Thursday, January 8, 2015

Washington buries the CIA torture report


One month ago, the Senate Intelligence Committee released the 500-page summary of its voluminous report on the torture of prisoners in secret CIA facilities overseas, conducted between 2002 and 2007. In grisly detail, the report documented such practices as waterboarding, systematic beatings, and hitherto unknown tortures like "rectal feeding." But in practice, the report has been buried, its evidence of government criminality ignored, the perpetrators and organizers of torture going scot-free.

As the World Socialist Web Site declared at the time, "Two irrefutable conclusions flow from the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture: 1) The United States, during the Bush administration, committed criminal acts of the most serious character, in violation of international and domestic law; and 2) None of those responsible for these crimes will be arrested, indicted or prosecuted for their actions."

Far from being shamed or humiliated by the detailed exposure of their criminality, those most implicated in the establishment and operation of the torture chambers have brazenly defended their conduct. From former Vice President Dick Cheney to ex-CIA directors George Tenet, Michael Hayden and Porter Goss, to the operational head of the interrogation program, Jose Rodriguez, they have displayed a well-justified confidence that the Obama administration will protect them from any consequences.

The Obama administration has officially shut down the secret CIA prisons and adopted a policy of blowing up its enemies with drone-fired missiles rather than capturing them. The shift from interrogation to extermination has increased the number of innocent victims many-fold. Whereas dozens of those jailed in CIA prisons were found to have no connection to terrorism, the drone-missile strikes have killed thousands of civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and other countries.

Two recent incidents demonstrate the complicity of the Obama administration with the torturers. On December 30, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, sent a nine-page letter to the president outlining proposed legislative and administrative actions to be taken on the basis of the torture report.

The changes were largely cosmetic, such as enacting into law the ban on waterboarding and other forms of torture imposed by executive order after Obama took office in 2009. Even these minimal legislative actions will go nowhere in the new Republican-controlled Congress, and the proposed administrative actions will be ignored by the military-intelligence apparatus. The White House has not bothered to respond to Feinstein's letter.

In a statement issued January 5, the CIA announced that after four years in office, the agency's inspector-general David Buckley was resigning, effective the end of the month, to "pursue an opportunity in the private sector." Buckley ran afoul of the CIA top brass with a report last July acknowledging that five CIA operatives had penetrated the computers used by Senate Intelligence Committee staffers who prepared the torture report, in an effort to find out how the Senate panel had obtained certain CIA internal documents that the agency had decided to withhold from the committee that has legal oversight authority.

This electronic surveillance of the legislative branch was so brazenly criminal that Senator Feinstein felt compelled to deliver a one-hour address on the floor of the Senate last March denouncing the agency's actions. She charged that the agency "may well have violated the separation-of-powers principle embodied in the United States Constitution," and also "the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance."

CIA Director John Brennan denounced Feinstein's charges, and the agency sought Justice Department prosecution of the Senate staffers for alleged "theft" of CIA documents—i.e., evidence that CIA officials had lied about the torture and withheld information from the Senate panel. After inspector-general Buckley's investigation upheld Feinstein's claim, Brennan had to publicly apologize to Feinstein, but he was not fired either for authorizing the surveillance of the Senate panel or for lying about it. Now Buckley has been pushed out.

This confirms the pattern that the only torture-related "crime" that the Obama administration punishes is the effort to expose it. Hundreds of CIA agents and contractors were involved in the illegal torture program over a six-year period, but only one has ever been prosecuted: John Kiriakou, who publicly described the waterboarding of suspects and was jailed for 30 months for violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Only one high-ranking CIA official has been sacked over the torture program: the inspector-general who undercut the agency's efforts to cover it up.

The American media is an essential partner in this ongoing cover-up of government criminality. The report was initially the subject of massive media publicity, and the New York Times went so far as to publish a strongly worded editorial headlined, "Prosecute the Torturers and Their Bosses," urging that charges be brought against Cheney, Tenet, Rodriguez and other former top officials. As the WSWS said at the time: "In effect, the most influential newspaper in the United States has declared that the Bush administration was a criminal government."

In the weeks that followed, however, the media has dropped the subject. There have been no followup reports on the biggest exposure of criminal actions by the military-intelligence apparatus since the revelations about CIA assassination plots in the early 1970s. The Times editorial urging prosecution of the torturers was evidently the last gasp of a guilty conscience. The leading US daily has not reported either Feinstein's letter or Buckley's resignation, a silence joined by the Washington Post and the television networks.

Behind the scenes, as Buckley's ouster and Feinstein's appeal demonstrate, a struggle is raging within the US ruling elite. The media silence is not merely to protect the criminals responsible for torture and murder. It is above all directed at disguising the ongoing political crisis, and excluding the vast majority of the American population, the working class, from any role in determining its outcome.

No section of the ruling elite will defend democratic rights. That task falls to the working class, which must take up the demand for the prosecution of all those responsible for the atrocities documented in the Senate report, and those responsible for the crimes of American imperialism that have continued and even escalated under the Obama administration.

Obama calls for more concessions from auto workers on top of past concessions of wages, benefits and working conditions


In an appearance at Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant in suburban Detroit Wednesday afternoon, President Barack Obama pointed to the "sacrifices" the White House demanded from auto workers during the 2009 restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler as the model for resurrecting manufacturing and the US economy as a whole.

Accompanied by Ford executives, Detroit mayor Mike Duggan and other local Democrats, along with representatives from the United Auto Workers union, the president put on his phony rolled-up-sleeves persona. He said Michigan workers embodied the grit and resilience of America, which had come back stronger than ever after the 2008 financial crash.

The US economy, the president said, saw the strongest job growth in 2014 since the 1990s. Over the last four years, he said, the US had created more private sector jobs than Europe, Japan and every other advanced economy combined. The manufacturing sector had led this rebound with US industries "making more stuff and selling it around the world."

The president's comments only underscore the enormous gulf between the self-satisfied ruling elites—which have enriched themselves though the unrelenting attack on the jobs and living standards of workers—and the tens of millions of working people struggling each day to survive.

In fact, the manufacturing sector has only added 650,000 jobs since 2010, far shy of the 2.3 million jobs shed in the preceding three years. Those jobs predominantly pay low wages and lack the benefits and conditions won by industrial workers in the last century. Manufacturing jobs were traditionally the highest paid private sector jobs. More than 1.5 million manufacturing workers—one out of every four—earn $11.91 per hour or less, and 600,000 earn $9.60 per hour or less.

As for the state of Michigan, which once had among the highest living standards for workers in the country, it now ranks in the bottom 10 for per capita income in the US, barely ahead of Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas and other traditionally poor states.

Just a few miles away from Obama's stage-managed event, nearly one out of seven residents of the city of Detroit, which just emerged from municipal bankruptcy, face eviction from their homes because they are behind on their property taxes. The "Motor City," Obama said, was experiencing a "rebirth" with new business and private investment, tech startups…there are still challenges but it's coming back."

