Friday, February 28, 2014

Los Angeles Passes Fracking Moratorium


Los Angeles is the largest city in the U.S. to place a moratorium on fracking.

City council unanimously voted Friday afternoon to send a moratorium motion to the city attorney’s office to be written as a zoning ordinance. It will then return to council for a final vote.

A tweet from city councilman Mike Bonin moments after the vote expressed the gravity of the action:

Los Angeles just became the largest city in the nation to support a moratorium on #fracking & other dangerous drilling. #NeighborhoodsFirst

— Mike Bonin (@mikebonin) February 28, 2014

Friday’s motion places a moratorium on fracking and other “well stimulation” practices at drilling sites until the city verifies that fracking does not compromise residents’ personal safety or the drinkability of their water. That could come in the form of state or federal regulators providing protections or declaring fracking to be safe. Who knows when, if ever, that will take place.


The vote also makes Los Angeles first oil-producing city in California to ban fracking technologies.

“We congratulate the Los Angeles City Council for supporting the L.A. fracking moratorium motion, a strong step toward protecting the people of Los Angeles from severe health and environmental impacts,” said Adam Scow, California’s director of Food & Water Watch. “We urge the city attorney to stand by the motion’s strong language and set a powerful and positive example for other communities and Gov. [Jerry] Brown, who should immediately enact a statewide moratorium to protect all Californians.”

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Walt Disney World Pulls Support Of Boy Scouts Over Prohibition On LGBT Troop Leaders


Walt Disney World became the latest business entity to end its support of Boy Scouts of America over its continued refusal to end its ban on openly-LGBT adults. As a result, the Florida theme park will no longer help fund local Scout units in support of employees’ volunteer work.

While the Boy Scouts of America’s National Council voted last May to end the group’s long-time ban on openly gay youth, it also reaffirmed its ban on openly LGBT adults serving as volunteers or professionals in the organization. As a result, out Scouts will be kicked out of the organization after their 18th birthday.

Walt Disney World’s “Ears to You” grant program functions like an employer matching-gift program, but instead makes donations to charitable organizations for which employees volunteer their time. In the past, this has included Boy Scout troops.

In a recent letter to scouts’ families, the Central Florida Council’s board president acknowledged the change, writing:

We recognize that many Scout Units have received financial support over the last several years from this grant opportunity and are sad to see it go. The National BSA Council has reached out to WDW to try to resolve the situation, however, according to WDW, their views do not currently align with the BSA and they are choosing to discontinue this level of support. We will continue to keep an open line of communication with them, but at this time, are unable to reverse their decision.

Scouts for Equality co-founder Zach Wahls said in a statement: “We’re never happy to see Scouting suffer as a result of the BSA’s anti-gay policy, but Disney made the right decision to withhold support until Scouting is fully inclusive. Scouts for Equality will continue to advocate for a fully inclusive membership policy, to help build a stronger Scouting community that is eligible for the support of Corporate America.”

The parent Walt Disney Company makes clear in its corporate “Standards of Business Conduct” that it and its affiliates do not allow “any form of harassment or discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identification, national origin, age, marital status, covered veteran status, disability, pregnancy or any other basis prohibited by applicable law.” Walt Disney World Resorts have endorsed legislation in Florida to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the state of Florida.

In the past two years, Lockheed Martin, Caterpillar, Major League Soccer, Merck, Intel, and UPS have also ended their funding of Boy Scouts of America over the organization’s discriminatory policy.

Senate @GOP Blocks Vets' Benefits Bill Over Diplomacy-Killing Iran Sanctions



Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked a bill that sought to provide veterans with greater access to health care and education over an amendment aimed at increasing sanctions on Iran.

Democrats failed to reach the 60 votes necessary to overcome the GOP obstruction.

Republicans have been trying to get a vote on an Iran sanctions measure, which has stalled after experts and Obama administration officials convinced most members of the Democratic caucus that it would derail talks with Iran over its nuclear program and could lead to war.

After numerous attempts failed, the Senate GOP used Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) veterans’ benefits bill to bring the issue up again but Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) refused to go along. “Republicans say they want to help veterans. They have a strange way of showing it. We introduced a bill that would do just that. Republicans immediately inject partisan politics into the mix, insisting on amendments that have nothing to do with helping veterans,” Reid said on Wednesday.

One of the nation’s largest veterans groups, the American Legion, agreed. “Iran is a serious issue that Congress needs to address, but it cannot be tied to S. 1982, which is extremely important as our nation prepares to welcome millions of U.S. military servicemen and women home from war,” American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger said in a statement this week. “This comprehensive bill aims to help veterans find good jobs, get the health care they need and make in-state tuition rates applicable to all who are using their GI Bill benefits.”

“There was a right way to vote and a wrong way to vote today, and 41 senators chose the wrong way,” the American Legion tweeted on Thursday.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America also called on senators to take irrelevant issues like Iran out of the vets bill debate, and on Thursday called the GOP’s obstruction “shameful.”

“Veterans don’t have time for this nonsense and veterans are tired of being used as political chew toys,” said IAVA founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff, according to the Washington Post.

Sanders’ bill paid for the benefits by using some funds that would have otherwise been earmarked for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Senate Republicans like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who had no objections using those funds to pay for the wars, called it a “bogus gimmick.”

“How can we afford $100 billion in tax breaks for the wealthiest three-tenths of Americans, but we can’t pay for veterans benefits?” Sanders tweeted.

A bipartisan expert group said in a recent report that new Iran sanctions now would undermine the Obama administration’s diplomacy with Iran. James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, said last month that “right now the imposition of more sanctions would be counterproductive.”

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Pizza place refuses to serve lawmakers who passed anti-LGBT legislation

On Wednesday the Arizona Senate passed a bill that would allow business owners to discriminate against members of the LGBT community. Under the bill businesses could legally refuse gay and transgender people service, under the guise of religious freedom. Yesterday, the Arizona House also approved the bill. It’s now up to Gov. Jan Brewer to sign it into law or veto.

One restaurant in Tucson had some opinions about the bill’s backwards logic. Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria tweeted out this photo last night, offering their stance on the issue:

Funny how just being decent is starting to seem radical these says.

— Rocco's Pizzeria (@tucsonpizza) February 21, 2014

On the Rocco’s Facebook page, they further explained the photo:

“As a longtime employer and feeder of the gay community, Rocco's reserves the right to eject any State Senators we see fit to kick out. That is all.”

This bill not only discriminates against LGBT patrons of businesses, it could also be used to target gay and trans employees. Members of the LGBT community often face discrimination in terms of employment, housing, and healthcare, and this wide-sweeping bill just makes it that much easier. As for the sign, Rocco’s owner Anthony Rocco DiGrazia told Huffington Post a customer posted the photo to his Facebook feed, and he printed it:

"The response has been overwhelming and almost all positive from across the globe. I just want to serve dinner and own and work in a place I'm proud of. Opening the door to government-sanctioned discrimination, regardless of why, is a huge step in the wrong direction.”

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Loyola University Limits Campus Weddings in Wake of Same-Sex Marriage Law

Loyola University alumni and students said they're furious that the school changed its policy so that same-sex couples would be unable to marry on campus grounds under the state's new same-sex marriage law.

The policy, enacted in December, allows only Catholic-sanctioned weddings — between a man and a woman — at the school's iconic Madonna della Strada Chapel in Rogers Park. All other ceremonies would be forbidden campuswide, university officials said.

