Aletho News


The Peace Process Hustle

By Lawrence Davidson | To The Point Analyses | November 7, 2014

Intractable Process

An intractable process, one that never seems to resolve itself, is either no process at all or a fraudulent one contrived to hide an ulterior motive. The so-called Israeli-Palestinian (at one time the Israeli-Arab) “peace process,” now in its sixth decade (counting from 1948) or fourth decade (counting from 1967) is, and probably always has been, just such a fraud.

One might object and say that the Oslo Accords (1993) were part of this process and they were not fraudulent. In my opinion that is a doubtful assumption. The talks were carried on in secret by officials who, at least on the Israeli side, never had an equitable peace in mind. Their goal was a political modification of the occupied territories that would free Israel from its legal obligations as occupiers of Palestinian territory and facilitate the pacification of the Palestinians and their resistance organizations. The Israeli side seemed to have believed that negotiating the return of Yasser Arafat and Fatah to the West Bank would provide them a partner in this process – not a peace process, but a pacification process.

It did not take long for the Palestinians to see through this gambit, and relations with the Israelis soon returned to the tense and sometimes violent status quo ante. It was only after Arafat’s suspicious death in 2004 that the Israelis finally got a Palestinian “leader,” in the person of Mahmoud Abbas, who would cooperate with them in this process of pacification. Organized resistance then became the pursuit of those in Gaza who persist in calling the “peace process” a fraud. They are correct.

“Detached from Reality”

The present Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and some of his ministers have, of late, hinted at the truth. Netanyahu recently told the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, that criticism of his government’s expansion of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem (which are illegal under international law), whether it comes from the U.S. government or Jewish groups such as J Street and Peace Now, are “words detached from reality” and “foster false statements [of hope] from the Palestinians,” therefore delaying the coming of “peace.”

Likewise, Israel’s ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, has accused Palestinian “president” Abbas, the very man who helps Israel pacify the West Bank population, of “promoting hatred of Jews.” Why? Because Abbas has complained at the United Nations and other world forums of Israel’s unwillingness to bring the “peace process” to a conclusion that he and his Palestine National Council could accept. Abbas, who lost the last Palestinian free election (held in 2006) to Hamas, but with U.S. and Israeli support has usurped the office of Palestinian president, is actually a nearly perfect “peace partner” for the Israelis. The amount of compromise he asks for from the Israeli side in exchange for coming to terms is embarrassingly minimal. However, Netanyahu’s government refuses the Palestinians any compromise at all because, for these Zionists, the “peace process” is a facade whose only value lies in its very fraudulence. Its only value is as a cover for the process of territorial absorption.

Thus, it is probably justified to conclude that a good number of Israelis (and certainly a vast majority of their leadership) are not interested in peace, and probably have never been, unless you define peace as total Palestinian surrender. More accurately, they are interested in expansion and control of all of Palestine from the Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. After six decades of a “peace process” going nowhere, anyone who does not understand this is deluding themselves.


Just who are those deluding themselves? Many of them are diaspora Jews who are, whether they understand it or not, caught in a contradiction: they are at once committed to Zionism’s ideological goal of a secure Jewish state in Palestine, but nonetheless are, at this moment of maximum Israeli power, calling for ideological compromise. Some of these people are members of Zionist groups in the U.S. such as Peace Now and J Street. Both organizations want continuing peace negotiations with the Palestinians looking toward achieving some variation of the two-state solution. J Street is apparently upset with Netanyahu’s determination to continue the colonization process “in every part of Judea and Samaria” (the West Bank) as well as East Jerusalem because to do so “erects one obstacle to peace after another.”

Unfortunately, the history of official Zionist behavior is on the side of Netanyahu. All the evidence indicates that Zionism and its leaders have been committed to the conquest of all of historic Palestine at least since 1918. In that year Chaim Weizmann submitted a map of the proposed Jewish national home to the Peace Conference that settled matters after World War I. It represented a maximalist program that has been incrementally realized first in 1948 and then 1967. Nowhere in the Zionist program has there ever been room for voluntary retreat. That is why Prime Minister Netanyahu describes those who criticize his colonization efforts as “detached from reality.”


Netanyahu and his ilk, however, tend to ignore the fact that there are multiple realities operating here. Certainly, one should not forget the Palestinian reality, particularly that of Gaza, and Israeli culpability in its creation and maintenance. On the Zionist side there now exists at least two realities. One is certainly that of Prime Minister Netanyahu – the reality of the Zionist ideologue with Israeli power backing it up. But then there is the other Zionist reality – that of Israel’s increasing isolation, not only diplomatic and cultural, but also, over time, economic. The latter reality scares many diaspora Jews to the point where they are willing to compromise maximalist ideological goals.

The Zionists in power are as yet impervious to this fear. However, if the reality of economic and cultural isolation ever overtakes that of Israeli power, then the number of compromisers will rapidly grow, and the zealots such as Netanyahu will find themselves alone in a Masada-like fortress of their own making.

November 7, 2014 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular | , , , | 2 Comments

Hostage to the Banksters

By ISMAEL HOSSEIN-ZADEH | CounterPunch | November 7, 2014

While the financial sector of the core capitalist economies is enjoying escalating asset price inflation, the real sector of these economies, especially those of Europe and Japan, is suffering from deflation, that is, stagnation and high unemployment.

