Mint Press News Independent, non-partisan journalism Tue, 15 Apr 2014 20:05:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Independent, non-partisan journalism Mint Press News clean Mint Press News (Mint Press News) All Rights Reserved Independent, non-partisan journalism Mint Press News The Third-Party Conundrum Tue, 15 Apr 2014 15:15:15 +0000 Voting for third-party candidates -- or even just third-party ideals -- doesn’t have to mean that you’re throwing a vote away.
Continue reading

The post The Third-Party Conundrum appeared first on Mint Press News.

Screen shot of 2012 third party presidential debate aired on Ora TV Tuesday, October 23, 2012. From left, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson, Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode, and Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson.

Screen shot of 2012 third party presidential debate aired on Ora TV Tuesday, October 23, 2012. From left, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson, Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode, and Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson.

It’s election year again in these here United States. While partisans may relish seeing their respective teams dress up in red and blue, for those of us who have grown weary of the usual Republocrats and Dempublicans on offer, the tempting choice of voting for a third party often comes to mind.

But should you lend one of these third-party contenders your vote when it comes time to cast your ballot in November?

Greens, Libertarians, Constitutional, Socialist Workers — like the masses of Lilliput, these other parties are dwarfed by our two-party giants and make do with whatever electoral scraps are left over. On occasion, they’ll make a small breakthrough such as capturing a city council seat somewhere or even a seat in a state legislature. Very, very rarely they may even capture a governorship if they have a celebrity running on their ticket. Like eager startups hungry to make it big, third parties strive to make a difference in the political arena by making the most of their very limited resources.

They are, in fact, scrappy fighters who use retail politics to their best advantage for the simple reason that that is all they can afford. These parties appear on the Internet, on placards borne by dedicated individuals and on campaign literature left on your front door or car window. Rarely do they advertise in the media and, indeed, part of their charm is in just how poor they happen to be. For a political system utterly corrupted by big money, the poverty of third parties is a major attraction.

Their ideological purity — something else these parties offer hand-in-hand with low-quality campaign leaflets pasted together in someone’s garage — is also an attractive quality. Again, for the romantic idealists amongst us who really do believe in truth, justice and the American way, the sincerity of third-party candidates is a refreshing alternative to the well-honed, focus-group-tested, PR-man-approved political messages of our two major parties.

Indeed, most third-party candidates come across as the bastard love children of a homespun, log-splitting Abraham Lincoln and a gun-toting, cherry-tree-chopping George Washington that can neither lie nor ever be corrupted. Principle is what they stand for, and if you give them even the barest second of your time, you will quickly get an earful from these missionaries who, like Moses in the desert, wander the political landscape in search of the Promised Land. “Vote for us,” they proclaim, “and things can finally change.”


Mostly just potential

Sadly, the potential of third party candidates in American politics is mostly just that. Squeezed by the logic of our electoral laws that permit only one representative to be elected from each district, our first-past-the-post system of winner-take-all elections means that while a third party candidate may capture our hearts, we are left holding the bag if he or she doesn’t win, as, quite often, our least-favored candidate goes on to win the election.

This has been demonstrated many, many times in the past in a number of elections up and down our political system. Recently and most famously, for instance, left-wing populist and consumer advocate Ralph Nader ran for president under the Green Party label in 2000 and garnered just enough support from the progressive left to hand the White House to their arch nemesis, George W. Bush. Similarly, in 1992, the defection of many Reagan Democrats from the GOP to Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire gadfly who ran for president as the Reform Party candidate, handed the election to Bill Clinton and the Democrats.

The unfortunate fact is that no matter how much third-party candidates deny it, this spoiler effect is very real. The harsh reality of our system is that whoever gets 51 percent of the vote come election day is declared the winner. Barring major electoral reform that radically alters the way in which we conduct our elections and the mechanisms by which we select representatives from a district, the cruel fact is that a vote not cast for a candidate who is acceptable, though imperfect, but still likely to win, is effectively a vote cast for his or her opponent.

Thus, though your heart may say Green, a vote cast for the Green Party candidate is inevitably an indirect vote cast for the Republican. Likewise, if your heart says Libertarian, a vote cast for the Libertarian is, also inevitably, a vote indirectly cast for the Democrat. No one likes this system, especially not idealists and the third-party candidates who court them, but it exists nonetheless, is real and has to be contended with. Life is full of things we don’t like and must necessarily accommodate ourselves to, and America’s crappy electoral system just happens to be one of them.


Adapting to the system

So, should idealists just give up? Not at all, but understanding how the system works and adapting yourself accordingly is the sign of a mature political mind that is willing to take the pragmatic steps necessary to really have your vote count. Rather than wasting a vote in a “pox on both houses” protest vote for a Green or a Libertarian candidate, idealists must be smarter and work harder if they want to see real change.

With that in mind, here are three things idealists can do:

First, understand that elections are won by money and organization, which, in turn, influences voter turnout when it comes time to cast ballots. Third parties usually do not have enough of either to win anything close to national or statewide office, so a vote cast for the Green Party candidate for governor or the Libertarian Party candidate for Congress isn’t going to accomplish much beyond showing support for your party of choice and protesting the status quo. It may feel good to cast such votes, but that’s about it.

A better alternative is to pick and choose where and when to vote third party and to give as much money as possible to them. Here, voting for and giving money to candidates for local offices lower down on the ticket becomes a good place to strategically support the Green or Libertarian Parties. These races are often won by much closer margins, and a good candidate with sufficient money and skill in retail politics has a fair chance of beating one of the two-party candidates who lazily expect to not have to fight too hard to win.

Splitting a ticket and money in this way gives a voter the leeway to support the “safer” Republican or Democratic candidate running for more important offices while also giving third-party contenders a chance for local offices. This last part is especially important because having candidates win office and actually govern — even if it is at the level of dog catcher —  is key. It gives both candidates and parties experience and lets them build a reputation to run on in later elections. It also serves notice to voters that third-party candidates aren’t just flakes — they, too, can govern responsibly if given the chance.