The move undermined the hope of students and alumni who wanted the university to allow same-sex marriage ceremonies on campus grounds after the state Legislature passed the same-sex marriage law last year.

The state's first same-sex couples were officially married Friday.

"I was extremely disappointed because that policy is not reflective of the Loyola that I know," said Michael Jarecki, 35, who's gay and graduated from Loyola in 2001. "To me, this seems like two steps backwards."

Jarecki said the decision was a "slap in the face" to both him and the Jesuit principles he learned about while attending Loyola.

Jarecki, an attorney, said he has been an active participant at the school since graduating, but now he will withhold all donations to his alma mater unless the policy is changed.

"If Loyola doesn't see there are consequences to their actions, it won’t change," Jarecki said. "Why go through the work to promote Loyola when they are personally rejecting me as a gay man?"

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IL DCFS chief Arthur Bishop steps down after Sun-Times, WBEZ reports

Arthur D. Bishop, who was appointed last month to run the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, stepped down Wednesday following a series of Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ reports that revealed a theft conviction and paternity case in his past.

The announcement of Bishop’s resignation came shortly after the news organizations had posted a story in which a daughter, Erica Bishop, questioned how Arthur Bishop could care for the state’s most troubled children given that he had shunned her for her entire life — even after DNA testing proved she was his daughter nearly 11 years ago.

“He’s supposed to be protecting the kids of the state — and you’ve got a kid out here you never done anything for,” Erica Bishop said. “He left me as a father, which I think that’s unfair to me and it’s unfair to my kids. . . . As far as them wanting to keep giving him higher positions to look over people’s kids, I don’t agree.”

Sun-Times and WBEZ reporters interviewed Erica Bishop on Tuesday morning and requested an interview with Arthur Bishop that afternoon.

On Wednesday afternoon — shortly after Erica Bishop’s statements were published online — Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed posted a story about Bishop’s resignation letter as the Illinois Secretary of State’s office was notifying other media that Quinn had appointed a new acting DCFS chief.

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Mother Of Adopted Daughters Creates Powerful Series From Racism Directed At Her Family

Kim Kelley-Wagner made an amazing decision to adopt two little girls from China, who are now 13 and 17 years old. She was prepared for the joys of raising her two daughters, but she never could have imagined the multitude of rude, ignorant comments she would faced daily over the years due to her daughters’ different race.

Kim finally had enough, and decided to create a controversial photo series with her daughters to show just how hurtful words could be.



Kim was a 55-year-old communication director at a Charlottesville, Virginia middle school. She had never married, but she still wanted to have children. When she saw a photo with a story about Chinese orphans in Time magazine, her life changed. She said:

“It was an image of six babies sitting in a circle on the floor, and one had the most serious facial expression. That image stayed with me.” [source]

China was one of the few countries that allowed single people to adopt at the time, so in 2001 Kim adopted 10-month-old Liliana. In 2008, Kim adopted another little girl –  Meika, a 2-year-old with special needs that had a bilateral cleft lip and palate from birth.

read more here

brief overview of Chairman Camp's Comprehensive Tax Reform Plan proposals, as they relate specifically to partnerships and partners

Reid Calls Out The Koch Brothers: They Are 'About as Un-American as Anyone I Can Imagine'


Reid began by pointing out how disingenuous David and Charles Koch were being with their misinformation campaign against Obamacare.

“Despite all that good news, there’s plenty of horror stories being told. All of them are untrue, but they’re being told all over America,” Reid said.

“The leukemia patient whose insurance policy was canceled, could die without her medication … that’s an ad being paid for by two billionaire brothers. It’s absolutely false. Or the woman whose insurance policy went up $700 a month — ads paid for around America by the multibillionaire Koch brothers, and the ad is false.”

Reid is referring to the aggressive ad campaigns, paid for almost exclusively by the billionaire brothers, that targets Democratic (and some moderate Republican) lawmakers who voted for Obamacare. Their ads have been running any many states with Democrats up for reelection that Republican strategists consider to be vulnerable this year. They are betting on the fact that Obamacare is still a dirty word in some parts of the country, despite the 4 million people it’s now given health coverage to.

The Koch’s primary political group is Americans For Prosperity, which is used as a weapon made of solid Koch-owned gold. After the losses in 2012, the Koch’s vowed to spend even more money next time and they have made good on that promise. So far, the AFP has outspent every Republican group combined.

Of course Reid saying what is demonstrably true set off the usual backlash. Republicans demanded an apology and Reid eventually gave them one – in the most backhanded way possible.

“I can’t say that every one of the Koch brothers ads are a lie, but I’ll say this … the vast, vast majority of them are,” Reid said on Wednesday afternoon. “It’s too bad that they are trying to buy America. And it’s time that the American people spoke out against this terrible dishonesty of these two brothers, who are about as un-American as anyone that I can imagine.”

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Arizona's Right-to-Refuse-Service Agenda is as Wrong as Jim Crow - from Southern Poverty Law Center


by Morris Dees, Founder, Chief Trial Attorney

As Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer decides this week whether to veto a bill allowing business owners to deny service to LGBT customers because of their own religious beliefs, I’m reminded of an earlier era when a similar form of discrimination was rampant.

As a boy and young man living in Alabama, I remember well a time when African Americans routinely entered movie theaters through side doors, bought food from a backdoor takeout, or sat in “colored” waiting rooms at their doctor’s office. Often, they were refused service altogether at white-owned businesses.

And I remember hearing all sorts of justification for this discrimination, including religious views. One justification I heard was that God did not intend for the races to mix and that God set the white race apart to care for the “subhuman” species.

But after nearly a century of Jim Crow segregation, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 opened these closed doors to people of color. And though many business owners resisted, eventually those barriers fell and black people no longer had to endure the everyday indignity of being treated  like second-class citizens.

Now, the Arizona legislature has passed a bill that once again uses religion as a cover for bigotry.

It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now.

Unfortunately, as we all know, discrimination against LGBT people is not limited to Arizona.

In the Deep South, where it’s widespread, we’re fighting in court to help the LGBT community overcome barriers to equality. In one case, for example, we’re seeking justice for a lesbian who was denied the right to open a bar that would welcome LGBT people. A local Baptist church led the opposition.

We’re making progress in the courts. But we need political leadership as well.

We urge Gov. Brewer to veto the Arizona bill. More importantly, just as we needed federal legislation to end Jim Crow segregation, we need Congress to prevent Arizona and other states that might follow its lead from using religion to legalize discrimination. It’s time for our nation to add sexual orientation to the Civil Rights Act to stop the so-called “religious freedom” movement in its tracks.

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perverse: @jpmorgan profit profit target up from $24bil to $27bil. fewer humans, more machines in banks


It's JP Morgan's investor day and there's been a huge focus on cost cutting and creating a business that can deal with new regulation cutting into the firm's profit.

JPM is confident that it can win in this new environment, and has upped its yearly profit target from $24 billion to $27 billion.

Part of how CFO Maryann Lake explained the bank would achieve these ends is by optimizing its retail banks. In other words, fewer humans, more machines.

These two slides from the presentation show the decline of basic human skills.

First is the bank of the future ...

jpm new banks

JP Morgan


And the second slide shows how customers interact with their bank: Online activity is surging while phone and in-store transactions are declining.

jpm graph on online computer banking

JP Morgan

All this probably means there are more job cuts to come on top of the 2,000 in mortgage banking JPM announced this morning.