In fact, Mayor Duggan, a multimillionaire former corporate executive, is overseeing a brutal campaign of water and other utility shutoffs, cuts to city worker pension and health care benefits, and the selloff of public assets to service the debts of the Wall Street banks.

"America's resurgence is real," Obama insisted, saying no one should convince workers otherwise. Now that the US was in "calmer waters and the worst of the crisis is behind us," the president said, it was "time that everyone pitched in so that the rising tide is lifting all boats not just some."

This was a passing reference to the fact that 95 percent of all economic gains under the president's tenure have gone to the richest 1 percent. Corporations, including GM, Chrysler and Ford, are reaping record profits and hoarding trillions in cash while the stock market has reached stratospheric heights. Corporate profits are at their highest share of GDP since World War II, while the portion of national economic output going to labor has fallen to the lowest postwar level.

Obama recounted how his administration decided to use the crisis in the auto industry to ram through concessions in wages, benefits and working conditions long sought by the auto bosses and Wall Street. Pointing to the precarious state of the industry following the financial meltdown, with plunging sales and one out of five workers losing their jobs, Obama said, "We could have given billions in taxpayers dollars to the corporations without accountability or change, but that would have just kicked the problem down the road."

"The alternative was to do nothing and let the companies fail," the president said, but this would have had the cascading effect of wiping out suppliers, communities and stronger auto companies like Ford. "So, in exchange for help, we demanded responsibility. We told the auto companies 'you have to change with the times.' Plants restructured. Labor and management worked together, settled their differences and everybody made sacrifices; it was not just the workers who gave something up. That's when America works best. We rejected the false choice that either the unions or the businesses could succeed but not both…. We believed in shared sacrifices and that leads to shared prosperity."

In fact, the Obama administration collaborated with the United Auto Workers to make sure that the corporations and the UAW apparatus succeeded—at the direct expense of the working class. The UAW agreed to cut in half the wages of new workers, freeze the pay of traditional "legacy" workers, eliminate the eight-hour day and tear up other long-standing job protections and working standards. In exchange, the UAW was given control of billions of dollars in corporate shares and other assets as part of the union's takeover of the companies' retiree health care obligations.

New auto workers make less than the average manufacturing wage of $19.10 an hour and lack traditional retiree and health benefits. All told, the auto companies reduced hourly labor costs by 25 to 30 percent, and lowered their break-even point to sales of 11.5 million to 12 million a year. With next year's sales predicted to return to pre-recession highs of 17 million vehicles, this means billions in pure profit.

Obama said jobs in the auto industry had for generations been representative of what it meant to "get into the middle class." If you worked "hard on this job you could afford to raise a family, buy a house, go on vacation and retire with some dignity…. Every car you sent down the line…gave you a sense of security. Plants like this built more than cars, they built the middle class and that was worth fighting for."

In fact, many new auto workers at Ford and other companies have been forced to live at home with their parents or stretch to pay rent for an apartment and other necessities. Vacations, retirement and job security are little but an illusion.

A profile by of workers at the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant where Obama spoke noted that 20 of the 23 workers on one line were being paid entry-level wages of $16.78 an hour. "Three of them are legacy workers, and 20 are entry level," a worker is quoted as saying. "Each one of them have families, a couple of them are single mothers, a couple people that are in their 50s that are starting over."

These workers have no job security. In fact, the factory where Obama spoke was on an extended holiday shutdown because of low car sales, with thousands of workers on layoff. Late last year, nearly 100 workers at Ford's Chicago Assembly plant—so-called Long-Term Supplemental Employees (LTSE) earning even lower wages agreed to by the UAW—were informed by automated robo-calls that they had been terminated because sales were down.

Obama boasted that Ford had relocated some of its production from Mexico back to the United States, and that many manufacturers who went offshore are realizing that "America is back and we got to get in there"—i.e., that the US has become a new cheap labor haven.

Eric, a worker at Chrysler's Warren Stamping plant, told the World Socialist Web Site, "When I started in 1995, the job offered hope. I live in Warren, and now you can see vacant houses where people have lost their homes. It really doesn't seem like there is any improvement on the horizon. The whole movement from a manufacturing-based economy to a service economy has led to a wider gap between the haves and the have-nots."

Referring to the two-tier wage, Eric said, "I believe it was devised to keep us separate. The company hasn't given the first-tier workers a raise in 10 years, and now it seems that isn't even up for discussion. They are saving money and laughing all the way to the bank."

Another young Warren Truck worker added, "The amount of money the second-tier workers get is barely enough to live on. You work your ass off, but it is gone very quickly."

Obama concluded his remarks with a homily that revealed more than he intended about social reality in America. He cited a worker, named Ramone, who had been hired into the Ford plant after returning from eight years of military duty in Afghanistan and Iraq and being forced to go into a homeless shelter because of the lack of work. Obama said Ramone was now working at Ford like his grandfather had for 25 years.

This is Obama's new "middle class," working for half the wages of their grandparents and barely keeping one step out of a homeless shelter.

@gop controlled Congress attacks social security benefits in its 1st two days in session


New Congress targets Social Security disability benefits

By Andre Damon
8 January 2015

The 114th US Congress completed its first two days by preparing the passage of regressive, anti-social policies, including measures that would defund Social Security disability insurance benefits, increase the number of hours that classify as "full-time" employment, and make it easier to pass pro-business tax cuts.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives adopted a rule that blocks the transfer of funds from the Social Security retirement trust fund to the separate underfunded Social Security Disability Insurance trust fund unless the move is accompanied by a corresponding cut to disability spending.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) warned that the move "could threaten Disability Insurance (DI) beneficiaries—a group of severely impaired and vulnerable Americans—with a sudden, one-fifth cut in their benefits by late 2016." There are more than 10 million people in the United States who rely on disability payments after they suffer an injury that prevents them from working.

Proponents of the measure claimed that they were implementing it in order to "protect the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance." In reality, they are seeking to use a procedural move to force through cuts to the Social Security program one piece at a time.

The CBPP noted that "reallocating some taxes between the retirement and disability trust funds is a historically noncontroversial measure that Congress has taken 11 times, in both directions depending on which trust fund was running short."

The federal disability insurance system is underfunded because two recent funding reallocations have short-changed the program, while the demand for disability benefits has grown due to demographic factors and the raising of the retirement age for Social Security.

Lawmakers from both parties have called for "fixing" the "broken" Social Security disability insurance program, making fraudulent claims that the system is commonly abused, despite the fact that the standards for qualifying for disability insurance payments are extremely stringent, with the majority of applicants being denied.

Congressional Republicans are likewise gearing up to turn their grandstanding opposition to the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, into specific right-wing policy proposals. Republican representative Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, penned an op-ed in USA Today Tuesday calling for the House to "take up a bill to define 'full time' as 40 hours per week," claiming that such a measure aims to make it "so more people can work full time."

