Archive | October 17th, 2014

Leaked TPP Chapter Exposes Sweet Deals for Big Pharma and US Bully Tactics

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U.S. pushing rules that ‘favor big corporate right holders, and undermine the public’s freedom to use knowledge,’ intellectual property expert says

The leaked rules “are likely to affect access to important medicines such as cancer drugs and will also weaken the requirements needed to patent genes in plants, which will impact small farmers and boost the dominance of large agricultural corporations like Monsanto,” according to WikiLeaks. (Photo: GlobalTradeWatch/flickr/cc)

WikiLeaks on Thursday released a second updated version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Intellectual Property Rights chapter, charging that it will hinder affordable access to medicines globally, increase online surveillance, and impinge on civil liberties while benefiting Big Pharma and other corporate interests.

“Our first impression in reading the document is the extent to which the United States has sought hundreds of changes in intellectual property norms, some small and subtle, others blunt and aggressive, nearly of all of which favor big corporate right holders, and undermine the public’s freedom to use knowledge,” declared James Love of Knowledge Ecology International.

“These additions are likely to affect access to important medicines such as cancer drugs and will also weaken the requirements needed to patent genes in plants, which will impact small farmers and boost the dominance of large agricultural corporations like Monsanto.”
—WikiLeaks

The TPP is the world’s largest economic trade agreement that will, if it goes into effect, encompass more than 40 percent of the world’s GDP. The IP chapter covers topics from pharmaceuticals, patent registrations, and copyright issues to digital rights.

The trade pact has been mostly negotiated in secret, with only select government officials and corporations able to see the text. To that end, WikiLeaks has released several draft chapters. A previous draft of the IP chapter was leaked in November 2013.

“Since that point, some controversial and damaging areas have had little change; issues surrounding digital rights have moved little,” according to a WikiLeaks press statement Thursday. “However, there are significant industry-favoring additions within the areas of pharmaceuticals and patents. These additions are likely to affect access to important medicines such as cancer drugs and will also weaken the requirements needed to patent genes in plants, which will impact small farmers and boost the dominance of large agricultural corporations like Monsanto.”

In their analysis, WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange and editor Sarah Harrison note that the U.S. is pushing for long automatic monopolies for biotech drugs or biologics, including most new treatments for cancer. In addition, the revised TPP chapter includes expansions and extensions of patent protections and terms as well as a provision proposed by the U.S. and Japan that would require granting of patents for new drugs that are slightly altered from a previous patented one—a technique known as “evergreening” that the pharmaceutical industry uses to prolong market monopoly.

“The TPP would impose new obligations for spying on Internet users under the guise of enforcing copyright.”
—Alberto Cerda, Derechos Digitales

“In short, the TPP will greatly reduce the ability for creating more affordable drugs to save more lives, and increase the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to retain monopolies,” Assange and Harrison write.

According to a Public Citizen analysis of the leaked document:

Measures in the text, which advantage the patent-based pharmaceutical industry, face stiff opposition from most of the other TPP countries and health care advocates. Entrenched disagreements on these issues will be among the top challenges for TPP trade ministers who will be meeting in Australia at the end of October in an effort to meet Obama’s November deadline to complete negotiations.

Large brand-name drug firms want to use the TPP to impose rules throughout Asia that will raise prices on medicine purchases for consumers and governments, and be in effect for the next several decades. With billions at stake, Big Pharma wants the TPP to be a road map for rules that will govern Pacific Rim economies for the next several decades.

“The leak shows our government demanding rules that would lead to preventable suffering and death in Pacific Rim countries, while eliminating opportunities to ease financial hardship on American families and our health programs at home,” said Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines Program.

Furthermore, the draft rules under negotiation would increase online spying, said Alberto Cerda, founding member of the Chilean organization Derechos Digitales (Digital Rights).

“For most non-American users, these rules are new and raise a number of significant concerns about their potential abuse and misuse by the government, corporations and the big content industry,” Cerda said. “[T]he TPP would impose new obligations for spying on Internet users under the guise of enforcing copyright. This should raise concerns not only among countries that currently lack such regulations, but also among U.S. citizens, because the TPP would expand the online spy network at home.”

The draft leaked on Thursday also offers a glimpse at shifting country alliances. Whereas the U.S. and Australia used to be closely aligned, the latest version suggests the U.S. and Japan are now tightly linked.

As Mike Masnick notes at TechDirt: “A bunch of countries are pushing for the right to cancel a patent if it ‘is used in a manner determined to be anti-competitive,’ but of course, the U.S. and Japan are completely against such a thing. Instead, the U.S. and Japan say it should only be cancelled on grounds that would have been justified for refusing to grant the patent in the first place. In other words, most of the countries recognize that patents can be abused in anti-competitive ways and want to protect against that. The US and Japan, on the other hand, appear to be happy with enabling anti-competitive abuses with patents.”

