15 December 2012

Wisconsin health care groups work with the feds on Obamacare

Trying to make up for time lost by Walker inaction
Erik Gunn on Thursday 12/13/2012 

Now comes the heavy lifting.

While Gov. Scott Walker's administration continues to give Obamacare the cold shoulder, groups outside of state government are stepping in to work with federal officials implementing the law in Wisconsin.
"We are hitting a real pivotal turning point in implementation right now," says Sara Eskrich, who works for two advocacy groups that are part of the Wisconsin Access Network — a loose affiliation of activists, providers and insurance carriers that formed earlier this year to make sure their voices were heard as the Affordable Care Act was put in place.

There's no time to waste, Eskrich and others say.

The law requires virtually everyone by 2014 to have health insurance, either through work, through a government program like Medicaid or Medicare, or by purchasing a policy. For that reason, a statewide health insurance marketplace — called a health insurance exchange — must be up and running a year from now. The exchange will enable individuals without employer-based coverage, as well as smaller employers with up to 100 workers, to shop for health benefit plans that the law's supporters say will cost less than individual and small group policies typically do now.

"It gives them the power they don't have right now to purchase affordable insurance that covers their needs," says Kenneth Munson, director of the federal Health and Human Services Chicago regional office, which covers Wisconsin.

Because Walker last month announced that the state would forgo the option of establishing Wisconsin's health exchange, the federal government is taking on that job directly. Munson says consumers would not notice a difference between an exchange run by the state, the federal government or through a state-federal partnership — a third option that was available to the state.

But establishing the exchange is only one of three major tasks involved in putting the program in place.
In order to ease the requirement that everyone purchase health insurance, the law provides subsidies for those who can't afford the premiums and expands Medicaid for low-income people. The state willultimately also have to decide whether it will agree to the Medicaid expansion in exchange for federal funding.

In addition, Wisconsin, like every state, will have to settle on a standard for "Essential Health Benefits" — that is, what every insurer must offer if it wants to be included in the state exchange.

"This is going to have an effect on what kinds of plans are provided in the individual and small group insurance market in the state," says Donna Friedsam, health policy programs director at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Although each is a separate agenda item, says Eskrich, "we have to think of them as simultaneous conversations working together to create full implementation of the Affordable Care Act."

Meaningful control
Walker, like many other Republican governors, has always opposed the federal health reform law and a year ago shut down all state activity preparing for its implementation. When he dumped the job of setting up an exchange on the federal government, he complained that either a state-run exchange or the alternative of a state-federal partnership would tie the state's hands while draining its wallet.

"No matter which option is chosen, Wisconsin taxpayers will not have meaningful control over the health care policies and services sold to Wisconsin residents," Walker explained when announcing his decision. "If the state option is chosen, however, Wisconsinites face risk from a federal mandate lacking long-term guaranteed funding."

Asked about the criticism, Health and Human Services spokeswoman Maril Alsup told Isthmus her agency would "prefer not to engage in an indirect debate," but said that it "will continue to work very hard to provide states with the greatest amount of flexibility in the establishment of their exchange."

Friedsam disputes Walker's contention that taxpayers would have little control if the state created its own exchange. "Many states do believe that there is an opportunity for them to tailor the exchange to their preferences," she says. But because of the state's hands-off policy, she adds, "there has not been any kind of public process" to discuss implementation in Wisconsin.

Eskrich agrees: "Other states have been working on this for more than six months now. Unfortunately Wisconsin was not proactive on this on the state level."

To fill the vacuum, several organizations teamed up to form the Wisconsin Access Network. The network is coordinated by four groups: the Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Health, the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, the state chapter of the American Cancer Society and the Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association, which represents community health clinics around the state. Eskrich works with the network as a joint employee of both the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families and the Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Health.

Many more groups have taken part in the network, she says, representing chronic-disease patients, other health care providers, preventive care organizations, health insurance carriers, Native American health centers and advocates for people with disabilities.

The Access Network has had discussions with officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, including regional director Munson, who was a deputy director for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services under Gov. Jim Doyle.

The network is currently marshaling members to meet a Dec. 26 deadline for comments to the federal government about the regulations governing the Essential Health Benefits package.

Already, HHS has proposed (PDF) as the state's "benchmark" plan the "Choice Plus Definity HSA" plan from UnitedHealthcare Insurance Co., which includes a Health Savings Account. UnitedHealthcare, part of UnitedHealth Services Corp., based in Minnesota, has generally ranked as the largest health insurance provider in Wisconsin in recent years, with about one-third of the market.

To make sure the benchmark plan is adequate, says Eskrich, "we're trying to look at it and figure out where there needs to be supplementation."

Additional coverage
One change that some in the Wisconsin Access Network would like to see is the addition of coverage for habilitation, which is not included in the benchmark plan.

Unlike rehabilitation — helping people recover functions they have lost to an injury or illness — habilitation means treatment to help people improve or maintain functions that were below par to begin with. This could include, for instance, therapy to improve motor skills for someone with cerebral palsy.

"That's something that hasn't always been included in the private insurance market," says Eskrich. If it becomes available under health reform, advocates believe that people who qualify could be moved from Medicaid to a traditional employer-based health plan, provided their workplace has one.

Eskrich says that the state Office of the Commissioner of Insurance has taken part in Access Network meetings and that agency officials "were very open to working together" in negotiating with the federal government. OCI spokesman J.P. Wieske did not respond to two email inquiries for comment.
While health care activists had hoped for a state exchange, Eskrich says that once the federal one is operating, there may be an option for converting it to local control.

"I think in the future we still have a lot of potential to take it back in the state and take on more and more functions," she says. "I hope we recognize the opportunity there and take advantage of it."

29 November 2012

Bernie Sanders and Bill Moyers Discuss Solutions for America / Iran's Nuclear Aspirations / Extending Middle Class Tax Cuts for 98% of Americans and 97% of Small Businesses

On “Moyers & Company,” Bill Moyers talked with Bernie Sanders about the pressing issues facing the United States including the wealth and income gap, the disappearance of the middle class, attacks on Social Security, and the influence of big-money interests in American politics.

In the clip below, Sanders describes how “dialing for dollars” distorts our leaders’ perspectives on who they’re actually representing, and how money’s influence is transforming both our politics and society.

“You’re looking at a nation with a grotesquely unequal distribution of wealth and income, tremendous economic power on Wall Street, and now added to all of that is big money interests -- the billionaires and corporations now buying elections,” Sanders told Moyers.

“I fear very much that if we don’t turn this around, we’re heading toward an oligarchic form of society.”


Reuters reports Iran will continue to "press on with enrichment" certainly raising concerns in the US and Israel and providing additional fodder to the war mongers.

But Iran still contends that their enrichment is for nuclear power and despite claims by the Associated Press to the contrary Iran is attempting to work with IAEA inspectors.

Yet the US continues to contend that Iran has failed to cooperate with IAEA inspectors.  The US has now set a March deadline "for Iran to start cooperating in substance with a U.N. nuclear agency investigation, warning Tehran the issue may otherwise be referred to the U.N. Security Council."

It remains unclear just exactly the US would push for beyond the already devastating sanctions that are in place.  The US military has clearly demonstrated through simulation after simulation that war with Iran would be disastrous.

The only real solution that has not been tested since the fall of the Shah is a reestablishment diplomatic relations.  It may be that through diplomacy and compromise lies the only path to peace.

Perhaps "diplomacy" and "compromise" will become the next members of an axis of evil for lawmakers in D.C. who seem ready to push their own country off a cliff.  Compromise with Iran, legislators can't even compromise with Americans.


