While nearly everyone has focused on the Dylan Davies fakery in CBS’s bogus Benghazi report, McClatchy veteran Middle East correspondent Nancy Youssef late yesterday presented a long list of other factual problems, or at least very dubious assertions, in the segment. Taken together, they further the notion that Lara Logan had an agenda and cooked, or accepted weak, evidence to make her “case.” Read the entire piece here.
“Logan’s mea culpa said nothing about other weaknesses in the report that a line-by-line review of the broadcast’s transcript shows,” Youssef reports.
This arrived as a CBS spokesman revealed that a “journalistic” review of their segment is ongoing, which is vague and may mean little. Of course, they had to “review” the segment after The Washington Post, The New York Times and Media Matters destroyed it. They are still not promising a full probe or naming an independent panel (à la Rathergate).
And there’s this good reminder in the piece:
Logan claimed that “it’s now well established that the Americans were attacked by al Qaida in a well-planned assault.” But al Qaida has never claimed responsibility for the attack, and the FBI, which is leading the U.S. investigation, has never named al Qaida as the sole perpetrator. Rather it is believed a number of groups were part of the assault, including members and supporters of al Qaida and Ansar al Shariah as well as attackers angered by a video made by an American that insulted Prophet Muhammad. The video spurred angry protests outside Cairo hours beforehand.
Still, many media writers/critics remain oddly passive, raising the chances that CBS fulfills its goal of turning the page on this scandal quickly.
And nothing peeves me more than prominent media writers/critics crediting CBS with offering a belated apology/correction, of giving them “points” for it, even if they think it didn’t go far enough. I’ve seen this time and again in the past few days.
For example, Alicia Shepard, who has done great work in the past as media writer, editor, and ombud, in a piece at Columbia Journalism Review, called Lara Logan’s apology last Friday “brave.” Last Friday, Erik Wemple at the Washington Post, wrote: “Lara Logan this morning delivered a clinic on how a media organization should correct the record on faulty reporting…. And with those words, about 10 tons of pressure drained from the Manhattan offices of ‘60 Minutes.’ ” (Really?) Tom Rosenstiel, longtime director of the American Press Institute, has called the “60 Minutes” correction highly unusual and so he deserves credit for that.
Here’s Rosenstiel on PBS NewsHour this week: “CBS deserves credit for admitting that they made a mistake. That’s unusual in broadcast. We don’t see corrections on television in the course of normal activity. And mistakes are made all the time.”
True, mistakes are often made. But (1) not normally on the level of a completely false interview that forms the major part of a full segment on a hot political subject via the top-rated network news show and (2) now completely debunked, in a humiliating and high-profile way, by the two leading US newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post.
For veteran media critics to give CBS any credit whatsoever for pulling the story is disgraceful. What other choice did “brave” Lara Logan and team have? It is unfathomable to imagine them not offering at least the very brief apologies that did come. So they deserve credit for that? Saying so only blunts the strong criticism of what 60 Minutes aired and the questions left unanswered.
Again, Rosenstiel, when asked what CBS needs to do now: “[W]hat they owe us, what they owe the public is assurances that there—that there isn’t something that—in their processes that will allow this to happen again. They need to reassure the public, look, we understand what we did wrong, and it’s not—and—and we have learned from this and it’s not going to happen again. You can trust us in the future.”
Of course, that does nothing. That’s the easiest thing to say: It won’t happen again (even though we won’t tell you why it happened this time). You can trust (but why?). We’ve learned a lesson (such as?) In fact, Lara Logan has already essentially done this in her ninety-second statement on Sunday, assuring viewers that “truth” is still her show’s highest goal. The views of the Rosenstiels will only bolster the chances that, in fact, this sort of thing will happen again, and again.
And for the larger picture, let me recommend Amy Davidson’s post at The New Yorker.
Greg Mitchell surveys major criticisms of the “60 Minutes” Benghazi story.
The sixteen-year incumbent Democrat who Sawant challenged in the nonpartisan citywide race, Richard Conlin, conceded Friday evening. The former Seattle city council president acknowledged that Sawant had defeated him after the challenger took a 1,640 vote lead in an ongoing count on ballots from the city's November 5 election.
Sawant, whose campaign energized young people, communities of color and neighborhood activists to provide its come-from-behind energy, describes her electoral seccess as "historic."
"Our campaign us not an isolated event, it's a bellwether for what's going to happen in the future," declares Sawant.
It also renews an urban radical tradition that has deep roots.
America has a rich history of radical politics at the municipal level. Over the past century has seen “sewer socialists” manage the affairs of major cities such as Milwaukee and join city councils, schools boards and county commissions from New York City to Butte, Montana.
The last big-city Socialist Party mayor was Milwaukee’s Frank Zeidler, who finished his final term in 1960. More recently, Bernie Sanders served as the independent socialist mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in the 1980s; while Benjamin Nichols, a member of Democratic Socialists of America, served as mayor of Ithaca, New York, in the 1990s. And just last year, 19-year-old Socialist Party member Pat Noble was elected to the regional board of education in Red Bank, New Jersey.
But Seattle is a major urban center, with what many local analysts have portrayed as an entreched politics. So Sawant’s progress has been seen locally as big news. The Seattle Times headlined its Wednesday edition “Socialist Sawant Now Leads Seattle Council Race.”
“I think we have shown the strongest skeptics that the Socialist label is not a bad one for a grassroots campaign to succeed,” Sawant declared as the count turned her way.
