Bradley Manning Exposed U.S. Government – Monsanto Links

We should be thankful for the whistleblowers who risk their lives and personal safety to expose government wrongdoing. Bradley Manning is one of them.

Verdict Delivered In The Court Martial Of Bradley ManningIn 2010 U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Manning was detained by the military on suspicion of passing classified U.S. government documents to the whistle-blowing website, WikiLeaks. Three years later his case finally came to trial, and on Tuesday the military judge trying the case gave her ruling.

Manning has been convicted of espionage, theft, and computer fraud, but was acquitted of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy. Even without the latter charge, he now faces up to 128 years in prison.

In all, Manning delivered to WikiLeaks

more than 700,000 battlefield reports and diplomatic cables, and video of a 2007 U.S. helicopter attack that killed civilians in Iraq, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver.

At his pre-trial hearing, Manning made the following statement:

I believe that the public release of these cables would not damage the United States, however, I did believe that the cables might be embarrassing, since they represented very honest opinions and statements behind the backs of other nations and organizations.

Much of the media’s attention has focused on the above mentioned video footage. But there were other embarrassing revelations as well. Among them:

During an incident in 2006, U.S. troops in Iraq executed at least 10 Iraqi civilians, including a woman in her 70s and a 5-month-old, then called in an airstrike to destroy the evidence. The disclosure of this cable was later a significant factor in the Iraqi government’s refusal to grant U.S. troops immunity from prosecution beyond 2011, which led to U.S. troops withdrawing from the country.

A NATO coalition in Afghanistan was using an undisclosed “black” unit of special operations forces to hunt down targets for death or detention without trial. The unit was revealed to have had a kill-or-capture list featuring details of more than 2,000 senior figures from the Taliban and al-Qaida, but it had in some cases mistakenly killed men, women, children, and Afghan police officers.

The leaked cable messages from diplomatic offices were especially revealing:

U.S. special operations forces were conducting offensive operations inside Pakistan despite sustained public denials and statements to the contrary by U.S. officials.

British and American officials colluded in a plan to mislead the British Parliament over a proposed ban on cluster bombs.

Washington initiated a spying campaign in 2009 that targeted the leadership of the U.N. by seeking to gather top officials’ private encryption keys, credit card details, and biometric data.

And then this intriguing diplomatic cable caught my eye:

The U.S. Embassy in Paris advised Washington to start a military-style trade war against any European Union country that opposed genetically modified crops, with U.S. diplomats effectively working directly for GM companies such as Monsanto.

You can read the full details here. Even the Vatican was pressured to convince leaders of Catholic nations to allow GM imports into their countries. Fortunately, European governments proved to be more responsive to their own citizens’ massive protests against genetically modified crops than to these veiled American threats. European countries continue to ban genetically modified crops, and Monsanto recently announced that it has now given up trying to force the countries of the European Union to accept them.

But without whistle-blowers like Bradley Manning we would never have known the hidden coercive extent of Monsanto’s influence in U.S. diplomatic missions abroad.

Photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Obama’s New Economic Plan

Obama-Galesburg

This past week Barack Obama delivered his much anticipated speech on economic policy before an enthusiastic audience at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. It was the same place where he delivered his first major speech after taking office as Senator in 2005, and this speech had the same focus as on that previous occasion.

I came here to talk about what a changing economy was doing to the middle class and what we as a country needed to do to give every American a chance to get ahead in the 21st century.

The President explained that

In the period after World War II, a growing middle class was the engine of our prosperity. … This country offered you a basic bargain, a sense that your hard work would be rewarded with fair wages and decent benefits, the chance to buy a home, to save for retirement and – and most of all, a chance to hand down a better life for your kids.

But over time … that bargain began to fray. … The income of the top 1 percent nearly quadrupled from 1979 to 2007, but the typical family’s incomes barely budged. And towards the end of those three decades, a housing bubble, credit cards, a churning financial sector was keeping the economy artificially juiced up … .

But by the time I took office in 2009 as your president, we all know the bubble had burst. And it cost millions of Americans their jobs and their homes and their savings. … And the decades long erosion that had been taking place, the erosion of middle-class security, was suddenly laid bare for everybody to see.

However, he continued, “America has fought its way back.”

Over the past 40 months our businesses have created 7.2 million new jobs. This year we’re off to our strongest private sector job growth since 1999.  … We sell more products made in America to the rest of the world than ever before. … The cost of health care is growing at its slowest rate in 50 years. And our deficits are falling at the fastest rate in 60 years.

Looking Back

Five years ago the main concerns in the midst of the economic crisis were the exploding national debt and the expanding budget deficit – leftovers from the Bush presidency that Obama and Congress had to contend with. Calls were made for strict austerity measures, slashing government spending and maintaining low taxes. Stimulus measures, which would increase government spending, were argued against. Spending was reduced. A sequester was imposed. And Obama’s proposals for new spending on infrastructure, renewable energy, and education were beaten back.

