaurus for the living room? Even if you’re allowed to buy one, who would?
According to CBS News legal correspondent John Miller, the buyers are “wealthy people who want something really interesting for their friends to talk about put under their key light in their basement for their 70 dinner guests.”

After the Sequester: Can We Create Better Jobs for Military Employees?

James Trimarco, Op-Ed: The sequester, a set of massive budget cuts required by the ongoing debt ceiling deal, will slash billions from Medicare, education, and other programs that benefit our society’s neediest if it goes through. That’s bad news if you care about those people. But there’s also something to like about it: the largest share of the cuts would come from the military. Many of us have been calling for such cuts for decades, and we should celebrate the possibility of finally getting what we’ve been asking for—even if it comes as the result of Republican demands for austerity. But we should also stand with those who will lose their jobs as a result of defense-budget cuts.

Debt” Campaign Exposed

Amy Goodman, Video Report: With the Capitol Hill showdown over the $85 billion across-the-board budget cuts taking effect this Friday, The White House and analysts fear the so-called “sequester” could jeopardize hundreds of thousands of jobs. While Republicans and Democrats largely agree the cuts are ill-advised, they are far from reaching any sort of agreement. President Obama wants Republicans to end tax breaks, mostly for the wealthy; Republicans are insisting government spending be cut first.

While Republicans Warn Against ‘Greece,’ That is Exactly Where Austerity Budgeting Will Lead U.S.

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Joe Conason, Op-Ed: Indebted America is in danger of turning into destitute Greece, or so congressional Republicans and conservative commentators have been warning us for years now. For many reasons, this is an absurd comparison — but it may not always be quite so ridiculous if Washington’s advocates of austerity get their way.

HEALTH
4 Common Dangers Lurking in Your ‘Health’ SupplementsAnthony Gucciardi, News Report: In a world where health consciousness is increasingly more popular each day, major corporations have entered the health supplements marketplace under new ‘health’ brands in an attempt to soak up some of the profits. In doing this, these corporations that truly do not have any concern for the actual quality of their products tend to cut costs by using dangerous fillers and additives that pose a serious risk to your health. A risk that is particularly concerning when considering that these supplements are supposed to enhance your health.

Native American Women Demand Rightful Access to Emergency Contraception

imageBy Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project & Charon Asetoyer, CEO, Native American Community Board at 2:31pm

Imagine being denied emergency contraception after a sexual assault; to not even be informed about the steps you can take to prevent an unwanted pregnancy; and to later find yourself pregnant as a result of the rape.

For thousands of Native American women this is reality.  Read the full article here

Price-gouging in ‘Free Market’ Medicine

Froma Harrop, Op-Ed: When folks pan the Affordable Care Act for being nearly 3,000 pages long, here’s a sensible response: It could have been done in a page and a half if it simply declared that Medicare would cover everyone. The concept of Medicare for All was pushed by a few lonely liberals. And it would have been, ironically, the most conservative approach to bringing down health care costs while maintaining quality. Medicare bringing down health care costs? “Ha, ha, ha,” says the program’s foes, citing the spending projections for the government health plan serving older Americans.

CULTURE WAR / HUMAN RIGHTS / VOTING RIGHTS

“A Racial Entitlement” – The Right to Vote

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Written by  Benjamin Jealous; Joan Walsh | Portside

“It no longer surprises me when extremist state legislators try to restrict our voting rights. I don’t like it and we fight against it, but I’m no longer surprised by it.” “What surprises and outrages me is that yesterday a Supreme Court Justice said that the protection of the right to vote is a ‘perpetuation of racial entitlement.'” Benjamin Jealous, President and CEO, NAACP

Report: Campaign Law Changes Hasten Power Imbalance Between Rich, Poor

Dave Levinthal, News Report: The U.S. political system is increasingly gamed against Americans of modest means—a situation exacerbated in recent years by major changes in the nation’s campaign laws. That’s the overriding takeaway from a new report slated for release today by Demos, a left-leaning nonprofit public policy group “working for an America where we all have an equal say in our democracy and an equal chance in our economy.” The 39-page report, entitled “Stacked Deck,” paints a picture of corporate powerhouses and wealthy businesspeople dominating political discourse and exacting disproportionate influence over policy incomes.

Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act Headed for President’s signature

Kristen Lombardi, News Report: The House of Representatives passed federal legislation aimed at combating campus sexual violence on Thursday, including it in a bipartisan renewal of the Violence Against Women Act following months of congressional gridlock. The Senate has already approved the measure, which means passage is virtually assured; President Barack Obama could sign it into law as early as next week. In a vote of 286 to 138, House members approved a reauthorization of VAWA that incorporates, as Section 304, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, known as Campus SaVE.