But the IP chapter’s text also shows that many countries are pushing back.

“[T]he immediate takeaway is that the U.S. remains fairly isolated in its efforts to overhaul patent and copyright law around the world with Canada emerging as the leading opponent of its demands,” writes University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist at his blog.

He explains:

Why is Canada opposing so many U.S. demands?

Simply put, the U.S. wants Canada to eviscerate many of the recent reforms found in copyright and counterfeiting legislation along with court rulings on patent protection. These demands focus on enhanced criminal liability for copyright infringement, eliminating the Canadian approach to Internet service provider liability, extending the term of copyright protection, and expanding patent protection. Canadian negotiators have thus far resisted many of the proposed changes, offering alternatives that are compatible with current law. Yet as the treaty negotiations continue, the pressure to cave to U.S. pressure will no doubt increase, raising serious concerns about whether the TPP will force the Canadian government to overhaul recently enacted legislation that it has steadfastly defended as reflecting a balanced, “made in Canada” approach.

Current TPP negotiation member states are the United States, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, New Zealand, and Brunei; ministers from those countries will attend a meeting in Australia at the end of this month in the hopes of breaking the impasse in November.

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Obama’s Claimed War-Making Authority for Syria and Iraq Called ‘Preposterous

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Administration official says War Powers requirement for congressional vote does not apply

 President Obama pictured during his first visit to the Pentagon since becoming President January 28, 2009. (Photo: DOD/public domain)

President Obama pictured during his first visit to the Pentagon since becoming President January 28, 2009. (Photo: DOD/public domain).

The White House is facing criticism for its declaration on Wednesday that it can continue to escalate war in both Iraq and Syria without approval from Congress because it is granted authority from two pieces of legislation passed 12 and 13 years ago.

“These are illegal underpinnings for what is a new war in the Middle East,” Stephen Miles of Win Without War told Common Dreams.

Under the War Powers Resolution, the president is forbidden from unilaterally waging military hostilities for more than 60 days without authorization from Congress. But October 7 marked 60 days since the U.S. began launching air bombardments on Iraq, which have since spread to Syria, and White House and Pentagon officials this week warned that the war is likely to last years.

On Wednesday, over a week after the expiration of the 60-day window, a top administration official declared that the limit does not apply to this current war. “Because the 2001 and 2002 [Authorizations for Use of Military Force] constitute specific authorization within the meaning of the War Powers Resolution, the War Powers Resolution’s 60-day limitation on operations does not apply here,” said Bernadette Meehan, spokesperson for the National Security Council, as quoted in the Guardian.

The 2001 AUMF was passed by Congress to authorize the president to use military force against those who waged or enabled the 2001 September 11th attacks. The 2002 AUMF authorized the 2003 invasion of Iraq and use of force against Saddam Hussein. Critics say that these pieces of legislation, themselves highly controversial, do not amount to blanket approval for the expanding war against ISIS.

“It’s absolutely preposterous to use the 2001 AUMF about September 11th, or the 2002 AUMF to authorize war on Iraq,” said Miles,echoing arguments from legal scholars issued before this most recent war began.

Ackerman writes for the Guardian, “Both resolutions long predate the existence of Isis, which al-Qaida has specifically excommunicated and denounced. Before the launch of Operation Inherent Resolve, Barack Obama supported the expiration of both AUMFs.”

In a speech issued May of last year, Obama warned that the 2001 AUMF could be interpreted as a green light for endless war. He stated:

The AUMF is now nearly 12 years old. The Afghan war is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states.

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Keiser Report: SpaghettiOs of Terror ”VIDEO”

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Max Keiser socks it to the establishment with his trademark dry humor, discussing the case of a Georgia woman busted and jailed for three months because authorities thought a spoon she was holding had meth on it. It turned out to be…dried pasta sauce.

Continuing with the theme of making up evidence to support their position, Keiser and Stacy Herbert also expose the government’s imaginary terror group Khorasan as an excuse to bomb Syria.

He also interviews Bitcoin developer Amir Taaki. A thought-provoking discussion about the general state of things ensues!

 

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Palestinian Christians denounce Zionist priest for claiming I$raHell grants them freedom

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A photo published by the Israeli prime minister’s office on Flickr shows Jibril Nadaf with Benjamin Netanyahu in August 2013.

Yara Salameh was shocked when she watched Jibril Nadaf, a priest from Nazareth, repeat a call on fellow Palestinian Christians to serve in the Israeli military.

Nadaf claimed Israel was the only country in the Middle East where Christians are “not persecuted” during a speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council on 23 September.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Salameh, a 25-year-old pharmacist from the village of Turan, home to both Christians and Muslims, located in the Galilee region of present-day Israel.

“He represents no one but himself. The army he wants us to join is the same one shedding the blood of our innocent brothers and sisters — Palestinian blood just like ours,” she told The Electronic Intifada.

