Wednesday, 01 April 2015 / TRUTH-OUT.ORG

Speakout

SpeakOut is Truthout's treasure chest for bloggy, quirky, personally reflective, or especially activism-focused pieces. SpeakOut articles represent the perspectives of their authors, and not those of Truthout.

A bipartisan effort to enforce Wisconsin's longstanding laws governing coordination between campaigns and independent groups has been mislabeled a "partisan witch hunt" by a well-funded legal and media campaign, with the ultimate goal of undermining what remains of limits on big money in politics, according to a new report from the Center for Media and Democracy.

"Anti-coordination laws have become more vital than ever before in the post-Citizens United world, where 'independent' political organizations are raising and spending unlimited funds for elections but keeping their donors a secret," said Brendan Fischer, CMD General Counsel and the author of the report. "If a candidate can coordinate with these secretly-funded groups and establish shadow campaign committees, then the candidate contribution limits and disclosure requirements are rendered meaningless."

People who hear that it is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month are likely to be overwhelmed by the thought of human trafficking and wonder what one person can possibly do to help. It is true that trafficking—the act of compelling someone to work against their will—is a complex issue with many root causes, including poverty, barriers to economic opportunity, and marginalization of certain groups. Unfortunately, as journalist Melissa Gira Grant documents, well-intentioned but misguided efforts to combat the problem often focus on the sex trade instead of first understanding the full breadth of human trafficking. The good news is many people are already contributing to the fight against human trafficking by addressing its root causes through work, volunteerism, and daily actions that are not exclusively focused on trafficking—for example, by improving education or advocating for workers’ rights.

The complexity of trafficking is precisely what makes these different approaches necessary, and shows that we can all be part of bringing an end to human trafficking. These six key areas have a significant impact on trafficking and can use your support.

My essay explains why America is losing its wars and offers a simple solution – one requiring nothing more than moral courage on the part of our most senior military officers.

1.  America is losing its wars because they are unconstitutional to begin with. They are unconstitutional because they are undeclared.

If America’s wars are not worth formal Congressional declarations, which act to unite the American people, they are by that fact not worth fighting.  However, in the classic definition of insanity, America’s leaders keep doing the same thing over and over – fighting undeclared and unnecessary wars without rallying the support of the people – expecting different results.

Philadelphia PA – Today, attorneys from Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to reverse a federal district court’s dismissal of Hassan v. City of New York, a case that challenges the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) blanket surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey. The plaintiffs – among them a decorated Iraq war veteran, Rutgers University students, a coalition of New Jersey mosques, and the former principal of a grade-school for Muslim girls, targeted and surveilled by the NYPD solely on account of their religious affiliation and without any criminal suspicion – had their day in court when lawyers presented oral argument inside a courthouse filled with concerned community members.  This is the first time a federal appellate court will review the legality of the NYPD’s religious surveillance program.  

“Today marks a critical day on the path to justice for all the victims who have been treated like criminals simply because of their faith,” said Glenn Katon, legal director of Muslim Advocates.  “The NYPD has abused its powers for too long and has brazenly violated our core constitutional values of freedom and equality under the law, and we hope that today’s argument will pave the way to a ruling to protect Americans of all faiths against discrimination by law enforcement.”

Nashville, TN – Corrections Corporation of America (NYSE: CXW), the nation’s largest for-profit prison firm, formally objected to a shareholder resolution that would require the company to spend just 5% of its net income “on programs and services designed to reduce recidivism rates for offenders.”

The resolution was submitted by Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center and managing editor of HRDC’s monthly publication, Prison Legal News. An activist shareholder, Friedmann owns a small amount of CCA stock; in the 1990s he served six years at a CCA-operated prison in Clifton, Tennessee prior to his release in 1999. “As a former prisoner, I know firsthand the importance of providing rehabilitative programs and reentry services,” Friedmann stated. “I also know firsthand the incentive of private prisons to cut costs – including expenses associated with rehabilitative programs – in order to increase their profit margins.”

