Education is the foundation of political change. In this section we provide news and information from organizations and independent media outlets free of corporate and government propaganda. In particular, these groups focus on the fifteen core issues that define today’s national and global crises. We also provide some tools and resources for you to become part of the growing movement of citizens’ media.

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Trump Officials Overseeing Health Care Overhaul Previously Lobbied For Health Insurance Firms

Michael Nagle/Bloomberg/Getty Images

By Lee Fang for The Intercept – THE POLITICAL APPOINTEES tapped by President Donald Trump to oversee federal health care programs — including the potential transition to a new Republican bill to replace the Affordable Care Act — joined the government just after working as lobbyists and attorneys for the largest health care interests in America. Several senior Health and Human Services Administration appointees previously worked for insurers seeking to influence the consumer regulations mandated by the ACA, according to new political appointee financial disclosures obtained by The Intercept. The appointees work closely under HHS Secretary Tom Price — a former member of Congress and longtime ACA opponent who has pushed his old colleagues on the Hill to repeal the ACA. Eric Hargan, the nominee for deputy secretary at HHS, and Paula Stannard, Price’s senior counselor, previously worked in the lobbying and government affairs departments of their respective law firms, Greenberg Traurig and Alston & Bird. Hargan and Stannard both disclosed serving health insurance giant UnitedHealth as a client. UnitedHealth, which prompted worries about the ACA’s tenability when it exited most of the health exchanges that underpin President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform law, has lobbied the federal government on a number of issues.

How The US Armed Terrorist Groups In Syria

Free Syrian Army fighters in Saqba, a suburb of Damascus (Photo: Freedom House / CC-BY-2.0)

By Gareth Porter for The American Conservative – Three-term Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a member of both the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, has proposed legislation that would prohibit any U.S. assistance to terrorist organizations in Syria as well as to any organization working directly with them. Equally important, it would prohibit U.S. military sales and other forms of military cooperation with other countries that provide arms or financing to those terrorists and their collaborators. Gabbard’s “Stop Arming Terrorists Act” challenges for the first time in Congress a U.S. policy toward the conflict in the Syrian civil war that should have set off alarm bells long ago: in 2012-13 the Obama administration helped its Sunni allies Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar provide arms to Syrian and non-Syrian armed groups to force President Bashar al-Assad out of power. And in 2013 the administration began to provide arms to what the CIA judged to be “relatively moderate” anti-Assad groups—meaning they incorporated various degrees of Islamic extremism. That policy, ostensibly aimed at helping replace the Assad regime with a more democratic alternative, has actually helped build up al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise al Nusra Front into the dominant threat to Assad.

Is There A Western Plot To Overthrow Assad?

VBIED attack on women and children.

By William Van Wagenen for The LIberatarian – The Western narrative of the Syrian conflict, which began in the Spring of 2011, suggests that the Syrian people began to peacefully protest for an end to the Assad regime, which then responded with brutal oppression; killing, imprisoning and torturing innocent Syrian civilians in an effort to maintain power. In time, Syrian soldiers defected from the army (because they refused orders to shoot peaceful protesters), began to arm themselves, and created the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to fight the regime. The West then began to support the Syrian rebels, in an effort to protect civilians and allow Syrians to realize their aspirations for democracy and freedom. The Syrian government of course rejects this narrative, claiming instead that it has the support of the majority of Syrians, and is in fact the victim of a “conspiracy” or “plot” by the Western powers to support “terrorists” in an effort to overthrow it. While Western journalists at times report on claims of such a plot by Syrian officials, the tone of such reports is always from the perspective that that these claims are regime propaganda meant to justify the killing of civilians.

The Company Behind Dakota Access Pipeline Has Another Big Problem In Ohio

A protester waves an American flag as an activist approaches the police barricade with his hands up on a bridge near Oceti Sakowin Camp on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Photographer: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

