Ron Forthofer

Ron Forthofer Ph.D. is retired Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Texas School of Public Health, Houston, Texas; former Green Party candidate for Congress and for Governor of Colorado rforthofer@comcast.net

Exxon’s inconvenient truth

This Guest Opinion first appeared in the Times-Call (FRL)

Back in the day when Exxon was just a gigantic oil company, before its merger with Mobil, Exxon had its own inconvenient truth. Based on investigation by Inside Climate News (ICN) as well as research by the Los Angeles Times in conjunction with a project at Columbia University, in the late 1970s and early 1980s Exxon scientists conducted pioneering research on climate change.

The ICN article is the basis for the following. In July 1977, James Black, one of Exxon’s senior scientists, gave a sobering report. From a written version he recorded later, Black said: “In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels.”

In 1978, Black gave an updated report to a larger audience of Exxon scientists and managers. According to a written summary of his talk, Black warned: “Present thinking holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.” Among other things, Black also predicted that rainfall might get heavier in some regions, and other places might turn to desert. In the written summary of his 1978 talk Black said: “Some countries would benefit but others would have their agricultural output reduced or destroyed.”

In 1982, Exxon developed a primer on climate change and carbon dioxide. Again, from ICN: Marked “not to be distributed externally,” it contained information that “has been given wide circulation to Exxon management.” In it, the company recognized, despite the many lingering unknowns, that heading off global warming “would require major reductions in fossil fuel combustion.” The ICN article continued: Unless that happened, “there are some potentially catastrophic events that must be considered,” the primer said, citing independent experts. “Once the effects are measurable, they might not be reversible.”

Exxon continued with its climate change research, an issue that posed an existential threat to its oil business, until the late 1980s. Exxon scientists even were permitted to publish at least three peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals on their ground breaking research.

Unfortunately, in the late 1980s Exxon shifted tactics to stressing the uncertainty of research into the greenhouse effect. This change apparently was due to financial considerations and was not based on any research challenging its previous findings. Since then, Exxon and climate-change deniers have been successful in preventing effective action on this issue. We have lost 20 to 25 years when steps could have been taken, and now the window for alleviating the worse effects is much smaller. Every year we delay taking effective action means that future actions will have to be much more draconian or the effects of climate change will be far worse.

It appears as if nothing very constructive will be achieved during the current talks in Paris. The fossil fuel industry still has sufficient clout to stop effective action. Distressingly, the U.S. is pushing voluntary national reductions. There would be no requirements since each nation does what it wants when it wants. On top of that, there would be no enforcement mechanism to hold a nation to its commitment.

Talk about perversion— the worse climate change impacts will initially be experienced by those nations that had little to do with causing climate change. The U.S., a key contributor to the increase in greenhouse gases, will generally initially suffer lesser impacts. Coming generations, including the young children and grandchildren of today, who have had no role in causing climate change, will face the greatest suffering. Those generations aren’t going to think kindly towards us and our lack of action.

Ron Forthofer is a retired professor of biostatistics who lives in Longmont.

It’s not a wonderful life for many

Girl Working in Box Factory, Tampa, FL - 1909

Girl Working in Box Factory, Tampa, FL – 1909

Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” is relevant these days with many in Congress playing the role of Scrooge before he was visited by the Christmas spirits. Dickens was greatly concerned about the plight of children forced to work under dreadful conditions and about the lives of the poor.

Pope Francis recently echoed these ideas when he expressed concern about unfettered capitalism. The Pope also called on world leaders to address poverty and growing inequality. Specifically, he said:

“In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.

“To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. …”

This description applies to many of us, particularly to many in Congress. For example, the recent budget compromise allows emergency unemployment benefits for 1.3 million to expire. Millions more will lose their federal or state unemployment benefits in 2014. Future pension benefits for federal workers and veterans will also be reduced.

In addition, in the new farm bill, Congress is likely to push for cuts in food stamps instead of reducing or eliminating tax subsidies to giant agricultural corporations.

Unsurprisingly, Congress is again targeting Social Security and Medicare for cuts. These successful programs have kept millions from falling into dire poverty. Perhaps surprising to some people, President Obama has expressed a willingness to accept cuts in these programs.

Congress has refused to raise the minimum wage, a wage that has failed to keep pace with inflation. Currently the national minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Adjusted for inflation, this level is far below the minimum wage level of the late 1960s as well as being below the levels from 1956 to 1985. To be comparable to the level in the late 1960s, the minimum wage today would be close to $11 per hour.

Congress has also worked hard to restore the corporate welfare for the military-industrial complex. Congress throws money at this sector for weapons that are not needed or useful in dealing with non-state actors. Some of these tens to hundreds of billions in corporate welfare would be better spent by the badly under-funded Veterans Administration to help returning veterans prepare for reentry into society. Partly due to lack of extensive preparation, many veterans are, in effect, discarded by society. Many with PTSD and other problems are not adequately treated and join the ranks of the homeless and unemployed. We owe them so much more.