The measure would make Obamacare an even more naked subsidy to big business by paring back one of the few obligations it places on employers. As the CBPP notes, the measure "would allow employers with 50 or more employees who do not offer coverage to employees working 30-39 hours a week to do so without facing any penalty."

The organization notes that, given that 44 percent of US workers work 40 hours a week, the proposal "would weaken the traditional 40-hour work week by placing far more workers at risk that employers will cut their hours to push them below the threshold."

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted to implement a rule change known as "dynamic scoring," in which the theoretical impact on "economic growth" would be taken into account when measuring the cost of policy proposals. This would enshrine supply-side theories—once denounced by George H. W. Bush as "voodoo economics"—as the official economic doctrine of the US Congress.

The measure would facilitate the passage of tax cuts, based on the claim that they would lead to economic growth, and the increased revenues from growing incomes would offset the cost of the cuts. As the CBPP put it, "Dynamic scoring could facilitate congressional passage of large rate cuts in tax reform by making the rate cuts appear—on paper—less expensive than under a traditional cost estimate."

In reality, big tax cuts for the wealthy lead to lower government revenues and higher deficits, which are then invoked as the reason for cuts in spending on domestic social programs.

The Democrats have put on a show of opposition in response to these actions. On Wednesday, Obama vowed to veto the proposal to redefine full-time employment under the Affordable Care Act to 40 hours. The day before, Obama said he would veto proposals to move forward with the expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline, which Republicans have made a priority.

Obama's attitude was echoed by Senate minority leader Harry Reid, who said in a statement Wednesday that "I have no intention of just rolling over. I can't.... Not when the middle class is teetering on the verge of extinction."

That said, Reid reasserted that he would not pursue the same tactics as the Republicans when they were in the minority, declaring, "The mistakes of the past—the gratuitous obstruction, and wanton filibustering—will not be a hallmark of the 114th Congress."

For all their pretended opposition to the Republican proposals and their rhetorical invocations of the "middle class," the fact remains that the actual policy differences between the two parties are minimal.

This reality was underscored by the fact that there have been no serious protests by Democrats at the reelection of Steve Scalise as House majority whip after he admitted last month to having spoken at a white supremacist conference.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

@Ford Motor Co uses automated phone messages to fire Chicago workers


Nearly 100 workers at the Ford Chicago Assembly plant received an automated phone message on October 31 telling them they had been terminated. Many of the workers who missed the robocalls or thought they were just a Halloween prank showed up for work the next day. When they arrived, their electronic identification cards were no longer operable and security guards instructed them to leave.

Workers at Ford's Chicago Assembly Plant

The mostly young workers were so-called Long-Term Supplemental (LTS) employees, one of the multiple "tiers" set up by Detroit automakers in collaboration with the United Auto Workers union. The LTS workers cannot accrue seniority and higher wages and are essentially at-will employees who can be fired or hired any time they are needed for production.

Most of the LTS workers were hired over the last four years as the Chicago plant added a second and third shift of workers. They are being tossed out because sales of the Taurus and Lincoln MKS models have recently fallen sharply.

A statement by Ford Motor Company read, "As part of our normal business process, we've temporarily adjusted our workforce numbers at Chicago Assembly Plant by approximately 90 team members. Our goal, as always, is to return the workers back to their positions as soon as possible based on the needs of our business."

Predictably, UAW Local 551 officials, preoccupied with trying to get out the vote for various pro-business Democratic politicians, had nothing to say about workers being discarded like used up machinery. The UAW agreed to the establishment of this highly exploited temporary workforce in 2007 as part of the introduction of a new "second-tier" of workers earning half the wages of traditional workers.

Several workers at the Chicago plant told the World Socialist Web Site that Ford probably used the robocalls because management wanted to avoid the possibility of angry confrontations inside the plant with those laid off. After the last round of layoffs in 2008 management alleged that there were several incidents of sabotage on the plant floor.

"I saw 50 of those workers lining up outside Saturday morning and security told them they couldn't enter," one worker told the WSWS. Another worker, Bridgette, said of the firings, "It's BS. We all know the holidays are coming up at the end of the month. People have families and responsibilities. They should've at least been given two weeks notice, or even a month's notice. It was really dirty the way they did it."

Quin shook her head in disbelief, saying, "I heard about the layoffs. I'm sure they had families to feed and bills to pay. But it doesn't surprise me. They treat us like crap here. We are constantly harassed. Our group leader bullies us and picks on everyone around us. There are rumors that there will be more layoffs."

Another worker who wanted to remain anonymous, said, "You know, honestly, I never know if I will be next. They could do the same to any of us."

The callous treatment of these workers is a measure of the real state of class relations in America where the financial and corporate elite—protected by their bought-and-paid for representatives in both big business parties and the businessmen who run the unions—feel they can lord over workers with impunity.

Auto workers, in particular, had attained a certain measure of job protection as a result of the mass industrial struggles from the 1930s to the 1970s. After decades of betrayals by the UAW, however, conditions for workers inside the auto factories increasingly resemble McDonald's or Wal-Mart.

During the 2009 restructuring of the auto industry by the Obama administration, the UAW agreed to a vast expansion of second-tier workers in exchange for billions of dollars in corporate stocks. Since 2009, the auto companies have hired thousands of new workers earning $15.75 an hour. In Chicago, the number of workers increased from 1,100 to 4,100, with hundreds of LTS workers.

Layoffs are typically uncommon at the factory because of the high attrition rate. Large numbers of workers, both young and old, have grueling 10- and 12-hour schedules and at least 10 workers quit every week.

Derek, a young worker spoke of UAW complicity in the attack on the workers. "I heard about the LTS workers losing their jobs. It's terrible. The union hasn't done anything about it either. And for what? They just increased the monthly union dues to 2.5 hours of pay. We're just blowing away money while none of us are protected."

Jason described the deteriorating situation in the factory. "The conditions aren't that good here. We don't even get water to drink. No ice, no water. They should at least give us water."

Another worker listening to Jason chimed in on the shop-floor conditions: "The conditions are filthy. We may work in a factory, but it always smells like chemicals and it's terrible. We could be working in better conditions.

"And what I don't like at all is that they tell you to park your car by the river if you drive a foreign car. How stupid is that? All the parts we use come from this country and all over the world!"

Well aware that the two-tier system is hated by rank-and-file workers, the UAW has postured as an opponent of the very system it installed. Newly selected UAW International President Dennis Williams claims the issue will be at the forefront of negotiations for new labor agreements with Ford, GM and Chrysler in 2015.

However, the sellout agreement at the nearby Lear Corporation plant in Hammond, Indiana shows what the UAW has in store for all auto workers in next year's contract. After shutting down a one-day strike on September 13, the UAW signed a deal that creates a new class of "subassembly" employees who will receive wages even lower than those under the two-tier setup.

Ford and the other automakers rely on the UAW to enforce divisions among workers and prevent any unified and collective resistance. The treatment meted out to LTS workers today will be the fate of all workers unless auto workers develop a new organization of struggle and a new political strategy.