A former software engineer who now teaches economics at Seattle Central Community College, Sawant ran a Socialist Alternative “Fund Human Needs, Fight Corporate Greed” campaign that argued: “We live in one of the richest cities in the richest nation on earth. There is no shortage of resources. Capitalism has failed the 99%. Another world is both possible and necessary—a socialist world based on the needs of humanity and the environment.”
Sawant pulled no punches in her platform, which began with her signature proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 and hour and then promised to:
* Seek “A Millionaire’s Tax to fund mass transit, education, and living-wage union jobs providing vital social services.” She proposes to: “End corporate welfare. Tax freeloading corporations. Reduce the unfair tax burden on small businesses, homeowners & workers.”
* Support efforts to “Unionize Amazon, Starbucks & low-paid service workers.”
* Commit to “No layoffs or attacks on public sector unions!”
Sawant won 35 percent of the August citywide primary vote and a place on the November 5 citywide ballot along with Conlin. In the officially nonpartisan race, Conlin had the backing of most of the Democratic leadership in a city where Democrats tend to win most elections; he also had the support of a number of major environmental groups. But both candidates obtained endorsements from labor organizations and Sawant won the enthusiastic support of the city’s politically potent alternative weekly The Stranger.
“An immigrant woman of color, an Occupy Seattle organizer, and an economics instructor at Seattle Central Community College, Sawant offers voters a detailed policy agenda, backed up by a coherent economic critique and a sound strategy for moving the political debate in a leftward direction,” argued The Stranger in an editorial that celebrated Sawant’s run. “She is passionate but thoughtful. She speaks comfortably on non-economic issues. She is likable. And most important, she’s winning over voters.”
In August, The Seattle Weekly wrote: “We like her because she’s an honest-to-god socialist who’s willing to throw a few Molotov cocktails into the cloistered hatch-pits of our terribly staid civic ‘debates.’ ”
Sawant took on not just a veteran incumbent but a political process that, for the most part, favors candidates of the two major parties and a narrow range of ideas. But just as Robert Sarvis's unexpectedly strong Libertarian campaign for governor of Virginia (where he finished with almost 7 percent of the vote) offered an indication that Americans are frustrated by the constraints of traditional two-party politics, Sawant’s democratic-socialist campaign in Seattle offers evidence that a bold rejection of austerity has significant popular appeal.
“Seattle has become a really unaffordable city and overall, not just in Seattle but everywhere in the country, people are fed up, angry and frustrated with the political system,” Sawant said, explaining her strong finish. “They’re fed up with the political dysfunction and they’re hungry for change.”
John Nichols explains the growing populist appeal of politicians like Elizabeth Warren.
This past August, the Lafayette-based IND Monthly published a story about a 54-year-old man named Bill Winters, incarcerated at a medium-security prison in Epps, Louisiana. Winters, who is black, was arrested in June 2009, after he drunkenly entered an unlocked oncologist’s office on a Sunday morning, setting off a security alarm. When police arrived, he had rummaged through a desk drawer, and was in possession of a box of Gobstoppers candy. Winters was convicted of simple burglary a week before Thanksgiving, and given a seven-year prison sentence—hardly a slap on the wrist. But a few days later, the prosecutor in his case, Assistant District Attorney Alan Haney, sought additional punishment for Winters, under the state’s habitual offender law. Based on his record of nonviolent offenses, which went back to 1991 and ranged from cocaine possession to burglary, the trial court resentenced Winters to twelve years without any chance of parole. But Haney was still not satisfied. He appealed the ruling, arguing that the court had imposed an “illegally lenient sentence” and that the rightful punishment was life without the possibility of parole.
At a subsequent hearing, Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft estimated that Winters had been arrested more than twenty times, calling him a “career criminal who victimized a lot of citizens in our city.” But it seemed clear that he was more of a thorn in the side of law enforcement than a looming threat to society. His brothers, Dennis and James, testified that Winters had been homeless at the time of his offense and that he had a history of addiction; James had overcome his own drug problems and said that he would be willing to “take [Winters] in and work with him.” A former Lafayette police officer who had once worked at a correctional facility where Winters was held, said that although he did not know him well, Winters “didn’t cause problems” and had potential for rehabilitation. But this past summer, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision: “The state asserts that because of the defendant’s particular multiple offender status, the law mandates a minimum sentence of life in prison without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. We agree.”
Dennis Winters was incredulous when he heard the news about his brother. “What? This makes no sense,” he told IND Monthly. “I don’t understand what these people are trying to do. He’s not a violent person. He’s fragile. He wouldn’t hurt anybody, except maybe for himself. I just don’t get how they’re going to give him life for some Gobstopper candy.”
Today, Winters joins hundreds of Louisiana prisoners sent to die in prison after committing similarly nonviolent offenses, from drug possession to property crimes. The national numbers are tallied in a major new study released today by the American Civil Liberties Union, titled “A Living Death: Life without Parole For Nonviolent Offenses,” which documents scores of cases with echoes of Winters’s story. Across the country, defendants have been given life without parole for such crimes as having a crack pipe, “siphoning gasoline from a truck” and, in another Louisiana case, shoplifting a $159 jacket.
