Category Archives: Opinion

Articles from leading opinion makers

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader: Thanksgiving For Social Scientists: Wish It Were – OpEd

I wish there could be a Thanksgiving for the applied bounty that could come from the hundreds of thousands of political scientists, economists, sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists.

I am referring especially to those social scientists who are full-time, tenured professors at universities, colleges and community colleges who are not indentured to commercial moonlighting. Those of us who look for ways to get things done for the betterment of society seek such contributions from people who spend their days studying what is happening in our country, and to whom. Other than a few minor exceptions, this union has not occurred.

Nearly fifty years ago, a leading administrative law professor Kenneth Culp Davis–interested in governance–wrote a controversial article bewailing the near total absence of any useful contributions in this field by political scientists.

Here is a brief list of contemporary needs that could benefit from academic specialists who are concerned and knowledgeable about our country’s shortcomings and could know how to get things moving.

1. The lack of civic motivation to show up and do something about wrongs widely agreed upon–all over America, a tiny percentage of engaged citizens face the same problem. They can’t get people to show up at the polls, at town council meetings, or at rallies and marches. Maybe the psychologists could try their hand at that one. Look at the back of a $2 bill and see the drawing from 1776–showing up is half of democracy.

2. The need for proper yardsticks by which to measure abuses of power–power structures control these metrics so that they can control debate, inflict censorship and depress people’s expectations. Some economists have offered ways to measure economic progress–e.g. the condition of children–as alternatives to what the business economists have structured for the corporatists. Much more needs to be done to “yardstick” the qualities of economies in order to expose better the disconnect between GDP growth and people’s well-being.

3. Ways to reach and motivate enlightened billionaires to provide the water for the already fertile soil of just changes–some of these enlightened super-rich have told me they have little idea of how to effectively put their money to work for justice, so they continue giving to charities. A society that has more justice needs less charity. Also, how about some functional insight on the majority of super-rich who are, shall we say, tight with their money? Addressing the parsimony of the plutocrats invites an inter-disciplinary action plan stimulated by theorists and empiricized by the applied wings of these disciplines.

4. How can small but effective civic groups be started in the thousands to fill the widespread imbalances of power in our deteriorating society? An example of one of these groups would be full time Congress Watchdogs with part time volunteers in every congressional district to lift the yoke off 535 men and women, most of whom are using their authority to shoehorn corporate power over Washington and driving our country into the ground. The Right calls this crony capitalism; the Left calls it corporate welfare or the corporate state.

5. How do you counteract the periodic war mania that the warmongers fan in our country–think the 2003 invasion of Iraq and other unlawful displays of brute force foreign policies? The manufactured, bloody Iraq war was based on Bush/Cheney lies and deceptions which led to over 300 retired high military, national security and diplomatic officials speaking out against the pending invasion. These included the two main security advisers to the first President Bush, James Baker and Brent Scowcroft. All this was well known to applied social scientists (they’re not all theorists). Imagine them figuring out how to band such a group together with overtly anti-war critics such as mega-billionaire George Soros. Such a well-endowed secretariat for these highly credible, retired leaders could have widely exposed the falsifications, jolted Congress and the media and stopped the drive to this ruinous war that is erupting again in a brutal civil conflict.

6. When overdue reform movements get underway, how can sociologists help with suggestions to sustain their momentum so they do not burn out? I’m thinking of Occupy Wall Street and its theme of standing up to gross inequalities.

7. Recently, the media watch group, FAIR, published data showing the enormous bias of the national media based on who they invite to speak about U.S. military intervention. For example, on the recent question of military options in Syria and Iraq, the “high-profile Sunday talk shows” had 89 guests. Only one guest, Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel, in FAIR’s words, “could be coded as an anti-war guest.” The rest came from the usual militaristic politicians, like the ubiquitous Senator John McCain (who recently noted his 101 appearances just on Face the Nation) and war hawks from Washington “think tanks” or publications like The Standard. With all the multi-disciplinary communications specialists, some well-connected, in academe, can’t some come up with a strategy to change this brazen exploitation of the public airwaves?

Maybe some academics think such practical immersion is not intellectually challenging or career advancing. Recall Albert Einstein who once said that physics is simple compared to politics.

Many social scientists are employed or retained by corporations to “get things done” for them. That’s paying work backed by business power and money. But given the present cultures and mind-sets of social scientists, I doubt whether, absent these pre-existing infrastructures, they could come up with practical answers even if the civic culture could afford them.

The exceptions need more publicity. For example, professor and biologist Barry Commoner brilliantly organized scientists to press the government toward a test ban treaty and highlighted the radioactive fallout of atomic bomb testing on the American people.

Professor Paul Wellstone, starting penniless and at zero in the polls, teamed up with maverick political consultant Bill Hillsman to win a U.S. Senate seat in Minnesota in 1990.

Educational anthropologist Penny Owen for years singlehandedly taught middle-school students, who were considered very difficult learners, through the use of theatre and other self-actuating activities to discover their inner talents and motivations.

Economist Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has helped organizations advance arguments for raising the minimum wage and for instituting a small tax on stock trades.

Besides giving us insights, surveys and findings, can more social scientists like these few but important examples change some routines to provide strategies, tactics, and solutions that can more practically flow from their knowledge to action?