From The White House Blog, an entry by Amy Brundage:

Countering Claims That The President’s Tax Proposals Would Hit Small Business
  • First, even under the GOP’s own flawed definition of small business, approximately 97% of taxpayers with small business income would be completely unaffected by the President’s plan: According to estimates by Tax Policy Center, about 97% of taxpayers reporting business income would not be impacted by the President’s tax proposals -- which only affect those earning over $250,000.  This has been confirmed by the independent Congressional Research Service, which concluded that “only a small fraction of businesses will be affected [by allowing the temporary income tax cuts to expire for people earning over $250,000 a year], around 2% to 3%.” 
  • Second, what Congressional Republicans Define as “Small Businesses” Include Millionaires and Billionaires, Law Partners, Hedge Fund Managers, and Passive Investors. Congressional Republicans define as small businesses any individual who receives “small business income”. Under this definition:
    • Over half of the 400 Highest Earners in the United States Would Be “Small Businesses”: According to IRS data, in 2009, among the 400 taxpayers with the highest adjusted gross income – group that averages over $200 million each in taxable income – at least 237 would have qualified as “small businesses” under this definition.
    • Hedge Fund Managers and Law Firm Partners are “Small Businesses”: It counts any type of partnership income, proprietor income, or S corporation income as “small business” income. That includes:
      • income received by partners in law firms – each and every one of whom would be considered a “small business” under this definition
      • income received by partners in hedge funds – each and every one of whom would be considered a “small business” under this definition
      • passive income on investments
      • income from renting out a property like a vacation home.
    • This is why, last time Republican Congressional Leaders tried this argument they couldn’t produce one so called “small business job creator.” Last fall, when the GOP was blocking measures of the American Jobs Act that could have supported over a million additional jobs; they argued that asking millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share would hurt “small business job creators.”  But after pressed by independent media outlets such as National Public Radio, Republicans in Congress and their wealthy allies could not produce a single millionaire job creator for NPR to interview. [LINK]
  • Third, in contrast to the President’s small business proposals, which would encourage and directly reward new hiring and investment, the GOP’s so called “small business” tax proposal could actually discourage firms from creating jobs or making new investments this year, while giving away tens of billions of dollars to millionaires and billionaires. The legislation sponsored by Majority Leader Cantor and passed by the House of Representatives provides across-the-board tax cuts (a 20 percent deduction) on qualified “small business” income for firms with fewer than 500 workers – including well-compensated hedge fund managers and law firm partners, and even to companies that are actively laying off workers or cutting wages.
    • In some cases this proposal actually encourages postponing new hires and investments. Because new employees and expenses are deducted from this year’s taxable income, for some companies the decision to expand payrolls and invest in their businesses can actually translate into their receiving a smaller tax benefit under the Republican’s proposal.
    • In addition, the benefits are dramatically skewed - half of the $46 billion cost goes to those making more than $1 million, translating into an average tax cut of $45,000 for those millionaires.
    • The biggest beneficiaries are not small businesses making investments and creating jobs, but rather the very wealthiest Americans - like law partners and investment managers, the so called “small business job creators” Republicans in Congress claim would be hurt by the President’s position.
 And from NPR's desk about Mr. Boehner's claims that "Raising taxes on the so-called top 2 percent, half of those taxpayers are small business owners that pay their taxes through their personal income, tax filing every year."

Turns out there's not much credence to it.  Listen to the story here.

21 November 2012

The Affordable Care Act: Back to Reality

Nine Republican Wisconsin State legislators are threatening to arrest any federal officials who try to implement a federal health insurance exchange in the state.  This development prompted the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial staff to declare, "What's next: Firing on Fort Sumter?"

Evidently that's just what the next step is intended to be.  Yet even ultra-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia knows better.  "There is no right to secede," Scalia recently wrote.

Gov. Walker finally announced his administration will not be presiding over the implementation of a health exchange for Wisconsin because for one he's against it and two it will cost Wisconsinites too much.  The specific details on how the exchange would cost Wisconsin more than not having them is unclear and diametrically opposed to what the intention of the exchanges is designed to be.  The exchanges are supposed to be designed to save buyers of insurance money by providing more choices to access.

Similar exchanges are currently used by public employees through the Employee Trust Fund (ETF) in Wisconsin. Through the ETF, public employees choose an insurance plan that fits their needs and based on the contributions they would like to make.

It seems obvious that all citizens of Wisconsin should have access to a similar exchange. 

While concern over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) is understandable given the nation's inherent distrust of monarchical rule, the ACA is anything but a government takeover of health care.  In fact it is more or less a buy-in to private insurers.

A look at the finer points of the law clearly illustrate how the whole framework of the law is based on conservative and capitalist notions including the provision that everyone buys in.  The so-called individual mandate holds every citizen responsible for his/her own health insurance.  The individual mandate is an attempt to stop people from not purchasing insurance only to show up sick in an emergency room with no way of paying for care.

Although many people may dread the idea of being encouraged toward buying health insurance in lieu of a cash penalty, the people who shouldn't be complaining about the individual mandate are those who agreed with Mitt Romney that there are certain people who don't pay for services.  Likewise, emergency room professionals know all too well the sheer numbers of people who carry no insurance yet expect emergency care.  The ACA's individual mandate hopes to lessen that problem which in turn could lower health care costs.

Below I've tried to highlight some key provisions in the ACA:

Stage 1 (in effect now)
• Outlaws worst health insurance abuses including denials based on preexisting conditions for children (adults in 2014).
• New standards for insurance, such as allowing young adults to stay on parents policies until they are 26.

Stage 2 (goes into effect 2014)
• Expand BadgerCare (Medicaid) to almost all low income Wisconsinites.
• Create competitive health marketplace to guarantee coverage to everyone who does not have good insurance at work.
• Require Members of Congress to buy the same plans offered to everyone else in the new marketplace.
• Strengthen Medicare for Seniors.

 Stage 1 Reforms:
Insurance Practices Outlawed now under the Affordable Care Act
• Preexisting condition exclusions (kids now/everyone in 2014) (see below for a list of preexisting conditions)
• Lifetime limits
• Dropping coverage after a person gets sick
• Excessive insurance industry profits and overhead (80-85% of your premium dollars must be spent on medical care, not profits)

The Affordable Care Act guarantees
• Preventive care coverage (ex: Mammograms, checkups, etc) with no cost sharing (co-pays, deductibles, etc)
• Young adults can stay on parents policies until age 26
• Preventive care without cost sharing for seniors on Medicare

Health insurance companies hold the right to deny any coverage for people who may have been diagnosed under previous care with any one of the following medical conditions.  These are called Preexisting Conditions and this list is not exhaustive:
• Diabetes
• Arthritis
• Heart Disease
• Obesity
• Asthma
• Cancer
• Stroke
• High Blood Pressure
• Hypertension
• Stress disorders
• High cholesterol
• Kidney disease
• Alcohol and drug abuse
• Hepatitis
• Adjustment disorders
• Alzheimer’s
• Angina (Chest Pain)
• Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
• Pancreatitis
• Dermatomyositis
• Emotional disturbances
• Emphysema (Lung disease)
• Major organ transplant

Sami’s Story
“My 7-year-old son, Sami, suffers from a disease that causes tumors to grow all over his body. Sami’s treatments could not continue if we hit our insurance policy’s life time limit. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can no longer impose lifetime limits or deny health coverage to children like Sami with preexisting conditions. We can’t go back to being on our own against the insurance companies.”
--Tracy, Appleton, Wisconsin

Remy’s Story
“I own a small café. Over 20 years ago I beat cancer, but ever since then no insurance company would sell me a policy because my cancer is called a preexisting condition. Starting in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act, no insurance company will be allowed to discriminate against me because I’m a cancer survivor.”
--Remy, Pepin, Wisconsin  

01 November 2012

Are sanctions on Iran targeted at the Iranian regime and nuclear program?