Tales of outsized sentencing for minor crimes may not surprise anyone familiar with the well-documented excesses of three-strikes sentencing in California, for example. But the ACLU’s report is the first to attempt to grasp the national numbers, specifically concerning nonviolent offenders sentenced to die behind bars. The report found 3,278 prisoners serving life without parole in 2012 for nonviolent crimes, of which 79 percent were for drug crimes. This is not the complete picture—Bill Winters himself is not among the prisoners covered—and crucially, only includes formal life-without-parole cases. It does not include life sentences where parole is a possibility—if largely only in theory, given the increasing reluctance of parole boards to free prisoners. It also does not include, say, 100-year sentences, or the kinds of stacked, decades-long sentences that are, in effect, permanent life sentences. “The number of people serving death-in-prison sentences after being convicted of nonviolent crimes is not known,” the report concludes, “but it is most certainly higher than the number of prisoners serving formal life-without-parole sentences for nonviolent crimes.”
Indeed, a report released earlier this year by the Sentencing Project found that one in nine prisoners in the US are serving a life sentence and that “those with parole-eligible life sentences are increasingly less likely to be released.” Including life with parole, the report estimated that “approximately 10,000 lifers have been convicted of nonviolent offenses.”
Determining what qualifies as “nonviolent” is similarly complicated. As the ACLU points out, “Although the term ‘violent crime’ brings to mind very serious offenses such as rape and murder, some jurisdictions define violent crime to include burglary, breaking and entering, manufacture or sale of controlled substances, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, or extortion.” In other words, the number of prisoners serving life without parole who are far from the “worst of the worst” is higher still.
* * *
Regardless of the exact numbers, and perhaps not surprisingly for the state known as the prison capital of the world, it is clear that Louisiana is home to a disproportionate number of these sentences. It also provides a dramatic illustration of the explosion of permanent life sentences over the past four decades: “In Louisiana, just 143 people were serving LWOP sentences in 1970,” the ACLU notes. “That number had increased to 4,637 by 2012.” The report found that Louisiana had the highest number of nonviolent offenders serving life without parole out of all the states: 429. Florida was a distant second, with 270. (Thanks to the drug war, federal prisoners accounted for the largest share at 2,074.)
Among the Louisiana prisoners highlighted in the report are Fate Vincent Winslow, who, while homeless, “acted as a go-between in the sale of two small bags of marijuana, worth $10 in total, to an undercover police officer;” Timothy Jackson, who stole a jacket from a department store in New Orleans, Paul Carter, convicted of “possession of a trace amount of heroin residue that was so minute it could not be weighed;” and Sylvester Mead, a Shreveport man who drunkenly threatened a police officer while seated, handcuffed, in the back of a patrol car.
Mead’s case, like Winters’s, shows the way in which prosecutors’ wishes consistently trump judicial power when it comes to sentencing people for such crimes. Not only did his trial judge oppose the initial charge of public intimidation, he made it repeatedly clear he opposed sending Mead to die in prison. Mead’s verbal offense “does not warrant, under any conscionable or constitutional basis, a life sentence,” he said. But Mead’s prosecutor appealed multiple times seeking a harsher sentence because of his old convictions. After his previous sentences were vacated by a higher court multiple times, Judge Leon L. Emanuel was bound by Louisiana’s mandatory sentencing statute to hand down a sentence of life without parole. “No matter how long this Court were to deliberate about this matter, it cannot fashion a legal result to explain that the life sentence without probation or suspension of sentence is unconstitutionally excessive,” he concluded.
Such statements from judges are not unusual, it turns out. “In case after case reviewed by the ACLU, the sentencing judge said on the record that he or she opposed the mandatory LWOP sentence as too severe but had no discretion to take individual circumstances into account or override the prosecutor’s charging decision,” the ACLU found. Mandatory sentencing schemes are certainly to blame—in Louisiana, they account for almost all—97.6 percent—of the surveyed nonviolent LWOP sentences. But while mandatory sentencing ties the hands of judges, such punishments do not impose themselves. Prosecutors have the power to seek or not seek them.
* * *
Bill Winters was not the first defendant to find himself in the crosshairs of Lafayette ADA Alan Haney. Indeed, in 2007, Haney created a “career criminal program,” as described by the local Daily Advertiser, to “identify repeat offenders all over Lafayette Parish.”
“We basically had to start this whole project from scratch,” he told the City-Parish Council in September 2010, according to the Advertiser. Thus far, he boasted, some forty-nine people had been sentenced as habitual offenders with the help of the initiative.
In the fall of 2009, the same year Winters was convicted for stealing Gobstoppers, a 29-year-old black man named Travis Bourda was convicted for possessing 130 grams of marijuana “with intent to distribute.” Writing to the ACLU, Bourda insists that no drugs were actually found in his posession and that his court-appointed lawyer “filed no motions, failed to investigate,” and “made no objections at trial.” His initial sentence of eight years was increased to fourteen after Haney filed habitual offender charges based on Bourda’s previous record, which included “carnal knowledge of a juvenile” when he was 19. Responding to Haney’s attempt to seek a sentence of life without parole for Bourda, the trial judge wrote: “I believe a life sentence under the circumstances…would be an unconstitutional sentence. I believe that fourteen years is more than enough considering the underlying charge was possession with intent to distribute marijuana, and that the amount of marijuana involved was not significant.”
But in 2011 the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit agreed with Haney, vacating the fourteen-year sentence and imposing life without parole. Today, Bourda is serving his sentence at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, famously known as Angola.
Angola prisoners were not allowed to receive visits or speak on the phone to the ACLU. But in response to the questionnaire sent out by attorney Jennifer Turner, who authored the report and corresponded with more than 600 prisoners, Bourda described himself as “the most miserable person there is.” He wrote that he was diagnosed as schizophrenic when he was 13 and that he hears voices that tell him to do things. In a separate, handwritten letter, he wrote to “share my thoughts about the Habitual Offender law,” which he describes as “the most unconstitutional law there is.”
