When F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Goes Operational this Summer, it won’t Work any better than 40-Year-Old Thunderbolts
The money-suck known as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will go into service this summer with the Marine Corps with less ground attack capability than the 40-year-old plane it’s meant to replace, Pentagon officials say.
The F-35 has cost nearly $400 billion since the beginning of the program in 2001 and is estimated to cost $1 trillion over its lifetime. However, it won’t have night-vision capability, will be able to carry only two air-to-ground missiles and will be able to stay over a target area for 30 minutes maximum, Michael Gilmore, director of operational test and evaluation at the Defense Department, told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
“If F-35 aircraft are employed at night for combat, pilots will have no night vision capability available due to the restriction on using the current night vision camera,” Gilmore said in written testimony to the committee. In contrast, the 1970s-era A-10 Thunderbolt, known as the Warthog, can remain over a battlefield for up to 90 minutes and augment its four air-to-ground missiles with fire from a cannon in its nose.
“This [F-35 variant] reminds me of something before the A-10, not something after the A-10,” Rep. Martha McSally, (R-Arizona), a freshman lawmaker and former Warthog pilot, said according to Stars and Stripes.
As Congress decides whether to appropriate money to buy more F-35s from contractor Lockheed Martin, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report (pdf) this month that outlines problems with the program. “[E]ngine reliability is poor and has a long way to go to meet program goals. With nearly 2 years and 40 percent of developmental testing to go, more technical problems are likely,” the report said. It also outlined grounding of the F-35 fleet, the need for additional inspections and software failures.
Air Force brass have long coveted more F-35s, to the point of releasing misleading statistics on the A-10 and telling lower-level officers that talking about the Warthog to members of Congress is “treason.”
How those new planes will be paid for is another question. The program will cost taxpayers from $12 billion to $15 billion a year through 2030. Yet the GAO report points out “It is unlikely that the program will be able to receive and sustain such a high and unprecedented level of funding over this extended period, especially with other significant fiscal demands weighing on the nation.”
Despite the late date and billions flushed into the program, some are calling for the Pentagon to bail out of the F-35. “However, we are past that decision point,” Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-California) said. “We just need to make this program work.”
To Learn More:
First Version of F-35s Will Not Outdo A-10 in Battlefield Capabilities (by Travis J. Tritten, Stars and Stripes )
GAO Confirms Increased F-35 Production Is a Terrible Idea (by Mandy Smithberger, Project on Government Oversight)
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: Assessment Needed to Address Affordability Challenges (pdf) (Government Accountability Office)
A Reminder: U.S. Pays One Quarter of Israel’s Defense Budget (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov )
Air Force Doctored Statistics about Friendly Fire and Civilian Deaths to Get Rid of A-10 Attack Jet (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov )
Air Force General Says Talking to Congress about A-10 Attack Jet is Treason (by Steve Straehley, AllGov )
Trillion-Dollar F-35 Jet Fighter Has 13 Flaws (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov )
A Russian government institute has developed a complex program for evaluating the level of corruption, which its authors say is superior to the widely advertised, but very subjective Transparency International index.
The new method will be presented by the Institute of Law and Comparative Jurisprudence at the Eurasian Anti-Corruption Forum this week, the Izvestia daily reported on Monday. It is called the International Corruption Monitoring Program, or MONKOR.
The new index is based on criminal statistics, economic data, opinion polls and analysis of national legislation, one of its authors, Artyom Tsyrin, told reporters. This makes it different from the famous Corruption Perception Index, which is prepared annually by the international NGO Transparency International, he added.
“The Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International only evaluates psychological attitude of responders in polls. As a result, they are making conclusions on desirable institutional changes in the country purely on the basis of sociological studies. We try to find a correlation between actions and effects. It is important to move away from a subjective approach and towards objective research.
Our institute offers a universal tool allowing any willing nation to conduct an evaluation of its anti-corruption efforts and figure out whether the national anti-corruption policy is effective. MONKOR can compare the results in various countries that use its methods,” Tsyrin said.
Despite the fact that MONKOR’s author sees it as an alternative to Transparency International’s index, the latter is used in the Russian method as part of its fundamental data, along with the Word Bank’s country policy and institutional assessment (CPIA) for Corruption. Experts at the International anti-corruption academy and the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) group also participated in the research.
In Russia, the index uses data provided by the Supreme Court, the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s Office. It will also include “corruption market” data provided by the Ministry of Economic Development.
The new index is being tested in Russia and Kyrgyzstan, and talks are being held with Belarus, Kazakhstan and some other nations, Tsyrin told reporters.
Russia’s position in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index has been gradually falling since the mid-1990s. In 2014, the country was placed 136th of 174, a list also including Iran, Lebanon, Nigeria, Kyrgyzstan and Cameroon. The authors of the research emphasized that Russia’s anti-corruption effort was, in their view “chaotic and irresolute.”
Top Russian officials have repeatedly criticized the TI’s approach as biased and politicized. The head of the Presidential Administration, Sergey Ivanov, said that he was “extremely skeptical” about the 2014 index, adding “ratings can be drawn by anyone.” At the same time, Ivanov noted the authorities were closely following serious sociological agencies, including foreign and international organizations.
One such agency is Ernst&Young, which lowered corruption risks in Russia in 2014 and put it below average world levels.
Deputy head of Hezbollah’s Executive Council Sheikh Nabil Qaouq
An official of Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance movement has blasted Saudi Arabia’s bid to silence the group’s vocal opposition to its Yemeni aggression, saying Saudi money could not buy Hezbollah’s silence.
“Those who are waging an aggression against Yemen today have also mistaken their calculations and approach towards Hezbollah,” said the movement’s deputy head of executive council, Sheikh Nabil Qaouq, as quoted in a Sunday report by Lebanese Naharnet news website.
He further suggested that the Saudi regime was attempting to silence the group’s vocal opposition to its aggression against its neighbor adding, “They were betting on our silence and on neutralizing us, but they failed to realize that we do not fear threats and that we cannot be sold or bought.”
According to the report, Qaouq went on to emphasize that “Saudi money” can purchase “countries, the UN Security Council, presidents, princes and ministers” but “cannot buy Hezbollah’s silence.”
The development comes as Hezbollah’s Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and other leaders of the movement are locked in a rhetorical battle with the US-backed Saudi kingdom over Riyadh’s military attacks against Yemen.
“Saudi Arabia can threaten figures, dignitaries, scholars and Arab countries, but it cannot threaten the resistance,” Qaouq said, adding, “Their problem with us is that we cannot be bought or sold and we do not fear intimidation. It also lies in the growing role, status and influence of Hezbollah in the regional equations.”
Saudi Arabia’s air campaign against the Ansarullah fighters of the Houthi movement started on March 26 – without a United Nations mandate – in a bid to restore power to the country’s fugitive former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a staunch ally of Riyadh.
According to reports, some 2,600 people, including women and children, have so far lost their lives in the attacks.
Hillary Clinton was widely quoted telling a handful of Iowans on April 14: “We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all — even if it takes a constitutional amendment.” The Washington Post identified this statement as “one of several pillars of her 2016 presidential campaign.” CBS based its headline for this Clinton story on the quote that this pillar represented one of “four big fights that I think we have to take on.” Her communications director, elaborating on the transcript of Clinton’s spare comments on the subject, added “It’s something she’s really concerned about.”
It is safe to assume that after months crafting the four policy pillars of her candidacy, and the way the message itself was tightly controlled from Iowa, that Clinton’s particular phrasing for her “unaccountable money” pillar was precisely as intended by her campaign team.
The Post’s headline writers and others converted Clinton’s hypothetical statement, “if it takes a constitutional amendment,” into a far more definite “support for a constitutional amendment,” as if Clinton is expected to propose or endorse a constitutional amendment during her campaign.
Slate‘s dog-whistle headline, relying on nothing more than the above quote in the Post, transformed her statement even further: “Hillary Clinton Hints at Support for Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Citizens United.” The Post, and presumably Clinton in Iowa, said nothing at all about Citizens United, let alone support for any “amendment to overturn” it. What Clinton did say is closer to the opposite of either of those two concepts.
Clinton’s statement “supports” not getting all or any part of interested money out of politics, which is what people advocating an “Amendment to Overturn Citizens United” think they are supporting. Clinton is speaking solely about “unaccountable money.” Such money can become fully “accountable” without being excluded from the pay to play system of US politics. Clinton is simply advocating its disclosure.
Under her proposal the embarrassing flood of money into US politics, anticipated to explode even further in her own campaign, will not be stanched. It would be accounted for by disclosing its provenance, which is now often left undisclosed by use of 527s and other IRS conduits. She considerately wants Americans to know who is buying the power to operate their erstwhile democracy against their every interest. There is no assurance that such disclosure would have any significant impact on the pervasive corruption of U.S. politics.
