April 25, Issue #136 Part 1
HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER
This newsletter/calendar, published in New Paltz, N.Y., appears once a month, supplemented by additional listings of new activist events, usually sent to Valley readers only. Editor, Jack A. Smith (who writes all the news articles that appear without a byline or credit to other publications). Copy Editor, Donna Goodman. Calendar Editor, Rocco Rizzo. If you know someone who may benefit from this newsletter, ask them to subscribe at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you no longer wish to receive the newsletter, unsubscribe at the same address. Please send event listings to the above email address.
1. McCAIN COULD WIN, YOU KNOW — Unless the Democrats come up with a substantial program to help working people at this time of high prices, low wages and recession after decades of government neglect, their anticipated post-Bush easy triumph may not be so easy. And while Clinton and Obama cut each other down, the Republican nominee is getting an easy ride from much of the mass media.
2. CLINTON, OBAMA AND ANTIWAR DEMOCRATS — A huge majority of Democratic voters want peace but their party remains aloof toward the antiwar movement and its two contenders for the nomination do not support swift, total withdrawal.
3. BUILD THE ANTIWAR MOVEMENT — Peace sentiment remains high in the U.S., but the movement may need a booster shot in the arm to compete with the elections.
4. THE VIETNAM ERA PEACE MOVEMENT — It had its ups and downs.
5. THE RECESSION MAKES HARD TIMES WORSE — The downturn is occurring just when increases on basic necessities are rampant, and when the standard of living for poor, low income, and middle income households has already experienced a steep decline. (Part 5 of a series on economic inequality in the U.S.)
6. WHO'S JOINING THE U.S. VOLUNTEER ARMY? — The Pentagon thinks draftees are unreliable in aggressive wars, so it seeks low-income young people, many of whom volunteer in hopes of obtaining job training and money for college tuition. They are actually economic conscripts.
7. MASSIVE RHETORICAL RETALIATION — Is Hillary Clinton actually Dr. Strangelove in disguise? Her remarks about obliterating Iran sure sound like it.
8. NEWS NOTES — Doctors support national health care; Beware of Americans bearing gifts; Debt collectors thrive in Buffalo, NY, for now; Poll: Pessimism reigns in the U.S.
9. CHECK IT OUT — A selection of articles and videos from the Internet that will be of interest to progressives.
10. CUBA'S INTERNATIONALISM — 2008 marks the 45th year that Cuba has been sending doctors and other health workers around the world to aid poor countries.
The Activist Calendar was sent to Hudson Valley readers April 15. They will receive an update in a couple of days, including several May Day events. Readers outside the Valley can access calendars and articles sent to that list only, along will material sent to the national list, on the web at http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com/.
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1. McCAIN COULD WIN, YOU KNOW
It is hardly likely that reporters representing the corporate mass media will ever question John McCain as harshly and petulantly as did ABC TV's Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos when grilling Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during their Philadelphia debate April 16.
Most readers have either watched the debate or heard the howls of protest from liberal Democrats. Can you image George Bush — perhaps the most obnoxious American political figure in modern times — being picked apart in that fashion before or during his failed presidency? He was an open target and the mass media never took aim.
The right wing still thunders disingenuously about the "liberal media," but conservatism essentially rules the air waves and printing presses, and its reportorial minions are paid to discredit the leading Democratic candidates by any foul means necessary.
In most cases this results in continually focusing on trivia, scandal, and trash in place of objective political analysis — Sen. Obama's supposedly "elite" view of the white working class, or Sen. Clinton's "Bosnia" exaggeration are just the latest examples. The media justify this by claiming it is what interests the masses, without acknowledging its role in creating such vacuous entertainments as part of the process of "dumbing down" the American people to better manipulate them.
At first Clinton was the main right wing target but it switched to Obama when he assumed the lead, replete with innuendoes about his patriotism and preposterous hints that he is a Muslim militant in mufti. And, although it seems the pre-election campaign has been going on for a century, it's still the beginning. Just wait until the right wing has a nominated Democrat to disembowel.
In truth, however, the Democrats have been making it easy for the conservatives. Look at the way they have been ripping into each other. Clinton has been somewhat worse than Obama because she is a degree to his political right and feels it proper to liberal-bait him because of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, or red-bait him for his passing acquaintance with a former member of the Weather Underground, or anti-Semite-bait him because of Louis Farrakhan's endorsement (support which Obama earlier repudiated, of course).
Although Clinton is a center-rightist and Obama is a centrist, both their broad political programs are quite similar — and in many cases their election promises will be put aside once either of them enters the White House. The war will go on, U.S. foreign policy will remain dedicated to world domination, the rich will get richer, the poor poorer. That's why we always have and always will support a left third party.
At the same time, either Clinton or Obama will be an improvement over ultra-right warmonger Bush or rightist warmonger McCain. In recent decades, we've always thought of the Democrats as Republicans Lite, and as such they will give labor a better break, though never what it deserves. They will talk about an economic program to help the workers but in the end it will be a token. They will still cater to the corporations and the rich but not to the flagrant degree of their GOP counterpart. The erosion of civil liberties will slow down though hardly stop. They will be better, but wobbly, on abortion rights and gay rights. We cannot comment on Obama's popular call for change and unity because its meaning, if any, has never been explained.
As absurd and counterintuitive as it seems after eight unforgivable years of the Bush Administration, there is a chance the Democrats may lose to Sen. McCain. He is, after all, the darling of the press corps, which reflects the view of much of the corporate media that will play so important a role in electing the next president. But that isn't the only reason an upset right wing victory is possible.
The Bush Administration, representing exclusively the interests of big business and wealth, has knocked the wind out of the great majority of the American people — the poor, the working class/lower middle class and even a sector of middle-middle (if we may so casually designate those on the lower end of the upper-middle class). But a cautious center/center-right program of Republican Lite, which both Clinton and Obama are offering the working people of our country, is completely uninspiring and inadequate to their needs at this extremely difficult period for a majority of the American people. (See the article below — "Inequality in America, The Recession Will Make it Worse.")
Working families need better jobs and a higher income; they need decent housing that isn't going to be foreclosed; they need single-payer universal healthcare; they need much better schools and the ability to send their kids to college without going bankrupt; they need more leisure time and better sick leave policies, such as European workers enjoy; they need family-oriented workplaces and paid time off to take emergency care of sick children or elderly parents; they need a much higher minimum wage; they need unions to protect their rights, and this means getting rid of onerous anti-labor laws going back to Taft-Hartley. That's for openers.
We think working people would be attracted to such a program given today's long-term economic realities, and that they would come out in droves to vote for it, even if it meant cutting back the war budget and taxing higher incomes to pay for these programs. The Democratic Party, which is almost as distant from social democracy as the Republicans, doesn't seem willing to touch such a political platform with asbestos gloves, and it could hurt them in November.
