UN Votes to Refer North Korea to International Criminal Court for Crimes Against Humanity

December 20, 2014

Kim Jong Un. (photo: Wong Maye-E/AP)
Kim Jong Un. (photo: Wong Maye-E/AP)

By Al Jazeera America

20 December 14


UNGA also urges Security Council to consider sanctions against Pyongyang over alleged crimes against humanity.

he UN General Assembly has called for North Korea to be referred to the International Criminal Court over alleged crimes against humanity, in a landmark resolution adopted by a strong majority.

The non-binding measure was approved on Thursday by a vote of 116 to 20 with 53 abstentions.

The vote followed a UN Commission of Inquiry report published in February detailing wide-ranging abuses in North Korea, including prison camps, systematic torture, starvation and killings.

A first vote on the resolution in a General Assembly committee in November had garnered the support of 111 countries, with 19 against and 55 abstentions.

The resolution asks the Security Council to refer North Korea to the ICC and to consider targeted sanctions against the Pyongyang leadership for the repression of its citizens.

The UN’s decision was hailed as a clear message about growing international concern over human rights violations in the isolated communist country.

“This marks an increase of five yes votes… and is a strong call from the international community to improve the human rights situation in the country,” said a statement from the European Union, which drafted the text with Japan.

On Monday, the Security Council will discuss North Korea in its first-ever meeting to touch on the rights situation in the country, but no decision is expected on ICC referral during those talks.

‘Political plot’

North Korea’s UN delegation dismissed the resolution and the commission of inquiry report.

“My delegation totally rejects the resolution,” North Korea’s deputy UN ambassador An Myong Hun told the assembly. “It is a product of a political plot and confrontation.

“My delegation will not tolerate any attempt to use the human rights issues as a tool for overthrowing its social system,” he said.

He added that Pyongyang was ready for “dialogue and cooperation in the field of human rights,” but rejected the use of the issue as an instrument for regime change.

Cuba, which had led a campaign to scrap provisions on the ICC referral from the resolution, said the vote set a dangerous precedent by seeking to punish countries instead of developing cooperation.

China and Russia voted against the resolution, as did Belarus Cuba, Iran, Syria and Venezuela.

It is unlikely to lead to action in the ICC, which looks at serious abuses like genocide and other crimes against humanity, because China would likely use its veto power to block it.


The Senate Drone Report of 2019

December 19, 2014

MQ-1 Predator

Looking back on Washington’s War on Terror, we realize that nothing has been learned. There is only one winner in the war on terror and it’s the national security state itself.

It was December 6, 2019, three years into a sagging Clinton presidency and a bitterly divided Congress. That day, the 500-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s long fought-over, much-delayed, heavily redacted report on the secret CIA drone wars and other American air campaigns in the 18-year-long war on terror was finally released.  That day, committee chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) took to the Senate floor, amid the warnings of his Republican colleagues that its release might “inflame” America’s enemies leading to violence across the Greater Middle East, andsaid:

“Over the past couple of weeks, I have gone through a great deal of introspection about whether to delay the release of this report to a later time. We are clearly in a period of turmoil and instability in many parts of the world. Unfortunately, that’s going to continue for the foreseeable future, whether this report is released or not. There may never be the ‘right’ time to release it. The instability we see today will not be resolved in months or years. But this report is too important to shelve indefinitely.  The simple fact is that the drone and air campaigns we have launched and pursued these last 18 years have proven to be a stain on our values and on our history.”

Though it was a Friday afternoon, normally a dead zone for media attention, the response was instant and stunning.  As had happened five years earlier with the committee’s similarly fought-over report on torture, it became a 24/7 media event.  The “revelations” from the report poured out to a stunned nation.  There were the CIA’s own figures on the hundreds ofchildren in the backlands of Pakistan and Yemen killed by drone strikes against “terrorists” and “militants.”  There were the “double-tap strikes” in which drones returned after initial attacks to go after rescuers of those buried in rubble or to take out the funerals of those previously slain.  There were the CIA’s own statistics on the stunning numbers of unknown villagers killed for every significant and known figure targeted and finally taken out (1,147dead in Pakistan for 41 men specifically targeted).  There were the unexpected internal Agency discussions of the imprecision of the robotic weapons always publicly hailed as “surgically precise” (and also of the weakness of much of the intelligence that led them to their targets).  There was the joking and commonplace use of dehumanizing language (“bug splat” for those killed) by the teams directing the drones.  There were the “signature strikes,” or the targeting of groups of young men of military age about whom nothing specifically was known, and of course there was the raging argument that ensued in the media over the “effectiveness” of it all (including various emails from CIA officials admitting that drone campaigns in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen had proven to be mechanisms not so much for destroying terrorists as for creating new ones).

There were the new tidbits of information on the workings of the president’s “kill list” and the convening of “terror Tuesday” briefings to target specific individuals around the world.  There were the insider discussions of ongoing decisions to target American citizens abroad for assassination by drone without due process of law and the revealing emails in which participants up to presidential advisers discussed how exactly to craft the exculpatory “legal” documents for those acts at the Department of Justice.

Above all, to an unsuspecting nation, there was the shocking revelation that American air power had, in the course of those years, destroyed in whole or in part at least nine wedding parties, including brides, grooms, family members, and revelers, involving the deaths of hundreds of wedding goers in at least three countries of the Greater Middle East.  This revelation shocked the nation, resulting in headlines ranging from the Washington Post’s sober “Wedding Tally Revealed” to the New York Post’s “Bride and Boom!