Oregon's John Kitzhaber

Oregon Governor Kitzhaber Statement On Ferguson

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has released a statement following the decision by the Grand Jury in Ferguson, Missouri to not indict the police officer involved in the killing of Michael Brown.

Following is Governor Kitzhaber’s statement.

“The verdict rendered by the Grand Jury in Ferguson, Missouri has sparked anger and frustration across our nation. But it is in these moments of palpable response to years of injustice that I speak to you as a father of a son in America.

All parents, regardless of race, class, culture or origin, should feel the unshakeable confidence that when they send their children into the streets, they will return home safe and sound.

The pain and suffering experienced by Michael Brown’s mother ring true for all parents when she said that this is about the loss of a child, a loss that came at the hands of “…people who are paid to protect them.” These simple words are not just about black or white. Nor are they about criticizing the police officers who have pledged to protect and serve.

These words are about our collective responsibility to ensure that our children are free from suffering the pain of bullying, of stereotyping, of racial profiling and any other behavior that ends their possibilities before they begin. These words are about making sure law enforcement has the training, skills, tools and support necessary to do their jobs safely…both for themselves and the communities they are entrusted with protecting.

Most importantly, her words are about creating an expectation that bias against anyone — regardless of whether it is from institutions or individuals—will not be tolerated.

Forty-six years ago on April 4, 1968 – the day that Martin Luther King was assassinated — Robert Kennedy spoke in Indianapolis, and said:

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”

Let us take from the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri a lesson that we have failed to learn over the past 50 years. This is also a collective tragedy that should — and must – wake us up to the indisputable fact that that we have a long way to go in terms of in addressing the underlying disparities and inequities in our society.

This tragic loss of another son’s life, reinforces the fact that many communities are justifiably frustrated and mistrusting of our systems. The people who are marching in Ferguson and across the country are calling for immediate action. This is an opportunity for us to change how we talk about race and inequality in our communities. Now is the chance for us to commit ourselves to ensuring that we are all working toward a system that creates justice for all.”

Bill Donohue

Pope Francis Challenges Europeans – OpEd

Today Pope Francis addressed the European Parliament.

This was one of Pope Francis’ signature statements. He beckoned his audience to recover their religious moorings, focusing on the positive link between Christianity and Europe. This means an appreciation of what he called the “transcendent dignity” of the human person. Dignity is given recognition in the respect for inalienable human rights, and this, he stressed, extends to the right to profess one’s faith.

The communal aspects of Catholic thought were evident in the way Pope Francis addressed liberty. We are not “monads,” or disconnected atoms, nor are we “absolutes”; rather, we are “beings in relation.” Sounding very much like his two predecessors, he said, “unless the rights of each individual are harmoniously ordered to the greater good, those rights will end up being considered limitless and consequently will become a source of conf licts and violence.”

Speaking of violence, the Holy Father spoke out against Christian persecution. In an obvious reference to Muslims, he said, “Communities and individuals today find themselves subjected to barbaric acts of violence: they are evicted from their homes and native lands, sold as slaves, killed, beheaded, crucified or burned alive, under the shameful and complicit silence of so many.”

Pope Francis also condemned “selfish lifestyles” and the Western “throwaway culture.” But he did not lash out against a market economy. Instead, he called for a balance between the pursuit of profit and the needs of workers. We need to find “new ways of joining market flexibility with the need for stability and security on the part of workers.”

Furthermore, we should embrace the Christian contribution to the “social and cultural formation” of Europe, he said, and not see it as a “threat to the secularity” of nations or the independence of its institutions.

Pope Francis has given many significant statements. This one is my favorite, thus far.

Dollar

I’ll Take Market Forces Over Government Force Any Day – OpEd

Responding to their customers’ increasing demand for privacy in the aftermath of revelations by whistle-blowers that the government is capturing and indefinitely storing every conversation, email, location, online transaction, and more, Apple, Google, WhattsApp, and others are developing new encrypted phones and services to thwart this now-universal warrantless spying.

Simultaneously, a bill that would have reined in the National Security Agency (NSA), was blocked in the Senate. The bill would have kept customers’ records securely with phone and internet companies, to be accessed by the government only when asked for, with cause.

Apple well knows that if it doesn’t produce a phone that will keep your conversations and transactions private, one of its competitors will take market share by developing and selling you one that will.

Your Senator, on the other hand? As has been pointed out by minds better than mine, the issues comprising a political platform are so many—a vast goulash of everything from foreign policy to hometown potholes—and your vote so insignificant, that the odds of your Senator knowing or having to care that you oppose NSA spying is negligible.

The government, needless to say, likes having all of our private information and communications in its hands, to be perused when and as it wishes, and it should be no surprise that its power to do so remains untouched by our “representatives” elected as its “check.”

In order to forestall encrypted phones actually making it into customers’ hands, Justice’s second-in-command is trying to play on stupid voters’ fears:

A child would die, he said, because police wouldn’t be able to scour a suspect’s phone,

Apple CEO Tim Cook responded:

Look, if law enforcement wants something, they should go to the user and get it. It’s not for me to do that.

Our Founders meant for our government to have to work to catch and prove suspected criminals guilty: it’s what keeps government on-task and relatively honest.

And, yes, the Founders meant this to apply to issues of national security, in which they, too, trusted market forces over government force.

Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution provides for Congress to issue Letters of Marque and Reprisal for the capture and bringing to justice suspected enemy combatants. Under this provision, “privateers,” essentially, entrepreneurs akin to bounty hunters, could at their own risk seek out, capture, and bring suspects to justice.

As Thomas Jefferson said:

“Every possible encouragement should be given to privateering in time of war.”

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, we and others proposed this as the best means of quickly restoring Americans’ security: privateers, bonded to ensure that they follow the accepted international law, including the humane treatment of those who were taken prisoner, would be set the task of capturing bin Laden.

Plausible? Recall, for example, Ross Perot’s successful use of private forces to retrieve his employees from the clutches of fundamentalist Muslims in Iran in 1979—as contrasted with the debacle of the U.S. military’s attempt to rescue its government employees.

How much sooner, then, would bin Laden have been apprehended, and at what tremendous show of American ingenuity, had privateers been allowed to operate? The decade that it took the U.S. military to find him—or days or weeks?

And at what savings of innocent lives, destroyed countries, “blow-back”?

So think about upon whom you would rather depend for your safety and security: private providers competing to create and market innovative new means of keeping you safe and secure; or political rulers who get more power and more money the less secure you feel—and invoke the specter of dead children as their favored marketing tool?

Are government functionaries right? Are we stupid? If not, let’s demonstrate it by wising up and withdrawing our consent. Ultimately, that’s all movements like the Fall of the Berlin Wall and today’s Hong Kong protests are. Speak out against NSA spying, opt out of TSA’s naked scanners, demand and buy encrypted phones, networks, and apps. Tell your friends and colleagues that the government is not here to help them, it’s here to help itself, and back it up with stories showing this to be so. We have plenty, and there is no lack of others, especially in our Information Age—at least as long as we resist “net neutrality“.

Robert Reich

Why College Is Necessary But Gets You Nowhere – OpEd

This is the time of year when high school seniors apply to college, and when I get lots of mail about whether college is worth the cost.

The answer is unequivocally yes, but with one big qualification. I’ll come to the qualification in a moment but first the financial case for why it’s worth going to college.

Put simply, people with college degrees continue to earn far more than people without them. And that college “premium” keeps rising.

Last year, Americans with four-year college degrees earned on average 98 percent more per hour than people without college degrees.

In the early 1980s, graduates earned 64 percent more.

So even though college costs are rising, the financial return to a college degree compared to not having one is rising even faster.

But here’s the qualification, and it’s a big one.

A college degree no longer guarantees a good job. The main reason it pays better than the job of someone without a degree is the latter’s wages are dropping.

In fact, it’s likely that new college graduates will spend some years in jobs for which they’re overqualified.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 46 percent of recent college graduates are now working in jobs that don’t require college degrees. (The same is true for more than a third of college graduates overall.)

Their employers still choose college grads over non-college grads on the assumption that more education is better than less.

As a result, non-grads are being pushed into ever more menial work, if they can get work at all. Which is a major reason why their pay is dropping.

What’s going on? For years we’ve been told globalization and technological advances increase the demand for well-educated workers. (Confession: I was one of the ones making this argument.)

This was correct until around 2000. But since then two things have reversed the trend.

First, millions of people in developing nations are now far better educated, and the Internet has given them an easy way to sell their skills in advanced economies like the United States. Hence, more and more complex work is being outsourced to them.

Second, advanced software is taking over many tasks that had been done by well-educated professionals – including data analysis, accounting, legal and engineering work, even some medical diagnoses.

As a result, the demand for well-educated workers in the United States seems to have peaked around 2000 and fallen since. But the supply of well-educated workers has continued to grow.

What happens when demand drops and supply increases? You guessed it. This is why the incomes of young people who graduated college after 2000 have barely risen.

Those just within the top ten percent of college graduate earnings have seen their incomes increase by only 4.4 percent since 2000.

When it comes to beginning their careers, it’s even worse. The starting wages of college graduates have actually dropped since 2000. The starting wage of women grads has dropped 8.1 percent, and for men, 6.7 percent.

I hear it all the time from my former students. The New York Times calls them “Generation Limbo” — well-educated young adults “whose careers are stuck in neutral, coping with dead-end jobs and listless prospects.” A record number are living at home.

The deeper problem is this. While a college education is now a prerequisite for joining the middle class, the middle class is in lousy shape. Its share of the total economic pie continues to shrink, while the share going to the very top continues to grow.

Given all this, a college degree is worth the cost because it at least enables a young person to tread water. Without the degree, young people can easily drown.

Some young college graduates will make it into the top 1 percent. But that route is narrower than ever. The on-ramp often requires the right connections (especially parents well inside the top 1 percent).

And the off-ramps basically go in only three directions: Wall Street, corporate consulting, and Silicon Valley.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe the main reason to go to college – or to choose one career over another — should be to make lots of money.

Hopefully, a college education gives young people tools for leading full and purposeful lives, and having meaningful careers.

Even if they don’t change the world for the better, I want my students to be responsible and engaged citizens.

But when considering a college education in a perilous economy like this, it’s also important to know the economics.

US Flag

Immigration Reform Or Immigration Brawl? – OpEd

By Jamal Doumani

The United States, a nation of immigrants, is having a problem with immigrants — or at least with 12 million of them, illegals known in politically correct parlance as “undocumented.”