There's still a good chance the Dems will win, given that Bush's tenure in the White House has positioned the GOP deeply in the Dog House. But the lack of an economic and social program to meet the needs of working people, combined with the awesome power of the corporate media if as likely the dominant sector of big business and capital bloc with McCain, just might send the Democrats to the political Ice House instead.
2. CLINTON, OBAMA AND ANTIWAR DEMOCRATS
About 80% to 90% of Democratic voters seek one of several forms of withdrawal from Iraq — some partial, others complete, some quicker, some slower — and many of them identify with the U.S. antiwar movement and the immediate total withdrawal demand of several of its larger coalitions.
The Democratic Party itself has remained completely aloof from the movement since the war began, evidently from a fear of guilt by association. It has turned its back on both immediate withdrawal and total withdrawal, as have its two contenders for the party's presidential nomination. Both call for phased, partial withdrawal from Iraq, a process that in theory can retain U.S. troops in that country indefinitely.
Sen. Barack Obama does not associate with the U.S. antiwar movement in any way these days, though he spoke at rallies before he was elected a senator in the fall of 2004. He does not criticize the movement, to our knowledge, and has opposed the war from the beginning — though his opposition became far more muted since he entered the Senate.
Sen. Hillary Clinton considers antiwar Democrats to be a problem for the party, and her ambitions. She was challenged in the 2006 primaries in her home state of New York because of her staunch pro-war views, for instance, and peace demonstrators in the state have frequently showed up to picket her appearances. She adopted the semblance of an antiwar position when she began seeking the presidency.
Clinton recently expressed her negative feelings about peace Democrats in a small closed-door fundraiser after Super Tuesday, according to an April 18 article in the Huffington Post based on a tape-recorded account. Here are her words:
"MoveOn.org endorsed [Sen. Barack Obama] — which is like a gusher of money that never seems to slow down…. We have been less successful in caucuses because it brings out the activist base of the Democratic Party. MoveOn didn't even want us to go into Afghanistan. I mean, that's what we're dealing with. And you know they turn out in great numbers. And they are very driven by their view of our positions, and it's primarily national security and foreign policy that drives them. I don't agree with them. They know I don't agree with them. So they flood into these caucuses and dominate them and really intimidate people who actually show up to support me."
Actually, MoveOn — the liberal Internet-based group with an emailing list of 3.2 million mostly Democrats — has supported the war against Afghanistan from the beginning.
Another majority of Democratic voters, though smaller, opposed the Iraq war during the 2004 elections as well, but virtually all the Democrats voted for John Kerry, who supported the war. All told 98% of the voters — Democrats, Republicans and independents — voted in favor of the two pro-war candidates in the last presidential election even though public opinion polls split about 50-50 on the war. Most of the remaining 2% voted for several third party peace candidates, and were roundly criticized by Democrats for doing so.
3. BUILD THE ANTIWAR MOVEMENT
The majority of the American people remain opposed to the war in Iraq, but antiwar demonstrations in mid-March on the all-important fifth anniversary of Washington's invasion were frequently smaller in size than in past years, significantly so in some cases.
This is in contrast to the expansion of peace activism throughout last fall. On Sept. 15, for example, the ANSWER Coalition brought 100,000 demonstrators to the nation's capital to demand the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in a rousing rally and march that culminated in a civil disobedience protest resulting in 195 arrests in front of the Capitol. Various activities by other coalitions and groups continued for several weeks, reaching a climax with nationwide protests on Oct. 27.
But a half-year later, judging by anniversary week actions, it seems the antiwar movement needs a booster shot in the arm if its going to play a major role in the months leading to the November election.
There were more than one thousand peace events in the U.S. March 13-22, an impressive amount. The overwhelming majority of them, of course, were weekly and special anniversary vigils. These vigils are often unsung but they are a strong part of the movement throughout the country. Many are organized by people who have been standing every week for four or five years at a street corner holding an antiwar sign, counting how many cars or people pass by with a thumbs up or a good word, and how many vehicles honk for peace.
The vigils were as strong as ever during the anniversary period, in most cases with a dozen or even two or three dozen people at times. The activists who show up to vigil regularly for years are part of the peace movement's hard core.
But all in all, the crucial big and small city mass protests were frequently not as well attended as they were at previous anniversary marches and rallies. And while some 200 activists were arrested in scattered civil disobedience protests by small groups across the country March 19, it is essential to remember that mass numbers in legal marches and rallies are exceptionally important to building the movement, spreading the antiwar message, and pressuring the government.
The two biggest actions were organized by ANSWER in Los Angeles on March 15, and San Francisco in the late afternoon of March 19, the actual anniversary day. They drew 10,000 and 7,000 protestors respectively, and constituted the centerpiece of anniversary protests in the regrettable absence of a mass event in Washington.
Many marches and rallies took place in scores of other cities, but it seemed to us that the numbers generally were down, occasionally way down.
The March 22 linked-arm demonstration on 14th St. in New York City, organized by United For Peace and Justice (UFPJ), was far smaller than anticipated. This provided the New York Times, which frequently ignores large protests, to publish a sizable article the next day headlined, "A War Protest Falls Short in Manhattan."
Demonstrations took place in Washington all day March 19. Several organizations, including UFPJ, War Resisters League, CodePink, and Veterans for Peace, were among the participants. Police arrested 32 demonstrators in WRL's civil disobedience action outside the Internal Revenue Service building. Another 30 activists were reported arrested outside a congressional office building. In some cases, authorities ignored demonstrators who were sitting down illegally. Up two 200 veterans conducted a spirited march. All told, about a thousand activists took part in the various actions in the nation's capital — a day of some impressive events but scant numbers.
On the same day in San Francisco, hours before the big march, police arrested another 100 or so activists engaging in civil disobedience.
One of the most dramatic events of the anniversary period was the March 13-16 Winter Soldier investigation organized by Iraq Veterans Against the War along the lines of it famous predecessor — originated in 1971 by Vietnam Veterans Against the War. (They identify as "winter soldiers" in reference to Tom Paine's Revolutionary War critique of "the summer soldier and sunshine patriot" who will, "in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country.")
The four-day meeting, which took place at the National Labor College adjacent to Washington in Silver Spring (MD), brought together Iraq veterans from across the country to testify about their experiences and excesses in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hundreds of vets, especially Vietnam era, were in the audience. The Iraq vets' testimony included horrific tales of the frequent mistreatment of Iraqi civilians.
Mass media coverage of the Winter Soldier meeting was virtually nonexistent, however, despite the fact that announcements of the event were received by all the principal newspapers and TV news outlets. The media watchdog FAIR subsequently challenged the New York Times to explain why not one inch of space was devoted to this historic event — and received a deceptive reply. (They "didn't know" about it. See http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=3340.)