Second, quite often the allure of a third party is not just that it is not a Republican or Democrat, but a third party’s commitment to a set of ideals that alienated voters who might otherwise cast a ballot for a Republican or a Democrat see as not being upheld in either of our two major parties. Green voters, in other words, vote Green because they like what Green Party candidates stand for, and the same goes for Libertarians. They vote their values, and their values are best reflected by these third parties.

The reason our two major parties don’t often reflect the values of Green or Libertarian voters is because they aren’t forced to when real opportunities to influence the Democrats or the Republicans actually occur. This happens not during general elections — which are quite often anyway predetermined due to gerrymandering and demographics —  but during the primary elections that parties use to select their candidates for the general election. It is then, and in the campaign to win the primary, that influence and money are most felt and best used for effect.

Thus, if you lean Green and want to see the Democrats lean that way, too, then your best bet is to get involved in the primary process to get the most Green-looking Democratic candidate selected as the party’s official nominee for the general election. The same strategy applies to Libertarians. The way to influence the Democratic and Republican parties most effectively is in the intra-party contests where the various factions of our two, catch-all major parties fight it out. If you aren’t involved in this fight, though, don’t expect the resulting candidate to necessarily reflect your own political beliefs. And if you don’t believe this works, just look at how the religious right and the tea party have taken over the Republican Party.

Third, if you are really serious about seeing third parties being more fairly represented in our politics, then you’re going to have to engage in the hard work of reforming both the ways in which American elections are conducted and the mechanisms that translate votes into how and how many representatives are chosen to serve. Above all, this means organizing for things like campaign finance reform, simpler and less expensive access to the ballot, easier voting and — most important — changing our first-past-the-post system to another system that allows for more and more representative elected officials to be put into office.


Plan your votes and politics

None of this is easy, of course, but if you are a disaffected Republican thinking of voting Libertarian or a frustrated Democrat starting to lean Green, then understand that your choice will have consequences that will mostly benefit your ideological opponents. This doesn’t mean voting for a third party is irresponsible, but it does suggest that if you want the views of those parties and the parties themselves to be more successful, it is going to take a lot more than a protest vote cast in their favor on election day.

This is because politics isn’t easy and, as the saying goes, isn’t bean bag, either. Elections, as much else in life, aren’t given to the lazy, the unorganized, the under-financed or the uninformed.

If you aren’t involved in the game that goes on before ballots are cast, then you aren’t really playing. Pretending otherwise by casting a third-party vote doesn’t change that fact. A vote for a third party on election day is, therefore, the last play of the game, not the first, so plan your votes, and your politics, accordingly.

The post The Third-Party Conundrum appeared first on Mint Press News.

]]> 2
Killing Of Environmental Activists Rises Globally Tue, 15 Apr 2014 12:10:09 +0000 The rising deaths, along with non-lethal violence, are attributed to intensifying competition for shrinking resources in a global economy and abetted by authorities and security forces in some countries connected to powerful individuals, companies and others behind the killings. Continue reading

The post Killing Of Environmental Activists Rises Globally appeared first on Mint Press News.

Dying for the Environment

Brazil’s elite National Police Force officers guard logs that were illegally cut from the Amazon rain forest in Tailandia, state of Para, Brazil. A survey released Tuesday, April 15, 2014 – the first comprehensive one of its kind – says that only 10 killers of 908 environmental activists slain around the world over the past decade have been convicted. (AP Photo/Renato).

BANGKOK — As head of his village, Prajob Naowa-opas battled to save his community in central Thailand from the illegal dumping of toxic waste by filing petitions and leading villagers to block trucks carrying the stuff — until a gunman in broad daylight fired four shots into him.

A year later, his three alleged killers, including a senior government official, are on trial for murder. The dumping has been halted and villagers are erecting a statue to their slain hero.

But the prosecution of Prajob’s murder is a rare exception. A survey released Tuesday — the first comprehensive one of its kind – says that only 10 killers of 908 environmental activists slain around the world over the past decade have been convicted.

The report by the London-based Global Witness, a group that seeks to shed light on the links between environmental exploitation and human rights abuses, says murders of those protecting land rights and the environment have soared dramatically. It noted that its toll of victims in 35 countries is probably far higher since field investigations in a number of African and Asian nations are difficult or impossible.

“Many of those facing threats are ordinary people opposing land grabs, mining operations and the industrial timber trade, often forced from their homes and severely threatened by environmental devastation,” the report said. Others have been killed over hydro-electric dams, pollution and wildlife conservation.

The rising deaths, along with non-lethal violence, are attributed to intensifying competition for shrinking resources in a global economy and abetted by authorities and security forces in some countries connected to powerful individuals, companies and others behind the killings.

Three times as many people died in 2012 than the 10 years previously, with the death rate rising in the past four years to an average of two activists a week, according to the non-governmental group. Deaths in 2013 are likely to be higher than the 95 documented to date.

The victims have ranged from 70-year-old farmer Jesus Sebastian Ortiz, one of several people in the Mexican town of Cheran killed in 2012 while opposing illegal logging, to the machine-gunning by Philippine armed forces of indigenous anti-mining activist Juvy Capion and her two sons the same year.

Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan Jr., who heads the Philippine military’s human rights office, told the Associated Press that a military investigation showed the three died in crossfire as troops clashed with suspected outlaws. “We don’t tolerate or condone human rights violations and we hope Global Witness can work with us to pinpoint any soldier or officer involved in those killings,” Tutaan said.

Brazil, the report says, is the world’s most dangerous place for activists with 448 deaths between 2002 and 2013, followed by 109 in Honduras and Peru with 58. In Asia, the Philippines is the deadliest with 67, followed by Thailand at 16.

