Twitter Screenplay About Simpsons Smoking Weed Is Strange and Hysterical

Alternet - Media Culture - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 7:24pm
An anonymous Twitter user composed the 'Marijuana Simpson' screenplay entirely of 140-character tweets. "What if Homer Simpson smoked weed? It's not that crazy to imagine." It really isn't that crazy to imagine, but a full-length screenplay written entirely via 140-character-or-less Twitter tweets, all about the Simpsons getting high, is.  Earlier this month, one such screenplay, aptly named Marijuana Simpson (@Homer_marijuana) rose from Internet obscurity to gain a substantial cult following. At the time of publication, the account had almost 20,000 followers, but follows just one in return: Eminem. Marshall Mathers doesn't appear anywhere in the play, though—just one of Marijuana Simpson's many strange non-sequiturs. (Read it here.)  The author, who remains anonymous, composed 5,501 tweets from beginning to end, weaving in family strife, global politics and religious epiphany with abundant quantities of cannabis. Smoked in various ways, the Simpsons and citizens of Springfield—including cameo appearances by Sonic the Hedgehog and Bender (of Matt Groening's other animated series Futurama)—bond over marijuana in a magical world where everyone's a stoner. There is even a new Simpsons boy named Ken. (Nobody really likes him.) Written in the terse, tragicomic style reminiscent of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot (for Beckett fans, Vladimir and Estragon also make an appearance), the story follows Bart as he's drafted by the army and sent to the Middle East, where Homer goes to find him with the help of Milhouse, "the main hash supplier for Al Qaeda." Between bong rips are asides that reveal private longings, misgivings and grudges. The wise and omniscient sages—Carl, Lenny and Moe—chime in to summarize a scene, in case you've missed a plot point. (A reader could become mesmerized by the frequent use of the words "blazed," "emblazoned" and "post-emblazoned.") When the Simpsons can't find actual weed, they have to buy synthetic marijuana from the gas station, a sad poverty the family laments. (Several U.S. gas stations were recently busted for selling synthetic marijuana as part of a Middle Eastern drug ring operation.) In a way, it's a parody of stoner culture written by a lover of stoner culture. A fan fiction for the people, by the people. The story begins with a number of characters discussing the possibility of Homer smoking weed. There's a deadpan joke referencing Erroll Morris' 2013 documentary The Unknown Known, which covers Donald Rumsfeld's infamous foray into epistemology.MORRIS: Did Homer Simpson smoke weed?RUMSFELD: [long pause, then a sad grin] I don't know.MORRIS: You don't—RUMSFELD: I do not. Eventually, once no Springfield citizen is left un-stoned, Bart is sent on a weedless and murderous tour of the Middle East. He finds Saddam Hussein, whom he plans to assassinate, and whose hobbies include building gazebos, acting as forum moderator for the cannabis cultivation website,, and promoting "hemp as an alternative building material." But ultimately, Saddam just wants a smoking buddy:BART: You're a terrorist.SADDAM: I'm just a lonely stoner.SADDAM: All these years I've had this gazebo, and you're the first to ever smoke with me in it.Then, Homer, on a mission to find Bart and bring him home, gets high with none other than George W. Bush. But George W., it turns out, is an amateur weed smoker, and pretty soon he's too stoned to discuss anything important. All he really wants is some classic R&B. "I want to listen to Shuggie Otis," he says, before admitting he might have "fucked up" regarding the war. In the same scene, there's a reference to Marx and Engels:HOMER: Since the dawn of industrialization you people have treated your citizens as cogs in the machine of profit. [Lights blunt]HOMER: [holding in smoke] The wealth gap is staggering. And all you care about is [exhales] money.BUSH: But I-HOMER: Can it.BUSH: Why did I skip Marx studies?MILHOUSE: And Engles.BUSH: Engles is over my head.HOMER: I voted for this false-stoner. On leave in Israel, Bart is abducted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who tries to convince him to assassinate Yasser Arafat. The Arab Spring also makes an appearance. Back home in Springfield, subplots unravel between everyone you know from the TV show. It's a dark, seedy Springfield. Think Grimm's Fairy Tales before Disney, but with the Simpsons, after lots of blunts.  Marijuana Simpsonis strange, disturbing and delightful. It's a weird product of the Internet that will most likely stay on the Internet. And, "It is complex"—an expression repeated throughout the play trying to explain something, well, complex. One last thing to note, you won't find a d'oh or "eat my shorts." These Simpsons are too post-emblazoned for that.  Related Stories
Categories: Media

Overcoming the Media Blockade in Gaza

Democracy Now! - Thu, 07/24/2014 - 9:54am

According to the United Nations, one child has been killed in Gaza every hour for the past two days. Overall, the Israeli military has killed more than 700 Palestinians, the vast majority civilians, since the assault on Gaza began more than two weeks ago. Details of the slaughter make their way into the world’s media, with horrific accounts of children killed on the beach, of hospital intensive-care units bombed, of first responders, searching for wounded amid the rubble, killed by Israeli sniper fire. Armed resistance groups in Gaza, most notably that of the area’s elected government, Hamas, have fired thousands of crude rockets that have killed two in Israel. Since Israel began its land invasion of Gaza, more than 30 Israeli soldiers have been killed. One of the greatest challenges in understanding the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories is getting reliable information. This latest assault on Gaza reaffirms the key role played by the U.S. media in maintaining the information blockade. It also highlights the increasing importance of pressure applied by social networks.

One headline said it all: “Missile at Beachside Gaza Cafe Finds Patrons Poised for World Cup.” That was The New York Times, referring to a missile strike in Gaza that killed at least eight people on the beach in the town of Khan Younis. Ali Abunimah, a prominent Palestinian-American journalist who co-founded the website The Electronic Intifada, mockingly tweeted: “Israeli missile stops by Gaza cafe for a drink and dialogue with its Palestinian friends.” The odd, passive phrasing of the original headline became the subject of a global social-media firestorm. The New York Times replaced the headline with “In Rubble of Gaza Seaside Cafe, Hunt for Victims Who Had Come for Soccer.”

This wasn’t the first time in this latest attack on Gaza that a major news organization got a black eye.

This is an excerpt from the column posted at Truthdig. Click here to read the full column.

Categories: Media

Amy Goodman on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher on Friday, July 25

Democracy Now! - Wed, 07/23/2014 - 5:12pm

Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman will appear on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher on Friday, July 25 at 10pm ET, along with economist Richard Wolff, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, GOP strategist J. Hogan Gidley and FreedomWorks CEO Matt Kibbe.

The program welcomes audience questions for all of the show guests. Suggest a question using #RTOvertime on Twitter and it may be asked in a live session after the TV program that will be streamed on

Categories: Media

16-Year-Old Creates App to Expose Corrupt Politicians

Alternet - Media Culture - Wed, 07/23/2014 - 2:32pm
High schooler Nick Rubin has made tracking political sell-outs a whole lot easier.

While it's easy and almost safe to assume that most of today's politicians take large donations from dubious corporate interests—given the fact that we live in an oligarchy and all—inquiring minds still want to keep track of who's taking money from big oil, big pharma, big defense contractors, you name it.

Seattle teenager Nick Rubin recently made keeping track of the money trail a whole lot easier with his creation Greenhouse, a browser plug-in that operates under the motto "Some are red. Some are blue. All are green." (Get it? Green House?) His website describes Greenhouse like this: "A free browser extension for Chrome Firefox, and Safari that exposes the role money plays in Congress. Displays on any web page detailed campaign contribution data for every Senator and Representative, including total amount received and breakdown by industry and by size of donation. Puts vital data where it’s most relevant so you can discover the real impact of money on our political system."

Said to be surprisingly easy to use, the app shines a light on dark money, and helps you deepen your understanding of why your representatives vote the way they do.

In a recent interview with Vice Media, Rubin talked about how he came up with the idea for the app:

Back in seventh grade, I gave a presentation on corporate personhood, and ever since then I’ve been really interested in that issue. I think the one problem is that the sources of income for members of congress haven’t been simple and easily accessible when people have needed it. More recently, I’ve been teaching myself how to code, and I thought that something like Greenhouse that puts the data at people’s fingertips would be a perfect solution. It really is the intersection of these two passions of mine—coding and politics. I made it after school and on weekends on my computer.

Hmmm. Wonder what he'll do in college.

h/t: Vice

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8 Surprising Celebrities Outraged by Israel's Assault on Gaza

Alternet - Media Culture - Wed, 07/23/2014 - 1:07pm
The growing number of stars speaking out signals that mainstream American opinion is shifting on Israel.

Hollywood is not known as a bastion of pro-Palestinian sentiment. There has not been any hugely successful mainstream, major motion picture that accurately depicts the plight of Palestinians. Actress Vanessa Redgrave was harshly condemned for her remarks that criticized Israel in the 1970s.

But that may be changing. Since Israel’s most recent assault on the Gaza Strip began 15 days ago, a growing number of celebrities in the television and movie business and other fields have spoken out, mostly on social media, about Israeli attacks. Their missives have been amplified by their audiences who retweet and share the critical messages.

The images of dead Palestinian civilians, including many innocent men, women and children, is badly damaging Israel’s largely positive image in the United States. And while the U.S. government is still staunchly supporting the attack on Gaza, which has killed more than 600 people, the growing number of celebrities speaking out in protest may signal that mainstream American opinion is shifting--albeit slowly--towards more sympathy for Palestine. That could have an important impact on discourse and U.S. policy towards Israel in the long-run.

Here’s a rundown of 8 celebrities who have recently expressed outrage or skepticism at the Israeli assault.

1. Selena Gomez. The 22-year-old actress and singer has appeared in popular movies for children like Spy Kids and was a guest star on the TV show Hannah Montana. She also attracted attention for dating pop star Justin Bieber.

