MintPress News Independent, non-partisan journalism Tue, 29 Jul 2014 15:13:50 +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 MintPress News Elizabeth Warren’s 11 Commandments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 14:33:59 +0000 Everybody’s eyes are on Hillary Clinton, but Elizabeth Warren might be the one Democrats should be watching if a golden calf is what they hope to avoid.
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Elizabeth Warren

In one scene from the 1956 Bible epic “The Ten Commandments,” a photogenic, pre-NRA Charlton Heston, playing the role of Moses, appears to his people after hearing the Lord up on Mt. Sinai. Depressingly, he finds his people worshipping a golden calf in an orgy of decadent self-indulgence, wherein, in their fear, they abandon Yahweh for a new god made of gold. Fashioned as a symbol of penitence and supplication for mercy to the pharaoh they had just rebelled against, the story of the calf has come to represent abandonment of the true faith and the elevation of materialist safety-seeking ever since.

As a metaphor, one can’t but help but see some similarities between the protagonists in that old Cecil B. DeMille classic and today’s Democrats, who must soon choose between two very different approaches. Those choices? The calf of electability, as represented by the Hillary Clinton wing of the Democratic Party, and Elizabeth Warren, the populist junior senator from Massachusetts who has become a progressive darling of late due to her increasingly combative — yet ever so polite — call for progressives to get out and fight the good fight traditionally fought by Democrats. Only whereas Moses led his people out of slavery in Egypt, Warren is attempting something far more difficult: a sundering of the cozy, corrupt relationship between big money, corporate America and the party once known for sticking up for the little guy.


The progressives’ exile in Egypt

For Democrats, bondage to the calf began in the late 1980s, when fresh off of humiliating defeats in 1980, 1984 and 1988, a coterie of Southern governors and other Democrats concerned about the party’s drift into the unelectable left began making appeals to business interests and the wealthy. Organized under the banner of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, these new “Third Way” Democrats bridged the divide between America’s organized left and right by adopting a pro-business economic agenda while also paying lip service to the left’s views on social issues.

As a political formula, it turned out to be a brilliant success, and in 1992 it allowed the Democrats — led by Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas — to defeat an incumbent president who had just won a war, safely put an end to the Cold War, and had at one point enjoyed approval ratings of nearly 90 percent. It was something of a political revolution that proved immensely popular with voters, to say the least, and the approach even found adherents and admirers outside the United States. What’s important, though, is that for the Democrats it ended over 12 years of wandering in the political desert and allowed the party — or at least its the business-friendly parts — to once again taste and wield power.

However, for progressives and others on the left still concerned with issues of social justice and economic equality, the Clinton administration remained a period of exile. Like the Biblical prophet whose warnings of disaster went unheeded, progressives and their allies looked on as the relationship between the Democratic Party and big business deepened. Money flowed into the party’s coffers from big-dollar donors like manna from heaven, while members of the business and financial elite allied themselves to, and even went to work for, the Clinton White House.

It couldn’t last, of course, and in hindsight the policy concessions made by the Clintons and the New Democrats in Congress now seem to have been very poor decisions. The mad rush to financialize anything and everything began on President Clinton’s watch, while at the same time, efforts to first regulate the speculative instruments that would later bring down the economy in 2008 were crushed by Clinton’s top economic advisors. Tradedeals championed by Clinton that were meant to make Americans better off, instead largely benefitted corporate America by generally diminishing labor’s bargaining power, especially for lower-skilled workers, while welfare was reformed in ways that actually made it less capable of helping people when an economic crisis actually occurred.


Go down, Moses

In general, the policies put in place by the New Democrats and their Republican allies helped set the stage for our current economic malaise in which — six years after the most devastating economic crisis the world had seen since the Great Depression — job growth is disappointing and wages stagnant, while economic inequality has hit Gilded Age levels. What’s worse, though, is that in erasing much of the differences between Republicans and Democrats when it came to big business and big money, the New Democrats effectively helped elect George W. Bush.

After all, if there were no longer major differences between Republicans and Democrats on economic issues, why not vote for the more honest representative of the right-wing worldview? One would at least know what one was getting with George W. Bush, and a vote for Bush would allow working and middle-class whites grown disenchanted with Democrats’ positions on social issues to voice their solidarity with conservatives. Values don’t trump pocketbook issues all the time, of course, but at a time when the party of the little guy was wining and dining the fat cats as heavily as the Republicans, there seemed little to gain from, and not much to lose by, voting for the GOP.