The public debate over the issue, far from muted at the best of times, has become strident in recent years between liberals and conservatives over whether, as the former contend, these folks should receive amnesty or, as the latter insist, they should be — improbable though the logistics of it all may be — deported en masse because their presence in the country has strained the economy and, presumably, deflected American culture from its preordained Anglo-Saxon course.

Last Thursday, President Obama injected himself into the debate by giving a 15-minute televised speech to the nation in which he advanced a moral argument to convince the public that a more compassionate stance on the question of undocumented immigrants is in the nation’s best interests. He outlined a plan to provide “administrative relief” and work permits to as many as 3.7 million of these souls, who he said “continue to live in the shadows,” but who are parents of children born in the US, thus American citizens. He additionally offered relief to 300,000 young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.

In effect, the president was at once asserting the executive powers of the White House and daring Republican legislators by going over their heads. The speech sparked immediate outrage among tea party lawmakers, who saw it as a poke in the eye, just two weeks after Republicans handed the chief executive a humiliating defeat at the polls in the mid-term elections, winning full control of both the House and the Senate. From here on, it looks like it’s a free-for-all.

To be sure, the debate over immigration, illegal or otherwise, is as old as the United States. George J. Borjas, a Cuban-American professor of economics at the Harvard Kennedy School and a recognized immigration scholar, writes: “Despite the fact that all of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants, American history is characterized by a never-ending debate over when to pull the ladder in.” Each wave of newly arrived immigrants — the Irish in the 1940s, the Chinese in the 1870s, the Italians and Jews at the turn of the century, South and Southeast Asians in the 1970s — has triggered heated, at times bitter, controversy by nativists.

Example: In 1790, the population of the United States stood at a puny 4 million. By 1920, augmented by newly arrived immigrants — mostly Europeans — that population had grown to 106 million. The foreign-born comprised 13 percent of that total. That did not sit well with nativists, who pressured congress to pass the Quota Act of 1921, by virtue of which a cap of 360,000 (down from one million) was put on the admission of newcomers to American shores.

And, yes, the devil with Emma Lazars’s poem, inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, demanding: “Give me your tired, your poor/ your huddled masses/ yearning to breathe free.” In fact, the Quota Act also established a “national origins” preference that favored immigrants from countries in Western Europe over those from southern Europe, Asia and Africa.

It wasn’t till 1965 that the Quota Act, seen against the backdrop of the civil rights movements at the time, was considered racist and at odds with American values, and replaced by the Immigration and Nationality Act, which recognized no national origins quota. Effectively, first come, first served.

All of which brings us back to the 12 million undocumented immigrants currently living underground in the country, that conservative Republicans and tea party advocates want to see, at best, denied amnesty, or at worst booted out. That is both inhumane and impractical. The overwhelming majority of these folks — “families, not felons,” as President Obama called them in his speech on Thursday — are productive, law-abiding members of the community and have made invaluable contributions to the economy.

As Sheila Jackson Lee, former co-chairwoman of the House Democratic Caucus Immigration Task Force, commented on the subject: “Many undocumented immigrants have earned access to legalization by their hard work and demonstrably high moral character.”

Moreover, countless children, born in the US — and thus citizens by virtue of Birthright Citizenship — whose parents are undocumented, have seen these parents torn away from them and deported right before their eyes. And those are the people, among the 3.7 million undocumented that President Obama plans to provide with “administrative relief” and work permits — if the Republican Congress doesn’t block him in the coming months, including taking him to court with the charge of overreaching his executive mandate and “acting like an emperor rather than as a president.”

It’s not going to be very pretty.

Ron Paul. Photo by David Carlyon

Ron Paul: Defeat Of USA FREEDOM Act Is A Victory For Freedom – OpEd

It will not shock readers to hear that quite often legislation on Capitol Hill is not as advertised. When Congress wants to do something particularly objectionable, they tend give it a fine-sounding name. The PATRIOT Act is perhaps the best-known example. The legislation had been drafted well before 9/11 but was going nowhere. Then the 9/11 attacks gave it a new lease on life. Politicians exploited the surge in patriotism following the attack to reintroduce the bill and call it the PATRIOT Act. To oppose it at that time was, by design, to seem unpatriotic.

At the time, 62 Democrats voted against the Act. On the Republican side there were only three no votes: former Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), former Rep. Butch Otter (R-ID), and myself.

The abuses of the Constitution in the PATRIOT Act do not need to be fully recounted here, but Presidents Bush and Obama both claimed authority based on it to gut the Fourth Amendment. The PATRIOT Act ushered in the era of warrantless wiretapping, monitoring of our Internet behavior, watering down of probable cause, and much more. After the revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden, we know how the NSA viewed constitutional restraints on surveillance of American people during the PATRIOT Act period.

After several re-authorizations of the PATRIOT Act, including some cosmetic reforms, Congress last October unveiled the USA FREEDOM Act. This was advertised as the first wholesale PATRIOT Act Reform bill. In fact, the House version was watered down to the point of meaninglessness and the Senate version was not much better. The final straw was the bill’s extension of key elements of the PATRIOT Act until 2017.