The economic measures taken at that time were defensive in nature. They were meant to stave off economic collapse, and they worked. America successfully steered away from the brink of disaster. Now the crisis has passed. But the thinking remains the same. Congress continues its austerity mindset with calls for even further cuts in aid to needy families, education, health care, and other areas. But austerity does not create jobs. Cutting support to the needy does not get them spending more money.

The economy has turned the corner. Improvement has been slow but steady. While unemployment is still high, job numbers are going up. Housing prices have stabilized. Manufacturing has increased. The banks are strong again. And the stock markets have recovered. Americans cannot afford to allow these hard won accomplishments to come unraveled.

Changing the Conversation

America needs to move forward. Rather than focusing on the strategies of the past, the country needs to develop new strategies for a successful future. It will require a new way of thinking. As President Obama stated in his address his week,

What we need is not a three-month plan, or even a three-year plan. We need a long-term American strategy based on steady, persistent effort to reverse the forces that have conspired against the middle class for decades. That has to be our project.

In his address President Obama outlined five main cornerstones of middle-class security: 1) a good job with decent wages and benefits, 2) a good education, 3) a home of your own, 4) retirement security, and 5) health care security.

Those expecting to find a set of detailed proposals under these headings may have been disappointed. The details will be unveiled in a series of further addresses over the next several weeks as the President takes his case “on the road” to present it to the American people. This first event was intended to merely set the stage for those presentations and to provide what the President referred to as “a quick preview of what I’ll be fighting for and why.”

Ezra Klein, writing in The Washington Post, argues that Obama’s speech is intended to signal a major “pivot point” in the nation’s discussion of the economy. The President is attempting to shift the focus from the strategy of “trickle-down” economics, which has been utilized since the 1980s and has enriched the wealthy but actually shrunk the middle class, to what he calls a “middle-out” expansion of the economy.

Good jobs, a better bargain for the middle class and the folks who are working to get into the middle class, an economy that grows from the middle out, not the top down, that’s where I will focus my energies … not just for the next few months but for the remainder of my presidency.

Two major studies prepared over a decade apart by the World Bank and the International Development Fund have empirically shown the superior benefits of economic policies that primarily benefit the middle class. However, the Republican members of Congress are almost sure to oppose Obama’s new economic plan, and the President recognizes this. So he is calling on these members to present their own alternative proposals for boosting the economy. “It’s not enough for you to just oppose me,” he says. “You got to be for something. What are your ideas?”

If you’re willing to work with me to strengthen American manufacturing and rebuild this country’s infrastructure, let’s go. If you’ve got better ideas to bring down the cost of college for working families, let’s hear them. If … you think you have a better plan for making sure that every American has the security of quality, affordable health care, then stop taking meaningless repeal votes and share your concrete ideas with the country.

Repealing “Obamacare” and cutting spending is not an economic plan. It’s not. If you’re serious about a balanced long-term fiscal plan that replaces the mindless cuts currently in place, or if you’re interested in tax reform that closes corporate loopholes and gives working families a better deal, I’m ready to work.

The President is attempting to shift the conversation in a new direction and chart a new course for the future. In the weeks to come he will unfold the details of his five cornerstones to economic growth for the middle class. We will also see if his Republican opponents have any substantive counter proposals to put on the table. Or perhaps they will simply continue to decry his ideas without presenting constructive proposals in return.

Picture credit: credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Poverty in America

Recent posts have discussed the high standards of eldercare found in Denmark and the superior quality of life in Finland due to generous government supports. These government sponsored social programs greatly surpass those found in the United States.

Americans are accustomed to seeing themselves as Number 1 on the world stage. And in some areas America undoubtedly holds the top position. America is No. 1 in terms of military might, far exceeding the amount spent on armaments and military personnel by both its enemies and its allies.

Global Defense Budgets-1America is also No. 1 in terms of gun related murders, outstripping the murder rate in other developed countries.

death-by-violenceAnd America leads the world in the percentage of its citizens who are imprisoned (with 760 million people behind bars).

incarceration rates1Other than ranking first in some rather insignificant categories like the number of plastic surgeons, breast augmentation, and wine consumption, America falls far behind other developed countries in providing for its citizens.

According to The Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013, which ranks 144 countries on a broad range of factors related to their economic competitiveness,

The United States ranks 34th in years of life expectancy, 41st in infant mortality rates, and 34th in health and primary education.

In a UNICEF report on Child Well-Being in Rich Countries published earlier this year, the U.S ranks #26 of 29 developed countries for overall child well-being and #28 of 29 for child poverty.

Poverty is an enormous problem in the United States.

A full 15.1% of Americans live in poverty, with one in fifteen Americans living in deep poverty (receiving less than $11,510 for a family of four). Without some form of government assistance, the poverty rate in the U.S. would be twice as high – affecting nearly 30% of the population.