The disastrous eight years of the George W. Bush administration taught us differently, and the country — progressives included — were startled enough by Bush’s unfolding disasters that they supported a young, untested black senator from Illinois who, by dint of who he was, seemed altogether different from what had come before. Lofted into office on airy rhetoric and promises of “change you can believe in,” that junior senator was elected president and promptly set to work by repairing some of the massive damage caused to this country by the White House’s previous tenant.

Not all has gone smoothly, though, and while great advances have been made to dig us out of the hole in which we found ourselves, President Barack Obama’s insistence on treating conservatives fairly and in good faith, despite unprecedented levels of vitriolic obstructionism, has made him less popular in the party than he once was. Coupled with the usual fatigue that sets in this far into a two-term presidency, and naturally, the public, including Democrats, are pining for someone different to lead them. Moses, then, is retreating into his tent, so who will replace him?


Enter Joshua

Like the frightened Hebrews bereft of Moses at the foot of Mt. Sinai, it would seem that without a charismatic, progressive-leaning leader to unify them, Democrats are in danger of returning to the false promise of the golden calf — that is, raw electability. While Obama may not have the popularity left in him to reprise his role as Moses, the party’s newest leader, Elizabeth Warren, might actually be able to pick up the proverbial burning bush laid down by the president and serve as the Joshua to Obama’s Moses. If so, then the Democrats’ fortunes in 2014 and 2016 might not be as dire as some pundits are forecasting.

That’s because Warren — the former academic policy expert who seems to exude honest earnestness and white-hot righteous anger all at the same time — is proving to be quite the force on the campaign trail. Already incredibly popular, she has leveraged her growing influence within the party to raise funds and stump for Democratic candidates across the country. She has, for instance, campaigned for Democratic Senate candidates in Tennessee and West Virginia — both deep-red states — and raised money for Democrats in blue states like Oregon and Michigan. She did this, it should be noted, all while on a platform as anti-Wall Street as it comes. She has even attracted the notice of Republicans, who deem her a big enough threat to vilify her wherever she goes.

All this has provided grist for the rumor mill that Warren might be setting the stage for a run at the White House in 2016, making her at the moment the presumptive anti-Hillary in a race the former Secretary of State is seen as likely to win. Now that Warren’s written a book and campaigned and raised money for others, all that’s left is for her to issue some wide-ranging statement of philosophy that appeals enough to the party’s core voters to attract attention and further support for a future run at the White House.

Which, as it happens, she’s just done at a venue close to the heart of those young, networked activists who sent Obama to the White House in 2008. Dubbed her “11 Commandments” by party watchers keeping tabs on the senator, it’s mostly an anodyne collection of left-populist positions that any Democrat — and certainly any progressive — would agree to. Indeed, in terms of policy preferences, there is little that actually separates her from Obama. Even Hillary Clinton — in those few, unguarded moments in which she might feel free to express an honest, uncalculated opinion — would probably agree with them, too.

So what’s the big deal? Why is an articulation of basic principles something worthy of time or attention? Well, for one, there is the way she delivered it — forthrightly and without a hint of backtracking or centrist triangulation. She is as certain of her position as any on the right, and she is a breath of fresh air for a Democratic Party still too close to big money and rife with centrist time-servers.  “No Drama” Obama might get things done — when he can — but after six years, his steady hand and rather large accomplishments have been undermined by a stale personality that doesn’t seem to have much fire left its the belly.

Perhaps that’s a good thing, given how hard it is to run a country as divided as ours currently is, but it certainly inspires no passion and leaves the president open to charges of being unmotivated and wishy-washy. In politics, a realm in which perception is often everything, this can dispirit one’s supporters and give rise to opposition hope that they can use frustration and disappointment to snatch away power. If Warren can step into the leadership gap at the White House and allay those fears by bucking up the spirit of listless Democrats, then she could be well positioned to not just limit damage to the party in November, but also to take up the mantle of presidential leadership as we head into the post-2014 presidential landscape.


Into Canaan

And who, exactly, will shepherd the party into the future is going to be a vitally important question, not just for 2014, of course, but for 2016 and the election cycles coming after it, too. That’s because the combination of changing demographics and the scheduling of Senate elections will be increasingly favorable to the party. Not only will left-leaning groups comprise a larger and larger portion of the electorate in coming years — making it increasingly difficult for the GOP to win a presidential election — but more Republicans in more vulnerable Senate seats will be up for re-election as well. Happily for Democrats, this means they will be able to go on the offensive after a long period of playing defense.