Fortunately, last week the USA FREEDOM Act was blocked from further consideration in the US Senate. The procedural vote was significant and important, but it caused some confusion as well. While some well-meaning pro-privacy groups endorsed the FREEDOM Act as a first step to reform, some anti-liberty neoconservatives opposed the legislation because even its anemic reforms were unacceptable. The truth is, Americans should not accept one more extension of the PATRIOT Act and should not endorse its continued dismemberment of our constitutional liberties. If that means some Senators vote with anti-liberty colleagues to kill the extension, we should still consider it a victory.

As the PATRIOT Act first faced a sunset in 2005, I had this to say in the debate over whether it should be re-authorized:

“When Congress passed the Patriot Act in the emotional aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks, a sunset provision was inserted in the bill that causes certain sections to expire at the end of 2005. But this begs the question: If these provisions are critical tools in the fight against terrorism, why revoke them after five years? Conversely, if these provisions violate civil liberties, why is it acceptable to suspend the Constitution for any amount of time?”

Reform is often meant to preserve, not repeal bad legislation. When the public is strongly opposed to a particular policy you will almost never hear politicians say “let’s repeal the law.” It is always a pledge to reform the policy or law. The USA FREEDOM Act was no different.

With the failure of the FREEDOM Act to move ahead in the Senate last week, several of the most egregious sections of the PATRIOT Act are set to sunset next June absent a new authorization. Congress will no doubt be under great pressure to extend these measures. We must do our very best to make sure they are unsuccessful!

This article was published by the RonPaul Institute.

Palestine - Israel flags

Recognizing Palestine: Anomalies And Ambiguities – OpEd

The interminable Israel-Palestine dispute is replete with paradoxes.

At the most basic level, there is no doubt that Arab opinion as a whole resents the presence of the state of Israel in its midst.

Palestinians regard Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948 as a disaster, and mark it annually with their own Nakba Day (“Day of Catastrophe”). Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority (the PA), leads a Fatah party whose charter states quite unequivocally that Palestine, with the boundaries that it had during the British Mandate – that is, before the existence of Israel – is an indivisible territorial unit and is the homeland of the Arab Palestinian people. Each Palestinian, it declares, must be prepared for the armed struggle and be ready to sacrifice both wealth and life to win back his homeland.

A first glaring anomaly, therefore, is the fact that Abbas has spent the past ten years nominally supporting the “two-state solution”, and pressing for recognition of a sovereign Palestine within the boundaries that existed on 5 June 1967 – that is, on the day before the Six-Day War. Given the founding beliefs of his party, this tactic – inherited from his predecessor, Yassir Arafat – obviously represents only the first stage in a strategy ultimately designed to gain control of the whole of Mandate Palestine, an objective explicit in what he says in the Arabic media, but which he never expresses in his statements to the world.

This underlying reality of the Israel-Palestine dispute explains why every attempt to negotiate a resolution has failed. No Palestinian leader, whatever position he adopts to placate world opinion, dare sign up finally to a two-state solution, since to do so would be to concede that Israel has an acknowledged and legitimate place within Mandate Palestine – and that would instantly brand him a traitor to the Palestinian cause.

This is why the plethora of dates strewn across the recent history of the Middle East mark well-intentioned, but ultimately doomed, efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – the Madrid Conference in 1991, the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995, the Wye River Memorandum in 1998, the Camp David Summit in 2000, the Road Map for Peace in 2003, the Annapolis process in 2007, the Obama administration’s direct peace talks of September 2010 followed by its second, intensive effort, led by US Secretary of State John Kerry, over 2013-2014.

However close the Palestinian leadership may have reached over the years in negotiating a two-state solution – and some deals offered them virtually all they asked for – in the final analysis they always baulk at signing on the dotted line, because to do so would be to acknowledge Israel’s place, as of right, in Mandate Palestine, thus betraying the core principle they have inculcated into the Palestinian narrative.

As a matter of historical fact, all those abortive initiatives might have been superfluous. A sovereign Palestine could have been up and running alongside Israel some twenty-five years ago, before the PLO gained control of Palestinian policy. For preceding them was the top-secret accord reached between Israel and Jordan in 1987, at a time when Jordan controlled the West Bank and East Jerusalem, having annexed them in 1950, and was in a position to negotiate a binding peace agreement.

Top-secret at the time, today the deal is a matter of public record. Shimon Peres, then Israel’s foreign affairs minister, negotiated with King Hussein of Jordan what became known as the “London Agreement” − signed on 11 April 1987 during a secret meeting held at the residence of Lord Mishcon, a leading UK lawyer and a prominent member of the Jewish community. Also present were Jordan’s prime minister, Zaid al-Rifai, and the director general of Israel’s foreign affairs ministry, Yossi Beilin. When it was signed on behalf of Jordan and Israel, it can confidently be assumed that the terms of a comprehensive peace deal had been virtually agreed between them.

The sting was in the tail of the document. “The above understanding is subject to the approval of the respective governments of Israel and Jordan.” With the king as signatory, the approval of the Jordanian government was a foregone conclusion. The problem was that in 1987 Israel was ruled by a fragile and uncertain “national unity government” in which ministers were attempting – often unsuccessfully – to suppress diametrically opposite political beliefs in the interests of providing the nation with effective government. The prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, led the right-wing Likud party; Shimon Peres represented the left-wing Labor party in the cabinet. Chalk and cheese. Although Shamir permitted his foreign minister to undertake the secret negotiations and travel to London, he did not approve of the outcome, fearing that Israel would be forced into a solution that would be unacceptable to his party and prove divisive in the country.

