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“Julian Assange As Tyrant”: No Different Than The Politicians He Claims To Be Holding Accountable

When asked to explain why he was running for a seat in the Australian Senate while holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, Julian Assange quoted Plato: “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”

Plato was “a bit of a fascist,” he said, but had a point.

Imagine the chagrin Mr. Assange must feel now, given that not only did he fail to win a place in the Senate in the recent election, but he was less successful than Ricky Muir from the Motoring Enthusiasts Party. Mr. Muir, who won just 0.5 percent of the vote, is most famous for having posted a video on YouTube of himself having a kangaroo feces fight with friends.

Mr. Assange, who was born and raised in Australia, has radically redefined publishing and provoked an unprecedented global debate about state secrets by subverting established practices and common wisdoms.

It seems odd, then, that his bid for political power, carried out in his absence by the WikiLeaks Party, was drowned by the greatest and most conventional of clichés: power corrupts. His campaign was saddled with the usual backbiting, arguing, dysfunction and even leaks.

In theory, it should have turned out better for him. Australians, who have long had a soft spot for irreverent iconoclasts and an abiding suspicion of authority, have always been more sympathetic to Mr. Assange than Americans have been. A 2013 poll found 58 percent of Australians agreed with the statement “the job WikiLeaks does is more of a good thing.”  Only 29 percent thought it was “more of a bad thing.”

When Mr. Assange decided to run for the Senate, pollsters estimated he could get as much as 4 percent of the vote, with an outside chance of winning a seat, despite the fact that he would be campaigning in absentia.

The WikiLeaks Party candidates were highly skilled researchers, activists and academics. Their policies centered on protecting whistle-blowers, limiting surveillance agencies and ensuring greater transparency.

But during the campaign, after his party imploded with infighting, allegations of selling out and a host of resignations, Mr. Assange was exposed as a politician himself, with some of the same moral failings he has been skewering others for. A couple of weeks before the election, a storm erupted over preference deals, where parties that have already achieved the number of votes they need for a Senate seat can arrange to give spare votes to other parties, which usually pledge to give theirs in return. (Preferences are also passed on by parties whose votes are too low to get a seat.)

These deals are crucial paths to power for minor parties. In leaked e-mails, Mr. Assange stressed that preferences were “the single most important factor” in winning, adding: “Bar a raid on the embassy, we will not win without them.”

But WikiLeaks members alleged that Mr. Assange’s deputies had overridden the party’s governing body, the national council, to allow for preference deals that place right-wing anti-abortion or fringe parties — like the Shooters and Fishers Party — ahead of leftist parties like the Greens, which had supported WikiLeaks. The campaign manager, Greg Barns, attributed the deals to an “administrative error,” but WikiLeaks’s national council had agreed to put the Greens first, and some directors requested an immediate internal investigation. The conflict over those deals, and a delayed investigation, prompted a high-profile WikiLeaks candidate, Leslie Cannold, to resign. She said the party was not what it claimed to be: “a democratically run party that both believes in transparency and accountability.”

Ms. Cannold, an ethicist, has not spoken to Mr. Assange since. “This internal corruption revealed him to be no different,” she said, than the politicians he was claiming he’d be keeping accountable.

Mr. Assange put the resignation down to “the teething problems of a young party” and said he had been distracted by Edward Snowden. But several others resigned at the same time, including Dan Matthews, a founding member and one of Mr. Assange’s oldest friends. Mr. Matthews said in a statement that their “base evaporated” after the deals were made public and that Mr. Assange was incapable of working with a group. He was “an icon,” but he was “his own man.”

Mr. Assange’s actions were at odds with a democratic party structure. He had appointed himself president, for example, although there was no mention of this role in the WikiLeaks constitution.

When a reporter asked him why, he laughed: “I founded it. I mean seriously, this is so fantastic. Look at the name, this is the WikiLeaks Party. The prominent candidate is Julian Assange! Who founded it? I founded it. Are you serious?”

An unbowed Mr. Assange has vowed to fight the next election in three years. But to woo the 99 percent of the Australian population who spurned him, he’ll need to stop laughing at those who suggest that appointing yourself the unquestioned leader of a party, for an unlimited term, might make you a politician after all.

And not exactly a democratic one.


By: Julia Baird, Opinion Writer, The New York Times, September 14, 2013

September 16, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“More Guns, More Murder”: Largest Gun Study Ever, Household Gun Ownership Correlates With Firearm Homicide Rate

The largest study of gun violence in the United States, released Thursday afternoon, confirms a point that should be obvious: widespread American gun ownership is fueling America’s gun violence epidemic.