While all the groups and individuals who participated in the many fifth anniversary protests are to be applauded for their efforts, it is clear to us from these demonstrations that the peace movement is having problems compared to its feisty performance last fall.
Not all groups agree with this. Election-oriented UFPJ issued a totally upbeat report about the anniversary demonstrations, with the coalition's national organizing coordinator Judith LeBlanc enthusing: “I think people are energized by the elections. People really think we can bring this war to an end. They want to make a statement.”
The notion that the antiwar movement's most important task in 2008 is to elect a Democratic president to end the war is clearly the view of some peace groups, despite the fact that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both refuse to commit to total withdrawal of troops and appear intent upon controlling Iraq and its government indefinitely, with the Pentagon's Iraqi troops serving as the preferred cannon fodder.
Obviously, no one objects to people voting for whom they wish during the few minutes this might take on Nov. 4, but it certainly must not become a substitute for increasingly mass and militant protests against the war throughout the election year — and not just at the Republican convention.
These are challenging times for the peace forces. Let's review some of the problems.
For one thing, a lot of people who voted for the Democrats in November 2006 in hopes they would end the war are getting discouraged because there are more U.S. troops in Iraq today than when the new Congress convened in January 2007. And Congress has done nothing but pass supplementary appropriations to continue the war, as it will do again in a month or two, after the customary rhetoric and excuses.
Mass media coverage of the war has dropped markedly over the years — especially since last fall — and much that does get mentioned routinely echoes Pentagon and White House statements. The press reported on the congressional Democrats and their call for phased, partial withdrawal for the first months of 2007, but lost interest when party leaders allowed the debate to dissipate without issue.
The antiwar movement consists of a catch-all constituency. Many are or have become dedicated peaceniks, beginning with those who took part in the massive September 2002 to March 2003 preemptive protests against a preemptive war. But many also have come to oppose the war primarily because the U.S. does not appear to be winning or because the Iraqis are not doing their part for the war effort after "we gave them the gift of freedom," as Hillary Clinton has said. And there are many others are in between.
Much of this peace community remains firm against the war and wants all the U. S. troops to leave Iraq fast. Another sector undoubtedly feels frustrated by the lack of progress in ending the war, and may tend toward passivity. A further portion is still pinning their principal hopes on Obama or Clinton, much as they did on John Kerry in 2004. And finally, an additional quotient may have been neutralized by the thought that the military "surge" is working and that victory might be possible after all.
All these factors are affecting the peace forces. And then there are the difficulties within the movement itself.
Specifically regarding the anniversary protests, the decision by a majority of groups in the short-lived Year5 coalition to call off a planned mass action in Washington for Saturday, March 15, was counter-productive. Granted they were under pressure from Iraq Veterans Against the War to cancel the protest because IVAW decided that a mass rally in Washington would detract from their four-day event just across the Potomac in Silver Spring, MD.
However, instantly capitulating to IVAW meant ditching the principal activity of the entire anniversary period. ANSWER, which was a key part of the coalition, argued in favor of the demonstration, but lost.
Had this action been permitted to take place, at least 100,000 people would have demanded immediate withdrawal from Iraq in the national capital of the aggressor state on the fifth anniversary of an illegal war. This would have been a powerful boost for the entire movement. And it would have brought more media attention to the unnoticed Winter Soldier hearings, particularly if some of the vets who testified spoke at the rally about the extraordinary meeting their comrades were attending about just across the river.
Perhaps the main problem within the movement is the continuing political split between UFPJ and ANSWER, the two major antiwar organizers of mass national protests.
Both these coalitions have more in common than not. The biggest difference, to speak directly, is that UFPJ supports the Democrats and ANSWER won't support either ruling party because they are jointly responsible for the war. Secondly, while always putting peace first, ANSWER brings in connected progressive issues, such as imperialism and racism, or Venezuela and the Palestinians, or freeing Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Cuban Five. Some like this, some don't. It certainly hasn't reduced the size of ANSWER's mass protests, which are often larger than those of UFPJ.
Both these questions — single-issue vs. multi-issue, and whether or not to support the Democrats — have been debated for several decades in our movement, and in our view they simply do not constitute a justification for refusing to cooperate in occasional mass actions.
Despite differences, ANSWER is willing to unite in action with UFPJ in organizing truly huge protests. But for the last 2 ½ years UFPJ has refused any overtures for tactical unity. If these two organizations joined together to build a spectacularly mass protest in Washington — how about 500,000 to a million people? — every peace group in the country would get behind the effort.
All these considerations, from the election to disunity, seem to be the reasons why the peace struggle seems to have slowed down. Much the same problems developed during the Vietnam war as well, and the movement at that time certainly had its ups and downs. (See the article just below, titled "The Vietnam Era Peace Movement.") In today's case, we think a few things can reinforce the struggle:
First, a good dose of movement unity in practice led by the two major coalitions would go far in strengthening the antiwar forces. They should be encouraged to hold talks about more unity in action.
Second, after five years of this unjust and illegal war, isn't it time for the entire peace movement to hold the Democratic Party's feet to the fire on this issue? Democratic politicians think they have the antiwar vote in the bag no matter what they do, so many of them don't stick their necks out for peace.
Third, all our peace groups should increase their efforts to educate the American people about the issues — the real issues. Even some who oppose the war think its just as a policy mistake, or ineptitude in conducting the occupation, or "Bush's war." Actually it's Washington's bipartisan war — the most recent of many, and the product of a dominant military power seeking to extend and maintain economic and political hegemony throughout the world. Some parts of the movement say this, but too few.
We think these three points — more unity, a demanding stance toward the Democrats, and a frank appraisal of the causes of Americas wars — will strengthen our peace movement.
4. THE VIETNAM ERA PEACE MOVEMENT
[Editor's note: In doing research for updating a contribution to an anthology about the "underground" alternative press during the Vietnam era, I had occasion to obtain a collection of just six months of the editorials I wrote for the Guardian Newsweekly over many years. They are from the first half of 1969 — four years after the first mass protests against the Vietnam war and six years before the war ended in victory for the Vietnamese people and the reunification of north and south Vietnam. Here are a few excerpted paragraphs relating to the problems of the peace movement of the time — Jack Smith.]
January 25: "The National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, the coalition which has presided over the growth-to-relevance of the U.S. antiwar movement, is in serious trouble.... Where has the mass support gone? Why are so many active peace workers no longer showing up at protests? Why are radicals turning away from mobilizations?.... The organized antiwar movement began to decline when its liberal base, never politicized, withered away when the U.S. government undercut its moderate demands with moderate action [including the pledge of gradual withdrawals]. This cannot be permitted to happen again, assuming the antiwar forces grow large enough to worry about a new decline. The antiwar movement must become a consciously anti-imperialist movement. New strategies, new tactics, must be devised in coming months to achieve this objective."