Those jobs, though, will be on the low-skilled side of the labor force. JPM hired 7,000 people in risk management last year, which shows that on the higher-skilled side of the labor force, demand is there.

FYI Dick Cheney, we already outspend several countries COMBINED on Military. Its ok to raise the minimum wage.


Former Vice President Dick Cheney (R) took a hit at President Barack Obama on Monday, saying he favors food stamps over a strong military.

During an interview on Fox News' "Hannity," Cheney criticized a proposal put forth by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday that called for shrinking the Army to its smallest size in 74 years, closing bases and reshaping forces. The former vice president called the cuts “just devastating.”

“I have not been a strong supporter of Barack Obama. But this really is over the top. It does enormous long-term damage to our military,” Cheney said. "They act as though it is like highway spending and you can turn it on and off. The fact of the matter is he is having a huge impact on the ability of future presidents to deal with future crises that are bound to arise.”

“And I think the whole thing is not driven by any change in world circumstances, it is driven by budget considerations," Cheney said later. "[Obama] would much rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops.”

The details revealed by Hagel are included in the defense spending plan that will be part of the 2015 budget that Obama will submit to Congress next week.

George Lucas, Mellody Hobson donate $25M to U. of Chicago Lab Schools @starwars


Chicago investment executive Mellody Hobson and her husband, "Star Wars" creator George Lucas, are donating $25 million to the private University of Chicago Laboratory Schools to support the construction of an arts building.

This brings the couple's commitment to Chicago institutions to at least $50 million since marrying last year. They also have pledged $25 million to the education charity After School Matters, catapulting them into the upper ranks of the city's philanthropists.

Hobson's connection to the Laboratory Schools is personal. The founder of the firm where she has spent her career, John Rogers Jr., is chairman of the school's board and an alumnus. He approached her about making a gift.

At Hobson and Lucas' request, the building will be named the Gordon Parks Arts Hall in honor of Parks, the first African-American staff photographer for Life magazine and later the first African-American to direct a major Hollywood movie, his most famous film being 1971's "Shaft."

Rogers said he believes the arts hall will be the first building on the University of Chicago campus named after an African-American. Hobson and Lucas declined an interview request, but the university provided statements from both.

"It was important to us that the University of Chicago campus have a building named for an African American, given the diverse community in which it sits, and the outstanding contributions to our society by people of color," Hobson said.

And from Lucas: "We believe in the power of art to transform lives and communities. Gordon Parks' work did just that."

The gift from the George Lucas Family Foundation caps a fundraising campaign for Lab that had an initial goal of $40 million and brought in $80 million, including this gift.

The school has more than 1,770 students, nursery school through 12th grade. The three-story, 86,000-square-foot arts building has an estimated price tag of $43.7 million. It is scheduled to open in 2015 and includes a lobby/art gallery, 700-seat auditorium, 250-seat theater, 150-seat drama studio and four art studios.

"They thought this was important to have an African-American name on one of the major buildings in the university campus," said Rogers, who founded the investment firm Ariel Investments, where Hobson is president. "Mellody is a deep believer in diversity. She has been such a pioneer as an African-American woman leader. So I think she felt if they were going to give a major gift, they wanted to make history in that way."

Hobson, in an essay for Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In campaign, wrote that she interned at Ariel Investments while at Princeton University. Her sole responsibility was to answer Rogers' mail, according to a 2012 interview in Marie Claire. She joined the firm after graduation in 1991, rising to president by 2000.

"Since I met Mellody 27 years ago as a prospective student at Princeton, she's heard me talk about how important the Laboratory Schools have been in my life," said Rogers, another Princeton grad. "She had a chance when (U.S. Education Secretary) Arne Duncan worked at Ariel. She's gotten to know other Lab grads. She's come to believe what it stands for, how unique it is. I can't overstate how special a place it was for me growing up."

Ariel manages about $9 billion in assets. Lucas has an estimated net worth of $4.2 billion, according to Forbes.

When Lucas and Hobson married, it magnified Hobson's ability to give to causes that she and those she admires have long championed. In December, the couple announced they would give $25 million over five years to After School Matters, founded by late Chicago first lady Maggie Daley.

Hobson is chairman of After School Matters, which has a heavy arts component. But there also is a deep personal connection. The Daley family, like Rogers later, has been a key part of Hobson's support structure since her high school days at St. Ignatius College Prep.

Hobson is the youngest of six children from a single mom and the first and only to graduate from college, according to her Lean In essay. She met Lucas in 2006 at a business conference in Aspen, Colo.

Rogers' daughter also attended Lab. Rogers said he did not know if Hobson and Lucas would send their daughter, whom the couple had by surrogacy last year, to the school. The Lab Schools are a division of the university and are located on campus.

Yearly tuition for high school students is $28,290 — and more than half the student body are children of University of Chicago professors and staff, who get discounted tuition and priority on admission. The U. of C. says that 49 percent of the Lab School's students are students of color.

In late 2012, after Lucas sold his film company to The Walt Disney Co. for $4.05 billion, a representative announced that he would donate the majority of the proceeds to philanthropy, specifically education. And in 2010, he signed Warren Buffett's Giving Pledge, committing to give away half his fortune in his lifetime or upon his death.

The George Lucas Family Foundation, the source of the After School Matters and University of Chicago gifts, had more than $1.1 billion in assets as of the end of 2012, according to tax filings.

"This arts wing was such a big part of our campaign," Rogers said. "Right up there with the early childhood center, and we needed a lead gift for the arts wing. I knew Mellody loved the arts, so it just made sense for us to approach them."

Parks rose to fame in the years before Lucas' "Star Wars."

He was considered a Renaissance man, a skilled novelist, photographer, poet, film director, and even a composer of film scores and classical music, according to a 2006 Tribune obituary.

According to the university, "Parks once told an interviewer that he was sitting in a darkened theater in Chicago, watching a newsreel, when he discovered the power of documentary images. Shortly after, in 1938, Parks bought a camera in a pawnshop for $7.50." He displayed his first pictures in a Minneapolis Eastman Kodak store.

"It was never about Gordon," John White, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, told the Tribune in 2006. "It was about others. And I think that's the reason that people connected with him. He would get embarrassed when people would call him 'The Renaissance Man.' He would say: 'I don't even know how to spell it, but if that's what you think, I'm honored.'"

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Keystone PipeLIES Exposed: New Film Refutes Jobs, Security, Gas Price, Tax, Safety, and Climate Claims

PRESS RELEASE: Tuesday, February 25, 2014
CONTACT: Nick Surgey,, (608) 260-9713

Keystone PipeLIES Exposed: New Film Refutes Jobs, Security, Gas Price, Tax, Safety, and Climate Claims

MADISON -- Today, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) released a new short film and launched a series of major investigative reports debunking key claims of proponents of the Keystone XL Pipeline, as the State Department solicits comments from the public on its controversial environmental impact assessment.