Under systemic corruption, disclosure actually can help circumvent one of the few remaining inconveniences to plutocrats. Plutocrats who feel their “freedom of speech” constrained by new $5 million contribution limits per person per election cycle jointly endorsed by Congress and the Supreme Court can spend as much as they want on “independent” electioneering provided, so the cover story goes, they do not “coordinate” their expenditures with the campaigns. But to buy influence the candidate needs to know who is paying them off. By bridging this inconvenient gap in the system, formal disclosure required for everyone by law is a perfect solution for legalized coordination. Accordingly, disclosure is the reform that Democrats and their allies are selling to their supporters, and the reform the plutocrat justices of the Roberts Court also promote with no fear of significantly upsetting the corrupt political system they maintain.
Where corruption is systemic, Clinton’s proposition that actual “accountability” is even possible, other than in the sense of mere disclosure, is itself highly dubious. When the system requires all competitors to be on the take, disclosure alone fails to create any effective new options for making politicians actually accountable to voters. In this system where the Supreme Court legalizes corruption and the mass media collects a toll to mediate their messages, only the proxies of plutocrats are on offer to voters.
As a lawyer, Clinton must already understand that no constitutional amendment is required to accommodate a legislative remedy for her “unaccountable money” pillar. Laws under the existing Constitution can require all the additional disclosure that she could possibly want. Disclosure requirements for campaign contributions have existed in federal law since the Progressive Era’s Publicity of Political Contributions Act of 1910, 36 Stat. 822. The constitutionality of such disclosure laws has never been doubted.
In Ex Parte Curtis (1882) (8-1) the Supreme Court ruled, without even bothering to argue the point, that the power of Congress to prohibit political corruption outweighs any asserted First Amendment interest in allowing political donations. If the First Amendment argument made by the petitioner in Curtis, and dismissed by the government’s brief as unworthy of serious attention, albeit accepted by a lone dissenter, could not legalize money in politics against a total ban, then certainly requirements that political investments merely be disclosed could have raised no conceivable objection before the Nixon Court reversed the Curtis rule without mentioning it nearly a century later.
The Supreme Court held disclosure laws to be constitutional in Burroughs v. United States (1934) (9-0) when it upheld the strengthened disclosure requirements of the 1925 Federal Corrupt Practices Act. As that Court explained, disclosure requirements are “calculated to discourage the making and use of contributions for purposes of corruption.” This most conservative of any Supreme Court majority prior to the current Roberts 5 resoundingly rejected the very idea that disclosure requirements might be constitutionally invalid, calling the “proposition so startling as to arrest attention.” Quoting from another deeply conservative Gilded Age Court lineup in Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U.S. 651 (1884), the 1934 Court explained that “government … must have the power to protect the elections on which its existence depends from violence and corruption … the two great natural and historical enemies of all republics.”
Later in United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612, 625 (1954) the Supreme Court again expressly approved mandatory disclosure of political investments connected with some actual speech in the context of lobbying. See also National Association of Manufacturers v Taylor (D.C. Cir. 2009) (upholding lobbying disclosure under Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007). Chief Justice Warren held in Harriss that,
the voice of the people may all too easily be drowned out by the voice of special interest groups seeking favored treatment while masquerading as proponents of the public weal. This is the evil which the Lobbying Act was designed to help prevent… Congress… is not constitutionally forbidden to require the disclosure of lobbying activities. To do so would be to deny Congress in large measure the power of self-protection.
Since the outset of the current era of systemic corruption of politics the Supreme Court responsible for making that corruption systemic has nevertheless, without reservation, reaffirmed the same principles. Disclosure was endorsed by Buckley v Valeo (1976), the judicial mother lode for legalizing systemic corruption, and again by Citizens United (2010), the bete noir of all professional activists working the campaign finance silo. When the Roberts Court overturned aggregate limits for political investors in McCutcheon (2014) , Justice Roberts lauded this “less restrictive alternative” which also “given the Internet, … offers much more robust protections against corruption” than ever.
Though the constitutionality of disclosure laws has for a century been of little or no demonstrable utility in preventing the current systemic levels of political corruption, it is nevertheless regularly trotted out in this manner as a cure-all by politicians and other operatives of this corrupt system. Clinton has built her “unaccountable money” pillar on this well-worn tradition, and nothing more. Current disclosure laws are certainly inadequate. But this is because Congress is now too mired in systemic corruption, and the FEC too deadlocked, to enact even tepid and marginal reforms necessary to make disclosure even potentially more effective.
Clinton surely knows the Supreme Court’s historic, consistent, and virtually unanimous, rulings make clear that there is no need for a constitutional amendment to require full disclosure of currently “unaccountable” or “dark” money. She must have spent some tiny fraction of what has been projected to be an over $2 billion campaign to do some elementary initial research and strategy development about one of her expensive campaign’s four basic policy pillars – which she offers as her reason for running. Her issues team must have advised her to use the hypothetical “if” when mentioning an amendment because they know that an amendment is not necessary to accomplish the limited Clinton disclosure agenda. Hypothetical mention of an amendment does helps obfuscate the limited nature of her agenda. Besides, mentioning the Constitution makes her proposal sound more important. Amendment advocacy, however hypothetical in the case of the “unaccountable money” pillar, does help distract constituents’ political energies to futile pursuits, while also deflecting responsibility to others. This is the strategy that has worked for Democrats on the corruption issue.
The rush to enlist Clinton in their cause by the Democrats’ professional activist allies who have committed themselves to an amendment approach suggests that they either do not know, or do not care, that no amendment is necessary to achieve the mostly useless “accountability” for money in politics that Clinton supports. Clinging to their futile amendment approach such activists mistakenly insist there is “no question that an amendment will be needed.” They do not know or care that it would be a counter-productive waste of time to confirm, by constitutional amendment, the validity of general powers of Congress which have never been seriously questioned on constitutional grounds and only recently exalted by the defender of plutocracy himself, Chief Justice Roberts. Presumably at the behest of such mistaken activists, Bernie Sanders has proposed an amendment that does include such a provision that risks not just wasteful but also counterproductive results.
Given the uninformed quality of the constitutional amendments that have been proposed on this subject by Democrats and their professional activist allies, one can easily imagine that an amendment for this purpose, although unnecessary, could well do more harm than good. The close parsing by a hostile Roberts Court of any particular new constitutional text on this subject could be turned on its head to reduce Congress’ current unrestricted authority to mandate all the disclosure of money in politics they may desire.
Clinton’s mention of the amendment should be no surprise. The constitutional amendment idea has been used as a theatrical prop to give cover to Democrats who are mired in the corrupt system as deeply as Republicans. Republicans embrace plutocracy as some surreal 21st century manifestation of the founders concept of “freedom of speech,” a notion formed long before there was a mass broadcast media to be bought for the political propaganda of marketing specialists. Accepting the Republican’s game, Democrats misleadingly propagate the idea that a constitutional amendment is the sole means by which they could limit money in politics. The resulting stalemate from this diversion absolves Democrats’ failure to advance far more effective and available legislative measures. By such deceit about their support for a futile amendment, a majority of Senate Democrats in the 113th Congress were empowered to vote on behalf of Wall Street in December 2014 to increase, by an order of magnitude, the money that plutocrats can give to buy political parties. Democratic support for the “CRomnibus” Act betrayed the notion that Democrats’ professed commitment to “campaign finance reform” meant that they would seek laws mandating less, not considerably more, money in politics. But the betrayal met with little, if any, protest from their activist allies who keep their eyes safely diverted to the futile amendment approach that would not even have stopped Congress from increasing money in politics as they did in 2014 even if it had been adopted.
Amendment advocacy has served to divert attention from corrupt Democrats for five years. The eventual, and inevitable, collapse, on September 11, 2014, of the Democrats anti-”Citizens United” constitutional amendment theatrics caused those professional activists who got the memo to pivot to a new advertising slogan for 2015. Their new advertising campaign promotes disclosure of “Dark Money,” while attempting to make that slogan sound even worse than their “Citizens United” soundbite. This latest piecemeal fad by non-profit fundraisers for what is actually a much reduced new demand ignores Justice Elena Kagan’s koanic axiom: “Simple disclosure fails to prevent shady dealing…. So the State remains afflicted with corruption.” But it serves Clinton’s straddle between disclosure and amendment.