The UAW is not an organization that defends workers. It is an instrument of corporate management that supports wage cutting, speed-up, layoffs and factory closures. In an earlier period workers were able to improve their conditions despite the pro-capitalist outlook of the unions and their support for the Democratic Party. The globalization of production, however, ended that, and today unions in the US and around the world are demanding the ever-greater impoverishment of workers to attract international investment.

Auto workers need new organizations of struggle that are controlled by the rank-and-file, independent of these reactionary corporate labor-management unions and the Democratic Party. Such organizations must be committed to the industrial and political mobilization of the entire working class, in the US and internationally, against the capitalist profit system.

rest at

Thursday, October 30, 2014

US Federal Reserve ends “quantitative easing” program after funneling trillions to financial markets


The US Federal Reserve made the expected announcement on Wednesday that it was ending its bond-buying program known as "quantitative easing," which has funneled trillions of dollars into the markets over the past six years and fueled a massive stock market bubble.

The formal end to the program known as QE3 has been carefully forecast by the Fed for months in order to avoid negative reactions on the markets. At its peak, QE3 involved the purchase of $85 billion in assets (mortgage-backed securities and US treasury bonds) each month, but these purchases have been gradually "tapered" since December.

To assure banks and investors that they would continue to have access to virtually free cash, Wednesday's statement included a promise to keep interest rates at their current near-zero level for a "considerable time"—expected to last well into 2015. At the same time, the Fed has made clear that while it is no longer buying new assets, it will not actually reduce the size of its holdings until after it begins raising interest rates.

QE3, which was initiated in September 2012, was one of a series of asset-purchase programs that began in November 2008, when the Federal Reserve announced that it would buy $600 billion in mortgage-backed securities.

The collapse in the value of mortgage-backed securities during the subprime mortgage meltdown precipitated the financial crisis of 2008, and the quantitative easing program allowed major financial institutions to offload their nearly worthless assets onto the central banks. QE1, the first quantitative easing program, was followed by another $600 billion program announced in November 2010.

In all, the US central bank increased the size of its balance sheet through these purchases by some $3.5 trillion, or about one fifth of the total value of goods and services produced in the United States in a single year. Never before has a central bank engaged in such a massive money-printing operation. This virtually unlimited allocation of cash has coincided with endless claims that there is no money to fund basic social programs and infrastructure.

Most of the cash created through the quantitative easing programs found its way, in one form or another, into the financial markets, leading to a surge in stock market share values that bears no relationship to the state of the "real" economy.

S&P 500 vs Federal Reserve Assets

Since the QE3 program began two years ago, the value of the S&P 500 stock index has increased by over 42 percent, tracking a course that has led it back to its pre-crash peaks (see chart).

Since stock ownership is overwhelmingly concentrated among the super-rich, the wealth of the corporate and financial elite has increased in line with the run-up in stock prices. Since 2009, the combined wealth of the Forbes 400 (the 400 wealthiest individuals in the United States) has nearly doubled, to $2.9 trillion.

Due in large part to the Federal Reserve policies, together with similar measures by leading central banks in Europe and Japan, the top one percent of the world's population now controls nearly half of all wealth, according to a Credit Suisse report released earlier this month. All told, central banks around the world have funneled an estimated $7 to $10 trillion into financial markets.

While the Fed explained its decision Wednesday by referring to a supposed "recovery" in the jobs market (in the Fed's words, "underutilization of labor market resources is gradually diminishing") the fact is that the principal aim of QE was not to lower unemployment, and it has not done so.

As asset prices have surged, wages for workers have declined, and the US continues to be plagued by mass joblessness. The official unemployment rate has fallen, but this is due largely to the departure of millions of workers from the labor force. The banks have used the infusion of cash from the Fed not to invest in productive enterprises or lend to consumers, but to hoard, gamble and speculate.

The QE programs have been a critical part of a massive transfer of wealth from the working class to the rich, a process that will continue, if in somewhat altered form. "Quantitative easing" has had the full support of both big business parties, the Democrats and Republicans, and has been pursued under both the Bush and Obama administrations.

The Fed decision comes as there are growing concerns from sections of the ruling class itself that the inflation of asset values has merely created the conditions for another and even more spectacular crash. There are many indications of economic stagnation in Europe, Asia and the United States. And there are bitter divisions between the major powers over policy, reflected in the moves by European central banks to expand their asset purchases even as the Fed ends its own programs.

In the end, "quantitative easing" has only intensified the contradictions tearing apart the world capitalist system, and further exposed the bankruptcy of the ruling class that presides over it.

rest at

Fwd: 10 Things to Expect If Republicans Win the Senate

Problems viewing this email? View it in your web browser.
Center for American Progress Action Fund
  10 Things to Expect If Republicans Win the Senate  
  Mitch McConnell
With Election Day a few days away, it seems each day brings new polls and new predictions about which party will control the Senate. Ultimately control of the upper chamber hinges on a few races that are still too close to call. So perhaps a more productive question than who will prevail after Election Day, is what will a GOP-led Senate do? From that perspective, there is a lot at stake for progressives. A new CAP Action report released last week takes a look at ten things to expect next year if Republicans take control of the Senate.

1. Additional attempts to use the budget process to advance a conservative ideological agenda. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told Politico in August that he intends to use the appropriation process to push his conservative agenda should he become the Senate majority leader. In other words, should Republicans take the senate, McConnell has promised more of the same brinkmanship and political gridlock Congressional Republicans have used in the past few years.

2. More tax cuts for the wealthy and further spending cuts for middle- and working-class families. A Republican-controlled Senate would bring back the same old top-down, trickle-down economic policies that have been proven to benefit the very wealthy few at the expense of the rest, while hurting the overall economy.

3. Obstruction of well-qualified judicial nominees, leaving vacancies on federal courts. A GOP Senate would likely change the rules for judicial nominations reinstituting obstructionism by filibuster and stalling judicial nominations for years with the hope that a Republican president would be able to fill the vacancies in 2017 with ideologically conservative judges.

4. A vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Still outraged about the 50-plus repeal votes cast by Republicans in the House? Republicans in the Senate have indicated that even though the rest of the world is ready to move on, they still want to fight old political fights and move the country backwards by voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

5. Attempts to roll back women's health gains. GOP senators and candidates have tried to distance themselves from their anti-women records this election season, but with safe control of the upper chamber they would most certainly vote legislation that is harmful to women's health like an anti-abortion bill introduced last year by Sen. Graham (R-SC).

6. Use of the Congressional Review Act to weaken environmental rules, jeopardizing public health. A Republican Senate would try to undo all of the efforts the administration has been able to make combatting climate change putting the public health of current and future Americans at risk.

7. Action to dramatically expand people's ability to carry concealed, loaded guns. Republicans in the Senate have already proven that they are beholden to the NRA, whose primary goal is to expand individual's ability to carry concealed guns anywhere—including into bars, churches, and schools – via the National-Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act. With a majority in the Senate they would be able to pass this bill, undermining current states' gun laws and creating a race-to-the-bottom in terms of gun safety.