Fact:  While many sanctions measures are at least nominally aimed at the Iranian government and its nuclear program, the sanctions on Iran are deeply affecting the Iranian people.

Despite exemptions from sanctions for licensed imports of medical supplies, financial restrictions are causing significant shortages in critical medicines:
Sanctions aimed at Iran’s entire economy and banking sector have led to a rapid devaluation of Iran’s currency, increased already high levels of inflation, contributed to growing unemployment and are punishing the middle class and Iran’s opposition.
Iran has been affected by unprecedented levels of air pollution since U.S. sanctions on providing Iran refined gasoline went into effect, requiring Iranians to use more polluting alternatives that have a deleterious effect on the health on the Iranian population.
  • New York Times: “Officials ordered at least five of the country’s major petrochemical plants to switch production to gasoline. According to e-mails circulated to industry experts and reproduced on unofficial news sites and blogs, Iran’s new supply of domestic gasoline may contain high levels of aromatics — more than twice the level permitted by Iranian law. Burning aromatics in car engines produces exhaust packed with high concentrations of “floating particles” or “particulates” that, added to the typical smog caused by nitrous oxides and ozone, can cause a range of health problems, from headaches and dizziness to more serious cardiac and respiratory complaints.” (New York Times, Energy Policy in Iran Leaves Many Gasping; December 21, 2010)
  • LA Times: Gas stations are selling three types of fuel: gasoline produced at petrochemical plants; with the additive MTBE; and normal fuel produced at refineries… the fuel with MTBE is considered carcinogenic in Europe. (LA Times, Iran: Experts suggest sanctions are tied to staggering pollution levels; December 7, 2010)
  • New York Times: “An official in Tehran’s municipal government leaked Health Ministry statistics for pollution-related deaths on his personal Web site — more than 3,600 in the first nine months of the Iranian calendar year— figures that until now had never been released to the Iranian public.” (New York Times, Energy Policy in Iran Leaves Many Gasping; December 21, 2010)
US sanctions on spare parts for Iran’s civilian aircraft have led to a series of tragic and avoidable accidents.
  • New York Times: “The sanctions have prevented oil-rich Iran from updating its fleet, forcing it to use substandard Russian planes and to patch up its older jets far past their normal years of service, drawing on spare parts bought with increasing difficulty on the black market. Rarely a year goes by without major airline accidents, and most Iranian planes, including the 727, are forbidden to operate within the European Union.” (New York Times, Iran’s Airlines Seen as Faltering Under Sanctions; July 13, 2012)
  • Christian Science Monitor: “In late 2002, speaking days after the crash of a Ukrainian-made plane killed 46 scientists, the then-transport chief [of Iran] said several Boeing and Airbus planes had been grounded for lack of parts, and Iran’s aging fleet had ‘reached a crisis point.’” (Christian Science Monitor, Iran plane crash latest to afflict aging fleet; January 10, 2011)
Reformist and opposition leaders in Iran say that sanctions give the Iranian government a pretext to crack down on opposition groups like the Green Movement.
  • Mehdi Karroubi, senior leader of the Green Movement: “These sanctions have given an excuse to the Iranian government to suppress the opposition by blaming them for the unstable situation of the country… “Look at Cuba and North Korea. Have sanctions brought democracy to their people? They have just made them more isolated and given them the opportunity to crack down on their opposition without bothering themselves about the international attention.” (The Guardian, Iran sanctions strengthen Ahmadinejad regime; August 11, 2010)
  • Ali Shakouri-Rad, a leading member of the opposition Islamic Iran Participation Front: “‘The government will say that critics of their policies are doing the foreigners’ bidding’ and will use sanctions as a pretext to silence opponents, said.” (Washington Post, Iranian Opposition Warns Against Stricter Sanctions; October 1, 2009)
Though the Obama Administration has taken some steps to undo the effects of sanctions that make it more difficult for Iranians to freely access internet communications tools, sanctions continue to affect the availability of internet tools inside Iran:

FAIR: PBS Newshour Botches Basic Fact about Iran Dispute

The national media watchdog group, Fair and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), took the PBS Newshour to task for its reporting on Iran’s nuclear program:

In an October 22 discussion of the foreign policy presidential debate, the PBS NewsHour‘s Jeffrey Brown stated that “Iran’s nuclear weapons program has been a particular flash point.”
 A few weeks earlier (10/5/12) on the NewsHour, Ray Suarez said that Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez had
“continued to thwart American efforts on a range of international issues, such as Washington’s attempt to convince Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to halt his country’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

As most people following this story should know, there is no intelligence that shows Iran has a nuclear weapons program. The country has long denied the accusation, and regular inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency have failed to turn up evidence that Iran’s enriched uranium is being diverted for use in a weapon (Extra!, 1/12).

Some governments claim otherwise, but journalists are supposed to convey the evidence that is available–not to make claims that are unsupported by the facts. If there was one clear lesson from the Iraq War, it was that reporters need to carefully distinguish between what is known for certain and what some government leaders claim.

There have been questions about the NewsHour‘s Iran reporting before (FAIR Blog, 1/10/12). On January 9 the broadcast reported that Iran’s denial that it is pursuing a nuclear weapon was “disputed by the U.S. and its allies.” The show turned to a clip from Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to bolster that point — but edited out the part of his statement in which he said, “Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No.” A NewsHour editor agreed (FAIR Blog, 1/1712) that “it would have been better had we not lopped off the first part of the Panetta quote.”

Unfortunately, these recent examples suggest that the show is still being careless about how it reports the facts about Iran.


Tell the PBS NewsHour to correct its assertions that Iran has a nuclear weapons program.
PBS NewsHour

26 October 2012

Candidates with extremist views

This comes from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC):

It’s well known that in recent years, this country has seen its electoral politics polarized to an extent that has only rarely been paralleled in American history. But that polarization in many cases goes far beyond anything resembling mainstream discourse, extending to men and women who are linked to hate groups and racial, ethnic, religious, anti-gay and antigovernment extremism, or who promote extremist propaganda. Their baseless claims typically include demonizing propaganda about certain minority groups, or conspiracy theories that have the same demonizing subtext. What follows is a look at 15 political candidates, including Democrats, Republicans, independents and members of extremist political parties, who are running for office this fall or ran earlier in the year. Research on these candidates was carried out by the SPLC Task Force on Hate in the Public Sphere.

Virgil Goode Jr. (Va.)
Office sought: President of the United States
Virgil Goode Goode got his political start in Virginia as a conservative Democrat. First elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1996, he switched to independent in 2000 and then Republican in 2002. He lost his seat in 2008 by just over 700 votes. In November 2010, Goode joined the executive committee of the Constitution Party, after serving as a member of the party’s larger national committee. Formed in 1991 as the U.S. Taxpayers Party by hard-line conservative and Christian Right backer Howard Phillips, the Constitution Party’s planks include opposition to hate crimes legislation; opposition to the so-called “New World Order,” a much-feared global government said to be imminent; support for the repeal of the Voting Rights Act; and support for “well regulated militias” at the state level and unorganized militias at the community and county levels. During his years in Congress, Goode also developed a reputation for his hard-line stance on immigration. In 2006, Goode claimed, in the wake of U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison’s (D-Minn.) using the Koran to take his oath of office, that if Americans didn’t wake up to the Goode point of view on immigration, “there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.” In February 2011, he spoke on a panel at the Conservative Political Action Committee organized by Youth for Western Civilization, a now-defunct student group with ties to racist groups, calling for an end to all illegal immigration and most legal immigration, which, he warned darkly, will eventually lead to socialism. Goode also promises to defend Americans from the North American Union, a non-existent entity that conspiracy theorists claim the U.S., Canada and Mexico are secretly planning to form.