The recent solicitations from political non-profits have reduced expectations so far as to ask that you send them money to help eliminate Dark Money electioneering by government contractors. This is a reform Obama could accomplish on his own, as a matter of seeing that the law are executed, and should have long ago when the subject first arose in 2011. The activists scrambled on board after the New York Times recently approved this approach. This reform would, they say, “unmask major corporate political donors with a simple executive order.” Of all the plutocrats and their corporate agents who make political investments, this reform would only reach the subset of government contractors. Instead of demanding mere disclosure of political investments from government contractors, activists should at the very least demand policies for this subset that would totally abolish political kickbacks from the procurement system. Their demand should be for strengthening and robust enforcement of — while disqualifying any federal contractor that “directly or indirectly … make[s] any contribution …to any person for any political purpose or use” in violation of — 2 U.S. Code § 441c (“Contributions by government contractors”). Demanding mere disclosure in this context, as it usually does, serves to divert attention from more meaningful reform.
Even this anti-corruption best-practice no-brainer for disclosure, let alone disqualifying firms with a history of conflict of interest electioneering expenditures, has been too much for a Democratic President. Obama uses highly contingent and distancing language whenever he mentions money in politics, such as his statement (emphasis added) about: the “need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t revisit it). Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight on the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change.”
The multiple italicized contingencies Obama employed indicate that he understood an amendment to be little more than political theatrics. By mentioning Citizens United, not Buckley, and Super-PACs instead of the whole corrupt system, he slices and dices the problem into its manageable but piecemeal soundbites. As a former constitutional law lecturer and record-setting fundraiser, Obama must know that the independent corporate electioneering legalized by Citizens United had very little to do with Super-Pacs, which are overwhelmingly funded by a handful of rich individuals and their non-profit proxies, with very little (only 12%) coming from for-profit corporations. Moreover Super-Pacs already have adequate spotlights on them from a largely outraged public. If in any event the “amendment process” is expected by him to “fall short,” then exactly what is the “change” that Pres. Obama believes can be obtained by “pressure” that might arise from this failure?
Failure due to misdirection usually depletes energy, causes frustration, and alienates voters, which only relieves the “pressure” on politicians. But Obama presumably knows that. His latest tepid statement, sounding like a bystander to the process of policy making, was that he would “love to see some constitutional process that would allow us to actually regulate campaign spending the way we used to, and maybe even improve it.” This could mean almost anything while committing Obama to nothing. One suspects that Obama’s “love” will not give birth to any effective strategy; nor will Clinton.
By mentioning a constitutional amendment without endorsing anything specific Clinton is doing little more than what Obama and his party has done. In formulating her disclosure pillar, Clinton adopted similar language to, while cleverly promising considerably less than, the commitment made in the 2012 Democratic Party platform: “We support campaign finance reform, by constitutional amendment if necessary.” The rubric of “campaign finance reform” could include disclosure of “unaccountable” money as one tactic. But that would need to be accompanied by a more comprehensive legislative package to accomplish any actual “reform.”
By mentioning a constitutional amendment in this context, although the inadequacy of disclosure laws has nothing to do with the text of the Constitution, Clinton not only blows the dog-whistle for those diverted to that futile approach by professional activists for the past five years, but also prepares a convenient exit for herself from even the truncated “dark money” issue. As one commenter observed, she can “endorse the concept without too many expectations about personally making an amendment happen.” A president has no formal role in adopting an amendment so it serves to shift responsibility for the issue away from her, as it has done for Obama.
Clinton should be asked to disclose her legislative plan, since in fact no amendment is necessary, whether to force disclosures of money in politics, or to enact far more robust prohibitions than any amount of disclosure could possibly accomplish. It is those other, strategic legislative solutions for banning money from politics, such as strengthened conflict of interest recusal rules, and Exceptions Clause or Eleventh Amendment jurisdiction-stripping, that Clinton, along with the Democratic Party, can be safely expected to avoid at all costs.
Democrats using effective strategy to get money out of politics would be even less likely than landing a gyrocopter on the White House lawn by a “showman patriot” would dramatize the issue effectively in the complicit mass media. The Wall Street masters would not consent to any effective strategy to restrain their plutocracy.
Rob Hager is a public interest litigator who filed an amicus brief in the Montana sequel to Citizens United and has worked as an international consultant on anti-corruption policy and legislation.
“Tax day” comes and goes each year, but unfortunately, the systemic issues that plague American taxpayers linger on without resolution well past the mid-April deadline.
The U.S. tax code has long been manipulated by corporate lobbyists and their corporate tax attorneys. (President Jimmy Carter once called the loophole-ridden tax laws “a disgrace to the human race.”) A primary purpose of these perforations is to arrange the law and regulations so that certain categories of profit-rich companies can avoid paying their fair share to Uncle Sam.
In many states, it is a literal race to the bottom for elected officials to offer corporations sweeter tax deals to keep jobs in their locality — see the 2013 Boeing controversy in the state of Washington, in which the aerospace industry, much of which is made up of Boeing, was awarded $8.7 billion in tax breaks over 16 years to produce the 777X jetliner in-state. Notably, Boeing paid zero in federal income tax that year — along with many other major U.S. corporations such as GE and Verizon. Some of these Fortune 500 companies even get a rebate check!
According to Citizens for Tax Justice, “American Fortune 500 corporations are avoiding up to $600 billion in U.S. federal income taxes by holding more than $2.1 trillion” of retained profits offshore, which they designate as “permanently reinvested” to avoid a tax liability.
And of course, millionaires and billionaires often pay less in taxes than middle-class Americans do, taking full advantage of tax loopholes, deductions, deferrals and other forms of creative accounting. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives now intends to pass legislation to repeal the estate tax, which would see that “vast amounts of money that has never been taxed will be passed tax-free to the heirs of today’s billionaires,” according to Scott Klinger of the Center for Effective Government.
The end result is that, through a myriad of tax avoidance schemes, the wealthy 1 percent continue to profit using public resources, subsidies and infrastructure while the 99 percent disproportionately pay the bills for it — all while struggling to pay their own bills, mortgages, student loans, and more. And when Wall Street runs amok, it’s the taxpayers who have paid the bills for the catastrophic damage as a result of regulatory surrender. Millions of these taxpayers also lost their jobs and pensions in the 2008-2009 Wall Street collapse of our economy.
This brings us to the Internal Revenue Service — which has been made into a dirty word to many Americans. Those Americans might be surprised to learn, however, that the current IRS enforcement budget is $10.9 billion, after a cut of $346 million from the previous year. To put that in perspective, Apple Inc. spent $14 billion just to buy back its own stock last year, a move that only serves to provide a meager benefit, if that, to its shareholders, while nourishing executive compensation packages.
The IRS loses an estimated $300 billion a year due to tax evasion. A budget proposal by the Obama administration claimed that the IRS could bring in an additional $6 for every dollar it adds to the enforcement budget. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said that he pushes this very convincing point in Congress to little reception or reaction. “I say that and everybody shrugs and goes on about their business,” he told the AP in 2014. “I have not figured out either philosophically or psychologically why nobody seems to care whether we collect the revenue or not.”
The effects of these budgetary cuts are already being seen. Current staffing levels at the IRS are at 87,000 — the lowest since the early 1980s. The agency lost 13,000 employees from 2010 to 2014 and expects to lose another 3,000 this year. In the final stretch towards April 15, many taxpayers have experienced excruciatingly long waits on hold and long lines at local IRS offices as a result. Congress doesn’t care. (National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, who operates independently within the IRS, detailed this degradation of service in her annual report to Congress. (See taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov.)
Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz has gone so far as to publicly state his intention to abolish the IRS entirely, calling that radical course of action the “simplest and best tax reform.” It’s not clear how Senator Cruz intends the federal government to collect revenue to pay for his presidential salary, the White House budget and expanding his giant military budget if he should be elected and not recover his senses.
It is clear, however, that significant rational tax reform is necessary. What remains unclear is who will benefit the most from such reform. Americans must seriously ask why individual U.S. taxpayers are fronting the money for hugely profitable corporations. These are funds that could potentially be used to repair critical public infrastructure, create decently paying jobs, or simply reduce the tax burden on middle-income individuals.
One solution to ensure that the interests of small taxpayers are accounted for and protected is to establish taxpayer watchdog associations across the country. These organizations would work full-time in each state to make sure that individual taxpayers get the best deal possible. After all, big corporations can afford to support an army of tax accountants and attorneys to continually update the playbook of tactics to avoid having to pay their fair share. Most taxpayers don’t have this luxury. What they do have, however, is sheer force of numbers. Organization of such watchdog organizations could be facilitated by including a notice on the 1040 tax return inviting people to pay a small due and join these advocacy and educational nonprofit groups. These associations would be supported by membership dues and would receive no tax money. The members would elect a board of directors that could hire researchers, organizers, accountants and lawyers.