Consequently he opposed the agreement, and Peres failed to get the cabinet’s endorsement. King Hussein, disappointed, disengaged from the peace process, and Yassir Arafat, then Chairman of the PLO, launched the first intifada in December 1987. In July 1988 Hussein withdrew Jordan’s claim to sovereignty over the West Bank, and the course of the next quarter-century was set – a course which saw the PA nominally engage in numerous attempts to reach a two-state solution, while ensuring that each and every attempt ended in failure.

It was before the conclusion of the latest futile attempt at peace negotiations, in April 2014, that Mahmoud Abbas decided on a new tactic. While never renouncing his nominal adherence to the two-state solution, he determined to by-pass peace negotiations in favor of seeking international recognition of the State of Palestine and international de-legitimization of the State of Israel. So far he has not been unsuccessful. During October 2014 not only was the State of Palestine formally recognized by 135 of the 193 UN member states, but Sweden became the first EU state officially to do so, while a non-binding vote in the British parliament recognized “the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution.” The Spanish government did something similar last week, and the French government plans to do the same later in November.

Ambiguities lie at the heart of this profusion of recognitions. First, do these well-meaning parliamentarians appreciate that a two-state solution cuts across core Palestinian beliefs? Then, with well over a million Palestinians living in the Gaza strip, the “Palestine” that is being recognized should include Gaza. Although Abbas is heading what is nominally a “national unity government”, in fact Fatah and Hamas are at daggers drawn and his writ does not run in Gaza.

Hamas, which governs Gaza and could well emerge victorious in any future Palestinian elections, rejects the two-state solution and is intent on defeating and eliminating Israel through terror and armed conflict. How do the well-meaning states intent on recognizing a State of Palestine “as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution” square those particular circles?

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader: Big Pharma—Crony Capitalism Out Of Control – OpEd

Two recent news items about the voracious drug industry should call for a supine Congress to arouse itself and initiate investigations about the pay-or-die drug prices that are far too common.

The first item—a page one story in the New York Times—was about the Cystic Fibrosis (CF) Foundation, which fifteen years ago invested $150 million in the biotechnology company Vertex Pharmaceuticals to develop a drug for this serious lung disease.

On November 19, the Foundation reported a return of $3.3 billion from that investment. Kalydeco, the drug developed with that investment, is taken daily by CF patients (who can afford it) and is priced at $300,000 a year per patient. Who can pay that price?

The second news release came from the drug industry funded Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development. The Center’s Joseph DiMasi asserts that the cost of developing a new prescription medicine is about $2.558 billion, significantly higher than the previous estimate of $802 million that the Center claimed in 2003.

The drug industry promoters use this ludicrous figure to justify sky-high drug prices for consumers. Unfortunately, the criticism of this inflated number does not receive adequate media attention.

Half of the DiMasi assertion is opportunity costs foregone if the drug company invested its money elsewhere. That cuts his estimate by almost half to $1.395 billion. This maneuver gives “inflation” a new meaning. According to economist James P. Love, founder of Knowledge Ecology International, DiMasi also conveniently ignores government subsidies such as so-called orphan drug tax credits, research grants from the National Institutes of Health and government support of the cost of clinical trials that qualify (see keionline.org).

Mr. Love adds that the drug companies spend “much more on marketing than they do on research and development.”

Rohit Malpani, Director of Policy and Analysis of Doctors Without Borders (which received the Nobel Prize in 1999), says that if you believe Tufts’ figures, whose alleged data analysis is largely secret, “you probably also believe the Earth is flat.”

Mr. Malpani cites GlaxoSmithKline’s CEO Andrew Witty himself who says that the figure of a billion dollars to develop a drug is a myth.

Malpani adds that “we know from past studies and the experience of non-profit drug developers that a new drug can be developed for just a fraction of the cost the Tufts report suggests. The cost of developing products is variable, but experience shows that new drugs can be developed for as little as $50 million, or up to $186 million if you take failure into account…not only do taxpayers pay for a very large percentage of industry R&D, but are in fact paying twice because they then get hit with high prices for the drugs themselves.”

Mr. Malpani was referring primarily to the U.S., where the drug companies show no gratitude for generous tax credits and taxpayer funded R&D (that they get mostly free.) Add the absence of price controls and you the consumer/patient pay the highest drug prices in the world.

Another largely ignored aspect of the industry’s R&D is how much of it is directed to products that match, rather than improve, health outcomes—so-called “me too” drugs that are profitable, but don’t benefit patients’ health.

Also, the consistently profitable drug industry has been continually unable to restrain its deceptive promotion of drugs and inadequate disclosure of side-effects. About 100,000 Americans die every year from adverse effects of pharmaceuticals. Tens of billions of consumer dollars are wasted on drugs that have side effects instead of drugs for the same ailments with lesser side-effects (see citizen.org/hrg).

During a visit in 2000 with military physicians and scientists at the Walter Reed Army Hospital, I asked how much they spent on R&D to develop their antimalarial drugs and other medicine. The answer: five to ten million dollars per drug, which included clinical testing plus the salaries of the researchers.