But while all of that created headlines, the main debate was over the “effectiveness” of the White House’s and CIA’s drone campaigns.  As Senator Wyden insisted that day in his speech:

“If you read the many case studies in the executive summary of our report, it will be unmistakable not only how ineffective American air power has been over these years, but how, for every ‘bad guy’ taken out, the air strikes were, in the end, a mechanism for the mass creation of terrorists and a continuing, powerful recruitment tool for jihadist and al-Qaeda-linked organizations across the Greater Middle East and Africa.  If you doubt me, just count the jihadis in our world on September 10, 2001, and today in the areas of Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia where our major drone campaigns have taken place, as well, of course, as in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Then tell me with a straight face that they ‘worked.’”

As with the 2014 torture report, so the responses of those deeply implicated in the drone assassination campaigns and the loosing of American air power more generally in the backlands of the planet put on display the full strength of the American national security state.  It was no surprise, of course, when CIA Director David Petraeus (on his second tour of duty at the Agency) held the usual Langley, Virginia, news conference — an unknown eventuntil then-Director John Brennan first held one in December 2014 to dispute the Senate torture report.  There, as the New York Times described it, Petraeus criticized the latest report for being “‘flawed,’ ‘partisan,’ and ‘frustrating,’ and pointed out numerous disagreements that he had with its damning conclusions about the CIA’s drone program.”

The real brunt of the attack, however, came from prominent former CIA officials, including former directors George Tenet(“You know, the image that’s been portrayed is we sat around the campfire and said, ‘Oh boy, now we go get to assassinate people.’  We don’t assassinate people.  Let me say that again to you, we don’t assassinate people. O.K.?”); Mike Hayden (“If the world had acted as American air power has done in these years, many people who shouldn’t have gotten married wouldn’t have gotten married and the world would be a saner place for marriage.”); and Brennan himself (“Whatever your views are on our drone program, our nation and in particular this agency did a lot of things right during a difficult time to keep this country strong and secure and you should be thanking them, not undermining them.”).  Hayden, Brennan, and national security, intelligence, and Pentagon officials also blanketed the news and the Sunday morning talk shows.  Former CIA Director of Public Affairs Bill Harlow, who hadset up the websiteciasavedlives.com to defend the patriotic honor of the Agency at the time of the release of the Senate torture report, repeated the process five years later with the website dontdronethecia.com.

Former CIA Director Leon Panetta repeated his classic statement of 2009, insisting to a range of media interviewers that the drone campaign was not just “effective,” but still “the only game in town in terms of confronting or trying to disrupt the al-Qaeda leadership.”  Former President Barack Obama did an interview with NBC News from his new presidential library, still under construction in Chicago, saying in part, “We assassinated some folks, but those who did so were American patriots working in a time of great stress and fear.  Assassination may have been necessary and understandable in the moment, but it is not who we are.”  And78-year-old former Vice President Dick Cheney, who appeared on Fox News from his Wyoming ranch, insistedthat the new Senate report, like the old one, was a “gob of unpatriotic hooey.”  President Hillary Clinton, interviewed by BuzzFeed, said of the report, “One of the things that sets us apart from other countries is that when we make mistakes, we admit them.”  She did not, however, go on to admit that the still ongoing drone program or even the wedding air strikes were “mistakes.”

On December 11th, as everyone knows, the mass junior high school shootings in Wisconsin occurred and media attention quite understandably shifted there, 24/7.  On December 13th, Reuters reported that a drone attack in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands, which was “suspected” of killing seven “militants,” including possibly an al-Qaeda sub-commander — local residents reported that two children and a 70-year-old elder had been among the dead — was thethousandth drone strike in the CIA’s secret wars in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.

Running a Criminal Enterprise in Washington

It’s not 2019, of course.  We don’t know whether Hillary Clinton will be elected president or Ron Wyden reelected to the Senate, no less whether he’ll become the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in a body once again controlled by Democrats, or whether there will ever be a torture-report-style investigation of the “secret” drone assassination campaigns the White House, the CIA, and the U.S. military have been running across the backlands of the planet.

Still, count me among the surprised if, in 2019, some part or parts of the U.S. national security state and the White House aren’t still running drone campaigns that cross national borders with impunity, kill whomever those in Washington choose in “terror Tuesday” meetings or target in “signature strikes,” take out American citizens if it pleases the White House to do so, and generally continue to run what has proven to be a global war for (not on) terror.

When it comes to all of this “secret” but remarkably well-publicized behavior, as with the CIA’s torture program, the U.S. has been making up the future rules of the road for the rest of the world.  It has created a gold standard for assassination and torture by green-lighting “rectal rehydration” (a euphemism for anal rape) and other grim acts.  In the process, it has cooked up self-serving explanations and justifications for actions that would outrage official Washington and the public generally if any other country committedthem.

This piece, of course, is not really about the future, but the past and what we should already know about it.  What’s most remarkable about the Senate torture report is that — except for the odd, grim detail like “rectal rehydration” — we should never have needed it.  Black sites, torture techniques, theabusing of innocents — the essential information about the nightmarishBermuda Triangle of injustice the Bush administration set up after 9/11 has been publicly available, in many instances for years.

Those “2019” revelations about drone assassination campaigns and other grim aspects of the loosing of American air power in the Greater Middle East have been on the public record for years, too.  In truth, we shouldn’t be in any doubt about much of what’s billed as “secret” in our American world.  And the lessons to be drawn from those secret acts should be obvious enough without spending another $40 million and studying yet more millions of classified documents for years.

Here are three conclusions that should now be obvious enough when it comes to Washington’s never-ending war on terror and the growth of the national security state.