Such pressure from united citizen bodies would provide the organizational mechanism to enhance the influence of individuals in the tax-collection and policy-making process — something that is much-needed in our current American plutocracy.
A simple motto to consider when asking what we choose to tax is: “Tax what they burn, not what we earn.” Before we place the largest burdens of taxation on workers, we should tax areas that have the greatest potential negative or damaging influence on our economy and our society. Tax the polluters, the Wall Street speculators, the junk-food peddlers, and the corporate criminals. Consider that just a fraction of a 1-percent sales tax on speculation in derivatives and trading in stocks could bring in $300 billion a year! (See robinhoodtax.org.)
If taxpayers really want to protect their interests, they must organize and fight for them. The corporations certainly have the money — but they can’t match the manpower or votes of an organized citizenry.
In the meantime, big corporations on welfare like Walmart, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Pfizer, General Electric, Weyerhaeuser, and ExxonMobile should declare April 15 to be Taxpayer Appreciation Day. The corporate welfare kings should have the decency to, at least, thank smaller taxpayers who pay for all the freeloading that the corporatists have rammed through Congress. (See goodjobsfirst.org for much more on this issue.)
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FDA So Slow to Respond to GAO Recommendations about Secret Food Additives that It’s like not Responding at all
In 2010, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) examined the process used by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for regulating food additives and came up with six ways the FDA could improve this function. Five years later, FDA officials have satisfied only one of the GAO suggestions.
“It’s really clear that we have no basis to make almost any conclusions about the safety of the current food supply,” Laura MacCleery, an attorney with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, told the Center for Public Integrity. “We don’t know what people are eating.”
The GAO report even stated that the FDA’s oversight process does not help ensure the safety of all new food ingredients, and it criticized companies’ ability to use new added ingredients deemed generally recognized as safe (GRAS) without informing federal food regulators.
GRAS came about as a way to exempt simple ingredients in long use, such as table salt, from FDA review after food regulations were strengthened in the 1950s. However more items are added to the list each year as manufacturers use the GRAS list as a loophole to avoid having their products evaluated by the FDA.
The recommendation (“Develop a strategy to help ensure the safety of engineered nanomaterials that companies market as GRAS substances without the agency’s knowledge”) resulted in the FDA issuing a final guidance on nanotechnology last June, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
A second recommendation to develop a strategy to finalize a 1997 proposed rule that defines how companies can voluntarily submit safety determinations to the FDA for a cursory review will be completed by August 2016, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
The GAO’s four other recommendations were:
-Develop a strategy to require any company that conducts a GRAS determination to provide FDA with basic information, including the ingredient’s identity and intended uses, and post the information on the agency’s website.
-Develop a strategy to minimize the potential for conflicts of interest in companies’ GRAS determinations.
-Develop a strategy to monitor the appropriateness of companies’ GRAS determinations through random audits or some other means.
-Develop a strategy to conduct reconsiderations of the safety of GRAS substances in a more systematic manner including responding to citizen petitions in a timely manner.
To Learn More:
Why the FDA Doesn’t Really Know What’s in Your Food (by Erin Quinn and Chris Young, Center for Public Integrity)
Loopholes and Weak Enforcement Lead to Unapproved Chemicals Added to Foods (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov )
35% of Food Additives Deemed Harmless were Evaluated by Manufacturer or Contractor Hired by Manufacturer (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov )
Reading the English-language press these days, one could be forgiven for thinking that Brazil is in the throes of a democratic uprising against a singularly corrupt government, a politically incompetent president, and a floundering economy. Since late last year, the center-left Worker’s Party (PT) government headed by President Dilma Rousseff has been rocked by an ever-widening scandal involving over-inflated contracts and kickbacks to government-allied politicians at the state-owned oil giant Petrobrás. Indignant PT militants—rather than lamenting corruption in a party that once ran on its anti-corruption credentials—have tended to attack the media for highlighting PT corruption after ignoring abuses during the 1995-2002 administration of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, as well as similar scandals in state governments controlled by the opposition Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB).
In part due to the collapse of Petrobrás’s stock, down 67% since the start of September, the Brazilian currency has plunged nearly 40% against the dollar since then. Inflation over the last year has reached nearly 8%, the highest since 2005, inviting Brazilians to nervously recall the hyperinflation of the 1980s and early 1990s. On March 15, nationwide demonstrations organized on social media gathered anywhere from 300,000 to two million protesters in dozens of cities. They brandished signs saying, “Out with the PT!” and demanded Rousseff’s impeachment, although the one-time head of Petrobrás has not been implicated in the kickback scheme and can constitutionally only be impeached for crimes committed during her presidency. In the wake of the demonstrations, the percentage of Brazilians rating her government as “excellent” or “good” dropped to an abysmal 12%, while 64% rated it “poor” or “terrible.” This disapproval rating is the highest for any president since Fernando Collor de Mello’s 68% on the eve of his own impeachment for corruption in 1992. (Incidentally, Collor, now an opposition senator, is one of 47 politicians currently under investigation for their role in the Petrobrás scandal.)
Foreign media outlets have seized on Rousseff’s supposedly lackluster response to the Petrobrás scandal and Brazil’s gloomy macroeconomic outlook to speculate whether the collapse of the PT’s economic and political model, which has relied on cautiously redistributive policies and moderately increased government involvement in the economy, is imminent. Their sense of hope is palpable: “Brazil’s poor turn their back on Rousseff,” one headline gleefully reported on March 16. Another article insisted that the protests’ “cheerfully democratic multitudes” sought contrition from Rousseff for her party’s graft and economic mismanagement, but that the President had so far ignored their indignation. An opinion piece in a British daily expressed hope that “popular dissatisfaction” would persuade Rousseff to take the steps needed to solve Brazil’s economic problems – a reduced role for state credit agencies, increased independence for Petrobrás and monetary authorities, tax reform, brakes on special interests, and increased openness to foreign trade. The New York Times added an editorial on March 20 blasting Rousseff’s foreign policy, which, it suggested, should draw closer to the United States – despite Eric Snowden’s revelations of NSA spying on Rousseff’s communications.
It’s no secret that most foreign correspondents are neither politically well connected nor fluent in Portuguese. Part of the explanation for their bias, then, comes from their dependence upon Brazil’s notoriously one-sided media, owned by a few elite families and corporate groups. The major newspapers are all staunchly anti-government, their reporting on Rousseff’s administration universally negative. The Globo television network dedicated much of its March 15 programming to recruiting attendees for what it called, “peaceful demonstrations against corruption, with women, the elderly, and children asking for democracy and out with Dilma.” Indeed, the Brazilian and foreign press are engaged in an endless echo chamber of self-validation: foreign journalists get their information from anti-government media outlets, which then breathlessly report the foreign “analysis” in order to invalidate their own bias. For example, a March 21 story in the Folha de S. Paulo and Veja reported favorably on the New York Times’ foreign policy editorial. If foreigners say it, it must be true.
Perhaps the most notorious recent example of press bias occurred when Brian Winter, Reuters’ chief Brazil correspondent, interviewed Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Published in Portuguese by Reuters Brasil, the story contained a paragraph admitting that one of the Petrobrás officials involved in the corruption scheme claims that it dated to Cardoso’s administration. The paragraph was followed by a parenthetical note, apparently penned by one of the Brazilian editors, that accidentally remained undeleted: “We can take this part out if you want.” To his credit, Winter didn’t remove the paragraph, but the gaffe shows the inner-workings of the Brazilian branch of an American media outlet, where protecting the opposition and attacking the PT trumps even a casual relationship with the truth. Although the article was hastily corrected (without any indication that it had been modified), it was too late: attentive readers had already posted the gaffe to Twitter, under the hashtag #PodemosTirarSeAcharMelhor.
Amidst predictions of Rousseff’s demise, the mainstream media has consistently downplayed, and occasionally outright ignored, one fact: the social backgrounds of protesters. It is not “the Brazilian people” who are in the streets, but rather a very specific segment of the population whose economic interests are historically opposed to those of the majority. They are largely middle and upper class and, consequently, mainly white. In the 2014 elections they sensed that their time had come to get rid of the PT, only to see their favored candidate, former Minas Gerais PSDB governor Aécio Neves, lose in Brazil’s closest-ever presidential contest. Despite the very real and serious flaws of the current government, this discontent with the PT finds its true source in centuries of elite fear of popular mobilization and a deep resentment of the gains working class people have made since Lula took office in 2003.