On July 18th, she attracted attention for a starkly different reason: an Instagram post that read:“It’s about humanity. Pray for Gaza.” A firestorm erupted around her, with celebrity news site TMZ asking whether Gomez was “pro-Hamas.” Unlike other stars--Rihanna and NBA player Dwight Howard--she did not delete her message, though she followed up on it with another Instagram post that read: “And of course to be clear, I am not picking any sides. I am praying for peace and humanity for all!”

2. Jon Stewart.While the “Daily Show” host hasn’t exactly expressed outright criticism of Israel’s attack, his episode last week addressed the notion that the people of Gaza should evacuate to safety. “Evacuate to where? Have you fucking seen Gaza? Israel blocked this border, Egypt blocked this border. What, are you supposed to swim for it?”

Stewart followed up on that segment with another one this week that pointed out the deeply contentious nature of criticizing Israel. In the segment, right after Stewart mentioned Israel, “Daily Show” correspondents started screaming at him and attacking him, with one calling him a “self-hating Jew.”

3. Rob Schneider. This movie star and comedian has sent out messages on Twitter deploring the impact that Israel’s assault has had on the civilians in Gaza. “The ugly inhuman siege of Gaza has had it's deadliest day today,” he wrote on July 20. The next day, he said: “To not be outraged at the killing of children is to risk your very soul. #Gaza.”

4. Rosie O’Donnell.The big news about Rosie is that she’s returning to ABC’s “The View.” But her return to the limelight hasn’t meant that she has stepped away from voicing political opinions.

On July 22, she retweeted a message sent by this reporter broadcasting an act of civil disobedience carried out by Jewish New Yorkers outraged at Israel’s attacks on Gaza. She also sent out a few of her own messages on Gaza the same day. One linked to an interview where Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi, who told ABC: “It’s nothing short of a massacre, a deliberate massacre. War crimes committed daily. But now there is a deliberate shelling and bombing and destruction of whole areas, of residential areas.”

Another said: “thank u jonathan demme,” with a link to that Oscar-winning director’s comments criticizing Israel.

5. Mia Farrow. This mega-celebrity is everywhere. She’s a UNICEF ambassador, was named as one of the most influential people in the world by TIME and has been in numerous films.

She has broadcast many messages of support for the people of Gaza since the operation began through her Twitter account. Most of them document the civilian toll the assault on Gaza is taking. “Ambulances are supposed to be protected in conflict zones but Israel has hit 10 and bombed 2 hospitals,” one message sent yesterday read.

6. Mark Ruffalo.This actor appeared in the movie The Avengers in 2012, playing the Marvel Comics character The Hulk, and has played roles in many other films. He’s also a well-known activist who particularly focuses on the harmful effects of fracking. But he’s also speaking out on Palestine.

On July 17, he tweeted: “Israel destroys el-Wafa hospital as staff evacuates all patients …” In response to criticism of that post, he doubled-down: “Sorry, I thought blowing up Hospitals was something that all human beings could agree was off limits.”

7. John Cusack.This actor has never shied away from politics--and Gaza is no exception. On July 19th, he tweeted this resolute message: “I have been to Israel and Palestine &bombing civilians is not self defense.”

8. Anthony Bourdain. The celebrity chef and foodie first visited the Gaza Strip last year for his CNN show, and the result was a deeply humanizing portrait of the Palestinian people and their food and culture. He has since followed up on that with statements in support of Palestine.

One of the most devastating attacks in Gaza occurred last week, when four Palestinian boys playing soccer on a beach were killed by an Israeli strike. The New York Times’ Tyler Hicks published a widely-circulated photo of a Palestinian rescuring an injured civilian while one of the dead boys lay on the beach. Bourdain tweeted that photo and said: “Maybe it’s the fact that I walked on that beach—and have a small child that makes this photo so devastating.  #Gaza.”

Or maybe, it's just being a human being.

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'Witch Hunt': Fired MSNBC Contributor Speaks Out on Suppression of Israel-Palestine Debate

Alternet - Media Culture - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 6:59pm
As Gaza body toll mounts, NBC executives crack down on criticism of Israel.

MSNBC contributor Rula Jebreal’s on-air protest of the network’s slanted coverage of Israel’s ongoing assault on the Gaza Strip has brought media suppression of the Israel-Palestine debate into sharp focus. Punished for her act of dissent with the cancellation of all future appearances and the termination of her contract, Jebreal spoke to me about what prompted her to speak out and why MSNBC was presenting such a distorted view of the crisis.

“I couldn’t stay silent after seeing the amount of airtime given to Israeli politicians versus Palestinians,” Jebreal told me. “They say we are balanced but their idea of balance is 90 percent Israeli guests and 10 percent Palestinians. This kind of media is what leads to the failing policies that we see in Gaza.”

She continued, “We as journalists are there to afflict the comfortable and who is comfortable in this case? Who is really endangering both sides and harming American interests in the region? It’s those enforcing the status quo of the siege of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank.”

Jebreal said that in her two years as an MSNBC contributor, she had protested the network’s slanted coverage repeatedly in private conversations with producers. “I told them we have a serious issue here,” she explained. “But everybody’s intimidated by this pressure and if it’s not direct then it becomes self-censorship.”

With her criticism of her employer’s editorial line, she has become the latest casualty of the pro-Israel pressure. “I have been told to my face that I wasn’t invited on to shows because I was Palestinian,” Jebreal remarked. “I didn’t believe it at the time. Now I believe it.”

An NBC producer speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed Jebreal’s account, describing to me a top-down intimidation campaign aimed at presenting an Israeli-centric view of the attack on the Gaza Strip. The NBC producer told me that MSNBC President Phil Griffin and NBC executives are micromanaging coverage of the crisis, closely monitoring contributors’ social media accounts and engaging in a “witch hunt” against anyone who strays from the official line.

“Loyalties are now being openly questioned,” the producer commented.

The suppression campaign culminated after Jebreal’s on-air protest during a July 21 segment on Ronan Farrow Daily.

“We are disgustingly biased on this issue. Look at how much airtime Netanyahu and his folks have on air on a daily basis, Andrea Mitchell and others,” Jebreal complained to Farrow. “I never see one Palestinian being interviewed on these same issues.”

When Farrow claimed that the network had featured other voices, Jebreal shot back, “Maybe for thirty seconds, and then you have twenty-five minutes for Bibi Netanyahu.”

Within hours, all of Jebreal’s future bookings were cancelled and the renewal of her contract was off the table. The following day, Jebreal tweeted: “My forthcoming TV appearances have been cancelled. Is there a connection to my expose and the cancellation?”

Jebreal is the author of Miral, a memoir about her coming of age in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Her former partner, Jewish-American filmmaker and artist Julian Schnabel, adapted the book into full length film. A widely published journalist and former news presenter in Italy, Jebreal was a vocal supporter of the now-extinct peace process and a harsh critic of Islamist groups including Hamas. Her termination leaves NBC without any Palestinian contributors.

According to the NBC producer, MSNBC show teams were livid that they had been forced by management to cancel Jebreal as punishment for her act of dissent.

At the same time, social media erupted in protest of Jebreal’s cancellation, forcing the network into damage control mode. The role of clean-up man fell to Chris Hayes, the only MSNBC host with a reputation for attempting a balanced discussion of Israel-Palestine. On the July 22 episode of his show, All In, he brought Jebreal on to discuss her on-air protest.

In introducing Jebreal, Hayes took on the role of the industry and network defender: “Let me take you behind the curtain of cable news business for a moment,” Hayes told his viewers. “If you appear on a cable news network, you trash that network and one of its hosts by name, on any issue — Gaza, infrastructure spending, sports coverage, funny internet cat videos — the folks at the network will not take kindly to it.”

In fact, MSNBC Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough has publicly attacked fellow MSNBC hosts and slammed the network for its support for the Democratic Party.

“I did not think that i was stepping in a hornet’s nest,” Jebreal told me. “I saw Joe Scarborough criticizing the network. I thought we were liberal enough to stand self criticism.”

Yet when she appeared across from Hayes, Jebreal encountered a defensive host shielding his employers from her criticism. “We’re actually doing a pretty good job” of covering the Israel-Palestine crisis, Hayes claimed to her. “I think our network, and I think the New York Times and the media all around, have been doing a much better job on this conflict.”

Jebreal appeared on screen as a “Palestinian journalist” — her title as a MSNBC contributor had been removed. When she insisted that American broadcast media had not provided adequate context about the 8-year-long Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip or the roots of Palestinian violence, Hayes protested that he had wanted to host Hamas officials alongside the Israeli government spokespeople he routinely featured but that it was practically impossible.

“Not all Palestinians are Hamas,” Jebreal vehemently replied.

“Airtime always strikes me as a bad metric,” Hayes responded. “I mean there are interviews and then there are interviews. I had [Israeli government spokesman] Mark Regev on this program for 16 minutes, alright? That’s a very long interview but there was a lot to talk to him about.”

The NBC producer remarked to me that the network’s public relations strategy had backfired. Hayes’ performance was poorly received on social media while Jebreal appeared as another maverick journalist outcasted by corporate media for delivering uncomfortable truths.

For her part, Jebreal told me she was disturbed by Hayes’ comments. “I admire that Chris [Hayes] wanted to have me on but it seems like he was condoning what happened to me,” she said. “He was saying, ‘What do you expect? We rally around our stars.’ Well, I rally around reality, if that still matters in media.”

Jebreal continued: “I didn’t tell him this on air but I said, ‘I hope you don’t condone other things the network did, like what happened with Ayman.’”

Jebreal was referring to NBC correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin and his sudden removal by the network from the Gaza Strip. Mohyeldin, a rising star in the network and its only Arab-American reporter in the region, was an eyewitness to the Israeli killing of four young boys who had been playing soccer on a beach near Gaza City.

Moments after the killings, Mohyeldin relayed intimate accounts of the scene through Twitter, then released harrowing footage of the boys’ mother wailing as she learned of their deaths. Oddly, NBC correspondent Richard Engel was summoned to deliver Mohyeldin’s package that evening.