Merlin Miller (Tenn.)
Office sought: President of the United States
Merlin Miller Miller is an independent filmmaker who is running on the white nationalist American Third Position (A3P) ticket. (The party’s chairman, William Daniel Johnson, once proposed a constitutional amendment to deport any U.S. citizen with an “ascertainable trace of Negro blood.”) In his 2012 book, co-authored with A3P board member Adrian Krieg, Miller states that “A3P stands to protect traditional White American interests, as no other political party has shown interest in doing.” Miller has also written pieces for the Holocaust-denying Barnes Review, founded by notorious anti-Semite Willis Carto, and The Occidental Observer, founded by anti-Semitic California State University psychology professor Kevin MacDonald. (The Observer focuses on white identity and white interests.) In 2011, Miller wrote an article in the Barnes Review about Walt Disney, described by Miller as a “Christian Patriot and anti-Communist” who, Miller says, built a major motion picture studio that was not controlled by Jews. In September 2012, Miller — who has addressed meetings of the white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens, a group that once described black people as a “retrograde species of humanity” — was interviewed by Press TV in Iran, where he was attending an international film festival. During that interview, he claimed that charges against him of racism stemmed from his criticism of Zionism and the Jewish-controlled media. He also stated that he believes 9/11 was a Mossad-orchestrated event carried out with “considerable inside help.”

Mark Clayton (D-Tenn.)
Office sought: U.S. Senate
Mark Clayton Clayton won the Democratic primary for a Tennessee Senate seat in August 2012, after competing in a field of seven other candidates. Clayton, an anti-gay fringe conspiracy theorist who served a stint in the Army reserve and has worked a variety of odd jobs, won 26% of the vote despite raising no money. The Tennessee Democratic Party disavowed Clayton the day after the primary, but his name will remain on the ballot opposing GOP Sen. Bob Corker. Clayton’s views align more closely with those of the John Birch Society, which once called President Dwight D. Eisenhower a c ommunist, than the Democratic Party — though some of his ideas might be a little much even for JBS. He believes the government is building concentration camps to imprison Americans and that elites in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada are conspiring to form a “North American Union” (NAU) merging the three nations — both conspiracy theories common in the antigovernment “Patriot” movement. When he ran for a Senate seat in 2008, Clayton accused Google of censoring his campaign website on behalf of the Chinese government. That website, which has since been taken down, thanked supporters for helping defend Tennessee against the NAU, national ID cards and “radical homosexual lobbying groups who want to get in the Boy Scouts.” Clayton also claimed that Austrian-born California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was planning to amend the Constitution so he could run for president and “fulfill Hitler’s superman scenario.” Clayton’s current site is tamer, though he wants to eliminate “secret national ID cards” from Tennessee drivers’ licenses and to stop the government from mandating that “transexual[s] and homosexuals” grab children in “stranger-danger zones” in airports.

Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
Office sought: U.S. Senate
Ted Cruz Tea Party-backed Cruz is running as the GOP candidate for the Senate seat vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchinson. The Harvard-educated attorney, a former solicitor general of Texas and law clerk for Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, claims that the U.N.’s 1992 non-binding resolution and general guidelines for sustainability and ending poverty is a plot led by liberal billionaire George Soros to “abolish” unsustainable environments, including golf courses and grazing pastures. He co-authored a proposal that would open a way for states to nullify federal laws. Cruz thinks the imposition of Shariah Islamic law in the U.S. is “an enormous problem” (it’s not even possible under the Constitution, let alone a big problem). In his first campaign ad in the GOP primary, he encouraged people to vote for him because he once fought to ensure the execution of an undocumented immigrant in a murder case. He’s tough on LGBT people, too. At the 2011 Values Voter Summit, hosted by the gay-bashing Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as a hate group for its defamatory and false propaganda, Cruz railed against the “gay rights agenda” and warned about new threats to “religious liberty.”

Michele Bachmann (R-Minn., incumbent)
Office sought: U.S. House of Representatives (6th District)
Michele Bachmann Since her election to Congress in 2006, Bachmann has become better known for her controversial statements than for her legislation. A staunch Christian evangelical influenced by the writings of Christian Dominionists like Francis Schaeffer, she is also known for conspiracy-laden claims about things like vaccines (they cause children to become retarded) and people like Muslims (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin is part of the Muslim Brotherhood). She claims that President Obama is somehow responsible for the swine flu outbreak in 2009. She also has said that if LGBT people get rights, everybody else will lose theirs, adding that LGBT people are “target[ing] your children.” Bachmann announced that she wouldn’t fill out her 2010 census forms completely because data from it is shared with the FBI and other groups. As proof, she claimed that census data was used by the Roosevelt administration to round up Japanese Americans in World War II (it wasn’t).

U.S. Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C., incumbent)
Office sought: U.S. House of Representatives (3rd District)
Walter Jones Originally a Democrat, Jones switched to the Republican Party in 1994 and has won every election in his district handily since then. He has moderate views on some issues – he has sided with Democrats in the past to raise the minimum wage, for example, and is known as anti-war — but on others, like immigration, he is much further to the right. He introduced the Illegal Alien Crime Reporting Act of 2011, which would have required federal agencies to report on crimes committed by undocumented workers, earning him accolades from hard-line nativist groups like the FIRE Coalition. Another key player in the U.S. anti-immigrant network, NumbersUSA, gave Jones one of its top 10 scores for his stands on immigration enforcement. Jones, a strong supporter of Arizona’s draconian S.B. 1070 anti-immigrant legislation, has also co-sponsored legislation to end the citizenship of children born in the U.S. to parents who are not citizens, a right guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. But he probably attracted the most attention when he was a guest in September 2012 on the Memphis-based radio talk show “Political Cesspool,” which is hosted by white nationalists James Edwards and Eddie Miller. Jones went on the show to talk about legislation he has co-authored that accuses President Obama of impeachable offenses regarding events in Libya. Jones later said he didn’t understand the political leanings of the show’s hosts, who have had a parade of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers and others on the extreme political right as guests, despite the fact that the show’s plain-spoken mission statement is, “We represent a philosophy that is pro-White.”

U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa, incumbent)
Office sought: U.S. House of Representatives (5th District)
Steve King King has been in Iowa politics for more than 15 years now. He served as a state senator from 1996-2002 and, when a new congressional district was created in 2002, he ran for and was elected to the U.S. Congress. King has supported anti-Muslim conspiracy theories and expressed support for racial profiling in law enforcement, claiming that it’s not discriminatory. He has spoken at events with Tom Tancredo, the immigrant-bashing former Colorado congressman, and ardently defended nativist Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. In 2010, he opined that U.S. immigration policy should be like picking the best dogs out of a litter. Two years later, he backed U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (see above) in her baseless claim that State Department official Huma Abedin was an operative of the Muslim Brotherhood, saying Abedin’s family was “deeply entrenched” in the organization. When Obama was running for president in 2008, King said that because Obama’s middle name is Hussein, if he were elected “the al-Qaida, and the radical Islamists and their supporters will be dancing in the streets.” Also in 2012, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the premier annual conference for conservatives, King spoke at a panel sponsored by the nativist group ProEnglish that dealt with the purported evils of multiculturalism and how it weakens American identity. King was in interesting company: Bob Vandevoort from Chicago, who once led the white nationalist group Chicagoland Friends of the American Renaissance, a magazine whose editor has said that black people are incapable of sustaining civilization; and Peter Brimelow, founder of the racist website VDARE, which is named after Virginia Dare, the first English (read: white) child born in America. King spoke about his bill to make English the official language of the U.S. and said that Brimelow, who seeks a whiter United States, “wrote eloquently about the balkanization of America.”

