Nov. 30, 2008, Issue #141
HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER/CALENDAR
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 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 email@example.com. If you no longer wish to receive the newsletter, unsubscribe at the same address. Please send event listings to the above email address. The current and back issues of the newsletter/calendar are available at http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com.
1. With this issue we are referring you to our website in order to access the Activist Newsletter instead of sending our entire long report to you via email. Our newsletter runs between 10,000 and 15,000 words and it is sent to about 3,500 people. The combination of large list and long report creates email problems, including when type gets garbled in transmission. It's an experiment we'd like to make permanent. So after you check out our index, log on to http://activistnewsletter.
2. So far we have received over a dozen messages and phone calls from readers asking if we were organizing buses for Hudson Valley people desiring to attend President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration ceremonies in Washington Jan. 20. We informed them that we only organize transportation to peace and justice events.
We understand buses will be organized by others. Since we've sponsored over 20 such trips averaging four buses each since 9/11, we are quite willing to share our knowledge with those who may be organizing buses for the first time. Just let us know. The Activist Calendar, which we send to Hudson Valley residents only, will list all inaugural buses from our region when the information becomes available. FYI, we do plan to organize buses to Washington March 21 for the big peace protest on the sixth anniversary of the Iraq War.
3. We have two special reports in this issue: First is our article "What To Expect From President Obama." It's long, critical and we think fairly comprehensive. Let us know what you think. Second is a package of three relatively brief articles on climate change, starting with a U.S. intelligence report pointing out the great danger to America and the world from climate change, followed by a report on what Congress is doing about global warming. Last is a report about a local meeting where the speaker, Joel Kovel, questioned whether capitalism is capable of taking the steps required to avoid an ecological disaster.
Note: Spam filters on mass mailings are getting more sophisticated. Add our email address, above, to your address book to avoid the chance of having the newsletter blocked.
1. SUPPORT THE G.W. BUSH LIBRARY — It's unusual to observe a fairly progressive newsletter which has spent the last nearly eight years excoriating George W. Bush to suddenly suggest that you contribute to his post-presidency library — all the modern presidents have them, you know, even the dullards and miscreants — but we are urging you to give unstintingly. To understand why, read on…. http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com
2. GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER — Bush and Cheney are about to make their getaway after pulling off the crime of the decade, if not the century. Halt, Halt in the name of the people! But it looks like they are going to get away with it. http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com
3 WHAT TO EXPECT FROM PRESIDENT OBAMA — "Considering the Democratic candidate's known political views and his nominations for the Cabinet and government offices so far, it is obvious that President-elect Obama will…." Take a guess. http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com
4. U.S. REPORT: CLIMATE CHANGE DANGER — After years of obfuscation and denial by the Bush Administration, the National Intelligence Council — the government body that includes all America's intelligence agencies — socks it to us at last. Ouch. http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com
5. CONGRESS TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE — The Democratic Congress, no longer fearing a Bush veto, is contemplating serious action, but there is skepticism among some progressives about whether they will meet the challenge. http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com
6. CAN CAPITALISM AVOID CLIMATE CRISIS? — Bard College Professor Joel Kovel, one of the leading leftist figures in the international environmental movement, thinks not, and explains why at a local meeting. http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com
7. HUNGER GROWS IN THE U.S. — "Even before the current economic downturn, some 13 million American households, containing 36.2 million people, lacked access to adequate food at some point in 2007." http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com
8. THE NEWS IN BRIEF — College debt, secret U.S. military engagement, doctors advocate for single payer, racist murder in New York State, a female majority in a state senate (a historic first), and 104 retired generals and admirals say "end Don't ask, Don't tell." http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com
9. CHECK IT OUT — A few articles and videos worth looking in to. http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com
1. SUPPORT THE G.W. BUSH LIBRARY
[Editor's Note: The following unsolicited fund appeal was sent to us over the internet the other day signed it is said by the co-chair of the G.W. Bush Library Board of Directors. Now that President Bush is leaving the White House we think it's time to modify our perhaps overly harsh view of this man and let bygones by bygones. He has made mistakes, but honestly, who hasn't?