8. Legislation that adversely affects the LGBT community. Following a continued expansion of same-sex marriages and recent support of marriage equality from the Supreme Court, Republicans in the Senate have proven that they are committed to restricting the rights of the LGBT community and they could do so by passing the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act that allows for government-sanctioned discrimination against the LGBT community.

9. Legislation to deport DREAMers. A year after passing comprehensive immigration reform, many Senate Republicans are distancing themselves from the bipartisan bill and instead siding with the extreme Senator Ted Cruz who wants to stop the Obama administration from carrying out DACA, which would help thousands of immigrant children.

10. New cuts to programs and rules that increase college access, affordability, and readiness. While the cost of higher education skyrockets and the United States continues to fall behind its peers in math, science and reading, a Republican Senate would make it harder for students to afford college.

It is safe to say that a Republican controlled Senate would bring back the same top-down, trickle-down economic policies that have already failed our country. Even more pressingly, with Republicans controlling both chambers they would have the opportunity to roll back progressive policies like the protection of clean air, immigration reform and the Affordable Care Act, while pursuing a conservative agenda harmful to women's health and LGBT rights.

This a friendly reminder to vote on Tuesday, November 4.

  Follow us on: Facebook Twitter YouTube  
Support CAP Action |  | Privacy Policy |
Contributions to Center for American Progress Action Fund are not tax deductible
Center for American Progress Action Fund | 1333 H Street NW, 10th Floor | Washington, DC 20005

Thursday, October 16, 2014

WikiLeaks: US pushes to extend drug monopolies in secret proposed trade deal


Excerpts from a proposed international trade agreement leaked to the web this week suggest that the United States is pushing for changes that would make it more difficult to get life-saving drugs overseas.

On Thursday, transparency group WikiLeaks published a draft chapter from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement which 12 countries, including the US, have been negotiating in near total privacy for years.

According to the secret-spilling organization, the latest leaked chapter — an excerpt from May 2014 detailing proposed intellectual property, or IP, rules — indicates that American trade reps want to maintain a monopoly on life-saving drugs and stifle efforts from foreign nations to obtain such products affordably and with ease.

A portion of the chapter backed by the US, WikiLeaks wrote in a statement that accompanied Thursday's unauthorized disclosure of the draft document, would "force Parties to enact an automatic monopoly period (marketing exclusivity) for life-saving drugs, with a choice for the groups to decide for definitive inclusion within the treaty of 0, 5, 8 or 12 years."

"Experts state that the United States is pushing for the maximum 12 years, with the countries' Ministers to decide as the IP negotiators cannot agree on this controversial issue," WikiLeaks reported. According to their analysis, achieving as much if and when the TPP is finally approved could have catastrophic results and run counter to exactly what the White House has said in the past.

"Administration will have gone back on its promise to make cancer drugs affordable, having previously pledged to reduce the monopoly period on biotech drugs from 12 to 7 years. This will mean patients needing these drugs will remain with hugely expensive medical bills for years to come. These costs are also generally unattainable for citizens in the developing countries in the TPP," WikiLeaks said.

Julian Assange, the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, said in a statement that: "The lack of movement within the TPP IP Chapter shows that this only stands to harm people, and no one is satisfied. This clearly demonstrates that such an all-encompassing and divisive trade agreement is too damaging to be brought into force. The TPP should stop now."

Indeed, analysts at the Washington, DC-based Public Citizen consumer rights advocacy group raised concerns of their own about the draft this week.

"The text includes US-backed measures that would expand pharmaceutical monopoly power and compromise access to medicines in Pacific Rim countries," the group said. "Deep resistance to these measures from many negotiating countries has endured for years. The US has dropped some harmful proposals, but continues to insist on many others."

Providing longer-term monopolies for the companies that produce life-saving drugs, Public Citizen agreed, "contradicts the policies included in recent White House budgets and if adopted would undermine key cost savings touted by the administration." Nevertheless, passage of the TPP in this form would allow little room for change, the group said, because "Congress would be unable to reduce monopoly periods without risking significant penalties and investor-state arbitration."

"With billions at stake, Big Pharma wants the TPP to be a road map for rules that will govern Pacific Rim economies for the next several decades," Public Citizen said.

"The leak shows our government demanding rules that would lead to preventable suffering and death in Pacific Rim countries, while eliminating opportunities to ease financial hardship on American families and our health programs at home," Peter Maybarduk, the director of that group's Global Access to Medicines Program, said in a statement.

Representatives from 12 nations in all — the US, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, New Zealand and Brunei — have been involved so far in TPP negotiations, and are scheduled to meet later this month in Canberra, then Sydney, to further discuss the proposal.

Much to the chagrin of WikiLeaks and other transparency advocates, the TPP has been negotiated almost entirely in secrecy since the start of discussions.

"No wonder they kept it secret," online entrepreneur Kim Dotcom of New Zealand previously told RT's Andrew Blake when WikiLeaks published a chapter of the TPP late last year. "What a malicious piece of US corporate lobbying. TPP is about world domination for US corporations. Nothing else. We will stop this madness in New Zealand."

According to WikiLeaks, the group's decision to publish a TPP excerpt last November may have forced some trade reps in the months since to reconsider certain aspects.

"Since that point, some controversial and damaging areas have had little change; issues surrounding digital rights have moved little. However, there are significant industry-favouring additions within the areas of pharmaceuticals and patents. These additions are likely to affect access to important medicines such as cancer drugs and will also weaken the requirements needed to patent genes in plants, which will impact small farmers and boost the dominance of large agricultural corporations like Monsanto," WikiLeaks said. "Nevertheless, some areas that were highlighted after WikiLeaks' last IP Chapter release have seen alterations that reflect the controversy; surgical method patents have been removed from the text. Doctors' groups said this was vitally important for allowing doctors to engage in medical procedures without fear of a lawsuit for providing the best care for their patients. Opposition is increasing to remove the provision proposed by the US and Japan that would require granting of patents for new drugs that are slightly altered from a previous patented one (evergreening), a technique by the pharmaceutical industry to prolong market monopoly."

rest at

Thursday, September 25, 2014

G.O.P. Error Reveals Donors and the Price of Access


The documents, many of which the Republican officials have since removed from their website, showed that many of America's most prominent companies, from Aetna to Walmart, had poured millions of dollars into the campaigns of Republican governors since 2008. One document listed 17 corporate "members" of the governors association's secretive 501(c)(4), the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee, which is allowed to shield its supporters from the public.

Continue reading the main story

Document: The Price of Political Influence

"This is a classic example of how corporations are trying to use secret money, hidden from the American people, to buy influence, and how the governors association is selling it," said Fred Wertheimer, the president of Democracy 21, a nonpartisan group that advocates more transparency and controls over political money.

The trove of documents, discovered by watchdogs at the Democrat-aligned Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, sheds light on the secretive world of 501(c)(4) political groups, just as the battle over their future intensifies. Unlike the Republican Governors Association, the tax-exempt Republican Governors Public Policy Committee is not required to disclose anything, even as donors hit the links, rub shoulders and trade policy talk with governors and their top staff members.