Of course, if one asks the demonstrators in the streets why they are protesting, no one will say that it’s because the poor aren’t as poor anymore. Indeed, 44% of demonstrators in Porto Alegre told pollsters that they were attending to speak out against corruption. And, responding to a question that permitted multiple answers, 58% indicated that their greatest disappointment lies with the political class overall, as compared to 44% that identified the PT and 29% Rousseff. A further 78% argued that political parties, including the opposition, should have no role in their movement. Could it be the case that the demonstrations were, in fact, overwhelmingly democratic and targeted primarily at corruption? Several clues indicate that this is not the case.
Although they represented a small minority of demonstrators, a vocal contingent was not satisfied with calls for impeachment. In a chilling scene for those who remember the repression unleashed during Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship, protesters carried signs emblazoned with slogans like “Military intervention now” and “SOS Armed Forces.” A banner in Rio de Janeiro featured a swastika and read, “Armed Forces, liberate Brazil.” Another read (in English), “Army, Navy, and Air Force. Please save us once again of [sic] communism.” “The best communist is a dead communist. Dilma, Maduro, Hugo, Fidel, Cristina, Lula: the world’s garbage.” Their signs were eerily reminiscent of the media’s enthusiastic response to Brazil’s 1964 coup, when the country’s press overwhelmingly cheered the military’s ouster of João Goulart—another mildly-leftist, so-called “communist” president—as a victory for democracy.
Protesters in São Paulo Plead for a Military Coup, March 15, 2015 (Source: Nelson Almeida / AFP)
In response to the pleas for military intervention, a spokesman for Revoltados ON LINE, a grassroots group that helped organize the protests and has 750,000 Facebook likes, commented, “The people asking for [military] intervention want to remove the PT from power. That is the sole focus. The participation of a variety of groups strengthens the group as a whole.” Though a military coup still looks unlikely, it is widely known that many in the military are incensed with the Rousseff administration over the final report of the National Truth Commission, which blasted the armed forces for torture and disappearances during its rule.
If those waxing nostalgic for dictatorships of yore were in the minority, what of the rest of the protesters? Despite attempts to highlight the supposed multi-class composition of the crowds on March 15, they represented, above all, Brazil’s white, university-educated economic elite. As Gianpaolo Baiocchi and Marcelo K. Silva recently pointed out, in Porto Alegre, nearly 70% of protesters were college-educated, in contrast with 11% of the general population, while over 40% belonged to the top income brackets, which make up but 3% of the population. Photographs confirm this; in a country with a high correlation between skin color and economic class, where over half of the population identifies as black or brown, the crowds had a decidedly lighter hue. A viral Tumblr account poked fun at the similarities with the upper-class, yellow-and-green-clad crowds that attended pricey World Cup matches last year by challenging visitors to determine if the photographs posted came from a March 15 demonstration or the World Cup.
Singer Wanessa Camargo performs the National Anthem for a largely white crowd in São Paulo, March 15, 2015 (Source: Vanessa Carvalho / BPP / AGNEWS)
Of course, the fact that the demonstrations largely consisted of white middle- and upper-class Brazilians does not automatically mean that they were anti-democratic. At the same time, it would be a grave mistake to interpret the class composition of the crowds outside the context of Brazil’s historic inequalities of class, race, and region. What does it mean if the majority of demonstrators demanding the ouster of a moderately redistributive center-left party come from the social classes and regions that have least benefited from its policies? What problems do they see with corruption, the PT, or Rousseff that are insufficient to motivate the working classes or people from the impoverished Northeast of the country to take to the streets?
Since the colonial period, political and economic power has been wielded by a tiny European-descended elite, and since the collapse of the Northeastern plantation sugar economy in the nineteenth century, economic power has been concentrated in the Southeast and South, especially in the coffee and industrial powerhouse of São Paulo—today the epicenter of the opposition. An influx of European immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries only heightened the disdain light-skinned, prosperous Southeasterners felt for their mixed-race Northeastern and Northern countrymen and women, and after the 1950s, that prejudice was turned against Northeastern migrants who came to work in the region’s expanding industries. Brazil’s middle class of government bureaucrats, small business owners, and professionals, tied to the landowning and industrial elite by socialization and patronage, has in turn largely identified with elite interests. Whenever Brazilian leaders, be they the populist dictator and later elected president Getúlio Vargas (1930-1945, 1950-1954), or the left-leaning would-be reformer João Goulart (1961-1964), have proposed reforms that would decrease inequality and broaden political representation, they have been ousted by an indignant elite and middle class – at precisely the moments when the minimum wage was growing the fastest.
The leveling results of the last 12 years are striking, if still far short of what Brazil needs to comprehensively address income inequality. In January 2003, the Inter-union Department of Socioeconomic Statistics and Studies (DIEESE) calculated that in order to provide a living wage, the minimum wage should be 6.93 times what it actually was; by February 2015, the ratio had fallen to 4.03. The unemployment rate when Lula took office was 11.2%; today, it is 5.9% (though it has risen from 4.4% in November 2014). At the same time, the gains were not evenly spread out; between 2001 and 2013, the income of the poorest 10% of the population grew at nearly three times the rate of that of the richest 10%. The result was a Gini coefficient that, while still among the highest in the world at 0.527 in 2012, reached its lowest level since 1960. In sum, then, though economic growth between 2003 and 2014 benefited the whole population, it benefited the poor and working class the most, largely as a result of real increases in the minimum wage. As economist Luiz Carlos Bresser Pereira, a cabinet minister under Cardoso, put it, “This hatred [against the PT] is a result of the fact that the government revealed a strong and clear preference for workers and the poor.”
The persistence of prejudice against the poor and Northeasterners manifested itself most clearly on social media in the wake of the 2014 elections—when the Northeast voted overwhelmingly for Rousseff. “These Northeastern sons of bitches need to die in a drought; good-for-nothings, sucking on the government’s teat, ignorant sons of bitches,” read one tweet. “Northeasterners don’t have a brain, they have no culture; it’s the slum of Brazil,” read another. Even former president Cardoso, a one-time leftist sociologist and champion of the struggle against the military dictatorship, grumbled, “The PT relies on the least informed, who happen to be the poorest.” Much like in the United States, in the wake of government efforts to reduce inequality, the wealthy and middle class have reacted with racially inflected charges of laziness, dependency, and ignorance. And so far it has largely been the same social groups who voted for Neves and blasted Northeasterners who have been participating in the demonstrations against Rousseff.
If the March 15 demonstrations expressed the concerns of the middle class and elite, what are the implications for Rousseff’s government? First, despite Rousseff’s dismal approval ratings, the PT’s base of support in the working class and poor is not ready to abandon it. The PT has retained their support through policies like the wildly popular conditional cash transfer program Bolsa Família, the expansion of the federal university system, and race and class-based quotas in college admissions that have yielded tangible improvements in their daily lives. Unless the economy deteriorates to the point where the working class and poor join the demonstrations – and even Brazil’s small leftist press admits that this is not impossible – it’s hard to imagine the protests gaining further traction. Second, despite the common class interests of the demonstrators, a message decrying working class gains is not politically feasible. In the absence of this message, which in fact is the real motivator of the protests, the demonstrators are left in the tenuous position of calling for the ouster of the PT through a legally invalid impeachment, with no agreement at all about, or what should, happen afterwards.
The same groups that organized the March 15 demonstrations are planning another round for April 12. Will they attract working class support? What developments in the Petrobrás scandal might affect their success? Will calls for military intervention become more prominent or fade into the background? One thing remains certain: In the absence of a mass working-class defection from the PT, proof of crimes justifying impeachment, or military interest in a coup, the prospects for a change in government are remote. Yet this is unlikely to dampen the hopes of wealthy and highly educated protesters, who will continue to use corruption as an excuse to protest against the socioeconomic ascension of those they see as their inferiors. As sociologist Jesse de Souza pointedly explains, “What distinguishes Brazil from the United States, Germany, and France, who we admire so much,” isn’t the level of corruption, “but the fact that we accept maintaining a third of the population in subhuman conditions.” The PT governments of the last 12 years made progress toward improving those conditions, but in the process they threatened the Brazilian elite’s deeply ingrained sense of superiority. Whether conscious or not, class and regional prejudice—not corruption—is the driving force behind the demonstrations.
Bryan Pitts is visiting assistant professor of History at Duke University and a Fulbright Scholars postdoctoral fellow at the Instituto de Ciência Política of the Universidade de Brasília (UnB).
Boa Vista – A wrecked plane, discovered on 2 April in a Western region of Venezuela, was carrying nearly a ton of cocaine and was registered with the official fleet of Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office.
Three bodies and 999 kilos of cocaine were found in the Cessna Conquest 441, which crashed on Thursday.