AGRICULTURE

Monsanto’s Patents on Life

Katherine Paul and Ronnie Cummins, News Analysis: Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments in a seed patent infringement case that pits a small farmer from Indiana, 75-year old Vernon Hugh Bowman, against biotech goliath Monsanto. Reporters from the New York Times to the Sacramento Bee dissected the legal arguments. They speculated on the odds. They opined on the impact a Monsanto loss might have, not only on genetically modified crops, but on medical research and software.

Maine Quietly Mounting Massive Support for Historic GMO Labeling Bill

imageFrits Kreiss, News Report: For many months legislators and community leaders in the State of Maine have been quietly building broad and unprecedented support for passing a historic first-in-the-nation Right-To-Know GMO Labeling law. This week the bill, LD 718, jointly sponsored by the bi-partisan team of Representative Lance Harvell (R-Farmington) and Senator Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln), was introduced to Maine citizens and legislators.

ENVIRONMENT / CLIMATE

Will ALEC Block EPA Coal Pollution Safeguards at Illinois’ Controversial Prairie State Energy Campus?

Connor Gibson, News Analysis: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the Illinois-based Prairie State Energy Campus, a combined coal mine and power plant spearheaded by Peabody Energy, co-owned by eight public power companies based in the Midwest. Numerous cost overruns from construction delays and equipment problems at the Campus resulted in customers in several states having to pay for power well above market price. While Peabody defends Prairie State Energy Campus (PSEC) from SEC scrutiny, a corporate front group has developed copycat legislation that could exempt dirty projects like PSEC from national clean air and water laws.

U.S. Security Establishment Increasingly Worried about Climate Change

Joe Hitchon, News Report: More than three dozen national security officials, members of Congress and military leaders are warning of the threat climate change poses to U.S. national security, the latest in an indicator that U.S. intelligence and national security circles are increasingly worried about a warming planet. In a new bipartisan open letter, they stress the need for urgent action and call on both public and private support to address issues that included forced migration and the displacement of vulnerable communities, as well as the dangers related to food production during extreme weather events.


8 Ways Corporations are Poisoning Our Food, Water, the Earth
Mike Barrett, News Report: While we may be under the impression that our system of government is here to protect us, corporations—and the politicians getting paychecks from them—do a fair job of making that difficult. This manner of “legislative capture” is manifesting itself in a host of appalling ways far beyond those listed here. Here are 8 ways corporations are poisoning our food supply, humans, and mother earth.

ENERGY

Cape Wind Still Hopeful to Construct America’s First Wind Farm

imageAshley Curtin, News Report: Harnessing the power of wind off the coast of Cape Cod was the vision business owner Jim Gordon had in mind to provide renewable clean energy to the New England area. And in 2001, Gordon and his independent power company, Energy Management Inc., pursued the idea of converting solar energy into mechanical power and Cape Wind was born. The energy conservation project, which began development in 2001, will be America’s first offshore wind farm, but legal battles and potential federal budget cuts might stall the construction of the wind farm.

It’s Tar Sands, Not Just the Pipeline, that Threaten the Climate

William Boardman, News Analysis: The same day that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was promising a “fair and transparent” review of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the Texas Gulf Coast, the CEO of the company building that pipeline, TransCanada’s Russ Girling, was reported as saying that his company’s “Plan A” was finishing a different pipeline that would take the same tar sands oil to Canada’s east coast. TransCanada’s plan to establish a pipeline to the Atlantic coast has received little attention since CEO Girling’s February 6 interview on Bloomberg Television and Bloomberg’s later report.

Millions of Acres of Land — Larger Than California and Florida Combined — Already Leased to Oil and Gas Industry

Amy Mall, News Report: According to a new NRDC analysis, at the end of 2011, seventy of the largest oil and gas companies operating in the U.S. held leases covering at least 141 million net acres of American land—an area greater than California and Florida combined. Given the sordid environmental history of oil and gas development that has already occurred across the U.S., NRDC is extremely concerned about the additional harmful environmental, health and safety impacts that oil and gas development of this magnitude will bring in the future.

NATIONAL SECURITY / DOD / WAR

‘Homeland Security’

Chris Hellman and Mattea Kramer, Op-Ed: Imagine a labyrinthine government department so bloated that few have any clear idea of just what its countless pieces do. Imagine that tens of billions of tax dollars are disappearing into it annually, black hole-style, since it can’t pass a congressionally mandated audit. Now, imagine that there are two such departments, both gigantic and you’re beginning to grasp the new, twenty-first century American security paradigm. For decades, the Department of Defense has met this definition to a T. Since 2003, however, it hasn’t been alone.

