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Green / Sustainability
The man who offers an insult writes it in sand, but for the man who receives it, it's chiseled in bronze.
GOP Senate Candidate Addressed Conference Hosted by Neo-Confederate Group That Promotes Secessionism
Chris McDaniel is taking the "GOP Civil War" to a new level. Two months ago, the tea party-backed Mississippi Senate candidate addressed a neo-Confederate conference and costume ball hosted by a group that promotes the work of present-day secessionists and contends the wrong side won the "war of southern independence." Other speakers at the event included a historian who believes Lincoln was a Marxist and Ryan Walters, a PhD candidate who worked on McDaniel's first political campaign and wrote recently that the "controversy" over President Barack Obama's birth certificate "hasn't really been solved."
McDaniel, a state senator, is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Thad Cochran in next summer's GOP Senate primary. After announcing his run last week, McDaniel quickly picked up endorsements from the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee founded by former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a prominent backer of the tea party. Both groups are key players in the internal GOP battle between establishment-minded Republicans and tea party insurgents and are backing right-wing challenges to incumbent Republicans whom they deem insufficiently conservative. Cochran, who is finishing out his 35th year in the Senate and has not said if he will seek re-election, earned the ire of tea partiers by voting to re-open the federal government and avert defaulting on the debt. McDaniel, whose campaign bus features an image of Article I of the Constitution, has promised to make Cochran's debt ceiling vote a centerpiece of his campaign.
The economy is picking up in some parts of the country, but that hasn't translated into any new serious efforts to help those suffering the most hardship. In fact, for those on the lowest rung of the economic ladder, life may be getting even harder. A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) looks at cash benefits provided under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, commonly known as "welfare." It finds that the value of monthly cash benefits that make up the fragile safety net for the poorest families with children has continued to decline steadily since the program was "reformed" in 1996.
Back then, benefits weren't exactly generous, but they did manage to keep a whole lot of kids out of really deep poverty. Today, those benefits are almost nonexistent. The lucky few who are able to get cash assistance aren't getting enough to pay rent or keep the lights on in most states, and the value of the benefits has declined precipitously since 1996—even more so since the recession started. According to CBPP, there is not a state in the country whose welfare benefits are enough to lift a poor single mother with two kids above 50 percent of the poverty line, or about $9700 a year. In many southern states, TANF doesn't provide enough money to get a poor family much above 10 percent of the poverty line. What's especially troubling about these figures is that, as CBPP reports, TANF benefits are often the only form of cash assistance poor families receive. They may be getting food stamps, which definitely help their situations, but you can't buy diapers or pay the rent with food stamps.
People like President Bill Clinton and then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich claimed they'd be doing welfare recipients a favor in the 1990s when they reformed the welfare program to impose work requirements and make it more difficult for people to get benefits. The idea was that welfare recipients were just lazy and that their government checks were keeping them from working, making them dependent on the government. When the reform legislation passed, with Clinton's signature, some people in the administration quit in protest, arguing that cutting off cash assistance for poor families would push millions of children into poverty. That didn't happen, at least not right away. But funding for the TANF block grant hasn't increased since 1996, meaning that in real terms, what the country spends to help poor families in the program has fallen 30 percent overall since welfare was "reformed," and benefit levels have fallen even more in some states that cut benefits after the financial crisis started in 2007. Not surprisingly, since 1996, the number of families with children living in extreme poverty—that is, on $2 a day or less—has gone up nearly 130 percent.
The US Census Bureau reports that the number of Americans suffering significant hardships, such as having utilities cut off, getting evicted, or suffering food shortages, has escalated sharply during the recession. Between 2005 and 2011, nearly 7 million additional people were unable to make a mortgage or rent payment, suggesting that as the nation's last-ditch safety net for people in really dire straits, TANF, is not working. Given that science is now showing just how damaging the stress of poverty is to children and their health and intellectual development, maybe it's finally time for welfare reform to be reformed in a way that gives poor kids a fair shot at a decent future.
On September 30, Richard Portwood, a 27-year-old Georgetown University graduate student, received a phone call from an FBI agent who said the bureau wanted to meet with him urgently. Portwood didn't know why the FBI would have any interest in him, but two days later he sat down with a pair of agents at a coffee shop near his apartment. They told him they suspected that Yury Zaytsev, the US director of a Russian government-run cultural exchange program that Portwood had participated in, was a spy.