Jan 14

Syria: the Way Forward, Without Illusions

By Dr James J Zogby, Arab American Institute | News Analysis

It should be clear after four bloody years in Syria that if we are to make any progress moving forward, it is necessary to shed illusions and fantasies that have shaped too much of the discussion about the conflict.

From the beginning, it was inevitable that this conflict, however it began, would morph into a proxy war between Iran and  those who were deeply concerned by Iran's hegemonic ambitions.

Washington DC - Economist Dean Baker, a co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, issued the following statement about the financial transactions tax (FTT) component of the new tax proposal from Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD):

"Representative Chris Van Hollen's proposal for a financial transactions tax, a key part of the new tax plan that he revealed this morning, is a move towards establishing a 21st century structure for financial markets. In the last four decades there has been an enormous reduction in the cost of financial transactions due to the development of computers and information technology. This has led to an explosion in trading volume. Much of this trading volume serves no purpose from the standpoint of the productive economy, yet it generates enormous incomes for the financial industry.

Monday evening I had planned to write about the PEGIDA movement in Germany. Although in Dresden, their city of origin, the number of bitter marchers protesting the "Islamization" of the West had increased stubbornly to 18,000, I began to report happily that everywhere else in Germany they had been greatly outnumbered. In Berlin, only 300 turned up - and turned tail in the face of 5000 opposing them. Even politicians who had ignored them, had castigated their opponents by speaking of "terrorists of the right and left" or had used code words to express similar anti-immigrant feelings (and win votes) now opposed them almost in unison. Berlin city leaders followed the Dresden Opera House example by turning off the lights on Brandenburg Gate in protest against the racists. Church leaders in Cologne did the same, plunging their giant cathedral into welcome darkness, while 400 marchers were halted by 10,000 opponents. Thus, except in Dresden, Monday marked a victory against the efforts to set one group against another by those who called instead for friendship, togetherness and a welcome to those seeking asylum and a new, decent life.

But then came Wednesday and Paris, with its atrocious murders at Charlie Hebdo. Like so many millions I was shocked and horror-stricken. But I was also frightened. Now the PEGIDA crowd would shout, "You see! We told you so!" Even before Wednesday, polls had shown 57% of non-immigrant Germans mistrustful of Muslims. But only small numbers had taken part in the virulent marches. How many would now join in with flags, crosses and slogans? How many right-leaning leaders would once again find their raucous voices? And how could they now be counteracted? Would the tragic shots fired in the rue Nicolas Appert echo menacingly down the Alleen and Strassen of Germany? How could we now put brakes to the locomotive of hatred, already rushing dangerously from one end of Europe to the other, spewing sparks for new conflagrations which could burn us all?

Washington DC - January 12 marks the five-year anniversary of Haiti's 2010 earthquake. The 7.0 quake killed an estimated 230,000 people, injured 300,000 more and displaced 1.5 million Haitians. The earthquake also took an enormous toll on Haiti's economy. The year before the disaster, Haiti's economy grew 3.5 percent - the year after the quake, its growth was negative 5 percent. Even before the earthquake, Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

"Too many people died during the earthquake because they lived in unsafe conditions," said Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of the religious development organization Jubilee USA. "This anniversary reminds us that poverty makes natural disasters even more deadly."

As Josh Gerstein first reported, the government has just asked the judge in the Jeffrey Sterling trial, Leonie Brinkema, to declare James Risen unavailable as a witness. After having defended their own right to call Risen as a witness all the way to the Supreme Court, claiming all the way they need Risen to prove their case, they're now saying Sterling should not be able to call him.

"Mr. Risen's under-oath testimony has now laid to rest any doubt concerning whether he will ever disclose his sources or sources for Chapter 9 of State of War (or, for that matter, anything else he's written). He will not. As a result, the government does not intend to call him as a witness at trial. Doing so would simply frustrate the truth-seeking function of the trial. This is true irrespective of whether he is called by the government or the defense–he is unavailable to both parties."