And while the simultaneous occurrence of inflation and deflation sounds paradoxical, it is only superficially so. In reality it is simply the logical outcome of neoliberal monetary policies pursued in these countries: as these policies of austerity economics have since the 2008 financial collapse systematically drained the overwhelming majority of citizens of material resources and funneled those resources to the financial sector, the result has been the understandable contraction of the real sector concurrent with the expansion of the financial sector.

In the face of these apparently contradictory developments, economic pundits and financial “experts” at the helm of monetary policy-making apparatus feign bewilderment at how market developments have become increasingly more “complicated,” and how economic fine-tuning has accordingly become more challenging. Such pompous utterances are, however, hollow pretensions designed to obfuscate issues, to mystify economics and to confuse the people. In reality, there is absolutely nothing “complicated” or mysterious about the simultaneous expansion of the financial sector and contraction of the real sector. It is, indeed, altogether axiomatic that if you systematically rob Peter to pay Paul, you are going to impoverish Peter (the 99%) while enriching Paul (the 1%).

The concurrent enrichment of the financial plutocracy and impoverishment of the masses of the people is akin to the growth of a parasite in the body of a living organism at the expense of life-sustaining blood or nourishment of that organism. What is unknown to the public is that the parasitic transfer of economic blood from the bottom up is not simply the spontaneous outcome of the operations of the invisible hand of market mechanism, or the blind forces of competition. More importantly, the transfer is the logical outcome of deliberate monetary policies that are crafted by the financial elites and their proxies at the helm of economic policy making of most capitalist countries. As political economist Mike Whitney recently put it:

“As most people now realize, stocks haven’t tripled in the last 5 years because the economy is expanding. Heck, no. The economy is still on all-fours and everyone knows it. The reason stocks have been flying-high is because the Fed added a hefty $4 trillion in red ink to its balance sheet. Naturally, when someone buys $4 trillion in financial assets, the price of financial assets go up” (source).

The purported rationale behind the unremitting bestowing of the nearly interest-free money upon the financial institutions is that as these institutions receive cheap money from the printing presses of the government they would, in turn, extend low-cost credit to manufacturers, thereby prompting investment and job creation in the real sector of the economy.

This traditional/New Deal monetary policy worked fairly well as long as regulatory constraints—especially the Glass-Steagall Act that was in force from 1933 to 1998—strictly stipulated the types and quantities of investments that banks and other financial intermediaries could undertake. As those regulatory requirements prohibited banks from engaging in speculative or risky investments, they had very little choice but to behave or do business mainly as banks, or financial intermediaries, that is, funneling depositors’ savings and/or government-generated money to the real sector of the economy.

With the systematic removal of regulatory constraints, however, banks have been increasingly abandoning or marginalizing their traditional role as financial intermediaries. Instead, they now invest mostly in buying and selling of assets and other speculative activities, as such financial/speculative investments are much more lucrative than simply accepting deposits at certain rates of interest and then lending them at slightly higher rates.

Not only has this change in the behavior or function of the banking system drastically curtailed the flow of capital from the financial to the real sector, it has in fact reversed the flow of capital between these two sectors: there is now an alarming capital flight from the real to the financial sector in pursuit of higher, speculative rates of profit. Evidence shows that (in recent years) real sector corporate managers/CEOs are increasingly diverting their profits, as well the cheap money they borrow from governments (usually through the privately-owned central banks), to speculation instead of production. As I noted in an earlier article on this subject, “they seem to have come to think: why bother with the messy business of production when higher returns can be garnered by simply buying and selling titles.”

This steady transfer of money from the real to the financial sector is the exact opposite of what monetary policy-makers—and indeed the entire neoclassical/mainstream economic theory—claim or portray to happen: flow of money from the financial to the real sector.

One would imagine that these drastic changes in real world markets, which show how gravely mainstream economists have gone awry in holding tight to their abstract and largely obsolete theories, would have somewhat shaken the faith of these economists in their economic orthodoxy and prompted them to revise or adjust their traditional theories of money supply, of credit creation, of finance, and of investment.

Alas, the faith in market mechanism and economic orthodoxy seems to be as strong as the faith in any otherworldly religion. Whether as university professors or as advisors to policy makers, mainstream economists continue to teach the same materials and retell the same theories in the face of heavily financialized economies as they did in times long past, that is, in the era of relatively competitive markets and industrial/manufacturing economic structures of yore.

Under the sway of financial capital, monetary policy has increasingly turned into an instrument of asset price inflation, that is, of accumulation of ever more fictitious capital in the deep pockets of the financial oligarchy. While not openly acknowledged, the rationale behind the endless injection of cheap money into the financial sector—in the manner of pumping hot air into a balloon—is a desperate attempt or a vain hope on the part of economic policy makers that the so-called trickle-down effects of asset price bubbles may lead to economic recovery.

Admittedly, the presumed trickle-down effects on aggregate demand may have had some validity in the earlier (industrial or manufacturing) stages of capitalism where the rise in the wealth of nations also meant expanded (real) production and increased employment. However, in the era of heavily financialized economies, where the dominant form of capitalist wealth comes not so much from real production of goods and services as it does from asset price bubbles, trickle-down theory has lost whatever minimal validity it may have had at earlier phases of capitalism.