At a policy committee symposium last year at the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., committee members included the health insurers Aetna and WellPoint, the insurance lobby America's Health Insurance Plans, the utility giant Southern Company, and the lobbying firms Dutko Grayling (now known as Grayling), BGR Group and Leavitt Partners.

With Congress producing so little legislation, governors' offices have become attractive targets, Mr. Wertheimer said. Last year, the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee allowed corporate donors to make their cases on how to carry out the Affordable Care Act; discuss hydraulic fracturing, an oil- and gas-exploration method regulated at the state level; and hash over state budgets just as coffers began to loosen.

rest at

Friday, July 18, 2014

Detroit elites declare: “Water is not a social right”


The shut off of water service for tens of thousands of Detroit residents has generated national and international attention. The scenes of young mothers, children, the elderly, the sick and low-income workers deprived of water for drinking, cleaning and cooking—in what is supposed to be the richest country of the world—have provoked astonishment and revulsion.

This barbaric policy has become a major political question in Detroit. Earlier this week a federal judge overseeing the city's bankruptcy case complained that the shutoffs were producing "a lot of anger" and giving Detroit "a reputation not only in this country but around the world." Opposition generated by the shutoffs, he warned, could threaten the city's plan to impose deeply unpopular cuts to city worker pensions and health care benefits.

The near universal condemnation, which included charges by the UN that the shutoffs were a violation of international human rights, has not led to any shift in policy. In an interview published in the Detroit News Thursday, the city's unelected emergency manager Kevyn Orr, defended the shutoffs.

"I'm very supportive of the water department's and the Board of Water Commissioners' decision to do what every other regulated utility does in the United States, which is, if you use water you've got to pay for it," Orr told the Detroit News .

Orr scoffed at the "hysteria out there that we are cutting off water to tens of thousands of people" and insisted "less than five percent" of those being shut off "had legitimate needs." He slandered the majority of the victims of this inhumane policy as "drug addicts, illegal squatters, scofflaws and the people gaming the system." These people, he insisted, should not be "provided with a free service."

Orr repeated the lie that the "scofflaws" were causing rates to go up for paying customers. In fact, the water department has admitted that rising rates—which have shot up 120 percent in the last decade—are chiefly due to the disappearance of federal funding to repair the antiquated water system and the high cost of debt servicing. Fifty cents of every dollar in revenue goes directly to the Wall Street banks and wealthy bondholders who have used the municipally owned water system as a cash cow.

Behind all the lies and cynicism, the message was clear: people do not have the right to water any more than they do for food, shelter, health care or any other vital necessity. In capitalist America if you do not pay for something, even something as essential as water, you will have to do without it.

This brutal outlook of the American ruling class was made explicit by Nolan Finley, the right-wing columnist for the Detroit News, whose opinion piece Thursday was headlined: "There is no right to free water."

Finley has long been a shameless mouthpiece for the corporate and financial interests that dominate Detroit. He has previously called for the destruction of the "entitlement mentality" in the city—that is, the view that workers should expect decent wages, pensions and health care. Two years ago, he declared that "democracy has failed" in Detroit and called for a "short-term dictator" (later arriving in the person of Kevyn Orr) to "create a sustainable operating model."

Looking for a higher authority to justify the inhumane shutoff policy, Finley turns to the Old Testament in his more recent column, writing, "Ever since Adam and Eve got booted out of Eden, people have devoted most of their energy and labor to meeting the basic needs of food, water, clothing and shelter. It's the origin of work—you're hungry, you're thirsty, you need some decent threads and a roof over your head, you have to get up in the morning and do something constructive."

With unabashed arrogance and contempt for the population, Finley accuses residents of squandering money on cable television and cell phones. Once the shutoffs began, he asserts, many households paid up their bills, "suggesting that they could have been paying all along." What existed in Detroit, he declared, "is not a humanitarian crisis" but a "forced reordering of priorities."

There is little doubt many residents stopped paying for food, medicine and other daily necessities to get their water turned back on. Thousands of others, however, continue to live without water or are hauling buckets from their neighbor's homes and fire hydrants or relying on bottled water from volunteers.

According to the corporate and financial elite and their political and media henchmen like Orr and Finley, workers have no social rights. Pensions, health care, public education, access to culture will only be available to those who can afford it. If the capitalists could privatize the air people breath, it would not be a right either.

The shutting off of water in Detroit is part of a national and international process in which the gains won in over a century of struggle by the working class are being destroyed as part of a vast transfer of wealth into the hands of the super-rich. Whether it is in Detroit, Athens or Madrid, hundreds of thousands of teachers, firefighters, transit and other public workers are losing their jobs and having their pensions stolen to pay off the banks responsible for the financial crash of 2008.

The Detroit bankruptcy is being used to spearhead this assault in the US. The financial dictator, Orr, and the federal bankruptcy court are setting a precedent for the gutting of constitutionally protected retirement benefits, while selling off and privatizing water, street lighting, art museums, parks and other publicly owned treasures.

Low-income residents are being kicked out of the city, as Orr implements a plan to essentially shut down whole areas of Detroit, which are deemed too poor for investment. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies are being handed over to real estate developers who have snatched up land and skyscrapers for pennies. This is the "restructuring of priorities" that Finley advocates.

Finley directs his immediate complaints to a demonstration planned by Netroots on Friday. The demonstration is part of a conference organized this weekend in Detroit by a coalition of Democratic Party officials, unions, publications like the Nation magazine and other organizations oriented to the Democrats. Netroots is seeking to divert attention from the responsibility of the Democrats who run Detroit, including Orr himself. The water shutoffs are in fact a bipartisan policy, and the restructuring of Detroit enjoys the full backing of Obama and both big business parties.

Significantly, however, the actual target of Finley's column is a position that no section of the political establishment, including the groups organizing Friday's rally, raise: that water should be a social right, freely available to all. What Finley and the ruling class as a whole fear is that the demand for these rights will become a rallying cry of a mass movement, and that workers will come to understand that these rights are incompatible with the capitalist system.

Concluding his editorial, the newspaper columnist writes: "Charitable minded citizens have never objected to helping care for neighbors who are unable to care for themselves. But they understandably don't have much appetite for carrying on their backs those who choose to indulge their wants before their needs."

Here Finley says perhaps more than he intends. The true "scofflaws" are not the workers of Detroit, but the financial parasites that Finley speaks for. It is this social layer that workers can no longer afford to "carry on their backs." The outrageous, inhumane and barbaric policy dictated by Orr, Finley and their political co-conspirators is only making this fact all the more clear.

rest at

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Rachel Maddow Explains Why The Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby Ruling Is Such A Major Blow


Rachel Maddow was dismayed by the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision on Monday.

