Disarmament Shouldn’t be a Precondition for Negotiations with North Korea

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(Image: Robin Atzeni / Shutterstock)

“We have to acknowledge that North Korea isn’t going to give up its nuclear capability as a precondition for negotiations,” foreign policy expert John Feffer said on Intercepted, “Why on Earth would they?”

North Korea’s nuclear ambition is best contextualized in history. Following the separation of the Koreas, both countries adopted different political-economic systems.

South Korea became more deeply embedded into the global economy and North Korea turned inward—a dichotomy that set the two countries off onto wildly divergent economic outcomes.

“It’s really exaggerated or aggravated by the collapse of communism,” Feffer said. When cheaply-supplied oil from the Soviet Union stopped entering North Korea, its agricultural and industrial capacity collapsed.

By 1995, a series of natural disasters set off a multi-year period of famine the country has yet to recover from.

“It was necessary for North Korea to find some other fuel source,” Feffer says, tying its nuclear ambition to its oil crisis. “But there was a military component as well.”

Not only was the South Korean economy flourishing in this time period, but its military capability was bolstered by American technological aid.

“North Korea fell behind rather rapidly. To level the playing field,” Feffer said, nuclear capability was seen as a cheap way of “coming up to speed.”

It also provided deterrence against “any possible U.S. intervention—either bombing or actual physical intervention into the country.”

“If they had not developed nuclear weapons. North Korea probably would not exist today.”

In contemporary diplomatic relations, Feffer argued, “We have to come up with different kinds of security guarantees in the process of negotiating with North Korea. We also have to acknowledge  that they’re not going to give away nuclear capability after a week of negotiations.”

“It’s going to take a while for this trust-building exercise to have any kind of impact,” Feffer said.

Listen to the full interview on Intercepted.

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You Pay Your Fair Share. Shouldn’t Wall Street?

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(Photo: Michael Fleshman / Flickr)

Did you pay all of your taxes this April?

Wall Street banks typically pay much less than the official 35 percent corporate tax rate. And yet after attacking Hillary Clinton for her ties to Wall Street, President Donald Trump is pushing reforms that would make it even easier for big banks to rig the tax rules and skip out on paying their fair share.

Nine of the largest and most profitable U.S. banks paid an average federal tax rate of only 18.6 percent between 2008 and 2015, according to a new paper co-published by the Institute for Policy Studies and several tax and Wall Street reform groups.

By using various loopholes, these banks avoided paying about $ 80 billion that could’ve gone towards urgent public needs, like fixing our crumbling infrastructure and expanding pre-K programs.

Under Trump’s plan, tax-dodging banks would pay even less. The official rate would drop to 15 percent, and they’d still benefit from loopholes that would let them pay even lower rates.

One of the biggest loopholes allows U.S. banks and other large corporations to use “creative accounting” to shift profits earned in the United States to foreign nations with low or no corporate taxes. Corporations still owe U.S. taxes on these profits, but they can put off paying them indefinitely.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just send Uncle Sam an IOU every year?

Financial firms are particularly good at this offshore tax-dodging game. The six largest U.S. banks (Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo) have set up more than 2,300 subsidiaries in tax havens like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.

In 2016, they were holding nearly $ 150 billion in profits offshore. Trump’s tax plan would slash the rate on those offshore profits to just 10 percent, saving the banks an estimated $ 25 billion. When these tax discounts on offshore profits have been tried in the past, they didn’t help bring back U.S. jobs.

Instead of doling out new tax breaks to Wall Street, lawmakers should be working to make sure these profitable firms pay their fair share. After all, these are the guys who drove our economy off a cliff with their recklessness and greed in 2008. After the crash, taxpayers put them on a path back to profitability with massive bailouts.

Where is all that money going today?

While much of the country continues to struggle with widespread unemployment, losing their homes, and skinny budgets, Wall Street’s high profits are once again driving sky-high pay for executives. At Citigroup, for example, a bank that wouldn’t exist today if it hadn’t been bailed out, CEO Michael Corbat made more than $ 42 million over the past three years.

One practical way to generate much-needed revenue from Wall Street would be through a tax on short-term speculation. Working families pay sales taxes when they buy essentials like gas and shoes. But when Wall Street traders buy millions of dollars in stocks or derivatives and sell them a split second later, they don’t pay any tax at all.

A tiny fee at rates of a few pennies per $ 100 of trading of stocks, bonds, and derivatives would raise massive revenue while discouraging the short-term speculation that produces no real economic value and makes markets less stable.

Lawmakers should also consider using tax policy to discourage banks from taking on dangerous levels of debt. Reckless, excessive borrowing among so-called “too big to fail” banks was one of the key causes of the financial crisis. A small tax on big bank liabilities could raise significant money while preventing future bailouts.

Trump’s tax giveaways to Wall Street and other big corporations won’t create good jobs or help Main Street businesses. As in the past, they’ll just line the pockets of executives.