Note this budget compromise ignores the possibility of increasing revenue by closing corporate tax loopholes or by increasing the highest marginal tax rates. These higher rates would impact only the super wealthy, folks who would hardly notice these extra taxes. Instead, Congress chooses to cut incomes for the rest of us, incomes that are often already stretched beyond the breaking point for too many. Obama will likely go along with this mean and heartless approach.

Clearly, congressional and White House actions play a major role in increasing poverty and inequality. Contact your representatives and voice your opposition to cuts in these programs. I think Dickens and Pope Francis would say “bah, humbug” to these politicians.

Give Peace a Chance


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The U.S. has often resorted to military means as a way of settling disputes with far weaker nations during the last fifty years. Frequently these attacks have been unwarranted as well as violations of international law. U.S. attacks on Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Serbia and Iraq (2003) are a few examples of these illegal conflicts.

We are currently fighting in Afghanistan and illegally using drones to kill in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. After long years of fighting and losing wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. public is fed up with senseless conflicts. This point was made clear recently by the huge public outcry against illegally bombing Syria.

Besides the millions it killed and the incredible destruction it wreaked on far weaker nations, the U.S. has incurred costs as well. Tens of thousands of U.S, soldiers were killed and hundreds of thousands more were wounded. The families of these physically and/or mentally/emotionally wounded veterans continue to pay an enormous and incalculable  price. These unnecessary campaigns cost trillions of dollars, money that could have been far better used domestically to improve the real security of our people. The bottom line is that these wars have been counterproductive, increasing the hatred towards the U.S. and decreasing ours and the world’s security.

Thus it is not surprising at all that there was tremendous public relief here at home and worldwide about the interim agreement negotiated in Geneva and signed on November 24th between Iran and the P5+1 nations (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany). This agreement essentially calls for a short-term freeze on some of Iran’s nuclear enrichment programs in exchange for some very limited relief from economic sanctions, including allowing Iran access to a pittance of its own money held in other countries. The goal is a permanent agreement that will greatly reduce the threat to world peace.

Despite widespread relief and praise for the deal, unsurprisingly, there are some hardliners in Iran, the U.S. and Israel who expressed opposition. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was particularly vociferous in his condemnation of the deal, and Israeli officials did not rule out an illegal Israeli attack on Iran during the next six months. Interestingly, Israeli President Peres had a somewhat different reaction. According to a CNN article, Peres said: “This is an interim deal. The success or failure of the deal will be judged by results, not by words.”

Netanyahu and his U.S. Congressional supporters continue to hammer on the disputed idea of an existential threat to Israel of an Iranian nuclear weapon. They somehow manage to ignore assessments by U.S., Israeli and British intelligence agencies that Iran currently does not have a nuclear weapons program. This has been the conclusion of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate since 2007 and was reiterated in testimony to Congress in 2011 and 2012. The Estimate said that Iran stopped it nuclear weapons program in 2003.

The assessment added that Iran has the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon eventually, making the central issue the political will to do so. Regarding the political will, the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa saying the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons was forbidden under Islam.

Numerous U.S. and Israeli military and political leaders think that a military attack on Iran would be unsuccessful and would drive Iran to build nuclear weapons to defend itself. The Friends Committee on National Legislation has compiled many quotes on this point and the insanity of an attack at http://fcnl.org.

One quote from the above site by Meir Dagan, former head of Israel’s Mossad, captures the sense of these officials. In a 2011 article he said: “[Attacking Iran is] ‘the stupidest thing I have ever heard…It will be followed by a war with Iran. It is the kind of thing where we know how it starts, but not how it will end.”

If we want to stop another insane, counterproductive, illegal, unwarranted and costly conflict, tell Congress that it must not enact more sanctions on Iran, sanctions that would suggest the U.S. is not negotiating in good faith. Continuing Congressional support of Netanyahu harms U.S. interests.

Giant corporations and democracy

The trickle that wasn't

Corporations stand for abuse

During the colonial period and on into the early days of the nation, Americans wisely didn’t trust corporations. In particular, people remembered the abuses by the British East India Company. They were also concerned by the corruption of government associated with the grants of special privileges awarded to corporations.

Hence there were few corporations here when this country was founded. However growth in corporations accelerated in the early 19th century, but these corporations were still subject to some control by the governments that granted their charters. As time passed, more money changed hands and, eventually, giant corporations with seemingly unlimited power were created.

Several presidents, including Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower have expressed great concern about corporations. In addition, Thomas Jefferson said: “I hope we shall take warning from the example and crush in it’s [sic] birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and to bid defiance to the laws of their country.”

Today, it is hard to realize that there was a time when giant corporations didn’t exercise a large degree of control over our lives. Unfortunately, these large transnational corporations, particularly in the financial sector, have used trade agreements, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to expand their power around the world.

The latest example is the little known Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement that includes eleven nations around the Pacific Rim. Japan has also recently applied to be included. It is called ‘NAFTA on steroids’ and represents the latest power grab by transnational corporations.

Secret discussions have been going on since March 2010 and the 17th negotiating session will take place later this month in Peru. The agreement contains 26 chapters with only five of them concerning traditional trade issues. The corporate sector is involved and well informed, but the public and Congress are being kept in the dark.

