Moral Outrage
Whew! God help us!

Jun
18

When neoconservatives, politicians, and high ranking military officers speak of a 30-year war against terrorism, there is no discussion about its affordability or whether the one significant attack (September 11, 2001) that is attributed, perhaps incorrectly, to Muslim terrorists justifies an open-ended war against a dozen countries.

There is no discussion of the burden on future generations of the massive increase in the public debt in order to finance today’s wars. Meanwhile conservatives constantly assert that Social Security is unaffordable and decry the intergenerational basis for Social Security retirement.

Since the 1980s Congress has been cutting back Social Security benefits in a number of ways. For example, the retirement age is being extended from 65 to 67, and the switch from a real cost of living adjustment to a substitution-based consumer price index results in the erosion of the real value of Social Security benefits, which was the reason for the switch.

Up to 85% of Social Security benefits are now subject to income tax if the recipient has earnings or other retirement income above a minimum amount. The taxation of Social Security was another way that the political system reneged on the promised benefits.

In addition, during the 1980s Alan Greenspan and David Stockman accelerated the phase-in of payroll tax increases that the Carter administration had enacted. By causing the payroll tax to rise before it was needed to finance benefits, more than $2 trillion has been collected than was paid out in benefits. The government spent the earmarked payroll tax revenues (leaving non-marketable IOUs in their place) on other things, such as the wars of the 21st century. As none of this $2 trillion reached retirees, the real “theft” from those of working age was committed by Greenspan and Stockman for the benefit of other spending programs.

None of this is to say that there are not legitimate criticisms of Social Security. One is that Social Security does not provide a personal nest egg that a retiree can either spend down or manage carefully, living off the investment income and passing on any remainder to heirs, thus building wealth in society.

What we have witnessed in the 21st century is a clear decision by political elites and the private interests that control them that gratuitous wars are more important than the elderly. In the budget deliberations it is not the trillion dollar annual budgets of the military/security complex that are seen as excessive. Instead, the focus is on cutting the sparse benefits for the elderly.

[Excerpt of article by Paul Craig Roberts, former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy]

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Jun
06

Americans ask, “Why do they hate us?” Stephen M. Walt, Harvard professor of international relations, suggests:

Remember the Golden Rule? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I’ve been thinking that Americans ought to reflect a bit more on the long-term costs of our willingness to do unto others in ways we would most definitely not want them to do unto us.

This past week, the New York Times has published two important articles: The first described Obama’s targeted assassination policy against suspected terrorists, and the second describes the U.S. cyber-warfare campaign against Iran. When our government is doing lots of hostile things in far-flung places around the world and the public doesn’t know about them until long after the fact, then we have no way of understanding why the targets of U.S. power might be angry and hostile. (As a result, we will tend to attribute their behavior to other, darker motivations.)

Remember back in 2009, when Obama supposedly extended the “hand of friendship” to Iran? At the same time that he was making friendly video broadcasts, he was also escalating our cyber-war efforts against Iran. Iran’s Supreme leader Ali Khamenei reacted coolly to Obama’s initiative, saying: “We do not have any record of the new U.S. president. We are observing, watching, and judging. If you change, we will also change our behavior. If you do not change, we will be the same nation as 30 years ago.”

U.S. pundits immediately saw this as a “rebuff” of our supposedly sincere offer of friendship. With hindsight, of course, it’s clear that Khamenei had every reason to be skeptical; and now, he has good grounds for viewing Obama as inherently untrustworthy. I’m no fan of the clerical regime, but the inherent contradictions in our approach made it virtually certain to fail. As it did.

We keep wondering: “Why do they hate us?” Well, maybe some people are mad because we are doing things that we would regard as unjustified and heinous acts of war if anyone dared to do them to us.

I don’t think Americans should be so surprised or so outraged when others are angered by actions that we would find equally objectionable if we were the victims instead of the perpetrators. And if we keep doing unto others in this way, it’s only a matter of time before someone does it unto us in return.

[Excerpt of article by Stephen M. Walt, Harvard professor]

May
25

What if Memorial Day reminds us of times when we had more freedom? What if the memory of the past is more fulfilling than the reality of the present?