[President-elect Barack Obama recently told us that "There is not a liberal America, or a conservative America, but a United States of America." He said we are all one people and should put our political differences behind us. He said he will reach out to fellow American politicians "across the aisle" and work together as a team during his four years in office.
[So we say, let's bury our differences in this Age of Obama and unite to work as Americans on the simple task of building a library for a former president of our great country. If we could do it for Clinton, darn it, we can do it for Bush, now that we're all in this together. In a spirit of reconciliation we urge you to read the following appeal from the Bush Library and to give generously.]
Dear Fellow Constituent:
The George W. Bush Presidential Library is now in the planning stages and
accepting donations. The Library will include:
The Hurricane Katrina Room, which is still under construction.
The Alberto Gonzales Room, where you won't be able to remember anything.
The Texas Air National Guard Room, where you don't even have to show up.
The Walter Reed Hospital Room, where they don't let you in.
The Guantanamo Bay Room, where they don't let you out.
The Weapons of Mass Destruction Room, which no one has been able to find.
The National Debt Room, which is huge and has no ceiling.
The Tax Cut Room, with entry only to the wealthy.
The Economy Room, which is in the toilet.
The Iraq War Room. (After you complete your first visit, you'll want to return for a second, third, fourth, fifth and, next March, a sixth visit.)
The Dick Cheney Room, in the famous undisclosed location, complete with shotgun gallery.
The Environmental Conservation Room, still empty.
The Supreme Court Gift Shop, where you can buy an election.
The Decider Room, complete with dart board, magic 8-ball, Ouija board, dice, coins, and straws.
Note: The library will feature an electron microscope to help you locate and view President Bush's accomplishments.
As a special attraction you will want to visit the Great Quotation Room with its marble walls, upon which are chiseled many of President Bush famous sayings, including such favorites as :
'The vast majority of our imports come from outside the country.' 'If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure.' 'Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.' 'No senior citizen should ever have to choose between prescription drugs and medicine.' 'I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy — but that could change.'
And don't forget these: 'Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things.' 'I have made good judgments in the past. I have made good judgments in the future.' 'The future will be better tomorrow.' 'We're going to have the best educated American people in the world.' One of the great things about books is sometimes there are some fantastic pictures.' 'Illegitimacy is something we should talk about in terms of not having it.' 'We are ready for any unforeseen event that may or may not occur.' 'It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.' 'I stand by all the misstatements that I've made.'
PLEASE GIVE GENEROUSLY!
Jack Abramoff, Co-Chair
G.W. Bush Library Board of Directors
2. Editorial: GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER
George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are receding into history at long last, dragging their unsavory legacy behind them like a reeking sack of nightsoil. But they are getting away with murder and mayhem in the process.
And those who have been principally responsible for crippling the U.S. economy — the greedy banks, real estate profiteers, stock market speculators, and neoliberal government officials who presided over the deregulation of the financial markets — are getting bailouts, not FBI investigations and summonses to appear in court.
Bush and Cheney should be tried and punished under international law as war criminals. They launched an illegal, unjust war of aggression that has taken more than a million Iraqi lives. They have repeatedly lied to the American people. They have undermined civil liberties and the Constitution of the United States. They have legalized torture.
Neither of these criminals will pay any penalty whatsoever. The incoming Obama Administration will not say a word. President-elect Barack Obama himself, in recent years, has only spoken of the war as "a mistake," "rash" and "dumb," but never as illegal (according to the UN) or unjust (according to accepted ethical theories of war). The incoming Democratic Congress will not launch any serious investigations into the many crimes of the Bush Administration. The entire Democratic leadership opposed impeachment, including Obama.
When will the nefarious Patriot Act be overturned? When will Obama speak against it? When will the intrusive, illegal surveillance of American citizens without judicial warrants be outlawed for good? When will the officials who justified torture get their comeuppance?