Some key concerns about the TPP include the lack of transparency; the expansion of intellectual property rights beyond previous agreements; the ‘investor-state’ settlement system that gives corporations the right to sue governments and to override democratically enacted laws; and the elimination of more banking regulations and allowing capital to move in and out of nations without restriction.

Please contact your representative and senators and voice your opposition to this challenge to democracy. For more info, visit http://www.citizen.org/tppinvestment.

A bipartisan surveillance state

Too much security isn't a good thing, no matter which party's in charge.

Too much security isn’t a good thing, no matter which party’s in charge.

On Wednesday, July 24, the House of Representatives, in a surprisingly close vote, defeated an amendment that called for the defunding of the National Security Agency’s warrantless and bulk domestic spying program. I say surprisingly close because the White House and the leadership of both mainstream parties opposed the amendment. The House could have lived up to its responsibility to defend the Constitution but instead chose to continue being a party to the shredding of the Fourth Amendment.

President Obama and political leaders claim that it is necessary to sacrifice much of our privacy in order to keep the U.S. secure. Benjamin Franklin didn’t agree. He said: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

As a reminder, the Fourth Amendment states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

In June, after President Obama touted the key role of the NSA surveillance program in stopping terrorist plots, Sens. Mark Udall and Ron Wyden, members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said they have seen no evidence that the NSA program “has actually provided any uniquely valuable intelligence.” They added: “As far as we can see, all of the useful information that it has provided appears to have also been available through other collection methods that do not violate the privacy of law-abiding Americans in the way that the Patriot Act collection does.”

On July 31, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, NSA Deputy Director Chris Inglis conceded that the claims about the usefulness of the program in preventing attacks had been overstated. Why then does the government continue to spend billions on a program that violates the Constitution and doesn’t deliver the goods?

Perhaps because the bulk collection of records may also allow the government to identify whistleblowers and sources used by investigative reporters. It appears the Obama administration is comfortable with leaks that portray it in a good light whereas it goes ballistic over leaks that report on its problematic actions.

The Obama administration, self-proclaimed as the most transparent in history, has indicted six former or current government employees who became whistleblowers, twice as many as all previous administrations combined. In a May 21 article in The Hill, James Bachman wrote: “These whistleblowers have revealed government waste, fraud and abuse, acts of aggression, torture and war crimes. Yet, it is those who have revealed the criminal activity that have suffered prosecution by the Obama administration while those who have actually committed the crimes have gone unpunished.”

On July 9, McClatchy News broke a story on the Insider Threat Program, enacted through a little-known executive order signed by President Obama in October 2011. This executive order requires government agencies to “implement an insider threat detection and prevention program” — in effect, ordering all government employees, regardless of security clearances or the sensitivity of their work, to police fellow workers as potential security threats, and report the suspicious behavior to superiors.

This program is not consistent with our values. If we become a nation where fellow employees and neighbors spy on one another, the social fabric of our nation would be destroyed. Indeed, this program sounds similar to things that the East German Stasi and the KGB of the Soviet Union did during the Cold War.

We must demand that Congress stop these violations by the NSA. Otherwise, in a few years we could be saying: First they came for the whistleblowers; then they came for the reporters; then they came for protestors; etc.

45 years of occupation with no end in sight

The Israeli attack on Egypt that began the Six-Day War occurred 45 years ago on June 5, 1967. This attack was followed by an Israeli attack on Syria and fighting with Jordan. As a result of its attack, Israel took control of the West Bank including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, part of the Golan Heights in Syria, and the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.

Some supporters of Israel claim that the attack was necessary. However, leading Israeli leaders clearly reject that claim. For example, former Israeli Prime Minister Begin admitted: “In June, 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai did not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”

In 1968, Yitzak Rabin, chief of staff of the Israeli military in 1967, said: “I do not think Nasser wanted war. The two divisions he sent to the Sinai in May [1967] would not have been sufficient to launch an offensive against Israel. He knew it and we knew it.”

In a 1972 interview, Mordechai Bentov, a former member of the Israeli ruling coalition during the June war, said: “This whole story about the threat of extermination was totally contrived and then elaborated on afterwards to justify the annexation of new Arab territories.”

As a price for peace with Egypt, Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula. However, Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip and the Syrian Golan Heights continues to this day. Some may claim that Gaza is no longer occupied, but the U.N. and the U.S. still recognize Gaza as being an occupied territory.

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank has increased in brutality and harshness over time. Palestinians rights are constantly violated. Living conditions in the West Bank are horrible and are even worse in Gaza, particularly due to the ongoing siege by Israel. For more on this siege, see http://imeu.net/news/article0019152.shtml.

Israel continues its theft of Palestinian lands and places illegal settlements throughout the West Bank including East Jerusalem. As of December 2010, there were an estimated 520,000 Israeli settlers living illegally in the West Bank including East Jerusalem.

Israeli expansion and construction of settlements has essentially eliminated the two-state option for a just peace. Israel must now choose between apartheid and democracy.

Afghanis and Americans deserve better

Pentagon Releases Photos Showing U.S. Casualties

The price of Afghanistan

Lt. Colonel Daniel L. Davis wrote an article, “Truth, lies and Afghanistan: How military leaders have let us down“, in a recent issue of the Armed Forces Journal. The article summarized some material from a longer classified report he provided to several members of Congress.