1. Whatever grim actions are the focus of debate at the moment, take it for granted that they don’t “work” because nothing connected to the war on terror has worked: The coverage of the Senate torture report has been focused on arguments over whether those “enhanced interrogation techniques,” or EITs, “worked” in the years after 9/11 (as in 2019, the coverage would undoubtedly focus on whether drone assassination campaigns had worked).  The executive summary of the Senate report has already offered numerous cases where information gained through torture practices did not produce actionable intelligence or stop terror plots or save lives, though misinformation from them might have helped embolden the Bush administration in its invasion of Iraq.

Bush administration officials, former CIA directors, and the intelligence “community” in general have vociferously insisted on the opposite.  Six former top CIA officials, including three former directors, publicly claimed that those torture techniques “saved thousands of lives.”  The truth, however, is that we shouldn’t even be having a serious discussion of this issue.  We know the answer.  We knew it long before the redacted executive summary of the Senate report was released.  Torture didn’t work, because 13 years of the war on terror has offered a simple enough lesson: nothing worked.

You name it and it failed.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about invasions, occupations, interventions, small conflicts, raids, bombing runs, secret operations, offshore “black sites,” or god knows what else — none of it came close to succeeding by even the most minimal standards set in Washington.  In this period, many grim things were done and most of them blew back, creating more enemies, new Islamic extremist movements, and even a jihadist mini-state in the heart of the Middle East that, fittingly enough, was essentially founded at Camp Bucca, an American military prison in Iraq.  Let me repeat that: if Washington did it any time in the last 13 years, whatever it was, it didn’t work. Period.

2. In national security and war terms, only one thing has “worked” in these years and that’s the national security state itself: Every blunder, every disaster, every extreme act that proved a horror in the world also perversely strengthened the national security state.  In other words, the crew that couldn’t shoot straight could do no wrong when it came to their own agencies and careers.

No matter how poorly or badly or stupidly or immorally or criminally agents, operatives, war fighters, private contractors, and high officials acted or what they ordered done, each disaster in this period was like a dose of further career enhancement, like manna from heaven, for a structure that ate taxpayer dollars for lunch and grew in unprecedented ways, despite a world that lacked all significant enemies.  In these years, the national security state entrenched itself and its methods in Washington for the long run. The Department of Homeland Security expanded; the 17 interlocked intelligence agencies that made up the U.S. intelligence community exploded; the Pentagon grew endlessly; the corporate “complexes” that surrounded and meshed with an increasingly privatized national security apparatus had a field day.  And the various officials who oversaw every botched operation and sally into the world, including the torture regime the Bush administration created, were almost to a man promoted, as well as honored in various ways and, in retirement, found themselves further honored and enriched.  The single lesson from all of this for any official was: whatever you do, however rash, extreme, or dumb beyond imagining, whatever you don’t accomplish, whomever you hurt, you are enriching the national security state — and that’s a good thing.

3. Nothing Washington did could ever qualify as a “war crime” or even a straightforward crime because, in national security terms, our wartime capital has become a crime-free zoneAgain, this is an obvious fact of our era.  There can be no accountability (hence all the promotions) and especially no criminal accountability inside the national security state.  While the rest of us are still in legal America, its officials are in what I’ve long called “post-legal” America and in that state, neither torture (to the point of death), nor kidnapping and assassination, nor destroying evidence of criminal activity, perjury, or the setting up of an extralegal prison system are crimes.  The only possible crime in national security Washington iswhistleblowing.  On this, too, the evidence is in and the results speak for themselves.  The post-9/11 moment has proven to be an eternal “get out of jail free card” for the officials of two administrations and the national security state.

Unfortunately, the obvious points, the simple conclusions that might be drawn from the last 13 years go unnoticed in a Washington where nothing, it seems, can be learned.  As a result, for all the sound and fury of this torture moment, the national security state will only grow stronger, more organized, more aggressively ready to defend itself, while ridding itself of the last vestiges of democratic oversight and control.

There is only one winner in the war on terror and it’s the national security state itself.  So let’s be clear, despite its supporters who regularly hail the “patriotism” of such officials, and despite an increasingly grim world filled with bad guys, they are not the good guys and they are running what, by any normal standards, should be considered a criminal enterprise.

See you in 2019.

Putin’s Bubble Bursts

December 19, 2014
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If you’re the type who finds macho posturing impressive, Vladimir Putin is your kind of guy. Sure enough, many American conservatives seem to have an embarrassing crush on the swaggering strongman. “That is what you call a leader,” enthused Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, after Mr. Putin invaded Ukraine without debate or deliberation.

But Mr. Putin never had the resources to back his swagger. Russia has an economy roughly the same size as Brazil’s. And, as we’re now seeing, it’s highly vulnerable to financial crisis — a vulnerability that has a lot to do with the nature of the Putin regime.

For those who haven’t been keeping track: The ruble has been sliding gradually since August, when Mr. Putin openly committed Russian troops to the conflict in Ukraine. A few weeks ago, however, the slide turned into a plunge. Extreme measures, including a huge rise in interest rates and pressure on private companies to stop holding dollars, have done no more than stabilize the ruble far below its previous level. And all indications are that the Russian economy is heading for a nasty recession.

The proximate cause of Russia’s difficulties is, of course, the global plunge in oil prices, which, in turn, reflects factors — growing production from shale, weakening demand from China and other economies — that have nothing to do with Mr. Putin. And this was bound to inflict serious damage on an economy that, as I said, doesn’t have much besides oil that the rest of the world wants; the sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukraine conflict have added to the damage.