March 3: "The change in administrations has changed nothing in Vietnam except that the imperialist adventure known as Johnson's War has now become Nixon's War." [President Nixon had campaigned as a peace candidate]
June 14 [Written to counteract a trend in the student movement and the broader mass movement to disengage from mass antiwar demonstrations to turn attention to "local organizing"]: "With a few laudable exceptions, the new left is failing its responsibility to Vietnamese national liberation. National SDS's indifference to serious involvement in the antiwar struggle is... reckless.... The war for independence and freedom of South Vietnam is being waged on three fronts — on the battlefields of Vietnam, across the conference table in Paris and by the movement in the U.S. These fronts must be synchronized to produce the swiftest victory possible for the people of Vietnam behind the leadership of the National Liberation Front [which led the struggle in the south]."
June 21: "Nixon has no intention of ending the war any earlier than he is forced to on the battlefield, in Paris and by opposition to the war at home. The struggle against the war at home is now central to a swift people's victory in Vietnam. Nixon thinks he can bluff it out, neutralizing antiwar opposition by engaging in meaningless troop withdrawals."
July 12 [Written in response to a movement sector that wanted to remove any emphasis on imperialism from the overall antiwar effort in order to "broaden" its appeal]: "While imperialism and racism stand, there can be no such thing as peace."
5. INEQUALITY IN AMERICA:
THE RECESSION MAKES HARD TIMES WORSE
Part 5 of 6 articles
The apparent recession in the United States is occurring at an unfortunate moment for the great majority of the American people. Price increases on basic necessities are rampant at a time when the standard of living for poor, low income, and middle income households —including a significant sector of the middle class — have already experienced a steep decline. Now things will get worse.
The ratio of economic inequality in America between the wealthiest 20% of the people and the bottom 80% of the population may reach a new record level as a consequence. The top 20% now possess 84.7% of all assets and wealth in the U.S. The top 5% alone control 58.9%, and the richest 1% command 34.3%. The "bottom" 80% possess of 15.3% of the nation's wealth. The bottom 40% within this total have accumulated 0.2%. That's two-tenths of one percent owned by 120 million Americans!
The number of Americans condemned to poverty — some 37 million at the end of last year — will undoubtedly expand in a downturn. The over 90 million people living in low-income households will increase as well. Poverty households, by government definition, have an annual income of $10,400 or less for a single person, and $22,200 or less for a family of four. Low income households function on an income from just above poverty to just below twice the poverty level. "Twice poverty" — about $21,000 for an individual and $45,000 for a family of four — is considered the commencement of a fair standard of living in the U.S. Middle income for a household of three people is approximately between $39,000 to $78,000.
Currently, about 130 million people in the U.S. are either poor or living between poverty and twice poverty. According to the latest polls, about 72% of Americans earning below $50,000 a year report that their incomes are already falling behind the cost of living.
Seven basic necessities of life — all now under siege — contribute to the well-being and living standards of the American people. They are, in no particular order, housing, food, gas, heating fuel, health care, education, jobs and paycheck. Today's increasing costs and diminished income — soon to be compounded by the downturn — will impact most cruelly those least able to afford higher prices and the prospect of lower income and possible unemployment. Following is a brief status report on each of these basics, after which will be an account of the present difficulties confronting the middle class.
1. HOUSING: Some 20,000 families a week are currently losing their homes due to foreclosure since the housing bubble burst a year ago. The total foreclosures since the crisis began may reach 2 million households by the end of this year, with more expected in the first six months of 2009. Congress is working on a relief package, but the Senate bill passed in April is considered inadequate and is strongly opposed by consumer groups and the labor movement, who claim it amounts to handouts for major corporations. Although house prices are falling, working people and students who rent rooms, apartments or houses are continuing to pay very high monthly charges.
2. FOOD: The price of food is skyrocketing and millions of American families are cutting back on consumption. The consumer cost for selected staple foods was in the double digits in 2007 and will continue going up this year. The Agriculture Department estimates that 28 million Americans will be receiving food stamps by October — the highest number since 1964. (It was 26.5 million in October, 2007.) At least 10 million more people who qualify for the government program will not be served this year, mainly because they are unaware they qualify. (To be eligible for food stamps an individual must earn below 130% of the poverty line and possess very few assets.) Many millions more people will frequent food kitchens for the needy in most cities, but these agencies report they are running short of food.
3. GAS AND HEATING OIL: The costs of gasoline and home heating oil have suddenly reached record high levels. The price of gas could rise to $4 a gallon this summer. Many families are reducing non-essential driving, and lowering the thermostat below the comfort level. A poll conducted in April by the Consumer Federation of America found that 60% of respondents said high gas prices caused them hardship.
4. HEALTH CARE: Costs have been rising for years at over two times the rate of inflation and this is expected to continue indefinitely because the government will not take action. Employer health insurance premiums increased by almost 7% in 2007 and increases are usually passed on to the employees. Private individual and family insurance is more expensive. A private individual policy averages around $5,000 a year; family policies often cost between $13,000-$15,000 a year. And this doesn't count co-pays and deductibles, which have been going up.
The principal cause of personal bankruptcy in the U.S. is unpaid medical bills — by both the insured and uninsured. About 47 million Americans are uninsured. The urban institute recently reported that 27,000 Americans die each year from curable illnesses because they cannot afford health insurance. That's 270,000 people in the last 10 years. New statistics from the government's Health and Human Services Dept. show that that life expectancy for the rich continues to increase over that of the poor. In 1980-82, the rich lived 2.8 years longer than the poor. But in 1998-2000, figures just released show the affluent lived 4.5 years longer. This most deadly aspect of the rich-poor gap is expected to continue widening. Inferior health care is one reason.
5. EDUCATION: Nationwide average tuition costs for four-year public colleges have increased 29% between 2000 and 2006. It's higher in private colleges. The increase for both public and private institutions of higher learning has been about 6.5% a year for over 30 years. There's no letup in sight — and, again, Washington just dithers. During this same time, educational grants have been greatly reduced while educational loans have greatly increased.
The mounting cost of college for students and their families is coming at a time when the absence of a higher education now usually means considerably lower lifetime earnings. A number of jobs that now demand a college degree required no more than a high school diploma or less to be performed satisfactorily just a few decades ago. In 1970, 80% of working people with high school diplomas or less were able to earn a middle income hourly wage or annual salary. In 2006, it's only 48% and falling rapidly. This is because the historic redistribution of income from the working class to the upper class in the last three decades has mainly come at the expense of workers with a high school diploma or less. (See article 6 below: Who's Joining the Volunteer Army?)