U.S. Rep. Allen West (R-Fla., incumbent)
Office sought: U.S. House of Representatives (18th District)
Allen West Backed by the Tea Party, the anti-Muslim and anti-gay West has made a name for himself with controversial statements and actions. He first ran for office in 2008 (he was not elected) after retiring from the U.S. military in 2004 as a lieutenant colonel. Prior to his retirement, he was fined $5,000 and relieved of his command without a court martial in connection with his interrogation of an Iraqi police officer. West was unrepentant and was supported by various far-right groups, including David Horowitz’s Muslim-bashing, online FrontPage Magazine, which named him 2003 “Man of the Year.” In 2007, West wrote monthly columns for Pam Geller’s anti-Muslim hate blog, Atlas Shrugs, while he was in Afghanistan doing military contracting. Finally elected to Congress in 2010, he attempted to hire Joyce Kaufman, an immigrant-bashing radio host, as his chief-of-staff. But Kaufman resigned amidst a major controversy generated by her nativist comments. During his two years in Congress, West has claimed that women who support Planned Parenthood are “neutering American men”; said that the Congressional Progressive Caucus is made up of secret members of the Communist Party; described people with pro-Obama bumper stickers as a threat to the gene pool; and demanded that President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, all top Democrats, “get the hell out” of America.

Harry Lyon (D-Ala.)
Office sought: Chief Justice, Alabama Supreme Court (ejected)
Harry Lyon Lyon was running for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court but was removed from the ballot in August 2012 by the state Democratic Party for “increasingly erratic behavior” and statements he made regarding LGBT people and his opponent, who he had claimed engaged in “devil worship.” Lyon was also quoted in the Montgomery Advertiser suggesting that it might be a good idea to publicly execute a few undocumented immigrants as a warning to the rest. He posted anti-gay statements on his Facebook page, including the claim that “only sick and perverted persons believe in homosexuality or lesbianism, though there are a lot of them.” Inflammatory statements aren’t his only problem. Lyon has been suspended by the Alabama Bar Association twice and reprimanded once for violation of ethical principles. The Democratic Party also pulled him off the ballot once before; in 1994, he was removed from the gubernatorial race for violating party rules. The irony is that, although the Democratic Party replaced Lyon as its chief justice candidate with a local circuit judge, the much-favored Republican candidate, Roy Moore, is himself marked by history as an extremist. Moore won election as chief justice earlier, starting his term in 2001, and soon drew attention with an opinion that said, citing the Bible, that the state could impose penalties up to and including execution to protect children from gay people. Moore later sneaked a two-ton Ten Commandments monument into the Supreme Court building. After he disobeyed a federal court’s order to remove the monument in 2002, he was stripped of his judgeship by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary. He is now trying to reclaim that seat.

Harry Bertram (W.V.)
Office sought: West Virginia House of Delegates
Harry Bertram Bertram is trying once again for the state House of Delegates, after three previously unsuccessful campaigns and a losing bid for governor in 2011. He is running as a candidate of the American Third Position (A3P), a political party originally founded by racist skinheads in southern California in 2009 whose goals include deporting immigrants and placing the U.S. under white rule. The group’s mission statement claims that the U.S. government discriminates against white Americans and warns that whites will soon become a minority. In 2010, the group’s chairman, William Daniel Johnson, told the white nationalist “Political Cesspool” radio show that the foundation of the party is the “racial nationalist movement.” Nevertheless, Bertram dismisses the idea that the A3P is a racist party, insisting instead that it is merely “nationalist.” That’s a noteworthy claim, given that Bertram is listed as a “senior moderator” on WhiteNewsNow, a website run by Jamie Kelso, a longtime racist activist and former member of the neo-Nazi National Alliance. In addition, during his run for governor, Bertram released a television campaign ad in which he called himself “the voice for white American issues.” A3P chief Johnson’s proposed radio ad for Bertram — the text of which included, racist websites reported, “Vote Harry Bertram for Governor because we must secure a future for White America and our children” — was rejected by the West Virginia station he approached.

Daniel Johnson (Mich.)
Office Sought: Michigan House of Representatives
Daniel Johnson William Daniel Johnson is a longtime white supremacist running under a name he does not normally use — dropping his first name in favor of his middle name —on the ticket of a party other than the racist one he leads. In California, where he lived recently, Johnson was known as the chairman of the white supremacist American Third Position (A3P; see also above profiles of Merlin Miller and Harry Bertram) and the person who once called for the permanent deportation of all American citizens with an “ascertainable trace of Negro blood.” But in Michigan, he is running on the ticket of the Natural Law Party, not an obvious choice given that party’s planks of seeking to reduce racial prejudice and revitalizing inner cities via a strategy that includes using transcendental meditation to relieve social stress. Johnson makes no overt references to his A3P affiliation on his campaign website, but clicking the Facebook or Twitter links there will take you to the A3P pages for each. He does say that he seeks to preserve the environment, help businesses to provide a living wage, and protect civil liberties – particularly of white European Americans. He also wants to promote eugenic policies, meaning policies that favor “good” genes over “bad” ones in human reproduction. Calling his campaign phone line produces a recorded voice saying that “the white race is dying out in America and Europe,” because the policies of Democrats and Republicans alike have “caused whites worldwide to be ashamed of their race and history.” In 1985, Johnson, a corporate attorney, wrote a book under the pseudonym James O. Pace, calling for a constitutional amendment to limit citizenship to whites and deport all black people. He already has run unsuccessfully for two congressional seats, in Wyoming and Arizona, as well as a judgeship in California. He used a 19-year-old Klansman as his campaign manager in Wyoming and brought in a nativist extremist with a felony conviction for grand theft to work on his Arizona campaign.

Loy Mauch (R-Ark., incumbent)
Office sought: Arkansas House of Representatives
Loy Mauch Mauch, who was first elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives in November 2010, is known for a series of extreme pro-Confederate statements over the years, many published as letters to the editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He has repeatedly excoriated Abraham Lincoln (“this Northern neurotic war criminal”), comparing him and Northern Civil War generals to “Wehrmacht leaders.” He defends the Confederacy, saying that the Confederate battle flag is “a symbol of Christian liberty.” In 2010, Mauch claimed that the 14th Amendment — which granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the U.S., notably including the freed slaves — was never legally ratified and is “essentially a Karl Marx concept.” In 2009, repeating a point he first made in 2003, Mauch asked in one letter to the editor of the Arkansas paper, “If slavery were so God-awful, why didn’t Jesus or Paul condemn it, why was it in the Constitution and why wasn’t there a war before 1861?” In 2004, Mauch organized a conference in Hot Springs, featuring a keynote speech entitled “Homage to John Wilkes Booth,” that called for the removal of an Abraham Lincoln statue. In his last run for re-election, in 2010, the Arkansas Times reported that Mauch was then a member of the League of the South, a neo-secessionist group that wants to create a theocratic society legally dominated by white “European Americans.”