Thus, if the Democrats can stave off a truly terrible defeat in November they might be positioned to retain — with the right candidate — not just the White House in 2016, but also enough seats in the Senate after 2016 to push them past 60, the magic number required to break a filibuster. What’s more, the next census and its mandated redistricting of House seats is only six years away, so if Democrats play their cards right, they might be able to retake the House, too, if they gerrymander out of existence enough seats currently held by Republicans.

This means that nirvana for Democrats — control of both the House and the Senate, in addition to retaining the White House — could be just around the electoral corner. If that’s the case, then whoever leads the party now during the waning, unpopular years of the Obama presidency — the desert after Egypt — will be the person most likely to direct this oncoming Democratic majority if it should actually appear.

For progressives just recently let out of the bondage of the long Clinton-Bush interregnum, it would thus be a shame for them to put their faith in a golden calf like Hillary Clinton — no matter how electable she may seem today — when Warren and the Promised Land beckon from just around the corner.

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Court Upholds Florida Law That Punishes Doctors For Talking About Guns Tue, 29 Jul 2014 14:04:30 +0000 The ruling could have major implications as policymakers examine gun violence as a public health issue Continue reading

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(AP/Jeff Barnard)

Several years ago, the American Medical Association advised doctors to ask their patients about firearms and “educate patients to the dangers of firearms to children” in the name of public health. But doctors in Florida may be suppressed from giving this medical advice, now that a federal appeals court upheld a Florida law that became known as the “physician gag rule” because it punishes doctors for talking about guns.

The ruling could have major implications as policymakers examine gun violence as a public health issue. The National Rifle Association-backed law it upheld imposes severe limits on when doctors can ask their patients about guns or keep records in their patients’ charts about firearm safety. Doctors who are found to have violated the provision risk sanctions or loss of their license.

At least ten medical associations and the American Bar Association argued that the law should be struck down because doctors must be able to discuss safety topics freely in engaging in preventive care.

In an American Bar Association resolution opposing Florida’s law, the organization reasons, “Preventive care through safety counseling is a pillar of modern medicine, and is vitally important to the health and welfare of patients.” Among other public health topics doctors may discuss with adult patients are alcohol and drug use, wearing bicycle helmets and seat belts, and storage of household toxins. Discussions of gun violence, also, may come into play, both for doctors advising parents on keeping their children safe, and psychiatrists concerned about the psychological well-being of their patients. The American Psychiatric Association has recommended that “health professionals and health systems should ask about firearm ownership whenever clinically appropriate in the judgment of the physician.”

The doctor plaintiffs in this case had argued that they have a First Amendment right to discuss these issues with their patients, and a federal trial court agreed, reasoning that the Firearm Owners Privacy Act “chills practitioners’ speech in a way that impairs the provision of medical care and may ultimately harm the patient.”

But a two-judge majority on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed that ruling and upheld the law, concluding that this speech is “professional in nature” and only has an “incidental” impact on free speech. The majority judges — appointees of Nixon and Bush — reason that the law is limited to “harassing” or “unnecessary” speech, so the law shouldn’t limit doctor remarks that are directly related to patients’ health.

Dissenting Judge Charles R. Wilson vehemently disagreed, dubbing the law a “a gag order that prevents doctors from even asking the first question in a conversation about firearms.”

“As a result of the Act, there is no doubt that many doctors in Florida will significantly curtail, if not altogether cease, discussions with patients about firearms and firearm safety,” Wilson wrote, noting that interpretations of what is “harassing” or “unnecessary” vary dramatically, and that doctors must have the discretion to decide when gun conversations are relevant.

Now that the law has been upheld by the highest court short of the U.S. Supreme Court, other states may seek to adopt similar laws. Policymakers have sought to address guns as a public health issues, as guns threaten to surpass car accidents as the leading cause of deaths among young people, and studies link the presence of guns in the home to suicide. But funding for public health research on gun violence has been thwarted by gun rights lobbying. In fact, the National Rifle Association opposed President Obama’s nomination of Vivek Murthy to become Surgeon General because he stated publicly that he views guns as a public health issue.

If the ruling is not invalidated on rehearing or by the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Wilson warns it could also have other implications for doctor speech on issues disfavored by legislators, such as the Affordable Care Act or Medicare.