No action will be taken because too many officials are implicated, by commission or omission. It was a bipartisan vote that gave a green light for the immoral invasion of Iraq in 2003, and bipartisan votes that finance the war to this day. By not punishing these and other heinous acts, the new government will, in effect, condone them — and this will be a precedent for any future U.S. government, allowing it to follow suit.
It is extremely doubtful that the government officials and private sector financial swindlers will ever pay for their selfish, or stupid, misdeeds. American taxpayers have already spent $1.4 trillion to bail out the banks and big financial firms.
"In the last year," according to the Nov. 28 New York Times, "the government has assumed about $7.8 trillion in direct and indirect financial obligations [loans, investments and guarantees]. That is equal to about half the size of the nation’s entire economy and far eclipses the $700 billion that Congress authorized for the Treasury’s financial rescue plan." It will be a long time before the final cost to taxpayers will be tallied but it is going to be huge.
Recessions are frequent and inevitable in capitalist economies, due at bottom to overproduction. They happen every five to 10 years, crushing working families far more than those in the upper income brackets. But the current recession is far worse than usual and will cause extreme hardship for the poor, the working class and the lower middle class majority in our country. The reason is that the government allowed the fast-buck financial community to run wild on Wall Street.
That same Bush Administration is now bailing them out, while the incoming Obama Administration is hiring some of the same officials who contributed over the years to creating the present economic contretemps, such as Timothy Geithner, the incoming Treasury Secretary, and Lawrence Summers, named director of the National Economic Council, among others. In a speech in Boston last week, left scholar Noam Chomsky declared that they "shouldn't be giving advice about the economy. They should be given subpoenas."
In the end it seems only the working people of America will pay — with their taxes and their lowered standard of living — for the crimes of those who hoard the wealth and wield the power. And that is how the system works, until it is changed.
3 WHAT TO EXPECT FROM PRESIDENT OBAMA
The majority of the American people — and evidently the peoples of the world — are anxiously counting the days until Jan. 20 when Barack Obama, the first African American elected to this highest office, becomes the 44th president of the United States.
They have great expectations about the promised transformative changes to come from an Obama Administration, which made "change" its principal argument for election.
After the last eight years of the Bush Administration's military aggression, erosion of civil liberties, and contempt for working families and the poor, some 52% of the American people voted for change. The change they sought wasn't just a change in administrations. They sought peace, less poverty, more equality and justice, new social programs for the people, and rebuilding America, making it a better place.
The first responsibility of the new administration is to extricate the country from a deep recession that may last two or more years, causing suffering for a large portion of the population. In the process, the majority of Americans expect the Obama government to take care of the needs of the people during this crisis, while imposing much tighter regulations on the financial markets and banking system.
Undoubtedly, an Obama Administration will be superior to that of right-wing Sen. John McCain who won 46% of the vote by offering a continuation of George W. Bush's Republican regime which leaves America a virtual shambles. Obama's political program is better for all working people, as will be his Supreme Court appointments. His election is a historic setback for racism.
But being superior to a neoconservative rival does not a progressive make. Considering the Democratic candidate's known political views and his nominations for the Cabinet and government offices so far, it is obvious that President-elect Obama will govern from the center/center-right of the political spectrum.
This is hardly a unique observation. Reporting in the New York Times Nov. 23, reporter David Sanger wrote that nominations for key jobs "suggest that Mr. Obama is planning to govern from the center-right of his party, surrounding himself with pragmatists rather than ideologues."
Not just Obama but the great majority of Democratic Party leadership and members of Congress have confined themselves to the political center/center-right. According to Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi, "the country must be governed from the middle." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid insists, oddly, that the election victory "was not a mandate for a party or ideology." It was simply a "mandate to stop fighting over the things that divide us and start working on the things we can get done."
Objective conditions — decades of stagnant wages and reduced social benefits, gratuitous wars and the worst economic crisis since the 1930s — are ripe for a period of extensive progressive social reform in the United States for the first time in 40 years. But is it possible for such a flaccid political party to seize this opportunity? We think not.