State Rep. Matt Shea (R-Wash., incumbent)
Office sought: Washington House of Representatives
Matt Shea First elected in 2008, Shea serves as the minority floor leader for the Washington House of Representatives. Shea has distinguished himself by appearing in 2009 on the conspiracist “Alex Jones Show,” where he claimed he knew about the existence of concentration camps built by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to imprison Americans. “And most particularly disturbing about that,” Shea said, parroting conspiracy theories popular in the antigovernment “Patriot” movement, “is that they’re gonna be on former military bases.” He went on to say that there were “some very eerie similarities between using pastors to pacify people now as happened in Nazi Germany.” Later in the interview, after Jones claimed that the Wall Street Journal had “called for a world government,” Shea said, “It’s shocking. … This is looking too much like the precursor to Nazi Germany and communist Russia.” Discussing federal measures to combat climate change and identify animals, Shea said, “Their goal, again, I think, is about control. I don’t think it has anything to do with them protecting the environment or preventing diseases among animals.” In 2010, among other proposed state “sovereignty” laws that would allow “nullification” of some federal mandates, Shea sponsored the so-called “Sheriff First Act,” which would require federal law enforcement agents to get the permission of local sheriffs before operating in their counties. Even with that permission, the bill would allow the federal agents only to arrest people on federal lands in the state.

Frank Szabo (R-N.H.)
Office Sought: Hillsborough County Sheriff (defeated)
Frank Szabo Szabo, a former businessman who moved from Pennsylvania to become an organic farmer, ran as “a constitutional sheriff” who would protect citizens against “rogue agencies” and “rogue bureaucrats” but lost by huge margins in the September 2012 Republican primary. (The idea of a constitutional sheriff is rooted in groups like the violently anti-Semitic Posse Comitatus, although it also has been adopted by many hardline antigovernment “Patriot” groups more recently.) Earlier, in 1994, Szabo ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Pennsylvania as an independent. Szabo is a member of the Oath Keepers, a Patriot group given to conspiracy theories about secret government plans to impose martial law and various other perfidies. He made headlines in August 2012, during his campaign, when he suggested that deadly force should be used to prevent legal abortions. “Just because a law is on the books doesn’t make it lawful,” he said, adding, “[W]hy would anyone object to the use of deadly force to prevent the murder of an unborn human?” He retracted those comments under pressure, but still stated, in a press release, that abortion is “murder” and that, if elected, he would arrest anyone involved in the murder of a county citizen.

Shaun Winkler (R-Idaho)
Office sought: Bonner County Sheriff (defeated)
Shaun Winkler Winkler has a long history of white supremacist activity, from his days as a young racist skinhead in Pennsylvania to his later work as a staffer for the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations, where he was a trusted aide to the group’s late leader, Richard Butler. He also joined a faction of the Ku Klux Klan. Earlier this year, he decided to run for sheriff of Bonner County despite all that baggage and more. Winkler has publicly derided African Americans and Jews. In May 2012, he held a cross-burning on his recently acquired Idaho property; questioned about it, he claimed that it was “more of a religious symbol” than a racist ceremony. “Most people don’t know that we don’t just oppose the Jews and the Negroes,” he told the Bonner County Daily Bee. “We also oppose sexual predators and drugs of any kind.” In the end, Winkler got 182 votes, coming in a distant third in a three-way race.

23 October 2012

Debate / Comprehensive List of Presidential Candidates / 10 Things Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan Don't Want Americans to Know | Alternet

I don't know if many Americans sit around after the debates wondering what a real debate would look like, but one observation has to be that the final presidential debate was anything but a debate.  If earlier analysis showed some differences in world view between Mr. Romney and Pres. Obama in addition to some angst between the two, the final debate on foreign policy showed that the two world views aren't really that different.

While Mr. Obama boils down Mr. Romney's domestic plans to cutting taxes, the only proposal Mr. Obama counters with is raising them on the wealthy, which should be done, but it's high on rhetoric and populism and lacking in actual policy.  In the foreign policy "debate", there was far more hand shaking and back patting then there was actual discussion.  It would have been somewhat pleasing to have got something substantial to sink one's teeth into.  But the candidates played safe.

Their attempts to discuss the Iranian and Syrian situation either was on the cuff - in lieu of revealing state secrets, perhaps - or incredibly sophomoric and elementary.  While it seems that the president and presidential candidate should have been able to offer a better grasp on facts, there may be some legitimate reasons why both were closely guarded in their approach toward describing their foreign policies.  The only one that comes to mind is that neither wanted to screw up.

Well short of revealing any state secrets - one could argue short of revealing well known secrets, the foreign policy "debate" quickly evolved into what can more aptly be described as a foreign policy "survey".  At one point, again with careful regard to state secrets we can imagine, Mr. Romney attempted to describe the basic structure of the Israeli government; while highly enlightening (thank you very much) and well rehearsed, this type of basic instruction barely nudges top secret discussion.  And we all know that Mitt Romney's got barred gates over top secret info as we saw on his trip to the UK.

So what was actually revealed by this the third and final presidential debate?  Not much.

Neither candidate was willing to honestly discuss our role in Iranian foreign policy, nor the fact that the US has stationed military forces in the Middle East that completely envelope Iran, including aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf, the southern border of Iran, hence the sea, Mr. Romney.  It's a classic bait and switch and US bullying at its worst.  But Mr. Romney is too intent on ignoring American mistakes - his "no apology approach" - and Mr. Obama is too intent on campaigning on American strength and doing anything but supporting peace - his "droning on drones approach" - which Mr. Romney also would adopt.

Listening to the two squabble over the ticky-tacky choices of one word versus another begins to make the US look like the old man on the corner complaining about newfangled fads but prone to watch the world go by.  Would it hurt either candidate to have shown a little understanding of the past 60 years?  Would it be pitiful for either candidate to mention that Iran is a signatory of the Non-proliferation Treaty?  Mr. Romney mentioned Russia as a signatory but casually sidestepped Iran.

Granted these are far more complicated issues than can be covered in an hour and a half, but either candidate was willing to admit it.  In the end, Americans look at Iran as "bad guys" thanks to Mr. Romney's simplistic characterizations, and Israel as our most trusted ally in the region who seems to be intent on getting the US into another war - some kind of help is the kind of help we all can do without.

Talk of Syria bordered on the mundane.  The case of Syria is far more complicated than either led on.  There will be no easy solution there.  If Mr. Assad does step aside, what happens then?  Syria will become another Islamic republic torn by different religious factions.  Mr. Assad had offered the kind of governance that has taken hold in Turkey - a non-religious, democratically elected civilian government.  Mitt Romney said that the US does not destroy countries, we build them up.  But that is counter to what the US has done in Iraq.  No one could argue that Iraq is better off today than they were prior to the US invasion.         

So what do we now know after three debates?  Well it can be safely assumed that most of the way the US works today will change little regardless of the next US president.  Congress holds the keys and much of the country seems to be careening into conservatism.  America may be headed into another middle ages of sorts.  Our country may very well be headed into a time when science is devalued, minority rights move backward, and our country becomes more religious.  Evangelists will be out en masse come November, that much can be guaranteed, because for them, as far as foreign policy goes, Islamization is grounds for war. 


If after the first two debates frustration with the two major parties is your overwhelming emotion, then you may be relieved to learn that options exist.

The folks at Politics1.com have assembled a comprehensive list of presidential candidates that fit each voters ideal characteristics for a candidate.

Perhaps neither Mr. Romney nor Pres. Obama have been strong enough in their feelings about abortion.  There are candidates in favor and opposed.  Find the party you're most aligned with and make sure they get your vote.

The Ku Klux Klan has a party (American Third Party) as well as several different socialist options.  The difference between Pres. Obama's right-wing labeled "socialism" and some of these socialist platforms are fairly stark.

If Bible thumping's your thing, there's the Prohibition Party's Jack Fellure.  As for policy, Mr. Fellure is "For : Making Homosexuality illegal. This will stop much of the AIDS plague." 