This article was published by the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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Immigration Debate Roils Politics In … Maine? Tue, 29 Jul 2014 13:59:32 +0000 LePage, the governor of Maine, the state with the largest percentage of white people, placed thousands of miles from the southern border, has thrust the issue of immigration to the forefront with his criticism over the federal government's placement of eight immigrants in the state. Continue reading

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Paul LePage

Maine Gov. Paul LePage speaks to the media at a homeless shelter Monday, July 28, 2014, in Lewiston, Maine.

LEWISTON, Maine  — In the whitest U.S. state, thousands of miles from the Mexican border, the debate over immigration is quickly becoming a central issue in one of the nation’s most closely watched governor’s races.

With its close-knit communities and a practice of labeling non-natives as “from away,” Mainers have a reputation for being insular. But they have also embraced the need for immigrants as the state’s population ages and declines.

So Republican Gov. Paul LePage roiled the cultural waters when he criticized the federal government’s placement of eight immigrant children in Maine without advising him.

He said Monday that the federal government was ducking its responsibility by leaving the border unprotected and pushing the burden onto states. He said he worries about the financial impact if more children are placed in the state.

“If we have eight kids in the state right now and if there are any state dollars going there, there are eight Mainers not getting services,” he said during a visit to a homeless shelter in Lewiston. “There’s not an endless pot of money up there.”

Since January, more than 30,000 children, mostly from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have crossed the nation’s southern border illegally and have been placed with sponsors throughout the country. The eight minors in Maine are a fraction of the thousands sent to states including New York, California and Florida.

The issue has risen to the forefront of races for governor in border states, like Arizona. It dominated a Republican gubernatorial debate there last week, in which the candidates outlined ideas including deployment of National Guard troops and more employer sanctions.

But the issue has also crept into politics far from the southern border.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s offer to temporarily house children at two bases has drawn both praise and attacks from the candidates seeking to fill the Democrat’s seat.

In Connecticut, Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy’s rejection of a federal request to house as many as 2,000 minors at a mostly vacant state property has left him vulnerable to criticism from Republican contenders, who have said the decision was made too quickly and was out of character.

In Maine, LePage’s re-election campaign has attacked his Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, for not taking a clear stand on whether he would agree to shelter children in Maine and sought to link Michaud’s views with Patrick’s when the two campaigned together in Maine last week.

LePage’s campaign is touting his policies on immigration, including a recent directive that cities and towns not provide welfare benefits to those who can’t prove they are living in the country legally.

Michaud’s campaign said last week that LePage is using the issue merely to rally his political base this November. Michaud said that the decision to house children in Maine would depend on a number of factors, including the cost and what sites are available.

“(LePage’s) entire tactic is governing by division,” Michaud spokeswoman Lizzy Reinholt said Friday. “He has tried very hard to pit one community in Maine against another.”

Independent candidate Eliot Cutler said that if a child’s family is already in the state, he supports reuniting them, but he warned that Maine would need federal assistance if asked to accommodate large numbers of children.

Immigration advocates say LePage could hurt Maine’s reputation as a welcoming home for immigrants.

“It’s unfortunate that the governor makes a statement like that and it gets more publicity than all the positive things that people are doing,” said Sue Roche, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project in Maine.

Maine, whose population of 1.3 million is about 94 percent white, is home to an estimated 55,000 immigrants and relies heavily on migrant workers for its blueberry harvest every August.

An influx of Somali refugees to Lewiston, a former industrial city that has fallen into decline, ignited tensions between newcomers and natives in the early 2000s. But Somalis’ small businesses have since been praised for helping revitalization efforts.

Today, immigrants fleeing violence in Central Africa are drawn to Maine in part because of its safe communities and wealth of faith-based organizations that provide assistance, Roche said.

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UN Official Calls For End To “Extremely Alarming” Conflict In Ukraine Tue, 29 Jul 2014 13:52:03 +0000 UN says downing of plane may be a "war crime" as growing conflict prevents police team from reaching debris field. Continue reading

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Ukraine Plane

Self-proclamed Donetsk People’s Republic policemen watch shelling in Shakhtarsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine on Monday, July 28, 2014. An international police team abandoned its attempt to reach the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines plane for a second day running Monday as clashes raged in a town on the road to the area. (AP/Dmitry Lovetsky)


The Ukrainian military has launched an effort to take control over the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site in the eastern part of the country, the New York Times reports. The move comes shortly after the Malaysian government made a deal with pro-Russian separatists to allow an international police team access to the field, hampering continued attempts to secure the site from rebels.