Davis’ article is incredibly important as it sets the record straight on the ongoing disaster in Afghanistan as well as pointing out the huge disinformation campaign being waged by the military, politicians and the corporate-dominated media.

According to his article, Davis interviewed or had conversations with more than 250 soldiers in the field, from the lowest-ranking 19-year-old private to division commanders and staff members at every echelon. He also said he spoke at length with Afghan security officials, Afghan civilians and a few village elders. These conversations took place over a twelve-month period, mostly in 2011, during which Davis traveled over 9000 miles throughout Afghanistan.

Davis said that what he saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground. Instead, he said he witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level.

Davis concluded his article by saying:

“When it comes to deciding what matters are worth plunging our nation into war and which are not, our senior leaders owe it to the nation and to the uniformed members to be candid — graphically, if necessary — in telling them what’s at stake and how expensive potential success is likely to be. U.S. citizens and their elected representatives can decide if the risk to blood and treasure is worth it.

“Likewise when having to decide whether to continue a war, alter its aims or to close off a campaign that cannot be won at an acceptable price, our senior leaders have an obligation to tell Congress and American people the unvarnished truth and let the people decide what course of action to choose. That is the very essence of civilian control of the military. The American people deserve better than what they’ve gotten from their senior uniformed leaders over the last number of years. Simply telling the truth would be a good start.”

For another vital but seldom-heard perspective on the impacts of the failed U.S.-led occupation of Afghanistan, visit http://vcnv.org/afghan-screams-aren-t-heard. This link provides information about the impacts of war from the perspective of Afghani civilians.

Palestine is still occupied

Recent news coming out of the Middle East has dealt with the ongoing killings in Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, and the upcoming election in Egypt. There is also lots of superficial coverage about the threat of an Israeli and/or U.S. military attack on Iran, allegedly over the possibility that Iran might develop nuclear weapons sometime in the future. And then there is the continuing catastrophe in Afghanistan.

Partially as a result of all these crises, other uncomfortable situations such as the disasters in Libya and Iraq are on the media’s back burner. Results of our illegal attacks on these formerly prosperous nations include driving their people into poverty and ongoing violence and the destruction of these countries. Despite their war crimes, our leaders apparently feel no responsibility for their actions or for helping the people recover from these disasters. The U.S. corporate-dominated media downplays both these situations.

Another issue that has dropped from the media’s radar is Israel’s 45-year long occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Note that one result of the threat of an Israeli attack on Iran is that Israel essentially now has a free hand in the West Bank. President Obama is no longer putting any pressure on Israel to reach a resolution with the Palestinians. Instead Obama is focused on the Israeli threat to attack Iran.

Israel can now forge ahead with the relentless expansion of its illegal settlements without any more impotent protests from Western nations. In addition, Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes continues, the uprooting of olive trees goes on, and more Palestinian irrigation systems are destroyed. Israel’s military still invades Palestinian towns, terrorizing civilians and arresting peaceful protestors. Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks between Palestinian towns continue to hamper Palestinian commerce. Israel’s control of the aquifers means that Palestinians are deprived of adequate levels of water. Moreover, Israel still bombs and kills in Gaza with impunity.

Besides the Israeli military’s actions, Israeli settlers also attack Palestinians. For example, in November 2011, Israeli Brigadier General Nitzan Alon criticized “acts of terror” by Jewish extremists against Palestinians.

Clearly Israel is satisfied with the current situation. Therefore the U.S. must pressure Israel in order to reach a just resolution of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. A just resolution of this issue would help to defuse the Iranian situation and also improve the U.S. credibility in dealing with these other crises.

Media gullibility or pure propaganda?

The media have again failed to live up to their reporting responsibilities on the crises in Libya and Syria. In particular, the media essentially accepted the claims put forward by the oppositions to Gaddafi in Libya and Assad in Syria. Despite the violent nature of the uprisings in both countries, the media initially portrayed them as being part of the nonviolent ‘Arab Spring’.

In Libya, the media widely disseminated the false claims about massacres by Gaddafi’s forces. These claims helped build support for the rebels and soon led to a UN Security Council resolution for a ‘no-fly’ zone. It was amazing that any attempts to negotiate a resolution were brushed aside throughout the crisis. Unsurprisingly, this resolution was quickly expanded to a wide-scale bombing campaign led by France, Britain and the U.S. on the side of rebels in a civil war.

The media’s focus on massacres that hadn’t occurred drew attention from the identity of the rebels and their foreign backers. The media generally also failed to point out what life was like in Libya before the war, for example, that Libyans had the highest standard of living and the longest life expectancy in Africa as well as free health care and education. In addition, Libya had no debt and had over $150 billion invested overseas, much of which was confiscated.

The length of the military campaign, despite thousands of bombing raids, suggested that many Libyans strongly appreciated the major improvements under Gaddafi’s rule. Now Libya, like Iraq, has been devastated, and Libyans are already paying a steep price for this foreign-backed civil war.