Sadly, monetary policy makers, who are often proxies of financial elites at the helm of privately-owned central banks (contrary to the widespread perceptions, the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank is also privately owned, its share-holders are commercial banks) are not deterred by real world economic developments that tend to contradict their religious-like theories. Their loyalty is first and foremost to the interests and agendas of their behind-the-scene bosses and benefactors―those who nurture, promote and place them at the seat of monetary/economic decision-making. Having abandoned traditional fiscal and monetary policies of demand management, asset-price inflation has now become the policy of choice of economic recovery—if not recovery, then of preventing an economic collapse.

Hostage to Banksters

This helps explain why the economies of most of the core capitalist countries have become hostage to banksters, to their insatiable appetite for ever more cheap money. This practice of continued injections of cash into the financial sector is obviously tantamount to ransom payments to the “too big to fail” banksters, out of an exaggerated fear that their failure would lead to “cataclysmic economic collapse.” It also helps explain the multiple renewals or endless extensions of the policy of quantitative easing (QE), as termination of this policy is bound to lead to another financial implosion.

As an indication of this destructive addiction of the financial markets to Uncle Sam’s generous cash injections, let us remember how these markets went into a tail spin in mid-October by the prospect that QE may not be extended beyond October; and how they immediately rebounded on the news that the Fed would indeed continue cash injections beyond October―that is, QE3 would be continued as QE4. This is how Mike Whitney described those turbulent days of the financial markets:

“By mid-day [of October 15, 2014], the Dow was down 460 points before clawing its way back to minus 173 points. It looked like the market was set for another triple-digit flogging on Thursday [October 16] when the Fed stepped in and started talking-up an extension to QE3. That’s all it took to ease investors jitters, stop the meltdown and send equities rocketing back into space. By the end of Friday’s session, all the markets were back in the green with the Dow logging an impressive 263 points on the day” (source).

While the policy of indefinite extension of QE (along with near-zero interest rates) may temporarily keep the financial markets from imploding, the policy simply delays the day of reckoning—more or less like keeping a terminally-ill patient alive on artificial life support. And therein lies the futile and, indeed, tragic aspect of this policy: monetary policy-makers’ obligation to constantly inject cash into the financial system in order to keep the system from collapsing is akin to the logic of the proverbial bicyclist who has to keep riding forward or else he would fall over.

Monetary policy-makers at the head of central banks and treasury departments, representing the powerful interests of big finance, would do everything they can to avoid going off the cliff, or to delay the approach to the cliff. In so doing, however, they drain the overwhelming majority of citizens of economic/financial resources—by transferring those resources (through austerity measures) to the financial oligarchy. Andre Damon (of the World Socialist Web Site ) succinctly captures the redistributive effects of this neoliberal monetary policy:

“The richest one percent of the world’s population now controls 48.2 percent of global wealth, up from 46 percent last year, according to the most recent global wealth report issued by Credit Suisse, the Swiss-based financial services company.

“Hypothetically, if the growth of inequality were to proceed at last year’s rate, the richest one percent for all intents and purposes would control all the wealth on the planet within 23 years.

“The report found that the growth of global inequality has accelerated sharply since the 2008 financial crisis, as the values of financial assets have soared while wages have stagnated and declined. . . . Emma Seery, head of Inequality at Oxfam, the British anti-poverty charity, commented, ‘This report shows that those least able to afford it have paid the price of the financial crisis whilst more wealth has flooded into the coffers of the very richest.’

“The study revealed that the richest 8.6 percent of the world’s population—those with a net worth of more than $100,000—control 85 percent of the world’s wealth. Meanwhile, the bottom 70 percent of the world’s population—those with less than $10,000 in net worth—hold a mere 2.9 percent of global wealth.

“The growth in inequality is bound up with a worldwide surge in paper wealth, fueled by the trillions of dollars pumped into the financial system by central banks via zero interest rate and ‘quantitative easing’ policies. . . .

“As the report noted, ‘The overall global economy may remain sluggish, but this has not prevented personal wealth from surging ahead during the past year. Driven by … robust equity prices, total wealth grew by 8.3% worldwide … the first time household wealth has passed the $250 trillion threshold’.” (Source).

What is To be Done?

The solution to the runaway financial sector, according to most liberal–Keynesian critics of financialization, is regulation, or re-regulation. While this would be a welcome improvement over the destabilizing behavior of the unbridled finance capital, it would represent only a tentative short- to medium-term solution, not a definitive long-term one. For, as long as there is no democratic control, regulations would be undermined by the influential financial interests that elect and control both policy-makers and, therefore, policy. The dramatic reversal of the extensive regulations of the 1930s and 1940s, which were put in place in response to the Great Depression, to today’s equally dramatic deregulations serves as a robust validation of this judgment.

Other critics of the out-of-control finance capital call for public banking. These critics argue that, due to their economic and political influence, powerful financial interests easily subvert government regulations, thereby periodically reproducing financial instability and economic turbulence. By contrast, they further argue, public-sector banks can better reassure depositors of the security of their savings, as well as help direct those savings toward productive credit allocation and investment opportunities. Ending the recurring crises of financial markets thus requires placing the destabilizing financial intermediaries under public ownership and democratic control.