6. JOBS: Businesses across the country are reducing work hours or laying off workers. The official unemployment rate has risen to 5.1%, which is not considered excessive in America except by those who are jobless and their families. This figure does not include millions of unemployed workers who are not counted because they have given up after many months or years of fruitlessly seeking work. Among white workers, 4.4% are officially unemployed; among Latinos, 6.3%; among African Americans, 9%. Unemployment is expected to climb measurably in the next months. At the end of March, according to government statistics, some 5 million workers were employed part time because their companies recently reduced work hours or they could not find full-time jobs despite looking.
7. PAYCHECK: In January 2007, weekly paychecks for American workers went up 2.3%. This January, says the Bureau of Labor Statistics, weekly pay went down 1.4% — the beginning of what is expected to become a trend. This amounts to a reduction of $8.31 a week — peanuts to the well off, but food for a day or two to the millions desperately poor in America. The New York Times Editorial Board Blog reported Feb. 25 that "many families face falling real wages and a worsening job market, with little or no savings and little or no spare borrowing capacity…." Many families have also maxed out their credit cards, and others are unable to pay off even a few hundred dollars in card debt. The same newspaper reported April 18 that "paychecks are diminishing just as millions of Americans are finding their access to credit constricted as well. Borrowing against the value of real estate — a crucial artery of household finance in recent years — has been pared back as home prices have plummeted and as banks have tightened lending standards."
Given the importance of the middle class in America's consumer-driven economy, as well as its symbolic value as the supposed gateway to security and the good life, the problems afflicting this broad sector of the population are receiving considerable attention from politicians and key think-tanks this election year.
The political system seeks to soften the immediate impact of the recession but shows no inclination to propose an economic program that strategically benefits working people, any more than it has for some 30 years. "Real median family income more than doubled from the late 1940s to the late ’70s," wrote New York Times columnist David Leonhardt April 9, noting that this was a deliberate government program to enlarge the middle class. "It has risen less than 25% in the three decades since…. [The] modern American economy distributes the fruits of its growth to a relatively narrow slice of the population."
The think-tanks have issued some insightful reports about the deterioration of the middle class. Most are proposing an assortment of liberal reforms, but implementation requires a genuine progressive revival in the United States — and this is not yet on the horizon.
We shall here discuss three such reports, noting that there is no one standard definition of what constitutes the middle class in the United States. (Middle income, noted above, does not necessarily correlate to middle class.) First is "By a Thread: The New Experience of America's Middle Class," issued a few months ago by Demos and the Institute for Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis Univ. Second, "Inside the Middle Class: Bad Times Hit the Good Life," from the Pew Research Center in April. Third, "Movin' On up: Reforming America's Social Contract to Provide a Bridge to the Middle Class," which came out in February from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).
"By a Thread" notes that "The middle class is a social and economic cornerstone of the United States and a symbol of the 'American way of life.' It is also seen as a key part of the engine that drives American prosperity. The middle class provides the skilled workers and consumer purchasing power essential to a strong economy. The quality of life associated with being middle class also fuels aspirations of social mobility."
This study evaluates the household stability of the middle class on the basis of several economic factors: financial assets to provide for security in difficult times, savings, and the prospect of a comfortable retirement; sufficient education to find a good job; income enough to afford decent housing and living expenses; and comprehensive health care for all family members.
On the basis of this "Middle Class Security Index," the study found the following:
• Only 31% of families who would be considered middle class by income are financially secure. That is, "despite falling into the broad range that defines middle class 'income,' fewer than one in three families has the necessary combination of other factors to ensure middle class security."
• One in four middle class families match the profile for being at high risk of slipping out of the middle class altogether.
• More than half of middle class families have no net financial assets whatsoever. Their debts have cancelled them out. The median debt (half above, half below) for middle class families is $3,500. According to recent reports, average household credit card debt in 2004 was $9,000, up from $4,000 15 years earlier, and it is higher now. In most cases, this increase in debt was due to the higher cost of necessities such as health care, medicine, education, etc., not over-consumption and luxuries, as sometimes alleged. Many families are paying 18% of income for debt service; some are paying 40% and more.
• Only 13% of middle class families are secure in their asset levels — meaning that they have enough to cover most of their living expenses for nine months should their regular income cease; 79% are "at risk" in this category, meaning they could not cover the majority of their expenses for even three months. Another 9% are "borderline."
• About 21% of middle class families have less than $100 per week ($5,000 per year) remaining after meeting essential living expenses. These families are living from paycheck to paycheck with very little margin of security.
"Inside the Middle Class," is based on exhaustive opinion evaluation by the Pew Research Center and the Gallup organization, and demographic information from the Census Bureau. Among its key findings is the fact that "Fewer Americans now than at any time in the past half century believe they're moving forward in life. Americans feel stuck in their tracks. A majority of survey respondents say that in the past five years they either haven't moved forward in life (25%) or have fallen backwards (31%). This is the most downbeat short-term assessment of personal progress in nearly half a century of polling."
Attaining middle class status is one of the great goals of American working families, and it seems more people consider themselves in the middle class than their income, type of work or relationship to the means of production might suggest. Many working class people with fairly low incomes view themselves as middle class, as do some earning upper class incomes. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have suggested Americans with incomes just under $250,000 qualify as middle class. The report notes that "being middle class is a state of mind as well as a statement of income and wealth." This results in extreme differences in income and assets, even when bifurcated into "lower" and "upper" middle class. Here's how "Inside the Middle Class" puts it:
"Some 53% of adults in America say they are middle class. On key measures of well-being — income, wealth, health, optimism about the future — they tend to fall between those who identify with classes above and below them. But within this self-defined middle class, there are notable economic and demographic differences. For example, four-in-ten Americans with incomes below $20,000 say they are middle class, as do a third of those with incomes above $150,000. And about the same percentages of blacks (50%), Hispanics (54%) and whites (53%) self-identify as middle class, even though members of minority groups who say they are middle class have far less income and wealth than do whites who say they are middle class."
Based on opinion research, the report states: "The current economic slowdown and uptick in prices are taking a bite out of the family budget. Slightly more than half of middle class respondents say they've had to tighten their belts in the past year. Roughly the same proportion expect to make more cutbacks in the year ahead, and a quarter say they expect to have trouble paying their bills. About a quarter of those who are employed worry they could lose their job."
A large number of those interviewed (78%) recognized that economic conditions have made it more difficult to maintain a middle class standard of living compared to five years ago, but there was no consensus as to why. Asked "who is to blame?" 26% said the government, 15% said oil prices, 11% blamed "people themselves," 8% said foreign competition 5% identified private corporations, and so on down the numeric scale.
Interestingly, 68% of the respondents maintained that "having enough free time to do the things you want" is more important than "having a successful career" (59%) or 'being wealthy' (12%). Asked, "does wealth come from hard work or good connections?" 46% said it derives from "knowing the right people or born into it," while 42% asserted it was "hard work, ambition or education."