We are seeing a repeat of this one-sided coverage now in Syria. Certainly the Assad regime has committed some terrible and horrific crimes, and those acts must be condemned. However, the media fail to point out that most Syrians are not supporting the armed uprising there. Syria’s two largest population centers remain calm with little signs of opposition to the Assad regime. Perhaps these Syrians fear the devastation of a foreign-backed civil war and thus accept Assad. Disappointingly the opposition Syrian National Council says that it won’t enter into negotiations until Assad resigns.

Incredibly, the media and some politicians here are now talking about yet another war, this time against Iran. Hopefully the U.S. public remembers the disinformation campaign about Iraq and won’t support another unnecessary and illegal war.

You Will Comply or Else

First published Feb 18, 2012 at CounterCurrents.org republished by author.

18 February, 2012 Countercurrents.org

Wheels of war, once made, want to be turned.

Wheels of war, once made, want to be turned.

Madeleine Albright, former U.S. ambassador to the UN and former Secretary of State in the Clinton administration, once asked General Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

Albright’s statement nicely captures the U.S. approach to dealing with troublesome leaders. By troublesome, I mean those who have the temerity to oppose U.S. positions and who, at the same time, are far too weak to pose a real military threat to the U.S. Examples of nations that had such troublesome leaders include Panama, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. The leaders of Syria and Iran are also currently in the crosshairs.

Note the contrast between Albright’s words and those of President Eisenhower in his “Cross of Iron” speech in 1953. Eisenhower addressed the idea of regime change when he said: “Any nation’s right to a form of government and an economic system of its own choosing is inalienable.” He added: “Any nation’s attempt to dictate to other nations their form of government is indefensible.” Unfortunately the U.S., even under Eisenhower, did not base its actions on these words.

A pattern also emerges from examining the above one-sided conflicts that led to regime changes. The U.S. clearly feels no need for real diplomacy in these cases. For example, the U.S. often even refuses to talk with the other side. Instead, what passes for U.S. negotiation is the making of demands that the other side cannot accept. When the other side fails to accept all the U.S. demands, it faces U.S. action.

In general, the actions begin with a campaign by a compliant media here to frighten the U.S. population into supporting steps against the crazy leader who is a threat to his own people or to the U.S., covert acts including assassinations, creating and/or building up opposition leaders, threats of an attack against the enemy, the use of economic sanctions, and a military attack if the other steps haven’t worked. Sometime the U.S. attacks without going through most of the other steps. In the case of Iraq, even acceptance of U.S. demands was not enough to prevent the illegal and unwarranted U.S.-led attack.

The U.S. sometimes seeks to enlist the UN to provide a legal cover for its actions. For example, the U.S. often seeks the UN’s support for the sanctions. However, if the UN doesn’t accept the U.S. position, the U.S. and/or some of its allies apply the sanctions anyway. The U.S. also often attempts to gain the UN Security Council’s support for a military attack. However, if the UN doesn’t go along with an attack, the U.S. then turns to NATO or forms an ad hoc coalition of nations willing to join in military action.

Unsurprisingly, the compliant corporate-dominated U.S. media seldom, if ever, address the morality or legality of this approach that usually leads to a U.S. military attack on a far weaker nation. For example, the threat or use of force, except in self-defense against an armed attack or, unless taken by the UN Security Council, is prohibited under the UN Charter.

Sanctions have been in vogue for the last twenty years or so. However, more and more people today realize that harsh economic sanctions are, in effect, collective punishment of innocent populations. The devastation sanctions cause, particularly those wreaked on Haitians and Iraqis, has led to more frequent discussions about their appropriateness and legality. Some in-depth articles dealing with the legality of sanctions include:

The legality and morality of the U.S. approach should be discussed, especially given the U.S. campaigns regarding Syria and Iran. However, in the U.S. today, it seems to be outside the realm of polite discussion to point out that the threats to attack Iran by the U.S. and Israel are violations of the UN Charter. Few in the corporate-dominated U.S. media also challenge the idea of preemptive self-defense.

President Eisenhower also had some strong opinions on preventive war. He said: “I don’t believe there is such a thing; and, frankly, I wouldn’t even listen to anyone seriously that came in and talked about such a thing. …It seems to me that when, by definition, a term is just ridiculous in itself, there is no use in going any further.” Mary Ellen O’Connell’s article, The Myth of Preemptive Self-Defense, goes into much more detail about this issue.

When the US says that no options are off the table, it raises the awful possibility of the use of nuclear weapons. The threat of the use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear weapon state that has signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty clearly is an extreme violation of the UN Charter.

Instead of the U.S. approach that relies heavily on the threat of the use of its military, real negotiations without preconditions are the key to resolving conflicts, including those with Syria and Iran.

Ron Forthofer Ph.D. is retired Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Texas School of Public Health, Houston, Texas; former Green Party candidate for Congress and for Governor of Colorado rforthofer@comcast.net

How to influence election outcomes

Voting restrictions could hurt turnout in many states

Here we are in another presidential election year. Billions of dollars will be spent on advertising to get people to vote for one candidate or another. However, outcomes can be affected before the election by state laws disenfranchising certain groups.