Since 2001, Zaytsev's organization, Rossotrudnichestvo, has footed the bill for about 130 young Americans—including political aides, nonprofit advocates, and business executives—to visit Russia. Along with Portwood, Mother Jones has spoken to two other Rossotrudnichestvo participants who were questioned by the FBI about Zaytsev, who also heads the Russian Cultural Center in Washington.Yury Zaytsev, a Russian diplomat. Multiple sources tell us he is the subject of an extensive FBI investigation. Rossotrudnichestvo
The FBI agents "have been very up front about" their investigation into whether Zaytsev is a Russian intelligence agent, says a 24-year-old nonprofit worker whom the FBI has interviewed twice and who asked not to be identified. The FBI agents, according to this source, said, "We're investigating Yury for spying activities. We just want to know what interactions you've had with him." The nonprofit worker was shocked. Zaytsev, he says, is "what you imagine when you imagine a Russian diplomat. He's fairly stoic, tall, pale." Zaytsev did not travel on the exchange trips he helped arrange, and his contact with the Americans who went on these trips was limited.
The agents who interviewed the Rossotrudnichestvo participants did not tell them what evidence they possessed to support their suspicions. FBI spokeswoman Amy Thoreson declined to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation into Zaytsev or answer any questions about FBI actions regarding the Russian. (The FBI did not ask Mother Jones to withhold this story.) But based on what the bureau's agents said during the interviews, the Americans who were questioned concluded the FBI suspects that Zaytsev and Rossotrudnichestvo have used the all-expenses-paid trips to Russia in an effort to cultivate young Americans as intelligence assets. (An asset could be someone who actually works with an intelligence service to gather information, or merely a contact who provides information, opinions, or gossip, not realizing it is being collected by an intelligence officer.) The nonprofit worker says the FBI agents told him that Zaytsev had identified him as a potential asset. Zaytsev or his associates, the agents said, had begun to build a file on the nonprofit worker and at least one other Rossotrudnichestvo participant who had been an adviser to an American governor.
Ken Cuccinelli, the conservative attorney general of Virginia and the Republican candidate for governor in this November's election, has filed a summary of his tax returns showing that he donated thousands of dollars in the past four years to crisis pregnancy centers, the controversial facilities that counsel pregnant women against abortions. Abortion rights advocates have criticized crisis pregnancy centers for showing women graphic simulations of abortions, providing medical misinformation, and opening offices near abortion providers in the hopes that women will confuse the two. At one of the centers Cuccinelli supported, staff told women that abortion increases their chance of breast cancer and that abortion will "haunt" them for the rest of their lives. At another Cuccinelli-backed center, employees falsely told a New York Times reporter that Margaret Sanger, an early advocate for legal abortion, was a Nazi sympathizer.
From 2008 to 2012, Cuccinelli gave two crisis pregnancy centers and one affiliated group a total of $4,038—roughly 13 percent of his overall charitable giving for those years.
Over $1,300 of that total went to AAA Women for Choice, a Manassas-area crisis pregnancy center. Organizers of an annual event to support AAA Women for Choice also raffled off a Cuccinelli-autographed Gadsden flag in April 2012, which helped raise another $3,860 for the clinic.
There is a new normal in America: our government may shut down, but our wars continue. Congress may not be able to pass a budget, but the US military can still launch commando raids in Libya and Somalia, the Afghan War can still be prosecuted, Italy can be garrisoned by American troops (putting the "empire" back in Rome), Africa can be used as an imperial playground (as in the late nineteenth century "scramble for Africa," but with the US and China doing the scrambling this time around), and the military-industrial complex can still dominate the world's arms trade.
In the halls of Congress and the Pentagon, it's business as usual, if your definition of "business" is the power and profits you get from constantly preparing for and prosecuting wars around the world. "War is a racket," General Smedley Butler famously declared in 1935, and even now it's hard to disagree with a man who had two Congressional Medals of Honor to his credit and was intimately familiar with American imperialism.
War Is Politics, Right?
Once upon a time, as a serving officer in the US Air Force, I was taught that Carl von Clausewitz had defined war as a continuation of politics by other means. This definition is, in fact, a simplification of his classic and complex book, On War, written after his experiences fighting Napoleon in the early nineteenth century.
The idea of war as a continuation of politics is both moderately interesting and dangerously misleading: interesting because it connects war to political processes and suggests that they should be fought for political goals; misleading because it suggests that war is essentially rational and so controllable. The fault here is not Clausewitz's, but the American military's for misreading and oversimplifying him.