The NBC producer told me that the network was deluged with angry letters and phone calls from pro-Israel activists about Mohyeldin’s reporting.

Hours later, Mohyeldin’s summary of the US State Department’s statement defending Israel’s actions disappeared from his Facebook and Twitter accounts. He had apparently been forced to delete the postings. Next, NBC removed Mohyeldin from Gaza, sending him out of the area on the first plane available.

To replace Mohyeldin, NBC dispatched Engel, a veteran foreign correspondent well-liked by top brass and regarded as the network’s “star.” Engel was the keynote speaker at a 2013 event at the Newseum in Washington DC honoring journalists killed that year. Under Israel lobby pressure, the Newseum had removed the names of three Palestinian journalists killed in targeting Israeli strikes during the November 2012 assault on Gaza, accepting claims by anti-Palestinian groups like the Anti-Defamation League that their employment by Hamas-affiliated outlets rendered them enemy combatants. During his speech, Engel carefully avoided condemning the Newseum for its capitulation.

The removal of Mohyeldin sparked an international backlash, with tens of thousands from around the world protesting the decision through viral Twitter hashtags like, #LetAymanReport and #FreeAyman. Two days later, an apparently chastened NBC returned Mohyeldin to the Gaza Strip, but the damage had been done.

Unwilling to explain its unusual actions, NBC left it up to media critics to guess at its motives. CNN Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter chalked up the removal of Mohyeldin to “infighting and bureaucracy,” claiming that NBC was concerned primarily with ratings. Glenn Greenwald, the editor-in-chief of the The Intercept, wrote that Mohyeldin was ordered out of Gaza by David Verdi, a top NBC executive, for political reasons — his reporting was deemed too sympathetic to Palestinians.

The NBC producer insisted that Greenwald’s account was the more accurate one. “Greenwald was right,” the producer told me. “And I hate to say that.”

For her part, Jebreal does not expect to be welcomed back on MSNBC again. “I’m done there,” she told me. “It’s not happening any more. My contract is over. I’m fine with it. I’m not complaining.”

She cited the distorted coverage of Israel-Palestine in American broadcast as the central reason behind the American public’s support for Israel’s assault on Gaza.

“I believe this is a shifting moment in history and we need to make a decison,” Jebreal said. “It’s easier when there’s Bridgegate but there is another gate: This is Mediagate and we need to begin to challenge our responsibilities.”


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Categories: Media

Are People Who Shoot Down Passenger Planes 'War Criminals'–or 'Hard to Fault'?

FAIR Blog - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 4:04pm
If you're going to shoot down a civilian jetliner--from the New York Times' point of view--it helps to be working for the US Navy when you do it.
Categories: Media

The Bizarre Story of How Lesbian Church Worker Was Fired After Newspaper Article Outed Her

Alternet - Media Culture - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 2:39pm
Colleen Simon is suing a Missouri Catholic parish over her termination after a newspaper article mentioned her same-sex marriage.

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (CN) - A Catholic parish fired a social-work director after a newspaper article revealed her sexual orientation, though the church knew she was gay when it hired her, she claims in court.

Colleen Simon sued the Most Rev. Robert W. Finn and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, on July 17, in Jackson County Court.

Simon, described in the lawsuit as "a proud mother of two sons ... a lesbian and ... the proud wife of Rev. Donna Simon," says she was hired by St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church as its Director of Social Ministry in May 2013.

The plaintiff and Donna Simon were married in Iowa, as same-sex marriages are illegal in Missouri.

Simon claims she revealed her sexual orientation to the church even before submitting her application, and that the Director of Religious Education told her: "'Go ahead and apply. I've spoken to [the first pastor] and it won't be a problem.'" (Brackets in complaint.)

During a face-to-face interview, Simon says, she told the first pastor that she and her wife were "well known in the community, and were known to be an open, out, married couple in the community."

"The first pastor was nonplussed, and expressed no objection to Ms. Simon's sexual orientation or her relationship with Donna," according to the complaint.

In January 2014, after the pastor who had interviewed her moved away, Simon says she revealed her sexual orientation to the new pastor of St. Francis Xavier, who "looked surprised. He said 'Oh, okay. It's okay.'"

A reporter from the Kansas City Star approached Simon in April 2014 to discuss her work in the Troost Corridor area of the city. She says she "directed the reporter to the new Pastor, who then directed the reporter back to Simon."

"Ms. Simon spoke with the reporter about her work at the food pantry. The reporter also spoke with Ms. Simon's wife, Donna Simon, about her anti-poverty work on Troost."

The lawsuit continues: "On Wednesday, April 30, 2014, an article in the Kansas City Star's 816 Magazine by the reporter titled, 'Trusting in Troost,' came out. It discussed many of the people involved in community activism and human development issues in the Troost corridor. It mentioned Colleen Simon as Donna Simon's spouse. The story featured a photo of Colleen working in the food pantry. The caption reads: 'Colleen Simon, pastoral associate for justice and life at St. Francis Xavier, is married to Donna Simon, the pastor at St. Mark.' [sic] 'Colleen Simon works at St. Francis Xavier's food pantry helping families in the neighborhood get enough to eat.'"

Simon says the pastor of St. Francis Xavier emailed her, expressing concern about the information in the article, and also called the reporter and "asked [her] if she was a Catholic, and when the reporter answered that she was not, the new pastor stated to her that she didn't know what she had done."

The pastor called Simon to a meeting on May 9, 2014, and "informed Ms. Simon that the Bishop's office had contacted him by phone and then followed up with a letter after having received a copy of the reporter's article in the mail.

"The new pastor stated that now that Ms. Simon's marital status was public, he had no choice but to ask her to submit a letter of resignation," the complaint states.

"After that, Ms. Simon asked the new pastor if she could continue to perform the technical aspects of her position, such as data entry and food collection and distribution for the pantry. The new pastor said that would not be possible. The meeting adjourned and Ms. Simon had the weekend to consider whether to resign or be terminated. She returned to work the next week."

Upon returning to work, Simon says, she was allowed to continue her job until Wednesday, May 14 - the date of several shipments for the food pantry - and was then fired.

Despite knowing her marital status upon hiring her, Simon says her termination letter stated: "The reason for your involuntary separation of employment was based upon an irreconcilable conflict between the laws, discipline, and teaching of the Catholic Church and your relationship - formalized by an act of marriage in Iowa - to a person of the same sex."

Simon seeks compensatory and punitive damages for fraud and violations of the Missouri Service Letter Law, as her termination letter mentioned nothing about deficiencies in job performance.

She is represented by Edward E. Keenan in Kansas City.

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MSNBC Commentator: I Was Canceled Because I Criticized Network's Pro-Israel Coverage

Alternet - Media Culture - Tue, 07/22/2014 - 10:02am
Rula Jebreal says her appearances have been canceled since she took the news network to task over its coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict.

A Palestinian journalist who criticized MSNBC for biased coverage of the Israel-Hamas conflict is saying that she’s “been canceled” by the news network.

Rula Jebreal, who appeared on “Ronan Farrow Daily” yesterday and accused Western media outlets, including MSNBC, of a pro-Israel bias, took to Twitter to announce that her forthcoming appearances on the cable network has been canceled and asked Daily Beast national security correspondent Eli Lake if his appearances had been canceled as well. Lake appeared in the same segment as Jebreal and countered her contention that coverage of the conflict was biased toward Israel. 

My forthcoming TV appearances have been cancelled! Is there a link between my expose and the cancellation?what about you @EliLake ?

— Rula Jebreal (@rulajebreal) July 21, 2014

Jebreal, a correspondent for the network, singled out MSNBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell as one of the journalists unduly influenced by pro-Israeli activists.

“Because of AIPAC, and because of the money behind it, and because of Sheldon Adelson, and because all of us in the media. We are ridiculous. We are disgustingly biased when it comes to this issue,” said Jebreal.

“Look at how much airtime [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and his folks have on the air on a daily basis. Andrea Mitchell and others. I never see one Palestinian being interviewed on these same issues,” she continued.

When Farrow defended MSNBC, claiming that the network did invite pro-Palestinian guests, Jebreal dismissed the statement.

“Maybe 30 seconds! And then you have 25 minutes for Bibi Netanyahu, and then half an hour for Naftali Bennett and many others,” she snapped.

Jebreal continued to berate the network, calling it out for pulling foreign correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin off the air last week. Mohyeldin, an Egyptian-American, is a widely respected journalist. He was a first-hand witness to an Israeli attack in Gaza that killed four boys who were playing soccer. Mohyeldin recounted on Twitter that he was kicking around a ball with the boys shortly before they were killed by a missile attack.

After providing this account on NBC’s “Today Show,” Mohyeldin was conspicuously absent from “NBC Nightly News.” Only fellow correspondent Richard Engel, who was in Tel Aviv, reported on the conflict that evening. 

NBC claimed that Mohyeldin was removed from Gaza for security concerns, but after speculation that he was taken off the air for political reasons, the network returned him this week.

“Ayman Mohyeldin is covering the Palestinian side and we get upset,” said Jebreal. “It’s too pro-Palestinian. We don’t like it.”

Watch the video below:

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Times Are Good–for Investment Bankers, Anyway

FAIR Blog - Mon, 07/21/2014 - 6:04pm
If you're part of the majority that's still hurting after six years of "recovery," thinking that the US is on the wrong track isn't pessimism--it's realism.
Categories: Media

Thomas Friedman's Latest NYT Piece Reads Like an Airbnb Ad

Alternet - Media Culture - Mon, 07/21/2014 - 3:51pm
It's unusual for the writer to focus on a company rather than the conflict in Gaza and the Malaysian Airlines plane crash.

This is unfortunate. Tom Friedman, a New York Times op-ed columnist who wrote a pretty good book on the Middle East 25 long years ago, and who considers basically the entire world to be his beat, chose one of the most dramatically news-packed weeks in recent historical memory to publish a press release for Airbnb.