For example, an article in the latest AARP Bulletin shows that seven states have photo ID requirements; six other states ask for a photo ID but will allow people to vote with other forms of identification; seventeen other states require voters to show a non-photo ID; and twenty-one states do not require an ID.

The requirement for a government-issued photo ID is relatively new. Five of the seven states requiring the photo ID just recently enacted their law. Governors in five other states recently vetoed a photo ID requirement, while many other states are considering adding this requirement. The government-issued photo ID requirement could impact an estimated 21 million adult citizens who lack this form of ID according to the AARP article. Students, senior citizens, the poor, and minorities are groups that would be hit the hardest by this requirement.

The Sentencing Project addressed another way of reducing the election turnout in a 2008 report. The report estimated that five million people would be ineligible to vote in the 2008 presidential election. Of these, nearly four million resided “in the 35 states that still prohibit some combination of persons on probation, parole, and/or people who have completed their sentence from voting.” The report added that, due to racial disparities in the criminal justice system, one of every eight adult black males were ineligible to vote.

The closeness of the 2000 presidential election and Florida’s role in the outcome demonstrates the importance of this issue. Tens of thousands of citizens in Florida were kept from voting due to allegedly being former felons. Research showed that thousands of those disenfranchised were victims of a flawed computer data file, that is, they had the same name as a former felon.

Voters’ time constraints also play a role. For example, holding the election on a workday makes it more difficult for low-income workers to vote; and having an inadequate number of voting machines for voting stations in poor areas or near to campuses also limits the turnout.

Please encourage your senators to support the Democracy Restoration Act (S. 2017) that enfranchises former felons in federal elections.

– this article first appeared in the Colorado Daily

Extreme Inequality or Democracy?

Reposted from CounterCurrents.org

Last autumn, likely due to the Occupy movement, there was a shift of media attention from debt reduction and the cutting of vital public programs (for example, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) to the issue of extreme wealth and income inequality in America. Extreme inequality is of concern for many reasons, but Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis provided perhaps the most crucial reason when he said: ” We can have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both . “

Many of those who support grossly unequal outcomes attempt to distract the public from the critical extreme inequality in wealth and income here by stressing equal opportunity as the key. Incredibly, they seem to think that we have equal opportunity in America. However, Paul Krugman ‘s January 8th column , ” America ‘ s Unlevel Field “, clearly points out that the playing field in the U.S. today is definitely not anywhere close to being level.

Despite the terribly unequal opportunities that exist, Americans have generally accepted the idea of some reasonable level of wealth and income inequality. The public ‘ s acceptance sprang from the idea that some people have special talents or make special contributions that merit greater rewards.

However, two factors have undercut this support. First, there is a weakening of the connection between reward and merit. In addition, we have now reached an obscene level of inequality that is exemplified in a report from the Heritage Institute . Based on data from 2000, the Heritage Institute showed that CEO pay for major U.S. corporations was wildly out of line with those of our economic competitors. For example the average pay for CEOs in Japan was 10 times the average worker’s wage compared to 531 times here. Of the 26 countries in the report, Brazil had the second largest inequality with a value of 57.

The obscene rise in this inequality in the U.S. is striking, going from a value of 24 times in 1965 to 42 times in 1980 to 85 times in 1990. More recent data show that the U.S. value declined from the 531 times in 2000 to well over 300 times the typical worker’s pay in 2010 . Note that the comparisons are affected by how many major corporations are included in the studies. For example, another estimate for the U.S. in 2000 was 300 times compared to the 531 times mentioned above; regardless, the U.S. is way out of line compared to our economic competitors and the change over time is appalling.

The Heritage Institute report included 2004 and 2006 quotes from Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, that address both merit and extreme inequality. According to the report, in a May 2004 letter to shareholders, Warren Buffett wrote about the inadequacy of corporate governance structures among U.S. companies. “(If) Corporate America is serious about reforming itself, CEO pay remains the acid test.” Buffett added: “The results aren’t encouraging.” Buffett criticized lavish pay packages and the “lapdog behavior” of directors, calling the situation an “epidemic of greed.”

In a 2006 shareholder report, Buffett stated: “Too often, executive compensation in the U.S. is ridiculously out of line with performance.” “Getting fired can produce a particularly bountiful payday for a CEO. Indeed, he can “earn” more in that single day, while cleaning out his desk, than an American worker earns in a lifetime of cleaning toilets. Forget the old maxim about nothing succeeding like success: Today, in the executive suite, the all-too-prevalent rule is that nothing succeeds like failure.”

Extreme inequality is even more problematic when it results from questionable behavior and/or political connections. Consider that those in the financial sector, whose unethical and immoral practices almost collapsed the financial system, were not held accountable for their actions. Talk about the lack of a moral hazard! Instead, besides initially profiting from fraud, they became even wealthier due to the taxpayer-funded bailout of the financial sector.