We suspect the Obama government's domestic program will resemble that of the Clinton administration with an extra spurt of energy and ambition in the first two years because of the recession and the threatening environmental disaster. In foreign affairs, the new administration suggests to us a combination of the Clinton years (1993-2001) and that of "realist" Republican George H.W. Bush (1989-1993). In this connection it is time to drop any remaining misunderstandings that Obama is an "antiwar" president or that his foreign policy will differ substantially from that of mainstream American governments since the end of World War II in 1945.
We have no doubt that Obama will introduce an impressive number of anti-recession initiatives during his first 100 days after entering the White House, including some important measures that have been blocked for years by Republican-controlled Congresses (1995-2007) and President Bush's vetoes.
During the campaign, then-Sen. Obama advocated a $175 billion economic program to beat back the recession — a figure that may double or quadruple after he takes office. This is on top of the $1.4 trillion the Bush Administration is spending to date, not counting trillions more in loans, investments and guarantees, nearly all of which are intended to bail out business and the stock market. Obama supported these bailouts and evidently approves of the actions taken by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke.
The new administration's expressed intentions go beyond the banks and financial institutions. Obama and his transition team say they also will help state governments that are running out of money, provide tax credits for working families, launch infrastructure improvements, create new jobs, and take steps to impede global warming.
It has been suggested by some progressives that these emergency and catch-up programs will transcend the objective of short-term problem-solving and progress into a long-term period of extensive economic and social reform. This is highly improbable, given the narrow political limitations of the Democratic Party.
We cannot agree with the left Democrats and social-democrats, such as a well-known '60s activist and long-time Democrat Tom Hayden of Progressives for Obama, who perceive a possible similarity between the president-elect and Franklin D. Roosevelt, a remarkable reformer for several years during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
In his first 100 days alone FDR introduced, fought for and obtained an extraordinary amount of legislation, including such historic triumphs as the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. In subsequent years he battled for and won the Social Security Act, Works Progress Administration, National Labor Relations Act, Fair Labor Standards Act and many other bills until World War II ended the depression.
Unless the forthcoming Obama Administration undergoes a spectacular and unlikely renovation, it cannot come close to FDR's record. Like Obama, Roosevelt was not a leftist when he came to power. Far from it. He was a wealthy representative of the ruling class. But as opposed to Obama he was not an ideological centrist committed to generating middle-of-the-road outcomes through bipartisan consensus between the center (Democrats) and the right (Republicans), without the benefit of any input from the left, which is essentially excluded from today's U.S. politics.
Roosevelt was a hard fighter against a right wing that sought (as it does today) to dilute or destroy the progressive programs he felt necessary to get the country back on its feet. He was a pragmatist without tethering himself to the middle of the road, and occasionally introduced programs considerably left of center.
We also disagree with Hayden's suggestion that the many thousands of dedicated young supporters who worked on behalf of Obama's election constitute "a new New Left" — presumably a contemporary resurrection of the fairly radical New Left of the Vietnam era. Would that it were true, but today's Obama "movement," confined within the strongbox of Democratic Party ideology, is not a continuation of yesterday's, or today's, political left.
There are two main reasons for anticipating that the Obama regime will stick close to the center, and when it veers it will gravitate toward the center-right: (1) Some of his expressed political positions, and (2) the caliber of the people he is naming to high government office.
POLITICAL POSITIONS: Many of President-elect Obama's political views and policies are easily acceptable to progressives and the left. But some are questionable in the extreme. Here are a few dozen examples of what we mean, and more such evidence will follow as the article continues:
Obama will escalate the Afghanistan war, sending 20,000 and probably more additional troops; he rejects single-payer healthcare; he has accepted additional offshore drilling for oil; he voted to support the civil-liberties shredding USA Patriot Act; he voted for the snooping Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and for granting immunity to cooperating telephone companies; he supports the death penalty; he backs Bush's endless "War on Terrorism," which has become an excuse for invading other countries; he has voted to finance the Iraq war since he entered the Senate four years ago; he has repeatedly genuflected to right-wing regime-change Cubans in southern Florida, and to AIPAC, an organization that describes itself as America's Pro-Israel Lobby; he has reversed his earlier stand of supporting justice for the Palestinian people in order to secure more votes.