CEPR's "Movin' On Up" is mainly focused on the factors that have prevented workers from entering the middle class, noting that while worker productivity per hour increased almost 50% between 1973 and 2006, it did not contribute "to greater economic security for all, and inequality has returned to levels not seen since the years before the Great Depression."
The main reason for this, the report suggests, is a major reduction in "good jobs," i.e., "jobs that pay at least $17 per hour [inflation adjusted] and come with both employer-provided health insurance where the employer pays at least some of the premium and an employer-sponsored retirement plan or pension. A 'bad' job has none of these characteristics. Most jobs are 'in-between" jobs or jobs with a mix of good or bad characteristics."
At present, 23% of jobs are "good," 29% are "bad," and 48% are "in-between." But "even though American workers today are, on average, older and much better educated than they were at the end of the 1970s, the economy now produces 25%-30% fewer good jobs that it did 25 years ago."
The result is that "one in five Americans in working families [some 41 million people] have income below a minimum middle class budget standard for the area in which they live. Almost half of these families have income that puts them above the poverty line" but still distant from the middle class.
The report calls for a progressive renegotiation of the social contract, better labor standards, greater access to higher education for the working class, improved job training and healthcare for all "to bring some balance back to the economy and ensure that more people share in our nation's economic prosperity."
Next: Part 6, Conclusion: How can poverty and great income inequality in America be reduced, and the quality of life for the masses of people be improved?
6. WHO'S JOINING THE U.S. VOLUNTEER ARMY?
There are two principal reasons why the U.S. government no longer relies on conscription to fill the ranks of its Armed Forces when it initiates unjust, illegal wars such as the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
First, conscription for such a war — as opposed to a just war where the U.S. is defending itself and others, as in World War II — guarantees that the ranks of the peace movement would be multiplied by a huge influx of young Americans opposed to fighting an immoral war. The campuses would erupt were 18- to 22-year-olds drafted and sent to Iraq.
Second, an American military force largely composed of draftees — as in the Vietnam era — tends to rebel against fighting in an imperialist-type war, particularly against the small, poor, third-world countries that Uncle Sam frequently targets. Tens of Thousands of conscripted active duty GIs, backed by recent veterans of the war, exhibited such strong opposition to the Vietnam conflict that military officials suggested the U.S. Army was nearly mutinous and unreliable.
It was for both these reasons that the United States ended the draft in 1973 and has depended on an all-volunteer Armed Forces ever since.
True, there is also disaffection in the ranks of a volunteer force when the unjustness of a conflict finally becomes obvious — as in the present case of Iraq Veterans Against the War — but it is on a much smaller scale than would be the case in a conscript army. It's one thing to volunteer, but quite another to be dragooned into an aggressive military adventure.
Why do people volunteer? This is the subject of an article by Michael Massing in the April 3 issue of the New York Review of Books titled, "The Volunteer Army: Who Fights and Why?" Commenting about some recent writings by former volunteers in the Iraq war, Massing notes:
"In these books, the idea of joining the military to defend America or uphold its values is largely absent. Rather, these soldiers signed up to escape dead-end jobs, failed relationships, broken families, bills, toothaches, and boredom. The armed forces offered a haven from the struggles and strains of life in modern-day America, a place to gain security and skills, discipline and self-esteem."
Massing interviewed an impressive number of active duty Army volunteers and found that "over and over, I heard soldiers talk about being hard-pressed to pay the rent, of having a child and being without health care, of yearning to escape a depressing town or oppressive family, of wanting to get out and see the world." The article is replete with quotes justifying this assessment.
According to Pentagon statistics, 38.1% of 2006 volunteers said "service to country" was their main reason for joining — a substantial increase from 2002 — but Massing talked to a RAND Corporation researcher for the Defense Department who warned that "such figures should be handled with care, since new recruits, when asked, often like to give their decision an idealistic cast."
The author continued: "Furthermore, while patriotism has surged as an announced motive, it is also the case that the Army fell 8% short of its recruiting target of 80,000 in 2005 — its largest shortfall since 1979. Since then, the Army has managed to meet its targets, but only by adding more than a thousand new recruiters and increasing the size of enlistment bonuses. Clearly, the patriotic sheen of September 11 has been dimmed by the ongoing bloodshed in Iraq."
The Pentagon has significantly increased enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses over the last few years — a practice that is accelerating now that the Army and Marines have been ordered to enlarge their ranks to absorb 92,000 more effectives. "With the addition of other enticements based on job skills and education, new enlistees can earn up to $40,000 in signing bonuses," Massing says. "Overall, the average bonus paid to Army enlistees jumped from $11,100 in 2005 to $16,500 in 2007. This is one of the main reasons why the Army has been able to meet its recruiting goals in spite of the ongoing specter of serving in Iraq."
In addition, the Associated Press reported from Albany Feb. 13 that "the military is testing an incentive program that pays enlistees up to $40,000 toward a home or a startup business after their commitment. The 'Army Advantage Fund' program is being tested here and four other areas —Cleveland, Seattle, San Antonio and Montgomery, Ala. — for the next six to nine months."
The Defense Dept. has also sharply lowered admission standards to fill the ranks. Massing writes: "In 2007, 11% of all new recruits received 'moral waivers' for being in trouble with the law — double the proportion in 2003. Over that same period, the proportion of enlistees who had finished high school fell from 90% to 71%—the lowest level in 25 years."
The BBC reported Feb. 14 that "The number of people with criminal records in the United States military has doubled in the past three years [to over 100,000], according to a new study… sponsored by the American think-tank Michael D Palm Centre [at the University of California in Santa Barbara]." The study showed that "824 felons were allowed to sign up in 2004 as opposed to 1,605 in 2006 under the moral waivers scheme. Almost 59,000 drug abusers entered the military in the same period. The report also showed that 43,977 people convicted of serious misdemeanors such as assault were permitted to enlist."
Responding to a query from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the Pentagon in mid-April released specifics about lowered standards last year. Among the 511 felons admitted into the Army alone in 2007 were 106 convicted burglars, 43 perpetrators of aggravated assault, 130 who were convicted of hard drug possession ("other than marijuana"), and two recruits "convicted of making terrorist or bomb threats." He reported: "There was a rapid rise in 2007 in the number of waivers the Army and Marine Corps granted to recruits convicted of serious felonies."
Contrary to many other industrialized OECD countries (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), the U.S. is among the least willing to provide state-subsidized higher education. This means that working class, lower middle class and poor youth often cannot afford to pay for the education necessary to earn an adequate living in today's increasingly unequal America. The Pentagon views this as an fortuitous opportunity for future recruitment.
Now, according to the N.Y. Review of Books article, "the military… offers soldiers up to $73,836 in tuition credits; it will also repay up to $65,000 in college loans. These sums are likely to increase as the military moves aggressively to attract college-bound Americans."
Such a situation, the article concludes, means that "in today's America, the hunger for a college degree is so great that many young men and women are willing to kill — and risk being killed — to get one."