“We paid our debts to society for the past crimes we committed,” Bourda wrote.” “…There is never any forgiveness once you have a record.” In his opinion, he added, “the prosecution is abusing his discretion on a certain race of people which we know to be black individuals.”
Whether or not prosecutorial discretion is to blame, Bourda’s observation about race is certainly supported by the numbers. The ACLU report shows, and Turner wrote to me in an e-mail, that “the racial disparity in life without parole sentencing for nonviolent crimes in Louisiana is staggering.” While the state would not provide figures according to race, the ACLU calculated that black prisoners “comprise 91.4 percent of the nonviolent LWOP prison population in Louisiana,” despite the fact that “Blacks make up only about one-third of the general population in the state.” Black defendants in Louisiana “were 23 times more likely than whites to be sentenced to LWOP for a nonviolent crime.”
There are many factors that could explain this. “The racial disparity can result from disparate treatment at every stage of the criminal justice system, including stops and searches, points of arrest, prosecutions and plea negotiations, trials, and sentencing,” Turner explains. She adds, “In Louisiana, it may also have to do with how prosecutors wield their enormous discretion in deciding whether to charge defendants as habitual offenders.”
I contacted Alan Haney’s office by phone and e-mail to discuss his Habitual Offender Division, but have not received a response. In the meantime, the ACLU report is only the most recent to cast a stark light on Louisiana’s sentencing excesses. While some recent reforms in the state have sought to mitigate some of Louisiana’s harshest sentencing statutes, they still preserve the power of the prosecutor to decide if and when to trigger mandatory sentences. In a report released by the Reason Foundation last month, which closely examines the state’s determinate sentencing laws and makes recommendations for reform, the authors found that a 2012 law signed by Governor Bobby Jindal to allow courts to waive mandatory minimums in some cases put all the power in prosecutors’ hands, giving prosecutors “much more power than they previously had.”
The ACLU also makes recommendations for reform. It calls on the states and federal government to get rid of laws that mandate or allow life without parole for nonviolent crimes, and exhorts state governors, as well as the Obama administration, to commute such disproportionate punishments. “Life without parole sentences for nonviolent offenses defy common sense,” it concludes, and “are grotesquely out of proportion to the conduct they seek to punish.”
In Bourda’s words, “I never committed a capital offense such as murder….I don’t deserve to be sentenced like a hard-core criminal.”
Liliana Segura interviewed a former prosecutor who encourages jurors to refuse issuing convictions for nonviolent drug offenders.
Thanks to the invaluable Colorlines for finding this video produced by poet, activist and UCLA undergrad Sy Stokes. Sending a powerful message with his poem “The Black Bruins,” Stokes calls out his school for its dismal black student enrollment—only thirty-five black students in the incoming class are expected to graduate, and of the black males at the school—who make up a tiny 3.3 percent of the overall male population— 65 percent are athletes.
Affirmative action was voted down in 1996 after California voters passed Proposition 209—a law that prohibits California public entities, including UCs and state schools, to consider race, gender, ethnicity or national origins in their admissions processes. In 1998, the first year Proposition 209 took effect, UCLA’s black student acceptance rate fell from about 38 percent to 23 percent.
The New York Times today reports, in an odd turn of phrase, that the Obama administration’s second-biggest enemy in its search for a deal with Iran is, well, the US Congress. Says the Times, the administration “is gingerly weighing a threat to the talks potentially more troublesome than the opaque leadership in Tehran: Congress.” That’s because the Senate is considering the passage of yet another round of anti-Iran sanctions, following the passage last summer of a similar bill by the House. Making explicit the fact that he understands perfectly that yet more superfluous economic sanctions now, in the midst of delicate talks with Iran, could upset the whole thing, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) said: “I understand the problem that this creates at the negotiating table.”
In other words, he understands it—and he wants to do it anyway.
Today the leaders of the US negotiating team are on Capitol Hill, trying to dissuade senators from that sort of outright sabotage. Secretary of State John Kerry, along with Wendy Sherman, are meeting with members of the Senate Banking Committee and others to beg, plead and cajole the Capitol Hill busybodies, many of whom are strongly influenced by the Israel lobby and its chief arm, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. So far, it appears that the Democratic-controlled Senate, despite its AIPAC ties, is willing to go along with White House requests to avoid interfering in the talks. Reports The Wall Street Journal:
Proponents of tougher sanctions could seek avenues beside the Banking Committee to move a measure.… Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) is likely to oppose such a move, however. Mr. Reid on Tuesday warned against attempts to force “extraneous issues” into the debate over the defense bill.
Obama administration officials have been reaching out to a number of lawmakers in recent days to tamp down any momentum for new sanctions. Mr. Kerry has personally spoken with key senators while traveling in recent days, and was to speak to top Senate Democrats on Wednesday.
As for AIPAC itself, it issued a statement saying that it won’t accept any delays in sending a wrecking ball aimed at the talks. “AIPAC continues to support congressional action to adopt legislation to further strengthen sanctions, and there will absolutely be no pause, delay or moratorium in our efforts.”
The comment on “pause, delay or moratorium” follows an effort by the White House, which recently met with American Jewish organizations, to seek exactly that: a moratorium on new anti-Iran sanctions while the talks are underway. As the AP reported on October 29:
The White House has updated Jewish and pro-Israel groups about its talks with Iran amid concerns by some of the groups about the U.S. easing sanctions pressure on Iran over its nuclear program.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, attended the meeting along with the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
The White House’s National Security Council says senior officials told Jewish leaders that the U.S. will not let Iran obtain a nuclear weapon but wants to resolve the nuclear issue through diplomacy.