By Catherine Traywick for Bloomberg – The year began with optimism for Rover. The 2016 election landed friends of Energy Transfer in high places. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry was a company director before he became Energy secretary. President Donald Trump is a former shareholder. After just two weeks in office, Trump cleared the way for the Dakota Access pipeline, which was stalled for months amid protests from Native Americans and their supporters. In that case, Energy Transfer needed a single approval to complete construction — a federal easement allowing it to drill beneath a lake near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. For Rover, the hold-up stems from mishaps that have prompted federal regulators to look closely at Energy Transfer’s conduct before allowing work to finish. Hint of Trouble The first hint of trouble came last year, when Energy Transfer disregarded a FERC recommendation and razed the 173-year-old Stoneman House in Carroll County, Ohio. The agency used the demolition as a basis for denying Rover a blanket construction permit, forcing Energy Transfer to seek federal approvals at virtually every stage of construction. With that restriction, FERC approved the project in February, and Energy Transfer undertook an aggressive construction push. In a matter of weeks, workers cleared 2,918 acres of trees along 511 miles of the pipeline’s route, finishing just in time to beat bat-roosting season, which would have halted work. The company said it’s hired 13,000 workers over the past four months.

US Implicated In Brutal Torture In Lebanon

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By Maggie Michael for AP News – MUKALLA, Yemen (AP) — Hundreds of men swept up in the hunt for al-Qaida militants have disappeared into a secret network of prisons in southern Yemen where abuse is routine and torture extreme — including the “grill,” in which the victim is tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire, an Associated Press investigation has found. Senior American defense officials acknowledged Wednesday that U.S. forces have been involved in interrogations of detainees in Yemen but denied any participation in or knowledge of human rights abuses. Interrogating detainees who have been abused could violate international law, which prohibits complicity in torture The United Arab Emirates and Yemeni forces run a secret network of prisons where prisoners are brutally tortured. The U.S. has questioned some detainees, and have regular access to their testimony — a potential violation of international law. (June 21) The AP documented at least 18 clandestine lockups across southern Yemen run by the United Arab Emirates or by Yemeni forces created and trained by the Gulf nation, drawing on accounts from former detainees, families of prisoners, civil rights lawyers and Yemeni military officials.

Are Demands On Qatar By US Arab Allies A Sign Of Coming Attack On Iran?

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By Staff of BBC News – The stakes have just been raised, dramatically. The sanctions imposed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and others two weeks ago had failed to produce the result they wanted. Qatar has remained defiant, rejecting their accusations and pulling in help from Iran and Turkey. The list of demands now being made are humiliating for Qatar – closing its flagship TV channel Al Jazeera, for example, would spell an end to a 21-year drive to put Qatar firmly on the global media map. Some Gulf commentators believe these demands may be just a starting point for negotiations but the Saudi and UAE governments are in no mood for compromise. They don’t trust Qatar’s word. So if there really is no room for manoeuvre on the demands that would leave only two courses: total capitulation by Qatar and its return to the Gulf Arab fold, as a meek and much reduced national figure; or a defiant Qatar expelled from the GCC and quite possibly becoming a dependent ally of Iran’s. Qatar’s critics may yet regret what they have started.

US 1% Will Control 70% Of Wealth By 2021

America’s oligarchs are set to maintain their grip on the majority of the country’s wealth, with a new study claiming that they will control 70 percent of national wealth by 2021. (AP/Vadim Ghirda)

By Whitney Webb for Mint Press News – America’s rich just won’t quit getting richer, according to a new study released in mid-June by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a global management consulting firm. The study, which seeks to analyze the global wealth management industry, as well as the evolution of private wealth, uncovered some startling statistics that suggest that global financial inequality will grow significantly by the year 2021. The firm found that the already massive gap between the world’s wealthy elite – the approximately 18 million households that hold at least than $1 million in assets – and everyone else is continuing to widen at a remarkable rate. The estimated 70 million people who make up these households were found to control 45 percent of the world’s $166.5 trillion in wealth. And in just four more years, it is estimated that they will control more than half of the world’s wealth, despite representing less than 1 percent of the world’s current population. However, while rising inequality is a global phenomenon, it is especially pronounced in the United States. While wealth inequality in the U.S. is by no means an unknown phenomenon, the U.S. is significantly more unequal than most other countries, with the nation’s elite currently holding 63 percent of the private wealth.