The study, by Professor Michael Siegel at Boston University and two coauthors, has been peer-reviewed and is forthcoming in the American Journal of Public Health. Siegel and his colleagues compiled data on firearm homicides from all 50 states from 1981-2010, the longest stretch of time ever studied in this fashion, and set about seeing whether they could find any relationship between changes in gun ownership and murder using guns over time.

Since we know that violent crime rates overall declined during that period of time, the authors used something called “fixed effect regression” to account for any national trend other than changes in gun ownership. They also employed the largest-ever number of statistical controls for other variables in this kind of gun study: “age, gender, race/ethnicity, urbanization, poverty, unemployment, income, education, income inequality, divorce rate, alcohol use, violent crime rate, nonviolent crime rate, hate crime rate, number of hunting licenses, age-adjusted nonfirearm homicide rate, incarceration rate,and suicide rate” were all accounted for.

No good data on national rates of gun ownership exist (partly because of the NRA’s stranglehold on Congress), so the authors used the percentage of suicides that involve a firearm (FS/S) as a proxy. The theory, backed up by a wealth of data, is that the more guns there are any in any one place, the higher the percentage of people who commit suicide with guns as opposed to other mechanisms will be.

With all this preliminary work in hand, the authors ran a series of regressions to see what effect the overall national decline in firearm ownership from 1981 to 2010 had on gun homicides. The result was staggering: “for each 1 percentage point increase in proportion of household gun ownership,” Siegel et al. found, “firearm homicide rate increased by 0.9″ percent. A one standard deviation change in firearm ownership shifted gun murders by a staggering 12.9 percent.

To put this in perspective, take the state of Mississippi. “All other factors being equal,” the authors write, “our model would predict that if the FS/S in Mississippi were 57.7% (the average for all states) instead of 76.8% (the highest of all states), its firearm homicide rate would be 17% lower.” Since 475 people were murdered with a gun in Mississippi in 2010, that drop in gun ownership would translate to 80 lives saved in that year alone.

Of course, the authors don’t find that rates of gun ownership explain all of America’s gun violence epidemic: race, economic inequality and generally violent areas all contribute to an area’s propensity for gun deaths, suggesting that broader social inequality, not gun ownership alone, contributes to the gun violence epidemic. Nevertheless, the fact that gun ownership mattered even when race and poverty were accounted for suggests that we can’t avoid talking about America’s fascination with guns when debating what to do about the roughly 11,000 Americans who are yearly murdered by gunfire.


By: Zack Beauchamp, Think Progress, September 13, 2013

September 16, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“You’re Not Invincible”: Young Adults Can’t Afford To Tune Out Obamacare Insurance Requirement

Before passage of the Affordable Care Act, becoming an adult meant getting kicked to the curb when it came to health coverage.

“Our gift when people turned 19 was to take away their health insurance,” said Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Turn 19 and we kick them out.”

If you were in college, you could usually stay on your parents’ insurance until you turned 22. But until health-care reform came about, young adults who didn’t find jobs with health coverage or qualified for government insurance were often left uninsured and vulnerable to massive medical bills.

Now there’s a present awaiting young adults.

Thanks to the ACA, commonly referred to as Obamacare, you may now be able to get insurance or continue to be covered under a parent’s plan up to the age of 26. And this coverage is available even if you’re married, not living at home, attending school or are financially independent. Starting next year, young adults up to 26 can stay on their parents’ employer plan even if they have another offer of coverage through an employer.

The downside for some parents is that they might have to pay extra to keep young adult children covered. But at least they will have insurance.

And, in just a few weeks, a new marketplace will open at, giving young adults, particularly those older than 26, another option for obtaining health insurance. Trust me, this is one shopping trip that you need to go on.

There is concern that not enough young healthy adults will buy insurance, which will help offset the cost of those who are older and sicker and will need a lot of health-care services. Some experts believe these concerns are overstated. They note that insurance plans in the new marketplace will cover a core set of benefits such as hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance-use disorder services, and prescription drugs.

With the help of trained personnel called navigators, insurance shoppers will be able to compare plans based on factors including price and benefits. They’ll also be able to determine if they qualify for subsidies to help pay for the coverage.

When you’re young and healthy, you may think you can put off getting insurance. Maybe money is tight and you figure this is something you can delay until you get older, like contributing to a retirement plan.