The court ruled that Hobby Lobby and other "closely held" corporations cannot be required to cover contraception for their employees if doing so would contradict religious beliefs. Maddow pointed to two cases where organizations cited religion as the basis of their business practices in the past, but the courts did strike those practices down.

One was the case of restaurant owner Maurice Bessinger, who believed that segregation was justified by the Bible. In 1968, the Supreme Court ruled that he had to desegregate his Piggie Park restaurant chain. Years later, a federal appeals court also ruled that the Fremont Christian School in California could not withhold health benefits to their married female employees.

The Supreme Court's ruling on Monday was "very, very different" from those two other decisions, Maddow lamented Monday.

"The five members of the conservative majority voted that the religious beliefs, or lack thereof, of a company's employees — those are effectively overruled by the religious beliefs of the boss," she said. "The boss' religion determines what laws apply to his or her employees and his or her business, at least on this issue."

rest at

Congress Quietly Deletes a Key Disclosure of Free Trips Lawmakers Take


It's going to be a little more difficult to ferret out which members of Congress are lavished with all-expenses-paid trips around the world after the House has quietly stripped away the requirement that such privately sponsored travel be included on lawmakers' annual financial-disclosure forms.

The move, made behind closed doors and without a public announcement by the House Ethics Committee, reverses more than three decades of precedent. Gifts of free travel to lawmakers have appeared on the yearly financial form dating back its creation in the late 1970s, after the Watergate scandal. National Journal uncovered the deleted disclosure requirement when analyzing the most recent batch of yearly filings.

"This is such an obvious effort to avoid accountability," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "There's no legitimate reason. There's no good reason for it."


Free trips paid for by private groups must still be reported separately to the House's Office of the Clerk and disclosed there. But they will now be absent from the chief document that reporters, watchdogs, and members of the public have used for decades to scrutinize lawmakers' finances.

Related: Nancy Pelosi Says Decision to Delete Reporting Requirement for Free Trips 'Must Be Reversed'

"The more you can hide, the less accountable you can be," Sloan said of lawmakers. "It's clear these forms are useful for reporters and watchdogs, and obviously a little too useful."

House Ethics Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, did not return a call for comment; ranking member Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., referred questions to committee staff. The committee declined to comment.

The change occurs as free travel, which critics have criticized as thinly veiled junkets, has come back into vogue. Last year, members of Congress and their aides took more free trips than in any year since the influence-peddling scandal that sent lobbyist Jack Abramoff to prison. There were nearly 1,900 trips at a cost of more than $6 million last year, according to Legistorm, which compiles travel records.

Now none of those trips must be included on the annual disclosures of lawmakers or their aides.

The tabs for these international excursions can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. One trip to Australia earlier this year cost nearly $50,000. Lawmakers are often invited to bring along their husbands or wives, fly in business class, and stay in plush four-star hotels. In the wake of the Abramoff scandal, lobbyists were banned from organizing or paying for these travels. But some of the nonprofits underwriting them today have extremely close ties to lobbying groups, including sharing staff, money, and offices.

rest at

Mexican ‘germ invasion’ is “the right’s latest anti-immigration myth.”


One hundred years ago, the KKK accused migrants of spreading disease. Fox News picked up where they left off

fox news diseases border 'Measles and chickenpox and leprosy?!' To which Fox's medical correspondent responded: 'Absolutely.'

Late last week, before President Obama gave up on pressuring Congress on comprehensive immigration reform in favor of his familiar executive actions, media outlets began pressing a familiar non-news item.

The local CBS station in Dallas/Fort Worth reported that "four or five [US Border Patrol] agents have tested positive" for illnesses such as chicken pox or tuberculosis, ostensibly contracted at their border posts. With over 18,500 agents stationed along the Mexican border, the headline probably should have been something like "Border Patrol Agents Unusually Healthy Among Americans". Matt Drudge preferred, as usual, a more pernicious threat: BORDER PATROL AGENTS TEST POSITIVE FOR DISEASE CARRIED BY IMMIGRANTS.

Channel 11 in Dallas also reported that one of the children among the 52,000 who have crossed US borders in the last few months has been diagnosed with H1N1 virus (also known as "swine flu"). Congressman Henry Cuellar blamed the potential problem on "some of these countries where they don't have great health care systems." Perhaps he was talking about the United States: Now that H1N1 is the predominant flu strain in the US and Canada, the Centers for Disease Control reports that 2,008 of the 2,815 reported cases of the flu in the US this season have been identified as H1N1. That means that if you had the flu in the US in the past nine months, it is more than 70% likely that you were infected with the swine flu, just like the sick child trapped in Texas.

A little informed comparison can be helpful: a study of mortality among US school teachers suggests that they contract autoimmune illnesses at a rate disproportionate with the general population. Also: the subway is a major conduit for the spread of influenza, including swine flu.

rest at

Hobby Lobby Funded Disgraced Fundamentalist Christian Leader Accused of Harassing Dozens of Women


"The crafts store chain and its owners gave millions in backing to controversial evangelical Bill Gothard and his Institute in Basic Life Principles.

For a decade or so, Hobby Lobby and its owners, the Green family, have been generous benefactors of a Christian ministry that until recently was run by Bill Gothard, a controversial religious leader who has long promoted a strict and authoritarian version of Christianity. Gothard, a prominent champion of Christian home-schooling, has decried the evils of dating, rock music, and Cabbage Patch dolls; claimed public education teaches children "how to commit suicide" and undermines spirituality; contended that mental illness is merely "varying degrees of irresponsibility"; and urged wives to "submit to the leadership" of their husbands. Critics of Gothard have associated him with Christian Reconstructionism, an ultrafundamentalist movement that yearns for a theocracy, and accused him of running a cultlike organization. In March, he was pressured to resign from his ministry, the Institute in Basic Life Principles, after being accused by more than 30 women of sexual harassment and molestation—a charge Gothard denies.

The Institute traces it origins to 1964, when Gothard designed a college seminar based on biblical principles to help teenagers. The ministry says it was established "for the purpose of introducing people to the Lord Jesus Christ" and to give individuals, families, businesses, and governments "clear instruction and training on how to find success by following God's principles found in Scripture." The group, which operates what it calls "training centers" across the United States and abroad, says more than 2.5 million people have attended its paid events, which have brought in tens of millions of dollars in revenue. Gothard and the Institute have drawn support from conservative politicians, including Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, and former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue. The Duggar family, the stars of the reality show 19 Kids and Counting, have been high-profile advocates of Gothard's home-schooling curriculum and seminars. (One of Gothard's alleged victims has called on the Duggars to break with Gothard and the Institute.) Don Venoit, a conservative evangelical who has long been a critic of Gothard, contends that Gothard's approach to Christian theology emphasizing obedience to authority creates a "culture of fear." In 1984, Ronald Allen, now a professor of Bible exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary, observed that Gothard's teachings were "a parody of patriarchalism" and "the basest form of male chauvinism I have ever heard in a Christian context." He added, "Gothard has lost the biblical balance of the relationship between women and men as equals in relationship. His view is basically anti-woman."

rest at

5 myths about the Hobby Lobby case, debunked #hobbylobby


In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which said for-profit businesses can get religious exemptions to insurance coverage of contraception, you're probably hearing a lot of dubious assertions about contraceptive access. Here are some facts.