“We believe this is the most comprehensive global database on killings of environment and land defenders in existence,” said Oliver Courtney, senior campaigner at Global Witness. “It paints a deeply alarming picture, but it’s very likely this is just the tip of the iceberg, because information is very hard to find and verify. Far too little attention is being paid to this problem at the global level.”

Reports of killings, some of them extensive, from countries like Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, and Myanmar, where civil society groups are weak and the regimes authoritarian, are not included in the Global Witness count.

By contrast, non-governmental organizations in Brazil carefully monitor incidents, many of them occurring in the Amazon as powerful businessmen and companies move deeper into indigenous homelands to turn forests into soya, sugar cane and agro-fuel plantations or cattle ranches. Clashes between agribusiness and the Guarani and Kuranji people in the Amazon’s Mato Grosso do Sul province accounted for half of Brazil’s killings during 2012, the report said. Human rights groups and news reports say killings are often carried out by gunmen hired by agricultural companies.

In Thailand, Sunai Phasuk of the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch echoed the report’s assertion that an “endemic culture of impunity” was prevalent, and that governments and their aid donors must address this.

Prosecution of Prajob’s suspected killers, Sunai said, was a “welcome rarity” in a country where investigations have been characterized by “half-hearted, inconsistent, and inefficient police work, and an unwillingness to tackle questions of collusion between political influences and interests and these killings of activists.”

“The convicted tend to have lowest levels of responsibility, such as the getaway car driver. The level of impunity is glaring,” he said.

After Prajob’s murder, villagers lived in fear but in the end decided to sue the illegal dumpers and landfill owners, said the victim’s brother, Jon Noawa-opas.

“Prajob’s death has led us to fight for justice in this town,” he said. “We can be disheartened and we were, but we also know that we have to do the right thing for our community.”

The post Killing Of Environmental Activists Rises Globally appeared first on Mint Press News.

]]> 0
Minnesota Joins States Raising Minimum Wage Tue, 15 Apr 2014 12:08:47 +0000 Minnesota goes from having one of the nation's lowest minimums to among the highest. With federal wage legislation stuck in Congress, states are rushing to fill the void. Continue reading

The post Minnesota Joins States Raising Minimum Wage appeared first on Mint Press News.

Minimum Wage

Governor Mark Dayton shakes hands with House bill author Rep. Ryan Winkler, after he signed the minimum wage bill into law at a public bill signing ceremony Monday, April 14, 2014 at the Minnesota State Capitol Rotunda in St. Paul. Minnesota goes from having one of the nation’s lowest minimums to among the highest. With federal wage legislation stuck in Congress, states are rushing to fill the void. (AP Photo/The Star Tribune, Glen Stubbe)

At a ceremony in the Capitol’s Rotunda, Dayton hailed the hourly jump of more than $3 spread over the next few years as providing “what’s fair” for hard work put in. He said he has been stunned by GOP resistance — it passed the Legislature with only Democratic votes — to increasing the guaranteed wage from $6.15 per hour now to $9.50 by 2016 and then tie it to inflation.

“We’re not giving people any ticket into the upper-middle class,” Dayton said. “We’re giving them hope.”

Minnesota goes from having one of the nation’s lowest minimums to among the highest. With federal wage legislation stuck in Congress, states are rushing to fill the void. California, Connecticut and Maryland have passed laws pushing their respective wages to $10 or more in coming years, and other states are going well above the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour. Not all Minnesota workers have qualified for the federal minimum, which is required if someone engages in an interstate transaction such as swiping a credit card at the cash register.

For large Minnesota employers, mandatory hourly pay will climb to $8 in August, $9 a year later and $9.50 in 2016. Smaller employers that have gross sales below $500,000 will also have to pay more, though their rate reaches only $7.75 per hour by 2016. There are also carve-outs for teen workers or those getting trained into new jobs.

All told, some 325,000 workers could be in line for a raise at some point during the phase-in period.

Jacquita Berens, a single mother of three from Robbinsdale, said she’s been working three jobs to barely get by. Standing next to Dayton, she said the hike will give her more money for groceries, gas and other essentials and maybe allow her to afford extracurricular activities for the kids.

“I work incredibly hard but constantly fall behind,” Berens said. “Those of us working low-wage jobs are willing to work hard. We want to get ahead so we are not in survival mode.”

Business groups, such as those representing restaurants and retail shops, have warned that Minnesota would be out of step with its neighbors that are all at $7.25 per hour. Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, called the increase “irresponsible” and argued it will drive up unemployment as companies adjust.

The law authorizes automatic raises in the years to come that will compensate for inflation. Unless state officials take steps to suspend the raises, minimum wage pay could rise by up to 2.5 percent annually beginning in 2018. Those increases could be suspended if rough economic conditions sweep in, but catch-up raises can be ordered later.

The post Minnesota Joins States Raising Minimum Wage appeared first on Mint Press News.

]]> 0
Post, Guardian Win Pulitzers For NSA Revelations Tue, 15 Apr 2014 12:07:45 +0000 "I think this is amazing news," Poitras said. "It's a testament to Snowden's courage, a vindication of his courage and his desire to let the public know what the government is doing." Continue reading

The post Post, Guardian Win Pulitzers For NSA Revelations appeared first on Mint Press News.

Jeff Bauman

In this photo, part of New York Times photographer Josh Haner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning portfolio provided by The New York Times, Jeff Bauman, who lost his lower legs in the Boston Marathon bombings, rests between occupational therapy sessions at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, May 8, 2013. (AP Photo/The New York Times, Josh Haner)

NEW YORK  — The Washington Post and The Guardian won the Pulitzer Prize in public service Monday for revealing the U.S. government’s sweeping surveillance programs in a blockbuster series of stories based on secret documents supplied by NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

The Pulitzer for breaking news was awarded to The Boston Globe for its “exhaustive and empathetic” coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing and the manhunt that followed.