Nadaf is active at the local Greek Orthodox Church in Yafa al-Naseriyye, a Palestinian village near his native Nazareth. In October 2012, he joined the Forum for Drafting the Christian Community, an organization that promotes military conscription for Palestinian Christians in Israel.

Though military service is not mandatory for Palestinian Christians, Israel has in recent years promoted voluntary conscription among them.

“This is just another evil plot to make us view our struggle from a religious point of view, and it is rubbish,” added Salameh, whose grandparents were forced out of the almost entirely Christian village of Iqrit in the Galilee region during the Nakba, the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Zionist forces.

Signing a death warrant?

And despite Nadaf having become widely known and extremely vocal, most otherPalestinian citizens of Israel have roundly rejected his calls to serve in Israel’s military, which for decades has occupied Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese lands in violation of international law.

An estimated 1.7 million Palestinians carry Israeli citizenship and live in cities, towns and villages across the country. Together they constitute a diverse community of people from Muslim, Christian and Druze religious backgrounds, and hold a wide array of political affiliations.

According to the Haifa-based legal center Adalah, more than fifty Israeli laws restrict the political expression of and limit access to state resources for all Palestinian citizens of Israel, regardless of religious background or political affiliation.

Nadaf, however, made no mention in his speech at the United Nations of the dozens of anti-Palestinian laws or the widespread discrimination Palestinians in Israel face in every aspect of life.

Those who campaign against Israel, he said, “are signing the death warrant on the last free Christians in the Holy Land.”

Palestinian activists and political leaders in present-day Israel condemned Nadaf’s speech.

According to the rightwing news site The Times of Israel, Nadaf was brought to Geneva to deliver the speech by The Face of Israel, a group affiliated with the Israeli government.

“Working to divide”

Basel Ghattas is a member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, with Balad, a political party representing Palestinians in Israel. He is a vocal opponent of the ongoing efforts to conscript Palestinian Christians into the military.

Nadaf went to the United Nations to speak “with the Israeli administration, and that reveals what his true goals are,” Ghattas told The Electronic Intifada. “He serves the rightwing Israeli establishment by working to divide Christians and Muslims. It’s about marketing Israel’s policies.”

The widespread resistance to Nadaf’s program and Israeli efforts to increase military conscription haven’t stopped Benjamin Netanyahu’s government from further attempting to divide the Palestinian minority along sectarian lines.

In September, Gideon Saar, the Israeli interior minister known for his anti-Palestinian views, ordered the country’s population registry to allow Christians to register as “Aramean” rather than “Arab” on official identification documents (supposedly a reference to ancient Aramaic-speaking peoples in the region).

“It’s ridiculous,” Ghattas added. “They are trying to use the spread of extremist Islamist groups in SyriaIraq and even Lebanon to claim Israel protects Christians. But Palestinian Christians are persecuted by the Israeli occupation.”

He added that “the majority of Christians [in present-day Israel] are against this plan, and we’re confident that [conscription] won’t be victorious.”

“Racist goals”

In July 2013, The Times of Israel reported that a group of Palestinian Christians associated with Nadaf in Nazareth and elsewhere were planning to establish Sons of the New Testament, a new political party that supports Christian enlistment in Israel’s occupation army.

“This is really crazy and dangerous,” Waad Ghantous, a 23-year-old activist whose grandfather was expelled from the Galilee village of Kufr Birim in 1948, told The Electronic Intifada. “As Palestinians living in the occupied ’48 territories [present-day Israel], we shouldn’t help Israel succeed in its colonial [and] racist goals by volunteering to divide ourselves even more.”

“Christian, Muslim, Druze, Aramean – it doesn’t matter,” she said. “The West Bank,GazaJerusalem or Haifa — it still doesn’t matter. We are all Palestinians, and it is occupation no matter where we live or what our political and religious backgrounds are.”

Back in February, Israeli politician Yariv Levin proposed a law that would create separate representation for Christians and the rest of the Palestinian community in Israel on a national employment committee.

activestills13988503153mk9j.jpg

Students at Tel Aviv University protest a government plan to enlist Palestinian Christians in the Israeli army, April 2014.

Though it remains unclear how much support these efforts enjoy, a clear majority of Palestinians in Israel have campaigned continuously against both enlistment and the top-down efforts to divide them.

Eighteen Palestinian groups in Israel subsequently issued a joint statement denouncing the draft law as “colonial” and “sectarian.”

The statement decries the legislation for the parallels it shares with “approaches adopted by the apartheid regime in South Africa, and by France in its colonial rule in Algeria, among others.”

“It is a policy that seeks to fragment the original people of the land into small groups with narrowed identities to replace their national identity,” the statement adds.

Israel’s designs for Christians come as a growing number of conscientious objectors areemerging among Palestinian Druze, a religious minority that has been required to serve in Israel’s military since a minority of Druze religious leaders signed an agreement with the government in 1956.