But Russia’s difficulties are disproportionate to the size of the shock: While oil has indeed plunged, the ruble has plunged even more, and the damage to the Russian economy reaches far beyond the oil sector. Why?

Actually, it’s not a puzzle — and this is, in fact, a movie currency-crisis aficionados like yours truly have seen many times before: Argentina 2002, Indonesia 1998, Mexico 1995, Chile 1982, the list goes on. The kind of crisis Russia now faces is what you get when bad things happen to an economy made vulnerable by large-scale borrowing from abroad — specifically, large-scale borrowing by the private sector, with the debts denominated in foreign currency, not the currency of the debtor country.

In that situation, an adverse shock like a fall in exports can start a vicious downward spiral. When the nation’s currency falls, the balance sheets of local businesses — which have assets in rubles (or pesos or rupiah) but debts in dollars or euros — implode. This, in turn, inflicts severe damage on the domestic economy, undermining confidence and depressing the currency even more. And Russia fits the standard playbook.

Except for one thing. Usually, the way a country ends up with a lot of foreign debt is by running trade deficits, using borrowed funds to pay for imports. But Russia hasn’t run trade deficits. On the contrary, it has consistently run large trade surpluses, thanks to high oil prices. So why did it borrow so much money, and where did the money go?

Well, you can answer the second question by walking around Mayfair in London, or (to a lesser extent) Manhattan’s Upper East Side, especially in the evening, and observing the long rows of luxury residences with no lights on — residences owned, as the line goes, by Chinese princelings, Middle Eastern sheikhs, and Russian oligarchs. Basically, Russia’s elite has been accumulating assets outside the country — luxury real estate is only the most visible example — and the flip side of that accumulation has been rising debt at home.

Where does the elite get that kind of money? The answer, of course, is that Putin’s Russia is an extreme version of crony capitalism, indeed, a kleptocracy in which loyalists get to skim off vast sums for their personal use. It all looked sustainable as long as oil prices stayed high. But now the bubble has burst, and the very corruption that sustained the Putin regime has left Russia in dire straits.

How does it end? The standard response of a country in Russia’s situation is an International Monetary Fund program that includes emergency loans and forbearance from creditors in return for reform. Obviously that’s not going to happen here, and Russia will try to muddle through on its own, among other things with rules to prevent capital from fleeing the country — a classic case of locking the barn door after the oligarch is gone.

It’s quite a comedown for Mr. Putin. And his swaggering strongman act helped set the stage for the disaster. A more open, accountable regime — one that wouldn’t have impressed Mr. Giuliani so much — would have been less corrupt, would probably have run up less debt, and would have been better placed to ride out falling oil prices. Macho posturing, it turns out, makes for bad economies.

Elizabeth Warren, other Democrats raise concerns about free-trade pact with Asia

December 19, 2014

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Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could erode U.S. financial safeguards designed to “prevent future financial crises.” (Timothy D. Easley/AP)
By David Nakamura December 17
Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday voiced new concerns over President Obama’s trade agenda as congressional Democrats ramp up efforts to slow the administration’s bid to finalize a major free-trade pact in Asia that the president has called a top priority.

The disagreement threatens to expose old divisions over international trade and hamper Democrats’ efforts to unify their party going into the 2016 elections.

Warren (D-Mass.), fresh off her break with the White House on the budget last week, said in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could erode U.S. financial safeguards designed to “prevent future financial crises.”

“We cannot afford a trade deal that undermines the government’s ability to protect the American economy,” Warren said in the letter, also signed by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.). The Washington Post obtained a copy.

The senators are focused on three specific provisions, and they do not state outright opposition to the 12-nation pact, which is still being negotiated. But Warren’s status as the emerging leader of the progressive wing of the party could complicate the Obama administration’s attempt to rally support from enough Democrats to get the deal completed.

Warren was a key voice in the debate over the $1 trillion spending plan, delivering a blistering attack on a measure in the bill that loosens restrictions on derivative trading.. Though the budget was approved with backing from the White House, Warren further burnished her credentials with progressives, who have urged her to mount a presidential bid.

Obama has called trade an area where he hopes to find common ground with Republicans, who take control of the Senate next month and have expressed support for liberalizing trade policy.

The president has also said the proposed pact is a cornerstone of his Asia policy, which aims to balance a greater U.S. military presence with deeper economic ties to the region, and Obama has pledged that the final trade deal will have higher labor and environmental standards than past free-trade agreements.

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In her letter, Warren raises concerns that the deal could include provisions that would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. policies before a judicial panel outside the domestic legal system, increasing exposure of American taxpayers to potential damages.

She also objects to potential provisions that she said would grant foreign companies access to U.S. markets without being subject to restrictions on “predatory or toxic financial products” and that would restrict the U.S. government’s ability to impose capital controls, such as transaction taxes, on international firms.

A spokesman for Froman’s office defended the pact. “TPP will in no way limit the ability of governments to put in place strong consumer protections or to regulate financial markets, including derivatives,” Matthew McAlvanah said. “In fact, it will include specific provisions protecting regulation as well as ensuring that other countries provide the same type of basic judicial fairness that we already provide under U.S. law to American and foreign businesses operating in the United States.”
David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.

Are you up for the challenge? Global ZERO

December 19, 2014

DECEMBER 19, 2014
Hey Osamu,

2014 was a big year for Global Zero. Hundreds of activists around the world took to the streets to remember the devastating impact of nuclear weapons. Thousands of Global Zero members wrote letters to President Obama, demanding he abandon the $1 trillion nuclear arsenal. And supporters like you helped save the Iran negotiations by calling on their Senators to support diplomacy.