While nationalization of commercial banks could mitigate or do away with market turbulences that are due to financial bubbles and bursts, it will not preclude other systemic crises of capitalism. These include profitability crises that result from very high levels of capitalization (or high levels of the “organic composition of capital” a la Marx), from insufficient demand and/or under-consumption, from overcapacity and/or overproduction, or from disproportionality between various sectors of a market economy.

Furthermore, as long as capitalism and, along with it, the lopsided distribution of economic surplus prevails, financial instability cannot be uprooted by bank nationalization. For, while nationalization of traditional/commercial banks may temper financial fragility, other types of financial intermediaries and institutions are bound to arise in order to circumvent regulation and/or nationalization, thereby precipitating financial instability. These include all kinds of shadow banks and speculative enterprises such as private equity firms, derivative markets, hedge funds, and more.

To do away with the systemic crises of capitalism, therefore, requires more than nationalizing and/or regulating the banks; it requires changing the capitalist system itself.

Ismael Hossein-zadeh is Professor Emeritus of Economics (Drake University). He is the author of Beyond Mainstream Explanations of the Financial Crisis (Routledge 2014), The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism (Palgrave–Macmillan 2007), and the Soviet Non-capitalist Development: The Case of Nasser’s Egypt (Praeger Publishers 1989). He is also a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press 2012).

November 7, 2014 Posted by | Deception, Economics | , , | 2 Comments

G4S stonewalls questions over involvement in Guantánamo Bay

Reprieve | November 7, 2014

British security company G4S is refusing to address concerns over its involvement in the running of the US prison at Guantánamo Bay.

Human rights charity Reprieve submitted a complaint to the UK government earlier this year, arguing that G4S has breached OECD Guidelines because of its contract to supply ‘base support operating services’ at Guantánamo Bay. The nature of support services provided by G4S are not made clear, and the company has refused to give further details about the $113 million contract, prompting concerns that G4S could be contributing to the abuse of detainees at the prison.

In a reply to the National Contact Point, the government body through which the complaint was submitted, G4S made no attempt to address the substantive allegations of the complaint. Instead the company argued that they have little control over G4S Government Solutions, its wholly-owned US subsidiary that won the Guantánamo contract.

G4S is a long-standing contractor for the British government, receiving millions of pounds annually in public money. Guantánamo has been called “a shocking affront to democracy” by a former government minister, and “a monstrous failure of justice” by Lord Steyn, formerly one of Britain’s most senior judges.

The UK Government’s NCP has suggested to Reprieve that it might pass the complaint to its US counterpart, prompting concerns they will avoid responsibility for investigating it.

148 men remain held without charge or trial in Guantánamo – including British resident Shaker Aamer who was cleared for release from the prison under the Bush administration in 2007 and again under President Obama in 2009. It is UK government policy that Mr Aamer should be returned as a matter of urgency to his British wife and their four children in London, yet he remains detained.

Kevin Lo, an investigator at Reprieve, said:  “G4S is deeply involved in running the legal black hole that is Guantánamo Bay, and the British public deserves better than the company’s stonewalling of questions. For the UK government to show that its condemnation of Guantánamo is more than just talk, the UK National Contact Point needs to press G4S for accountability and transparency.”

The complaint can be read in full, here.

November 7, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Subjugation - Torture, Timeless or most popular | , , | Leave a comment

How the Health Insurance Industry Defeated California’s Prop 45

By Jeff Sher | CounterPunch | November 6, 2014

The power of propaganda fueled by corporate cash triumphed over common sense once again in a California ballot measure on Tuesday. Two years after voters narrowly rejected a GMO labeling measure following a late-game, $46 million corporate advertising blitz led by Monsanto, the health insurance industry spent an estimated $57 million to successfully swamp Proposition 45, that would have given the elected state insurance commissioner the power to veto (some) excessive health insurance rate increases, a power that regulators exercise in 35 other states.

Here’s one part of the nonsense: one of the industry’s principal arguments was that the added regulation would increase the cost of health insurance. I’m not making this up! It takes some serious cojones to make that argument when you’re running a health care system that costs twice as much as that of any other industrialized nation and delivers inferior health outcomes, while there is nothing to stop you from raising the rates as high as you want without having to explain yourself to anyone. And you make your point by spending $57 million worth of premium payments that otherwise could have been used to provide health care. I’m willing to wager that the cost of insurance commissioner oversight would have been far less than $57 million.

But it worked. Prop 45 went down in flames 60% to 40%.

More nonsense: the industry ran scare ads that asked voters whether they wanted their health care decisions made by a single power-hungry government bureaucrat (the insurance commissioner). They just forgot to remind voters that now those decisions are made by a small circle of anonymous and very highly compensated insurance industry executives who are accountable to no one, unlike an elected insurance commissioner.

The rest of the nonsense: the industry argued that implementation of the rate review process might interfere with the ongoing roll out of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise known as Obamacare.

