Two Americans who've been imprisoned in Iran for more than two years after being snatched while hiking on the Iran-Iraq border have been convicted of espionage and sentenced to eight years in prison, CNN reports. One is Shane Bauer, an investigative reporter who has contributed pieces from the Middle East for the Christian Science Monitor, the Nation, New America Media, and Mother Jones.
Espionage can carry the death penalty in Iran, but the judgment against Bauer was nonetheless unexpectedly harsh, coming not long after senior Iranian officials had suggested the men might be released as a humanitarian gesture during the current holy month of Ramadan. The New York Times reports that Ali Akbar Salehi, the foreign minister, was quoted by local media as saying he hoped the end of the trial would lead to their freedom.
Bauer, his fiancée Sarah Shourd, and his friend Joshua Fattal, all young graduates of the University of California-Berkeley, were arrested in July 2009 while hiking the scenic border region between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran. Theories differ on how exactly the arrest took place: The three may have accidentally crossed the border, or they may have been snatched while inside Iraq. Shourd, who suffered health problems in prison, was released on $500,000 bail in September 2010.
Iran has not presented any evidence that the hikers were spies. "I want to be perfectly clear: Sarah, Shane, and Josh have never worked for the US Government," President Barack Obama said in a July 2010 statement urging their release. The detention has drawn broad condemnation from the international community, including Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations.
There have been reports that Iran has been seeking to swap the hikers for some of the 10 Iranians that it says are jailed in the United States, and some have suggested that the harsh sentence could be a move to up the pressure. The sentence also comes after a recent letter to President Obama from 92 US senators urging sanctions against Iran's central bank to thwart the country's nuclear weapons program.
Judging from Iran's conflicting statements about the hikers, its leaders seem uncertain how to manage the standoff. In May 2010, the government in Tehran permitted the hikers' mothers to visit, though photos of the teary reunion served only to ratchet up international opposition to the detention. The families of Bauer and Fattal, who haven't yet commented on the sentence, advocate for their release through the website freethehikers.org, and you can follow the story on Twitter via the hashtag #ssj.
The producers of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps couldn't have staged better coda: During the meet-and-greet following Texas Governor Rick Perry's appearance at the New Hampshire Politics and Eggs breakfast this week, a mysterious man approached Perry and apropos of nothing said, "Bank of America. We will help you out." Then he silently moved on.
Politico's Ben Smith identified the exec as James Mahoney, Bank of America's director of public policy. A bank spokesperson told Smith that the only "help" Mahoney was offering was nonpartisan policy expertise. But Mahoney is also chairman of the bank's New Hampshire PAC, which doles out political cash.
The interaction takes place at precisely 40 minutes:
If presidential candidates were elected based on how well they rewarded their political donors, then Texas Governor Rick Perry would lead the pack. Since 2001, more than a fifth of the $83 million in campaign donations received by Perry have come from his past and present political appointees. In 2009, the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washigton cited his administration's rampant cronyism in naming him to its "Worst Governors" list. A recent analysis of Perry's 150 largest political donors by the LA Timesfound that more than half of them received hefty business contracts, tax breaks, or appointments from the governor. Here are ten Perry supporters who've been handsomely repaid for their patronage:
Bob Perry: America's largest individual political donor, the Houston-based homebuilder has given $2.3 million to Rick Perry, making him the governor's leading money man (the two Perrys aren't related). In June, 2003, Rick Perry helped push through a bill creating the Texas Residential Construction Commission, ostensibly a watchdog for unethical homebuilders. In reality, the agency was created with the help of Bob Perry's lobbyist, John Krugh. Shortly after receiving a $100,000 check from Bob Perry, the governor appointed Krugh to the TRCC's board of directors. Consumer groups fought back and got the agency abolished in 2009.
Harrold Simmons: The reclusive buyout king has amassed $5.7 billion from garbage collection, drug stores, metals, and chemicals, making him the 55th richest American. In 1995, he set about converting an isolated patch of land in West Texas into a nuclear waste dump. In part, that's meant dumping $1.2 million in campaign cash on Perry. Though three staffers with Perry's Texas Commission on Environmental Quality resigned rather than approve the waste dump, it was ultimately green-lighted by TCEQ executive director Glen Shankle, who left the agency a few months later to work as the dump's lobbyist. In January, a commission stacked with Perry appointees gave the dump permission to accept nuclear waste from around the country.
David Nance: In 2009, the founder and chairman of Convergen LifeSciences Inc, a tiny biotechnology firm, applied for a $4.5 million grant from Texas' Emerging Technology Fund, a sort of public-sector venture capital fund. When the grant was denied, Nance appealed the decision to a Perry-appointed statewide advisory committee (of which Nance had once been a member), the Wall Street Journalreports. The committee ruled in favor of Nance, who has given more than $100,000 to Perry's campaigns since 2001. But that's not all. Perry also appropriated $2 million in state funds to a business-services nonprofit, Innovate Texas, which pays Nance a six-figure salary but does not have a working phone number, the Journal reports.
Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim: In March 2008, the owner of the Pilgrim's Pride poultry company met with Perry and soon after gave him a $100,000 donation for the Republican Governor's Association, which Perry chaired at the time. Less than a month later, Perry asked the Environental Protection Agency to waive ethanol standards that Pligrim believed would drive up chicken feed costs. Pilgrim later donated $25,000 to Perry's political action committee and footed the bill for him and three aides to fly to Washington, DC, to speak out against ethanol.