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Speakout

SpeakOut is Truthout's treasure chest for bloggy, quirky, personally reflective, or especially activism-focused pieces. SpeakOut articles represent the perspectives of their authors, and not those of Truthout.

A bipartisan effort to enforce Wisconsin's longstanding laws governing coordination between campaigns and independent groups has been mislabeled a "partisan witch hunt" by a well-funded legal and media campaign, with the ultimate goal of undermining what remains of limits on big money in politics, according to a new report from the Center for Media and Democracy.

"Anti-coordination laws have become more vital than ever before in the post-Citizens United world, where 'independent' political organizations are raising and spending unlimited funds for elections but keeping their donors a secret," said Brendan Fischer, CMD General Counsel and the author of the report. "If a candidate can coordinate with these secretly-funded groups and establish shadow campaign committees, then the candidate contribution limits and disclosure requirements are rendered meaningless."

People who hear that it is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month are likely to be overwhelmed by the thought of human trafficking and wonder what one person can possibly do to help. It is true that trafficking—the act of compelling someone to work against their will—is a complex issue with many root causes, including poverty, barriers to economic opportunity, and marginalization of certain groups. Unfortunately, as journalist Melissa Gira Grant documents, well-intentioned but misguided efforts to combat the problem often focus on the sex trade instead of first understanding the full breadth of human trafficking. The good news is many people are already contributing to the fight against human trafficking by addressing its root causes through work, volunteerism, and daily actions that are not exclusively focused on trafficking—for example, by improving education or advocating for workers’ rights.

The complexity of trafficking is precisely what makes these different approaches necessary, and shows that we can all be part of bringing an end to human trafficking. These six key areas have a significant impact on trafficking and can use your support.

My essay explains why America is losing its wars and offers a simple solution – one requiring nothing more than moral courage on the part of our most senior military officers.

1.  America is losing its wars because they are unconstitutional to begin with. They are unconstitutional because they are undeclared.

If America’s wars are not worth formal Congressional declarations, which act to unite the American people, they are by that fact not worth fighting.  However, in the classic definition of insanity, America’s leaders keep doing the same thing over and over – fighting undeclared and unnecessary wars without rallying the support of the people – expecting different results.

Philadelphia PA – Today, attorneys from Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to reverse a federal district court’s dismissal of Hassan v. City of New York, a case that challenges the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) blanket surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey. The plaintiffs – among them a decorated Iraq war veteran, Rutgers University students, a coalition of New Jersey mosques, and the former principal of a grade-school for Muslim girls, targeted and surveilled by the NYPD solely on account of their religious affiliation and without any criminal suspicion – had their day in court when lawyers presented oral argument inside a courthouse filled with concerned community members.  This is the first time a federal appellate court will review the legality of the NYPD’s religious surveillance program.  

“Today marks a critical day on the path to justice for all the victims who have been treated like criminals simply because of their faith,” said Glenn Katon, legal director of Muslim Advocates.  “The NYPD has abused its powers for too long and has brazenly violated our core constitutional values of freedom and equality under the law, and we hope that today’s argument will pave the way to a ruling to protect Americans of all faiths against discrimination by law enforcement.”

Nashville, TN – Corrections Corporation of America (NYSE: CXW), the nation’s largest for-profit prison firm, formally objected to a shareholder resolution that would require the company to spend just 5% of its net income “on programs and services designed to reduce recidivism rates for offenders.”

The resolution was submitted by Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center and managing editor of HRDC’s monthly publication, Prison Legal News. An activist shareholder, Friedmann owns a small amount of CCA stock; in the 1990s he served six years at a CCA-operated prison in Clifton, Tennessee prior to his release in 1999. “As a former prisoner, I know firsthand the importance of providing rehabilitative programs and reentry services,” Friedmann stated. “I also know firsthand the incentive of private prisons to cut costs – including expenses associated with rehabilitative programs – in order to increase their profit margins.”