In this sense, much of tomorrow's volunteer military will still be largely composed of conscripts — economic conscripts, not draftees, who often cannot otherwise obtain good enough jobs to raise a family and pay the bills without constant worry. For many young people it's their only chance of avoiding a lifetime of low wage labor. The Pentagon gets a bonus, too — a voluntary military force based on economic need and thus overwhelmingly unlikely to rebel at participating in unjust wars.
7. MASSIVE RHETORICAL RETALIATION
We have been neutral on the question of whom to support for the Democratic Party nomination for the presidency, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. We will remain so because in our view neither of them will quickly withdraw all aggressor troops from Iraq, promote world peace by reconfiguring domination-driven U.S. foreign policy, or propose a socioeconomic program that will substantially benefit the working people of our country.
But we cannot remain neutral about Sen. Clinton's belligerent recent remarks concerning Iran — a country that has not gratuitously attacked another country in modern history, in contrast to some of its critics in other capitals.
During Clinton's Philadelphia debate with Obama, moderator George Stephanopoulos asked: "Would you extend our deterrent to Israel?" Clinton replied: " I would make it clear to the Iranians that an attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation from the United States."
Technically, the Cold War threat of "massive retaliation" suggests that an attack from an aggressor would result in massive nuclear retaliation with a force disproportionate to the size of the assault.
Shortly thereafter, early on the day of the Pennsylvania primary, April 22, the New York senator was again asked during an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America," how she as president would respond to an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel. She hesitated not a nanosecond, escalating her earlier threats in these words:
"We will attack Iran. In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them. That's a terrible thing to say but those people who run Iran need to understand that because that perhaps will deter them from doing something that would be reckless, foolish and tragic."
To "obliterate," of course, means "to destroy something so utterly that nothing is left." And coming from the only country to vaporize civilian populations with atomic weapons, it is not an idle threat.
Yes, it is a terrible thing to say, even if it was just cheap rhetoric to get a few more votes. Sen. Clinton was suggesting, in answer to a completely hypothetical question, that she wouldn't think twice about instantly retaliating to the extent of obliterating the 69 million people of Iraq — a country that does not possess a nuclear weapon, that pledges not to build nuclear weapons, and that happens to be a member of, and in general compliance with, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Non-member Israel, with its hundreds of nuclear weapons, is noncompliant.
There were many ways to respond to these questions — from refusing to answer on the grounds that they were entirely hypothetical and even provocative, or just with the simple pledge to defend Israel. Instead, Sen. Clinton deliberately resurrected the concept of massive nuclear retaliation resulting in the obliteration of a far smaller non-nuclear country that is much too sensible and mature to engage in an aggressive attack on Israel.
8. NEWS NOTES
• DOCTORS SUPPORT NATIONAL HEALTHCARE PLAN: A majority of American physicians now support national health insurance, according to a poll published March 31 in the prestigious medical Journal "Annals of Internal Medicine. The poll of 2,193 doctors by Indiana University researchers showed that 59% "support government legislation to establish national health insurance," 32% were opposed and 9% were neutral. In a similar study six years ago, 49% backed national insurance while 40% were opposed.
Commenting on the study, lead author Dr. Aaron Carroll, director of the university's Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research, declared: "Many claim to speak for physicians and reflect their views. We asked doctors directly and find that, contrary to conventional wisdom, most doctors support the government creating national health insurance." Dr. Ronald Ackermann, associate director, commented: "Across the board, more physicians feel that our fragmented and for-profit insurance system is obstructing good patient care."
In a related development, the group Physicians for a National Health Program, reports that "other signs indicated that attitudes among doctors are changing. The nation's largest medical specialty group, the 124,000 member American College of Physicians, endorsed a single-payer national health insurance program for the first time last December."
• BEWARE OF AMERICANS BEARING GIFTS: How does Hillary Clinton describe the illegal and unjust U.S. invasion of Iraq, the killing of over a million Iraqis, the creation of 4 million civilian refugees, the destruction of the country's infrastructure, and Washington's control of the Baghdad government and armed forces?
She says it’s a gift from America to the Iraqi people. Here are her exact words in a speech March 17: "We have to make clear to the Iraqis that they have been given the greatest gift that a human being can give another human being – the gift of freedom. And it is up to them to decide how they will use that precious gift that has been paid for with the blood and sacrifice and treasure of the United States of America."
Clinton's utterly duplicitous statement came 75 years almost to the very day after the Nazis opened the Dachau concentration camp with an equally duplicitous sign posted over the main entrance: "Arbeit Macht Frei," meaning "Work Brings Freedom." At least they didn't call it a precious gift.
• DEBT COLLECTORS THRIVE IN BUFFALO, NY, FOR NOW: This economically depressed city with its high unemployment and poverty rates, is getting a small boost due to the apparent recession and housing foreclosures. How is this possible? Here's the sad story, from the March 21 New York Times:
"Buffalo, New York's second largest city, has long been plagued by plant closings, an exodus of residents and urban decay. But it has become one of the nation's leading hubs for debt collectors, a shaky transformation powered by the same forces crippling most cities — the nation's mortgage crisis and slumping economy, which have pushed consumers further into debt. As a result, an increasing number of banks, credit card companies and lenders are turning to the dozens of collection agencies that have proliferated here." Some 108 collection companies operate in Buffalo and vicinity, now employing over 5,200 collectors, a figure that will grow by 22% in the next six years, says the State Dept. of Labor.
How long this will last is another matter. On April 24, the Times reported that a portion of the U.S. debt collection industry dealing with telephone contacts to debtors is moving to India, where fluent English-speaking Indian collectors call thousands of Americans a day seeking debt payment. About 5% of the American collection business has been shifted to other countries with low wage workers, and more will follow. The Indian workers get paid about a quarter of what the collectors receive in the U.S.
• POLL: PESSIMISM REIGNS IN THE U.S.: A huge majority of Americans think that the nation is "heading in the wrong direction," according to a New York Times/CBS News poll made public April 4. Those who thought so amounted to 81% of 1,368 adults polled. Last year it was 69%; in 2002 35%. A total of 78% said the country was better off five years ago. At that time it appeared the U.S. was winning the Iraq war and was getting out of a recession instead of entering one as now. Over 65% believe the recession is already here; nearly 80% rated the national economy as bad. Only 28% thought President Bush was doing a good job; 27% said their household finances were bad; 28% were "falling behind financially" while 23% said they were getting ahead; 71% were concerned about health care costs; 30% were concerned about being able to afford their housing; 43% were worried about having enough money for retirement. The poll didn't ask what Americans thought constituted the right direction for the country and what could be done to bring it about, which might have produced some interesting results.