The Romney/Ryan ticket has much to learn from Jack Fellure. It's one hell of a platform.  As an evangelist, why vote for the Mormon Romney and Catholic Ryan when you could elect an authentic, 100% fundamentalist?    

Romney and Ryan Won't Name a Single Loophole They'd Close

These are the largest expenditures:

Which ones get cut?  No one knows the make-up of the next Congress.  But the safe bet is that none of the Big Ten tax expenditures will disappear without a fight.  In the end they'll all still be there. 



10 Things Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan Don't Want Americans to Know | Alternet


Then there's this guy.  He must not have thought much about the flak Todd Akin faced. Or he just hasn't though much.


And yet another knuckle head for the biblists: Charlie Fuqua proposes to implement executions for rebellious and disobedient children.  Nice.

15 October 2012

The EU is set to impose new sanctions on Iran / The Myth of the Forbes 400

The European Union is set to increase sanctions on Iran on Monday after failed negotiations over Iran's contested nuclear development program. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said they will continue to increase pressure on Iran until negotiations succeed. EU Foreign Policy head Catherine Ashton said sanctions that were imposed in July are "quite clearly having an effect" and the heightened sanctions are "to persuade Iran to come to the table."

Riots broke out earlier this month due to the dramatic fall of Iran's currency, the rial, which is down by about 80 percent since the beginning of the year. The new sanctions are expected to target Iran's banks, as well as trade and gas imports. Additionally, 30 more companies will be subject to an EU assets freeze.

Meanwhile, the United States and EU are working to close loopholes in sanctions on Iran after discovering that Tehran has been covertly using offshore tax havens in order to maintain crude oil shipments.  The National Iranian Tanker Co. (NITC), Iran's largest oil-vessel operator, has reportedly registered ownership of some of its tankers in Central America.  The NITC claims it is privatized but the United States classifies it as a government entity.

Despite severe sanctions, U.S. exports to Iran have risen by 32 percent this year up to $199.5 million. Exports were comprised primarily of wheat and other grains, dairy products, and medical, dental, and surgical products.  However, some humanitarian goods have declined including medicinal and pharmaceutical products.
On the homefront:

The Forbes 400 or 400 Richest Americans (first published in 1982) is a list published by Forbes Magazine magazine of the wealthiest 400 Americans, ranked by net worth. The average net worth of a member on the list is a whopping $4.2 million.  Their total net worth rose to $1.7 trillion.  That's about a sixth of the EU's GDP.  

In 2011 the net worth of the Forbes 400 rose $200 billion.  A net worth of $1.1 billion is the minimum to make the list.

Source: 1995-2008: Arthur B. Kennickell, "Ponds and Streams: Wealth and Income in the U.S., 1989 to 2007," Federal Reserve Board Working Paper, January 7, 2009, Table A1, p. 55. 2009-10: Forbes Magazine press release via Business Wire. Adjusted for inflation using CPI-U.
In 2011 the median household income, adjusted for inflation, dropped by 1.5% to $50,054.

Forbes 400 Reinforces Flawed "We Built It" Claims & Misleads About Wealth & Opportunity in the U.S.

Forbes Magazine calls their list of the 400 richest Americans the "definitive scorecard of wealth in America," but a new report asserts the magazine is misleading. Born on Third Base: What the Forbes 400 Really Says About Wealth & Opportunity in America, released this week by Boston-based non-profit United for a Fair Economy, examines the sources of wealth for members of the Forbes 400 and uncovers the role of inheritance and privilege in economic mobility. The report urges Forbes to stop glamorizing the "self-made man" while minimizing the other factors in wealth accumulation, including tax policies, birthright, gender, and race.

The report finds that 40 percent of the Forbes 400 list inherited a sizable asset from a family member or spouse, and over 20 percent inherited sufficient wealth to make the list. In addition, 17 percent of the Forbes 400 have family members on the list.

"Forbes spins a misleading tale of what it takes to become wealthy in the U.S. by understating the overwhelming impact of birthright and privilege," said Shannon Moriarty, co-author of the report. "Economic success should be a function of achievement, not just a guarantee for people lucky enough to be born into wealthy families. The Forbes 400 shows that birthright and family privilege are still very much at play in the American Dream."

The report explains that the net worth of the Forbes 400 grew fifteen-fold between the launch of the list in 1982 and 2011, while wealth stagnated for the average U.S. household. In 1982, the wealth threshold for the Forbes 400 was $75 million; today, every person on the list is a billionaire.

Women accounted for just 10 percent of the list in 2011, and nearly 90 percent of those women inherited their fortunes. The whiteness of the Forbes 400 list also makes clear the racial wealth divide. In the past two years, just one African American made the list. "Instead of asserting that ‘the American dream is very much alive,’ Forbes should acknowledge that the opportunity to become wealthy has never been equally shared," said Moriarty. "The billionaire members of the Forbes 400 are exceptions, not the rule."

Born On Third Base takes Forbes to task for their misuse of the loaded term "self-made" and the undervaluing of privilege and social capital in financial success. "We disagree with Forbes claim that 70 percent of the list made their fortunes entirely from scratch," said Brian Miller, executive director of United for a Fair Economy and co-author of the book The Self-Made Myth.

"The 'self-made' and 'I built this' narratives wrongly present the opportunity to become rich as equally attainable by all people in today's highly stratified society. Forbes’ story also ignores the important contributions of others and the role of government in the success of the wealthiest Americans."

"Tax policies have for decades been tilted in favor of the very wealthy," said Tim Sullivan, federal policy coordinator at United for a Fair Economy. "Tax rates on capital gains have been slashed to historic lows, which is of particular benefit to the likes of the Forbes 400." The report explains that the wealthiest 0.1 percent (including those on the list) receive half of all net increases in capital gains. "Drastic cuts to the federal estate tax made under George W. Bush and extended with the 2010 Obama tax deal have made it easier for wealthy families to keep and amass even greater fortunes," said Sullivan.

"As was once said of President George W. Bush, many of those on the Forbes 400 were ‘born on third base’ but claim to have ‘hit a triple,’ and the Forbes 400 list perpetuates this falsehood," said Moriarty.
United for a Fair Economy is launching a petition to coincide with the release of the Forbes 400 and the Born on Third Base report, asking Forbes to tell the whole story of wealth and opportunity in the U.S. Download the report and see the petition at www.faireconomy.org/BornOnThirdBase2012.

02 October 2012

Suffering from sanctions, Iran’s currency plunges to a record low

Battered by international sanctions over its nuclear development program and domestic instability, the Iranian rial plunged to a new low on Monday. After a dramatic decline last week, the rial fell between 13 and 18 percent on Monday, to as low as 33,500 rials to the U.S. dollar.

The rial is not traded on the global currency markets, so an accurate value can't be determined). It fell a further nine percent on Tuesday. According to some Iranian traders, the sharp decline was due, in part, to firm statements from the United States and Israel at the United Nations General Assembly as well as the Iranian central bank's implementation of a new currency exchange on September 24.

According to the chairman of financial trading house Pakzad Consulting Corp, "The sharpening of the rhetoric could lead some to think we're closer to a military strike." He continued that for speculators, "this is a perfect opportunity to make money."

Iran's worsening financial situation has sparked divisions in the Iranian government. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blamed the crisis on financial authorities for mismanaging currency in a news conference in New York last week. Conversely, on Sunday, a member of the Iranian Parliament's economic commission accused Ahmadenijad of mismanaging the currency market.

Iran's currency has reportedly lost over 80 percent of its value since 2011. Expanded U.S. and EU trade sanctions have resulted in an estimate 45 percent decline in Iranian income from oil exports.