Price-Gouging Rx Companies To Get $28 Billion Tax Break In GOP Health Plan

Newly leaked TPP text "is clearly intended to cater to the interests of the pharmaceutical industry," writes Dr. Deborah Gleeson in her analysis. (Photo: ep_jhu/flickr/cc)

By Will Rice for Americans for Tax Fairness – Pharmaceutical companies are among the biggest offshore tax dodgers. Three drug firms—Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Merck—are among the top 10 American corporations stashing earnings offshore to avoid U.S. taxes. Pfizer (maker of Celebrex, Lipitor, and Viagra) alone has some $200 billion in profits parked offshore, much of it presumably in tax havens. Gilead Sciences and Amgen each has around $37 billion offshore, apparently all of it in tiny nations where little or no tax is due. (American corporations owe U.S. taxes on all their worldwide profits each year, but a giant loophole lets multinationals indefinitely delay paying on profits booked offshore.) A big chunk of Gilead’s stashed profits came from hepatitis cures priced so high that hundreds of thousands of patients went untreated even as the federal government was laying out billions of dollars a year for Gilead’s drugs. Last year, Pfizer tried to renounce its American identity in order to dodge $35 billion in U.S. taxes, even though it’s prospered here for over 150 years and gets about a billion dollars annually in federal contracts.

Three Way Conflict Between Kurds, Shia And Sunni Arabs In Syria

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By Nauman Sadiq. the ethnic and sectarian conflict in Syria and Iraq is actually a three-way conflict between the Sunni Arabs, the Shi’a Arabs and the Kurds. Although after the declaration of war against a faction of Sunni Arab militants, the Islamic State, the US has also lent its support to the Shi’a-led government in Iraq, but the Shi’a Arabs of Iraq are not the trustworthy allies of the United States because they are under the influence of Iran. Therefore, the US was left with no other choice but to make the Kurds the centerpiece of its policy in Syria after a group of Sunni Arab jihadists overstepped their mandate in Syria and overran Mosul and Anbar in Iraq in early 2014, from where, the United States had withdrawn its troops only a couple of years ago in December 2011.

New Cracks In Russia-gate ‘Assessment’

The Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin: Did the Russians hack U.S. election databases? (Yahoo News photo illustration, photos: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters, Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters, AP, AP)

By Robert Parry for Consortium News – At the center of the Russia-gate scandal is a curious U.S. intelligence “assessment” that was pulled together in less than a month and excluded many of the agencies that would normally weigh in on such an important topic as whether Russia tried to influence the outcome of a U.S. presidential election. The Jan. 6 report and its allegation that Russia “hacked” Democratic emails and publicized them through WikiLeaks have been treated as gospel by the mainstream U.S. media and many politicians of both parties, but two senior Obama administration intelligence officials have provided new information that raises fresh doubts about the findings. On Tuesday, former CIA Director John Brennan told the House Intelligence Committee that only four of the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies took part in the assessment, relying on analysts from the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the oversight of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Brennan said the report “followed the general model of how you want to do something like this with some notable exceptions. It only involved the FBI, NSA and CIA as well as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

New Inhumane Record: One Person Displaced Every Three Seconds

After three days on the road, South Sudanese refugees arrive at the newly constructed Gure Shembola Camp in Ethiopia. Credit: UNHCR/Diana Diaz

By Staff of IPS – ROME/GENEVA, Jun 20 2017 (IPS) – Nearly 66 million people were forcibly displaced from their homes last year, the United Nation refugee agency has reported. The figure equates to “one person displaced every three seconds – less than the time it takes to read this sentence, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports, stressing the “very high” pace at which conflict and persecution is forcing people to flee their homes. The report Global Trends, which as been released ahead of the World Refugee Day on June 20, marks a jump of 300,000 since the end of 2015. “By any measure this is an unacceptable number,” said UN High Commissioner Filippo Grandi, urging “solidarity and a common purpose in preventing and resolving crisis.” Grandi also called for properly protecting and caring for the world’s refugees, internally displaced and asylum-seekers – who currently number 22.5 million, 40.3 million, and 2.8 million, respectively. The Biggest Refugee Producer. According to the report, Syria remains “the world’s biggest producer of refugees” with 12 million people living in neighbouring countries and away from the region. There are 7.7 million displaced Colombians, 4.7 million Afghans and 4.2 million Iraqis.

Are Robots Keeping Wages Low?