Our incoming president supports the Bush Administration's bailout of the banking and financial sector; he has distanced himself from affirmative action and the issue of police brutality, issues of importance to the black community; he departed from pro-choice to back a ban on late-term abortions unless the mother's health was threatened; he has good words for "clean" coal and nuclear power plants; he has bad words for democratically-elected presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and president Evo Morales of Bolivia; he opposes keeping military recruiters out of schools, and has specifically criticized Columbia University's decision to ban them from campus; he will increase the bloated military budget and expand the size of the Armed Forces; he views "military service as an obligation not just of some, but of many"; he does not seem to understand why it is of the greatest importance for the U.S. to maintain cordial relations with Russia, an equivalent nuclear power.
By blaming Russia and supporting the right wing Georgian president he either backs Georgia's first-strike attack against South Osettia or is confused about who attacked whom; he supports the National Endowment for Democracy, the entity created by Ronald Reagan to subvert governments Washington dislikes; he advocates U.S. attacks in Pakistan even if the Islamabad government says no; he chose a vice president who had been a flaming warhawk who voted to provide Bush with the go-ahead for attacking Iraq, and who, before being selected as a running mate, advocated that Iraq be split into three different countries; he opposed the movement to impeach President Bush; he agreed with the Supreme Court decision reversing the District of Columbia's ban on hand guns; his early opposition to the Iraq war was not based on the fact that it was an unjust and illegal, but a foolish misallocation of military resources.
Obama agrees with the notion that the U.S. deserves to be the world's principal leader, and there is nothing in his foreign policy suggesting that military-backed unipolar global power should be ended; he advocates defining Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, which could subject Iran, which has not started a war in almost 200 years, to anti-terrorist sanctions; most of his foreign policy team, led by Hillary Clinton, supported the Iraq war, as did his national security team; his top economic policy makers previously supported neoliberal deregulation of the financial and banking sector, which helped bring about the recession; his Iraq "withdrawal" plan includes leaving 50,000 or more U.S. troops in the country after the "combat troops" depart, though Bush's new U.S.-Iraq pact may change things; he seems to be giving the progressive, antiwar, and labor movements — which were responsible for his election — hardly any high government positions; if a labor advocate is named labor secretary, as expected, that person will not be part of the administration's economic team.
OBAMA'S APPOINTMENTS: For all the endless talk of change and distancing the new administration from "Washington as usual," virtually all the president-elect's designees for the Cabinet and high government office were Washington insiders of centrist bent, and most at one time reported to arch-centrist Bill Clinton, the once and forever darling of the influential center-right Democratic Leadership Council.
As the New York Times noted about Obama in a news article Nov. 23: "Even after vowing to turn the page on the polarized politics of the baby boom generation, he's made clear that service in the Beltway wars of the last 20 years is not only acceptable, but in some cases necessary for his purposes."
Two of Obama's top domestic selections were Rahm Emanuel as Obama's chief of staff, and Eric Holder at Attorney general:
Rahm Emanuel served as an Illinois congressman and was one of the Democratic house leaders until he was selected to be the president-elect's right hand man in the White House. He is a center-rightist who is close to the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) and serves as co-chair of a DLC subcommittee. In Congress he was a member of the 58-person center-right New Democrat Coalition, a DLC spin-off slightly to the left of the highly conservative Democratic House members known as the Blue Dog Coalition.
Emanuel, a staunch Zionist, was a senior advisor at the Clinton White House for five years. He played an important role in gaining approval for the North American Free Trade Agreement over the vociferous objections of organized labor. Another of his dubious accomplishments was a major role in terminating the progressive Aid for Dependent Children program. He supported the Iraq war with enthusiasm and is a militarist, pushing for ever higher Pentagon budgets. Obama's selection of warhawk Emanuel to be White House chief of staff is the equivalent of kicking his liberal and antiwar supporters in the teeth.