Over the past seven months, CMD has interviewed experts and activists in Port Arthur, Texas; Detroit; and Washington, DC; and examined detailed tax, safety, economic, environmental, and campaign finance studies in assessing the claims made by proponents of the pipeline, which would carry more than 3/4 million barrels of tar sands oil a day from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

“We made this film and investigated the public relations campaign for the Keystone XL pipeline because the fake 'facts' about jobs and energy security peddled by industry-funded politicians and uncritical pundits has left too many Americans deeply misinformed," said Lisa Graves, the Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy. CMD is the publisher of the award-winning “ALEC Exposed” investigative reporting project about the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The film, "Keystone PipeLIES Exposed," highlights little known facts about the KXL pipeline project such as the corporate exemption for tar sands oil from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund and the limits on taxes due for foreign oil imported to foreign trade zones like Port Arthur. The film also includes footage from major tar sands oil spills in the U.S. and Canada that were only briefly in the headlines despite the enormous damages they caused. A short excerpt of the film is available >here.

CMD's short film documents that, despite the claims of politicians and others backing KXL:

  • KXL will not directly create 100,000+ jobs but 3,900 short-term and 50 long-term ones.

  • KXL will not produce billions in corporate tax revenues, due to tax loopholes most Americans have never heard of.

  • KXL will not be safe from disastrous leaks, but it will be exempt from corporations paying into a key disaster insurance fund because it is "unconventional oil," which puts taxpayers on the hook for billions.

  • KXL will not make America energy independent; and, in fact, most of the tar sands oil is planned for export from the Gulf of Mexico via tankers to foreign countries.

  • KXL will not be climate neutral -- in spite of that suggestion made in an assessment prepared by an industry-linked group -- but it will speed climate change and global instability.

Dave Saldana, the Emmy Award-winning writer, director, and producer of the film, commented: "The Keystone XL pipeline is a phenomenally bad idea. I looked at the claims as a lawyer; what did the evidence show me? The evidence shows that its job creation claims are grossly inflated; that better, greener alternatives would aid America's energy independence and put more Americans to work for a longer time than the pipeline; and that the pumping of tar sands oil across the U.S. primarily for export to foreign countries poses enormous risks to America's water supply, food supply, and air quality. And that’s before you even get to what it does to climate change."

CMD's film and related documentation are being released in advance of the March 7 deadline the State Department has set for public comments on the government's recently released environmental impact assessment, which critics believe signals that the State Department is poised to give a green light to the pipeline’s expansion across the U.S.-Canadian border and to the Texas shores. On March 2, activists are preparing for KXL protests across the nation.

New Resources for the Press and Public on KXL

The production package for "Keystone PipeLIES Exposed" includes a 22-minute film, a fact sheet debunking the main myths about the KXL, seven 3-minute short videos for easy sharing, and other materials about the the experts cited in the film, which you can find at our new website: Follow the conversation at #pipelies.

In addition, five in-depth investigative pieces will be published -- each day this week -- at CMD’s original reporting site, Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

About the Center for Media and Democracy

About the Center for Media and Democracy

The Center for Media and Democracy

is a boutique investigative research and reporting group. CMD's original reporting helps educate the public and aid grassroots action about policies affecting our rights, our environment, and our democracy. CMD publishes PR Watch, SourceWatch, and ALECexposed.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Worse than Wal-Mart: @Amazon 's sick brutality and secret history of ruthlessly intimidating workers


When I first did research on Walmart’s workplace practices in the early 2000s, I came away convinced that Walmart was the most egregiously ruthless corporation in America. However, ten years later, there is a strong challenger for this dubious distinction—Amazon Corporation. Within the corporate world, Amazon now ranks with Apple as among the United States’ most esteemed businesses. Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, came in second in the Harvard Business Review’s 2012 world rankings of admired CEOs, and Amazon was third in CNN’s 2012 list of the world’s most admired companies. Amazon is now a leading global seller not only of books but also of music and movie DVDs, video games, gift cards, cell phones, and magazine subscriptions. Like Walmart itself, Amazon combines state-of-the-art CBSs with human resource practices reminiscent of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Amazon equals Walmart in the use of monitoring technologies to track the minute-by-minute movements and performance of employees and in settings that go beyond the assembly line to include their movement between loading and unloading docks, between packing and unpacking stations, and to and from the miles of shelving at what Amazon calls its “fulfillment centers”—gigantic warehouses where goods ordered by Amazon’s online customers are sent by manufacturers and wholesalers, there to be shelved, packaged, and sent out again to the Amazon customer.

Amazon’s shop-floor processes are an extreme variant of Taylorism that Frederick Winslow Taylor himself, a near century after his death, would have no trouble recognizing. With this twenty-first-century Taylorism, management experts, scientific managers, take the basic workplace tasks at Amazon, such as the movement, shelving, and packaging of goods, and break down these tasks into their subtasks, usually measured in seconds; then rely on time and motion studies to find the fastest way to perform each subtask; and then reassemble the subtasks and make this “one best way” the process that employees must follow.

Amazon is also a truly global corporation in a way that Walmart has never been, and this globalism provides insights into how Amazon responds to workplaces beyond the United States that can follow different rules. In the past three years, the harsh side of Amazon has come to light in the United Kingdom and Germany as well as the United States, and Amazon’s contrasting conduct in America and Britain, on one side, and in Germany, on the other, reveals how the political economy of Germany is employee friendly in a way that those of the other two countries no longer are.

Amazon, like General Electric and Walmart, prides itself as a self-consciously ideological corporation, with Jeff Bezos and his senior executives proclaiming an “Amazon Way” that can illuminate the path forward for less innovative businesses. In December 2009 Mark Onetto, chief of operations and customer relations at Amazon and a close collaborator of Bezos, gave an hourlong lecture on the Amazon Way to master’s of business administration students at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. Onetto is a disconcerting figure, because once he starts talking, style and substance are in sharp contrast. He is French born, and he still speaks with the rather faded insouciance of Maurice Chevalier and “Gay Paree,” and he makes much of this in his lecture. But there was nothing gay (in the traditional sense) or insouciant about the Amazon workplace that Onetto described for UVA’s MBA candidates.

Like most such corporate mission statements, Onetto’s uses a coded language that hides the harshness of his underlying message, which needs translation along with a hefty reality check. As with Walmart so at Amazon, there is a quasi-religious cult of the customer as an object of “trust” and “care”; Amazon “cares about the customer,” and “everything is driven” for him or her. Early in the lecture, Onetto quotes Bezos himself as saying, “I am not selling stuff. I am facilitating for my customers to buy what they need.”

Amazon’s larding of its customer cult with the moral language of “care” and “trust” comes with a strong dose of humbug because Amazon’s customers are principally valued by the corporation as mainstays of the bottom line, and not as vehicles for the fulfillment of personal relationships. There is still more humbug in the air because Amazon treats a second significant grouping of men and women with whom it has dealings—its employees—with the very opposite of care and trust. Amazon’s employees are almost completely absent from Onetto’s lecture, and they make their one major appearance when they too are wheeled in as devotees of the cult of the customer: “We make sure that every associate at Amazon is really a customercentric person, that cares about the customer.”

But as so often in Amazon’s recent history, it has been in Germany that this humbug has been stripped away and the true role of the “cult of the customer” has become clear. In its US and UK fulfillment centers, Amazon management is hegemonic. There is no independent employee voice to contest management’s demands for increased output unmatched by increases in real wages. But in Germany Amazon has to deal with work councils (Betriebsrat); a powerful union, the United Services Union (Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft, or Ver.Di), with 2.2 million members; and high officials of the federal and state governments more closely aligned with labor than their counterparts in the United States and the United Kingdom.