In this Aug. 21, 2015 photo, a man works amid orange robot arms at Rapoo Technology factory in southern Chinese industrial boomtown of Shenzhen.
AP Photo/Vincent Yu

By Jesse Ferreras for Global News – It used to be the case that when employers had trouble hiring, wages would increase in places with low jobless rates. Then came the rise of machines. These days, employees aren’t being paid much more than they were in the past, a BMO economist said in a report released on Friday. In a report titled “Wage Against the Machine,” economist Sal Guatieri looked at the effects of robots and automation on wages using data from the U.S. and the OECD. Hourly compensation per hour in the U.S. grew “smartly” in 2015, he wrote, but since then it has “barely kept pace with inflation.” Colorado and North Dakota, he noted, have “some of the lowest jobless rates and slowest wage gains in the country.” Wages could still grow, Guatieri said. But he went on to say that the national jobless rate only hit 4.3 per cent or less twice in the last 50 years: first, between 1965 and 1970, and second, between 1999 and 2001. The cost of labour went up in both of these periods. But now, “new automation is working its way up and down the skills’ chain,” and threatening more jobs than it used to. Previously, robots threatened jobs in industries such as manufacturing, transportation, office support and retail. Now, they’re inching into tasks that involve thinking.

Companies Can Either Make Things Or Make CEOs Rich

(Photo: Funny Solution Studio / Shutterstock)

By Sam Pizzigati for Other Words – Making breakthroughs for consumers is hard, companies have found. But making fortunes for CEOs is easy. Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric since 2001, is retiring. The 61-year-old will be making a well-compensated exit. Fortune magazine estimates that Immelt will walk off with nearly $211 million, on top of his regular annual pay. Immelt’s annual pay hasn’t been too shabby either. He pulled down $21.3 million last year, after $37.25 million in 2014. But Immelt’s millions don’t come close to matching the haul that his predecessor Jack Welch collected. Welch’s annual compensation topped $144 million in 2000. He stepped down the next year with a retirement package valued at $417 million. What did Immelt and Welch actually do to merit their super-sized rewards? What did they add to a GE hall of fame that already included breakthroughs like the first high-altitude jet engine (1949) and the first laser lights (1962)? In simple truth, not much at all. “We bring good things to life,” the GE ad slogan used to proudly pronounce. Not lately.

Nevada Governor Vetoes Bill Banning Private Prisons

Image by sobyrne99 via Wikimedia Commons and is licensed under CC BY 2.0
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By Beryl Lipton for Muckrock – After signing up for 200 private beds, the state leaves open the option of contracting even more. Nevada’s move to ban for-profit prisons was struck down at the finish line last week when Governor Brian Sandoval vetoed a bill that would have prohibited their use by the state law enforcement, citing the possibility that for-profit prisons have a larger role to play in managing the state’s incarcerated population. Assembly Bill 303 would have provided the Department of Corrections five years to renovate existing facilities, allowing for out-of-state and private prison use in the interim, before eliminating the state’s relationships with the for-profit operators. In his statement on the veto, Governor Sandoval pointed to an encroachment on the authority of the executive branch as well as the possibility that overcrowding in the state’s facilities may require the option of utilizing private prison beds out-of-state. Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno, D-North Las Vegas, a former corrections officer, introduced AB 303 and reportedly worked with the Nevada Department of Corrections to deal with concerns that implementation would be too costly. The state is currently operating at over 183 percent capacity, well over emergency levels.

Former FCC Commissioner: Net Neutrality Is A First Amendment Issue

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai speaks during the 2017 NAB Show in Las Vegas on April 25, 2017. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

By Michael Winship for Moyers & Company – In just a few short months, the Trump wrecking ball has pounded away at rules and regulations in virtually every government agency. The men and women the president has appointed to the Cabinet and to head those agencies are so far in sycophantic lockstep, engaged in dismantling years of protections in order to make real what White House strategist Steve Bannon infamously described as “the deconstruction of the administrative state.” The Federal Communications Commission is not immune. Its new chair, Republican Ajit Pai, embraces the Trump doctrine of regulatory devastation. “It’s basic economics,” he declared in an April 26 speech at Washington’s Newseum. “The more heavily you regulate something, the less of it you’re likely to get.” His goal is to stem the tide of media reform that in recent years has made significant progress for American citizens. Even as we rely more than ever on digital media for information, education and entertainment, Pai and his GOP colleagues at the FCC seek to turn back the clock and increase even more the corporate control of cyberspace.