Changes in the tax system played a major role in increasing the level of inequality in America over the past decades. For example, the corporate share of federal taxes went from 28% in the 1950s to an average of roughly 10% over the 2001 to 2010 period. In addition, the top marginal individual tax rate dropped from 91% in 1954 to 35% today. Cuts in the top capital gains taxes for long-term gains from 28% to 15% have primarily benefited those at the top of the wealth scale. Politicians have also greatly weakened the estate tax that worked to lessen inequality somewhat. These changes certainly have played a major role in creating the extreme inequality we see today.

Our method of financing political campaigns, some would call it legalized bribery, makes it particularly easy for large corporations and the wealthy to push for tax reductions and tax loopholes at the expense of small business competitors and the public. Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) and Perfectly Legal : The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich–and Cheat Everybody Else , two books by Pulitzer Prize winner David Cay Johnston, provide numerous examples of this corruption and other questionable business practices by large corporations. America: Who Really Pays the Taxes? and several other books by investigative reporters and twice Pulitzer Prize winners Donald Barlett and James Steele also address how the tax code is manipulated to the benefit of the rich and powerful. In The Tyranny of Oil , Antonia Juhasz details how huge energy and financial corporations greatly profit from their corruption of the political system, and how the public bears the cost. Among her many examples are the government’s failure to enforce anti-trust laws and its creation of the “Enron loophole”.

If compensation were indeed based on merit, Americans could accept a reasonable level of inequality. However, as shown above, besides merit, income and wealth are often linked to many other factors, including the corruption of politicians.

Given the dire straits – high levels of unemployment and underemployment, homelessness, lack of health insurance, home foreclosures, huge credit card debts and college loan debts, shortages of food – that many Americans face today, our extreme inequality is intolerable. The current situation demands a drastic overhaul of our corrupt political/economic system to end and to prevent future extreme inequality. Unless we act now, control by the wealthy and powerful will be solidified.

Ron Forthofer a retired professor of biostatistics from the University of Texas School of Public Health. Since his retirement,he has been a volunteer for peace and social justice. In addition, he was a Green Party candidate for Congress and for governor of Colorado.

Deja vu all over again

The above phrase from Yogi Berra, that great American sage, captures all too well the latest campaign against Iran. We are seeing a repeat of the ploy used against Iraq and its nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Our leaders lied repeatedly and the subservient corporate media were complicit in building support for the U.S. attack on Iraq.

Aggressive wars are war crimes

Robert Jackson, the chief U.S. prosecutor at Nuremberg, said: “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” The U.S. attack on Iraq, a war crime, eroded U.S. credibility and standing worldwide, and an attack on Iran would only worsen this situation.

Campaign against Iran

It is alarming that only Ron Paul, among all the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, has positions on Iran consistent with those of U.S. intelligence agencies and international law. Paul pointed out that Iran doesn’t threaten our national security and there is no proof that Iran is building a nuclear weapon. He also said that Western sanctions are “acts of war” that are likely to lead to an actual war. Paul added that if Iran did build a nuclear bomb, “What are the odds of them using it? Probably zero. They just are not going to commit suicide. The Israelis have 300 of them.”

Many supporters of an attack on Iran point to the recent International Atomic Energy Agency’s report as proof of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. However, Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor started his Nov. 9 article with: “The latest United Nations report on Iran’s nuclear program may not be the “game changer” it was billed to be, as some nuclear experts raise doubts about the quality of evidence — and point to lack of proof of current nuclear weapons work.” Several informed critics of the report consider it as being more of a political document than a credible scientific analysis.

Seymour Hersch’s Nov. 18 New Yorker article also challenged mainstream reporting on the IAEA report, referring to, among other sources, an Arms Control Association’s assessment of the report. According to the ACA, the IAEA report suggested Iran “is working to shorten the timeframe to build the bomb once and if it makes that decision. But it remains apparent that a nuclear-armed Iran is still not imminent nor is it inevitable.”

Hersch added that Greg Thielmann, a former State Department and Senate Intelligence Committee analyst who was one of the authors of the ACA’s assessment, told him, “Those who want to drum up support for a bombing attack on Iran sort of aggressively misrepresented the report.”

Intelligence estimate

The National Intelligence Estimate of 2007, a consensus estimate from the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, expressed a high level of confidence that Iran had stopped work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003. The agencies also had a moderate level of confidence that the work remained frozen.

February 2011 testimony from James Clapper, director of the National Intelligence Agency, reiterated many of the key findings from the 2007 report. Clapper also said that the advancement of Iran’s nuclear capabilities strengthened the intelligence community’s assessment that Tehran has the capacity to produce nuclear weapons eventually, “making the central issue the political will to do so.”

Iran’s political will

In 2005 the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa against the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons and reiterated this idea in 2009 saying: “We fundamentally reject nuclear weapons.”

Conclusion

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. We cannot allow nor afford a much larger version of the unnecessary, illegal and costly Iraqi debacle that left a devastated and unstable Iraq.

Ron Forthofer, a retired professor of biostatistics, has lived in Longmont for 20 years. Mr. Forthofer’s article was also published in the Longmont Times-Call.

State of the Union: Plutocracy

The State of the Union speech has become a well-scripted event full of nice words but few ideas that will really benefit the public. This sad situation results from our political system being corrupted by big money. This corruption almost guarantees that the public interest will be trumped by the interest of the rich and powerful.