Kenneth Lay: In 2001, Rick Perry appointed an Enron exec to chair the Texas Public Utilities Commission, and the next day, Perry got a $25,000 check from Lay. As Molly Ivins mockingly pointed out, Perry "explained this, to everyone's satisfaction, as being 'totally coincidental.'"
B.J. "Red" McCombs: The San Antonio Clear Channel billionaire, who contributed nearly $400,000 to the governor, is the primary financial backer for a Formula One racetrack to be built near Austin. The state has pledged $25 million a year in subsidies to support the project, the LA Timesreports.
Mike Toomey: Perry's former chief of staff earned up to $2.2 million last year as a Texas-based lobbyist. He owns a private island in New Hampshire with Dave Carney, Perry's campaign manager. In 2007, Perry signed an executive order requiring all teenage girls in Texas to take a vaccine manufactured by Merck, one of Toomey's lobbying clients (the legislature eventually repealed the order). Toomey is now creating a Perry-focussed super-PAC, Make Us Great Again.
Phil Adams: A college friend of Perry's who gave his campaigns at least $314,000, Adams was a backer of Terrabon Inc, a Houston company that received a $2.75 million grant from Perry's Emerging Technology Fund. Perry also appointed Adams to a coveted post on Texas A&M University's Board of Regents (other regents who aren't Perry supporters say they've been pressured to resign). Adams has returned the favor by giving the Perry family free tickets and transportation to basketball and football games.
James Leininger: The state's largest political donor during much of the 1990s, Leininger gifted Perry's campaigns at least $264,000, in addition to a $1.1 million loan that's credited with putting him over the top in a 1998 race for lieutenant governor. Leininger is an investor in Gradalis Inc, a Dallas biotechnology firm that received $1.75 million from Perry's Emerging Technology Fund, the Dallas Morning News reports.
James Dannenbaum: Donated more than $320,000 to Perry's campaigns and received multiple transportation contracts from the state. His company, Dannenbaum Engineering, was implicated last year in an FBI investigation of El Paso officials who'd swapped political donations for county contracts, according to the El Paso Times. In 2007, Perry appointed Dannenbaum to the University of Texas Board of Regents.
The Primary, tall and flinty with a graying goatee, has decided he's in the mood for shopping, a development that's got David Perez all worked up. I'm sitting with Perez in a Chevy Silverado in downtown Santa Monica. A fit ex-Marine, Perez is in charge of the Primary's six-man protection detail. For 20 minutes, we've been waiting around in a grocery store parking lot, but now the Primary has parked his Porsche 911 Carrera at a shopping strip nearly a mile away. Though Perez already has three "countersurveillance" experts on the scene, he's antsy to join them. His client has a stalker, whom one of the team members had spotted earlier. The Silverado crawls through glacial traffic. "You're driving like an old lady!" Perez barks. "Catch the green!"
Perez and his partner Mike Gomez, a bodyguard resembling The Sopranos' Silvio, finally track down their client at a Barnes & Noble. Two of the countersurveillance guys go back to scouting for menaces, while Perez and Gomez, both of whom are trained sharpshooters and martial-arts experts, step in as the Primary's "close protection" team. Shoppers stare at the entourage, straining to recognize someone famous.
The men form a barrier around their client as he stops to watch a street-magic act, browses racks at Armani Exchange, wanders in and out of a Hooters and past a Gap. And that's when everything goes haywire. The stalker sprints around a corner, trailed by one of the countersurveillance guys. He lunges at the entourage. Gomez wraps the Primary in his beefy arms and yanks him away. The other agent intercepts the assailant mid-lunge and pins him against the wall with his elbows. "He's out of play," says the Primary. The agent and the stalker untangle their arms and laugh.
It's well known that the death of America's labor unions coincides with a staggering rise in income inequality, though the link between the two has never been as obvious as it seems. Many academics argue that unions play a relatively minor role in the equation, instead blaming educational disparities and the shifting makeup of the economy. But now comes a major new study from Harvard sociology professor Bruce Western that suggests that the decline of unions is as important as any other factor, explaining a full third of the growth in of income inequality for male workers.
The loss of labor unions explains a full third of the growth of inequality for male workers
Western and co-author Jake Rosenfeld, a sociology professor at the University of Washington, looked at the period between 1973 and 2007, when inequality in hourly wages spiked by 40 percent. During that time, union membership for private-sector male workers fell from 34 percent to 8 percent (female workers were never as unionized as their male counterparts). Their paper in the August issue of the America Sociological Review concludes that deunionization's biggest effects on inequality were indirect:
1) The threat of unionization caused non-unionized employers to raise wages; that threat disappered along with unions.
2) Unions occupied a bully pulpit; knocking them off left the moral case for equality vulnerable to attack. (What do you mean Viacom's CEO isn't worth $85 million?) 3) Workers lost their Washington lobbyists, and with them, any hope of winning political battles for better wages and benefits.
These ideas are nothing new. Kevin Drum ably explores them in his March/April Mother Jones essay, "Plutocracy Now." Yet the Harvard study bolsters them with a rigorous regression analysis of census data, showing empirically what many pundits have long suspected. "Our study underscores the role of unions as an equalizing force in the labor market," Western says. If only proving their importance was as easy as figuring out how to replace them.