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The Sacrifice Muslim Soldier Khan Shouldn’t Have Had To Make

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Khizr and Ghazala Khan. (Photo: VOA Urdu / Wikimedia Commons)

It was impossible not to be moved as Khizr and Ghazala Khan, two Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, stood before the Democratic National Convention and mourned their son Humayan, a U.S. soldier who’d been killed in Iraq.

Humayan, his grieving father recalled, was “the best of America.” Yet if it were up to Donald Trump, Khan said, the slain soldier “never would have been in America.” It was a compelling rebuke to the GOP nominee’s unrepentant calls to banish Muslims and immigrants alike.

Trump, in his fashion, responded poorly. The billionaire insisted that, like the Khans, he’s “made a lot of sacrifices.” He sneered that perhaps the bereaved Ghazala had remained silent on stage because “she wasn’t allowed” to talk.

It was sad and ugly. But amid the word salad was a kernel of truth: “Hillary voted for the Iraq war,” Trump cried, “not me!”

There at least, he wasn’t wrong.

As a senator from New York, Clinton not only voted for the war. She was among its most vocal supporters in either party, eagerly rehashing the Bush administration’s claims that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction.

“I stand by the vote,” Clinton told the Council on Foreign Relations in late 2003, when those weapons had failed to materialize. Six months later, Humayan Khan was killed by a car bomb in Iraq. He was one of 4,424 U.S. soldiers to die in that war — along with perhaps up to a million Iraqi civilians.

The war in which Khan gave his life has been a political football for so long that it’s become hard to appreciate just what an enormous catastrophe it was — and remains. The invasion exploded sectarian tensions across the Middle East and led directly to the rise of ISIS.

As the worst refugee crisis since World War II unfolds across the Middle East and Europe — and as ISIS terrorists murder innocents from Baghdad to Belgium to San Bernardino — the gaping wound we opened in Iraq sits beneath it all like a black hole, eviscerating human lives at ferocious speed even 13 years later.

Yet as late as her first presidential bid, Clinton refused to apologize for supporting the invasion. If you’re looking for “someone who did not cast that vote or has said his vote was a mistake,” she told Democratic voters in 2007, “there are others to choose from.”

As her polling numbers soured, Clinton eventually did cop to making a “mistake” on Iraq. But that didn’t stop her, once she joined Obama’s administration, from supporting escalation in Afghanistan, deeper involvement in Syria, and intervention in Libya’s civil war, which also ended disastrously.

As a presidential candidate this year, Clinton remains committed to launching a “no-fly zone” in Syria. What could go wrong?

Well, in Iraq, a no-fly zone gave way to a full-scale invasion. In Libya, it gave way to regime change and a civil war. Both countries became basket cases and ISIS strongholds, leading the Obama administration to launch new wars in each afterward — most recently with a huge U.S. bombing raid on Sirte, Libya.

Is there any reason to expect Syria to turn out better?

Clinton’s rhetoric on the Muslim world might be friendlier than Trump’s, but her record is much bloodier. Even while she condemns Trump’s erratic statements on foreign policy, there’s no evidence she sees any need to redraw her own hawkish playbook.

The Humayan Khans of America, who freely offer their lives to protect their country, deserve a better approach — one based on diplomacy and human rights. And so do the millions of people of the Middle East, Muslim and otherwise.

The post The Sacrifice Muslim Soldier Khan Shouldn’t Have Had To Make appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Peter Certo is the editorial manager at the  Institute for Policy Studies.

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Nonviolent Offenders Shouldn’t Have to Die in Prison

Cemetery for Moundsville Penitentiary in Moundsville, WV. (Photo: Flickr / Angie)

Cemetery for Moundsville Penitentiary in Moundsville, WV. (Photo: Flickr / Angie)

Over the past three decades, judges and juries have filled America’s prisons with non-violent offenders.

Many are serving draconian sentences for first-time offenses. Indeed, while only about 5 percent of the world’s people live in the United States, our country is locking up nearly 25 percent of the world’s prison population.

President Barack Obama has at least begun to address this issue by creating the Clemency Project, which connects prisoners to pro-bono lawyers who can argue for them to have their sentences reduced. Inmates are eligible if their sentences would have been shorter today than when they received them — as long as they’ve already served at least half their time.

That doesn’t help prisoners who haven’t yet served half of their sentences. It’s an especially glaring gap for prisoners who are elderly and gravely ill. Where is their relief?

A handful of prisoners on their deathbeds might go free under a federal practice called compassionate release. To qualify, an incarcerated person must be at least 65 years old and suffering from a deteriorating medical condition that diminishes their ability to function in a correctional facility.

And they have to have served 10 years of their sentence.

Last year, the federal government released 110 prisoners under the compassionate release program. While this was a record high, it was also statistically insignificant as we’ve got 2.24 million people behind bars.

To make matters worse, although the regulations for eligibility are clear, the entire program is “clouded in secrecy and bureaucracy,” according to the Clemency Report.