“Sectarian warfare”

“The movement against conscription is growing very fast, and people know about the dangers of serving in the military much more than before,” said Fady Asleh, a founding member of Refuse, one of the leading groups campaigning against mandatory military service for Palestinian Druze.

“But at the same time, the Zionist groups and Israeli institutions are working on their project to conscript us more than before, as well. We have a lack of institutions to represent Palestinians [in present-day Israel],” he said. “Israeli institutions have threatened to condition our rights on our ‘loyalty’ to the state. That is neither moral nor legal.”

“Israel is well aware that this has nothing to do with religion,” Asleh added. “It’s about sectarian warfare being imposed on Arabs here by an occupier. Israel dreams of bringing up a new generation that thinks about its religious sect before its Palestinian national identity.”

Baladna, a Haifa-based Palestinian advocacy group and signatory of the statement, has also been at the forefront of campaigning against military conscription.

“It’s important that we all understand that Nadaf is basically an Israeli tool,” Nadim Nashif, director of Baladna, told The Electronic Intifada. “He goes to the UN the US, and Europe on trips funded by Israel and Zionist groups.”

Though Nashif believes Israel’s conscription project is doomed to failure, he said “it is very important to continue resisting” Israel’s attempts to conscript Palestinians of any background into the military.

“The main risk we face by inaction is that [military service] will one day be mandatory,” he warned.

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In Rejecting Columbus, Cities Forge Path Toward System Alternative

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‘Columbus did not discover America, he plundered it and he brutalized its people,’ Seattle’s Sawant says

A scene from a 2013 anti-Columbus Day protest in Washington, DC. (Photo: Victoria Pickering/flickr/cc)

As Minneapolis and Seattle mark their cities’ first-ever Indigenous Peoples’ Day, activists are calling for a nationwide revocation of Columbus Day in favor of a holiday that honors the more complicated past of this land’s original inhabitants.

In an interview with Democracy Now!, Seattle city councilmember Kshama Sawant, one of the sponsors of that city’s recently passed resolution, explained the importance of such efforts.

“There’s never been a better time for us to be united and fight for socialism, fight against corporate domination.”
—Kshama Sawant, Seattle City Council

By rejecting Columbus Day, “we’re making sure that we acknowledge the absolute horrors of colonization and conquering that happened in the Americas at the hands of the European so-called ‘explorers,'” Sawant said. Columbus, she noted, was a “prolific slave owner” who was responsible for “mass enslavement and a genocide” that decimated the Native American population.

“Columbus did not discover America,” Sawant added. “He plundered it and he brutalized its people.”

It’s well past time for the U.S. to realize that “Columbus Day is a metaphor and painful symbol of that traumatic past,” historian and writer Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz argued in an open letter to President Barack Obama published last week:

Native American nations and communities are involved in decolonization projects, including the development of international human rights law to gain their rights as Indigenous Peoples, having gained the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which your administration endorsed. It’s time for the United States government to make a gesture toward acknowledgement of its colonial past and a commitment to decolonization. Doing away with the celebration of Columbus, the very face of European colonialism, could be that gesture. In its place proclaim that fateful date of the onset of colonialism as a Day of Solidarity and Mourning with the Indigenous Peoples.

According to Indian Country Today, 16 states are not celebrating Columbus Day this year, as opposed to just three states in 1990.

While the focus is on history, the debate over Columbus Day is still quite relevant to current struggles, said Sawant, a socialist.

“Everything that’s happening around us is showing us that more and more people are realizing that in general, this system of capitalism that rests on a history of slavery and colonialism and continues the exploitation and war and violence to this day is not working for us,” she said. “We need an alternative. There’s never been a better time for us to be united and fight for socialism, fight against corporate domination.”

She continued: “We want this resolution to be a building block to start…a real debate about why is it that we see such poverty, unemployment, and such brutalization of our indigenous communities even today?”

And by doing so, she said, we can deepen the intersections among oppressed groups. “Our task on the left is to join these movements together and give a much more amplified voice to the struggle of the Indigenous communities by realizing that their struggle is connected to the black struggle in Ferguson; it’s connected to the struggle of women against sexism and sexual violence; it’s connected to the struggle of workers overall for workplace justice.”

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In ‘Victory for Anti-Imperialists,’ Evo Morales Wins Third Term

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‘Nationalization won with more than 60 percent,’ the Socialist leader told the thousands who gathered outside the presidential palace

Evo Morales’ landslide victory will secure push for agenda of ‘indigenous socialism.’ (Photo: Alain Bachellier/cc/flickr)

 

In what is being claimed as a victory for “anti-imperialists,” President Evo Morales on Sunday was elected to his third term as Bolivia’s president.