Eric Holder, a political centrist who is said to enjoy a law-and-order reputation, will be the first African American to become the Attorney General. He was a Justice Department official during the Clinton years, and at one time he functioned as a legal adviser to the Democratic Party. He supported the Patriot Act when it came up for reauthorization in 2005.
In more recent years Holder was a partner in the Washington lobbying firm that handles big tobacco. The firm chose him to defend the Chiquita Brands International conglomerate, which has huge holdings in Latin America and the Caribbean region, which is where Chiquita bananas come from. Chiquita's bosses were charged with supporting right wing death squads in Colombia with millions of dollars.
According to Mario A. Murillo, writing in CounterPunch, "In 2003, an Organization of American States report showed that Chiquita's subsidiary in Colombia, Banadex, had helped divert weapons and ammunition, including thousands of AK-47s, from Nicaraguan government stocks to the AUC [a right wing paramilitary group]. The AUC… is responsible for hundreds of massacres, primarily peasants, throughout the Colombian countryside." The was considerable evidence against the Chiquita executives, but the attorney general-designate worked out an arrangement whereby the billion dollar corporation paid an insignificant fine.
The top position in foreign policy will go to Hillary Clinton, a center-right warhawk until she announced her candidacy for president, after which she moved somewhat to the left, and Obama to the right, to the point that they differed little by election day. Both of course support increased U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, and a tough line toward Russia and China. They agree on the direction and continuity of a "muscular" U.S. foreign policy, including the retention of U.S. unipolar global leadership and military bases around the world, total support for Israel, and total opposition to Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and other of Washington's usual whipping boys. They are hardly going to become supporters of the antiwar movement or metamorphose into anti-imperialists. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush should both be pleased by the Obama Administration's foreign policy.
The Obama Defense Department will rest in the hands of Bush Administration Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, another center-rightist and old Washington hand who served for 26 years in the CIA and National Security Council. He was George the First's CIA director. He was named defense secretary by the current President Bush two years ago, replacing the ineffable Donald Rumsfeld, whose hubris and incompetence made his continued command of the Pentagon a massive political liability for the White House.
Gates and Obama will work well together. They agree on practically everything, including Afghanistan, Iraq, and the "realist" school of foreign affairs. They also agree about Gates' old boss, Brent Scowcroft, a former Air Force General who served as National Security Advisor to both Presidents Gerald Ford and the elder Bush. Scowcroft hired Gates to be his deputy in 1989 during the first Bush Administration. Obama recently acknowledged that he had met with Scowcroft for advice several times this year, a signal to moderate Republicans that they had nothing to fear from an Obama State Department. The younger Bush despised Scowcroft because he authored an article in the New York Times and other outlets opposing a war with Iraq, evidently with the elder Bush's approval, several months before the attack. He became politically isolated in Bush's Washington until his sudden connection with Obama.
Another military figure and centrist, retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO commander, is headed to a high position in Obama's government — national security adviser. He is a long time friend of Sen. John McCain. They first met in 1979 when he was the Marine Corps Liaison Officer to the Senate and it is alleged by some that he supported the Republican candidate for president this year. Jones was critical of the Iraq war because it obliged the U.S. to "take its eyes off the ball" in Afghanistan. The national security adviser is an extremely influential post because of its proximity to the president. They will meet several times a day and the adviser is often the last voice before presidential decisions.
Given the deep recession, Obama's economic team enjoys more prominence than is usual. It principals, however, have been sharply criticized in left and certain centrist quarters. Drawing most of the fire was the nomination of Timothy Geithner, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, as Treasury secretary, and Lawrence Summers, former Clinton Administration Treasury secretary, as director of the National Economic Council. Geithner, another Clinton functionary, had served as Summers' top aid.
Even the centrist New York Times, in a Nov. 25 editorial, commented that Geithner and Summers "have played central roles in policies that helped provoke today’s financial crisis. Mr. Geithner… also has helped shape the Bush administration’s erratic and often inscrutable responses to the current financial meltdown, up to and including this past weekend’s multibillion-dollar bailout of Citigroup….