The remains of Norberto Filemon Miranda Perez and Francisco Javier Engombia Guadarrama were confirmed by the Commanding General of Venezuela’s Armed Forces on Saturday.
Miranda Perez, believed to be the pilot, was a regional director of the General Prosecutor’s Aerial Services, a branch of the justice department responsible for investigating federal and state crimes. He held office during the presidency of Felipe Calderon.
The third individual has not yet been identified, though documents naming a Bernardo Lisey Valdez were also found in the wreck.
Built in 1981 in the United States, the aircraft belonged to the Colombian firm Aerotaxi Calamar in the late 1990s, until it passed into Mexican ownership under unknown circumstances, eventually appearing as part of the Attorney General fleet in 2000 under the code XB-KGS.
No records indicating the Cessna’s transfer to private hands have been located, though a photo on jetphoto.com shows what may be the same aircraft in the Benito Juarez airport of Mexico City in 2007, with a new code – indicating new ownership.
According to Venezuelan authorities, the plane may have been downed by military efforts. Information was recorded of a bullet impacting an aircraft of similar characteristics that day, in the nearby region of Apure.
Mexico’s Foreign Ministry released a statement yesterday indicating the government’s intent to collaborate with Venezuelan authorities to uncover the details of the crash.
On March 22, in his Sunday sermon, the Patriarch Philaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate explained to his parishioners in Volodymyrsky cathedral in Kyiv that Ukrainian soldiers who are killing civilians and rebels in Donbas do not transgress God’s commandment “thou shalt not kill”.
Why? Because they are defending their own land against “separatists” who want to join Donbas to Russia. These separatists as well as their masters in Moscow carry inside themselves the root of evil. They do not want to recognize that Donbas is a Ukrainian land and has been for centuries. Donbas villagers speak Ukrainian, said Philaret. These people are the indigenous population of Donbas. Separatists are foreigners, strangers who came from Russia and other republics of the Soviet Union and Russian Empire over the decades and settled on Ukrainian land. Ukrainian land welcomed them gladly. But instead of being thankful for life, for refuge, for bread that the Ukrainian land provided them, these ungrateful separatists want to deliver the land to Russia, a land which does not belong to them. They want to betray Donbas, as Judas betrayed his master, Jesus Christ. Are their actions just? Any intelligent person will answer: “no”. They commit injustices, they go against their own conscience, stated Patriarch Philaret.
His argument is firmly grounded in the present nationalist rhetoric and vision of Ukraine and its history, which caused the conflict in Donbas in the first place. The anti-Maidan demonstrations in Luhansk and Donetsk erupted precisely because Donbas rejected the Ukrainian nationalism which was marching in Kyiv with Bandera portraits and whose adherents were jumping up and down on Maidan Square shouting “Ukraine above all” and “Russians to the knives”.
Philaret claims that Donbas villagers speak Ukrainian. However, from the latest data available on the linguistic portrait of the population of Donetsk region, from the 2001 Ukrainian census, roughly three quarters of the population (74.9%) considered Russian as their native language. One quarter (24.1%) named Ukrainian. The historical trend in dynamics of the linguistic situation in Donetsk region is the gradual increase of Russian as the native language (from 25% in 1898), and the decrease of Ukrainian (from 53% in 1898). Russian constitutes the majority language in all cities of Donetsk region except in the city of Krasnyi Lyman.
As for the ethnic composition of the Donetsk region, Ukrainians constituted almost 57% of the population, while Russians constituted 38%. Among the rural population, over 73% were Ukrainians while Russians constituted around 19%. According to the latest Ukrainian official statistics, dated 2014, out of the total population of 4,343,882 people in the Donetsk region, 3,937,732, or 90.6%, live in cities and 406,150, or 9.4%, live in the countryside.
These data reflect the socio-economic processes of the industrialization of Donbas, which was conducted by the Russian-speaking political and industrial elites of the Russian Empire and of the Soviet Union, and of the Russian workers who migrated massively from Russian cities during the period of intensive industrialization of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and during the period of Soviet industrialization boom of the late 1920 and 1930s.
The Ukrainian rural population of Donbas, to which Patriarch Philaret refers as “indigenous” residents of Donbas, are descendants of Zaporizzhia Cossacks and peasants of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and of Russia who were fleeing from serfdom in the 16th and 17th centuries into the Donetsk steppes–the huge territory known as the Dyke Pole (Wild Steppes). The Dyke Pole abounded in game and fish. Being under the control of Crimean Khanate, it was a frontier, a buffer zone between nomadic cultures of Tatars, Nogai, Krymchaks and other tribes and agricultural settlements of the Dnieper regions to the west of Donbas.
There were also other Cossacks, the Don ones, who belonged to the Don Cossack Host, established in the 16th century and allied with Russia (while the Zaporizzhia Cossacks were subordinated to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth). In 1648, the Zaporizzhia Cossacks, led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky, launched a massive rebellion against their Polish overlords which was supported by the peasants of the region. They declared an independent Cossack Hetmanate. The rebellion led to the Treaty of Pereyaslav of 1654 which brought most of the Ukrainian Cossack state under Russian rule.
In modern Ukraine, the Zaporizzhia Cossacks became one of the stepping stones of Ukrainian national identity. Meanwhile, the Don Cossacks preserved their separate regional and cultural identity within contemporary Russia and Ukraine. Their historical area of settlement (part of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in Ukraine, and in Rostov and Volgodrad regions in Russia) cut across borders between Russia and Ukraine.
This short excursion into history shows how problematic is the depiction of Donbas as a “Ukrainian land” in nationalistic, fundamentalist terms. Throughout Soviet times, Donetsk region remained a region in which Russian language and culture predominated. In independent Ukraine, Donbas has always been known for its orientation towards Russia and the use of Russian language in all spheres of public life. Ukrainian essentialist nationalism inspired by the legacy of Stepan Bandera and the OUN-UPA (Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists, and Ukrainian Insurgent Army) has never been mainstream in Donbas. In fact, not even Russian nationalism was accepted. If there is an “ism” that can describe Donbas identity, it is “regionalism” and “internationalism”. Kiev’s criminal reluctance to recognize this is at the root of the current civil conflict in Ukraine.
Patriarch Philaret’s categorizations of Donbas residents as “indigenous” Ukrainians and alien “Russians” is racist and dangerous. Who will decide who is “indigenous” and who is not? If you were born on this land, are you “indigenous”, even though your parents come, say, from Voronezh or Moscow? How many generations of “pure” Ukrainians are required in the ancestry line of Donbas people before they may claim their land to be theirs? And who will consider those claims and grant them legitimacy?
All the tragedies of ethnic cleansings through history stem from the fatal, reductionist link between nation and land. The Donbas conflict is but one of them. Ukrainians from all over Ukraine, including residents of Donbas, are fighting other Ukrainians, so-called pro-Russian separatists, because these “separatists” do not want to define themselves in exclusive terms as belonging to a glorious Ukrainian nation. These “pro-Russian” Ukrainians want to retain their economic, cultural and family ties with Russia, and they want to be able to speak Russian in all spheres of life. Patriarch Philaret used to be one of those Russian-speaking Ukrainians.
Philaret’s secular name is Mykailo (or Mikhail) Denysenko. He was born in 1929 in the village of Blagodatnoye, Amvrosievskiy district, Donetsk region in Ukraine. Denysenko studied at the Odessa Orthodox Seminary and later at the Moscow Theological Academy. In his second year at the Academy, in 1950, he took monastic vows under the name of Philaret and was appointed the warden of Patriarchal Chambers of the Trinity Sergius Lavra, the most important Russian monastery and the spiritual centre of the Russian Orthodox Church. Philaret’s clerical career was quite rapid and successful. After holding “executive” positions such as archbishop Luzhsky and Dmitrovsky and rector of the Moscow Theological Academy, Philaret was elevated to the rank of archbishop of Kyiv and Halych, Exarch of Ukraine (in simple secular terms, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate). That also made him a permanent member of the Holy Synod, the highest governing body of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1968, he became a metropolitan (a rank above archbishop and below patriarch, having authority over the the bishops of a province).
In May-June of 1990, after the death of Patriarch Pimen, Philaret became the locum tenens of the Patriarchal throne during the preparations of the Council of Bishops to elect a new Patriarch. Philaret himself was one of the three candidates to the Patriarchy. According to several bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Philaret had high hopes to become the head of the Russian Orthodoxy because he had long-standing and close connections in the Central Committee of the Communist Party and in the KGB, which controlled to a large extent the activities of the Orthodox Church, as it controlled the whole society. However, the times had changed. Perestroika and glasnost destroyed the power of the Communist Party and Philaret’s hopes were not realized. On June 7, 1990, The Council of Bishops elected Alexy II (Rideger), the metropolitan of Leningrad and Novgorod, as the new patriarch. He was the first patriarch in Soviet history to be chosen in a democratic vote: by secret ballot, without government pressure and candidates being nominated from the floor.