“Health insurance is something at the moment I feel I can’t afford,” said Josh Nece, 29, a restaurant server in Oakland, Calif.

Nece, who suffers from severe eczema, says with rent, transportation, student loan payments and other expenses, he couldn’t afford the cost of insurance on his own. But he needs insurance to help pay for the medication and doctor visits when his eczema breaks out. He says he often goes without treatment or medication because he can’t afford it.

He plans to check out the marketplace in his state. I’m going to follow up with him to see if he does.

“I’m pretty sure I’m going to get health insurance,” he says. “Going into my 30s, I know it’s one of the adult things I need to do.”

In June, Kaiser asked young adults whether they wanted and valued health insurance. The answer was a resounding yes, contrary to the conventional wisdom about young adults feeling they are invincible.

Still, for those who think they can wait, here’s something to ponder: A tumble off a skateboard could end up costing you $20,000, as it did for Pollitz’s 22-year-old son, who works part time in a day-care center.

“He hit a rock, and the skateboard slid under him,” she said. “He broke his wrist.”

Pollitz said the bill was a “teachable moment.” Thankfully, he was covered on his parents’ plan. Otherwise, “that would have been a financial catastrophe for him.”

It is stories like hers that make Pollitz passionate about getting out the word to young adults to get health insurance. Although most young adults already have coverage, more than 19 million lack basic health insurance. In 2011, 27.9 percent of Americans ages 19 to 25 were uninsured. About the same percentage in the 25-to-34 age bracket also didn’t have insurance, according to Kaiser.

Some young adults might not get health insurance because the penalty for not buying it isn’t stiff enough. If the government determines that you are in the financial position to pay for coverage and you don’t fall under an exemption, you’ll have to pay a penalty for being uninsured when you file your federal income tax. The penalty starts next year at $95 annually for an individual and can go up to $285 for a family, or 1 percent of a family’s household income, depending on which is higher.

I like to believe millennials are smart enough to recognize they can’t afford not to get health insurance. It’s a gift that can keep them not only healthy, but out of medical debt.


By: Michelle Singletary, Columnist, The Washington Post, September 13, 2013

September 16, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Care | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Let’s Impeach Congress”: Failure To Pay Debt Is ‘Unconstitutional’

In what has become an annoying and unnecessary annual ritual, Congressional Republicans and the White House have staked out their political ground as we approach this year’s Season of the Witch—the time when any remaining shred of reason in government is retired in favor of political posturing over the debt ceiling.

Appearing this morning on ABC’s “This Week”, Obama made clear that he has no interest whatsoever in cooperating with Speaker John Boehner’s demand for budget cuts in trade for House GOPers permitting the government to pay the debts it has already incurred.

Speaking in an interview with George Stephanopoulos, the President stated:

“Never in history have we used just making sure that the U.S. government is paying its bills as a lever to radically cut government at the kind of scale that they’re talking about,” he said. “It’s never happened before. There’ve been negotiations around the corners, because nobody had ever presumed that you’d actually threaten the United States to default.”

Speaker Boehner would beg to differ, noting earlier this week—

“For decades, the White House, the Congress have used the debt limit to find bipartisan solutions on the deficit and the debt,” Boehner said. “So President Obama is going to have to deal with this as well.”

While there may be a small element of truth in Boehner’s words regarding the use of the annual debt ceiling as a tool to manage deficit and debt in previous days, that doesn’t mean that many participants in either the Congress or the Administration, prior to 2011, have ever viewed such an effort as a legitimate means of negotiating the annual budget nor perceived the threat of default as something to be followed through upon.

Nor does it mean that prior occupants of the White House ever found the threat of default to be a particularly useful exercise.

Indeed, were we to go back to President Ronald Wilson Reagan’s perspective on such an action, we find that The Gipper didn’t much care for the approach—

“Unfortunately, Congress consistently brings the government to the edge of default before facing its responsibility. This brinkmanship threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veteran’s benefits. Interest rates would skyrocket, instability would occur in the financial markets, and the federal deficit would soar. The United States has a special responsibility to itself and the world to meet its obligations. It means we have a well-earned reputation for reliability and credibility—two things that set us apart from much of the world.”

Despite these words offered up by Ronald Reagan—the golden calf worshipped by true-believing Republicans everywhere—the Congressional Republicans appear to, once again, hope that the American public will forget—or simply fail to grasp—that it was Congress who authorized the very expenditures that now require a raise in the debt ceiling if these bills are to be paid.