Osamu, we’re not stopping there. We have an even bigger vision for 2015: creating a national network of rockstar activists, trained and ready to take action at a moment’s notice. And I want you to be the first to know.

This January, Global Zero is launching Action Corps, a top-notch organizing program for volunteers across the country.

Action Corps is our biggest grassroots initiative yet — and since you’re already a Global Zero member, I think you’d be a great candidate.Take a look at the Action Corps program description and apply online today!

To be clear, Global Zero’s Action Corps isn’t for just anyone. We’re looking for the country’s most talented, passionate advocates who share our bold vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. Are you up for the challenge?

Join the fight for zero, and apply to Action Corps today! I look forward to seeing your application.

Fight on,
Meredith Horowski
Deputy Campaign Director

Global Zero is the international movement for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.
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Is Homo Economicus A Psychopath?

December 19, 2014

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In what academics call neoclassical economics, human beings are largely rational, self-interested decision-makers. This stereotypical human, often referred to as Homo economicus, is a creature of coldly calculated selfishness, dispassionately maximizing its best interests even if that comes at the expense of others.

A study in Japan shows that Homo economicus makes up only a minority of the population, but a minority with a wide range of unusual personality traits, including a touch of psychopathy.

To identify people who qualify as Homo economicus (from now on, HE), the researchers asked people to play a series of games. In the dictator game, people were given money and told that their partner (an anonymous person they would never meet) had received none. They were asked how much of that money they would give their partner. Those acting like HE consistently gave their partners no money. Zilch. Their self-interest was maximized by keeping all the money, so that’s what they did.

In the prisoner’s dilemma game, the researchers once again gave people money and asked them how much they would give to an anonymous partner. But this time there were a few twists. First, they were told that any money they gave to the partners would be doubled. So if they received $10 and gave all $10 to the partner, the partner would receive $20. Second, the partner was posed with the exact same opportunity. That means if both people were generous and decided to give the other person all $10, each would actually walk away with $20, for a total of $40. Any selfish behavior would reduce the overall payout. On the other hand, purely selfish people would keep the money for themselves, pocketing the $10 and hoping that the other person was altruistic, therefore giving them a chance to walk away with $30.

There’s a third twist to this study. The researchers artificially controlled the behaviors of the partners in some rounds of the game, so that the research participant would find out that they received $10 from their partner and then be asked how much they would give in return. Those people acting like HE gave their partners no money, even after experiencing the generosity of the anonymous person they were paired with.
I know. Cold.

After playing these games numerous times, the researchers found out that about 7% of people were consistent HEs, never endowing their partners with any coin. They discovered that another 9% were quasi-HE (or qHE), giving their partners money a small proportion of the time. About a quarter of people consistently gave them a hefty chunk of change. These people were called Consistent Cooperators or CCs. And everyone else was in the middle, so the researchers called them Ordinary People (or ORDs).

First thing, then, is to recognize that the neoclassical view of human nature describes at most a small proportion of the population. Maximizing self-interest without regard for others – that’s not the norm. Thank God. Or Darwin. (Or Oprah?)

More importantly, the researchers asked these folks a slew of questions about their attitudes and personalities. They discovered a range of fascinating differences between HE, qHE, and the rest of us. For example, and not totally surprising, these folks believe that success in life requires manipulation of other people:

HE Figure 1d

The researchers also discovered that HEs, but not qHEs, have higher IQs than other people:

HE Figure 2a
HEs are also more likely to believe they are appreciated by other people:

HE Figure 2g

So far then, we have learned that the small percent of people who qualify as Homo economic – who kept all the money for themselves in all these games – are smarty-pants who, feeling appreciated, manipulate others to their own ends. That is already a scary prospect. But it gets worse. HEs and qHEs demonstrate psychopathic traits, caring little for the well-being of others:

HE Figure 4a

To make matters even worse, as opposed to full on psychopaths, who tend to be a disorganized lot, HEs demonstrate above average self-discipline:

HE Figure 4d
The researchers paint a powerful picture of Homo economicus: “We see a person who is intelligent, driven to excel and to dominate other people, and capable of impulse control and of working toward long-term goals. In other words, Homo economicus is the prototypical member of the social and economic elite.”

Altogether, a chilling portrait. Fortunately, at least in this sample of people from Tokyo, HE makes up only a small portion of the population. More importantly, those of us not so callously selfish are not too pleased when we encounter such selfish disregard in our social circles, and we have the ability to punish such behavior. That is probably the evolutionary explanation for why these selfish, manipulative, smart people are still such a small proportion of the population. Smart, non-manipulative people shun them, perhaps even refuse to mate with them.

The neoclassical economic view of human nature was always a caricature. Now we have a better sense not only of how poorly that view characterizes most humans, but also of how poorly behaved the people are who act according to this caricature.

1100 Certified B Corporations in 121 Industries, 37 Countries!

December 18, 2014
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My guest today is Katie Kerr, Director of Communications for B Lab, which certifies and supports B Corporations.

JB: Last year, I interviewed your boss, Jay Coen Gilbert, who co-founded B Lab. For readers who aren’t familiar with the concept, can you give us a thumbnail sketch of what B Lab is and what it does?

KK: B Lab is a nonprofit organization that serves a global movement to redefine success in business so that all companies compete not only to be the best in the world, but the best for the world. In simpler terms, we work for and with a movement of people all using business as a force for good.