On purpose:

From Ukraine to the Middle East, some bad actors — Hamas, Vladimir Putin and Israeli settlers to name but a few — are trying to bury the future with the past and divide people. Instead of focusing on them even more, I prefer to write about a company that is burying the past with the future, and actually bringing strangers together.

No question: Airbnb is an important and influential company. It’s worth writing about, though one can definitely question whether this particular week was best moment to devote some prime New York Times real estate to the company. But to simply regurgitate Airbnb’s public relations copy without providing any critical context whatsoever? The compound interest on this sort of editorial blunder accumulates rapidly.

In his column, Friedman talks a lot about “trust” and the changing meaning of “ownership.” But he doesn’t even mention the fact that in two of Airbnb’s largest markets, a substantial percentage of listings have been dominated by a small group of landlords taking advantage of Airbnb’s platform to rent out multiple listings, while avoiding nasty things like paying for hotel taxes or complying with city safety regulations. Friedman doesn’t devote a sentence to the question of what impact Airbnb might be having on overall prices in municipal rental markets. And there isn’t even a whisper of an indication that Friedman has considered the possibility that economic desperation might also be a factor in encouraging people to rent out their spare rooms, rather than simply the evolution of a platform for establishing “trust.”

Instead, we get excerpts of a Q and A that sound like they were written by Airbnb’s public relations department. Consider this, the first in a string of three quotes from CEO Brian Chesky strung together in the middle of Friedman’s column:

“We have over 3,000 castles, 2,000 treehouses, 900 islands and 400 lighthouses available to book on the site. On a recent night, over 100 people were staying in yurts.”

That is a commercial, not a Q and A.

The “sharing economy” is a fascinating phenomenon that deserves regular coverage and investigation. It’s certainly the kind of thing that Tom Friedman should be paying attention to. The 21st century will be full of this kind of stuff. But it’s a dereliction of duty to not even make an attempt to grapple with the larger complexities of how companies like Airbnb are changing society.

And to do so, on purpose, at the end of a week in which a commercial airline was shot down in the Ukraine and Israel launched a ground offensive in Gaza? That’s just embarrassing.


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Gaza Is a Concentration Camp, And It's an American Delusion Not to Recognize That—Weschler

Alternet - Media Culture - Mon, 07/21/2014 - 2:39pm
Prestigious, mainstream journalist says what others are afraid to.

Lawrence Weschler, a writer of considerable mainstream prestige, is sick of prevaricating about Israel. It’s rabid. It has rabies. And Gaza is a concentration camp. Weschler has let loose chiefly because of the “remorseless” and “repetitively compulsive” aspect of Israeli violence. I believe that understanding is now widely shared in the liberal mainstream, and interventions like Weschler’s make it easier for others to speak up. From Truthdig:

I know, I know, and I am bone tired of being told it, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is plenty of blame to go around, but by this point after coming on almost 50 years of Israeli stemwinding and procrastinatory obfuscation, I’d put the proportionate distribution of blame at about the same level as the mortality figures—which is, where are we today (what with Wednesday morning’s four children killed while out playing on a Gaza beach)? What, 280 to 2?

For the single overriding fact defining the Israeli-Palestinian impasse at this point is that if the Palestinians are quiescent and not engaged in any overt rebellion, the Israelis (and here I am speaking of the vast majority of the population who somehow go along with the antics of their leaders, year after year) manage to tell themselves that things are fine and there’s no urgent need to address the situation; and if, as a result, the endlessly put-upon Palestinians do finally rise up in any sort of armed resistance (rocks to rockets), the same Israelis exasperate, “How are we supposed to negotiate with monsters like this?” A wonderfully convenient formula, since it allows the Israelis to go blithely on, systematically stealing Palestinian land in the West Bank, and continuing to confine 1.8 million Gazans within what might well be described as a concentration camp.

Note, incidentally, I say “concentration camp” and not “death camp.” I am not comparing Gaza to Auschwitz-Birkenau, but one cannot help but liken the conditions today in Gaza to the sorts of conditions once faced by Japanese-Americans during World War II, or the Boers in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War, or the black South Africans years later in such besieged townships as Soweto, or for that matter Jews and gays and gypsies at Dachau and Theresienstadt in the years before the Nazis themselves settled on their Final Solution.

And it is quite simply massively self-serving delusion that Israelis (and their enablers and abettors here in America, among whom incidentally I count a steadily declining number of American Jews) refuse to recognize that fact.

Weschler goes on to say that support for Israel is strongest in the U.S. among evangelicals. This is a standard dodge, employed by liberals, to avoid the hard reflective work of considering the power of the reactionary Jewish establishment. Does Obama care a fig about evangelicals when it comes to gay marriage or abortion? No. But here there is a unity of interest, and the power is in the Jewish establishment. Israel calls on Jews to recognize what Avram Burg said a few years back at the NY Public Library, that Jews created two structures in the wake of the Holocaust, a Jewish state and an American Jewish leadership.

For me Zionism was the scaffolding… that was supposed to help the Jewish people to rebuild, to restruct [sic] itself from an exilic reality to sovereignty. And the structure went on and on and on and on, and and now 150 and 100 and some years later, when you look around the Jewish existential reality, you realize that actually the Jewish people built two structures. One is the semi-autonomous American Jewry, which was not here 150 years ago– powerful influence, access to the corridors of power, impact on the culture, and civilization… plus the infrastructure of the community of solidarity and fraternity and support system and education etc and also the sovereignty over there in the Middle East.

Thanks to Ed Moloney.

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Inside the Fight for the Future of the Internet

Alternet - Media Culture - Mon, 07/21/2014 - 10:28am
The political debate over broadband speaks to the greater issue of democracy and locus of authority.

"(W)ithout power and independence, a town may contain good subjects, but it can have no active citizens.” That was the conclusion of Alexis de Tocqueville after touring a youthful American Republic in the early 1830s, as recorded in his classic Democracy in America. Today we are engaged in a renewed debate about the authority of governments closest to the people.

On July 16, by a vote of 223-200 the House of Representatives voted to strip the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the authority to allow communities the right to determine their broadband futures. Republicans voted 221-4 in favor.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler 60 Republicans insisted the federal government shouldn’t interfere with the 20 state laws that either prohibit or severely inhibit municipally owned broadband networks. “Without any doubt, state governments across the country understand and are more attentive to the needs of the American people than unelected federal bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.” A similar letter signed by 11 Republican Senators asserted, “States are much closer to their citizens and can meet their needs better than an unelected bureaucracy in Washington, D.C… State political leaders are accountable to the voters who elect them…”

The Republican rationale is that state legislatures should be given deference over Congress and federal agencies because they are closer, more attentive and more accountable to their constituents. The same reasoning should lead Republicans to agree that city councils and county commissions should be given deference over state legislatures and state agencies. But it doesn’t.

The Senate letter warned, the FCC “would be well-advised to respect state sovereignty.” But Republicans apply the principle of state sovereignty so inconsistently that it’s hard to call it a guiding principle. On July 15th, the day before Republicans loudly proclaimed their allegiance to states rights the House voted overwhelmingly to make permanent a ban on the right for states and localities to tax our Internet bills the way they tax our phone bills. Their legislation would also overturn existing laws in seven states. The collective loss of state revenue will exceed $500 million a year. Texas alone will lose $350 million.

Then there is the issue of whether the price of products sold on-line should include sales taxes equal to those paid by local stores. In 1992 the Supreme Court ruled that states could not compel on line vendors without a physical presence in that state to collect sales taxes, unless Congress gave permission. In May 2013, the Democratic Senate voted to give them that permission. House Republicans refused. Loss of state and local revenue for 2013 was estimated at $1.7 billion. For those who may be unaware, the issue at hand is not whether we should pay taxes when we buy goods on line. Almost all states require us to do so. The question is whether on-line vendors must, like brick and mortar stores collect those taxes.

In 2006, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), exasperated by the Republican Party’s hypocritical stance on “states rights” asked a Special Investigations Division (SID) to examine legislative actions since George W. Bush took office after a campaign that insisted that with his party in control the federal government would not “impose its will on states and local communities.” The SID found “a wide gulf between the pro-states rhetoric of Republican leaders and the actual legislative record”. It cited 57 instances of Republican-approved bills preempting state authority.

One of those occurred in 2002 when the Republican House voted to prohibit states and cities from demanding competition in broadband services. Using language eerily similar to that used recently by Republicans to justify their refusal to allow the FCC to require states to promote broadband competition, 6 organizations representing state and local officials maintained, “state and local officials - those closest to understanding and meeting the needs of our citizens” should make such decisions. Republicans were unmoved.

The Paternalism of Republicans

When they are not justifying their broadband votes on states rights Republicans argue they’re protecting us against ourselves: we might be led astray and support the construction of a sure-to-fail municipally owned network. In May FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler gave the small d democratic response, “I understand that the experience with community broadband is mixed, that there have been both successes and failures. But if municipal governments want to pursue it, they shouldn't be inhibited by state laws that have been adopted at the behest of incumbent providers looking to limit competition.”

The debate about whether to build a muni broadband network has proven to be one of the most considered, transparent and democratic of all policy debates, certainly far more than those made in Washington and state capitols

Usually citizens vote on the issue directly through ballot referenda. The opposition has a disproportionate ability to make its case. Corporate opponents outspend community proponents by 10 to 25 to 1 or more. Meanwhile, in many cases state laws prohibit cities from campaigning for their own proposal.

The mantra of Republicans and private cable and telephone companies is, cities lack the capacity to build and manage broadband networks is. They have been empirically proven wrong. Of the 160 municipal owned broadband networks the successes vastly outnumber the failures. Muni networks offered the first gigabit service (no, not Google). Muni networks have saved their communities hundreds of millions of dollars, created tens of thousands of jobs, and have come to be viewed as a public infrastructure as vital and necessary as road and water networks.

If the FCC is allowed to proceed, it will first respond to a petition from muni networks so successful that surrounding communities want to connect but cannot because of state law. In this context, the argument that the state is protecting cities against themselves lacks any factual basis.