Two of the nation’s biggest and most distinguished newspapers, The Post and The New York Times, won two Pulitzers each, while the other awards were scattered among a variety of publications large and small.

The stories about the National Security Agency’s spy programs revealed that the government has systematically collected information about millions of Americans’ phone calls and emails in its effort to head off terrorist attacks. The resulting furor led President Barack Obama to impose limits on the surveillance.

The reporting “helped stimulate the very important discussion about the balance between privacy and security, and that discussion is still going on,” said Sig Gissler, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes.

The NSA stories were written by Barton Gellman at The Washington Post and Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill, whose work was published by The Guardian US, the British newspaper’s American operation, based in New York.

“I think this is amazing news,” Poitras said. “It’s a testament to Snowden’s courage, a vindication of his courage and his desire to let the public know what the government is doing.”

Snowden, a former contract employee at the NSA, has been charged with espionage and other offenses in the U.S. and could get 30 years in prison if convicted. He has received asylum in Russia.

In a statement issued by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Snowden saluted “the brave reporters and their colleagues who kept working in the face of extraordinary intimidation, including the forced destruction of journalistic materials, the inappropriate use of terrorism laws, and so many other means of pressure to get them to stop.”

Snowden’s supporters have likened his disclosures to the release of the Pentagon Papers, the secret Vietnam War history whose publication by The New York Times in 1971 won the newspaper a Pulitzer. His critics have branded him a criminal.

“To be rewarding illegal conduct, to be enabling a traitor like Snowden, to me is not something that should be rewarded with a Pulitzer Prize,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. “Snowden has violated his oath. He has put American lives at risk.”

At The Boston Globe, the newsroom was closed off to outsiders, and staff members marked the announcement of the breaking-news award — coming just a day before the anniversary of the bombing — with a moment of silence for the victims.

“There’s nobody in this room who wanted to cover this story. Each and every one of us hopes that nothing like it ever happens again on our watch,” Globe Editor Brian McGrory told the newsroom.

The bombing last April 15 that killed three people and wounded more than 260 also led to a Pulitzer in the feature photography category for Josh Haner of The New York Times, for his photo essay on a blast victim who lost his legs.

The Times also won in the breaking-news photography category, for Tyler Hicks’ coverage of the Westgate mall terrorist attack in Kenya.

The Washington Post won a second Pulitzer in the explanatory reporting category, for Eli Saslow’s look at food stamps in America.

The Pulitzers are given out each year by Columbia University on the recommendation of a board of distinguished journalists and others. The two winners of the public service award will receive gold medals. The other awards carry a $10,000 prize.

The Center for Public Integrity’s Chris Hamby won for investigative reporting for detailing how lawyers and doctors rigged a system to deny benefits to coal miners suffering from black lung disease.

The prize for national reporting went to David Philipps of The Gazette of Colorado Springs, Colo., for an investigation that found that the Army has discharged escalating numbers of traumatized combat veterans who commit crimes at home.

The Pulitzer for international reporting was awarded to Jason Szep and Andrew R.C. Marshall of Reuters for their coverage of the violent persecution of a Muslim minority in Myanmar.

The Oregonian won for editorial writing for its focus on reforms in Oregon’s public employee pension fund. The prize was the third in the newspaper’s history for editorial writing.

The Tampa Bay Times’ Will Hobson and Michael LaForgia in Florida won in local reporting for writing about squalid housing for the homeless.

“These reporters faced long odds. They had to visit dicey neighborhoods late at night. They had to encourage county officials to be courageous and come forth with records,” said Neil Brown, Tampa Bay Times editor and vice president. “And in the end, what they were ultimately doing was standing up for people who had no champion and no advocate.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s architecture critic Inga Saffron won for criticism. At The Charlotte Observer, Kevin Siers received the award for editorial cartooning.

No award was handed out for feature writing.

The Post’s Gelman said the NSA stories were the product of the “most exhilarating and frightening year of reporting.”

“I’m especially proud of the category,” he said. “Public service feels like a validation of our belief in the face of some pretty strong criticism that the people have a right to take part in drawing the boundaries of secret intelligence in a democracy.”

The post Post, Guardian Win Pulitzers For NSA Revelations appeared first on Mint Press News.

]]> 0
FBI Accused Of Infiltrating Guantánamo Defense Team Tue, 15 Apr 2014 12:05:34 +0000 US halts military trial proceedings halted after lawyers file emergency motion charging spying Continue reading

The post FBI Accused Of Infiltrating Guantánamo Defense Team appeared first on Mint Press News.

Guantanamo War Crimes

A handcuffed Guantanamo detainee carries a workbook as he is escorted by guards after attending “Life Skills” class in the Camp 6 high-security detention facility on Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba. (AP/Brennan Linsley, File)

The U.S. government on Monday slammed the brakes on proceedings in the military trial of 9/11 suspects at Guantánamo Bay on Monday following charges that the FBI infiltrated and spied on their defense team.

The halt is just the latest setback for a trial process that has been embroiled in charges of inhumanity, torture, spying, censorship and absence of due process.

The defense lawyers filed a motion on Sunday charging that the “the government has created what appears to be a confidential informant relationship” with a security officer on the legal team of Yemeni Ramzi bin al Shibh—one of five men at Guantánamo Bay facing charges related to the September 11th attacks, journalist Carol Rosenberg revealed in the Miami Herald on Monday.

The motion claims that “FBI agents recently developed the relationship during an investigation of how two news organizations got copies of prison camp musings” of Khalid Sheik Mohammed—who is accused of leading the attacks.

The lawyers allege that the FBI interrogated this informant “about the activities of all defense teams.”

“The implications of this intrusion into the defense camp are staggering,” reads the motion.

The motion calls for an emergency hearing about the alleged infiltration and urges judge Army Col. James L. Pohl to investigate the potential conflict of interest regarding the prosecution of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, and four other people accused of participating in the attacks.