Recent OECD studies show a larger percentage of Americans working at low wage jobs than in any other developed country.

Employees-Low Wage

Half of all jobs in America pay less than $34,000 a year. The poverty line for a family of 4 is $23,000 a year, and 25% of all jobs pay less than this amount. 28% of all working Americans receive poverty-level wages.

Since the mean annual salary is only $34,000, it follows that 50% of all working Americans receive wages either below or not far above the poverty line. Children are often hit the hardest.

child_poverty

22% of all children in the United States live in poverty, including 39% of African-American children and 34% of Latino children. Over 1 million children enrolled in public schools are homeless.

Traditionally, the poor were concentrated in America’s large inner-cities (the ghettos) and in the rural South. Most poverty relief programs were designed to address issues in those areas. But in recent years poverty has spread to the suburbs. Over the last decade millions of Americans have lost good paying jobs and either taken temporary or part-time low wage jobs, or been added to the growing list of the long-term unemployed. As the Austin Chronicle reports,

Once the secure base of the middle class, suburbs have become the fastest-growing home of American poverty. Since 2000, the number of suburban poor has surged by 64%, twice the rate of urban poor. By 2011, America’s suburbs held 3 million more poor people than were in our core cities.

What has the government been doing to help these people? In recent years we have seen a steady stream of initiatives coming from Republican members of Congress and Republican State Legislatures that impose major cuts to social assistance. The poor are being targeted as “freeloaders.” They are being blamed for their own misery – even the working poor. We are told America cannot afford to maintain its social programs. All the while, governments refuse to free up money from military expenditures or to close tax loopholes for large corporations.

America prides itself on being the richest nation on earth. But it has allowed its vast wealth to become concentrated in the hands of an elite few who use their positions and influence to lobby for broad privileges. The average American does not benefit from this strategy, and those who live in poverty are directly harmed by it.

Ralph Nader, in his recently published book, Told You So, presents a very negative view of the current situation. As quoted recently in The Guardian, he says,

The cruelty is unbelievable here. We are an advanced third world country. We have great military equipment and science and technology. Half of the people in this country are poor. They can’t even pay their bills. They’re deep in debt.

Americans can do better. America’s greatness lies in its communitarian spirit, in its citizens banding together to support one another and solve their problems together. Yes, the challenges today are daunting: massive poverty and underemployment, poorly funded schools, inadequate social services, inefficient health care, and ineffective government. But solutions can be found as long as people have the imagination, the courage and the will to pursue them.

Four days before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr. addressed a gathering at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. He said,

There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.

Do we?

Promoting a Caring Society

It is easy to focus on what is wrong in the world. But sometimes people and even nations get it right. We should learn from their stories.

DenmarkThis morning I listened to the rebroadcast of an inspiring documentary on CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition on how elderly people with dementia are cared for in Denmark.  It has won several major awards since its original broadcast. With so many pressing human needs in society it is worth celebrating simple, practical and humane solutions when we find them.

Here is part of the opening introduction to this documentary:

Denmark looks after its old people.  Lotte, the most famous nursing home in the country, has become an international shrine for anyone seeking another way … a happier way … to make a life for people with dementia.  Lotte is a big old brick house on the west side of Copenhagen, where 23 men and women live like a family.  Seventy per cent of the family has dementia.

Denmark – like every other country in Europe – is in an economic squeeze. Yet Lotte is fully funded and fostered by the Danish government.  The underlying philosophy of elder care is well rooted.  Every man or woman, no matter how ill, or how old, has the right to choose how they want to live.

No one wants to see mum or dad  – or to imagine themselves – strapped down to a bed in a locked dementia ward – chemically warehoused.  But in North America, the choices are limited.  Which is why the world looks to Denmark — where it is illegal to imprison people with dementia in locked wards; where nursing homes regularly take their people on holiday, and where people with dementia are asked what they want to do today.

You can download the 30 minute radio documentary here [click on the button below the picture marked “Listen”]. It may really brighten your day.

 

The Best Place to Live?

FinlandThis week The Atlantic published an intriguing article on the quality of life in Finland as compared to the United States. The article begins by noting that

[Finland] has cheaper medical care, smarter children, happier moms, better working conditions, less-anxious unemployed people, and lower student loan rates

than the United States. It later adds that Finland

has a lower infant mortality ratebetter school scores, and a far lower poverty rate than the United States; that it’s the second-happiest country on earth (the U.S. doesn’t break the top 10).

The author, whose cousin’s family lives in Finland, discusses a number of social benefits found in Finland that Americans simply do not have. She notes, for example,

My cousin’s husband gets 36 vacation days per year, not including holidays. If he wants, he can leave his job for a brief hiatus and come back to a guaranteed position months later.