When in December 2012 the Ver.Di representatives in Leipzig called on the management of Amazon’s local center to open negotiations on wage rates and an improvement of working conditions, and especially for temporary workers who are badly exploited at Amazon, management refused on the grounds that employees should be “thinking about their customers” and not about their own selfish interests. This was treated with derision on the union side, but at all Amazon’s centers, and especially those in the United States and the United Kingdom, the cult of the customer is a serious matter and provides the rationale for the extreme variant of scientific management whose purpose, as at Walmart, is to keep pushing up employee productivity while keeping hourly wages at or near poverty levels.

As at Walmart, Amazon achieves this with a regime of workplace pressure, in which targets for the unpacking, movement, and repackaging of goods are relentlessly increased to levels where employees have to struggle to meet their targets and where older and less dextrous employees will begin to fail. As at Walmart, there is a pervasive “three strikes and you’re out” culture, and when these marginal employees acquire too many demerits (“points”), they are fired.

Amazon’s system of employee monitoring is the most oppressive I have ever come across and combines state-of-the-art surveillance technology with the system of “functional foreman,” introduced by Taylor in the workshops of the Pennsylvania machine-tool industry in the 1890s. In a fine piece of investigative reporting for the London Financial Times, economics correspondent Sarah O’Connor describes how, at Amazon’s center at Rugeley, England, Amazon tags its employees with personal sat-nav (satellite navigation) computers that tell them the route they must travel to shelve consignments of goods, but also set target times for their warehouse journeys and then measure whether targets are met.

All this information is available to management in real time, and if an employee is behind schedule she will receive a text message pointing this out and telling her to reach her targets or suffer the consequences. At Amazon’s depot in Allentown, Pennsylvania (of which more later), Kate Salasky worked shifts of up to eleven hours a day, mostly spent walking the length and breadth of the warehouse. In March 2011 she received a warning message from her manager, saying that she had been found unproductive during several minutes of her shift, and she was eventually fired. This employee tagging is now in operation at Amazon centers worldwide.

Whereas some Amazon employees are in constant motion across the floors of its enormous centers—the biggest, in Arizona, is the size of twenty-eight football fields—others work on assembly lines packing goods for shipping. An anonymous German student who worked as a temporary packer at Amazon’s depot in Augsburg, southern Germany, has given a revealing account of work on the line at Amazon. Her account appeared in the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the stern upholder of German financial orthodoxy and not a publication usually given to accounts of workplace abuse by large and powerful corporations. There were six packing lines at Amazon’s Augsburg center, each with two conveyor belts feeding tables where the packers stood and did the packing. The first conveyor belt fed the table with goods stored in boxes, and the second carried the goods away in sealed packages ready for distribution by UPS, FedEx, and their German counterparts.

Machines measured whether the packers were meeting their targets for output per hour and whether the finished packages met their targets for weight and so had been packed “the one best way.” But alongside these digital controls there was a team of Taylor’s “functional foremen,” overseers in the full nineteenth-century sense of the term, watching the employees every second to ensure that there was no “time theft,” in the language of Walmart. On the packing lines there were six such foremen, one known in Amazonspeak as a “coworker” and above him five “leads,” whose collective task was to make sure that the line kept moving. Workers would be reprimanded for speaking to one another or for pausing to catch their breath (Verschnaufpause) after an especially tough packing job.

The functional foreman would record how often the packers went to the bathroom and, if they had not gone to the bathroom nearest the line, why not. The student packer also noticed how, in the manner of Jeremy Bentham’s nineteenth-century panopticon, the architecture of the depot was geared to make surveillance easier, with a bridge positioned at the end of the workstation where an overseer could stand and look down on his wards. However, the task of the depot managers and supervisors was not simply to fight time theft and keep the line moving but also to find ways of making it move still faster. Sometimes this was done using the classic methods of Scientific Management, but at other times higher targets for output were simply proclaimed by management, in the manner of the Soviet workplace during the Stalin era.

Onetto in his lecture describes in detail how Amazon’s present-day scientific managers go about achieving speedup. They observe the line, create a detailed “process map” of its workings, and then return to the line to look for evidence of waste, or Muda, in the language of the Toyota system. They then draw up a new process map, along with a new and faster “time and motion” regime for the employees. Amazon even brings in veterans of lean production from Toyota itself, whom Onetto describes with some relish as “insultants,” not consultants: “They are really not nice. . . . [T]hey’re samurais, the real last samurais, the guys from the Toyota plants.” But as often as not, higher output targets are declared by Amazon management without explanation or warning, and employees who cannot make the cut are fired. At Amazon’s Allentown depot, Mark Zweifel, twenty-two, worked on the receiving line, “unloading inventory boxes, scanning bar codes and loading products into totes.” After working six months at Amazon, he was told, without warning or explanation, that his target rates for packages had doubled from 250 units per hour to 500.

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@gop @speakerboehner @gopleader "When Republicans hated the troops " disregard for the loss of life in Iraq


Since Vietnam all media organizations had imbibed the conventional wisdom about the public’s apparent averseness to casualties. Leading political scientists, they knew, taught that the public was casualty-intolerant; that popular support would inevitably ebb when the country lost a particular number of troops. Whatever the accuracy of this thesis—and a number of political scientists were in the process of offering refinements or serious challenges—its eye-catching simplicity made it a staple of the media discourse. Whenever troops were committed to war and the first casualties were sustained, many editors turned to John Mueller and his followers for comment. They also published polls that sought to establish if casualties were influencing domestic levels of support for the fight. And they sent reporters on to the streets to monitor the public’s sensitivity to losses in the current fight. What did the average voter think about the present casualty totals? What if casualties rose precipitously? What level did they think was acceptable?

At first, the Bush administration found the results reassuring. Before the invasion, opinion polls found that a majority of Americans thought that removing Saddam from power was “worth the potential loss of American life.” In early April, when the death toll was eighty-eight, a voter-in-the-street interview found the dominant mood even more robust. “Casualties had not eroded . . . support for the war,” the interviewer recorded, and most people “could accept two, three, or even ten times as many deaths in the coming weeks, as long as success was in sight.” These last six words were a potentially significant caveat, but they were by no means the only warning sign. The new type of media coverage also appeared to be exerting an impact. “Many people,” the interviewer added, “said the limited number of casualties, as recorded by the twenty-four-hour news coverage, has made each life lost seem more poignant.” It remained to be seen how the public would react to such poignancy, especially if success in Iraq no longer appeared imminent.

On May 1 this did not seem a problem. That day, in a speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, Bush declared that the Iraq mission had been accomplished. After praising the skill and devotion of America’s soldiers, as well as mourning those who would never return, Bush went on to emphasize the advantages of his new type of warfare. In the world war era, he observed, the United States had relied on massive military power “to end a regime by breaking a nation.” Now, he declared, “with new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians. No device of man can remove the tragedy from war; yet it is a great advance when the guilty have far more to fear from war than the innocent.”

Unfortunately for Bush, even as he spoke, his way of war was unraveling fast. In April the lightning advance might have ended Saddam’s regime, apparently at little cost, but by May it had also created numerous unforeseen problems. One was the survival of units loyal to Saddam. In their dash for Baghdad, American forces had bypassed many fedayeen militias, in the belief that they would “die on the vine” when Saddam was overthrown. In actuality, the fedayeen ultimately survived to fight another day. Worse, these Iraqi militias were now primed to fight an unconventional insurgency of the type that U.S. forces were ill prepared to counter. They could also rely on outside support, partly because Rumsfeld’s army on the ground was much smaller than the 380,000 that some military planners had estimated would be required to both police Iraq and seal its borders.