Following the motion, Pohl halted a Monday hearing on bin al-Shibh’s mental competency for pre-trial proceedings.

Shayana Kadidal, senior managing attorney of the Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative at the Center for Constitutional Rights, told Common Dreams, “This seems to be part of a longstanding trend of the military trying to co-opt the attorneys for detainees as part of an interrogation process,” he said. “That is how it will be perceived by the detainees themselves.”

The charges follow previous revelations and allegations that defense lawyers are unlawfully monitored. This includes revelations last January that defense lawyers at Guantanamo Bay were censored by the CIA, as well as revelations last April that hundreds of thousands of defense emails were inappropriately given to prosecutors.

The 9/11 co-defendants have languished for years in legal limbo, and their trial has been widely criticized as rigged and inhumane. Mohammed has been water-boarded at least 183 times by the CIA.

According to Kadidal, this latest incident of alleged spying will have a wide impact. “This news will spread way beyond people who are part of military commissions process,” he said. “It will affect the way in which ordinary detainees will interact with their lawyers and defense council.”

This article first appeared on Common Dreams.

The post FBI Accused Of Infiltrating Guantánamo Defense Team appeared first on Mint Press News.

]]> 0
World’s Financial Elite Get Lofty On ‘Inequality,’ But Critics Unimpressed Tue, 15 Apr 2014 12:05:11 +0000 'We need much bigger changes ... not just speaking out against inequality and not just speaking out against contradictory policies, but actually making those policy changes' Continue reading

The post World’s Financial Elite Get Lofty On ‘Inequality,’ But Critics Unimpressed appeared first on Mint Press News.

France IMF Chief

Head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, addresses the media, outside a special court house, in Paris, Friday, May 24, 2013. (AP/Jacques Brinon)

In reference to last week’s “Spring Meetings” between the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, critics are calling on the two financial giants to put their money where their mouths are and initiate policies that fight growing global inequality, rather than create it.

In the build-up to the annual meetings between finance ministers, central bankers and other top officials, three reports were published by the IMF and World Bank that warn about the growing gap between the global rich and poor. These reports call for a change in IMF and World Bank lending and advisory policies including the implentation of measures that would eradicate global tax evasion and create tax code reform that benefits the poor over the rich.

However, according to executive director of Oxfam America Ray Offenheiser, even though World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and IMF managing director Christine Lagarde “have been outspoken about the dangers of skyrocketing inequality,” the world has yet to see “real initiatives to back up their rhetoric.”

The lofty talk coming from IMF and World Bank officials has left some observers scratching their heads. As institutions well known for pushing fiscal policies that have enriched the world’s wealthiest while pushing punishing austerity on struggling nations, some quipped that the recent talk has them sounding like they just returned from an Occupy Wall Street rally.

“From the Occupy movement, to the corridors of power: the rallying cry against inequality could be heard the last few days in a setting far removed from the street demonstrations that sprouted in 2011,” wrote Alexander Panetta, reporting for the Canadian Press. “The past week’s global financial meetings heard repeated warnings about inequality and its deleterious effect on economic growth.”

Head of the IMF Christine Lagarde, went so far as to say that the organization is already incorporating these ideas into the policy advice it offers member-states, Panetta reports.

“The fund is always changing, evolving in the past 70 years,” Min Zhu, deputy managing director of the IMF, told a panel discussion on Thursday. “After the [2008 financial ] crisis, particularly, income inequality became an issue.”

However, as rights group Oxfam pointed out last week, despite this shift in language, those organizations are yet to actively shift policies away from their austerity-driven past.

“International financial institutions should change the policy advice they [give] countries and shift the balance towards investment in health, education and progressive fiscal policies,” said Oxfam’s Offenheiser. “Austerity worsens inequality, as the IMF and World Bank know well. They advised aggressive cuts to health and education in developing countries in the 1980s and 90s, and some of these countries took two decades to climb back to square one. Gaps between rich and poor widened, economies were shattered, and the poor continued to get poorer even when growth improved.”

According to a recent report by the the European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad), these harsh austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund have actually risen sharply over the last few years, causing hardship for poor countries. According to the group, this increase in IMF driven austerity is placing a heavy debt burden on poor countries with little to no payback, despite promises by the financial behemoth to change.

“What we found was truly shocking,” wrote Jesse Griffiths, co-author of the report and director of Eurodad. “The IMF is going backwards – increasing the number of policy conditions per loan, and remaining heavily engaged in highly sensitive and political policy areas.”

Crisis-ridden Ukraine was the latest to accept austerity measures in exchange for up to $27 billion dollars in loans, including massive cuts in pensions and a 40 percent increase in the consumer prices for gas to heat their homes.

“And the unfortunate thing is that even though Lagarde and the IMF may be bringing up this issue,” said Deborah James Director of International Programs at the Center for Economic and Policy Research on the Real News Network ahead of the meetings, “the policies that they are still imposing to this day on countries around the world that have to accept loans from the IMF, as well as the policy advice that they give to countries that are not under IMF loan conditionalities, are still actually exacerbating inequality to an amazing degree.”

Referencing Christine Lagarde’s record as head of the IMF so far, James continued:

I would say that the policies have not shifted as much as they should have, given the situation that has happened … IMF also needs to step up to the plate with issues like debt cancellation, when you have a country like Jamaica that has almost 150 percent debt-to-GDP ratio. They’re continually being impoverished by their IMF agreement. So there needs to be debt cancellation. There needs to be globally a sovereign debt workout mechanism. It’s extremely important. It’s been demanded by civil society and governments that are, you know, having this terrible debt problem, the hangovers, for so long … But we need to see much bigger changes happening with the policies and the IMF and Lagarde, not just speaking out against inequality and not just speaking out against contradictory policies, but actually making those policy changes within the IMF which we are still waiting to see.