Admittedly, Finland has one of the highest rates of guaranteed paid vacation leave in the world. According to other sources, only Austria comes in higher at 42 paid days of leave each year.

Paid vacation

By comparison, there is no federal law mandating paid vacation time for American workers; it is left up to the individual employer’s discretion. In the United States, one in four workers receives no paid time off at all.

American students can only envy students living in Finland. The author of the Atlantic article states,

Tuition at his daughter’s university is free, though she took out a small loan for living expenses. Its interest rate is 1 percent.

By comparison, in America the student loan rate increased to 6.8% as of July 1. The average American student has debts totaling more than $27,000, and total student debt nationally is now more than $1 trillion. Under this burden, delinquency in repaying student loans has increased 70% in the last eight years. Clearly, young people in Finland have advantages in beginning their careers that American students can only dream of.

Finnish students also receive excellent preparation for attending university. Finland’s school system is said to rank as

one of the world’s best – with no standardized testing or South Asian-style “cramming” but with lots of customization in the classroom.

What about state child support? The author reports that her cousins

had another kid six years ago, and though they both work, they’ll collect 100 euros a month from the government until the day she turns 17.

Oh yes, and then there are Finland’s famous “baby boxes” which are

a sort of baby shower the Finnish government throws every mom. A package sent to expecting women contains all the essentials for newborns – everything from diapers to a tiny sleeping bag.

The Finnish government also provides four months of paid maternity leave for new mothers, and the mother and father can share an additional six-month “parental” leave with pay on top of that. These generous maternity benefits are exceeded only by Norway and Canada, which provide 44 weeks and 50 weeks of paid maternity leave respectively.

Maternity leave

By comparison, The United States is the only member of the OECD that does not require employers to provide paid maternity leave. It is one of only four countries in the entire world that does not have official paid leave for parents. The other countries are Liberia, Sierra Leone and Papua New Guinea – not very distinguished company.

There’s more:

Can’t get a job? Not to worry. Unemployment insurance in Finland lasts for 500 days, after which you can collect a means-tested Labor Market Subsidy for an essentially indefinite period of time.

What about state assistance for immigrants who want to work in the country? The author states,

My cousin is a recent immigrant, and while she was learning the language and training for jobs, the state gave her 700 euros a month to live on.

Let’s not even get started on the sorry state of immigration policy in the United States. As for federal support of immigrants? – forget it.

And then there is health care.

Health care costs

The United States spends more as a percentage of GDP on health care than any other country in the world. It costs each person an average of $8,000 per year, with the government throwing in an additional $4,000 per person. Finland, like many other countries, provides universal health care to all of its residents at a greatly reduced cost. And it provides additional benefits as well.

In addition to dirt-cheap universal healthcare, Finland offers compensation for wages you might have lost while you were away from work, as well as a “Special Care Allowance” if you need to take some time off to take care of your sick kids.

Women Leaders and Putting People First

While American politicians are steadily cutting back on the social safety net and denouncing the evils of the “welfare state,” this is not the case in Finland. The author reports that

Finland’s welfare system was hardwired into its economic development strategy, and it hasn’t been seriously challenged by any major political group since.

The reason may have something to do with Finland’s unique history. As the article reports,

The country focused on beefing up child and maternal care in large part because women were at the core of Finland’s independence and nation-building efforts at the turn of the 20th century. Finnish women were the second in the world to get the vote in 1906, and they were heavily represented in the country’s first parliament.

That is still the case today. Only Rwanda and Sweden have a higher proportion of women in government than Finland, while the United States is way down the list, falling between the United Arab Emirates and North Korea.

Women in government

The article goes on to cite Ellen Marakowitz, a lecturer at Columbia University studying Finland, who argues that

because women helped form modern Finland, things like maternity leave and child benefits naturally shaped its welfare structure decades later.

Finland also has a strong trade union history.

Finland’s strong trade unions pioneered its initial worker protections but the state soon took those functions over. Today, roughly 75 to 80 percent of Finns are union members (it’s about 11 percent in the U.S.) and the groups dictate the salaries and working conditions for large swaths of the population.

As Andrew Nestingen, a professor heading the Finnish studies program at the University of Washington, explains, “If people are happy, they’ll maximize their work ethic.” That allows society as a whole to reach its full potential. The theory of the welfare state is that “everyone should get a slice of the cake so that they have what they need.” Giving people these resources enables them to make a better life for themselves and effectively contribute to society.

And in the case of Finland it seems to have worked. Overall, people are happier and less stressed out than in America, and they have a more optimistic attitude. As Linda Cook, a political scientist at Brown University who has studied European welfare states observes,

people in Finland are more secure and less anxious than Americans because there is a threshold below which they won’t fall. Even if they face unemployment or illness, Finns will have some payments from the state, public health care and education.

Any chance Americans could learn from Finland’s example?