Nor had Bush anticipated the internal problems that soon erupted inside Iraq. Before the invasion Bush and his team had scarcely considered postwar planning, blithely convinced that Iraqis would greet U.S. forces as “liberators” before creating a stable democracy that would become a key American ally. The reality was quite different. Saddam’s sudden ouster initially resulted in wave of massive looting. When the Americans then abruptly removed all former Baathist Party members from positions of authority, many ministries, hospitals, and schools stopped functioning. In a country divided between Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, membership in Saddam’s party had provided not just work but also one of Iraq’s “few unifying national institutions.” As a vacuum developed at the center, Iraq threatened to divide into ungovernable—even warring—factions.

For American troops on the ground it was a bewildering time. Trained for combat, they suddenly faced a disconcerting array of requests from Iraqi civilians about water supplies, garbage collection, and freedom of movement. Given orders to oust Saddam, secure Iraq’s oil fields, and locate the WMD, they had no instructions for dealing with the endemic looting. Then they started to come under attack from insurgents. Throughout the summer, as temperatures soared well above 100oF, violence flared across Iraq. Instead of a quick return home, the 130,000 soldiers and marines faced a new war, albeit one that varied from region to region. In the north the 101st Airborne under Gen. David Petraeus emphasized nation building as well as insurgency fighting. In the region west of Baghdad, by contrast, a savage war was underway, while Baghdad itself became the scene of a growing number of terrorist bombings. Nevertheless, wherever they were based, all American troops faced roughly the same outlook: a growing chance of becoming a sudden casualty in a new and unpredictable conflict.

The Bush administration struggled to find a coherent response to these unexpected developments. When reporters first asked Rumsfeld about the looting, he was breezily dismissive. “Stuff happens!” he replied, adding “it’s untidy, and freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things,” but “they’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things.” What was certainly not happening, Rumsfeld insisted throughout the early summer, was a full-blown insurgency. In mid-June he blamed the violence on “pockets of dead-enders” left over from the invasion. His commanders, meanwhile, insisted that a deployment of four thousand U.S. soldiers in central Iraq “would curb the threat,” adding that the violence was not a sign that they now faced organized nationwide resistance.

But the violence continued to escalate. In June U.S. forces initiated roughly half of the thirty-five daily incidents. On a single day in August, by contrast, insurgents were responsible for upwards of 80 percent of incidents. As a result American losses rose dramatically, hitting thirty-three in October and rising to sixty-eight in November. On November 3 alone, seventeen Americans were killed, sixteen of them in a Chinook helicopter shot down by insurgents. The next day, even relatively staid newspapers like USA Today ran with alarming banner headlines, pronouncing: violence in iraq reaches new level.

Just like Lyndon B. Johnson thirty-eight years earlier, Bush was at his Texas ranch as this major spate of new casualties was announced. Whereas Johnson had spoken publicly about the pain he felt at every new death in Vietnam, Bush was deeply reluctant to embrace, or even talk about, the casualty issue. Determined not to engage in public displays of grief, he initially rejected any suggestion that he appear at funerals or memorial services. He even waited two days before making a statement on the Chinook loss.

To the twenty-four-hour cable news channels that lived off breaking news, this time lag seemed an eternity. Even to more traditionally minded journalists, Bush’s reluctance to connect himself openly with a tragic event marked a clear break from the past. For at least a generation the sitting president had acted as mourner in chief. In 1965 Johnson had led the way, telling the public of his pain at the Ia Drang losses. Nixon had then spoken frequently about recent losses, albeit tinged with a partisan desire to attack the Democrats and justify his own policies. Then after the Vietnam War the president’s public grieving role had become fully established. As reporters now hastened to remind Bush:

President Jimmy Carter attended ceremonies for troops killed in Pakistan, Egypt and the failed hostage rescue mission in Iran. President Ronald Reagan participated in many memorable ceremonies, including a service at Camp Lejeune in 1983 for 241 Marines killed in Beirut. Among several events at military bases, he went to Andrews in 1985 to pin Purple Hearts to the caskets of marines killed in San Salvador, and, at Mayport Naval Station in Florida in 1987, he eulogized those killed aboard the USS Stark in the Persian Gulf. In the next decade Clinton had taken public mourning to a new level. Always adept at publicly empathizing with victims, Clinton had attended a number of military funerals, including a service for seventeen soldiers killed by Al Qaeda on the USS Cole.

Bush, however, was determined to be different. With the exception of Reagan, he found these past precedents unappealing. Clinton was always a particular Bush bĂȘte noire; and, as one of his aides revealed, Bush had long been offended by what he saw as Clinton’s “exploitation of private grief for political gain.” Johnson’s example was even more troubling. Bush’s aides were acutely aware of the obvious parallel of two Texan presidents presiding over bloody insurgency wars. Behind closed doors Bush also craved detailed information on losses in a way that rekindled ominous memories of Johnson’s obsession with body counts. Ever eager to avoid a PR disaster, Bush advisers were highly sensitive about what they told the media. “Not once in this building have we ever discussed the number,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs maintained on one occasion, under intense questioning from a skeptical reporter. Bush, agreed another official, had never “become hostage to daily body counts.”

As reporters continued to probe Bush about this tendency to shy away from casualties, they received various responses. The president simply lacked the time to attend all the military funerals, declared one White House official. He was also wanted to let grieving families “have their privacy,” insisted another. Nor, averred a third, did he think it fair to single out specific deaths. As Bush’s communications director explained, “He never wants to elevate or diminish one sacrifice made over another.”

To the skeptics, however, Bush’s motives were much more brazenly political. A presidential election was just a year away. The media was already focusing intensively on casualties in the unexpected guerilla war, and pollsters were increasingly making the disturbing connection between mounting losses and Bush’s approval ratings. As early as July 2003 opinion polls started to record that a majority of Americans thought the level of casualties was “unacceptable”—a figure that rose at precisely the same time that Bush’s personal approval ratings began to dip alarmingly.

Against this domestic backdrop, Bush had an obvious incentive not to dramatize the growing death toll. Faced with domestic criticism over his tardy response to the Chinook downing, he did fly to Fort Carson, Colorado, at the end of November where four of sixteen dead soldiers had been based. In a tearful two-hour meeting with relatives, he offered condolences and comfort. But this visit proved an exception rather than the rule. For the most part Bush focused on doing nothing to dramatize the casualty issue. Most controversially he continued to uphold the ban, introduced by his father in the Persian Gulf War, on media coverage of the return of flag-draped coffins. “There will be no arrival ceremonies for, or media coverage of deceased military personnel returning to or departing from Ramstein [Germany] airbase or Dover [DE] base, to include interim stops,” the Bush administration insisted.

If the past was any guide, Bush’s effort to defuse the casualty issue was unlikely to succeed. In earlier wars similar PR strategies had simply created an information vacuum, which was filled by partisan politicians and speculating reporters. This time, as well as adding uncontrolled bloggers to the equation, these competing voices in the polity had clear reasons to develop their own casualty narrative.