That so many muni networks have succeeded is a testament to their communities’ entrepreneurialism, creativity and patience. Lawsuits often delay operation for years at a significant financial cost to the cities. The huge customer base of cable and phone companies allows them to negotiate far lower prices for cable channels than tiny muni networks. Cities that build networks often are prohibited from tapping into other city funds if needed while private telephone and cable companies are free to use profits gained from cities in which they have a monopoly to engage in predatory pricing in cities where there is a muni network. After Monticello, Minnesota built its own network Charter Communications slashed its combined cable and broadband package price from $145 to $60 per month while maintaining the higher price in nearby cities like Duluth and Rochester.

The Success of Communities

For cities that persevere the rewards can be very great. Tiny Kutztown, Pennsylvania saved the community an estimated $2 million in its first few years, a result of lower rates by the muni network and reduced prices charged by the incumbent cable company in response to competitive pressure. In 2004 Governor Ed Rendell gave Kutztown an award for its network. Shortly thereafter, to his lasting shame, he signed a Verizon-sponsored bill ensuring that no other Pennsylvania community could follow in Kutztown’s footsteps.

Bristol Virginia, population 17,000 estimates its network has saved residents and businesses over $10 million. Lafayette, Louisiana estimates savings of over $90 million. The economic development and financial benefits of muni networks have been amply catalogued by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and its Community Broadband Initiative.

Sometimes the arguments of private corporations verge on the ludicrous. After five North Carolina cities proved that muni networks could be wildly successful Time Warner aggressively lobbied the state legislature to effectively prohibit any imitators. Time Warner insisted it was only asking for a level playing field. “The bill is intended to create a level playing field so if local governments want to provide commercial retail services in direct competition with private business, they can’t use their considerable advantages unfairly”, Time Warner declared.

You have to go a far piece to believe that tiny Salisbury, North Carolina has a competitive edge over mammoth Time Warner with annual revenues of $18 billion, more than 500 times greater than Salisbury’s $34 million budget and 14 million customers to Salisbury’s Fibrant network customer base of 1000.

But after Republicans gained control of the North Carolina legislature in 2012 the unbelievable became the basis for public policy when the legislature passed the Time Warner bill.

Aside from the numerous proven quantifiable economic benefits of muni networks are the equally important unquantifiable benefits. One is far greater accountability. No longer must people rely on distant corporations for better service. Leaders in Wilson, North Carolina describe this benefit of muni networks as the “strangle effect.” If you have problems with the network, you can find someone locally to strangle.

For Harold DePriest, head of Chattanooga’s state of the art municipally owned broadband network (and electricity company) an even more fundamental issue is involved. “(D)oes our community control our own fate, or does someone else control it?” he asks. Questions about the digital divide and net neutrality can be debated and decided at the local level, not in some distant boardroom or having to rely on federal agencies to act and federal courts to support their actions.

Freedom to Choose

If Congress allows the FCC to proceed with overturning state bans on municipal broadband networks an even more fundamental obstacle will stand in the way. Cities and counties are not mentioned in our Constitution. This has has led courts to decide that cities and counties have little or no standing in our federalist system. Established law relies on the famous dictum of Judge John Foster Dillon in an 1868 case: "Municipal corporations owe their origin to, and derive their powers and rights wholly from, the legislature. It breathes into them the breath of life, without which they cannot exist. As it creates, so may it destroy. If it may destroy, it may abridge and control."

Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to foster competition. The text of the 1996 law was crystal clear. “No State or local statute or regulation, or other State or local legal requirement, may prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the ability of any entity to provide any interstate or intrastate telecommunications service.” If the Commission determines that a State or local government has violated this section “the Commission shall preempt the enforcement of such statute, regulation, or legal requirement to the extent necessary to correct such violation or inconsistency.”

If anyone doubted the meaning of the phrase “any entity” they had only to read the Congressional record. Senator Trent Lott’s (R-MS), for example, commented, “I think the rural electric associations, the municipalities, and the investor-owned utilities, are all positioned to make a real contribution in this telecommunications area, and I do think it is important that we make sure we have got the right language to accomplish what we wish accomplished here.”

But the Supreme Court didn’t find the language clear at all. In 2003, by an 8-1 decision, it affirmed outright prohibitions on municipal utility networks by Texas and Missouri.

The Supreme Court ruled that established law considers cities and counties, “created as convenient agencies for exercising such of the governmental powers of the State as may be entrusted to them in its absolute discretion.”

Ultimately then, this is a fight not about broadband but about democracy and the locus of authority. Of course corporations prefer to fight to protect and expand their privileges in 50 remote state capitols rather than in 30,000 local communities. But genuine democracy depends on allowing to the greatest extent possible those who feel the impact of decisions to be a significant part in the decision making process.

Whatever Congress or the FCC decides, we need to challenge the concept that the communities in which we live are simply vassals of our state legislative lords. This can be done on many levels. Perhaps the most effective and productive can occur at the state capitols. A broad coalition cutting across parties and ideologies marching under the banner “freedom to choose” may be powerful enough to challenge the seemingly inexhaustible financial resources giant corporations have available to influence politics and politicians.

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Paul Krugman on the Real Reason Behind the Deficit Panic and the Terrible Damage It Has Wrought

Alternet - Media Culture - Mon, 07/21/2014 - 8:53am
'The debt apocalypse has been called off.'

Paul Krugman attacks the recent, years-long panic over the national debt and deficits in today's column reminding readers that this once relentless topic in the news has pretty much disappeared from view. And for good reason, Krugman says, "The whole thing turns out to have been a false alarm."

There was a time not so long ago when it was all you could read or hear about. The media and politicians of both stripes kept sounding the alarm over budget deficits and rising debts. Very serious people said the U.S. would soon turn into Greece unless something was done. Obama tried to strike a "Grand Bargain" with Congress for a balanced budget. But, of course, this Congress does not bargain—refuses to raise taxes—and no deal was struck.

Writes Krugman:

I’m not sure whether most readers realize just how thoroughly the great fiscal panic has fizzled — and the deficit scolds are, of course, still scolding. They’re even trying to spin the latest long-term projections from the Congressional Budget Office — which are distinctly non-alarming — as somehow a confirmation of their earlier scare tactics. So this seems like a good time to offer an update on the debt disaster that wasn’t.

About those projections: The budget office predicts that this year’s federal deficit will be just 2.8 percent of G.D.P., down from 9.8 percent in 2009. It’s true that the fact that we’re still running a deficit means federal debt in dollar terms continues to grow — but the economy is growing too, so the budget office expects the crucial ratio of debt to G.D.P. to remain more or less flat for the next decade.

Krugman goes on to responsibly inform readers that things will get more complicated after about a decade as an aging population makes increasing demands on Medicare and Social Security. But, on the plus side, healthcare costs have dramatically slowed down, which none of the doomsday prognosticators saw coming. Krugman writes:

As a result, despite aging, debt in 2039 — a quarter-century from now! — is projected to be no higher, as a percentage of G.D.P., than the debt America had at the end of World War II, or that Britain had for much of the 20th century. Oh, and the budget office now expects interest rates to remain fairly low, not much higher than the economy’s rate of growth. This in turn weakens, indeed almost eliminates, the risk of a debt spiral, in which the cost of servicing debt drives debt even higher.

OK, but still, Krugman allows, rising debt is not good. He also points out that it would take "surprisingly little" to avoid it. 

The budget office estimates that stabilizing the ratio of debt to G.D.P. at its current level would require spending cuts and/or tax hikes of 1.2 percent of G.D.P. if we started now, or 1.5 percent of G.D.P. if we waited until 2020. Politically, that would be hard given total Republican opposition to anything a Democratic president might propose, but in economic terms it would be no big deal, and wouldn’t require any fundamental change in our major social programs.

In short, the debt apocalypse has been called off.

So, having cleared up the economics, Krugman turns to the real reasons behind the fiscal panic. It is, as you might have imagined, politically and ideologically motivated. So much so that conservative thinkers like Alan Greenspan have expressed disappointment that the Greece-style crisis never arrived. Even in Europe, the crisis was dealt with rather quickly, in fact, "once the European Central Bank began doing its job, making it clear it would do 'whatever it takes' to avoid cash crises in nations that have given up their own currencies and adopted the euro," Krugman illuminates. "Did you know that Italy, which remains deep in debt and suffers much more from the burden of an aging population than we do, can now borrow long term at an interest rate of only 2.78 percent? Did you know that France, which is the subject of constant negative reporting, pays only 1.57 percent?" No, that story is not told here. Nor is the simple fact that we do not have a debt crisis. Why is that? Krugman suspects that it has served a political purpose, namely  it suited those powerful conservative interests that want to dismantle Social Security and Medicare. That desire in itself is cruel and irresponsible enough, but these deficit hawks also did a lot of collateral damage along the way, distracting all of us from real problems like unemployment and decaying infractructure and climate change for far too many years.  And who is going to pay for that?   


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10 Races That May Hinge on "The War on Women"

Alternet - Media Culture - Sun, 07/20/2014 - 4:33pm
Overall, the Democratic advantage is most pronounced among younger, unmarried women.

As a coherent and consistent political narrative, “the war on women” is relatively new. But the underlying tension between conservative religious beliefs and women’s access to reproductive health care — including legal abortion without overly burdensome regulation and insurance coverage for contraceptives — is not.

Nor is the gender-gap in American politics. In 2012, Barack Obama took advantage of a record 20-point gap between men and women, but similar gaps have been been apparent since the rise of the religious right as a force in American politics, as this chart by Nate Silver illustrates:

In 2012, Barack Obama lost by 8 points among men and won by 12 points among women, for a 20-point gender-gap.

The Democratic advantage is most pronounced among younger, unmarried women. Courting this voting bloc is a key strategy for Democratic candidates because, asThe Washington Post noted in April, “Women make up a larger percentage of the electorate than men, [and] are disproportionately likely to go to the polls in midterm election years.”