Morales, who in 2006 became the country’s first indigenous leader, won a landslide 61 percent of the vote, according to exit polling. His closest rival, businessman Samuel Doria Medina, had 24 percent.

“This was a debate on two models: nationalization or privatization. Nationalization won with more than 60 percent (support),” the Socialist leader told the thousands who gathered outside the presidential palace Sunday evening. Morales dedicated his win to leftist leaders Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s late president.

“This win is a triumph for anti-imperialists and anti-colonialists,” Morales declared.

Under his leadership, the number of Bolivians living in extreme poverty has fallen from more than a third of the population to one in five since 2006. Further, his policies have provided economic growth averaging above 5 percent a year.

Polling also suggested that the former coca grower’s Movement Toward Socialism party would also maintain power in both the lower and upper houses in Congress. According to analysis, this will allow for the leader to keep pursuing his agenda of “indigenous socialism,” under which he has nationalized major industries such as oil and gas to build new roads and schools and finance welfare programs across the state.

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Why We Should Be Seething with Anger over Inequality

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“If we were given proper media coverage of the endless takeaway of our country’s wealth by the super-rich, we would be infuriated,” the author writes. CIVILIAN/flickr/cc)

It was recently reported that Americans greatly underestimate the degree of inequality in our country. If we were given proper media coverage of the endless takeaway of our country’s wealth by the super-rich, we would be infuriated. And we would be taking itpersonally.

Each of nine individuals (Gates, Buffett, 2 Kochs, 4 Waltons, Zuckerberg) made, on average, so much from his/her investments since January, 2013 that a median American worker would need a quarter of a million years to catch up. For the most part it was passive income, new wealth derived from the continuing productivity of America’s workers.

Why We Should Take It Personally

First, because our productivity is rewarding a relatively few people. In addition, many of the top money-makers are damaging other American lives. The top nine include four people (Waltons) who pay their employees so little that we taxpayers have to pay almost $6,000 a year to support each one of the employees. And it includes two people (Kochs) who have polluted our air and water to enrich themselves while quietly funding organizations that threaten to dismantle what’s left of our democracy.

Another personal issue: While the Forbes 400 made almost enough in one year to fund the entire safety net, they don’t even have to pay taxes on their half-trillion dollars of investment gain until they cash in, which may be never.

On Average, Most of Us Got ONE DOLLAR for Every BILLION DOLLARS of New Wealth

A look at the numbers compiled by Us Against Greed shows how personal it really is. Out of that $5,350,000,000,000 ($5.35 trillion) made since the start of 2013, the bottom 80 percentof America took an average of less than $5,000 each. The richest 6 to 20 percent fared better, taking an average of about $65,000.

Now it begins to heat up. From that $5.35 trillion, the richest 2 to 5 percent took an average of about $343,000. The one-percenters need to be split up into the rich, the super-rich, and the filthy-rich:

—-The more common members of the one-percent (1,068,000 families) made over $1,000,000 each ($1,068 billion total)

—-The .1 percent (108,000 families) made about $4 million each ($480 billion total)

—-The .01 percent made about $40 million each ($480 billion total)

The unimaginably rich Forbes 400 each took, on average, almost $1,500,000,000 ($1.5 billion) since January, 2013.

That brings us to the Final 9 (Gates, Buffett, 2 Kochs, 4 Waltons, Zuckerberg). Each of them has accumulated, on average, over $13,000,000,000 ($13 billion) since January 2013.

Getting Billions for Working Less

A big reason to get angry: Our country’s wealth grew from $64 trillion to $80 trillion (a 25 percent increase!) in two years, reflecting the unprecedented surge in America’s productivity and wealth over the past few years. But there was little if any new innovation or job creation by these big takers over the past two years. The simple fact that they were already incomprehensibly rich allowed them to sit back and collect more and more and more.

Mainstream Media: Incompetent or In Bed with Business

And thus a final reason to be incensed about inequality: The fact that the regular media doesn’t properly inform the public about all this. That should be their job, to report on issues that have a great impact on our lives, instead of hushing up the perversity of redistributed national wealth. But apparently it’s good business for the super-rich media owners to keep their viewers harmlessly underestimating the truth.

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The United States is No. 1 – But in What?

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American politicians are fond of telling their audiences that the United States is the greatest country in the world. Is there any evidence for this claim?

Well, yes. When it comes to violence and preparations for violence, the United States is, indeed, No. 1. In 2013, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the U.S. government accounted for 37 percent of world military expenditures, putting it far ahead of all other nations. (The two closest competitors, China and Russia, accounted for 11 percent and 5 percent respectively.) From 2004 to 2013, the United States was also the No. 1 weapons exporter in the world. Moreover, given the U.S. government’s almost continuous series of wars and acts of military intervention since 1941, it seems likely that it surpasses all rivals when it comes to international violence.