This “drug development entity” inside the Department of Defense arose because drug companies refused to invest in vaccine or therapeutic drugs for malaria—then the second leading cause for hospitalizing U.S. soldiers in Vietnam (the first being battlefield injuries). So the military brass decided to fill this void in-house, and with considerable success.

The problem with the stinginess of the coddled private pharmaceutical industry regarding vaccine development continues. Drug resistant tuberculosis and other infectious diseases rampant in developing countries continue to take millions of lives each year. The Ebola epidemic is a current lethal illustration of such neglect.

The survival of many millions of people is too important to be left to the drug companies. For a fraction of what the federal government is wasting on spreading and failing lawless wars abroad, it can expand from the Walter Reed Army Hospital example to become a humanitarian superpower that produces life-saving vaccines and medicines as if the plight of sick people mattered more than windfall profits for Big Pharma.

Iran - US flags

Iran Nuclear Talks And US – India Deal: A Comparison

By Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Can Iran replicate the experience of last-minute US-India nuclear deal in November 2006? This is an interesting question as the November 24th deadline for an Iran deal looms closer.

Chances of a major breakthrough in the Vienna talks currently underway are subject to a great deal of speculation given the confidential nature of the intense negotiations, described by some Western diplomats as “positive and serious.”

Some pundits have written about a “general framework” agreement that would leave some critical details for further negotiations.

Others, like John Limbert, have prayed for a “miracle.” Still others are in favor of an extension, with some experts regarding it as inevitable given the complexity of issues and the remaining differences, while others point at the window of opportunity now that would be closed once the new Republican-dominated Congress convenes in January, 2015. Historical comparisons may be helpful here.

The US-India “nuclear sharing” agreement was reached after several years of tumultuous negotiations, and was signed by President George Bush when the ‘lame duck’ Congress was in session after an election that had resulted in the Republicans’ loss. Bush took advantage of the small window of time to get the deal done before the Democrat-dominated Congress could act.

According to the US negotiator at the time, Nicholas Burns, both sides showed a remarkable degree of flexibility “at the last minute” otherwise the deal would not have gone through. Interestingly, several weeks prior to that, the differences between the two sides had “sharpened” and had become more “focused.”

Yet, confronted with the reality of a deadline and a potentially hostile US Congress, the US and Indian negotiators stepped back from their hardened positions and showed new flexibility that led to the deal. Can this be the fate of the Iran nuclear deal? The answer will be clear in a precious few days, but at the moment of this writing the answer was clouded under a thick air of suspense.

Yet, it is rather abundantly clear that the parties have come too far and made too much progress — Russian envoy has been quoted as saying up to 95 percent of issues have been resolved — to allow a complete collapse. That would not bode well for either side and is therefore highly unlikely, though by no means impossible.

The more likely scenarios are (a) a comprehensive deal, (b) a general agreement with a short-term extension to work out the remaining differences, (c) an extension of interim agreement, i.e., Interim II. Of course, the best case scenario is a final-status agreement that would end the Iranian nuclear standoff and result in immediate, and concrete, benefits to all sides. It is estimated that such a deal would yield hundreds of billions of dollars of new trade and investment with Iran.

The various trade and financial ramifications of such a deal represent a major incentive for some of the negotiating parties such as France and Germany to show genuine interest in this scenario. Even the US companies have lined up for a major re-entry into the Iranian market and, therefore, it is not in US’s own interest to play spoiler by making proposals that would be unacceptable in Tehran. Clearly, any nuclear deal that does not respect Iran’s rights and would be considered a lop-sided deal cannot be politically feasible in Iran.

On the other hand, the domestic hurdles in both Tehran and Washington can be handled if the required flexibility is adopted by both sides, in light of the rhetoric of some Western diplomats conveying the false perception that only Iran is required to do so. What these diplomats ignore is that for the deal to materialize, the US and other Western powers need to stop playing hard-ball with the two principal issues of Iran’s centrifuges and the removal of sanctions. Otherwise, the internal critics of a deal would be exonerated in their skepticism that the West wants to take most of the benefits from the deal while giving up very little.

In conclusion, as the clock winds down to the deadline, the US negotiators would be well-advised to take another look at the process of negotiations with India and their predecessors’ last minute flexibility, otherwise they must deal with the unwanted consequence of failure and a nuclear crisis that is up for grabs for a mutually-satisfactory win-win resolution.

*Kaveh Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of several books on Iran’s foreign policy. His writings have appeared on several online and print publications, including UN Chronicle, New York Times, Der Tagesspiegel, Middle East Journal, Harvard International Review, and Brown’s Journal of World Affairs, Guardian, Russia Today, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Mediterranean Affairs, Nation, Telos, Der Tageszeit, Hamdard Islamicus, Iranian Journal of International Affairs, Global Dialogue.

Barack Obama weekly talk

Obama: Immigration Accountability Executive Action – Transcript

In this week’s address, the President laid out the steps he took this past week to fix our broken immigration system. Enacted within his legal authority, the President’s plan focuses on cracking down on illegal immigration at the border; deporting felons, not families; and accountability through criminal background checks and taxes. These are commonsense steps, but only Congress can finish the job. As the President acts, he’ll continue to work with Congress on a comprehensive, bipartisan bill — like the one passed by the Senate more than a year ago — that can replace these actions and fix the whole system.