This article first appeared on Common Dreams.

The post World’s Financial Elite Get Lofty On ‘Inequality,’ But Critics Unimpressed appeared first on Mint Press News.

]]> 2
Former KKK Leader Charged In Shootings At Jewish Centers Tue, 15 Apr 2014 12:04:13 +0000 Three people were killed at two separate locations on Sunday in Kansas City, Missouri. Continue reading

The post Former KKK Leader Charged In Shootings At Jewish Centers appeared first on Mint Press News.

 Frazier Glenn Cross

This photo provided by 41ActionNews, shows Frazier Glenn Cross. Cross is accused of killing three people outside of Jewish sites near Kansas City, Sunday April 13, 2014. (AP Photo/41ActionNews)

Police have arrested a man with a long history of involvement in racist and neo-Nazi groups for the shooting deaths of three people outside two separate Jewish community centers near Kansas City, Missouri on Sunday.

According to reports, authorities have charged Frazier Glenn Cross, 73, with first degree murder after he opened fire at a Jewish Community Center in the town of Overland Park, where he killed a man and his grandson in the parking lot. Following that shooting, it appears Cross drove a short distance to a retirement home, also with ties to the Jewish community, and again open fired where he killed a woman.

After being taken into custody by police, numerous witnesses said Cross could be seen and heard shouting, “Heil Hitler!” from the back of a patrol car. Police would not confirm that, but Miller has a well-documented past as a white supremacist.

The Associated Press reports that though “the suspect was booked under the last name Cross, he is probably better known as Frazier Glenn Miller. A public records search shows he has used both names, but he refers to himself on his website as Glenn Miller and went by the name Frazier Glenn Miller in 2006 and 2010 campaigns for public office.”

As the New York Times reports, Miller “is a former Ku Klux Klan leader with a history of anti-Semitism and racism, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization that tracks hate groups.” The SPLC says Miller has a long public history as a racist and anti-semite and was the founder and grand dragon of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. He never hid his views and even ran for U.S. Senate in 2010 on a white supremacist platform.

According to the SPLC file on Miller, a radio ad for the senate campaign included this language: “White men have become the biggest cowards ever to walk the earth. The world has never witnessed such yellow cowards. We’ve sat back and allowed the Jews to take over our government, our banks, and our media. We’ve allowed tens of millions of mud people to invade our country, steal our jobs and our women, and destroy our children’s futures. America is no longer ours. America belongs to the Jews who rule it and to the mud people who multiply in it.”

Monday is the beginning of the Jewish Passover holiday, though law enforcement refused to say whether that fact may have played any role in the killings. According to Miller’s wife, the last she heard from her husband was when he called from an area casino on Sunday morning to say “that his winnings were up.”

This article first appeared on Common Dreams.

The post Former KKK Leader Charged In Shootings At Jewish Centers appeared first on Mint Press News.

]]> 1
IPCC Findings: Create ‘Age Of Renewables’… Or Pay Higher Price Later Tue, 15 Apr 2014 12:03:12 +0000 'The longer we wait, the costlier it will be': IPCC's latest climate assessment makes it perfectly clear that solutions to crisis exist, but political atrophy spells doom Continue reading

The post IPCC Findings: Create ‘Age Of Renewables’… Or Pay Higher Price Later appeared first on Mint Press News.

The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released Sunday in Berlin, shows that humanity still has time to solve the global crisis of global warming and climate change, but only if governments and industry are finally forced to make the political and financial decisions that will see the rapid reduction of CO2 emissions while launching a planetary push for renewable energy sources.

Environmentalists responded to the report by saying that its findings simply go to show that far from showing a ‘green energy revolution’ is expensive or prohibitive, the opposite is true.

“Dirty energy industries are sure to put up a fight but it’s only a question of time before public pressure and economics dictate that they either change or go out of business. The 21st century will be the ‘age of renewables’.” —Kaisa Kosone, Greenpeace

“Clean energy is not costly, but inaction is,” said Greenpeace campaigners Daniel Mittler and Kaisa Kosonen from Berlin. “Costly in terms of lives, livelihoods and economies if governments and business continue to allow climate change impacts to escalate.”

According to the Working Group III contribution to the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, it remains possible, “using a wide array of technological measures and changes in behaviour,” to limit the increase in global mean temperature to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels as world governments have agreed is the target for this century. However, says the report, only “major institutional and technological changes” will do and they must be done immediately without the delays and obstructions that have so far blocked meaningful action.

The key message of the report is that the burning of fossil fuels must be rapidly curbed and phased out, while the investments in renewable, low- or zero-carbon sources of energy must be scaled up dramatically. And, as Mittler and Kosonen summarize, the economic, ecological, and societal realities prove that “climate action is an opportunity, not a burden.”

“The longer we wait, the costlier it will be,” said Charles Kolstad, an environmental economist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the report’s lead author.

“Climate policies in line with the two degrees Celsius goal need to aim for substantial emission reductions,” said Ottmar Edenhofer, one of the co-chairs of the report. “There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual.”

The report, entitled Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change, is the third of three Working Group reports, which, along with a Synthesis Report due in October 2014, constitute the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report on climate change.

“The solutions to make the shift from fossil fuels to renewables are clear,” says Hoda Baraka, global communications manager for the climate action group “We need to stop pumping money into a rogue industry that is determined to maximize its profits at any cost. Divestment is the means to shift investments away from coal, oil and gas companies and into a more equitable and sustainable energy economy.”

As Greenpeace’s Kosonen said in a statement: “Renewable energy is unstoppable. It’s becoming bigger, better and cheaper every day. Dirty energy industries are sure to put up a fight but it’s only a question of time before public pressure and economics dictate that they either change or go out of business. The 21st century will be the ‘age of renewables’.”