Getting these voters to the polls will be crucially important for Democrats in this year’s midterms, as their party faces strong headwinds going into November’s election.

Here, in no particular order, are 10 races where “the war on women” narrative may play a decisive role.

North Carolina Senate

US Sen. Kay Hagan (D) holds a three-point advantage over her challenger Thom Tillis, Speaker of North Carolina’s House of Representatives, which has become one of the most right-wing legislatures in the country. But that modest lead is driven by Hagan breaking even with Tillis among men, while enjoying a significant advantage among women — two polls released in late June had her up with female voters by margins of 10- and 13-points.

Hagan’s strategy has been to motivate her voters by tying Tillis to the extremism of the state’s legislature. A typical mailer, sent out by her campaign last week, reads in part:

Less than 24 hours.

That’s how long it took the North Carolina Senate to sneak sweeping anti-women’s health measures into a totally unrelated bill and then force a vote on it.

The legislation will limit access to preventive care and health services, and it does nothing to improve patient safety….

Join me in demanding that North Carolina lawmakers do the right thing, and stop this war on women.

Thanks for standing with me, as well as with women and families all across North Carolina.

Michigan Senate

This is an interesting race that pits a Republican woman, former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, against Democrat Rep. Gary Peters in the fight for Michigan’s open senate seat. Incumbent US Senator Carl Levin is retiring.

Land came out of the gate in April with a TV ad that won high praise for it’s originality. Titled “Really?,” the ad mocks the idea that she could be waging a “war on women.”

Land is a proponent of “fetal personhood” legislation which could effectively ban abortion, as well as some forms of contraception and infertility treatments. Despite the success of the ad — and a significant fundraising advantage — Land trails Peters by 5.2 points in Real Clear Politics’ polling average, and according to the most recent Washington Post poll, “Peters beats Land among women by 13 points, 46 to 33.”

Louisiana Senate

Long considered one of the more vulnerable Democratic senators, Mary Landrieu will face off in November against Rep. Bill Cassidy (R), who is very conservative on social issues and opposes abortion, even in instances of rape or incest.

In heavily Catholic Louisiana, which has seen a series of new restrictions on abortion in recent years, Landrieu’s campaign has been reticent to engage in “the war on women” rhetoric. Throwing another twist in the narrative, Cassidy won praise for his compassion dealing with his unmarried 17-year-old daughter’s pregnancy, which the media reported earlier this month. This race may well hinge on Obamacare if Landrieu remains wary of bringing up the issue of women’s health.

Cassidy enjoys a slim, one-point advantage in Real Clear Politics’ polling average.

Iowa Senate

In the race for retiring US Senator Tom Harkin’s seat, Rep. Bruce Braley (D) was trailing Republican State Senator Joni Ernst by less than a point after a series of unforced errors, including an ad portraying Ernst, a veteran who served in the Middle East, as a “chick” — a baby chicken — that many found sexist.

But according to a Quinnipiac poll conducted two weeks later (which had Braley up by 4), the Democrat continued to enjoy a double-digit lead over Ernst among women.

Ernst has a strong anti-abortion record. In endorsing Ernst, National Right to Life President Carol Tobias said, “Joni Ernst has been an outspoken leader in the fight to protect innocent human life in Iowa” and “will bring her record of strong pro-life leadership to the U.S. Senate.” She favored a “personhood” bill and another banning abortion after 20 weeks that many consider to be a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.

Kentucky Senate

In one of the most closely-watched races this cycle, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes trails Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a very red state by just 1.5 points, and has set a record for fundraising in the Bluegrass State.

This race may be Ground Zero for women’s issues. Grimes has all but called McConnell a sexist dinosaur, highlighting an incumbent whose record includescalling equal pay a “bizarre obsession” of the left, and voting repeatedly against fair pay legislation and the Violence Against Women Act.

Georgia Senate

We won’t know who Democrat Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn, will face in November until next week’s Republican runoff between Rep. Jack Kingston and businessman David Purdue, a tea party favorite. But Nunn is considered to be a strong contender to go against the national tide in a red state, and has aggressively courted the women’s vote. It will certainly play in the general election against either Kingston, who voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and said poor kids should have to sweep the floors to earn their school lunches, or Purdue, whose company paid $15 million in 2007 to settle a class action suit charging that it routinely discriminated against women.

Colorado Senate

Incumbent Mark Udall (D) holds a slim, one-point lead over Rep. Cory Gardner. Udall’s first campaign ad came out hard against Gardner’s extreme positions on contraception and abortion. Gardner sponsored the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” which famously would have redefined rape in federal law.

Outside groups are running similar ads. According to NBC, which found Udall enjoying a significant lead among women, “70% of Colorado voters in the NBC/Marist poll said they were less likely to vote for a candidate who supports restrictions on the use of contraception.”

New Hampshire Senate

This is not a terribly close race — Real Clear Politics rates it “leans Dem” — but it’s worth noting because incumbent Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s lead over former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown is being driven entirely by the gender-gap (Brown first has to win a Republican primary in September but his victory in that race is considered inevitable).

As he did in Massachusetts, Brown has tried to portray himself as an independent Republican who is moderate on social issues — in 2012 he said he was pro-choice. Shaheen and her surrogates have embraced “the war on women” narrative, and hammered Brown for twice voting against the Paycheck Fairness Act while in the Senate.

According to a Marist poll released on Wednesday, Brown leads Shaheen among men by a nine-point margin (51-42), while Shaheen outpaces Brown among women by 25 percentage points (59-34).

Nevada’s Third District

We’ve focused on Senate races because control of the chamber is up for grabs in November, but there are a couple of House races worth watching as well.

One is Nevada’s 3rd congressional district. The district currently leans toward Republican incumbent Joe Heck, but his Democratic challenger, Erin Bilbray, has relentlessly pounded Heck on women’s health issues — and for campaigning with Cory Gardner (see Colorado Senate above).

Last month, Bilbray released a statement to the press:

Southern Nevadans should know that when it comes to being on the wrong side of women’s health issues, Joe Heck and Cory Gardner are two peas in a pod.

“Congressmen Cory Gardner and Joe Heck both have a history of supporting legislation that could outlaw abortion — even in the case of incest and rape, and common forms of birth control,” said Bilbray Campaign Manager Erica Prosser. “Gardner even co- sponsored legislation to redefine rape. Heck’s hostility towards women’s health care rights won’t go unnoticed – it’s clear he’s too dangerous to continue representing Nevada women in Congress.”

Arizona’s Second District

Another House race to watch is Arizona’s 2nd congressional district, notable not only because it was held by Rep. Gabby Giffords (D), who in 2011 was wounded in an assassination attempt that killed six others, but also because the Democratic incumbent, Ron Barber, has so far kept the race close despite what National Journal described as “an early ad campaign by groups like the LIBRE Initiative and Americans for Prosperity, two nonprofits with ties to the Koch brothers that have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars” in the district.

It’s also a noteworthy race because Barber is up against Republican Martha McSally, who was the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot to fly in combat. It will be interesting to see if a gender gap emerges in this race, despite McSally’s “woman warrior” rhetoric. She is a self-described “devout Christian” who praises the “sanctity of life” on the campaign trail, while Barber is pro-choice, favors fair-pay legislation and has supported extending the ratification deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment.

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Why Are Journalists So Tone Deaf When It Comes to Education?

Alternet - Media Culture - Sun, 07/20/2014 - 8:00am
Mainstream journalists have mostly misjudged what's driving the education debate.

Who could ever forget comedian Jon Stewart’s commentary in early 2009 on how financial reporters totally botched reporting of the Great Recession? Stewart mocked journalists at CNBC for missing all the warning signs of the overvalued housing market and their failure to question wild speculation on sub-prime mortgage debt. In one famous clip, Stewart said financial reporters’ astonished reaction to the economic calamity was like a journalist from The Weather Channel reporting at the scene of a tropical storm and wondering why he was getting rained on.

Stewart’s commentary about financial reporting back then would ring true today in describing how journalists are responding to recent fights over American education policy.

Indeed, those in prominent news outlets tempted to jump into the fray of the nation’s education debate should be aware they are late to the scene and way behind the narrative preceding recent events.

Trying To Catching Up

Opinionators have been sleeping through a veritable rock concert of dissent over current education policies and are now suddenly awakening to declare the band just started and, “Boy, is it loud.”

“Teachers Turn On Obama,” the headline blared from Beltway news source The Hill. “Teachers unions have turned on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Obama administration,” the story went, “creating a major divide in the Democratic Party coalition.”

The reporter, Peter Sullivan, seemed to believe that the Obama administration and public school advocates had been copacetic until recently when the nation’s largest teachers’ union, the National Education Association, voted in favor of demanding that Secretary Duncan resign. As proof, he quoted laudatory comments from former District of Columbia education Chancellor Michelle Rhee praising “the work Duncan and Obama have done,” and hailing a report from the National Council on Teacher Quality that found that because of federal pressures, 20 states now “require student growth to be the main factor in teacher evaluations, up from just four states in 2009.”

All these changes “progressed with little fanfare,” Sullivan declared. But suddenly now, teachers unions and Democrats are “fiercest sparring partners.”

Another headline, “Teachers Unions Turn Against Democrats,” came from New York Magazine. Jonathan Chait warned that teachers “are growing increasingly obstinate in their opposition of the sorts of accountability and pressure that Obama has helped bring upon them.” The inspiration for their growing disenchantment: education historian Diane Ravitch.

Ravitch, Chait insisted, “Has depicted education reform as a plot by corporate elites to privatize schools and destroy unions.” Her “militance” is turning leaders of the nation’s largest teachers’ unions – the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers – into vehement opponents of what Chait appeared to endorse: opening more charter schools, extending school days, curtailing teachers’ job protections, and evaluating teachers by students’ test scores. Of course Chait didn’t bother to explain why these policies are supposedly so good for education – just that anyone disagreeing with them is a “militant.”