I watched the failure of this program unfold in real time when I was incarcerated for blowing the whistle on the CIA’s torture program. I was friendly with a prisoner I’ll call Bill.

Bill was 68 years old and doing 30 years for a non-violent organized crime conviction. He’d served more than half his sentence.

I saw him in the hall one day, doubled over in pain. He told me that he’d never before experienced back pain like this. I suggested that he go to sick call in the morning and ask for Tylenol, the go-to painkiller in U.S. prisons.

He did, but he got no relief.

A couple of weeks later, Bill was walking with a cane and in obvious distress. He told me again that his back pain was excruciating. He’d asked the medical unit for an X-ray, and he’d been denied. The physician’s assistant had just given him more Tylenol.

Two weeks later, Bill was in a wheelchair. I went to the chaplain and said that Bill was being denied medical care. He agreed to intervene.

Bill was sent to an outside hospital for an MRI, which found stage 4 cancer of the spine. Bill applied for compassionate release so he could die at home, surrounded by his family.

The warden went to see him in his cell. Would Bill agree to sign a paper agreeing not to hold the prison responsible for failing to diagnose and treat his cancer? He refused.

Two weeks later, Bill died in his bunk in prison, alone.

This shouldn’t have happened. Compassionate release was created exactly for prisoners like Bill. Dying prisoners who pose no threat to society whatsoever should be sent home to be with their families.

It’s the only moral thing to do.

The post Nonviolent Offenders Shouldn’t Have to Die in Prison appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

John  Kiriakou is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Voters trust Clinton most on terrorism. Here’s why they shouldn’t.

Does Hillary Clinton really have the best strategy to defeat ISIS? Phyllis Bennis joins Howard Dean and EJ Dionne on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell to make the case against a no-fly zone in Syria. Watch below:

The post Voters trust Clinton most on terrorism. Here’s why they shouldn’t. appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. 

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“How Should, or Shouldn’t, Fair Trade Be Applied to Producers in Developed Countries?” – Webinar Coming May 7

Fair Trade Resource Network (FTRN) announces that Webinar #122 is coming May 7 to help inform a major issue in Fair Trade’s direction, “How Should, or Shouldn’t, Fair Trade Be Applied to Producers in Developed Countries?” The webinar is for the public to discuss implications and ask questions to 2 panelists:

1. Kerstin Lindgren, Domestic Fair Trade Association, Executive Director
2. Jonathan Rosenthal, Just Works Consulting, Partner (and Co-Founder of Equal Exchange)

See more details below.

Register for Webinar #122

Outline of Webinar #122:

May 7, 1:00-1:50pm Eastern time: How Should, or Shouldn’t, Fair Trade Be Applied to Producers in Developed Countries?

Panelists:

1. Kerstin Lindgren, Domestic Fair Trade Association, Executive Director
2. Jonathan Rosenthal, Just Works Consulting, Partner (and Co-Founder of Equal Exchange)

Moderator:

FTRN’s Executive Director, Jeff Goldman

Level: Intermediate

Outline:

· Welcome

Jeff (2 min)

· Opening remarks

Kerstin (5 min)

Jonathan (5 min)

· Audience Questions for the Panelist (34 min)

Participants will text comments and questions to moderator, who will speak them

· Closing Remarks

Kerstin (1 min)

Jonathan (1 min)

· Closing Announcements

Jeff (2 min)

Register for Webinar #122

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“How Should, or Shouldn’t, Fair Trade Be Applied to Producers in Developed Countries?” – Webinar Coming March 20

Fair Trade Resource Network (FTRN) announces that Webinar #122 is coming March 20 to help inform a major issue in Fair Trade’s direction, “How Should, or Shouldn’t, Fair Trade Be Applied to Producers in Developed Countries?” The webinar is for the public to discuss implications and ask questions to 2 panelists:

1. Kerstin Lindgren, Domestic Fair Trade Association, Executive Director
2. Jonathan Rosenthal, Just Works Consulting, Partner (and Co-Founder of Equal Exchange)

See more details below.

Register for Webinar #122

Outline of Webinar #122:

March 20, 1:00-1:50pm Eastern time: How Should, or Shouldn’t, Fair Trade Be Applied to Producers in Developed Countries?

Panelists:

1. Kerstin Lindgren, Domestic Fair Trade Association, Executive Director
2. Jonathan Rosenthal, Just Works Consulting, Partner (and Co-Founder of Equal Exchange)

Moderator:

FTRN’s Executive Director, Jeff Goldman

Level: Intermediate

Outline:

· Welcome

Jeff (2 min)

· Opening remarks

Kerstin (5 min)

Jonathan (5 min)

· Audience Questions for the Panelist (34 min)

Participants will text comments and questions to moderator, who will speak them

· Closing Remarks

Kerstin (1 min)

Jonathan (1 min)

· Closing Announcements

Jeff (2 min)

Register for Webinar #122

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