According to Metropolitan Onufriy, Archbishop Ionaphan and other members of the high clergy of the The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOCH), Philaret loves power and the money that comes with it. He is also a vainglorious person. His defeat in the election to the Patriarch offended his pride and he decided to try and withdraw the Ukrainian Church from the jurisdiction of Moscow, although until that time he had always been an ardent advocate of one, undivided church.
Upon his return to Kyiv from Moscow in June of 1990, Philaret called an assembly of Ukrainian bishops which under his close control and authority elected him as the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. No alternate to him was presented. The assembly of Bishops also sent an address to Patriarch Alexy II asking him to grant the Ukrainian Church independence and autonomy in governance, which Alexy II accepted in October of 1990.
Patriarch Alexy II also sent a letter to the Ukrainian government announcing that the Russian Orthodox Church (ROCH) henceforth waived its right to property and assets which it possessed in Ukraine or which had been confiscated by the Soviet regime. The UOCH was declared the successor of the ROCH.
On November 2, 1990 in Kyiv, the first assembly of the UOCH convened to adopt a new Statute of the Church. Philaret, having taken as the basis the Statute of the ROCH, made several amendments in order to solidify his personal power: henceforth, the primate of the church was elected for life, and nominees for the post could only come from among Ukrainian bishops. The Holy Synod, consisting of permanent members, was abolished.
The Patriarchate in Moscow received numerous complaints about Philaret’s unholy style of life. According to these complaints, Philaret broke his monastic vow by living with a wife and children. His wife was not shy, standing beside her husband during masses in the Volodymyrsky Cathedral in Kyiv and intervening directly in the everyday matters of the church.
Philaret knew that he could be excommunicated. Only by leaving the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church could his position be saved. So he made a final decision to create an autocephalous (independent) Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The time was propitious. After the adoption of the “Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine” by the Verkhovna Rada on August 24, 1991, Ukraine was preparing for a referendum on independence on December 1, 1991. The head of the Presidium of the Verkhovna Rada, communist Leonid Kravchuk, who would become the first president of Ukraine, formulated the idea of an “independent church for an independent state”. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church which was still affiliated with the ROCH, was the “hand of Moscow” in Ukraine and could not fulfill this role. Philaret found a powerful, loyal ally in his campaign to separate Kyiv from Moscow.
On November 1, 1991, Philaret convened the Council of Ukrainian Bishops at which he declared that since Ukraine was now an independent state, it needed an independent church. Kyiv should therefore demand complete independence from Moscow and accept the creation of a Kyiv Patriarchate.
By threats and pressure, Philaret pressed forward in order to obtain a complete independence from Moscow. However, the majority of priests and parishioners were against the separation from the Moscow Patriarchate. In many parishes, monasteries and theological schools, committees in defense of canonical orthodoxy were created.
On January 23, 1992 at the Council of Ukrainian bishops, a new address to the Holiest Patriarch was adopted which stated that the ROCH was deliberately delaying the question of the autocephaly and that the examination of the “calumnies” directed at Philaret by the Synod of the ROCH was an attack on Ukrainian independence.
The Holy Synod requested that Philaret and the episcopacy of the UOCH reconsider the demand for autocephaly as it had provoked deep schisms among parishioners. The question of the full canonic independence of the UOCH was submitted to the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church for their consideration.
The Council took place in Moscow from March 31 to April 5, 1992. Ninety seven bishops were present, including 20 from Ukraine. Metropolitan Philaret gave a speech in which he again requested independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox church. A discussion followed, the results of which were surprising: the Russian bishops as well as a majority of the Ukrainian bishops spoke against the full autonomy of the UOCH, mainly because in this case it would be left alone in the struggle against the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (Uniates) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOCH). The majority of Ukrainian bishops disavowed their signatures on the address of January 23, explaining that they were coerced to sign, fearing retaliation from Philaret and Ukrainian government authorities. Only six out of 20 Ukrainian bishops voted in favor of autocephaly.
It was noted during the deliberations that the granting of autonomy and independence in governance to the UOCH in 1990 had only produced negative results. It did not heal the schism in Ukrainian Orthodoxy. Metropolitan Philaret had used the granted autonomy to consolidate his own personal power and to intimidate those who did not agree with him. It was also proposed that Philaret be replaced as the primate of the Church since there were few supporters of the independence of the UOCH and the campaign for its independence was based exclusively on Metropolitan Philaret’s personal ambitions.
The Council of Bishops sent an epistle to pastors and parishioners in Ukraine, explaining to them the Council’s vision of how the question of autocephaly should be resolved: through a peaceful, measured, competent, and pious discussion, without violence, extremism or political pressure.
Philaret said he agreed. He promised in front of the whole Council to resign upon his return to Kyiv. He also asked the Council to let the Ukrainian episcopacy hold an election for a new primate. The Council thanked Philaret for his long-standing service at Kyiv chair and wished him success at another chair.
The Council also noted that the clergy and the faithful in Ukraine were split in the question of autocephaly: the idea was popular in the West but not supported in the East. The whole issue would therefore be discussed at the next Сouncil of the ROCH.
Upon his return to Kyiv, Philaret declared that he had suffered persecution at the hands of the Council of Bishops. He said he was forced to give the oath to resign, and because it was forced it was not valid. He refused to resign and declared he would lead the Ukrainian Church until the end of his days. He declared he “was given by God to the Ukrainian Orthodoxy”.
After several vain attempts to admonish Philaret, the Synod of the ROCH appointed the eldest in ordination, Metropolitan Nikodim Rusnak, to convene the Council of Ukranian Bishops in order to accept Philaret’s resignation and to elect a new primate.
Nikodim wrote a letter to Philaret, asking him to call the Council and not to split the church. Philaret did not answer.
Instead, Philaret gathered in Kyiv his few supporters for a conference. It declared bishops who did not ally with him to be traitors of the people of Ukraine. He asked Kravchuk and the Ukrainian state to support Philaret’s UOCH at that historic moment when the Moscow Patriarchate was threatening and committing non-canonical actions against Philaret. Not a single bishop of the UOCH was present at the Kyiv conference.
On May 27, 1991, 17 out of 20 Ukrainian bishops gathered in Kharkiv. They changed the Statute of the UOCH by removing two amendments made by Philaret – namely, the provision that the primate is elected for life and is selected exclusively from Ukrainian bishops. After that, they proceeded to elect a new primate. During the deliberations, Metropolitan Nikodim, who was presiding, was called several times to the phone. As he said later, on the line were people from the entourage of President Kravchuk, asking him not to go against Philaret. If he did, the UOCH would be deprived of state support.
The Council of Bishops elected Volodymyr (Sabodan) as Metropolitan of Kyiv and of all Ukraine.
Philaret declared the Kharkiv Council non-canonical and stated that bishops had seceded from the church and could not speak in its name.
On June 11, 1992 in Moscow, a council of bishops of the ROCH was called expressly to examine the case of Philaret. He was invited three times to be present but he never showed up. A statement, signed by 16 Ukrainian bishops, was presented to the council. In the process of examination, all the accusations against Philaret were confirmed. The Council decreed the defrocking of Mykhailo Denysenko (Philaret) and stripped him of all the degrees of priesthood.
On June 15, 1992, ignoring the fact that the state has no right to intervene in church internal affairs, the Presidium of the Verkhovna Rada declared that the decision of the Khakriv council was illegal and non-canonical.
The ROCH informed all the autocephalous Eastern Orthodox Churches of what had happened. Philaret also addressed the churches, stating that he did not consider himself guilty in absentia of the accusations by the Kharkiv and Moscow councils of bishops. Heads of all Eastern Orthodox Churches congratulated Volodymyr as the new Metropolitan of the UOCH and supported the expulsion of Philaret.
The latter found himself in complete isolation on behalf of the canonic Orthodoxy. He decided to ally with the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOCH), which until then he had denounced as sectarian and schismatic. On June 25-26, 1992 at a “unifying” council in Philaret’s office, where several bishops of the UAOCH, deputies of Verkhovna Rada, and service staff of the office were present, a decision was made to dissolve the UOCH and UAOCH and to fuse its real estate, finances, and assets into one property of a newly created Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate. Patriarch Mstyslav of the UAOCH, who was living in the United States at that time, did not even know that the UAOCH was declared dissolved by the decision of Philaret and Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk.