To achieve our vision for a shared, durable prosperity, we work to create systemic change through a number of interrelated initiative: 1) building a community of Certified B Corporations to make it easier for all of us to tell the difference between “good companies” and good marketing; 2) passing legislation to accelerate growth of social entrepreneurship and impact investing (27 states have already passed benefit corporation legislation); 3) developing B Analytics, a customizable platform for investors to benchmark and report the impact of their global private equity portfolios; and 4) providing free, powerful tools for businesses to measure, compare and improve their social and environmental performance (more than 16,000 businesses use B Lab’s free B Impact Assessment).

You can learn more about all our work at bcorporation.net

JB: That’s great! I love the ability “to tell the difference between ‘good companies’ and good marketing”. And I want to vote with my consumer dollars whenever possible. What’s new since we were in touch last year, Katie?

KK: It’s been quite the year for the B Corp movement. There are now over 1100 Certified B Corps in 121 industries and 37 countries. We’ve launched several global partnerships to help develop the community around the world and have welcomed companies from exciting new sectors, like Green Mountain Power, the first certified public utility, Natura, the largest and first public B Corp in Latin America and Kickstarter, a fast growing crowdfunding platform for creative projects.

Additionally, we are now working with a variety of partners to encourage all companies to measure what matters, impact, with the B Impact Assessment. We hope by providing this free, confidential tool, all companies will begin managing and measuring their impact on their workers, community and environment. It has built in tips and best practices so any one can start using their business as a force for good. And for those of you who prefer to work offline, check out the B Corp Handbook for interviews with leading CEOs, tips and a Quick Start Guide.

Finally, we just announced the launch of the B Corp Fellows program, the first opportunity to do public service for the impact economy. B Corps Fellows will be trained to work with thousands of companies to measure and manage the impact of their businesses on their workers, communities, and the environment with as much rigor as their profits. We are looking for applicants now, so please let any recent MBA or Bachelor’s degree recipients who might be interested know.

B the change
(image by B Lab)

JB: Whoa! That is a lot of positive new developments. I’d like to hear more about the B Corp Fellows program first. How did that come about and how does it work?

KK: The B Corps Fellows program will train passionate recent undergrads and professionals to help companies measure their impact on their communities, employees, and environment. The Inaugural class of 2015 will have 12 Fellows, but the program will expand over time to make sure all companies have the tools to measure what matters.

We are launching the B Corps Fellows in response to excitement from both the public and private sectors to create public service opportunities through private enterprise in the impact economy. We are also exploring cross sector partnerships to support this Fellowship, which in turn will support the movement to use business as a force for good. It’s an exciting opportunity for both us and the newest generation of Changemakers.

new program
(image by B Lab)

JB: Sounds exciting! Now, let’s turn to the new inroads that you’ve made into the public sector. Please talk about that for a bit, Katie. I just assumed that public companies would not be able to participate in B Corps. How does it work? How is the application different from a privately-held company? And if it’s not different, why did it take all this time to expand in that direction?

KK: The process for public companies to become Certified B Corps is actually the exact same. They must score a minimum score on the B Impact Assessment and amend their legal documents to institutionalize stakeholder interests.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more…)

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Where’s the Outrage? Congress Changes Savings Accounts and Retirement Funds, and America Sleeps

December 18, 2014

(photo: TPM Muckraker)
(photo: TPM Muckraker)

By Tess Vigeland, Guardian UK

17 December 14


Nothing is permanent in this wicked world except banks getting whatever they want, whenever they want, regardless of the risk to their own customers. Two major provisions in the US budget bill spell doom for US savers and retirees

o you remember where you were six years ago? Probably not. It was a long, long time ago. December 2008 is not one of those dates that gets burned on your brain, like the moon landing, or D-Day, or the end of Seinfeld.

But I remember where I was. I was at my post as the host of a personal finance show on national radio, and I was taking calls from people all over the country who were a) furious that their tax dollars were siphoned off to pay for a massive bank bailout that crashed the world economy, and b) outraged that the stock market was responding by wiping out their already-meager retirement and college education savings funds.

In December 2008, the number of jobs shrank by 533,000, the worst monthly loss in more than 30 years. Construction permits fell by more than 12% as people stopped buying houses. And retailers got a giant lump of coal from consumers, who decided that buying a bunch of worthless junk to put under a tree was probably not the best idea when their bank accounts – not the mention the country’s – were circling the drain.

“This shall not stand!” we cried, then. “We can never allow our own savings to be put at risk like this!”

And yet. Here we are again.

Congress has passed, and President Obama has said he would sign, a budget bill that allows banks to use your savings when they make giant financial bets called derivatives. Again.

And because those savings are insured by the federal government, you, the taxpayer, would be on the hook if those bets go south. Again.

This isn’t arcane financial stuff we can ignore. These are the exact financial mechanisms that led to the global crisis just six (short!) years ago. The Dodd-Frank reform law that was passed in the wake of that crisis forbade this from ever happening.

Charlie Chaplin said that nothing is permanent in this wicked world, not even our troubles. I’d add that nothing is permanent in this wicked world except banks getting whatever they want, whenever they want, regardless of the risk to their own customers. Regardless of the risk to the rest of us.

In addition to all that, this so-called compromise also contains a provision that would wreak havoc on the pensions of more than 10 million American workers, who likely have no idea this is coming.

Pension plans were promises to employees that they could count on a certain income in retirement. Unlike the 401k that most of us are familiar with, where we have to rely on our own savings and our own strategies for investing that money, pensions were a guaranteed payout.

That’s why pensions don’t really exist anymore: because they’re expensive, and if a company doesn’t plan correctly, it’s easy to run out of money. The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, or PBGC, has to take over the plans from employers who go bankrupt or bust or simply can’t make the payments.