What if the federal government could write any law, regulate any behavior and tax any event, no matter what the Constitution authorized?

What if the House of Representatives seriously considered letting the military lock up whatever Americans the president ordered the troops to arrest, without charges filed or lawyers present or a judge presiding?

What if the Constitution’s guarantees are not guarantees at all, but are subject to the whims of whoever is in power?

What if the government only permitted freedom so long as it was exercised as the government pleases?

What if the government could hire thugs to keep you safe? What if it gave the thugs uniforms and badges and sent them to airports? What if it gave them rubber gloves to wear and told them they could touch you and your children and your parents however and wherever they wished? What if these thugs touched the private parts of little babies and old ladies and intentionally restrained those who have criticized them while the rest of us just watched and let this happen?

What if the government found dupes and convinced them that they should conspire to commit acts of terrorism? What if the idea for terrorist acts and the means for committing them came from the government? What if no real threats were involved in these games and no real weapons were used, just fake threats and fake weapons, fomented and provided by the government? What if the government created these phony crimes just so that it could solve them?

What if, on Memorial Day, we remember times that were freer than today? What if, on Memorial Day, when we think of those who died for our freedom, we end up recognizing that the freedom they died for is dying?

[Excerpt of an article by Andrew P. Napolitano, a former Superior Court judge]

Apr
24

On April 17, 2012, as millions of Americans were filing their income tax returns, the highly-respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released its latest study of world military spending. In case Americans were wondering where most of their tax money — and the tax money of other nations — went in the previous year, the answer from SIPRI was clear: to war and preparations for war.

World military spending reached a record $1,738 billion in 2011 — an increase of $138 billion over the previous year. The United States accounted for 41 percent of that, or $711 billion.

Why are military expenditures continuing to increase — indeed, why aren’t they substantially decreasing — given the governmental austerity measures of recent years? Amid the economic crisis that began in late 2008 (and which continues to the present day), most governments have been cutting back their spending dramatically on education, health care, housing, parks, and other vital social services. However, there have not been corresponding cuts in their military budgets.

In the United States, an estimated 58 percent of the U.S. government’s discretionary tax dollars go to war and preparations for war.

“Almost every country with a military is on an insane path, spending more and more on missiles, aircraft, and guns,” remarked John Feffer, co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus. “These countries should be confronting the real threats of climate change, hunger, disease, and oppression, not wasting taxpayers’ money on their military.”

[Excerpt of CounterPunch article by Lawrence S. Wittner, professor of history emeritus]

Apr
24

Would you like to know where the federal government spend all the money you paid in income taxes during fiscal 2011?

Click here for a breakdown.

Following the above link, enter in the box the amount of federal income taxes you paid. And then click “Show My Taxes”, and you will find out where every penny was spent by the federal government during fiscal year 2011.

Apr
23

If the energy industry has its way in North America, there will be many more legitimate complaints we have been “sold out” to the energy barons.

To gain access to the additional stores of oil and gas of the United States and Canada, the industry is seeking to eliminate virtually all environmental restraints imposed since the 1960s and open vast tracts of coastal and wilderness areas to intensive drilling.

To exploit previously neglected reserves in North America, Big Oil will have to overcome a host of regulatory and environmental obstacles. It will, in other words, have to use its version of deep-pocket persuasion to convert the United States into the functional equivalent of a Third World petro-state.

It also seeks the construction of the much disputed Keystone XL pipeline, which is to transport synthetic crude oil made from Canadian tar sands — a particularly “dirty” and environmentally devastating form of energy which has attracted substantial U.S. investment — to Texas and Louisiana for further processing.

To achieve these objectives, American Petroleum Institute (API), which claims to represent more than 490 oil and natural gas companies, has launched a multimillion-dollar campaign to sway the 2012 elections, dubbed “Vote 4 Energy.” While describing itself as nonpartisan, the API-financed campaign seeks to discredit and marginalize any candidate, including President Obama, who opposes even the mildest of version of its drill-anywhere agenda.

“There [are] two paths that we can take” on energy policy, the Vote 4 Energy Web site proclaims. “One path leads to more jobs, higher government revenues and greater U.S. energy security — which can be achieved by increasing oil and natural gas development right here at home. The other path would put jobs, revenues and our energy security at risk.” This message will be broadcast with increasing frequency as Election Day nears.