Patriarch Dymytriy of the UAOCH, who had worked during his entire life for the creation of a Ukrainian autocephalous orthodox church, wrote later that Philaret caused a tragic schism in Ukrainian Orthodoxy. He had allied with Kravchuk, an ideologist of atheism who was afraid that the UAOCH would dominate in Ukraine. Together, the two created a so-called “church” to suffocate the faith of the Ukrainian people, as they had worked together before to kill the faith of the “Soviet people”. Patriarch Dimitry stated that Philaret only pretended to be a believer, driven in reality by money and glory.
Patriarch Philaret managed to create a “pocket”, official church that would cater to the needs of the Ukrainian State. Patriarch Philaret, a fervent patriot, is preaching in Volodymyrskyi Cathedral, the heart of Ukrainian Orthodoxy, which he took away from the UOCH. He preaches to his parishioners, Ukrainians, that to kill is not a sin when you kill a “separatist”, a fellow Ukrainian who does not share your vision of Ukraine. But when a citizen is blinded by a powerful and all-encompassing, official propaganda machine, of which Patriarch Philaret is an integral part, how can he or she see a Ukrainian in that Donetsk or Luhansk “separatist”? If that “good” Ukrainian is hesitating to kill, it is because he/she has a weak soul and does not understand that killing in defense of “your” land is not killing at all. Donetsk and Luhansk insurgents are claiming just that: they are defending their land from a Kyiv army that came uninvited and with arms.
Patriarch Philaret is well known for his militaristic statements and actions. In early February 2015, he visited Washington DC to lobby the US government to send arms and troops to Ukraine. In cooperation with the UOCH, headed by Philaret, in October of 2014 in Dnipropetrovsk, two local organizations opened a ‘Christian school of snipers and fire training of patriots’, in which atheist military instructors are teaching the believers of various confessions– kids and adults–how to use an air gun. In January 2015, he proclaimed that those who are avoiding conscription to the Ukrainian army are committing a sin and are not patriots of Ukraine.
Neither is the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate, Patriarch Onufriy, a patriot, stated Patriarch Philaret in October of 2014. Why? Because Patriarch Onufriy and his church are calling on all sides of the conflict to stop fighting and conclude peace in Ukraine. Patriarch Onufriy states that it is not the Church’s role to designate who is responsible for killings, it is the courts’ role. Patriarch Onufriy refuses to collect funds for the Ukrainian army. His church works for Moscow, retorts Patriarch Philaret.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate, headed by Philaret, is not recognized by other canonical Eastern Orthodox churches, including the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). It is strongest in the centre and in the west of Ukraine and has but a weak presence in the east and in the south of the country. According to the 2011 data of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) remains the biggest in Ukraine. It has 12,340 parishes, 191 monasteries and employs 9,922 clerics. By contrast, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate has 4,482 parishes, 49 monasteries and 3,088 clerics.
During the Euromaidan movement and in its aftermath, there have been numerous attacks on the orthodox churches of Moscow Patriarchate by supporters of the Kyiv Patriarchate, including armed ones. These attacks follow the sermons of the schismatic Patriarch Philaret, who preaches that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is the servant of Moscow, non-patriotic, which in the logic of war means it is an enemy. Forget that this “enemy” shares the same faith and country with you. Your spiritual guide has already forgiven you the sin of killing.
To be continued.
Halyna Mokrushyna is currently enrolled in the PhD program in Sociology at the University of Ottawa and a part-time professor. She holds a doctorate in linguistics and MA degree in communication. Her academic interests include: transitional justice; collective memory; ethnic studies; dissent movement in Ukraine; history of Ukraine; sociological thought. Her doctoral project deals with the memory of Stalinist purges in Ukraine. In the summer of 2013 she travelled to Lviv, Kyiv, Kharkiv and Donetsk to conduct her field research. She is currently working on completing her thesis. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko (RIA Novosti )
Russia’s top law enforcement agency has launched a criminal case against 11 US DEA officers, alleging they are complicit in a sting operation that ended in the detention and trial of Russian citizen Konstantin Yaroshenko.
The Investigation Committee – special agency for serious and high profile crimes – reported on Monday that its branch in South Russia’s Rostov Region has launched criminal cases against 11 US citizens and four Liberian citizens over charges of kidnapping, with use of violence or threats of violence. Additional charges include forcing a person to testify in a criminal process using intimidation or torture. In Russia, these crimes are punished with prison sentences of up to 12 and eight years respectively.
A US court sentenced Konstantin Yaroshenko to 20 years in 2011 for allegedly participating in a conspiracy to smuggle drugs to the United States. He was arrested in Liberia following a sting operation and handed over to the US, despite protests from Russia and violations of the diplomatic code. The pilot himself has always maintained his innocence, saying his poor command of English prevented him from understanding the nature of suggestions leveled at him by undercover DEA agents.
Yaroshenko and his relatives have repeatedly maintained the whole scheme was organized by US special services in an attempt to extract evidence against Viktor Bout – another Russian citizen illegally extradited to the US and sentenced after another sting operation.
Russian diplomats have repeatedly criticized the arrests and trials of both Yaroshenko and Bout. They say it’s an example of biased US justice based on fabricated charges.
In 2014, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued an official warning to all citizens who travel abroad, especially to countries that have extradition agreements with the United States. “The US administration makes a routine practice out of hunting for Russian citizens in third countries, with subsequent extradition and conviction in the USA, usually over dubious charges,” the document read.
A $416 million program to empower Afghan women may leave them “without any tangible benefit” instead, a government watchdog warned, urging USAID to provide more data on the controversial project.
The Promoting Gender Equity in National Priority Programs – Promote, for short – was announced last November as part of US reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Its stated intent is to empower some 75,000 Afghan women between the ages of 18 and 30 to become political, business and civil service leaders, and engage girls ages 14 through 18 in “leadership development programs.”
However, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) warned that the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has not shown what the program would actually do, provided for adequate safeguards and controls of the contractors involved, or even accounted for half the funding Promote is supposed to receive.
“I am concerned that some very basic programmatic issues remain unresolved and that the Afghan women engaged in the program may be left without any tangible benefit upon completion,” John F. Sopko wrote in a letter to the USAID acting administrator, made public Thursday.
“I do hope that we are not going to fall again into the game of contracting and sub-contracting and the routine of workshops and training sessions generating a lot of certificates on paper and little else,” Sopko said, quoting the words of Afghanistan’s First Lady, Rula Ghani, from a November 2014 conference.
Though his staff was briefed on Promote in late February, Sopko wrote, “USAID could not provide the audit team a list of all the agency’s projects, programs, and initiatives intended to support Afghan women, or how much the agency spent on each effort.”
“USAID was also unable to provide data demonstrating a causal relationship or correlation between the agency’s efforts to support Afghan women and improvements in Afghan women’s lives,” he added.
In October 2014, USAID announced the award of five-year, “indefinite-delivery/indefinite quantity” contracts for Promote to three companies: Chemonics International, Development Alternatives and Tetra Tech. According to the agency, USAID would provide $216 million for the program, while another $200 million would come from unspecified foreign donors.
The SIGAR is questioning the basis of this estimate, since USAID failed to produce any supporting documentation, including any memorandum of the understanding between the three contractors and the Afghan government.
“Of this $416 million, how much will be spent in Afghanistan on Afghan women, and how much will be spent on security and overhead costs for the three contractors and program implementers?” the SIGAR asked. Sopko also raised the issue of USAID’s “sustainability plan,” asking whether any steps were taken to ensure the program survived past the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
US Senator Robert Menendez has pleaded not guilty to 14 federal charges of corruption.
The New Jersey Democrat was indicted on Wednesday on bribery and conspiracy offenses in connection with an ongoing investigation into his unlawful dealings with Salomon Melgen, a Florida doctor and longtime political donor.
A bribery charge is among the most serious accusations of corruption the federal government can make.
Menendez pleaded not guilty in Newark court on Thursday.
The senator, who has held his seat since 2006, was charged with accepting nearly $1 million in gifts and campaign contributions from Melgen in exchange for political favors.
He will have to turn over his passport, according to multiple reports.
“Prosecutors at the Justice Department don’t know the difference between friendship and corruption and have chosen to twist my duties as a senator and my friendship into something that is improper,” Menendez said during a brief press conference on Wednesday.
Menendez is the first US senator to face federal bribery charges since 1980 when Harrison A. Williams Jr., another New Jersey Democrat, was indicted as part of the federal corruption investigation known as Abscam.
Menendez is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a key voice on Capitol Hill to call for increased sanctions against Iran.
Melgen, who was also named in the incitement, pleaded not guilty Thursday.