That has happened over and over again, and workers with those pensions have found their benefits cut in half or even more.

Now there’s a real pension crisis. The PBGC itself is now in something of a hole, and warned recently that it doesn’t have the reserves to pay even the reduced amount of the income that was promised to millions of workers.

And a proposal in this same budget bill would allow some pension plans to cut current benefits to employees who are retired – if those plans can show that they’ll otherwise run out of money in the next 10-20 years. The proposal applies to multi-employer pension plans, which cover a diverse cross-section of blue-collar workers such as truck drivers and people in construction.

This isn’t supposed to be legal.

From their beginnings, if you were already retired, your benefits were supposed to be untouchable.

Change the payout on workers who are still working, sure (because it’s OK to break promises and alter people’s lives as long as you give a few years’ notice), but don’t touch the folks who’ve already started the golden years.

But now, they’re fair game, too.

Supporters say this is simply part of the necessary give-and-take of the political process. Nonsense. They can make other choices that don’t subject Americans to financial ruin.

As someone who spent six years taking calls on-air from people who will never fully recover from the devastating losses they experienced during and after the 2008 crisis, and from pensioners who watched their benefits get cut and wondered how all the financial planning they did around that number they were promised was somehow rendered useless, I wish I could go back in a time machine and warn everyone that George Santayana was right: those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it, or worse, allow it to be repeated by others.

People in the personal finance field love to talk about how if we could just get more Americans to save, if we could just get more Americans to learn the basics of the stock market, if we could just convince Americans to forego that latte at Starbucks, if we could just put Americans on a budget, then things would be OK.

But how is any of that supposed to work when banks can use people’s savings to play the roulette wheel that is the stock market – and then when they lose, they just order another cup of coffee and use the federal budget to make sure that the losses fall not on them but on the people who just tried to save a little money in the first place?

This one is only on workers if they say nothing and fail to educate themselves on what is being plundered from their futures. The powers that be are counting on you not to pay attention, or to feel so impotent that you just give up and say “Well, really, what can I do?”

How about instead of calling a personal finance show, you call your senator or representative and tell them your story, and ask them how they would solve your financial predicament? They should hear your stories. When I heard them, I got angry, I felt for you and I tried to help.

Maybe if you tell those stories, someone else will listen, and try to help. Or at least try not to make things worse.


Obama Orders Restoration of ‘Full Diplomatic Relations’ With Cuba

December 18, 2014

Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, circa late 1950’s. (photo: HistoryofCuba.com)
Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, circa late 1950’s. (photo: HistoryofCuba.com)

ALSO SEE: Pope Francis Played Key Role in U.S.-Cuba Deal

By Peter Baker, The New York Times

18 December 14


resident Obama on Wednesday ordered the restoration of full diplomatic relations withCuba and the opening of an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century as he vowed to “cut loose the shackles of the past” and sweep aside one of the last vestiges of the Cold War.

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Cuban President Raul Castro during the official memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela at FNB Stadium, Dec. 10, 2013, in Johannesburg, South Africa. (photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The surprise announcement came at the end of 18 months of secret talks that produced a prisoner swap negotiated with the help of Pope Francis and concluded by a telephone call between Mr. Obama and President Raúl Castro. The historic deal broke an enduring stalemate between two countries divided by just 90 miles of water but oceans of mistrust and hostility dating from the days of Theodore Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill and the nuclear brinkmanship of the Cuban missile crisis.

“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” Mr. Obama said in a nationally televised statement from the White House. The deal, he added, will “begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas” and move beyond a “rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”



Banks, Multinationals and Governments are Stealing Our Future. Here’s How We Win It Back

December 18, 2014

There’s never been a better time to organize a general strike in the U.S. than right now. We must stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership and put an end to government authorized bailouts.

On Monday, Dec. 15, all of Belgium was completely shut down from a nationwide general strike in protest of economic reforms that largely punish working people. The strike cancelled 600 flights for 50,000 passengers at the Brussels airport. High-speed trains to France, Netherlands, and the UK were all cancelled, buses didn’t run their routes, workers didn’t come to the office, and nobody went to school. While numbers aren’t yet available, Belgian workers certainly demonstrated that they are the ultimate deciders of whether or not the economy works for everyone or grinds to a halt. The U.S. should take a page from the Belgian playbook if we want to beat back the corporate assault on our livelihoods, homes and futures.

Belgium Fights Back

The general strike was the climax of a series of actions that started on Nov. 6, when over 100,000 workers mobilized to launch a movement resisting the new government’s austerity measures. After being elected in October, Prime Minister Charles Michel laid out plans to raise the retirement age, freeze a cost-of-living increase for public workers, and drastically cut budgets for public services like healthcare and education. Michel says the programs, recommended by the IMF and the European Union, will save an additional $13.7 billion over five years, but workers say the new government’s austerity measures will end up costing the economy an additional $2.5 billion. For a good example of how central banks’ forced austerity doesn’t work, look to Greece.

Banker-imposed austerity in Greece worked precisely how it was supposed to – punishing the poor to reward the rich. On average, Greeks are 40 percent poorer than they were in 2008, while rich Greeks are 20 percent richer, according to a 2014 report from the Levy Economics Institute at Bard College. That same report points out that Greeks’ purchasing power is down 37 percent after wages were slashed by 25 percent. While big banks were bailed out, the Greek unemployment rate has climbed to 27 percent while pensions and social services have been slashed. Anywhere in the world the austerity agenda is implemented, it only brings more misery to working people.