How we characterize our energy predicament in the coming decades and what path we ultimately select will in large measure determine the fate of this nation.

[Excerpt of a TomDispatch article by Michael T. Klare]

Apr
23

Up until 1950, the United States was the world’s leading oil producer, the Saudi Arabia of its day. In that year, the U.S. produced approximately 270 million metric tons of oil, or about 55% of the world’s entire output. But with a postwar recovery then in full swing, the world needed a lot more energy while America’s most accessible oil fields — though still capable of growth — were approaching their maximum sustainable production levels. Net U.S. crude oil output reached a peak of about 9.2 million barrels per day in 1970 and then went into decline (until very recently).

This prompted the giant oil firms, which had already developed significant footholds in Indonesia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela, to scour the global South in search of new reserves to exploit. Particular attention was devoted to the Persian Gulf region, where in 1948 a consortium of American companies — Chevron, Exxon, Mobil, and Texaco — discovered the world’s largest oil field, Ghawar, in Saudi Arabia. By 1975, Third World countries were producing 58% of the world’s oil supply, while the U.S. share had dropped to 18%.

For the most part, production in Third World countries posed no such complications. The Nigerian government, for example, has long welcomed foreign investment in its onshore and offshore oil fields, while showing little concern over the despoliation of its southern coastline, where oil company operations have produced a massive environmental disaster. As Adam Nossiter of the New York Times described the resulting situation, “The Niger Delta, where the [petroleum] wealth underground is out of all proportion with the poverty on the surface, has endured the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for 50 years by some estimates.”

As vividly laid out by Peter Maass in Crude World, a similar pattern is evident in many other Third World petro-states where anything goes as compliant government officials — often the recipients of hefty bribes or other oil-company favors — regularly look the other way. The companies, in turn, don’t trouble themselves over the human rights abuses perpetrated by their foreign government “partners” — many of them dictators, warlords, or feudal potentates.

But times change. Pressures in the Third World have forced the major U.S. and European firms — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, and Total of France — to look elsewhere for new sources of oil and natural gas. Unfortunately for them, there aren’t many places left in the world that possess promising hydrocarbon reserves and also welcome investment by private energy giants. That’s why some of the most attractive new energy markets now lie in Canada and the United States, or in the waters off their shores. As a result, both are experiencing a remarkable uptick in fresh investment from the major international firms.

Both countries still possess substantial oil and gas deposits, but not of the “easy” variety (deposits close to the surface, close to shore, or easily accessible for extraction). All that remains are “tough” energy reserves (deep underground, far offshore, hard to extract and process). To exploit these, the energy companies must deploy aggressive technologies likely to cause extensive damage to the environment and in many cases human health as well. They must also find ways to gain government approval to enter environmentally protected areas now off limits.

The formula for making Canada and the U.S. the “Saudi Arabia” of the twenty-first century is grim but relatively simple: environmental protections will have to be eviscerated and those who stand in the way of intensified drilling, from landowners to local environmental protection groups, bulldozed out of the way. Put another way, North America will have to be Third-World-ified.

[Read full story]

Apr
22

Who is more likely to lie, cheat, and steal—the poor person or the rich one? It’s tempting to think that the wealthier you are, the more likely you are to act fairly. After all, if you already have enough for yourself, it’s easier to think about what others may need.

But research suggests the opposite is true: as people climb the social ladder, their compassionate feelings towards other people decline.

Berkeley psychologists Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner ran several studies looking at whether social class (as measured by wealth, occupational prestige, and education) influences how much we care about the feelings of others. In one study, Piff and his colleagues discreetly observed the behavior of drivers at a busy four-way intersection. They found that luxury car drivers were more likely to cut off other motorists instead of waiting for their turn at the intersection. In a different study they found that luxury car drivers were also more likely to speed past a pedestrian trying to use a crosswalk, even after making eye contact with the pedestrian.