Their most powerful motive was a growing skepticism about the Bush administration’s entire case for war. Before the invasion, the unifying threat in Bush’s propaganda had been that Saddam’s WMD posed a clear and present danger to the United States. “It was the one justification for war on which everyone could agree,” according to the historian Susan Brewer. It was also the justification that did most to rally overwhelming popular support for the war. Unfortunately for Bush, it proved glaringly erroneous. Although the administration sent teams of WMD hunters into Iraq, weapons were never found. Saddam had sustained the illusion of still having stockpiles partly because he thought this would instill fear in his enemies in the region and partly because believed he believed the Americans would never invade. By January 2004 David Kay, the head of the WMD-hunting operation, publicly admitted failure. “We were almost all wrong,” he conceded to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

This stunning admission had a clear, if complex, impact on the casualty debate. At the beginning of the war, some relatives of the fallen had told reporters that the discovery of chemical and biological weapons would help them make sense of their loss. If they were not found, warned Jeremy Rosner, a Democratic pollster, Bush was in for a hard time. “The American tolerance for casualties,” Rosner told the New York Times in April, “is going to change a whole lot depending on whether you find a weapon of mass destruction.”

A year later this appeared, at first glance, to be a prescient prediction. As casualty totals increased, while the WMD proved nonexistent, the public mood appeared to be shifting. Only a third of Americans, for instance, thought that the level of casualties was acceptable. Although Saddam’s capture at the end of 2003 fulfilled one war aim, the number thinking Iraq was a mistake continued to rise, as did the percentage who no longer thought the war worth fighting. And yet, domestic support did not collapse entirely. Most notably the public’s tolerance for casualties remained fairly robust. According to a specific series of polls undertaken on the subject, the number stating they would not tolerate more than a thousand casualties only jumped from 24 to 32 percent during the period when the administration admitted there were no WMDs. During the winter of 2003/4, moreover, overall support for the war continued to hover just above the significant 50 percent threshold.

The failure to find WMD, though not directly undermining popular support for the war, did exert a clear influence over the elite discourse. In particular it provided the war’s critics with an obvious new rallying cry. Back in 1952 opponents of Korea had decried Truman’s “die for a tie” stalemate war. Now this slogan was revamped into the catchy “die for a lie” sound bite, and reiterated by politicians, protesters, and bloggers. Perhaps its most telling use came on the anniversary of the Tonkin Gulf incident, which Johnson had used as legal cover to escalate the Vietnam War. Forty years later antiwar protesters gathered next to the USS Admiral Turner Joy, one of the ships that had been involved in the incident and was now docked permanently at Bremerton, Washington. On their placards was the barbed question: “How do you ask a soldier to be the last to die for a lie?”

During the Vietnam War, of course, the murky nature of the Tonkin incident had generated suspicions of a “credibility gap” between Johnson’s public statements and the reality on the ground. In the wake of the failure to locate WMD, Bush faced a similar problem. Like Johnson, moreover, he then widened the credibility gap by making constant claims about progress in Iraq, which jarred with repeated media stories of violent incidents and mounting casualties. Some experts were quick to note the similarity. As early as November 2003, for example, Ernest May, the influential Harvard historian, declared ominously that “the gap between official assessments of the situation and reports from the ground is ‘eerily reminiscent’ of the Vietnam era.”

Just like in the 1960s, these “credibility gap” claims threatened to have a deeply corrosive impact on presidential leadership. Ever since Bush’s ill-fated decision to declare victory on May 1, the media had been gifted the opening to frame every casualty story around the same refrain: How many Americans had died “since the president declared major operations were over?” Such an opening hardly inspired confidence in Bush’s leadership, especially when the media reported in late October 2003 that the “postwar GI death toll” now exceeded the wartime total. As skepticism grew, the media predictably began to shine its investigative spotlight on a whole range of government pronouncements.

It soon emerged, for instance, that Jessica Lynch had not been captured during a last-ditch Rambo-style shoot-out, as official spokesmen suggested and the media avidly reported. The reality was much more prosaic. According to the Washington Post, which had run one of the most influential early stories, “Lynch tried to fire her weapon, but it jammed. . . . She did not kill any Iraqis. She was neither shot nor stabbed.” In the aftermath of this effective retraction, other media organizations began to ask, as Jim Lehrer did on his NewsHour, “whether the American media too willingly accepted the story of the rescue of Jessica Lynch as presented by the Pentagon.”

This was not the last time that media mistrust would interact with a celebrity casualty story. A year later, when the football star Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan, the Pentagon initially tried to conceal that he had been a victim of friendly fire. It was a cover-up that failed disastrously, magnifying distrust in official statements and leading ultimately to a House of Representatives investigation into why the Defense Department had sought to mislead the public about both Tillman and Lynch.

Prompted by both incidents, a number of families came forward “to recount similar experiences in which the Pentagon provided misleading information about a battlefield casualty.” As the inquest dragged on, some media voices charged that the Tillman case had disturbing echoes in how Johnson and Nixon, “drunk with power,” had repeatedly lied to the American people. Others concentrated on the Lynch episode, arguing that it raised equally profound questions about the modern personality-obsessed media culture that the Pentagon had manipulated so easily. In this view, rather than being a real hero distinguished by achievement, Lynch was the archetypal celebrity-hero created by an unholy military-media alliance. “Jessica Lynch is but a puppet,” opined Mark Morford, a columnist and culture critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, “a toy, a convenient TV-ready canvass [sic] onto which we can project our impotent myths of patriotism and war, spit forth by the BushCo military machine to ease America’s pain, to assuage the increasingly nagging fear that we have committed this horrible thing, this irreversible atrocity.”

While Morford’s trenchant scorn for the official line had little resonance outside liberal circles, the growing mood of distrust that it fed into did present Democrats with an obvious opportunity. At the very least those who had always opposed the invasion felt vindicated. Ted Kennedy, who had caused Nixon so much anxiety over the Hamburger Hill casualties in 1969, was now a similar thorn in Bush’s side. In October 2002 Kennedy had voted against the congressional resolution for war on the grounds that Bush had neither made a “convincing case that we face such an imminent threat” nor had “laid out the cost in blood and treasure for this operation.” Now he branded the Iraq War “an unnecessary war, based on unreliable and inaccurate intelligence,” which “has brought new dangers, imposed new costs, and taken more and more American lives each week.”

As casualties mounted over the winter of 2003/4, those Democrats racing for their party’s presidential nomination intensified this partisan assault. Some targeted Bush’s reluctance to act as mourner in chief, depicting him as “isolated from the real pain of war.” Others invoked casualties to highlight what they dubbed the war’s mismanagement. In an op-ed piece in the Boston Globe, Wesley Clark began with the tragic story of Sgt. Ernest Bucklew—one of the sixteen killed in the downed Chinook, who had been heading home to attend his mother’s funeral—to call for a new plan to end the Iraq War.

In the spring, as the situation in Iraq continued to worsen, this line of attack seemed likely to gain more traction. April was a particularly bloody month. Whereas U.S. forces had normally faced about two hundred incidents a week, this figure jumped to 370 one week, followed by 600 the next. The city of Fallujah became the central flashpoint. More aggressive patrolling by the marine corps, which had just taken over responsibility for the city, resulted in a series of intense firefights, but the most explosive episode came when four American contractors were ambushed by insurgents. Dragged from their cars, they were beaten and dismembered, before their blackened corpses were left hanging from a bridge. As Peter Jennings began on that evening’s ABC news, “[T]he cameras were there for the gruesome aftermath.” The pictures they recorded, he added, were “pretty repugnant, but they are the reality of war.”