Reporting on the IPCC’s findings, the Guardian‘s Damian Carrington notes that solving the crisis is ‘eminently affordable’ compared to the disaster of doing nothing. Focusing on the various mitigation options included in the report, he writes:

Along with measures that cut energy waste, renewable energy – such as wind, hydropower and solar – is viewed most favourably by the report as a result of its falling costs and large-scale deployment in recent years.

The report includes nuclear power as a mature low-carbon option, but cautions that it has declined globally since 1993 and faces safety, financial and waste-management concerns. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) – trapping the CO2 from coal or gas burning and then burying it – is also included, but the report notes it is an untested technology on a large scale and may be expensive.

Biofuels, used in cars or power stations, could play a “critical role” in cutting emissions, the IPCC found, but it said the negative effects of some biofuels on food prices and wildlife remained unresolved.

The report found that current emission-cutting pledges by the world’s nations make it more likely than not that the 2C limit will be broken and it warns that delaying action any further will increase the costs.

Friends of the Earth energy program director Ben Schreiber said the IPCC has done its job and now it is time for governments to finally stand up and do theirs.

“Time is running out,” said Schreiber, “but we can still alter our current trajectory before it leads to climate disaster. Unfortunately, even as the world’s leading scientists are laying out the need for urgent action, the political leaders at the negotiating table remain unwilling to commit to the steps necessary.”

Schreiber pointed the finger at the United States, the largest historic emitter of greenhouse gasses, and said the “all of the above” energy policy of President Obama is incompatible with “the overwhelming evidence that we must leave fossil fuels in the ground.” Coal and natural gas, he said, have no place in our climate constrained world and the White House and other leading developed nations must finally face their special responsibility to lead, not obstruct, the path towards a new energy paradigm.

Analysts at the Energy Desk compiled the report’s 15 key findings here.

This article first appeared on Common Dreams.

The post IPCC Findings: Create ‘Age Of Renewables’… Or Pay Higher Price Later appeared first on Mint Press News.

]]> 1
In Small Canadian Town Democracy Wins, Tar Sands Loses Tue, 15 Apr 2014 12:01:55 +0000 Kitimat, British Columbia's 'no' vote follows widespread opposition to Northern Gatway Continue reading

The post In Small Canadian Town Democracy Wins, Tar Sands Loses appeared first on Mint Press News.

Andrea Germanos, staff writer

Photo: Stephen Boyle/cc/flickr

Photo: Stephen Boyle/cc/flickr

In a vote cheered as a victory for democracy, one community in British Columbia has given a flat rejection to a proposed tar sands pipeline.

Over 58 percent of voters who headed to the polls in the North Coast municipality of Kitimat on Saturday said “no” to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project.

That project would include a pipeline to carry tar sands crude from near Edmonton, Alberta to Kitimat.

CBC News reports that

Kitimat is the community most affected by the $6.5-billion project, because as the endpoint for the pipeline bringing bitumen from Alberta, it would house a marine terminal where the supertankers would load up.

“The people have spoken. That’s what we wanted — it’s a democratic process,” Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan said in a statement following the vote. “We’ll be talking about this Monday night at Council, and then we’ll go from there with whatever Council decides.”

One group welcoming the rejection is the Dogwood Initiative, a B.C.-based group that advocates for decision-making power for environmental decisions to be in the hands of the people.

“This shows what happens when you actually give people the chance to vote on Enbridge’s proposal,” stated Kai Nagata, Energy & Democracy Director with the group.

The rejection was also a reflection of voter awareness of the environmental threats posed by the Northern Gate, according to the B.C.-based Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

“The vote in Kitimat illustrates how acutely aware British Columbians are that our province’s coast, which hosts incomparable land and seascapes, is in imminent jeopardy from the proposed export of diluted bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands to the oil industry’s global markets by the threat of a catastrophic Exxon Valdez type spill, as well as a host of other impacts,” said Chris Genovali, Executive Director of Raincoast.

“For example, the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project will result in increased tanker traffic and vessel noise through sensitive and productive waters, impoverishing critical habitat for numerous species of threatened and endangered whales. Additionally, the chronic oiling accompanying Northern Gateway’s tankers and terminal will likely slowly degrade habitat and water quality to the point where near-shore environments are no longer productive or capable of supporting nurseries  for wild salmon, one of B.C.’s greatest natural assets,” said Genovali.

Photo: Neal Jennings/cc/flickr

Photo: Neal Jennings/cc/flickr

In December 2013, a federal Joint Review Panel (JRP) gave its recommendation to approve the pipeline, but that approval prompted backlash from environmental groups, including ForestEthics Advocacy and Living Oceans Society, who say the approval was made without taking into consideration the full environmental impacts of the project. The groups, representing by Ecojustice, have filed suit to block the JRP’s report from being used as a basis for full federal approval of the project.

“The panel cannot consider the so-called economic benefits of oilsands expansion tied to this pipeline but ignore the adverse impacts that expansion will have on climate change, endangered wildlife and ecosystems,” stated Nikki Skuce, senior energy campaigner with ForestEthics Advocacy, when their lawsuit was filed.

A resounding “No” for the pipeline was also heard this past Friday, when, as the Globe and Mail reports,

A group of First Nations with territory covering a quarter of the route for the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline met with federal representatives Friday to officially reject the project.

The First Nations representatives said there is no more debate, as they banned the pipeline under their traditional laws.

“We do not, we will not, allow this pipeline,” the Globe and Mail reports Peter Erickson, a hereditary chief of the Nak’azdli First Nation, as telling the bureaucrats. “We’re going to send the message today to the federal government and to the company itself: Their pipeline is dead. Under no circumstances will that proposal be allowed.”

“Their pipeline is now a pipe dream,” Erickson added.

Nagata’s group is saying that all British Columbians should have a vote on the Northern Gateway.