"As Treasury secretary in 2000, Mr. Summers championed the law that deregulated derivatives, the financial instruments — aka toxic assets — that have spread the financial losses from reckless lending around the globe. He refused to heed the critics who warned of dangers to come. That law, still on the books, reinforced the false belief that markets would self-regulate. And it gave the Bush administration cover to ignore the ever-spiraling risks posed by derivatives and inadequate supervision."
Both men now appear to have turned against deregulation of derivatives and related neoliberal enthusiasms they once held dear, but who wouldn't do so, except President Bush, since such policies have contributed mightily to the near ruination of the U.S. economy? Neither Geithner nor Summers, to our knowledge, has issued a public self-criticism for past shortcomings before or after being so handsomely rewarded with power and prestige by the President-elect.
Liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who this year won the Nobel Prize in economics, was one of a number of economists who warned for years against the deregulation of financial markets, the potential danger of stock market derivatives, and the inevitable bursting of the housing bubble. In his column Nov. 29 he delivered implicit criticism of Summers in particular and went on to suggest that the Obama Administration should make financial reform one of its first orders of business because once the economy recovers "the wheeler-dealers will be making easy money again and will lobby hard against anyone who tries to limit their bottom lines."
Commenting on these appointments in a longer article on hunger and poverty in America Nov. 27, Pulitzer prize-winning reporter Chris Hedges stated: "If Barack Obama continues to turn to the elites who created the mess, if he does not radically redirect the nation’s resources to assist the working class and the poor, we will become a third-world country. We will waste gargantuan amounts of money we cannot afford on our military, our national security state and bloated corporations while we damn the middle and working class to the whims, idiocy and greed of an entrenched, corporate oligarchy. Obama’s appointments of [Geithner and Summers] are ominous signals that these elites remain entrenched." (See Check It Out column below to access this important article.)
Politico's Ben Smith also noted that "Obama’s team of treasury secretary and four top economic advisers, introduced as the hands that will steer America’s economy, had no particular ties to the labor movement. And Obama’s secretary of labor [not yet selected] was not introduced as part of that team — a suggestion that that post will retain its second-tier status and quiet voice in matters central to economic policy." The labor post may be the only Cabinet position filled by a center-left nominee, though there could still be surprises.
One of the most important of the articles that suggest Obama does not intend to bring about major changes in U.S. domestic and foreign policies appeared Nov. 24 from George Friedman, CEO of Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor.com), who declared:
"Everything Obama is doing with his appointments is signaling continuity in U.S. policy…. "This does not surprise us…. [W]hen Obama’s precise statements and position papers were examined with care, the distance between his policies and John McCain’s actually was minimal…. Obama supporters believed that Obama’s position on Iraq was profoundly at odds with the Bush administration’s. We could never clearly locate the difference. The brilliance of Obama’s presidential campaign was that he convinced his hard-core supporters that he intended to make a radical shift in policies across the board, without ever specifying what policies he was planning to shift, and never locking out the possibility of a flexible interpretation of his commitments. His supporters heard what they wanted to hear….
"His selection of Hillary Clinton is meant to nail down the rightward wing of his supporters in general, and Clinton supporters in particular. His appointment of Geithner at the Treasury and the rumored re-appointment of Gates as secretary of defense are designed to reassure the leftward wing of McCain supporters that he is not going off on a radical tear. Obama’s gamble is that (to select some arbitrary numbers), for every alienated ideological liberal, he will win over two lukewarm McCain supporters….
"To those who celebrate Obama as a conciliator, these appointments will resonate. For those supporters who saw him as a fellow [liberal] ideologue, he can point to position papers far more moderate and nuanced than what those supporters believed they were hearing (and were meant to hear). One of the political uses of rhetoric is to persuade followers that you believe what they do without locking yourself down."