An article in The New York Times on the recent NEA vote for Duncan’s resignation quoted a representative of Democrats for Education Reform who contended “the Duncan vote” made the teachers look “like the lunatic fringe.”

One wonders where these people have been. Dissatisfaction with Duncan and the President’s education policies isn’t anything “new” at all. The dissention didn’t start with Diane Ravitch, although she is certainly a prominent voice. And recent actions by teachers’ unions are not as much a sudden lurch toward a more radical position as they are a reflection of frustration and resentment that’s been building in communities in the teaching ranks and beyond, around the country.

Welcome To The Education Spring

For years, collectivist actions in protest of public school policy have been scaling up from isolated protests to a nationwide movement of unified resistance. The movement is widespread among teachers, students and parents. From the beginning, the movement has been grassroots-driven and demanding of changes that teachers’ unions have been somewhat resistant to adopt as they sought compromises with the federal and state government.

From boycotts against standardized testing among teachers in Seattle, to ongoing protests among principals in New York state against new teacher evaluations, to objections to over-testing of students in Texas, the movement is diverse and outspoken.

From all corners of the country, students as young as 8 years old are organizing and taking part in a variety of actions including zombie marches, prominent, headline-earning protests to school closures, and social media organizing to whip up student resentment to budget cuts slamming teachers and education programs.

Students in Denver, Philadelphia, Providence, R.I., Portland, Ore., and elsewhere have formed student unions that have developed attention-getting tactics that have spread to a national scale.

Disenchantment with education policies has pushed protestors into the streets of Newark, Philadelphia, and Bridgeport, Conn.. And discontent isn’t limited to communities of the urban poor and people of color, as news reports from towns and cities of Western New York – populated with mostly white, middle-class parents – attest to.

In Pennsylvania, teachers, parents, and public school activists have staged multiple actions (here, here, and here) to protest severe budget cuts that have eliminated programs and laid off teachers. At the state capital of North Carolina, boisterous “Moral Monday” demonstrations against the state’s conservative government have made public education funding part of a rallying cry for a more progressive agenda in that state.

Overreliance on standardized tests, a fetish of the Obama administration, continues to roil opposition across the nation.

In Connecticut, resistance to the state tests is growing so rapidly that “the state Department of Education released guidelines telling school districts just how to deal with parents who want to opt out.”

In Pittsburgh, hundreds of Pennsylvania parents who had opted their children out of state tests caught the attention of a local news outlet that interviewed one of the mothers leading the fight.

In Colorado, “a growing cacophony of assessment protests” has prompted public school officials to release new guidelines for opting out of tests because of so many “teachersparentsschool leaders and school boards have increasingly raised questions over the merit and amount of testing.”

On the West Coast, anticipating the rising test rebellion in Washington, the state’s largest teachers’ union just “passed a motion to support parents and students who opt out of statewide standardized tests.”

And somehow journalists have missed all this?

Why Now?

The more interesting question for sure is not whether there is widespread discontent with the Obama administration’s education policies but why are people noticing it now.

Commenting on the recent moves by both unions, NEA and the American Federation of Teachers, to openly censure Arne Duncan, AFT President Randi Weingarten told reporters and bloggers at the recent AFT annual convention that the secretary’s positive response to a recent court case overturning teachers’ long-standing job protections in California had been “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

The language of that judicial ruling, Vergara v. California, was “so shocking … and extreme,” Weingarten stated, that when Duncan reacted positively to the decision, “it caused people to question what the issues are.”

“We’ve recently had a lot of 50-year-anniversary recognitions of past court decisions that were about righting the wrongs of inequity,” Weingarten elaborated, referring to the recent commemoration of the Brown v Board decision and other actions that enforced civil rights and racial integration of public schools. “But now federal policies have gone so far afield of that,” Weingarten stated. Instead, current policies emphasize “accountability” of teachers and schools to such an extent they ignore the issues of “adequate and equitable supports for our schools.”

That’s the story journalists who haven’t been following education don’t get. Behind nearly every protest to the status quo education policies are common grievances about resource deprivation, inequity, and the widespread feeling that ordinary Americans no longer control their children’s and community’s education destinies.

Despite how the particulars of the debate pivot to issues about content standards, to assessment results, to school choice, to teacher tenure, grievances with adequate and equitable funding and lack of democratic control are what’s driving the debate – not teachers’ unions, Diane Ravitch, or the inner dynamics of the Democratic Party.

Reporters and pundits who would prefer not to see their write-ups of the education debate parodied in public had better get that.


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FAIR TV: Palestinian Lives, Iran Facts, ABC's Walmart Promo

FAIR Blog - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 5:24pm
This week on the show: Media figures demonstrate their concern for Israeli lives–and their lack of concern for Palestinians. Plus NBC host David Gregory makes a claim about Iran–and an Iranian official is there to challenge him. And ABC's Walmart report: Is it journalism or  infomercial?   Watch:      
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Scientists Debunk Daily Caller's Claim That Increasing Penguin Populations Disprove Global Warming

Alternet - Media Culture - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 11:38am
Conservative news site uses pseudoscience in a lame effort to contradict climate-change research.

A Daily Caller article cites an increase in the populations of two penguin species to dismiss "global warming scares" that climate change poses a dangerous threat to these animals. But the population "increases" are partially due to better census data, while penguins globally are declining and remain extremely vulnerable to global warming.

Two species of penguins appear to be increasing in population, according to recent census data: the Adélie Penguin and the Emperor Penguin (for reference, those are the two species featured in the animated movieHappy Feet). The Daily Caller's Michael Bastasch trumpeted these findings as a victory against "global warming alarmists, like Al Gore," who have "claimed that penguin populations are in deep trouble due to global warming." Bastasch asserted: "The global population of penguins has boomed."

Not quite. One reason for the observed population increase in Adélie and Emperor Penguins is that scientists are simply better at finding them. The scientists found that a much larger portion of the Adélie population lives in East Antarctica than previously thought, discovering 17 previously unknown colonies. This is enough to offset the decline of Adélie Penguins on the West Antarctic Peninsula, where an ice sheet is melting in warm ocean waters at a rate that in May scientists described as "unstoppable." Heather Lynch, assistant professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University and the lead author of the study, explained in an email toMedia Matters that "while the increase in abundance is real," more accurate census data played a role.

And while one species of penguin might be increasing, several others are decreasing. Lynch noted that "many" penguin species have been declining, "particularly temperate species," as well as chinstrap penguins which are "declining across most if not all of their range."

Stephanie Jenouvrier, a seabird ecologist with the Woods Hole Institute, stated to Media Matters that several penguin species are listed as endangered; at least eight as of 2011. Jenouvrier added that their work shows that Emperor Penguins -- one of the species Bastasch cited as growing in size -- should also be listed as endangered, but that "large uncertainties have so far hampered the listing," including the fact that it is "difficult to obtain [a] reliable estimate of [the] global population." Other research has shown how Emperor penguins are extremely vulnerable to global warming.

Ron Naveen, a scientist who has been leading the Antarctic Site Inventory project for 20 years, stated in an email to Media Matters that Bastasch's allegation that penguin populations are "booming" is "way off base":

To suggest that Adélies are booming isn't the story, nor is it accurate. To suggest that ALL penguins globally are booming is also, way off base. The only way to know, really know, that would be to compare sat[ellite] phot[o] analyses from decades previous -- and, of course, that's not possible. The technology didn't exist back then.

The real story is that we humans now have much better tools to detect and assess change.

Scientists have been warning for years that global warming poses a critical threat for many species of penguin. Warming ocean waters and reduced sea ice cover are responsible for a major decline in the krill population, the penguins' primary food source, and sea ice loss threatens their nesting grounds. And many species are already suffering from a changed climate, with nearly 50 percent of chick deaths in the largest colony of Magellanic penguins directly attributed to global warming in one year.

Lynch stated that media "are cherry picking" her findings "for and against a climate-change story here." This is becoming the norm at the Daily Caller, which has a history of bastardizing science to dismiss the threat of climate change.

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WATCH: Jon Stewart Schools Republicans on Definition of Tyranny

Alternet - Media Culture - Fri, 07/18/2014 - 9:29am
"When your main concern about deposing a tyrant is how it will affect your party's chances in the upcoming midterm elections, that’s not tyranny."

Monarch. Tyrant. Despot. Dictator. 

These are just a few of the colorful but entirely inaccurate terms Republicans have been using to refer to President Obama as they ramp up their calls for impeachment. As the inimitable Sarah Palin put it in a video on her Facebook page, "Enough is enough of the years of abuse from this president. For me, the unsecured border crisis is kind of the last straw. You know, it makes the battered wife go, no más!” 

Jon Stewart gleefully ridiculed the GOP pundits for their empty rhetoric, pointing out that they would never follow up on their calls for impeachment because they fear the damage it would do to their party in the midterm elections this fall. Watch him lampoon the ludicrous statements of Michele Bachmann, John Boehner and other House leaders below. 

Jon Stewart 071714 by lookatmyshirt

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Web Special: Joseph Stiglitz on TPP, Cracking Down on Corporate Tax Dodgers & New BRICS Bank

Democracy Now! - Thu, 07/17/2014 - 4:15pm

Watch part 2 of our discussion with Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, a professor at Columbia University and the World Bank's former chief economist.

Watch/Listen to part 1: Nobel Economist Joseph Stiglitz Hails New BRICS Bank Challenging U.S.-Dominated World Bank & IMF

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Now part two of our discussion with Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, professor at Columbia University, former chief economist at the World Bank and, well, the godfather of this new bank that has been set up by the BRICS countries. That's Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Before we talk about some new issues, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, can you—why did you feel it was so important, in pushing this idea? And the fact that Russia has now new sanctions imposed on it by the United States, will this affect this bank?

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: I think the sanctions probably motivated Russia to be even more enthusiastic about this, because it gave it a political context in which it wasn't the outsider but was one of the team of creating a new global architecture.