“This project would have serious ramifications for the whole province, so all British Columbians deserve to vote on it,” said Nagata. “That should extend far beyond just speaking to a panel or writing your local newspaper. Regardless of whether you support this proposal, the decision should be made by British Columbians.”

To help make this happen, the Dogwood Initiative has launched a new website,, to harness the province’s direct democracy laws by gathering the signatures of at least 10 per cent of the registered voters to get the issue onto a ballot.

A federal review panel is expected to give its final decision on Enbridge’s project in June.

This article first appeared on Common Dreams.

The post In Small Canadian Town Democracy Wins, Tar Sands Loses appeared first on Mint Press News.

]]> 0
Overhead or Head Count? Regressive Taxation Tue, 15 Apr 2014 10:00:55 +0000 Taxes on employment and other employee expenses add a lot of cost to per job, making employers slow to hire at a time when jobs are scarce. These regressive taxes are also a growing share of Federal revenue.
Continue reading

The post Overhead or Head Count? Regressive Taxation appeared first on Mint Press News.

Hiring Our Heroes New York City

Veterans, military spouses, and transitioning service members meet with employers at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes job fair, sponsored by Capital One, Toyota, the University of Phoenix, and Verizon, at the 69th Regiment Armory, Thursday, March 27, 2014, in New York. (John Minchillo/AP)

What is your job worth? Any person lucky enough to have a full-time job in today’s world probably depends heavily on their salary, but the cost to their employer goes far beyond that — there are also benefits, like health care and retirement plans, and myriad taxes. The total cost of an employee is far more than pay, and it can roughly be called the “overhead per employee.”

By the simplest calculation, on average, the overhead per employee is more than 42 percent above what an employee takes home. This overhead is one of the biggest barriers to increasing employment, reducing hours and generally creating a better quality of life for working people in the United States. It also puts us at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to creating high-quality jobs.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps track of the total cost of employees. It found that as of October 2013, an average worker in the U.S. makes $20.55 per hour, or about $42,700 per year. It’s not a lot, and it shows why so many families have to rely on two wage earners to live the American dream of owning a nice car, a large TV and other items.

But their employer sees an average worker as costing much more than that. There is pay for vacations and sick time, retirement, health care, insurance against liability, as well as required contributions to social security, unemployment and worker’s compensation. Together, it adds up to $29.23 per hour, or nearly $62,900 per year.

workeData from the BLS Employer Cost Survey rcost

Data from the BLS Employer Cost Survey

Some of this cost scales with higher salary, but insurance and health care do not. All together, they represent a figure of the total overhead per employee that is close to the “time and a half” paid for overtime. That means that an employer with a highly variable need for workers during a year, such as a Christmas rush, or with costs slightly above average may see a net benefit to making employees work more than 40 hours a week rather than hiring more people.

While work flexibility has different definitions for employee and employer, it’s definitely desirable for both. With such high overhead, though, it is very expensive and difficult to provide. It’s also obvious why so many large companies are turning toward consultants and temporary employees — they do not carry as much overhead to get the job done — in order to have the flexibility they need. It’s a situation that needs to be corrected if we are going to have a flexible workforce that is capable of taking time off to take care for the kids and be a good citizen in the community.

As a matter of policy, the taxes for Social Security and Medicare — 7.62 percent of the first $117,000 of salary — along with worker’s compensation taxes seem like a good idea. They form a reliable pool of money that funds necessary social programs and does not need to be adjusted much year to year. These “payroll taxes,” however, represent a tax on employment, which is a terrible choice to make at a time when there is high unemployment and a need for more jobs.

The Social Security and Medicare taxes are collectively known as Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) of 1937. They are supposedly not a tax, but a contribution to a retirement system.

“The payroll tax does not operate like a benefits tax because the benefits received are not well correlated to the taxes paid,” according to Linda Sugin of the Fordham University School of Law in an article published in the Harvard Journal on Legislation.

The benefits do not go directly to the person paying in, but instead to a general pool.  “Without clear allocation of benefits to individuals, the proper distribution of the tax burden is impossible to specify.”

It is a tax like any other, she concludes, except it is highly regressive.

“Payroll taxes are regressive: low- and moderate-income taxpayers pay more of their incomes in payroll tax than do high-income people, on average,” states the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The center’s figures also show that since 1945, payroll taxes have grown from 8 percent of total federal taxes collected to 36 percent today, increasing the regressivity of the whole tax system.

“Payroll taxes and corporate income taxes accounted for an equal share of federal tax revenue in 1969. By 2009, payroll taxes generated more than six times as much revenue. We’ve become reliant on payroll taxes, and a goal of a tax overhaul should be to reform and reduce them, permanently,” Owen Zidar, a doctoral candidate in economics, noted in a New York Times editorial.

The U.S. also has a somewhat unique system in which employers are stuck with the tab for health care, rather than taking it out of general taxes in a universal system. All of the developed and developing nations that our workers compete with for jobs operate under a universal health system, placing our workers at a competitive disadvantage.

Paul Krugman noted that advantage when Toyota chose to open a new plant in Ontario rather than the U.S. “Canada’s big selling point is its national health insurance system, which saves auto manufacturers large sums in benefit payments compared with their costs in the United States.”

Combined with the taxes on employment, this represents 15.5 percent of total compensation or half of the Bureau of Labor Statistics tracked overhead, on average. Changing these to systems that rely on taxes on corporate profits, for example, will be politically difficult but would help to dramatically improve the flexibility of the workforce.

 One of the greatest barriers to creating more jobs in the U.S. is the very high overhead per employee. The workforce of tomorrow is going to have to be more flexible. That can be a very good thing for both employee and employer, but a lot is going to have to change to get to that point. A focus on reducing reliance on regressive payroll taxes combined with reducing the overhead per employee is a critical element for creating more and better jobs in the years ahead.

The post Overhead or Head Count? Regressive Taxation appeared first on Mint Press News.

]]> 1