The Obama administration is asking Congress to hold off on new sanctions while it pursues diplomacy. But Israel and AIPAC are pressing the administration to retain harsh economic sanctions.
That’s tricky for AIPAC, and for Israel. Because if they defy the White House and push aggressively for new sanctions and fail, it will be a major, even unprecedented defeat for AIPAC—plus, it makes outright enemies of the Obama administration and the president himself. Scuttlebutt after the White House meeting suggested that the Jewish groups (AIPAC, the ADL and the AJC) had quietly agreed to allow the negotiations to unfold without the added interference of new sanctions.
Laura Rozen, reporting for Al-Monitor, penned a detailed report on the talks between the White House and the Jewish groups, at which Sherman was joined by Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, and two top White House aides, Antony Blinken and Ben Rhodes.
Following the talks, there was conflicting information about whether or not the Jewish groups (which, collectively, make up the bosses of the Israel lobby) had agreed to a “pause” in their lobbying efforts. According to Haaretz, the liberal Israeli daily, the four groups did indeed agree to a moratorium:
Though they refrained from describing it as “a deal” or a quid pro quo, sources familiar with the meeting said they had agreed to a limited “grace period” only after hearing assurances from the Administration that it had no intention of easing sanctions or of releasing Iranian funds that have been “frozen” in banks around the world.
That was later denied by the same groups, according to The Jerusalem Post:
A report published in Haaretz on Friday claiming that US Jewish leaders have agreed to halt their lobbying efforts in support of a new sanctions bill against Iran has been roundly denied by their organizations.
“No one has given any commitment to make some public moratorium,” said sources with an organization represented at the meeting, “categorically denying” that any such commitment was given.
However, in an on-the-record interview with Haaretz, the ADL’s Abraham Foxman (who attended the White House gathering on October 29) confirmed the cease-fire:
ADL National Director Abe Foxman has confirmed that leaders of major Jewish organizations have agreed on a limited “time out” during which they will not push for stronger sanctions on Iran.
“That means that we are not lobbying for additional sanctions and we are not lobbying for less sanctions,” Foxman told Haaretz, as well as US media outlets.
Foxman was responding to a report in Haaretz on Friday that cited understandings reached among the leaders of four major Jewish organizations who participated in a Monday meeting at the White House with a group of senior White House officials led by National Security Adviser Susan Rice.
Foxman was specific, too:
Foxman made clear, however, that the hiatus is only tactical in nature. “We still believe that sanctions have worked and that additional sanctions would also work,” Foxman said, “but the Administration feels otherwise. They believe that further sanctions at this time would harm prospects for a diplomatic solution.”
“We didn’t change our positions and they didn’t change their positions. But we’re not going to be out there before the end of the next two meetings of the P5+1 with Iran.”
The risk for the Israel lobby is enormous. If it tries to wreck the talks and fails, because members of Congress—especially Democrats in the Senate—sanely agree to postpone a new round of sanctions, it will look powerless and ineffective. So it has to tread carefully, all while being pushed, hard, by Netanyahu and Co. in Israel.
According to Politico, Senate Democrats are willing to give the White House room to negotiate:
Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) said his panel will not draft new economic penalties toward Iran until the Senate has fully digested that briefing. Even then, Johnson said he will defer to his leadership and the White House to give him the green light. …
Two members of Democratic leadership, Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Chuck Schumer of New York, both said they remain undecided on pursuing new sanctions and will continue to talk to top administration brass.
Read Dave Zirin's take on a recent incident of locker-room racism in the NFL.
Yesterday, for the first of three posts on the romance between business and the political right, I wrote about what some historians call “the golden age of capitalism,” which, as far as our governmental arrangements are concerned, was also a golden age of liberalism. In the years after World War II, coincident with America’s decades-long economic boom, even the nation’s top corporate executives seemed to buy into the Keynesian consensus that the best way to assure their own firms’ prosperity was to put money in the pockets of ordinary Americans.
Then, suddenly, they didn’t—my subject for today.
Here’s an irony of the history of conservatism’s relationship with business and business’s relationship with conservatism: “Wall Street” used to be the right-wing industrialists of the forties and fifties’ greatest term of derision. (Wall Street was the place that humiliated them by forcing them, hat in hand, to beg for capital.) Phyllis Schlafly wrote of the “Wall Street kingmakers” who controlled the Republican Party like dictators, forcing on it “liberal” nominees (like the financier Wendell Willkie), the kind of people who read the liberal Republican flagship organ the New York Herald-Tribune. Wall Street liked Lyndon Johnson. It tolerated unions. And, as long as the postwar boom was still booming, it accepted business’s relatively subordinate role in federal policy making. Which of course drove the 1950s and ’60s versions of Tea Partiers—I’ve called them “Manionites.”
Then, lo, the boom bust.
The 1970s was a time of falling rates of profit due largely to fallout from the Vietnam War, from the Arab oil embargo, and lots of successful labor militancy. A reaction was not long in following. And the leaders of the new business reaction now came from Wall Street and the blue-chip companies that had only a decade earlier formed the core of the postwar golden-age corporate-liberal bargain. The romance between business and conservatism entered a new phase: white-hot and smoldering.