This record is paralleled on the domestic front, where the United States has more guns and gun-related deaths than any other country. A study released in late 2013 reported that the United States had 88 guns for every 100 people, and 40 gun-related deaths for every 400,000 people―the most of any of the 27 economically developed countries surveyed. By contrast, in Britain there were 6 guns per 100 people and 1 gun-related death per 400,000 people.

Yet, in a great many other areas, the United States is not No. 1 at all.

Take education. In late 2013, the Program for International Student Assessment released a report on how 15-year old students from 65 nations performed on its tests. The report showed that U.S. students ranked 17th in reading and 21st in math. An international surveya bit earlier that year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that the ranking was slightly worse for American adults. In 2014, Pearson, a multinational educational services company, placed the United States 20th in the world in “educational attainment”―well behind Poland and the Slovak Republic.

American healthcare and health fare even worse. In a 2014 study of healthcare (including infant mortality, healthy life expectancy, and mortality from preventable conditions) in 11 advanced industrial countries, the Commonwealth Fund concluded that the United States ranked last among them. According to the World Health Organization, the U.S. healthcare system ranks 30th in the world. Other studies reach somewhat different conclusions, but all are very unflattering to the United States, as are studies of American health. The United States, for example, has one of the world’s worst cancer rates (the seventh highest), and life expectancy is declining compared to other nations. An article in the Washington Post in late 2013 reported that the United States ranked 26th among nations in life expectancy, and that the average American lifespan had fallen a year behind the international average.

What about the environment? Specialists at Yale University have developed a highly sophisticated Environmental Performance Index to examine the behavior of nations. In the area of protection of human health from environmental harm, their 2014 index placed the United States 35th in health impacts, 36th in water and sanitation, and 38th in air quality. In the other area studied―protection of ecosystems―the United States ranked 32nd in water resources, 49th in climate and energy, 86th in biodiversity and habitat, 96th in fisheries, 107th in forests, and 109th in agriculture.

These and other areas of interest are dealt with by the Social Progress Index, which was developed by Michael Porter, an eminent professor of business (and a Republican) at Harvard. According to Porter and his team, in 2014 the United States ranked 23rd in access to information and communications, 24th in nutrition and basic medical care, 31st in personal safety, 34th in water and sanitation, 39th in access to basic knowledge, 69th in ecosystem sustainability, and 70th in health and wellness.

The widespread extent of poverty, especially among children, remains a disgrace in one of the world’s wealthiest nations. A 2013 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund noted that, of the 35 economically advanced countries that had been studied, only Rumania had a higher percentage of children living in poverty than did the United States.

Of course, the United States is not locked into these dismal rankings and the sad situation they reveal about the health, education, and welfare of its citizens. It could do much better if its vast wealth, resources, and technology were employed differently than they are at present.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of priorities. When most U.S. government discretionary spending goes for war and preparations for war, it should come as no surprise that the United States emerges No. 1 among nations in its capacity for violence and falls far behind other nations in providing for the well-being of its people.

Americans might want to keep this in mind as their nation embarks upon yet another costly military crusade.

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Hidden Hunger Strips Away Dignity, Perpetuates Inequality and Destroys South Africans’ Potential to Prosper

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Map of Africa

WASHINGTON – One in four people in South Africa do not have enough to eat, and half the population is at risk of hunger, despite the country producing more than enough food.

According to a new report by Oxfam, low incomes, rising costs, a lack of access to productive resources and climate change are amongst the reasons causing 13 million people to go to bed hungry. One family of four was found to live on just R6 (USD$0.54) a day.  “The children wake up hungry in the middle of the night. At times we feel it would be better if someone adopted them to give them a chance in life,” says Elzetta Vooges, 23, from the Eastern Cape.

For many, hunger strips away dignity. Elzetta describes feeling she is “rated the cheapest of the cheapest”. Focus groups in 9 municipalities across South Africa reveal how hunger perpetuates inequality and destroys South African’s potential to prosper. As World Food Day approaches, the report Hidden Hunger in South Africa: the faces of hunger and malnutrition in a food secure nation reveals hunger is a daily and crippling reality for too many.

Oxfam’s Rashmi Mistry said: “The right to sufficient food is enshrined in the constitution but government policies have failed for one in four South Africans.  October has been adopted by the government as food security month but just increasing production and creating one giant food mountain will not help the poorest and does not go far enough to address the root causes of hunger.  We need better implemented policies that are developed with those most affected by hunger and backed by legislation that holds everyone to account for people having enough to eat.”

The report found that despite the nations’ farms producing enough calories to feed every one of its 54-million citizens, half of South Africans either face hunger or are at risk of hunger.  To cope, people skip meals, eat smaller portions or make do with cheap, poor-quality food.

Women and girls face hunger more often than men. They earn less than men for the same work, cannot work as many hours and find it harder to get jobs.  Despite this, they are often responsible for providing food for the family.