Perhaps another "Carl" might lend a hand when it comes to helping Americans understand what war is really all about. I'm referring to Karl Marx, who admired Clausewitz, notably for his idea that combat is to war what a cash payment is to commerce. However seldom combat (or such payments) may happen, they are the culmination and so the ultimate arbiters of the process.
War, in other words, is settled by killing, a bloody transaction that echoes the exploitative exchanges of capitalism. Marx found this idea to be both suggestive and pregnant with meaning. So should we all.
Following Marx, Americans ought to think about war not just as an extreme exercise of politics, but also as a continuation of exploitative commerce by other means. Combat as commerce: there's more in that than simple alliteration.
In the history of war, such commercial transactions took many forms, whether as territory conquered, spoils carted away, raw materials appropriated, or market share gained. Consider American wars. The War of 1812 is sometimes portrayed as a minor dust-up with Britain, involving the temporary occupation and burning of our capital, but it really was about crushing Indians on the frontier and grabbing their land. The Mexican-American War was another land grab, this time for the benefit of slaveholders. The Spanish-American War was a land grab for those seeking an American empire overseas, while World War I was for making the world "safe for democracy"—and for American business interests globally.
Even World War II, a war necessary to stop Hitler and Imperial Japan, witnessed the emergence of the US as the arsenal of democracy, the world's dominant power, and the new imperial stand-in for a bankrupt British Empire.
Korea? Vietnam? Lots of profit for the military-industrial complex and plenty of power for the Pentagon establishment. Iraq, the Middle East, current adventures in Africa? Oil, markets, natural resources, global dominance.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has compared his fight to defund the Affordable Care Act to the fight against Nazi Germany. He sees it as his duty to provide "relief to the millions of people who are hurting because of Obamacare." The uninsured in his own state will tell you a different story.
Stacy Anderson, from Fort Worth, runs her own business selling sweaters online. She says she has not had health insurance for the past seven years because the sweater business is not too lucrative. "It cost more than I made some months," she says. Anderson says she was just diagnosed with skin cancer, though it is not life-threatening. "I've had it, apparently, for the entire seven years I've been uninsured," she says. "It will be nice if I can buy health insurance and get it treated."
Jeffrey Coffey is a 49-year-old from Austin who earns a living as a musician. He says has insurance, but notes that the $361 monthly premium is "way expensive" on his $22,000 salary; he says he pays more because he has asthma. Coffey says he applied for cheaper plans numerous times this year, but was turned down. "Getting rejection letters is depressing," he says. When Coffey buys insurance on the exchange, he estimates he will able to get coverage for $160 a month, a $200 savings. "But so far I haven't been able to log on to the website," he adds.
Andrew (who prefers his last name not be used) is a BFA student at Texas State University in San Marcos. He's in his mid-30s and has gone without insurance for years because it's too expensive. He has also avoided doctors for fear that he'd be diagnosed with a chronic condition, and insurance companies would "blacklist" him when he finally applied for coverage. Andrew says he no longer has to worry about that when he signs up for insurance through the exchanges this month. Andrew and his wife, a pre-K teacher, want to have a baby soon, and he says that Obamacare makes it "much more affordable for us to plan when and where we will start a family. I no longer need to worry that, god forbid, if one of us gets sick, we will be dropped from our insurance."
3.5 million uninsured Texans will finally get coverage under Obamacare. (One million more could have been covered if Gov. Rick Perry had agreed to the law's expansion of Medicaid.) Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured citizens in the country; of the 25 million people in Texas, one in four don't have health insurance coverage.
This summer, when Edward Snowden dropped his bombshell about PRISM, the NSA's vast Internet spying program, the House had recently passed a bill called the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). Widely criticized by privacy advocates, CISPA aimed to beef up US cybersecurity by giving tech companies the legal freedom to share even more cyber information with the US government—including the content of Americans' emails, with personal information intact. CISPA supporters, among them big US companies such as Verizon and Comcast, spent 140 times more money on lobbying for the bill than its opponents, according to the Sunlight Foundation. But after Snowden's leaks, public panic over how and why the government uses personal information effectively killed the bill. Now that the dust has settled a bit, NSA director Keith Alexander is publicly asking for the legislation to be re-introduced, and two senators confirmed that they are drafting a new Senate version.
"I am working with Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) on bipartisan legislation to facilitate the sharing of cyber related information among companies and with the government and to provide protection from liability," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told Mother Jones in a statement. "The legislation will...still maintain necessary privacy protections." NSA's Alexander threw his weight behind this kind of bill in September: "If we can't work with industry, if we can't share information with them, we can't stop [cyber attacks]" he told the Washington Post.