The subtext of this argument is the tried and true, right-wing talking point that government can’t do anything right. It always gets thrown into the mix because after decades of propaganda (endless repetition of this point), even supposedly liberal voters are susceptible to this canard.

The specific deceit behind this argument is that Obamacare is really working, so we can’t take the risk of messing with it. The cadaver of the politician formerly known as Nancy Pelosi was even wheeled before the public to plead for Obamacare.

“If I wanted to kill the Affordable Care Act, I would do this,” Pelosi told the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle (who were so impressed they urged voters to reject the measure, as did the LA Times ).

“ACA is who I am,” Pelosi reportedly said. “It’s why I stay in Congress, to protect it.”

OK, so the powerful San Francisco Democrat who is trying to cling to minority leadership in the House of Representatives says her main mission in public life now is to defend a law that was written by an insurance industry lobbyist and brokered in a back room deal with the insurance and pharmaceutical industries – a horrendously flawed bill that perpetuates a system that delivers substandard care at inflated prices to the American public. Reasonable alternatives (like Medicare for all) were taken off the table before public input was even considered.

All of these nonsense arguments were trotted out to deflect attention from the real issue:  the health care system is horribly broken, prohibitively expensive, and since Obamacare pre-empted any attempts at real, effective reform, flawed bandaid measures like Prop 45 are all that’s available to the public – and therefore better than nothing. Let’s talk about anything besides the real human suffering and death the system causes unnecessarily – let’s focus on the bureaucratic problems the measure might cause. (Left unsaid is that the problems are likely to arise because the industry will do what it can to inhibit the optimal functioning of any regulatory scheme it perceives as disadvantageous to its own interests.)

Is Obamacare really working?

The original draft for Obamacare was written by the insurance industry – after they threatened to defeat any reform that did not leave in place their privileged role – to in effect collect a tax on health care in return for “financing” the cost of it. Supposedly they take risk for being the gatekeepers who decide who is eligible for care and who is not and what services should be covered and when. Obamacare was not an attempt to reform the basic problems of the industry. It was a deal to cover more people while leaving the parasitic insurance industry in place to collect their tax on an even larger population than before.

Bear in mind that in any rational system everyone would be covered the same – this business of offering scores of different plans and making distinctions about who is covered and what is covered is what you have to do to create the opportunity for profit within the system. If everyone had the same coverage, and we financed it collectively through the government – we would have no need for insurance company financing and all the layers of bureaucracy that are required to track the distinctions. The amount of insurance industry profits is a tiny fraction of the cost of the bureaucracy required to enable the profits. It adds an estimated $300 to $400 billion annually to the cost of health care.

So yes, some millions of people were able to get insurance who were denied the “privilege” before. This is how Obamacare is “working.” But that could have been done much more efficiently and at lower cost without the insurance industry.

Those who already had insurance are now paying more for the same coverage they enjoyed before Obamacare – or they have had to reduce their coverage by paying higher co-pays and deductibles. There are more underinsured than ever. When people are underinsured – or in other words they face barriers to care in the form of high access costs – they tend not to get the treatments they really need, which in the long run actually increases the overall cost of the system, because they don’t seek care until their conditions are more advanced and difficult and expensive to treat.

The insurance industry still promotes the fantasy of “consumer directed” health care, which is based on the falsehood that the high costs of the system are due to consumers over-utilizing health care, and if they are forced to spend more of their own money for care they will stop being care hogs and make better health care decisions.

When Obamacare opened the system to all those who had been denied insurance due to poverty or illness, the rates were jacked up for those already covered. This was most evident in California for those covered by individual plans in the state of California. Prop 45, by the way, applies only to those covered by individual and small group plans in California, or about 6 million people. The rest of the population is covered by large employer funded plans or the government. These large employer plans at least have some bargaining leverage with the insurance companies, while individuals and small groups are given no opportunity to bargain for lower rates. They can take what they are offered, and since Obamacare, they no longer have the option to leave it. Thus the proposition as written applied only to those who most need protection.

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said he needed the authority to control rates because the insurance companies had raised prices in California 22% to 88% since Obamacare was implemented in January 2014. The industry argued those increases were intended and justified as part of Obamacare to offset the costs of covering all the people who hadn’t been previously covered.

Huh? I thought they sold us Obamacare on the premise that it would control the cost of health care, not immediately increase it by up to 88%. No, the industry took advantage of the situation – that some increases in overall rates might be expected because the uninsured population might be sicker than the already covered population, even though many of the newly covered would be young healthy people who had refrained from buying insurance previously because they were not compelled to and could not afford it –  and jacked the rates as high as they thought they could get away with.

The insurance companies already knew exactly what their risk was with individuals they already covered, but they took the opportunity to raise their premiums by as much as 80 percent in order to cover projected additional risk. Same people. Same ages. Same illnesses, or not. Now paying up to 80 percent more. Why not? There was no one to stop them.

The rates for my individual plan were increased in the neighborhood of 70 percent effective January 1, 2014. I bought a plan in the exchange instead – but the price of the exchange plan was comparable to the new, inflated cost of my old plan, for about the same benefits. I received a subsidy from the government for most of the cost, but the insurance company received the full, inflated cost, 70 percent more than I had been paying the previous month.