A police team trying to reach the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site in eastern Ukraine turned back on Monday after hearing explosions and gunfire in the town of Shakhtarsk, about 20 miles from the field, AP reports. The group, including officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as well as Dutch and Australian police and forensic officials, returned to Donetsk.

The team was traveling to the area to secure the wreckage site from pro-Russian rebel forces and clean up remaining debris from the Boeing 777, which was shot down on July 17 by a suspected missile, killing 298 passengers and crew.

United Nations human rights commissioner Navi Pillay said in a report released Monday that the downing of the plane may constitute a war crime. Pillay also said that more than 1,129 people have been killed since the fighting began in April, a death toll from the “extremely alarming” clashes. At least 3,442 have been wounded and more than 100,000 displaced.

Ukrainian troops have reportedly entered Shakhtarsk to push back against separatists, who currently control the town’s checkpoints, according to the Defense Ministry. Other towns surrounding the crash site are also experiencing fighting, the ministry said.

Ukraine and the U.S. have both accused rebels of tampering with evidence at the crash site as the investigation continues into who shot down the plane. New evidence released last week indicated that Russia was not directly involved, but may have “created the conditions” for the disaster to occur, according to U.S. officials.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov called on the U.S. government to release any evidence it had to back up its position that separatists had received the missile from Russia.

“We do not understand why the Americans, who say that they have strong evidence to support their accusation, why they do not show that evidence,” Lavrov said at a news conference.

Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said that an analysis of the flight data recorders showed that the plane was brought down from multiple shrapnel punctures from a rocket blast, which had caused “massive explosive decompression.” But it is unclear whether the analysis is accurate, as the data recorders are currently being examined in Britain.

The U.N. report also described an increase in human rights abuses in eastern Ukraine, including abductions, torture, and killing of journalists.

“The reports of increasingly intense fighting in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are extremely alarming, with both sides employing heavy weaponry in built-up areas, including artillery, tanks, rockets and missiles,” Pillay said. “Both sides must take great care to prevent more civilians from being killed or injured. Already increasing numbers of people are being killed with serious damage to civilian infrastructure, which – depending on circumstances – could amount to violations of international humanitarian law. The fighting must stop.”

This article was published by Common Dreams.

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US Continues To Back Israeli Assault Despite International Condemnation Tue, 29 Jul 2014 13:47:46 +0000 More Than 100 Killed in 14 Hours as Gaza Death Toll Rises Above 1,200. Continue reading

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Israeli forces’ flares light up the night sky of Gaza City on early Tuesday, July 29, 2014. A truce between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza remained elusive as diplomats sought to end the fighting at the start of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

The death toll in the Gaza Strip has now passed 1,200 people since Israel began bombing on July 8 and the Palestinian Ministry of Health reports Tuesday that more than 100 people were killed in the fourteen hours from overnight Monday into morning as mosques, homes, and other structures were hit during a sharp intensification of the bombardment.

In addition to homes, Gaza’s main power plant was struck by Israeli shells which caused a massive explosion and a fire that sent thick plumes of black smoke into the air. Already suffering from massive power outages and a water crisis that puts the entire population at risk, the damage to the plant signals that those problems will likely worsen in the days ahead.

According to the Ma’an News Agency:

Earlier statements from the ministry had given the number of dead at around 57 for the morning, but after consultation with hospitals across the Strip the total was revised to more than 100 dead and hundreds more injured.

The Ministry of Health also said that as of Monday night nearly 5,000 homes had been completely destroyed, while tens of thousands more had been partially destroyed.

The United Nations, meanwhile, estimated that more than 215,000 Gazans had fled their home, or more than 10 percent of the besieged coastal enclave’s total population.

Late Monday, Israeli authorities had given 400,000 Gazans evacuation orders, but with all the borders closed and the Israeli bombardment and ground invasion continuing in the northern, central, and southern Gaza Strip, the vast majority had nowhere to go except UN shelters.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the military campaign against the people of Gaza will continue until all the tunnels used by Hamas are destroyed.

“We need to be prepared for a protracted campaign in Gaza,” Netanyahu said on Israeli television.

Speaking about the continued attack on Gaza—which head of the UN Human Rights Council last week called could be considered a ‘war crime’—President Obama’s national security advisor Susan Rice on Monday again voiced the administration’s support for Israel’s offensive military campaign against a largely defenseless civilian population.