To change this sorry state of affairs, it would take a courageous leader who was willing to put the interests of the country over the interests of a few. If there were such a leader, the speech could then be used to rally the American people behind this leader’s vision. However, we haven’t had a peoples’ champion as president in a very long time. This situation is due to a political system that pretty well ensures the nominees of both major parties have been vetted by the rich and powerful. Even if there were a candidate not acceptable to those pulling the strings, the corporate-dominated media would work to marginalize or destroy the candidate’s campaign.

Thus it is not shocking President Obama’s State of the Union address offered few if any proposals that threatened the interests of the rich and powerful. In reality, Obama, as is his custom, offered few specifics on most of his ideas or vision. This lack of specifics allowed viewers to put their own interpretation on his words. As a result, the speech resonated with many.

However, for me, the speech was more an attempt to assure the American people that the state of the union is not really that bad and, in fact, it is pretty darn good and will continue to improve. In essence, Obama led a big pep rally claiming over and over that the U.S. is number one. Thus no major policy changes are required. Perhaps providing this assurance is his role as President under our plutocracy.

Some key missing items

The things that were left unsaid in the speech were perhaps more important than what Obama actually said. One of the most pressing problems facing the world today is global climate change and Obama didn’t directly mention this issue. He did focus on innovation in so-called clean energy technology, but the impact of this effort will be far too little and much too late. The situation is already dire and it was not discussed. Perhaps Obama felt that it was useless due to staunch Republican opposition, but he missed an opportunity to educate the U.S. public on the topic.

Obama did not seem to recognize the ongoing suffering due to the Great Recession. In fact, he said that the worse of the recession is over and that we should now focus on the debt. He did not propose a new jobs program nor provide a strategy for dealing with the millions of foreclosures. He did indicate that new jobs would come from innovation in clean energy, from new trade agreements, and from a redoubling of efforts to rebuild the infrastructure, but there was no overall plan or effort. The previous plans on jobs and foreclosures that were implemented were too small in magnitude and voluntary in nature. Obama also failed to address the enormous budgetary problems facing the states and the implications for increased job losses and loss of homes as well as for more cuts to the Swiss cheese safety net.

There was no recognition of the connection between the U.S. attacks on and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq with the U.S. debt crisis. The costs of these war crimes are: 1) trillions of dollars; 2) the devastation and destruction of two nations and peoples; and 3) the alienation of much of the world from America. The U.S. image, contrary to Obama’s claim, has not been restored. In addition, Obama did not address the Palestinian/Israeli situation. The continued U.S. support for Israel shows our hypocritical opposition to human rights and international law. This position is clearly recognized by nations around the world and further harms our reputation. This blatant hypocrisy also weakens our position on Iran’s legal program to develop nuclear energy.

Given the U.S. plutocracy, it was not surprising that Obama did not suggest implementing a highly progressive income tax, similar to that during the Eisenhower era. He could have also proposed a fee on all speculative financial transactions. The cap on contributions to Social Security could be removed and unearned income could also be taxed for Social Security and Medicare purposes. Obama could have also proposed legalization and taxation of marijuana as another way of raising funds. These are just a few of many ideas that would show that the U.S. was serious about its budget deficit and long-term debt but, somehow, they were not raised.

Unless and until we implement major reforms to our political and economic systems, the U.S. will continue its downward slide and will likely take the rest of the world with it.

The people’s will

Recent revolutionary events in Tunisia and Egypt reflect people’s strong desire for an end to repression, injustice and inequity. In effect, people are saying we are as mad as hell and we are not going to take it anymore.

The Tunisians’ courageous ousting of their autocratic leader has inspired others suffering under oppressive regimes in the Arab world and maybe beyond. While it is still too early to say what the outcome in Egypt will be, Egyptians have discovered their power and their voice.

Despite this daring uprising of the Egyptian people, President Obama still indicates support for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Obama and previous U.S. leaders clearly haven’t learned from the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and former President John F. Kennedy. On April 4, 1967 Dr. King spoke about U.S. aggression in Vietnam and other places: “It is with such activity in mind that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those “who make peaceful revolution impossible.”

Despite our revolutionary pedigree and fine words supporting democracy, the U.S. has often sided with dictators who were willing to serve our perceived interests. Even worse, we have gone beyond this sorry state and helped to overthrow democratically elected governments in, among other places, Iran, Guatemala and Chile. After these ousters, we then supported the brutal dictators who took power.

It’s well past time that the U.S. lives up to its alleged principles, stops accommodating tyranny, and supports democracy around the world. Even former President George W. Bush recognized that to do otherwise doesn’t work. For example, in a 2005 speech commemorating victory over the Nazis he said: “We will not repeat the mistakes of other generations, appeasing or excusing tyranny, and sacrificing freedom in the vain pursuit of stability.”

However, Bush, similar to other U.S. presidents,continued to sacrifice peoples’ freedoms through his support of repressive rulers in, for example, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Egypt.

Please call the White House message line at 202-456-1111 on weekdays between 7am and 3pm Colorado time. Request that President Obama support the Egyptian people and finally put the U.S. on the right side of people-led revolutions.