On many occasions such contractors’ deaths remained effectively hidden from public view. As private employees, they certainly did not appear in official casualty statistics. This time, however, the public was appalled. According to one survey, the footage of their corpses was so gruesomely eye-catching that more than 80 percent had “seen or heard something about the attacks.” Democrats now glimpsed an opportunity. While leading congressional critics branded Iraq “George Bush’s Vietnam,” John Kerry, the Democrats’ presumed presidential nominee, declared that Bush’s handling of Iraq was both “inept” and a “mess.”

Yet the Fallujah incident would soon reveal, in microcosm, all the problems Kerry would face trying to turn this new spate of Iraq violence into a winning electoral message. Part of the problem stemmed from the reckless and objectionable comments of some of his liberal allies. Soon after the networks had aired gruesome footage of the dead contractors, the Daily Kos, a progressive political blog, published a comment by Markos Moulitsas, its founder. “I feel nothing over the death of merceneries [sic],” Moulitsas provocatively wrote. “They aren’t in Iraq because of orders, or because they are there trying to help the people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them.” Kerry was immediately forced on the defensive. In the next few days, instead of sharpening his political attack on the war, he was forced to disavow these comments as “unacceptable” before removing a link to them from his campaign website.

In the late summer Kerry was again was thrown off balance, this time by some of his former Vietnam military comrades. These men, angered by Kerry’s role in the Vietnam antiwar movement during the early 1970s, produced contentious TV ads and a video “documentary” that questioned both Kerry’s patriotism and the incident that won him a third Purple Heart.

Kerry struggled to find an effective retort. By mid-September even Democratic consultants admitted that he “had been too slow to respond to Republican attacks on his military record.” To make matters worse, when Kerry tried to shift the focus back to Iraq, he was easily caricatured as lacking consistency. Why, Republicans asked, had he voted against the first Iraq War in 1991 but for the second one in 2003? Was his current criticism of Bush’s handling of the conflict just another example of his muddle-headed opportunism? If Kerry had been president, Cheney declared, Saddam would not only still be in power, he would still be in control of Kuwait. Was this the man to be president at such a dangerous moment?

Although Kerry tried to hit back hard, his campaign statements often lacked focus and fire. The first presidential debate was particularly telling. Held just after the American death toll had passed the landmark one-thousand threshold, it should have presented Kerry with a prime opportunity, especially when Lehrer, the impartial moderator, asked both candidates whether the war had been worth such a cost. But Kerry muffed his lines. While Bush spoke movingly of meeting with widows who understood the need to remove Saddam, Kerry said somewhat cryptically that Lehrer’s question was a timely reminder that Americans should never confuse war “with the warriors.” He then went on to speak stolidly of his plan to end the fighting by holding a summit meeting and bringing in the UN.

For Democrats it was all very frustrating. The public clearly distrusted Bush on Iraq. In mid-September about 80 percent said he was either “hiding something” or “mostly lying” about the war. A plurality also said that the fighting had “produced more casualties than originally expected.” And still the death toll continued to rise. The fighting, which spread from Fallujah during the spring, remained intense in the city itself. Although the marines launched a major campaign, this merely resulted in a costly stalemate on the ground. In April alone, 126 Americans were KIA, making it the bloodiest month of the war.

For Bush, however, the sheer size of this mess contained at least one advantage. As the security situation deteriorated, American correspondents found it almost impossible to cover the war. “It was journalism under siege,” reported one correspondent, “with hotels being mortared and every trip out of them risky, made in armored SUVs and wearing body armor.” As the country descended into chaos, ambushes and kidnappings became depressingly common, and many correspondents stopped making even these heavily chaperoned trips. “The whole world of foreign correspondence changed,” observed the Washington Post’s Baghdad bureau chief. “We started out like other reporters—go out, report, do a day trip, come back, write the story. By the end, I wasn’t going anywhere much.”

With “cowed reporters” often failing to depict the ugly reality of events on the ground, Bush’s constant claims of progress started to stick. Even at the beginning of the year popular support, though dipping, had remained relatively robust. It continued to edge downward during the spring, with the balance between those Americans approving and disapproving hitting a low of 40:58 in May. But the decision to hand over power to an Iraqi government a month later halted the trend. In July this ratio then increased to 45:53, before nudging up to 47:50 just before the election. With the country about to vote, Bush also led Kerry on the question of who would best deal with an international crisis and who could best protect the homeland from another terrorist attack.

As reporters went out into the American heartland to interview friends and relatives of the fallen, they discovered similar pattern. “I don’t think I like what John Kerry has to say,” said the best friend of a Nebraska corporal recently killed in Iraq. In fact, throughout this admittedly Republican-leaning Nebraska neighborhood, the journalist found that most people did not see the corporal’s “death through the prism of politics.” “I sense no bitterness or contrition whatsoever,” observed another inhabitant of this small town. “I think the overall feeling is that we’re grateful he died the way he did—serving his country.”

Excerpted from “When Soldiers Fall: How Americans Have Confronted Combat Losses from World War I to Afghanistan” by Steven Casey. Copyright © 2014 by Steven Casey. Reprinted by arrangement with Oxford University Press, a division of Oxford University. All rights reserved.

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Man With a New, Healthy Heart Says Obamacare Saved His Life


Fighting back tears of joy and surrounded by his wife and three children, a Kansas man describes how Obamacare, Pres. Obama’s signature health care law, literally saved his life.

Mike O’Dell was able to get health insurance thanks to Obamacare on January 1st, enabling him to go on the transplant waiting list, and he now has a new heart.

“I thought I’d deteriorate and eventually I’d pass away. It’s just been, it’s been tough,” he said as he fought back tears of joy in appreciation towards Obamacare.

Like millions of other sick Americans in need of critical healthcare, before enrolling in Obamacare, Mike could not afford the transplant that he needed. Although he qualified for Crisis Medicaid coverage for those with high medical expenses, but he was unable to meet the spenddown requirements to have continuous coverage.

“While we could have done the transplant even without charging him, the medication he would never be able to afford,” said Dr. Andrew Kao, his heart specialist.

His treatment had a price tag of $4,000 a month, prohibitively expensive for Mike and his family.

“I didn’t want them giving me somebody else’s gift and I couldn’t afford to have it,” said O’Dell.

Due to his preexisting heart condition, he was unable to get private health insurance. Thanks to Obamacare, insurers can no longer deny coverage to those with the existing conditions. Both O’Dell and his wife were able to get coverage through the health insurance marketplace for only $190 a month, allowing him to go on the transplant waiting list right away.

“He wouldn’t be here with me or my children if it weren’t for the Obamacare,” said O’Dell’s wife, Kate.

According to his doctors, Mike wouldn’t have lived long without having received the gift of the strangers heart last week.

“Kinda like winning the lottery,” said O’Dell.

A deadly infection had struck Mike’s heart only three years ago. He admits that before the infection, he believed he was perfectly healthy and had no need for health insurance. Now he says, he knows differently.

One never knows when disaster will strike, and Obamacare provides every American with the comfort of knowing that life-saving health care is not only attainable, but also affordable.

Thank you, Obamacare.

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don't allow rule change that would privatize poultry inspection--allowing companies to inspect chicken and turkey carcasses themselves

trans pacific partnership: a trade deal so bad that even the people who want it passed don't want to talk about it


One congressman did manage to say that he thought this international trade deal was "a punch in the face to the middle class of America ... but I’m not even allowed to tell you why.”*

I mean, I just don't even.

*That was Rep. Alan Grayson, if you're keeping track.

For more on the TPP, check out this Guardian article.

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