“Here is one thing you never have to worry about: America’s support for the state of Israel,” said Rice. “Hamas initiated this conflict. And Hamas has dragged it on.”

The Guardian reports:

[Rice] singled out the vote by the UN human rights council last week in favour of an independent inquiry into alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by Israel. Seventeen countries abstained during the vote, and only one country – the US – voted against.

Rice called the the UN inquiry “one-sided” and said it would “have no positive impact and should never have been created”. “The United States stood with Israel, and said ‘no’. We were the lone vote in the human rights council. Even our closest friends on the council abstained. It was 29 to one. But the one, as usual, was America. That is what we mean when we say: you are not alone.”

Rice’s remarks were briefly interrupted by a heckler, who later gave his name as Tighe Barry, 50, from Los Angeles. He said he had flown to Washington from California to attend the meeting and belonged to an organisation called Jewish Voices for Peace.

“The truth is, Israel is killing innocent people in Gaza,” he yelled during Rice’s speech, before he was quickly and forcefully wrestled out by security. “Stop the bombing, stop the killing, stop the hate.”

According figures cited by the UN on Monday, more than 173,000 Gazans – nearly 10 per cent of the population – are seeking protection at facilities managed by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), but some of those shelters themselves have come under Israeli fire.

“In the name of humanity,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Monday night called for an “immediate and unconditional” ceasefire in the Gaza Strip which he said was in “critical condition.”

“I repeat my call on Israel and all the parties to do vastly more to ensure the safety of these UN sites and the security of the people who have sought sanctuary there,” the UN chief said.

Defense of Children International-Palestine on Monday said that despite international calls for an end to hostilities—none of which have resulted in anything more than a few hours of respite—the number of children killed in the conflict has surpassed 200.

“Israel is an occupying power that is attacking and destroying an occupied Palestinian civilian population, said Rifat Kassis, executive director of DCI-Palestine. “These civilian deaths are not collateral damage: they are war crimes.”

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43% Of Afghan Military’s Weapons Unaccounted For Tue, 29 Jul 2014 13:43:26 +0000 Audit Reveals No Real Record-Keeping in Afghanistan. Continue reading

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AP/Shakil Adil

The Special Inspector General of Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has issued yet another damning report on the enormous levels of waste and lack of oversight in Afghanistan, this time focusing on 474,823 guns provided to the Afghan military by the Pentagon.

We’d known for awhile that a lot of Afghan recruits who sign up and leave after their first paycheck routinely took their guns with them, but never kew the extent. According to the report, 43% of the total serial numbers recorded had missing information and were not properly accounted for.

The Pentagon’s record-keeping system is also flawed in other ways, with some 22,806 serial numbers repeated multiple times, meaning the same gun was reported shipped or delivered many times. 59,938 had no record of ever being shipped or received.

SIGAR noted this only covers the Afghan Army, and not the national police. The news is even worse for them, as there is essentially no record-keeping there, being a hodge-podge of handwritten records by a few officials, with no audit even possible.

This article was published by AntiWar.

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Netanyahu Vows Lengthy Campaign Against Gaza Tue, 29 Jul 2014 13:38:51 +0000 He claims he wants all tunnels destroyed. Continue reading

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Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu(AP/Abir Sultan)

This is the seventh “Gaza war” Israel has launched since Hamas took over the strip in 2007, the longest lasted only three weeks. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still talking up a “protracted campaign” this time, and suggesting this war will soon be both the longest and deadliest of the bunch.

Israeli Army Chief Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz talked up more escalation of the war today, saying the war will continue to be “intensified” in the days going forward, while other officials spurned the notion of a ceasefire before their “military goals” are realized.

The current death tolls stand at 1,113 killed in Gaza, overwhelmingly civilians, and 55 from Israel, 52 of them Israeli troops involved in the fighting. Today saw Israel attack yet another Gaza hospital, killing a number of civilians.

Over the weekend, Israeli officials were condemning the Kerry-brokered ceasefire offer, though the US insists it was identical to one Israel accepted 10 days prior. Netanyahu says Israel won’t accept any ceasefire at all now until it has destroyed every single tunnel in the Gaza Strip, which since they don’t know how many there are is a recipe for endless fighting.

That seems to be the idea, as the current war remains popular domestically in Israel, and a number of far-right cabinet members are condemning the notion of negotiating any settlement of the war.