1. "What's the big deal? Contraceptives are cheap." Not many of the most effective ones, which save money over time but have high up-front costs. For example, the IUD, to which Hobby Lobby objects, can cost between $500 and $1,000, including the care surrounding its insertion. The monthly cost of the hormonal pill can be low, but doesn't make sense for all kinds of women, including those who experience side effects. Under the regulations Hobby Lobby objects to, the out-of-pocket cost for any FDA-approved contraceptive should be zero.  

According to the brief from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, "Lack of insurance coverage deters many women from choosing a high-cost contraceptive, even if that method is best for her health and lifestyle, and may result in her resorting to a method that places her more at risk for medical complications or improper or inconsistent use."

Women are already saving money under the contraceptive coverage requirement, which began going into effect in August 2012; an average of $269 per woman, according to a recent report by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, or $483 million total in 2013.

2. "But Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood only object to four forms of contraception." That is true. (As the Guttmacher Institute's Adam Sonfield points out, in their formal complaints, they also object to counseling for those forms for contraception. No one knows what that will mean in practice.) But there are dozens of other plaintiffs in cases pending before federal courts who object to all birth control. For example, the owners of Freshway Foods object to all forms of birth control coverage. They already got a preliminary injunction at the D.C. Circuit, where Judge Janice Rogers Brown described the coverage requirement as "the compelled subsidization of a woman's procreative practices."

Here's a list of the 149 for-profit companies whose cases are already pending, including several that object to all forms of contraception. Now that the Supreme Court has sanctioned their standing to make those claims and classified the coverage requirement as a substantial burden, they only have to show the sincerity of their beliefs to win. 

3. "Anyway, those forms of contraception are actually abortifacient." The baseline question here is whether potentially and intentionally preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg constitutes abortion. That's not the medical definition of abortion, which is ending a pregnancy. But let's say your sincerely held belief is that interfering with the implantation of a fertilized egg is tantamount to abortion, as it is for the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood owners. There is very little evidence showing that the objected-to methods – two forms of intrauterine devices and two forms of emergency contraception – even work that way, with the exception of the copper IUD. 

There are two kinds of emergency contraception on the market: an over-the-counter one generally known as Plan B and a prescription-only one known as Ella. According to the amicus brief filed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and several other medical associations, "there is no scientiļ¬c evidence that emergency contraceptives available in the United States and approved by the FDA affect an existing pregnancy." Instead, they prevent ovulation, so there is no egg to fertilize. That includes the longer-acting Ella: "There is no evidence that [Ella] affects implantation."

One form of the IUD, known on the market at the Mirena, includes hormones that prevent ovulation. The other, preferred by women who experience side effects from artificial hormones, doesn't. "When used as emergency contraception" – i.e., after unprotected sexual activity – "the [non-hormonal IUD] could also act to prevent implantation," according to the amicus.

If you're keeping count, that's one out of four that maybe does what the plaintiffs say it does, in the rare instances it's inserted after unprotected sex – and that's still not the medical definition of abortion.

4. "But the government can just pay." This one comes right from the majority, which said the Obama administration had failed the test of finding the least restrictive means to accomplish its goal. Justice Samuel Alito, writing the majority opinion, suggested "the most straightforward way" of filling the gaps would be for "the government to assume the cost." He doesn't have to care that this is, under current political realities, laughable. Senate Democrats have said they'll introduce a legislative fix to the gaps left by the Hobby Lobby decision, but no one seriously thinks such a bill would become law.

There is an existing family-planning funding program for low-income women, Title X, and nearly all House Republicans have already voted to gut it. In the 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney promised he would kill the program altogether.

Title X funding has gone down more than two-thirds since 1980, after adjusting for inflation," said the Guttmacher Institute's Adam Sonfield. "It is far less funded than it needs to be to fully meet the needs of low-income, uninsured people in this county," he added. "Adding all of these privately insured people would overload it even more and make it even more vulnerable to political attacks."

Some commentators have argued that contraception is cheaply available at Planned Parenthood. That would be largely due to the same federal funding that's under attack, or state administration of it. In numerous states, most notoriously Texas, access to contraception has been sharply curtailed by politicians looking to punish Planned Parenthood for separately provided abortion.

Alito also says the government can just add female employees of religious objectors to the same accommodation the objecting non-profits got, where coverage comes directly from the insurer. He is aware, of course, that 122 religiously-affiliated non-profits are already suing over that accommodation, with one of their attorneys calling the opt-out form a "permission slip for abortion." Mark Rienzi, the same attorney (who also represented Eleanor McCullen in her successful challenge to Massachusetts' buffer zone law), wrote yesterday that he believes the court's reasoning in Hobby Lobby paves the way for the nonprofits to win the same full exemption churches got – in other words, the employee gets no insurance coverage at all.

Even if private employers do agree to the nonprofit accommodation, it's based on an administrative regulation that can change when the occupant of the White House does.

5. "It's just contraception. It's not vital health care." This also comes straight from the majority opinion, though more implicitly. Alito holds at arms' length the government's claims that "public health" and "gender equality" are compelling interests, because, he says, they're too broad. Whether the law serves a "compelling government interest" is part of the test under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was the crucial law in the case. But it's sufficiently unclear that Alito believes contraceptive access matters at all that Justice Anthony Kennedy felt the need to write separately to "confirm" it.

Believing women's equality matters is a value – one that, clearly, not everyone holds. But contraceptives' public health benefits are inarguable. Just ask the leading group for obstetricians and gynecologists, who wrote in their brief, "Pregnancies that are too frequent and too closely spaced, which are more likely when those pregnancies are unintended, put women at significantly greater risk for permanent physical health damage … The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified family planning as one of the greatest public health achievements of the twentieth century, finding that smaller families and longer birth intervals contribute to the better health of infants, children, and women, as well as improving the social and economic roles of women." They added, "Contraception also helps to protect the health of those women for whom pregnancy can be hazardous, or even life-threatening," which Justice Kennedy does note in his concurrence.

There are also benefits unrelated to pregnancy, the ACOG amicus points out: Hormonal birth control "helps address several menstrual disorders, helps prevent menstrual migraines, treats pelvic pain from endometriosis, and treats bleeding from uterine fibroids."   

Is all of that "compelling"? Justice Alito declined to explicitly say. 

SCOTUS case: In 1968 Maurice’s Piggie Park BBQ In South Carolina claimed right to refuse service to blacks based on his religious beliefs


"Hobby Lobby represents another, less blatant generation of people who still want to shove their prejudices and ignorance down the throats of others behind the guise of "religious freedom." Fortunately, just as Mr. Bessinger and his racism shuffled off this mortal coil and into the dustbin history, so will the owners of Hobby Lobby and their religious bigotry."

rest at