The reason I was so enthusiastic is that the needs for funds for development, for infrastructure, are so huge, and the existing institutions can just supply a small percentage. And our global private financial markets just aren't working. I mean, let me give you an example. Before the 2008 crisis, Ben Bernanke said that there was a savings glut: We had too much savings. You know, he must have been living on a different planet than I was living, because when I traveled around Africa, other development countries, I didn't see a problem of too much savings. I saw enough—a problem of huge investment needs. And the problem was that existing financial institutions weren't taking the savings and putting to where it was needed. It was clear that the private institutions couldn't do this. You know, they knew how to engage in predatory lending and taking advantage of poor people. They were good at that. But they weren't good of taking the surplus of savings and putting them to the place where there are huge social needs.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But why is that, given that for the last six or seven years the Federal Reserve has basically been giving money to banks and corporations in basically no-interest loans?

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: It's not part of their business model. You know, they make money from speculation, from trading, from derivatives, from market manipulation—you know, the gamut of everything except looking around for what are the most socially productive uses of investment and how to manage the risk associated with those investments. So, that's why you need a development bank.

AMY GOODMAN: And how will this bank be run? Who's going to head it?

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: It's going to be headed by an Indian. It will be located in Shanghai. It has a governing structure that will involve all of the BRICS countries, and unlike, say, the IMF, where the U.S. is the single country with a veto power, it's going to—all of them will have equal votes.

One aspect of it is it will employ all the new learning that we have about new instruments, new governance. So, for instance, it has the facility, the ability to, say, create a fund that can bring in not only countries, but, say, sovereign wealth funds, to use not just debt, but equity, or to use more, you know, the advances in modern financial technique, financial risk management. So, I think it's going to try to be a 21st century institution. The other institutions have been trying to adapt from the 20th century—1944 was when they were founded—but, you know, it's difficult to move these big institutions, particularly difficult to change governance.

The United States doesn't like the fact that as of some time in September, the United States will be the second-largest country in the world, according to the new way we measure purchasing power parity, how we compare countries. Well, I think it's difficult for the United States to accept the notion it's no longer the—will no longer be the largest country. It's no longer the largest country in trade, in savings, in other areas, but this will be the second-largest country in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Behind China.

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Behind China. But the global governance does not reflect these new economic realities. And this new institution is not going to change everything, I mean, clearly. It's just a little bit of movement, but it's a movement in the right direction, reflecting the new economic and political realities and reflecting the learning that we've done in the last 70 years.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And speaking about reflecting the changes in the economic reality, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, you've been a critic of this new attempt at economic realignment of forces in the world. Can you talk about that?

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Yeah, well, there are a couple aspects of that. The trade agreements of the past were mainly focused on lowering tariffs. And as tariffs came down, you got more intense competition. Consumers benefited from access to goods at lower prices. Tariffs are pretty low now. And the areas where they are not low are what we call sensitive areas, political forces are very strong. TPP is not going to lower the tariffs on most of those. So it's not going to be—that's not the center of what this new trade agreement's about. It's going to be about things like regulation. And there, the alignment is a little different. Corporations on both sides of the Pacific have an interest at lowering regulatory standards—to protect the environment, to protect consumers, to protect workers, to protect health. But ordinary citizens, our society, will suffer. So you can get corporations on both sides pushing an agenda that will be increasing corporate profits at the cost of the well-being of people on both sides of the Pacific.

Let me give you one example of—two examples of things that are, you know, very critical in this agreement. Access to generic medicines. You know, the huge disparity in prices between the cost of production and what they're charging used to be just for AIDS drugs; now it's for cancer drugs, other drugs—life-saving drugs. And this agreement will make it more difficult to have access to those life-saving drugs.

Another example. There are these provisions that have nothing, really, to do with trade. They're called investment protection, investment agreements. But they're not really—they're sold as protecting property rights, making the economy more efficient. We're trying to put the same thing in an agreement with Europe. Europe's reaction is: "What are you talking about? We have as strong property rights as you do in the United States." It's not about property rights. And the fact that we're putting it in the European agreement shows that. What it is about is undermining regulatory protections.

So one example of what's going on in a provision that's basically the same in Uruguay. Uruguay president met with Obama just recently, and he raised this issue, because it's very, very important. Uruguay has been concerned about the impact of cigarettes on the health of their citizens. Cigarettes cause people to die. Cigarettes cause people to have health problems, which use a lot of resources. So just like Mayor Bloomberg has been pushing to kick cigarettes, so did Uruguay. WHO praised it. World Health Organization said, "You're doing exactly the right thing." Philip Morris is suing Uruguay under an investment agreement. It says, "This interferes with our basic right to sell products to kill people." It's like the Opium War 150 years ago, where the West went to war because China said, "We don't want opium," and we said, "That interferes with the basic right to trade."

AMY GOODMAN: So what's the U.S. response, with the Uruguayan president meeting with Obama? I mean, here in the United States we have severe restrictions around cigarettes.

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Change the topic, you know, going back to the importance of trade. You know, it's the platitudes about the importance of trade and not looking at the details of how American people and people in the countries around the world are going to be affected by these trade agreements. You know—

AMY GOODMAN: So, who are the forces who are shaping the TPP? And can people actually defeat it?

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Well, that's part of the interesting discussion. The actual text of what is being negotiated, the USTR is very reluctant to make public, to make transparent.

AMY GOODMAN: The Treasury representative.

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: No, U.S.—the trade negotiator—

AMY GOODMAN: The U.S. trade representative.

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: —is called the U.S. trade representative. He's the one who's the negotiator for these agreements. And even to make it—even to let Congress know. And, of course, that has got—you know, we're talking about democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: WikiLeaks released the draft document.

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: And that was the—WikiLeaks released the draft document, and now we understand why he doesn't want to release it, because there are these provisions that are so adverse to health, environment. Now they say, "Oh, now that we released it, we really want to make a strong agreement." But evidently, the corporations have had access to a lot of the details of the provision. It's just not civil society, the rest of our society—not even Congress. So, it gives you a feeling that what's going on is a deal. The corporations make campaign contributions. The corporations get a deal that increases their profits. And citizens, the environment, health, both sides of the Pacific, suffer. And that's why I've been skeptical.

At the very least, we need a open debate about each of the provisions. And we aren't going to get that if we don't have transparency. We won't get that out of fast track, because what fast track says: You take the package as a whole. And then you put everything together, and everybody says, well, yes, but we—you know, you get all the forces on one side, anybody that objects to that provision about cigarettes, and say, "Well, you have to understand we'll fix that later. But the gains are too great to sacrifice the whole deal." I think we need to have a discussion of each of the provisions before, not in this fast-track provision that says you can't amend it.

AMY GOODMAN: Last question. You have said that you can deal—you could solve inequality and the faltering economy in this country—in this report you did for the Roosevelt Institute—by people paying their fair share of taxes and dealing with corporate tax dodgers. Explain what you mean.

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Well, there's a lot of discussion about reforming the tax code. On some parts, there's a real worry about the budget deficit. It's come way down, and projections have come down even more. But there is still a concern, on the part of many people, we have too big a deficit, and we have to raise taxes. Question is how to do it in a way that doesn't adversely affect the economy and addresses some of our basic problems. So, what I do in this Roosevelt paper is to try to say, "What are some of the problems we face?" Inequality, global warming, pollution, environmental problems, and we need to create jobs. And what I show is that we can have a tax reform that does all those and raises money.

So let me give you some examples. Right now we have tax provisions that effectively encourage corporations to move jobs abroad. You move jobs abroad, they don't have to pay—they only have to pay taxes when they repatriate the money to the United States. So if they made money abroad and keep the money abroad, then they don't have to pay taxes. But with the free trade agreements, they get to bring the goods that they produce abroad into the United States. So we have a whole economic constellation that encourages jobs to move abroad. Now, simple idea: You say to corporations, "Well, we'll raise the corporate income tax rate, but if you invest in the United States, create jobs in the United States, we'll give you a credit, so your taxes will go down." So the companies that are contributing to the United States will get lower taxes.

Now, one of the things that's been brought out very strongly in the last couple years is tax avoidance by companies like Apple, Google. They used all that ingenuity to create clever products, rounded edges, you know, things that everybody loves, but they used all that ingenuity to avoid paying their share of taxes. And what's so outrageous about that is that these companies couldn't exist without government investment in the Internet, without government support for universities that have done the basic research that they absorb. So they're takers. They're willing to use our money for making their profits, but not willing to give back. And it seemed to me that's, you know, fundamentally immoral.

So, how do you address the problem? Very easy. Let's make taxes based on what happens, production in the United States and sales in the United States—economic activity in the United States. And what these companies are doing with a technique called transfer pricing, Apple is pretending that all their profits originated in a little company and a few people offshore in Ireland. Now, we all know that's nonsense, but we allow them to get away with that.

Inside the United States, what we've done, you know, different states have corporate income tax in the states. We don't allow them to play these games. We say, "You have to pay state corporate income tax based on the number of employees, the share of your employees, the share of sales, the share of capital that lies within your state. We're going to give a fair share of your profits. You look at your global profits. If all your employees are in the United States, all your sales are in the United States and all your capital is in the United States, you're going to pay all your taxes in the United States. But if you have a lot of sales abroad, we'll adjust your taxes to reflect those global economic realities." OK, so we do that within the United States. We haven't had the gumption to do it globally. And we should.

People won't—you know, they need the United States, both for their production, for their research, for their sales. I mean, we're still the largest—you know, we're the largest economy, and we'll be the second largest in September. But people need the United States, so they won't walk away. So, by doing this, we will get them to make contributions, and we'll have incentive structures to make them create jobs in the United States. That will be good for inequality, because one of the things that's worsening inequality is the lack of demand for labor. And it's not only the direct unemployment, but the wages are depressed.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you so much for being with us. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winning economist, professor at Columbia University, former chief economist of the World Bank, author of many books—his latest, Creating a Learning Society: A New Approach to Growth, Development, and Social Progress. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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