How Belgium’s Class War Mirrors the U.S.

When it comes to economic inequality, Belgium and the United States have a lot in common. While the U.S. is the world’s second-richest country, Brussels, Belgium is the third-richest region in the European Union. Yet, while the richest 1 percent of the United States captured 95 percent of all gains from the recent economic “recovery” the U.S. still has the second-highest child poverty rate in the world. Similarly, one in three children in Brussels lives in poverty.

The employment picture in the U.S. and Belgium is equally bleak. Youth unemployment in Belgium is 24 percent as of October 2014. In the US, a staggering 12.8 percent of youth are unemployed. While there are jobs available for highly-educated workers in both countries in certain high-tech industries, education is only available to the economically privileged. For most living-wage jobs in the U.S., a prerequisite to consideration is a college degree. However, the average American college graduate is $30,000 in debt upon leaving school, and 18 percent of Americans say they’ll be in debt for the rest of their lives.

In Belgium, there are 112 inquiries for every one job vacancy, and jobs that do pay enough to make a living are unavailable to the country’s vast migrant population. This is largely due to persisting education inequality that leaves Belgium’s immigrants at a crippling disadvantage. A 2012 report from L’appel pour une ecole democratique (APED) analyzed data from the Program for International Student Assessment and found that schools in both Belgium and France ranked behind all other countries in providing equal opportunity for both migrant and native students to succeed. In Belgium, there was a far higher representation of migrant children in underprivileged schools, higher dropout rates, and widespread discrimination against students based on their country of origin.

Likewise in the U.S., a 2012 report by the Schott Foundation for Public Education found that in New York City, black and latino students are four times as likely to be enrolled in understaffed, underfunded schools than white students. The report also found that none of New York City’s highest-performing schools were located in majority black and latino neighborhoods, like Central Brooklyn, South Bronx, and Harlem. Likewise, in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed 54 public schools in mostly poor neighborhoods with a high concentration of black students, while allocating over $300 million to a slush fund that largely benefits his campaign donors. Philadelphia closed 23 schools in low-income neighborhoods while spending $400 million on a new prison. See the pattern yet?

The Escalating Class War in the U.S.

While there’s no call for a general strike in the U.S., there should be, given the austerity budget that just passed Congress. The $1.1 trillion “cromnibus” spending bill that will fund the federal government through next September includes a Christmas wish list for the banks and a stocking full of coal for those who need the most help. $300 million was diverted from Pell Grants to student loan debt collectors, making access to higher education even more of a pipe dream for low-income would-be college students. $300 million was cut from support housing programs that help ease chronic homelessness. Another $93 million was cut from the program that provides food assistance to low-income women, infants, and children. In the meantime, Congress spent $479 million on the F-35 jet, which not even the Pentagon wants, and used taxpayers as the cushion for the big banks whenever the $700 trillion derivatives bubble pops. But the crominbus is just the beginning.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which has been negotiated in secret between government officials and over 600 corporate lobbyists for over a year, is likely to become a reality after the 114th Congress is sworn in this January, and possibly even before then. President Obama may try to fast-track the deal through Congress, meaning it will be put to an up-or-down vote without even a chance for discussion or debate of its contents. The reason the details of the TPP have been so closely guarded and why the process is being rushed is due to the horrific nature of the agreement, at least the parts that have been made available to the public.

If the TPP were put into place, it would effectively make world governments subservient to multinational corporations. It would make it easier for companies like Walmart to ship jobs to Vietnam, where workers are paid half as much as in China, and enable the same hazardous working conditions that led to the collapse of a Bangladesh clothing factory in 2013, or the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York during the Industrial Revolution.

The TPP would also set up corporate tribunals, in which corporations could sue any government over any environmental or labor regulation for infringing on the company’s expected future profits. If the TPP were ratified, any attempt to break up the big banks or regulate toxic derivatives trading would be prohibited, and enable corporations to shift even more profits overseas to avoid paying domestic taxes. The only thing that could affect corporate power after the TPP’s ratification would be a general strike – particularly in the U.S., where a lot of these corporations rely on American customers to buy their products.

General Strikes Give Corporations a Dose of Their Own Medicine

IWW organizer Big Bill Haywood accurately described the relationships between working people and the ownership classes in that workers have “always been taught” to care for the capitalist’s private property, while owners will readily go on a capital strike and shut down a factory or ship jobs elsewhere if anything happens to their profits. A general strike thereby flips the tables on the capitalists, depriving the ownership class of their profits if owners do anything to upset workers’ wages, working conditions, or benefits. In doing so, workers remind owners and political leaders that the performance of the economy is entirely dependent on workers being happy and having their needs met.

General strikes have been used throughout the last century as a means for working people to assert power over the ownership class, in countries from Honduras to Yemen. In 2000, a general strike stopped the Bechtel Corporation from privatizing Cochabamba, Bolivia’s water supply. During the initial popular revolt in Egypt in 2011, before the movement was co-opted by the military, protest organizers successfully organized strikes that cost the Egyptian economy $310 million a day. The April 6 movement that preceded the 2011 uprising successfully organized a nationwide general strike several years before that had similar impacts on the economy.

There’s never been a better time to organize a general strike in the U.S. than right now, with both the corporate owners and political leaders pillaging public resources for their own private gain. If the Trans-Pacific Partnership is ratified, or if the government authorizes another bailout of the big banks with our money, the citizens can choose to either shut down the corporate establishment by depriving it of their labor and purchasing power, or succumb to the global corporate coup. The choice is ours to make.


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