Its leaders were people like William Simon, who made a pile of money lending money to New York as senior partner in charge of government and municipal bonds at Solomon Brothers. Then, when New York needed a federal bailout to pay back those loans when banks like Solomon Brothers greedily called them in (they could make more money now loaning to the same resource-rich Third World and Middle East nations who crushed the boom by using oil as a weapon), he did everything he could, as Gerald Ford’s secretary of the Treasury, to block it, making liberalism out to be the only reason for the nation’s every problem. As he wrote in a book modestly titled A Time for Truth, published by Reader’s Digest Press, “The philosophy that had ruled our nation for over forty years had emerged in large measure from that very city which was America’s intellectual headquarters, and inevitably, it was carried to its fullest expression in that city. In the collapse of New York those who choose to understand it could see a terrifying dress rehearsal of the state that lies ahead for this country if it continues to be guided by the same philosophy of government…. Nothing has destroyed New York’s finances but the liberal political formula…. Liberal politics, endlessly glorifying its own ‘humanism,’ has in fact been annihilating the very conditions for human survival.”
And they were people like Bryce Harlow, who became a confidant of both Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon while on leave from Procter & Gamble’s pioneeringly aggressive Washington lobbying shop, which he himself established in 1961. Now back in harness at P&G, he drafted himself as field general for just the kind of organizing called for in the now-famous Lewis Powell memo. Powell, another establishment mandarin who a decade earlier might have been counted on to buy into corporate liberalism, instead became a leading activist against it in his role as a top lawyer for the tobacco industry. Tobacco companies were still smarting from Congress’ passage of the Public Health Smoking Act in 1970, banning cigarette advertising on TV and mandating health warnings on cigarette packs—the kind of regulation big business had previously learned to take in stride. In 1971, Powell, as chair of the “education” committee of the National Chamber of Commerce, argued “the American economic system is under broad attack,” that business had to learn the lesson “that political power is necessary; that such power must be assiduously cultivated; and that when necessary it must be used aggressively and with determination… Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.”
And so Harlow went into battle as one of the new movement’s generals. Alarmed at the election of an apparently overwhelmingly liberal Congress following Watergate in 1974, he recalled: “We had to prevent business from being rolled up and put in the trash can by that Congress.” Even though that Congress was not all that economically liberal, actually, just Democratic. In actual fact the number of Senate votes the AFL-CIO said they could count on in that Congress decreased from thirty-eight to thirty; “The Freshman Democrat today is likely to be an upper-income type,” a labor lobbyist said. “I think a lot of them are more concerned with inflation than unemployment.”
Another of the establishment-cum-insurgents was a dude named Charls Walker, a former Treasury undersecretary. In 1975 he took over a foundering organization for estate tax recipients and turned it into a turbocharged lobbying shop dedicated to the proposition that the American economy was foundering for a lack of “capital formation”—that business literally did not have enough money, largely because the government extracted too much from it in taxes, which it then distributed downwardly to Americans who were not capitalists. This was precisely the opposite of Keynesiansm—and a proposition that proved attractive enough to several formerly Keynesian Fortune 500 corporations that they each contributed $200,000 to make Walker’s “American Council for Capital Formation” a juggernaut.
Groups that had always done this kind of work became more explicitly political during this period. The National Association of Manufacturers had been aggressively fighting liberalism for decades, but from New York; in 1972 the group (and their political arm, the Business and Industry Political Action Committee, or BIPAC) moved house to Washington, DC—because, a spokesman said, “the thing that effects business most today is government.” The budget of the United States Chamber of Commerce doubled in size between 1974 and 1980.
Here’s why figures like Harlow and Walker were so important. Corporate lobbyists had plied the halls of Congress since forever. But they did so exclusively as representatives of their companies’ own interests, seeking advantage over other companies. Now, they lobbied for capitalists as a class. Capitalists, in other words, were forming unions, with a solidarity unmatched in the labor movement they opposed. They foreswore competition in the name of defending competition.
Consider the formation of a group like the Business Roundtable, formed in 1972: its membership is literally the CEOs of America’s biggest corporations, meeting around a round table. Wikipedia: “The Business Roundtable played a key role in defeating an anti-trust bill in 1975 and a Ralph Nader plan for a Consumer Protection Agency in 1977. And it helped dilute the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act. But the Roundtables most significant victory was in blocking labor law reform that sought to strengthen labor law to make it more difficult for companies to intimidate workers who wanted to form unions. The AFL-CIO produced a bill in 1977 that passed the House. But the Roundtable voted to oppose the bill, and through its aggressive lobbying, it prevented the bill’s Senate supporters from rounding up the 60 votes in the Senate necessary to withstand a filibuster.”
Wikipedia is precisely correct. For more detail you can read great books like Fluctuating Fortunes: The Political Power of Business in America, by David Vogel; Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer—and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson; The Paradox of American Democracy: Elites, Special Interests, and the Betrayal of Public Trust, by John Judis; or The New Politics of Inequality, by Thomas Byrne Edsall, which is my favorite.
Next time: what all this history means for the Tea Party here and now.
Part 1 of Rick Perlstein’s series traces the origins of the cozy relationship between conservatives and big business.
Egyptian authorities said they would lift a three-month state of emergency and nighttime curfew imposed to discourage protests by supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi. At the same time, the military government is set to pass a new protest law seen by some as a replacement for the state of emergency. Speaking on Democracy Now!, Cairo-based correspondent and Nation contributor Sharif Abdel Kouddous called the draft law a "more aggressive authoritarian order than the one we rose up against in 2011," referring to the revolution that brought down former President Hosni Mubarak. He also talked about the current government's selective prosecution of Morsi supporters and the burgeoning nationalism surrounding Defense Minister Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
WikiLeaks has been promising a potential bombshell today, and now it’s here, a very recent draft chapter from the already much-criticized Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty (which involves nations all the way from the US and Peru to Australia and Japan). The Verge summarizes, as it digs deeper into the doc:
The leaked chapter focuses on intellectual property rights, and is part of a broader agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) that has been in the works for several years now between the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, and several other countries. Though the draft is being written in secret, it’s rumored to be moving toward a fast track through Congress. Some details of the agreement have been leaked in the past, but today’s come from a quite recent draft, dated August 30, 2013—it’s also the only one to detail which countries are in support of which proposals.