Iran may still be years away from any nuclear-armed missile

VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran already has enough low-enriched uranium for several atomic bombs if refined to a high degree but it may still be a few years away from being able to build a nuclear-armed missile if it decided to go down that path.

Israel's warning last week that Iran will be on the brink of developing a nuclear weapon by mid-2013 seemed to refer to when it could have a sufficient stock of higher-grade uranium to make a quick dash to produce a bomb's worth of weapon-grade material.

But, analysts say, Tehran would need time also for the technologically complicated task of fashioning highly refined uranium gas into a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on a missile - if it opts for such weapons of mass destruction.

"If they haven't worked out all the steps with dummy materials beforehand they will have a lot to do," said a Vienna-based diplomat who is not from one of the six world powers involved in diplomacy over Iran's disputed nuclear activity.

"Maybe they have all of the equipment ready. Maybe they have played with surrogate materials. I don't think anyone knows."

Experts stress that timeline estimates are fraught with uncertainty as it is unclear how advanced the Islamic Republic may be in its suspected nuclear bomb research.

"I still think that we are talking about several years ... before Iran could develop a nuclear weapon and certainly before they could have a deliverable nuclear weapon," said Shannon Kile, head of the Nuclear Weapons Project of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a think-tank.

Iran rejects suspicions of a covert quest for atomic bomb capability. But its refusal to curb nuclear work with both civilian and military applications, and its lack of openness with U.N. inspectors, have drawn tough Western sanctions.

A high-level group of U.S. security experts - including former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage - estimated that Iran would need between one and four months to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a single nuclear device.

"Additional time - up to two years, according to conservative estimates - would be required for Iran to build a nuclear warhead that would be reliably deliverable by a missile," they said in a report published last month.
Mark Fitzpatrick, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think-tank, also said Iran would need at least two years for assembling a nuclear-tipped missile.

Senior researcher Greg Jones of the U.S.-based Nonproliferation Policy Education Center put forward a much quicker breakout scenario for any bomb bid and suggested a truck rather than a missile could be used for delivery to target.

Iran could refine uranium for a nuclear weapon in 10 weeks and produce the required non-nuclear components in six months or less, he said, adding this could be done simultaneously.


But the IISS argued in a report last year that the weaponisation time must be added to that required to produce the fissile material to calculate when a usable bomb could be made.

Making the actual weapon entails converting uranium gas to metal, designing a nuclear triggering device and the production and fitting of spherical explosive lenses, it said.

The United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last year published a report with a trove of intelligence indicating past, and some possibly continuing, research activities in Iran that could be relevant for nuclear weapons.

They included suspected high explosive experiments and possible work on designing a device to produce a burst of neutrons for setting off a fission chain reaction.

"The information indicates that prior to the end of 2003 the activities took place under a structured program; that some continued after 2003; and that some may still be ongoing," the IAEA said in its latest report on Iran, issued in late August.

Washington still believes that Iran is not on the verge of having a nuclear bomb and that it has not made a decision to pursue one, U.S. officials said in August.

Israel, believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, has threatened military action to stop Iran obtaining such weaponry, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week signaled any attack was not on the cards this year.

In a speech at the annual United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, Netanyahu drew a "red line" on a cartoon bomb just below a label in which Iran was 90 percent along the path to having sufficient weapons-grade material.

Experts put that at the point when Iran has amassed enough uranium, purified to a fissile level of 20 percent, that could quickly be enriched further and be used to produce a bomb.

Iran has produced more than 6.8 tonnes of uranium refined up to 5 percent since 2007, an amount experts say could be used for about five nuclear weapons if processed much further.

Worryingly for the West and Israel, some of that material has been refined to 20 percent, representing most of the effort involved in reaching potential bomb material.

According to the latest IAEA report, Iran has produced about 190 kg of this higher-grade uranium, about half of which has been earmarked for conversion into research reactor fuel, leaving a stockpile in August of just over 90 kg.

Traditionally, about 250 kg is estimated to be needed for a bomb, but some believe less would do.
"It is widely known that even a first device can be made with much less," the diplomat in Vienna said. But, "no one breaks out to make one warhead. Estimates vary but most think three to five warheads is a minimum to be a real nuclear power."

An Israeli official briefed on the Netanyahu government's Iran strategy told Reuters: "Once Iran gets its first device, no matter how rudimentary, it's a nuclear power and a nuclear menace. With that said, we have always noted that, from this threshold, it would take Iran another two years or so to make a deployable warhead."


26 September 2012

Why I had no choice but to spurn Tony Blair

I couldn't sit with someone who justified the invasion of Iraq with a lie
The Observer,
Desmond Tutu
Desmond Tutu: pulled out of a seminar which Tony Blair was scheduled to attend.
Photograph: Str/REUTERS

The immorality of the United States and Great Britain's decision to invade Iraq in 2003, premised on the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history.

Instead of recognising that the world we lived in, with increasingly sophisticated communications, transportations and weapons systems necessitated sophisticated leadership that would bring the global family together, the then-leaders of the US and UK fabricated the grounds to behave like playground bullies and drive us further apart. They have driven us to the edge of a precipice where we now stand – with the spectre of Syria and Iran before us.

If leaders may lie, then who should tell the truth? Days before George W Bush and Tony Blair ordered the invasion of Iraq, I called the White House and spoke to Condoleezza Rice, who was then national security adviser, to urge that United Nations weapons inspectors be given more time to confirm or deny the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Should they be able to confirm finding such weapons, I argued, dismantling the threat would have the support of virtually the entire world. Ms Rice demurred, saying there was too much risk and the president would not postpone any longer.

On what grounds do we decide that Robert Mugabe should go the International Criminal Court, Tony Blair should join the international speakers' circuit, bin Laden should be assassinated, but Iraq should be invaded, not because it possesses weapons of mass destruction, as Mr Bush's chief supporter, Mr Blair, confessed last week, but in order to get rid of Saddam Hussein?

The cost of the decision to rid Iraq of its by-all-accounts despotic and murderous leader has been staggering, beginning in Iraq itself. Last year, an average of 6.5 people died there each day in suicide attacks and vehicle bombs, according to the Iraqi Body Count project. More than 110,000 Iraqis have died in the conflict since 2003 and millions have been displaced. By the end of last year, nearly 4,500 American soldiers had been killed and more than 32,000 wounded.

On these grounds alone, in a consistent world, those responsible for this suffering and loss of life should be treading the same path as some of their African and Asian peers who have been made to answer for their actions in the Hague.

But even greater costs have been exacted beyond the killing fields, in the hardened hearts and minds of members of the human family across the world.

Has the potential for terrorist attacks decreased? To what extent have we succeeded in bringing the so-called Muslim and Judeo-Christian worlds closer together, in sowing the seeds of understanding and hope?

Leadership and morality are indivisible. Good leaders are the custodians of morality. The question is not whether Saddam Hussein was good or bad or how many of his people he massacred. The point is that Mr Bush and Mr Blair should not have allowed themselves to stoop to his immoral level.

If it is acceptable for leaders to take drastic action on the basis of a lie, without an acknowledgement or an apology when they are found out, what should we teach our children?

My appeal to Mr Blair is not to talk about leadership, but to demonstrate it. You are a member of our family, God's family. You are made for goodness, for honesty, for morality, for love; so are our brothers and sisters in Iraq, in the US, in Syria, in Israel and Iran.

I did not deem it appropriate to have this discussion at the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit in Johannesburg last week. As the date drew nearer, I felt an increasingly profound sense of discomfort about attending a summit on "leadership" with Mr Blair. I extend my humblest and sincerest apologies to Discovery, the summit organisers, the speakers and delegates for the lateness of my decision not to attend.