Privacy advocates aren't happy to see that the "zombie bill" is returning—it's been killed and resurrected twice since it was originally introduced by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) in 2011. "This summer has confirmed that any information that goes into the NSA will be shrouded by secrecy and there will be no oversight," says Michelle Richardson, a legislative counsel with the ACLU. "Since this is a domestic issue, the NSA is more likely to get involved...and companies haven't provided concrete examples that they even need this legislation, especially when it's this broad."
The way CISPA was written earlier this year, it would have given US companies the legal protection to share cyberattack incidents with the government, which could then help companies better defend sensitive information, such as the design for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and US electrical grids. The way the law stands now, cyber attack information is only supposed to be shared in emergencies, otherwise it can be a violation of laws like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and the Wiretap Act. Tech companies, including Google and Facebook, have quietly supported CISPA in the past—possibly because, according to Snowden, they were already being forced to share user information with the US government, anyway, and CISPA would protect them from lawsuits.
Privacy advocates and many Senate Democrats took issue with the bill's broad language, which set no limits on what the government could do with the personal information it obtained as long as it fell under the national security umbrella. "CISPA would've allowed NSA to get its hands on even more private and sensitive data," says Mark Jaycox, a policy analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, noting that he hasn't seen the latest draft of the bill so can't comment on it.
Feinstein's office told Mother Jones that the new version of the bill will have "tight limitation on what kind of information is shared" and "the goal is to allow and encourage the sharing only of information related to identifying and protecting against cyber threats, and not the communications and commerce of Americans." She also said that she believes "the lead responsibility within the federal government should be with a civilian department or agency"—not the Department of Defense.
However, Brian Weiss, a spokesman for Feinstein, could not confirm that two of the biggest privacy problems raised in the House version of CISPA—that personally identifiable information would be shared and the NSA could get it—had been written out of the new bill. There is "no final language" yet, he said. Richardson from the ACLU notes that "some of the Republican's proposals have been very anti-privacy, and there's been a pretty big gap between the Senate Republican approach and [Feinstein's.]" (Chambliss's office confirmed they were working on the bill, but did not provide any additional details.)
Even if the bill makes it to the floor, it could still be a tough sell—Obama threatened to veto the House version of CISPA earlier this year and almost 400 websites staged an online blackout in protest in April. "I think it will be very difficult to move information-sharing legislation forward given the events of the last several months," says Richard Bejtlich, the chief security officer at Mandiant, a company that offers cybersecurity services for Fortune 100 companies. He also notes that his firm's big report on China's secret-hacking unit was effective without listing personally identifiable information.
"It would have been complicated to pass a bill before the leak and nows it's even harder," Richardson agrees. "That being said, I think we need to keep a very careful eye on it to make sure a deal isn't struck in the Senate. Sometimes these things suddenly start moving."
About three weeks ago I was walking home from the grocery store when a group of teenagers demanded my wallet, cellphone, and—for reasons I can't fully explain—gallon of whole milk. Although I made no effort to resist, I ended up with a laceration on my lip that required stitches, fairly intense swelling on both sides of my head that required X-rays, and a bruised rib. And I was down a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs. It sucked.
On Tuesday, though, I got some good news—a billing statement from George Washington University Hospital, where I got my stitches, CAT scan, painkillers, and a tetanus shot. Thanks to my employer-provided insurance company, Carefirst Blue Cross Blue Shield, I ended up paying about $50. But if I didn't have insurance, like 47 million working-age adults nationally and approximately 23 percent of 18-to-25-year-olds, it would have increased the bill by a factor of more than a hundred. The sutures alone were $1,400, and another $300 to have them taken out four days later. I'm a young journalist at a nonprofit magazine. I do my best to budget responsibly. But I don't have $5,000 of disposable income just lying around. My unfortunate encounter with typically wayward millennials could have left me broke.
On Wednesday afternoon, as news was spreading that House Speaker John Boehner had surrendered and a no-conditions-attached bipartisan plan to end the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis would be approved later in the day by the Senate and House, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the tea party's disrupter-in-chief, held an impromptu press conference in a Capitol hallway to declare victory, or something like it. The fellow who led the GOP further into a PR abyss hailed the political crisis that was ending (at least for now) as "a remarkable thing" and claimed that it showed that "millions upon millions" had risen up against Obamacare. Then Cruz, the tail that wagged the Republican dog, launched into a diatribe against the Affordable Care Act: "President Barack Obama promised the American people Obamacare would lower your health insurance premiums. I would venture to say that virtually every person across this country has seen exactly the opposite happen, has seen premiums going up and up and up."