The Sydney Morning Herald received an early look at the leaked draft, and notes that it focuses on the United States’ federal and corporate interests, while largely ignoring the rights and interests of consumers. “One could see the TPP as a Christmas wish-list for major corporations, and the copyright parts of the text support such a view,” Matthew Rimmer, an expert in intellectual property law, tells the Herald. “Hollywood, the music industry, big IT companies such as Microsoft and the pharmaceutical sector would all be very happy with this.”
The TPP has been shrouded in secrecy from the beginning because the Obama administration knows that the more people know about it, the more they will oppose the agreement. The release of the full Intellectual Property chapter today by Wiikileaks confims what had been suspected, the Obama administration has been an advocate for transnational corporate interests in the negotiations even though they run counter to the needs and desires of the public.
This is not surprising since we already knew that 600 corporate advisers were working with the US Trade Representative to draft the TPP. This means that for nearly four years some of the top corporate lawyers have been inserting phrases, paragraphs and whole sections so the agreement suits the needs of corporate power, while undermining the interests of people and the planet.
Now from these documents we see that the US is isolated in its aggressive advocacy for transnational interests and that there are scores of areas still unresolved between the US and Pacific nations. The conclusion: the TPP cannot be saved. It has been destroyed by secret corporate advocacy. It needs to be rejected.
“If instituted, the TPP’s IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons. If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.”
Zoe Carpenter discusses Congress’s limited role in green-lighting the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
It’s been more then five years since the financial sector collapsed, triggering a deep recession that many Americans are still struggling to shake off. Not so the big banks. They’re larger, more powerful and more dangerous than ever before, Senator Elizabeth Warren warned Tuesday at an event examining the state of financial reform since the passage of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010.
Warren’s speech was an indictment not only of the financial institutions that “have fought to delay and hamstring the implementation of financial reform,” after “exploiting consumers, larding their books with excessive risk, and making bad bets,” but also of the regulators and lawmakers—many from her own party—who are refusing to hold the financial sector to account.
“Who would have thought five years ago, after we witnessed firsthand the dangers of an overly concentrated financial system, that the ‘too big to fail’ problem would only have gotten worse?” Warren said.
After the crash, there was widespread—if late—recognition that allowing a handful of institutions to become so large that their failure could bring down the economy encourages risk-taking and makes it difficult for smaller firms to compete. But instead of being forced to shrink, the biggest banks have become more concentrated and more complex. As Warren noted, the four largest banks are now 30 percent larger than they were at the onset of the crisis, and more than half of the nation’s banking assets are held by just five banks.
According to Warren, Wall Street behemoths still threaten to sink the system because regulators have failed to set the rules. The agencies responsible for implementing the reforms outlined in Dodd-Frank have missed more than 60 percent of their deadlines. Fewer than half of the regulations mandated under the law have been finalized, and more than quarter have not even been written. While missing deadlines, regulators have been busy meeting with the big banks—2,118 times since Dodd-Frank passed, fourteen times as many meetings as they’ve held with advocates of financial reform.
“Since when does Congress set deadlines, watch regulators miss most of them and then take that failure as a reason not to act?” Warren asked. “I thought that if the regulators failed, it was time for Congress to step in. That’s what oversight means.”
But lawmakers have been keener to dismantle, rather than enforce, financial reform legislation. In July, several Wall Street–friendly Democrats urged the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to delay rules for American banks engaged in derivatives trading overseas, a practice that has been unregulated. Last month, the House passed two bills delaying provisions in Dodd-Frank by a bipartisan vote. One was written by Citigroup lobbyists. Those votes brought the tally of bills passed in the House recently to undercut financial reform to ten.
Warren is trying to push her colleagues in the opposite direction. In July, Warren and Senators John McCain, Maria Cantwell and Angus King introduced a new version of the Glass-Steagall Act, which would force financial institutions to separate consumer banking activities like checking and savings deposits from the kinds of risky practices that sparked the crash in ’08, like credit swaps. The bill “would reduce failures of the big banks by making banking boring, protecting deposits and providing stability to the system even in bad times,” Warren said. “Big banks would still be big—but not too big to fail or, for that matter, too big to manage, too big to regulate, too big for trial or too big for jail.”
Not all reforms have failed. As Warren pointed out, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has met all of its deadlines. A 125-page report by the Roosevelt Institute and Americans for Financial Reform unveiled ahead of Warren’s keynote concluded that Dodd-Frank has had other modest successes. But on balance, the report suggests, Dodd-Frank has not altered the balance of power between financial giants and regulators, and other problems, like shadow banking, exceed the scope of the legislation. That’s not to say there aren’t solutions: the report details many ways to limit risk and constrain mega-banks. The barrier to effective regulation is not a dearth of policy ideas but political will too weak to enact them.
“Congress must act to protect our economy and prevent future crises,” Warren said. “What we need is a system…that recognizes we don’t grow this country from the financial sector; we grow this country from the middle class.” Invoking the middle class is hardly radical. But the kind of deep reform Warren advocates for is, considering how much lawmakers’ war chests have profited from turning a blind eye to Wall Street. Any legislative efforts to confront inequality will run up against that fact—that the people who determine policy and the institutions perpetuating the imbalances in the economy are locked in mutually beneficial relationship.