Communities in the nine municipalities say that the price of staple foods, like maize have increased. Electricity prices have escalated by over 200% cumulatively since 2010, forcing people to choose between food and fuel.  The inequality of access to food across South African households is stark – the poorest spend 50% of their incomes on food whilst the richest 10% of the population spend only 10% on food, meaning any increases in prices hits the poorest pockets the hardest.

Access to food is also limited by food retailers’ control over pricing and availability. Five retailers control 60% of the formal retail market, leaving small and informal traders finding it hard to compete.  The food industry has been plagued by collusion and price fixing scandals. Prices are inflated whilst farmworkers often struggle to survive in meager wages, or face losing their jobs completely.

Without access to land, water, tools and training many poor communities don’t even have the ability to produce their own food.  Meanwhile, climate change threatens to make production harder and food prices rise. Communities all over the country report changes in the climate that mean they cannot grow or store food as they used to.  “We used to eat fresh food from our gardens, but now it’s impossible because of the high temperatures that make it impossible for us to work in our gardens” Community member from Eastern Cape.

Recommendations

Oxfam is calling for:

  • A National Food Act to ensure that no one goes hungry. The Act would require cooperation and accountability from the government, private sector and individuals.
  • Opening of the latest National Food and Nutrition Policy to meaningful public consultation.
  • A fair, accountable and sustainable food industry that ends practices such as price fixing, reduces waste and does more to help small scale producers.
  • Improved rights to land and waterways to help communities facing hunger provide for themselves.
  • Plans to tackle climate change and reduce carbon emissions which negatively impact on food production.

Further recommendations are detailed in the report Hidden Hunger in South Africa.

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Can MSM Handle the Contra-Cocaine Truth?

NOVANEWS

Actor Jeremy Renner portraying journalist Gary Webb in the movie, “Kill the Messenger.”

Exclusive: “Kill the Messenger” tells the tragic tale of journalist Gary Webb who revived the Contra-cocaine scandal in the 1990s and saw his life destroyed by the mainstream media. The question now is: Will the MSM continue its cover-up of this sordid part of Ronald Reagan’s legacy or finally accept the truth, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The mainstream news media’s reaction to the new movie, “Kill the Messenger,” has been tepid, perhaps not surprising given that the MSM comes across as the film’s most unsympathetic villain as it crushes journalist Gary Webb for digging up the Contra-cocaine scandal in the mid-1990s after the major newspapers thought they had buried it in the 1980s.

Not that the movie is without other villains, including drug traffickers and “men in black” government agents. But the drug lords show some humanity and even honesty as they describe how they smuggled drugs and shared the proceeds with the Nicaraguan Contra rebels, President Ronald Reagan’s beloved “freedom fighters.”

By contrast, the news executives for the big newspapers, such as the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, come across as soulless careerists determined to maintain their cozy relations with the CIA’s press office and set on shielding their failure to take on this shocking scandal when it was playing out in the 1980s.

So, in the 1990s, they concentrated their fire on Webb for alleged imperfections in his investigative reporting rather than on U.S. government officials who condoned and protected the Contra drug trafficking as part of Reagan’s Cold War crusade.

Webb’s cowardly editors at the San Jose Mercury News also come across badly as frightened bureaucrats, cringing before the collective misjudgment of the MSM and crucifying their own journalist for the sin of challenging the media’s wrongheaded conventional wisdom.

That the MSM’s “group think” was upside-down should no longer be in doubt. In fact, the Contra-cocaine case was conclusively established as early as 1985 when Brian Barger and I wrote the first story on the scandal for the Associated Press. Our sourcing included some two dozen knowledgeable people including Contras, Contra supporters and U.S. government sources from the Drug Enforcement Administration and even Reagan’s National Security Council staff.

But the Reagan administration didn’t want to acknowledge this inconvenient truth, knowing it would sink the Contra war against Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government. So, after the AP story was published, President Reagan’s skillful propagandists mounted a counteroffensive that elicited help from editors and reporters at the New York Times, the Washington Post and other major news outlets.

Thus, in the 1980s, the MSM treated the Contra-cocaine scandal as a “conspiracy theory” when it actually was a very real conspiracy. The MSM’s smug and derisive attitude continued despite a courageous investigation headed by Sen. John Kerry which, in 1989, confirmed the AP reporting and took the story even further. For his efforts, Newsweek dubbed Kerry “a randy conspiracy buff.”

This dismissive treatment of the scandal even survived the narcotics trafficking trial of Panama’s Manuel Noriega in 1991 when the U.S. government called witnesses who implicated both Noriega and the Contras in the cocaine trade.

The Power of ‘Group Think’

What we were seeing was the emerging power of the MSM’s “group think,” driven by conformity and careerism and resistant to both facts and logic. Once all the “smart people” of Official Washington reached a conclusion – no matter how misguided – that judgment would be defended at nearly all costs, since none of these influential folks wanted to admit error.