Yet their use of a conscript army leaves Israelis particularly sensitive to military death tolls, and if the war drags on too long, a rising number of troops killed in a war without end could quickly shift polls the other way.

This article was published by AntiWar.

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GAO Report: Drinking Water At Risk From Underground Fracking Waste Injection Tue, 29 Jul 2014 13:34:36 +0000 “The federal government’s watchdog is saying what communities across the country have known for years: fracking is putting Americans at risk,” said Amy Mall, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Continue reading

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Colorado Fracking Boom Photo Essay

A machine mixes sand and water, left, before it is pumped underground during a hydraulic fracturing operation at an Encana Corp. well pad near Mead, Colo. (AP/Brennan Linsley)

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) publicly released its report today finding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is “not consistently conducting two key oversight and enforcement activities for class II programs” for underground fluid injection wells associated with oil and gas production. The report shows that the EPA’s program to protect drinking water sources from underground injection of fracking waste needs improvement.

According to the report, “The U.S. EPA does not consistently conduct annual on-site state program evaluations as directed in guidance because, according to some EPA officials, the agency does not have the resources to do so.” The report also found that “to enforce state class II requirements, under current agency regulations, EPA must approve and incorporate state program requirements and any changes to them into federal regulations through a rulemaking.”

“The federal government’s watchdog is saying what communities across the country have known for years: fracking is putting Americans at risk,” said Amy Mall, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council. ”From drinking water contamination to man-made earthquakes, the reckless way oil and gas companies deal with their waste is a big problem. Outdated rules and insufficient enforcement are largely to blame. EPA needs to rein in this industry run amok.”

According to GAO, this study was conducted because:

Every day in the U.S. at least 2 billion gallons of fluids are injected into more than 172,000 wells to enhance oil and gas production, or to dispose of fluids brought to the surface during the extraction of oil and gas resources. These wells are subject to regulation to protect drinking water sources under EPA’s UIC class II program and approved state class II programs. Because much of the population relies on underground sources for drinking water, these wells have raised concerns about the safety of the nation’s drinking water.

The GAO report recommends, among other things, that the U.S. EPA “review emerging risks related to class II program safeguards and ensure that it can effectively oversee and efficiently enforce class II programs.”

This report comes on the heels of another report out last week, where Pennsylvania auditor general confirmed the state was unprepared for the growth of the shale gas industry. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said, ”that the meteoric growth of the shale gas industry caught the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) unprepared to effectively administer laws and regulations to protect drinking water and unable to efficiently respond to citizen complaints.”

This article was published by EcoWatch.

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Peddlers & Profiteers: Wall Street’s Finest Pushing Tax-Dodging Mergers Tue, 29 Jul 2014 13:29:54 +0000 'As much as I may hate these deals and the ramifications for our country, if I don’t do the deal, my competitor across the street will be happy to do it.' Continue reading

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Richard Hanzel, Brendan Hutt, Richard Shavzin

Protesters Richard Hanzel, left, Brendan Hutt, and Richard Shavzin, right, of the Screen Actors Guild, dressed as wall street bankers, march from Goldman Sachs’ office to a rally in Federal Plaza demanding Wall Street reform, Wednesday, April 28, 2010, in Chicago. The rally was organized by the Chicago Federation of Labor which includes more than 300 unions with more than 500,000 members. (AP/M. Spencer Green)

Wall Street’s largest investment banks are both peddling and profiting from the latest corporate craze known as “inversion mergers” in which large U.S.-based companies sell themselves off to foreign companies or subsidaries in order to further insulate themselves from paying taxes in their home country.

According to a story in the New York Times on Tuesday, banks like J.P Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Citigroup are closing in on gathering nearly $1 billion in fees alone—collected over the last three years—as they advise corporate clients on how to off-shore their ownership structure.

The Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin reports that “with seven- and eight-figure fees up for grabs, Wall Street bankers — and lawyers, consultants and accountants — have been promoting such deals [...] to some of the biggest companies in the country, including the American drug giant Pfizer.”

Wider reporting indicates that Wall Street has showed new urgency in initiating and completing such deals given the “inversion” trend has now received the attention of Congress and following recent remarks by President Obama who indicated he agreed with those who call the practice “un-patriotic”  and damaging to the overall economy.

“It’s legal, but it’s not right,” Obama said last week, addressing the issue while in California. “They’re technically renouncing their U.S. citizenship,” he said of the companies. “They’re declaring they are based someplace else even though most of their operations are here. You know, some people are calling these companies corporate deserters.”