While Pelosi was shilling for the health insurance industry, she was wringing her hands and saying that she supports the concept of cost control through rate review. Of course she offered no alternative proposal.

Meanwhile, the LA Times was twisting itself in knots by pointing out that supporters of Prop 45 were falsely claiming that the proposal would make insurance affordable. Not true, said the LA Times, because insurance is already unaffordable. They got that much right!

Then they said only a major overhaul in the way healthcare is delivered and paid for will make insurance affordable. Right again!

Then they slipped off the path of truth once more. They said the government and the industry have already started the overhaul process. They didn’t bother to mention how long this process might take. I’m guessing maybe by next decade they’ll work in a few superficial reforms, after the prices have doubled again, or worse.

Proposition 45 was not a cure. It was nothing more than a band-aid for a fatally diseased system. Obamacare didn’t fix the system. It never even tried. And that’s what Pelosi, the Chronicle, the LA Times and the insurance industry don’t want to talk about. That’s what this proposition was all about. We’re still trying to fix the system that ails us, while they want to pretend that it’s already been cured.

Jeff Sher is a journalist specializing in the health care industry. He lives in San Francisco.

November 7, 2014 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Progressive Hypocrite | , | Leave a comment

The use of nuclear weapons

By Bjorn Hilt | International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War | November 6, 2014

NoNukesKidsThey always tell us that nuclear weapons will never be used.

The fact is that nuclear weapons are used every day by the nuclear-armed states to threaten the rest of the world with total annihilation, while threatening themselves with the same fate.

During the time of the Cold War, we called such an insane situation MAD: Mutual Assured Destruction. The threat was immediate and the situation very dangerous. We don’t like to think about it, but today’s risk that nuclear weapons can be detonated somewhere deliberately or by accident is at least as high. The doomsday clock of the atomic scientists is set at five minutes to midnight.

The current situation is that all people in states with and without nuclear weapons are still terrorized by the nuclear-armed states and must live with the fear of the horrifying effects of nuclear weapons. MAD can be accomplished in an afternoon.

During the Cold War, we also talked about a terror balance. To use or to threaten to use indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction in order to achieve one’s own political goals is also a form of terrorism. The goal claimed by the nuclear-armed states is their own security. What a delusion. Nobody and nothing ever became more secure by the existence of nuclear weapons. These are nothing but weapons of terror, regardless of whether they are detonated in war or used to threaten and intimidate.

The other day I asked one of my grandsons (age 11) what he would think about someone who claims to need more and stronger weapons than most others. In his view that was cowardice and nothing else. When I asked him about nuclear weapons, he said that no country should need them.

For me, it is insane and terrifying that they are still around, and that we still allow a small number of states to be armed with nuclear weapons and to use them every day to threaten the rest of us. The time is more that ripe to ban nuclear weapons.

November 7, 2014 Posted by | Militarism | , , , , | 1 Comment

‘Toxic brand’: Britons say religion does more bad than good, atheists ‘more moral’ than believers

RT | November 6, 2014

Nearly two-thirds of British people stated that religion causes more harm than it brings benefits, according to a new poll, which shows Muslim beliefs at odds with those of the rest of society.

The poll of 2,004 people conducted by Survation exclusively for Huffington Post UK revealed that nearly two in five Britons have no religious allegiance, with just 56 percent describing themselves as Christians.

The figures for active worship are even more stark, with 60 percent of the population surveyed claiming they are “not religious at all” with only 8 percent saying they are “very religious.”

“Religion has become a ‘toxic brand’ in the UK,” Linda Woodhead, professor of the sociology of religion at Lancaster University, told HuffPost UK.

“What we are seeing is not a complete rejection of faith, belief in the divine, or spirituality, though there is some of that, but of institutional religion in the historic forms which are familiar to people.”

Young people tended to be less skeptical. Roughly 30 per cent of 18-24 year olds believe that religion does more good than harm, while only 19 per cent of 55-64 year-olds agree.

70 percent of Jews, who constituted about 1 percent of those surveyed, claimed that religion was a force for the negative, more than any other group.

The participants also showed that they did not believe that belief was an indicator of being a good person, with 55 percent saying that atheists are just as likely to be moral as believers. In fact, more (8 percent) thought the irreligious were more likely to be good people than the theists, than vice versa (6 percent).

“This survey just confirms what we know is the common sense of people in Britain today – that whether you are religious or not has very little to do with your morality,” said Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association.

“Most people understand that morality and good personal and social values are not tied to religious belief systems, but are the result of our common heritage and experience as human beings: social animals that care for each other and are kind to others because we understand that they are human too.”

“Not only that, people understand that religious beliefs themselves can be harmful to morality: encouraging intolerance, inflexibility and the doing of harm in the name of a greater good. We only need to look around us to perceive that fact.”

The results show a continuation of existing trends, with church attendances halving to only 800,000 a week over the past half-century, and the number of Christians falling from 72 to 59 percent in just a decade between the 2001 and 2011 surveys, with a corresponding increase in those openly irreligious.

Indeed, the only religion to exhibit growth in the period was Islam, from 3 to 5 percent.