Obama also offered one more, rather tantalizing thought in his Stephanopoulos interview when he noted that Congress’ constant efforts to use the the debt ceiling as leverage “changes the constitutional structure of this government entirely.”

Could the President be telegraphing that he may now be willing to use Section 4 of the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling without Congress in the event of an unfortunate vote—something that Obama has previously been unwilling to do?

The fact that Congress, including House Republicans, authorized these expenditures is of no consequence to those who seek to reap what they perceive as the political benefits of agreeing to spend on items that the public wants and then shift the blame onto the White House every year when it comes time to pay for Congress’ actions.

And while Boehner takes liberties with history in an effort to make himself look tough—a rather comical effort given that exactly nobody believes that the Speaker is in control of much of anything these days—what is genuinely scary is the fact that it is Speaker Boehner who passes for “reasonable’ among today’s House Republicans.

Increasingly, the House of Representatives is under the control of the extremists who are pushing hard to both default on the debt and shut down the entire government if Obama refuses to cave to their desire to defund the President’s landmark legislation, Obamacare.

Still worse, these extremists continue to hold a grudge over the previous failures to shut down the government and default on our obligations at debt ceiling time and are just itching to make it happen this year.

While I would truly enjoy the opportunity to egg these people on in the firm belief that a government shut-down at the hands of Republican extremists could be just the thing to rid ourselves of this scourge once and for all, I admit that some restraint is required when considering who would be left to suffer the consequences.

What would a government shutdown mean to Americans?

As it happens, we’ve had some experience with this so let’s take a look at what happened when the House Republicans shut down the government in 1995-96:

  • More than 400,000 veterans saw their disability benefits and pension claims delayed.
  • Educational benefits were delayed for 170,000 veterans
  • Instead of providing benefits to veterans, a number of VA hospitals were forced to set up food banks for their employees who were going without pay checks.
  • Approximately $3 billion in U.S. exports couldn’t leave the country because the Commerce Department couldn’t issue export licenses.
  • For the first time in the federal unemployment program’s 60-year history, six states ran out of federal funds to pay unemployment benefits.
  • Processing and deportation of illegal immigrants stopped, and employers were unable to verify job applicants’ immigration status.
  • 10,000 new Medicare applications and 212,000 Social Security requests were delayed.
  • Tens of thousands of Americans could not purchase a home because the Federal Housing Administration was unable to insure single family home loans.
  • EPA’s enforcement activities were stopped and toxic waste clean-up at more than 600 sites slowed or came to a halt.
  • 95% of workplace safety activities were halted.
  • The Department of Interior stopped inspecting oil and gas well on public lands.
  • 760,000 American workers were either furloughed or worked without pay.
  • 200,000 U.S. applications for passports went unprocessed.

It stretches the imagination to understand how anyone could view such an action as helpful at a time when the American economy is struggling to recover and when recent wars have left so many veterans in need of the benefits that would stop flowing as a result of a shut-down.

Thus, while the idea of “teaching Obama a lesson” or doing something drastic to get the national debt under control may appeal to many, my suggestion would be that you familiarize yourself with who will directly suffer as a result of your grand plans. If trashing the economy, denying veterans their benefits and slowing down social security payments to your parents works for you, knock yourself out.

If not, you might consider letting your representatives know that you are not in favor of such a ridiculous effort to resolve our problems.


By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, September 15, 2013

September 16, 2013 Posted by | Government Shut Down, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Reflex Pacifism”: Why Peace Sometimes Needs Force

I have worked as a war reporter since 1993, when I sent myself to Bosnia with a backpack, a sleeping bag and a stack of notebooks. The first dead body I saw in a war zone was a teenage girl who was sprawled naked outside the Kosovar town of Suha Reka, having been gang-raped by Serbian paramilitaries toward the end of the war in 1999. After they finished with her, they cut her throat and left her in a field to die; when I saw her, the only way to know she was female — or indeed human — was the red nail polish on her hands.

I grew up in an extremely liberal family during the Vietnam War, and yet I found it hard not to be cheered by the thought that the men who raped and killed that girl might have died during the 78-day NATO bombardment that eventually brought independence to Kosovo.

Every war I have ever covered — Kosovo, Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Liberia — withstood all diplomatic efforts to end it until Western military action finally forced a resolution. Even Afghanistan, where NATO troops stepped into a civil war that had been raging for a decade, is experiencing its lowest level of civilian casualties in more than a generation. That track record should force even peace advocates to consider that military action is required to bring some wars to an end.