9. CHECK IT OUT
MILLIONS BEHIND BARS: With less than 5% of the world's population, the U.S. locks up more prisoners — 2.3 million — than any other nation in the world. China, with four times America's population, is the second biggest jailer with 1.6 million inmates. According to an exceptional article on the front page of April 23 New York Times, most other countries are astonished by the number of prisoners in the U.S., the length of their prison terms, and the wide variety of infractions that lead to incarceration. This was not always the case in our country. America's penchant for locking up so many citizens and keeping them imprisoned for very long terms actually began only three decades ago. To obtain this eye-opening article, access graphics and earlier articles in this series, go to this website: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/23/us/23prison.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper&oref=slogin.
WOMEN AND RECESSION: The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, headed by Sen. Edward Kennedy, released a report April 18 titled: "Taking a Toll: The Effects of Recession on Women." In his brief forward to this powerful report, Kennedy points out that his committee's "findings clearly demonstrate the severe and disproportionate impact of this recession on women and their families." Access this PDF at http://now.eloqua.com/e/er.aspx?s=785&lid=3867&elq=64DCA4324E6042F199385217AFD9FE7A.
WHAT WOULD JESUS THINK OF THIS? Six activists from Catholic Schoolgirls Against the War who boldly staged a die-in during Easter Mass at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, Ill., have been charged rather harshly with felonies for criminal damage to property. It seems that when they spurted a packet of fake blood on themselves to dramatize the violent nature of the Iraq war during ceremonies for the Prince of Peace, some of it — heaven forefend! — stained the carpet. Cardinal Francis George claims the protest was "act of violence." It's on the PSL website at: http://www.pslweb.org/site/News2?JServSessionIdr007=3mnwddx7f1.app7b&page=NewsArticle&id=8963&news_iv_ctrl=1030
THE ANGOLA 3: Two former member of the Black Panther Party have each been kept in solitary confinement in separate six-by-nine-foot cells at Louisiana's Angola Prison for over 35 years — and they may not even be guilty. A third was freed in 2001. Here's a brief article plus a video about this "cruel and unusual" situation: http://www.alternet.org/blogs/video/#80252.
PEOPLE'S HISTORY: Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States, has just put together "A People's History of the American Empire" — with a text illustrated in comic style by Mike Konopacki. In this brief video, Zinn's words about how he came to understand the realities of U.S. foreign policy (read by Viggo Mortensen) are accompanied by drawings from the book. Well worth watching at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Arn3lF5XSUg.
THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT: The Pentagon has issued rules about how wars are to be fought, and every member of the Armed Forces is supposed to follow them. One such rule states: "Prior to any engagement, non-combatants and civilian structures are [to be] distinguished from proper military targets." At the Iraq Veterans Against the War Winter Soldier hearings March 13-16 one soldier testified: "We covered the rules of engagement in basic training…. Once we were over there [in Iraq], they literally became a joke." Here's a report on some of the testimony about how civilians are treated by the U.S. military in Iraq. http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/032608J.shtml.
RAPISTS IN THE RANKS: Sectors of the U.S. Army have not only taken part in unprovoked violence against the Iraqi people but against their own comrades as well. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times March 31 by Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), the chair of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, "about 3,000 female soldiers reported to officers that they were sexually assaulted by male counterparts in 2006 and almost that number in 2007 (many cases, of course, go unreported). Just as shocking for Harman was the "apparent inability or unwillingness to prosecute rapists in the ranks. According to DOD statistics, only 181 out of 2,212 subjects investigated for sexual assault in 2007, including 1,259 reports of rape, were referred to courts-martial, the equivalent of a criminal prosecution in the military. Another 218 were handled via non-punitive administrative action or discharge, and 201 subjects were disciplined through 'non-judicial punishment,' which means they may have been confined to quarters, assigned extra duty or received a similar slap on the wrist." Her full article is at http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-harman31mar31,0,5399612.story.
FACTORY GIRL: Here's a video of topical singer David Rovics performing his version of "The Lowell Factory Girl," accompanied by vintage photos and drawings — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OsxZLZLlRg&feature=related.
10. CUBA'S INTERNATIONALISM
Cuba's socialist government considers the concept of internationalism a matter of great national responsibility. One result is that 2008 marks the 45th year that Cuba — which is developing but still poor itself — has dispatched medical personnel on a very large scale to mainly poor third world countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. It has also sent literacy educators to many foreign countries.
At present, according to the Havana government, 36,578 Cuban doctors and other health workers are providing low-cost or free medical care in 73 countries. This figure includes 14,000 Cuban doctors who offer free treatment to Venezuela’s poor. There were only 6,000 doctors in all of Cuba at the time of the 1959 revolution that ended Yankee domination — and 3,000 quickly departed for the U.S. rather than risk a decline in income.
To mark the anniversary, it was announced April 1 that several medical brigades will now be dispatched to eight additional countries. They are Laos, Benin, Vanuatu, Tubalu, Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Since 1961, according to the Cuban newspaper Granma, "Cuba has cooperated with 154 countries around the world and has offered the services of 270,743 internationalists, 124,112 of them health professionals and technicians in 103 countries."
Despite the presence of many Cuban doctors treating patients in foreign countries, Cuba still enjoys the largest number of physicians per 100,000 people of any country in the world. It works out to one doctor for every 136 people. The U.S. doesn't come close. Thousands of patients from other countries travel to Cuba every year for medical treatment for everything from Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis to eye surgery.
Free universal health care is a constitutional law in Cuba. The provision reads: "Everyone has the right to health protection and care. The state guarantees this right by providing free medical and hospital care by means of the installations of the rural medical service network, polyclinics, hospitals, preventative and specialized treatment centers; by providing free dental care; by promoting the health publicity campaigns, health education, regular medical examinations, general vaccinations and other measures to prevent the outbreak of disease. All the population cooperates in these activities and plans through the social and mass organizations."
Over the last decade, according to an Associated Press report in early March, a Cuban literacy program in foreign countries has taught more than three million people to read and write.
The AP report continued: "The 'Yes, I Can!' [literacy] program, developed in Cuba nearly 12 years ago, has been praised by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Cuba has sent about 700 educators to 28 countries." Among the beneficiaries, for example, are 83,000 poor, formerly illiterate adult Ecuadorians, the Cuban news agency ACN reported March 20.
ACN earlier reported that Havana will be the host of the Iberoamerican literacy Congress next June. The Organization of Iberoamerican States (OIS), which sponsors the Congress, is composed of 21 countries from the Caribbean and Latin American region plus Spain (which serves as the headquarters), Portugal and Equatorial Guinea in Central Africa.
OIS General Secretary Alvaro Marchesi praised Cuba's "Yes, I Can" program, which will be a topic of discussion at the Congress. Noting that nearly 35 million adults living in Latin America and the Caribbean still cannot read or write, Marchesi declared that "to eliminate the scourge of illiteracy from the region, we have to think of what has been done, particularly by Cuba."