While only 2.5 percent of those surveyed were Muslims, those who were displayed a greater commitment to their faith. One in five UK Muslims describes themselves as “very religious,” and only 7 percent say they are not religious at all.

November 7, 2014 Posted by | Timeless or most popular | , | Leave a comment

Peace Talks in Havana and Murder in Colombia: The Santos Regime’s Dual Strategy

By James Petras | November 5, 2014


There are many fabrications and false assumptions underlying the Colombia peace negotiations between the Santos regime and FARC – EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – Peoples Army). The first and most egregious is that Colombia is a democracy. The second is that the Santos regime pursues policies which enhance non-violent social and political activity conducive to integrating the armed insurgency into the political system.

There is sufficient evidence to call into question both assumptions. Over the past two decades and a half nearly three thousand trade union leaders and activists have been murdered; over 4.5 million peasants have been dispossessed and displaced by the military and paramilitary forces; and over nine thousand political prisoners are being held indefinitely for engaging in non-violent socio-political activity. In addition scores of human rights lawyers, activists and advocates have been assassinated.

The vast majority of the victims are a result of regime directed military and police repression or paramilitary death squads allied with the military and leading pro-government politicians.

The scale and scope of regime violence against social opposition precludes any notion that Colombia is a democracy: elections conducted under widespread terror and whose perpetrators are allied with the state and act with impunity, have no legitimacy.

The re-election of President Santos and the convocation of peace negotiations with the FARC to end Latin America’s longest civil war is certainly a welcome step toward ending the bloodshed and providing the basis for a transition to democracy.

While the Santos regime has put a stop to the massive state terror regime of his predecessor, the US backed Alvaro Uribe regime, political assassinations still occur and the perpetrators continue to act with impunity.

For any peace process to culminate with success, the peace accords, agreed to by both parties, must be effectively implemented. Previous agreements ended in state massacres of demobilized guerrillas turned civil society activists and elected political representatives.

The peace negotiations have proceeded for two years and major accords have been reached on a series of vital areas of mutual concern. In particular both sides have signed off on 3 of 5 points on the peace agenda: rural developments, guerrilla participation in politics, policy on drug trafficking. Current negotiations focus on the contentious “transitional justice” for victims of the conflict. Most human rights groups and experts agree that the vast majority of victims are a result of military and paramilitary repression. However, the Santos regime and its backers in the media claim otherwise – blaming the FARC.

Is There a “Peace Process”?

The Santos regime has thrice rejected cease fire offers by the FARC who have gone ahead and unilaterally implemented them . The regime has chosen to continue the war in Colombia while negotiating in Havana. The two year time span of the peace negotiations provides deep insights into the viability of the peace accords signed in Havana. International and Colombian human rights groups and social movements provide timely reports on the scope and depth of ongoing violations of political and human rights in Colombia during the peace negotiations.

Based on data compiled by human rights attorneys and experts affiliated with the Marcha Patriotica (Patriotic March), an alliance of scores of neighborhood, peasant, trade union and human rights organizations, between April 2012 and January 2014, it is clear that the reign of state and paramilitary terror continues parallel to the peace negotiations.

During this 21 month period, twenty-nine Patriotic March (PM) activists were killed and three others were “disappeared” – and presumed murdered. Scores of others have received death threats.

The class background of the victims points to the vulnerability of the peace agreement. Twenty-three of the murdered members of the PM were peasant leaders and activists promoting agrarian reform, the repossession of land under the regime’s Land Restitution Law or engaged in other peaceful civil society activity. Four of the victims were active in social movements supporting a “peace with social justice” agenda; two were human rights lawyers; two were community and neighborhood organizers and one was a leader of a local youth movement.

None of the assailants were arrested. Military and police officials, who had previous notice of death threats, took no precautions. Nor were any investigations undertaken, even when family and neighbors were privy to relevant evidence.

In the face of the Santos’ government’s unwillingness to curtail military, police and death squad complicity in the murder of peasant activists during the peace negotiations, can the regime be trusted to implement the accord on “rural development”? Can the government guarantee the security of disarmed guerrillas as they enter the political system when over one hundred human rights activists received death threats in September 2014?

According to Amnesty International, during 2013, seventy human rights defenders were killed, including indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders and twenty-seven members of trade unions. At least forty-eight homicides were committed by military units. Military commanders engaged in “false positives”, meaning murdered civilians were falsely labelled by the military as “armed insurgents”. Extra judicial killings by the military continue under the Santos regime.

Equally ominous, Santos has failed to disband the paramilitary death squads. As a result, the regime fails to protect land claimants. Dispossessed peasants and farmers attempting to resettle their land under Santos’ “Land Restitution Law” have been threatened or murdered by paramilitary gangs. As a result the Law has virtually no impact on resettling peasants because of landlord retaliations.

In fact the number of dispossessed has increased according to the United Nations: 55,157, mostly rural, Colombians fled their homes between January and October 2013, because warfare between and among drug and paramilitary gangs.

Presidential Santos War on Civil Society

The pervasive insecurity that rules the countryside, the murders, disappearances and jailing of social activists, accompanying the peace negotiations, call into question the “accords” thus far reached between the FARC and the Santos regime. Supporters of the regime argue that the number of state murders has declined over the past three years. Critics counter that relatively fewer assassinations have the same effect in generating fear, undermining citizen participation and the transition to a democratic political system.