The Drone War Doctrine We Still Know Nothing About

imageCora Currier and Justin Elliott, News Analysis: Consider: while four American citizens are known to have been killed by drones in the past decade, the strikes have killed an estimated total of 2,600 to 4,700 people over the same period. The focus on American citizens overshadows a far more common, and less understood, type of strike: those that do not target American citizens, Al Qaeda leaders, or, in fact, any other specific individual. In these attacks, known as “signature strikes,” drone operators fire on people whose identities they do not know based on evidence of suspicious behavior or other “signatures.”

How Does the U.S. Mark Unidentified Men in Pakistan and Yemen as Drone Targets?

Cora Currier, News Report: Earlier this week, we wrote about a significant but often overlooked aspect of the drone wars in Pakistan and Yemen: so-called signature strikes, in which the U.S. kills people whose identities aren’t confirmed. While President Obama and administration officials have framed the drone program as targeting particular members of Al Qaeda, attacks against unknown militants reportedlymay account for the majority of strikes.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Poland, in Crisis, Cuts Public Transport, Stranding Thousands

Pawel Wita, News Analysis: Poland was widely praised as the European state least touched by the financial crisis in 2008. Its economy grew even when all of its neighbors, including Germany, were in recession. With the wave of funds provided by the European Union in recent years, the country managed to connect its major cities by freeway and improve its infrastructure with shiny new sports fields. But these types of development are only one side of the coin. In Poland’s version of modernization, like in many other places, the biggest advantages have gone to cities while the countryside has become ever more marginalized.

(And if you look around the U.S., most of the infrastructure builds have taken place in urban instead of rural areas.  Is the GOP taking us the way Poland just chose to go?)

CONGRESSIONAL ACTIVITY (AND INACTIVITY)

Under Obama, More Appointments Go Unfilled

Theodoric Meyer, News Analysis: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services haven’t had a Senate-confirmed administrator since 2006. The Federal Labor Relations Authority has had only a single member since January and can’t issue decisions. And the Election Assistance Commission hasn’t had any commissioners at all since 2011. All presidential administrations have vacancies. But an analysis of appointments data by ProPublica shows that President Obama hasn’t kept up with his predecessors in filling them. A greater share of presidentially appointed positions that require Senate confirmation were sitting vacant at the end of Obama’s first term than at the end of Bill Clinton’s or George W. Bush’s first terms.

Three-Quarters of Progressive Caucus Not Taking a Stand Against Cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid

imageNorman Solomon, Op-Ed: For the social compact of the United States, most of the Congressional Progressive Caucus has gone missing. While still on the caucus roster, three-quarters of the 70-member caucus seem lost in political smog. Those 54 members of the Progressive Caucus haven’t signed the current letter that makes a vital commitment: “we will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits — including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.”

THE NRA

NRA to African Americans: You’ll Need Guns to Protect Yourselves From the Government
Igor Volsky, News Report: The National Rifle Association (NRA) is increasing its outreach to African Americans with a new campaign that links the Civil Rights struggle and nonviolent resistance to gun ownership, arguing that blacks need firearms to protect themselves from the government. The video is part of an effort by the gun lobby to grow the organization’s appeal beyond a mostly white, middle-class membership and attribute high rates of gun violence in some African American communities to “culture” rather than the prevalence of guns.(Yeah … and then once you have those guns … they’ll turn around and vilify you as a criminal. Humor me — Just do a Google search for “guns NRA” … how many “black gun owners” do you NOT see?  Is that a subtle racist meme … if a white guy has a gun, he’s a protector, a hunter … but if a black guy has a gun … he’s a criminal and should be locked up.)

Sequestration, the Pentagon, and the States

Sequestration, the Pentagon, and the States offers selected state-level briefs focused on the local impact of looming automatic across-the-board federal spending cuts known as sequestration and historically high levels of Pentagon spending.

On March 1, unless Congress acts, billions of dollars will be cut from domestic programs and the Pentagon. But while these cuts will have a devastating impact on many domestic programs, the Pentagon is better positioned to absorb them due to the significant growth in military spending over the past decade.

Highlights of the release focus on critical domestic programs that could see their funding cut if sequestration goes into effect, and the impact that modest reductions in Pentagon spending could have to safeguard these programs, such as:

  • A $50 billion cut in Pentagon spending could fund five years of Community Development Block Grants AND five years of Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) AND four years of Homeless Assistance Grants.
  • Military spending has grown by 35 percent since 2002, 48 percent if you include war costs. Domestic discretionary spending grew by only 8 percent over that period.
  • Funding for FEMA’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program has been cut by 53 percent over the last three years. Sequestration would reduce the program’s $100 million FY2013 proposed budget by $5.1 million.
  • At the University of Virginia the Virginia share of total projected Pentagon spending for Fiscal Year 2013, $16 billion, would fund all in-state expenses of a four-year education for each incoming freshman class for the next 46.3 years.

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Read the full report published by the National Priorities Project