That’s what Gary Webb ran into in 1996 when he revived the Contra-cocaine scandal by focusing on the devastation that one Contra drug pipeline caused by feeding into the production of crack cocaine. However, for the big newspapers to admit they had ducked such an important story – and indeed had aided in the government’s cover-up – would be devastating to their standing.

So, the obvious play was to nitpick Webb’s reporting and to destroy him personally, which is what the big newspapers did and what “Kill the Messenger” depicts. The question today is: how will the MSM react to this second revival of the Contra-cocaine scandal?

Of the movie reviews that I read, a few were respectful, including the one in the Los Angeles Times where Kenneth Turan wrote: “The story Webb related in a series of articles … told a still-controversial tale that many people did not want to hear: that elements in the CIA made common cause with Central American drug dealers and that money that resulted from cocaine sales in the U.S. was used to arm the anti-communist Contras in Nicaragua.

“Although the CIA itself confirmed, albeit years later, that this connection did in fact exist, journalists continue to argue about whether aspects of Webb’s stories overreached.”

A normal person might wonder why – if the CIA itself admitted (as it did) that it was collaborating with drug dealers – journalists would still be debating whether Webb may have “overreached” (although in reality he actually understated the problem). Talk about missing “the lede” or the forest for the trees.

What kind of “journalist” obsesses over dissecting the work of another journalist while the U.S. government gets away with aiding and abetting drug traffickers?

Turan went on to note the same strange pattern in 1996 after Webb’s series appeared: “what no one counted on was that the journalistic establishment — including elite newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times — would attempt to discredit Webb’s reporting. The other newspapers questioned the shakier parts of his story and proving the truth of what one of Webb’s sources tells him: ‘You get the most flak when you’re right above the target.’”

Sneering Still

However, other reviews, including those in the New York Times and the Washington Post, continued the snarky tone that pervaded the sneering treatment of Webb that hounded him out of journalism in 1997 and ultimately drove him to suicide in 2004. For instance, the headline in the Post’s weekend section was “Sticking with Webb’s Story,” as in the phrase “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

The review by Michael O’Sullivan stated: “Inspired by the true story of Gary Webb — the San Jose Mercury News reporter known for a controversial series of articles suggesting a link between the CIA, the California crack epidemic and the Nicaraguan Contras — this slightly overheated drama begins and ends with innuendo. In between is a generous schmear of insinuation.”

You get the point. The allegations, which have now been so well-established that even the CIA admits to them, are “controversial” and amount to “innuendo” and “insinuation.”

Similarly, the New York Times review by Manohla Dargis disparaged Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series as “much-contested,” which may be technically accurate but fails to recognize that the core allegations of Contra-cocaine trafficking and U.S. government complicity were true – something an earlier article by Times’ media writer David Carr at least had the decency to acknowledge. [See Consortiumnews.com’s NYT’s Belated Admission on Contra-Cocaine.”]

In a different world, the major newspapers would have taken the opening created by “Kill the Messenger” to make amends for their egregious behavior in the 1980s – in discrediting the scandal when the criminality could have been stopped – and for their outrageous actions in the 1990s in destroying the life and career of Gary Webb. But it appears the big papers mostly plan to hunker down and pretend they did nothing wrong.

For those interested in the hard evidence proving the reality of the Contra-cocaine scandal, I posted a Special Report on Friday detailing much of what we know and how we know it. [See Consortiumnews.com’s The Sordid Contra-Cocaine Saga.”]

As for “Kill the Messenger,” I had the pleasure of watching it on Friday night with my old Associated Press colleague Brian Barger – and we both were impressed by how effectively the movie-makers explained a fairly complicated tale about drugs and politics. The personal story was told with integrity, aided immensely by Jeremy Renner’s convincing portrayal of Webb.

There were, of course, some Hollywood fictional flourishes for dramatic purposes. And it was a little weird hearing my cautionary advice to Webb – delivered when we talked before his “Dark Alliance” series was published in 1996 – being put into the mouth of a fictional Kerry staffer.

But those are minor points. What was truly remarkable about this movie was that it was made at all. Over the past three decades, many directors and screenwriters have contemplated telling the sordid story of Contra-cocaine trafficking but all have failed to get the projects “green-lighted.”

The conventional wisdom in Hollywood has been that such a movie would be torn apart by the major media just as Webb’s series (and before that the AP articles and Kerry’s report) were. But so far the MSM has largely held its fire against “Kill the Messenger,” relying on a few snide asides and knowing smirks.

Perhaps the MSM simply assumes that the old conventional wisdom will hold and that the movie will soon be forgotten. Or maybe there’s been a paradigm shift – and the MSM realizes that its credibility is shot (especially after its catastrophic performance regarding Iraq’s WMD) and it is losing its power to dictate false narratives to the American people.

 

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