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
Las Vegas, Nevada

Hi everybody. Today, I’m at Del Sol High School, in Las Vegas, to talk with students and families about immigration.

We are a nation of immigrants. It has always given America a big advantage over other nations. It keeps our country young, dynamic, and entrepreneurial. But today, our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it.

That’s why, nearly two years ago, I came to this school and laid out principles for immigration reform. And five months later, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents in the Senate came together to pass a commonsense compromise bill. That bill would have secured our border, while giving undocumented immigrants who already live here a pathway to citizenship if they paid a fine, started paying their taxes, and went to the back of the line. Independent experts said it would grow our economy, and shrink our deficits.

Now, had the House of Representatives allowed a yes-or-no vote on that kind of bill, it would have passed with support from both parties. Today it would be the law. But for a year and a half, Republican leaders in the House have refused to allow that simple vote. Now, I still believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together — both parties — to pass that kind of bipartisan law. But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as President — the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican Presidents before me — that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just.

I took those actions this week. We’re providing more resources at the border to help law enforcement personnel stop illegal crossings, and send home those who do cross over. We’ll focus enforcement resources on people who are threats to our security — felons, not families; criminals, not children. And we’ll bring more undocumented immigrants out of the shadows so they can play by the rules, pay their full share of taxes, pass a criminal background check, and get right with the law.

Nothing about this action will benefit anyone who has come to this country recently, or who might try and come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive. And it’s certainly not amnesty, no matter how often the critics say it. Amnesty is the immigration system we have today — millions of people living here without paying their taxes, or playing by the rules. And the actions I took this week will finally start fixing that.

As you might have heard, there are Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better. Well, I have one answer for that: Pass a bill. The day I sign it into law, the actions I’ve taken to help solve this problem will no longer be necessary.

In the meantime, we can’t allow a disagreement over a single issue to be a dealbreaker on every issue. That’s not how our democracy works. This debate deserves more than politics as usual. It’s important for our future. It’s about who we are, and the future we want to build.

We are only here because this country welcomed our forebears, and taught them that being American is about more than what we look like or where we come from. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal — that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will. That’s the country we inherited, and it’s the one we have to leave for future generations.

Thank you, God bless you, and have a great weekend.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Lawman Slaps Federal Lawsuit On Obama’s Immigration Executive Actions – OpEd

President Barack Obama “Gruberized” the American people on national, primetime television Thursday night as he revealed his plan for a unilateral executive action to grant want amounts to amnesty for close to one-half of the government estimated 11 million illegal aliens currently in this country. But an Arizona lawman didn’t wait until Obama framed the discussion for his minions to defend his alleged unconstitutional disregard for law and order and also on Thursday took action against Obama’s executive orders. The controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, filed a lawsuit on Thursday to immediately prevent (enjoin) Obama’s unconstitutional actions.

Sheriff Arpaio’s lawyer is another controversial America, attorney Larry Klayman, who served as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Justice Department and founded two major public-interest legal watchdogs: Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch, with both groups successfully holding government officials’ feet to the fire.

For example, in another case against the Obama administration, Klayman obtained a preliminary injunction against the National Security Agency (NSA) for having unconstitutionally accessed the telephonic metadata of nearly all American citizens. That case was also filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Upon filing the complaint, which is listed as Arpaio v. Obama, et al, before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Sheriff Arpaio issued this statement: “This unconstitutional act by the President will have a serious detrimental impact on my caring out the duties and responsibilities for which I am encharged as Sheriff. Specifically, it will severely strain our resources, both in manpower and financially, necessary to protect the citizens I was elected to serve. For instance, among the many negative affects of this executive order, will be the increased release of criminal aliens back onto streets of Maricopa County, Arizona, and the rest of the nation.”

“I am not seeking to myself enforce the immigration laws as this is the province of the federal government. Rather, I am seeking to have the President and the other defendants obey the U.S. Constitution, which prevents this executive order from having been issued in the first place. This unconstitutional act must be enjoined by a court of law on behalf of not just myself, but all of the American people,” said the 80-year-old veteran cop, who also served as a federal law enforcement official.

“Obama television appearance drew fire from a number of conservatives, independents and even a few Democrats who “still remember that we are a nation of laws not people’s arbitrary dictates,” according to political strategist Mike Baker. “More than a few lawmakers are upset with Obama’s obvious politically-motivated actions against the wishes of a majority of Americans,” he added.

Baker points to North Carolina’s U.S. Congressman Patrick McHenry’s reaction to Obama’s speech and the substance of that speech. McHenry, who serves in the House of Representatives as the GOP’s Chief Deputy Whip released a statement after hearing Obama talk to the American people: “This evening we have once again seen a President more focused on pursuing divisive political gimmicks as opposed to sound policy and the wishes of the American people. President Obama’s unilateral action on immigration is not just illegal, as he himself has acknowledged on numerous occasions in the past, but more importantly, it does nothing to actually fix our nation’s broken immigration system; in fact, it makes the situation worse.”

“If the President were actually committed to getting something done, he would work with Congress to find a bipartisan solution that secures our nation’s borders and builds an immigration system that works for the countless law-abiding people who wish to realize the American Dream. Instead he has chosen an unconstitutional executive action opposed by the majority of Americans, an action which Congressional Republicans will use the powers we possess to block,” said Rep. McHenry in his statement