Prioritized above all else were, of course, "national security" activities, deemed beyond essential under the banner of "protecting life and property." Surveillance at the National Security Agency, for instance, continued, uninterrupted, though it was liberated from its obviously nonessential and, even in the best-funded of times, minimal responsibility to disclose those activities under the Freedom of Information Act. Such disclosure was judged superfluous in a shutdown era, while spying on Americans (not to speak of Brazilians, Mexicans, Europeans, Indians, and others around the planet) was deemed indispensible.
Then there was the carefully orchestrated Special Operations Forces mission in Libya to capture a terror suspect off the streets of Tripoli in broad daylight, proving that in a shutdown period, the US military wasn't about to shut off the lights. And don't forget the nighttime landing of a Navy SEAL team in Somalia in an unsuccessful attempt to capture a different terrorist target. These activities were deemed essential to national survival, even though the chances of an American being killed in a terrorist attack are, at the moment, estimated at around one in 20 million. Remember that number, because we'll come back to it.
Indeed, only for a brief moment did the shutdown reduce the gusher of taxpayer dollars, billions and billions of them, into the Pentagon's coffers. After a couple days in which civilian Defense Department employees were furloughed, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that 90% of them could resume work because they "contribute to morale, well-being, capabilities, and readiness of service members." This from the crew that, according to Foreign Policy, went on a jaw-dropping, morale-boosting $5 billion spending spree on the eve of the shutdown to exhaust any remaining cash from the closing fiscal year, buying spy satellites, drones, infrared cameras and, yes, a $9 million sparkling new gym for the Air Force Academy, replete with CrossFit space and a "television studio."
Then there were the nonessential activities.
In Arkansas, for instance, federal funds for infant formula to feed 2,000 at-risk newborn babies were in jeopardy, as were 85,000 meals for needy children in that state. Nutrition for low-income kids was considered nonessential even though one in four children in this country doesn't have consistent access to nutritious food, and medical research makes it clear that improper nutrition stunts brain architecture in the young, forever affecting their ability to learn and interact socially. Things got so bad that a Texas couple dug into their own reserves to keep the program running in six states.
If children in need were "furloughed," so were abused women. Across the country, domestic violence shelters struggled to provide services as federal funds were cut off. Some shelters raised spare change from their communities to keep the doors open. According to estimates, as many as six million women each year are victims of domestic violence. On average in this country, three women are murdered by an intimate partner every day.
But funding for domestic violence protection: nonessential.
Funds for early childhood education, too, were shut off. Seven thousand low-income kids from 11 states were turned away. Their "head start" was obviously less than essential, even though evidence shows that early education for at-risk children is the best way to help them catch up with their wealthier peers in cognition and adds to their odds of staying out of prison in later life.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) wasn't accepting new patients because of the shutdown. Typically 200 new patients arrive every week for experimental treatment. On average around 30 of them are children, 10 of whom have cancer.
Cancer, in fact, is the leading cause of death among children ages one to 14. But treatment for them didn't qualify as essential. Unlike fighting terrorism—remember the less-likely-than-being-struck-by-lightning odds of one in 20 million—treating kids with cancer didn't make the cut as "protecting life and property."
A father of two young girls in the town of Eliot, Maine, said to a National Priorities Project staffer in disbelief, "If even one kid can't get cancer treatment, isn't that enough to end the shutdown?"
Let this be the last time we find ourselves on the wrong side of that question. Because every day we as a nation allowed our lawmakers to keep the government closed was a day in which we as a people were complicit in replying "no."
The just-concluded government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis revealed a deep and profound split within Republican ranks, as tea party crusaders pushed for brinkmanship to thwart Obamacare and establishment-minded GOPers freaked out over the historic hit their party was receiving in public opinion polls. Even after the conflict was settled (at least for a few months)—with the congressional Republicans essentially waving a white flag—the civil war within GOP and conservative circles continued unabated. Once the deal went down, mainstream GOPers immediately blamed the "suicide caucus" for harming the party and pledged to block future shenanigans of this sort, and tea partiers in and out of Congress dismissed the "surrender caucus" and vowed to continue the fight as the next D-Days approach (January 15 for funding the government, and February 7 for the debt ceiling).
This ugly episode hasn't resolved the tensions within the GOP and the conservative movement—it has exacerbated them. Here is a list of post-deal quotes from key players in this civil war that show the internecine battle is not likely to end soon.