Jan 14

Syria: the Way Forward, Without Illusions

By Dr James J Zogby, Arab American Institute | News Analysis

It should be clear after four bloody years in Syria that if we are to make any progress moving forward, it is necessary to shed illusions and fantasies that have shaped too much of the discussion about the conflict.

From the beginning, it was inevitable that this conflict, however it began, would morph into a proxy war between Iran and  those who were deeply concerned by Iran's hegemonic ambitions.

Washington DC - Economist Dean Baker, a co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, issued the following statement about the financial transactions tax (FTT) component of the new tax proposal from Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD):

"Representative Chris Van Hollen's proposal for a financial transactions tax, a key part of the new tax plan that he revealed this morning, is a move towards establishing a 21st century structure for financial markets. In the last four decades there has been an enormous reduction in the cost of financial transactions due to the development of computers and information technology. This has led to an explosion in trading volume. Much of this trading volume serves no purpose from the standpoint of the productive economy, yet it generates enormous incomes for the financial industry.

Monday evening I had planned to write about the PEGIDA movement in Germany. Although in Dresden, their city of origin, the number of bitter marchers protesting the "Islamization" of the West had increased stubbornly to 18,000, I began to report happily that everywhere else in Germany they had been greatly outnumbered. In Berlin, only 300 turned up - and turned tail in the face of 5000 opposing them. Even politicians who had ignored them, had castigated their opponents by speaking of "terrorists of the right and left" or had used code words to express similar anti-immigrant feelings (and win votes) now opposed them almost in unison. Berlin city leaders followed the Dresden Opera House example by turning off the lights on Brandenburg Gate in protest against the racists. Church leaders in Cologne did the same, plunging their giant cathedral into welcome darkness, while 400 marchers were halted by 10,000 opponents. Thus, except in Dresden, Monday marked a victory against the efforts to set one group against another by those who called instead for friendship, togetherness and a welcome to those seeking asylum and a new, decent life.

But then came Wednesday and Paris, with its atrocious murders at Charlie Hebdo. Like so many millions I was shocked and horror-stricken. But I was also frightened. Now the PEGIDA crowd would shout, "You see! We told you so!" Even before Wednesday, polls had shown 57% of non-immigrant Germans mistrustful of Muslims. But only small numbers had taken part in the virulent marches. How many would now join in with flags, crosses and slogans? How many right-leaning leaders would once again find their raucous voices? And how could they now be counteracted? Would the tragic shots fired in the rue Nicolas Appert echo menacingly down the Alleen and Strassen of Germany? How could we now put brakes to the locomotive of hatred, already rushing dangerously from one end of Europe to the other, spewing sparks for new conflagrations which could burn us all?

Washington DC - January 12 marks the five-year anniversary of Haiti's 2010 earthquake. The 7.0 quake killed an estimated 230,000 people, injured 300,000 more and displaced 1.5 million Haitians. The earthquake also took an enormous toll on Haiti's economy. The year before the disaster, Haiti's economy grew 3.5 percent - the year after the quake, its growth was negative 5 percent. Even before the earthquake, Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

"Too many people died during the earthquake because they lived in unsafe conditions," said Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of the religious development organization Jubilee USA. "This anniversary reminds us that poverty makes natural disasters even more deadly."

As Josh Gerstein first reported, the government has just asked the judge in the Jeffrey Sterling trial, Leonie Brinkema, to declare James Risen unavailable as a witness. After having defended their own right to call Risen as a witness all the way to the Supreme Court, claiming all the way they need Risen to prove their case, they're now saying Sterling should not be able to call him.

"Mr. Risen's under-oath testimony has now laid to rest any doubt concerning whether he will ever disclose his sources or sources for Chapter 9 of State of War (or, for that matter, anything else he's written). He will not. As a result, the government does not intend to call him as a witness at trial. Doing so would simply frustrate the truth-seeking function of the trial. This is true irrespective of whether he is called by the government or the defense–he is unavailable to both parties."