According to Reuters:

The Obama administration has proposed legislation that would severely restrict the ability of US companies to invert, and while the effective date is January 1 2015, US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has called for the law to be made retroactive to May 2014.

Last week US Senate Finance Committee chairman Ron Wyden further fuelled the debate by accusing bankers of being in an “inversion feeding frenzy” and alluded to as many as 25 more possible tax-motivated M&A deals in the pipeline.

Threats of retroactivity have led bankers privately to urge corporates to get deals at least signed before the end of December this year.

“We are certainly encouraging clients not to waste any time if they are considering deals that include an inversion angle,” said a global head of mergers and acquisitions at one of the world’s largest banks.

As Sorkin notes, neither the public shaming from the president or other lawmakers, nor the growing uproar among regular individual tax-payers is likely to change the behavior of the Wall Street titans or their corporate clients both of whom see large potential profits for themselves even as the nation’s tax base will suffer greatly in the years ahead.

Wall Street banks are aggressively promoting these transactions to major corporations, arguing that such deals need to be completed quickly before Washington tries to block them. The proposals by President Obama and Senator Levin, neither of which appear to be gaining traction, seek to prevent inversion deals retroactively.

These deals are expected to sap the United States Treasury of $19.46 billion over the next decade, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. And that figure doesn’t take into consideration any future inversions. Nor does it account for the possible loss of jobs and revenue that will ostensibly move overseas over time.

“This is going to sound cynical,”  one senior banker told the Sorkin, “but as much as I may hate these deals and the ramifications for our country, if I don’t do the deal, my competitor across the street will be happy to do it.”

And as Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan said on a conference call with reporters as he defended the practice, “You want the choice to be able to go to Walmart to get the lowest prices. Companies should be able to make that choice as well.”

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Report: Government Surveillance Threatens Journalism, Law And Thus Democracy Tue, 29 Jul 2014 13:25:06 +0000 Interviews with dozens of leading journalists and attorneys found that U.S. government surveillance is eroding critically important freedoms. Continue reading

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 (AP/Gero Breloer)

The impunity with which the American government spies on journalists and attorneys is undermining the American people’s ability to hold their leaders accountable, thus threatening the core of our democracy, charged a joint report published Monday by two leading rights organizations.

The report—With Liberty to Monitor All: How Large-Scale US Surveillance is Harming Journalism, Law, and American Democracy, published by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch—draws from extensive interviews with dozens of top journalists, lawyers and senior government officials. What the authors found is that recent revelations of widespread government surveillance have forced many professionals to alter or abandon work related to “matters of great public concern.”

According to the report, “Surveillance has magnified existing concerns among journalists and their sources over the administration’s crackdown on leaks.” With increasing prosecution of whistleblowers, restrictions on communication between intelligence officials and the media, and snitch programs for federal workers, journalists say that their sources have become “increasingly scared to talk about anything.”

“It’s a terrible time to be covering government,” NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten told the report authors.

Further, journalists are forced to employ elaborate means of communicating with their sources, such as encryption and “burner” phones, which hampers their work.

The report argues that these increasing impediments have resulted in “less information reaching the public,” thus having a “direct effect on the public’s ability to obtain important information about government activities, and on the ability of the media to serve as a check on government.”

“Secrecy works against all of us,” said Dana Priest, a reporter for the Washington Post. “What makes government better is our work exposing information. It’s not just that it’s harder for me to do my job, though it is. It [also] makes the country less safe.”

Similarly, lawyers say that government surveillance has crippled their ability to maintain confidential correspondence with their clients, threatening the trust, free exchange of information, and potentially the security of those involved.

Jason Wright, a member of the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps who does work before the Guantanamo commissions, told the researchers that he and his colleagues are “fearful” that their communications with witnesses abroad are being monitored and consequently, attempts to build their case “might put people in harm’s way.”

The authors charge that this amounts to the “erosion of the right to counsel,” which they say is a “pillar of procedural justice under human rights law and the US Constitution.”

“The US holds itself out as a model of freedom and democracy, but its own surveillance programs are threatening the values it claims to represent,” said report author Alex Sinha, Aryeh Neier Fellow at HRW and the ACLU. “The US should genuinely confront the fact that its massive surveillance programs are damaging many critically important rights.”

Along with the report, the groups published this video highlighting their work.

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