And yet there’s been little evidence of that sentiment in American opposition to missile strikes against military targets in Syria. Even after 1,400 Syrian civilians, including 400 children, were killed in a nerve gas attack that was in all likelihood carried out by government forces, the prospect of American military intervention has been met with a combination of short-sighted isolationism and reflex pacifism — though I cannot think of any moral definition of “antiwar” that includes simply ignoring the slaughter of civilians overseas.

Of course, even the most ardent pacifist can’t deny that the credible threat of U.S. force is what made the Syrian regime at all receptive to a Russian proposal that it relinquish control of its stockpiles of nerve agents. If the deal falls apart or proves to be a stalling tactic, military strikes, or at least the threat of them, will again be needed. Already, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s denials have been troubling. His suggestion that the rebels turned nerve gas on themselves to garner the world’s sympathy reminds me of the Serb authorities who said the people of Sarajevo were mortaring themselves; it was just as unconvincing then as it is now.

The most common objection to strikes is that the United States is not the world’s policeman; we have poured our resources and blood into two long wars over the past decade, and it’s time for someone else to take care of those duties.

That is a very tempting position, but it does not hold water. The reality is that we have staked our military and economic security on making sure that no other country — including our longtime allies — has anywhere close to the military capabilities that we do. We are safe in our borders because we are the only nation that can park a ship in international waters and rain cruise missiles down on specific street addresses in a foreign city for weeks on end. And we enjoy extraordinary wealth because our foreign trade and oil imports are protected by the world’s most powerful navy. I find it almost offensive that anyone in this country could imagine they are truly pacifist while accepting the protection and benefit of all that armament. If you have a bumper sticker that says “No Blood For Oil,” it had better be on your bike.

The United States is in a special position in the world, and that leads many people to espouse a broad American exceptionalism in foreign affairs. Even if they’re correct, those extra rights invariably come with extra obligations. Precisely because we claim such a privileged position, it falls to us to uphold the international laws that benefit humanity in general and our nation in particular.

Iraq hangs heavy over the American psyche and contributes to the war­weariness, but the 2003 invasion was not an intervention to stop an ongoing conflict. It was an unpopular intrusion into the affairs of a country that was troubled but very much at peace. In that sense, it was fundamentally different from other Western military interventions.

The ethnic slaughter in Bosnia was stopped by a two-week NATO bombardment after well over 100,000 civilians died. Not a single NATO soldier was killed. After Kosovo came Sierra Leone, where a grotesquely brutal civil war was ended by several hundred British SAS troops in a two-week ground operation in the jungles outside Freetown. They lost one man. In 2003, the Liberian civil war was easily ended by a contingent of U.S. Marines that came ashore after every single faction — the rebels, the government and the civilians — begged for intervention. Not a shot was fired.

The civilian casualties where there were strikes were terribly unfortunate, but they constituted a small fraction of casualties in the wars themselves.

Finally, there is the problem — the pacifist problem — of having no effective response to the use of nerve gas by a government against its citizens. To one degree or another, every person has an obligation to uphold human dignity in whatever small way he or she can. It is this concept of dignity that has given rise to international laws protecting human rights, to campaigns for prison reform, to boycotts against apartheid. In this context, doing nothing in the face of evil becomes the equivalent of actively supporting evil; morally speaking, there is no middle ground.

The civil war in Syria has killed more than 100,000 people essentially one person at a time, which is clearly an abomination, but it is not defined as a crime against humanity. The mass use of nerve agents against civilians is a crime against humanity, however. As such, it is a crime against every single person on this planet.

President Obama is not arguing for an action that decimates the Assad regime and allows rebel forces to take over. He is not saying that we are going to put our troops at risk on the ground in Syria, or that it will be a long and costly endeavor, or even that it will be particularly effective. He is saying that he does not want us to live in a world where nerve gas can be used against civilians without consequences of any kind. If killing 1,400 people with nerve gas is okay, then killing 14,000 becomes imaginable. When we have gotten used to that, killing 14 million may be next.

At some point, pacifism becomes part of the machinery of death, and isolationism becomes a form of genocide. It’s not a matter of how we’re going to explain this to the Syrians. It’s a matter of how we’re going to explain this to our kids.


By: Sebastian Junger, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 13, 2013

September 16, 2013 Posted by | Syria | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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