The researchers also asked participants to spend a few minutes comparing themselves either to people better off or worse off than themselves financially. Afterwards, participants were shown a jar of candy and told that they could take home as much as they wanted. They were also told that the leftover candy would be given to children in a nearby laboratory. Those participants who had spent time thinking about how much better off they were compared to others ended up taking significantly more candy for themselves–leaving less behind for the children.

A related set of studies published by Keltner and his colleagues last year looked at how social class influences feelings of compassion towards people who are suffering. In one study, they found that less affluent individuals are more likely to report feeling compassion towards others on a regular basis. This was true even after controlling for other factors that we know affect compassionate feelings, such as gender, ethnicity, and spiritual beliefs.

In a second study, participants were asked to watch two videos while having their heart rate monitored. One video showed somebody explaining how to build a patio. The other showed children who were suffering from cancer. The results of the study showed that participants on the lower end of the spectrum, with less income and education, were more likely to report feeling compassion while watching the video of the cancer patients. In addition, their heart rates slowed down while watching the cancer video—a response that is associated with paying greater attention to the feelings and motivations of others.

These findings build upon previous research showing how upper class individuals are worse at recognizing the emotions of others and less likely to pay attention to people they are interacting with (e.g. by checking their cell phones or doodling).

But why would wealth and status decrease our feelings of compassion for others? Piff and his colleagues suspect that the answer may have something to do with how wealth and abundance give us a sense of freedom and independence from others. The less we have to rely on others, the less we may care about their feelings. This leads us towards being more self-focused.

Another reason has to do with our attitudes towards greed. Like Gordon Gekko, upper-class people may be more likely to endorse the idea that “greed is good.” Given the growing income inequality in the United States, the relationship between wealth and compassion has important implications. Those who hold most of the power in this country, political and otherwise, tend to come from privileged backgrounds. If social class influences how much we care about others, then the most powerful among us may be the least likely to make decisions that help the needy and the poor.

[Excerpts of article by Daisy Grewal, Stanford School of Medicine researcher]

Apr
21

When war-torn Somalia was ravaged by a drought-induced famine last year, which killed tens of thousands and displaced over a million people, international media was quick to blame the Islamist Al-Shabaab for blocking humanitarian assistance from reaching its zone of control in southern Somalia.

But according to Ken Menkhaus, professor of Political Science at Davidson College in North Carolina, the United States’ counter-terrorism laws played an equally central role in obstructing assistance from reaching famine victims in desperate need of aid. Menkhaus said humanitarian organizations suspended food aid delivery to drought- struck areas controlled by Al-Shabaab for fear of violating the USA Patriot Act.

Congress passed the Act in 2001 as part of its response to the Setp. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and under it, anyone who provides material benefits, even if unwittingly, to a designated terrorist group, could face the most severe penalties.

Given that Al-Shabaab is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., humanitarian groups were fearful that an accusation of ‘aiding terrorists’ could damage their entire organization. Thus many reached the conclusion that they were too vulnerable to operate in Al-Shabaab-controlled areas.

The U.S. could have issued a waiver, protecting relief agencies from counter-terrorism laws; similar waivers have been issued for relief agencies in southern Lebanon and the West Bank of the occupied Palestinian territories, where Hezbollah and Hamas operate respectively. But in the case of Somalia, Menkhaus believes the U.S. administration did not want to give its Republican opponents any political leverage on the eve of upcoming presidential elections by appearing too “soft on terrorism”.

[IPS]

Apr
20

One of the nation’s leading electronic privacy groups claimed this week that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) misled members of Congress during a February 16th hearing on whether the Department is paying a defense contractor $11.4 million to keep tabs on protected free speech and dissent against government policies on the Internet.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which triggered the hearing by publishing a trove of secret government documents in January, told Raw Story that a second round of documents they’ve obtained directly contradicts testimony given on Feb. 16, showing that the DHS instructed their analysts to do exactly what the Department denied.

“This has a profound effect on free speech online if you feel like a government law enforcement agency — particularly the Department of Homeland Security, which is supposed to look for terrorists — is monitoring your criticism, your dissent, of the government,” Ginger McCall, who directs EPIC’s Open Government Project, told Raw Story.

It is already a matter of public record that the U.S. Air Force has purchased software used for “persona management” across multiple social media platforms, which gives information operatives the ability to control a virtual army of fake people online.