The entire conception of a successful peace process rests on the assumption that the accords will result in constitutional guarantees of free and democratic citizen participation. Yet throughout the two year period, the regime has not demonstrated a clear and consequential commitment to elementary rights. If that is the case during the negotiations with the popular insurgency, still active and armed, how much worse will conditions become once the military, police and paramilitary are free of any retaliation, when they will have a free hand to intimidate and strike down disarmed political dissidents attempting to compete in local or national elections?

The Santos regime appears to have adopted a two prong strategy: combining violent repression of the social movements in Colombia while adopting the language of peace, justice and reconciliation at the peace table in Havana.

The Santos regime can promise to accept many democratic changes but its practice over the past two years speaks to an authoritarian, lawless regime, content with maintaining the status quo.

The Santos regime has three strategic goals: to disarm the popular insurgency; to regain control over the territory under insurgent control; and to weaken and undermine the popular social movements and human rights groups which are likely to form political alliances with the insurgents when and if they become part of the political system.

It is doubtful that the FARC will surrender their arms in a political climate in which paramilitary killers operate with impunity; military commanders still engage in ‘false positives’; and rural development projects are inoperative because of landowners’ terror tactics.

Unless the peace accords are accompanied by fundamental changes in the military; unless the paramilitary forces are effectively demobilized; unless the government recognizes the legitimacy of the demands of the mass social movements and human rights group for a freely elected constituent assembly is accepted, the peace process will end in failure.

Conclusion: Four Hypothesis on Santos Strategy for War and Peace

There are several hypotheses regarding why the Santos regime negotiates a peace accord while gross violations of human rights continue on a daily basis.

(1) The Santos regime is divided, with one sector in favor of peace and another opposed. This hypothesis lacks any credible basis as there are no visible signs of internal conflict and the regime acts with a unified command. While some state violence may be a result of local military commanders, at no point have national leaders reprimanded the “local” transgressors.

(2) The Santos regime actively pursues violent acts against the social movements to strengthen its bargaining position in the peace negotiations to secure a more favorable settlement – in other words to make the minimum of social concessions in order to placate oligarchs critical of any negotiations. This hypothesis explains the ‘dual strategy’ approach advocated by the regime with regard to the FARC, talking peace in Havana and rejecting a cease fire in Colombia; continuing the war while negotiating peace. But it also undermines the regime’s claim that Santos seeks to incorporate combatant groups into the political system.

(3) The regime is in a tacit pact with former death squad – President Alvaro Uribe. As a result the government’s military apparatus is still tied to paramilitary gangs, working with landowners, drug traffickers and businesspeople. There is no doubt that Santos has long-standing ties to Uribe – he was his Defense Minister. Moreover, after Santos defeated Uribe’s candidate for the Presidency by a narrow margin he has sought a political accommodation with Uribe’s Congressional and business supporters. On the other hand Santos recognizes that his economic strategy, especially his focus on promoting trade with Latin America and especially Venezuela, and his big push to exploit the energy and mining sector depends on reaching a peace agreement with the FARC, which controls substantial mineral rich regions. Hence Santos signs “paper agreements’ with the FARC, while applying a ‘hard fist’ (‘mano duro’) policy to the social movements.

(4) The upsurge of the mass social movements, including the Marcha Patriotica, demanding the effective implementation of the ‘rural development’ reforms and repossession of land to 3.5 million displaced families and the increasing role of the human rights groups in monitoring the ongoing violations of human rights, means that the Santos regime cannot secure ‘peace’ solely through an agreement with the FARC in Havana. If the Santos regime’s goal in the peace negotiations is to disarm the guerrillas and incorporate them into the electoral system, without dealing with the root socio-economic structural reforms, it must weaken the civil society popular movements.

This is the most plausible hypothesis. President Santos is capable of promising the FARC any sort of ‘democratic reforms’ and is willing to sign off on anti-drug agreements and even ‘agrarian development’. But what he is unwilling to accept is the emergence of mass peasant movements actively engaged in changing land tenure, repossessing their farms and reclaiming millions of acres of land granted to big foreign owned mining consortiums.

Santos will not ‘demobilize’ the paramilitary gangs because they are instruments of the big landowners and protect the state grants to the big mining companies. But he will try to limit death squad targets to specific activists and organizations in contentious regions.

Santos has not even curtailed the cross border attacks by Colombian paramilitary groups. Assassinations continue, the latest, the assassination of a Venezuelan Congressional leader. He has expanded military ties with the US by pursuing agreements to collaborate with NATO – offering combat units for the Middle East wars.

What is abundantly clear is that the Santos regime has not complied with the most elementary conditions necessary to implement any of the five point reform agenda set forth in Havana. Military impunity, rampaging death squads, scores of daily death threats to human rights activists, over nine thousand political prisoners and dozens of unsolved killings of peasant leaders is not compatible with a transition to a democratic peace. They are compatible with the continuity of an authoritarian oligarchical regime. A democratic transition and a peace agreement requires a fundamental change in the political culture and institutions of the Colombian state.

November 7, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Economics | , , , , , | Leave a comment