John Nichols: Elizabeth Warren might not be running for president in 2016, but her economic agenda resonates with Americans.
In 1494, Spain and Portugal were in serious competition over other peoples’ lands. This bothered the church, and Pope Alexander VI made it his duty to write up the Treaty of Tordesillas, which dictated that Spain was free to attempt to conquer lands west of an imaginary line on the Atlantic, and Portugal could attempt the same for all lands east of that line, essentially creating Eastern and Western hemispheres.
A little more than two decades later, Spain’s influence in what it thought was a new world grew nearly as much as its avarice. It wanted more lands, and all the resources that came with those lands. Ferdinand Magellan, who was Portuguese, offered his services to King Charles of Spain. His plan was to sail west, as the treaty obliged—but to sail so far west that he would essentially reach the Eastern Hemisphere, and attempt to conquer those lands for Spain. He eventually landed in what we now call the Philippines.
What we remember today is that Magellan led the first circumnavigation, going not only around the world itself but also cleverly around an international treaty. What we forget—or never learned to begin with—is that the nearly two-year voyage ended poorly for the explorer. Magellan was cunning enough to deceive a powerful religion and a budding empire, and was even crafty enough to get some indigenous leaders to sign on board for their own colonization on an island called Mactan, off the island Cebu in the Philippines.
But that wasn’t the case when it came to a local indigenous chief named Lapu Lapu. Magellan was sure that he could convince Lapu Lapu that he, too, should accept colonization, and he scheduled a meeting to do just that. And in case words didn’t do trick, Magellan brought along ships, mortars and more than 6,000 warriors that would. What Magellan wasn’t prepared for was the ferocity of Lapu Lapu’s resistance, backed by thousands of his indigenous warriors, who emerged victorious in the 1521 Battle of Mactan. Spain could claim that its agent sailed around the world—but it couldn’t claim that he could conquer anything. The Spanish would wait almost forty-five years before attempting to colonize the islands again.
Lapu-Lapu City, the warrior chief’s namesake that largely covers most of Mactan Island, was largely spared by Typhoon Haiyan. But the rest of the Philippines hasn’t been so lucky. Because the sheer magnitude of destruction there has been so devastating, rescue efforts haven’t yet started in earnest. And the immediate cleanup will be costly. To that end, the United States Agency for International Development has donated the paltry sum $20 million. Not only will that kind of money not get very far for the swift aid the Philippines needs right now, but it’s not even a drop in the bucket of the debt owed for the historical carbon emissions the United States has created in the atmosphere, which have created the kind of changes in the climate that lead to massive typhoons in the Philippines for the last three years in a row.
When Pope Alexander VI divided the world, he drew a vertical line separting east from west. But colonization, and the resource plundering that followed, can be better understood as a north-south phenomenon. With little exception, the global South was colonized by the global North, which benefited not only from the theft of land but also from the theft of resources, often in the form of exploited labor and raw materials. The global North was then able to accumulate untold wealth as a result. But what’s often left out of that calculation is the fact that the global South wasn’t only depleted of its tangible labor and materials on earth—it was also stripped of its climate rights.
As I’ve explained previously, climate debt accounts for the historical carbon emissions created by the global North and owed to the global South. The atmosphere is shared by all of the inhabitants on earth, and we should have equal access to it. Yet between 1850 to 2004, the global North created almost 70 percent of the carbon build-up in the atmosphere—created during a time in which the global North accumulated untold wealth at the cost of enormous carbon emissions.
The consequences of those massive carbon emissions equal changes in the climate that fuel destruction in the form of typhoons like the one that ravaged the Philippines. But as fmost countries in the global South were pillaged of their resources, they were also pillaged of their ability to amass wealth. That means that when a massive storm strikes in the global South, those countries are far less likely to have the necessary wealth to mitigate the destruction. While the global North holds only about 15 percent of the global population, it has created the vast majority of historical climate emissions—allowing it to accumulate 80 percent of the world’s wealth. The global South is home to about 85 percent of the world’s peoples, has created only 30 percent of historical climate emissions, and has amassed only 20 percent of the world’s wealth.
And although emerging economies like China are certainly responsible for growing levels of current carbon emissions, it doesn’t come close to what the United States emits on a daily basis. The US has successfully lobbied to keep the Pentagon out of any and all international climate negotiations and agreements. Our military consumes more than 300,000 barrels of oil daily—and that doesn’t count contracted facilities. If the Pentagon’s carbon emissions in its thousands of military basis around the world were counted, the United States would be the clear top polluter. Instead, its operations—and subsequent pollution—remain uncounted when we talk about climate change.
It is dishonest to analyze Typhoon Haiyan without acknowledging the global North’s historical carbon emissions, and current US pollution. As part of the global North, the United States owes a debt to the Philippines, and to the entire global South. A $20 million donation won’t do much, especially at a time when it’s already too late. Instead, the United States would be better suited to develop state-of-the-art energy technologies and share them with the world, and with the global South in particular. There are dozens of ways to pay down the climate debt. And they will only be realized once we admit what we owe.
Five hundred years ago, Lapu Lapu was able to resist Spanish colonization, and inspired generations of Fiipinos to fight against imperialism. As the corpses of climate change begin to rot in the Philippines, it’s important to remember that ghost of resistance.
Peter Rothberg looks at how to help the Philippines recover from Haiyan.