Incidentally, a tip-off that Obama is not going to be harsh toward Wall Street, the financial community and the wealthy was that his campaign received considerably more money from these sources than McCain. The Democratic candidate also won the vote of taxpayers earning more than $200,000 a year by six points, despite his intention to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire and his notice that he planned tax reductions of his own for those earning under $200,000.
Realistically, what are the actual changes that may be expected from the new U.S. government in addition to the immediate programs already mentioned? First it must be recalled that Obama put forward a compelling but absolutely undefined concept of "change you can believe in," to which the great mass of his passionate supporters responded, "Yes we can!" At issue for progressives and opponents of unjust wars, gross inequality and diminished civil liberties is whether President-elect Obama will live up to the high expectations with which his campaign quite methodically captivated the hearts and minds of the multitude.
It seems to us that popular enthusiasm, bordering in some cased on adoration, was partly based on finally getting rid of the neoconservatives, and partly on political hopes and assumptions for transformative change far exceeding the sum total of the Democratic Party's campaign platform and intentions.
There were a couple of interesting bait-and-switches in the Obama campaign since it began in early 2007. Immediately after defeating Sen. Hillary Clinton for the nomination, Obama began moving from centrism with a liberal patina to the center/center-right. And following the Nov. 4 Democratic victory, which owed much to the popular belief that major "changes" were impending, the extent of those changes were further diluted. As the New York Times reported two days later: "President-elect Barack Obama has begun an effort to tamp down what his aides fear are unusually high expectations among his supporters."
After the election and the nomination of centrists, conservatives and Clinton regime veterans to important administration posts, a number of liberal Democrats evidenced surprise and distaste, despite the fact that the signs were there from the very beginning. In any event the Democratic Party's electoral constituency seems to remain firm and enthusiastic. Many voters believe major change will be coming. Some perennial lesser-evil voters never thought there would be that much of a change to begin with, but simply wanted the least conservative candidate to win.
Asking "what happened to transformative change?" and addressing herself to "Obama hyperpartisans," New York Times columnist Gail Collins put it this way Nov. 15: "We have been through all this before. Candidates who promise to bring everybody together are talking about meeting in the middle. The only people who think Barack Obama is a radical are you and Joe the Plumber."
The possibility for any major center-left programmatic outcomes from the upcoming Democratic government depends in large measure upon the insistence, intensity and duration of the left demands made upon the new government principally by the progressive sector of Obama's electoral majority. If the progressives fight hard enough they may, or may not, get something in return.
But these liberal and progressive forces — whether from within the Democratic Party, where they have been ignored for over 30 years, or from the external pro-Obama social democrats — are not that numerous, disciplined, or far-reaching in their demands. They may get more attention by working closer with the broader activist left, but most of them eschew any formation left of the Democratic Party.
Another Obama constituency, the labor movement, is very large, highly organized and disciplined, and has backed the Democrats since the Great Depression when they provided foot soldiers and muscle for Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal reforms. But the labor movement as a whole is much weakened and fairly conservative since the political purges against left unionists, several decades of anti-labor legislation and a successful offensive against the unions by big business since the mid-1970s.
The Obama Administration and Congress will deliver on certain populist issues, in addition to sits expected big economic package early next year. We can anticipate an improved healthcare system of some kind — an idea whose time my finally arrive 60-plus years after being placed on the congressional agenda, and is now even supported by much of big and small business. But it won't be the single-payer system or universal Medicare that bypasses the big insurance corporations that gobble up so much healthcare money.
The Bush Administration's tax cuts for the wealthy will expire at the end of 2010 and Congress won't renew them. During the campaign Obama pledged to overturn these cuts soon after taking office but now seems to be hedging. Important steps will be taken to reduce global warming and promote alternatives to fossil fuels, but not, in our view, with the breadth and urgency required. Some anti-labor legislation will be eliminated and hopefully the Employee Free Choice Act will be passed quickly, making it easier for workers to obtain union recognition — but this is not yet absolutely assured.
In addition, Obama has pledged to halt the torture of suspects allegedly connected to terrorism but never brought to trial, and to close down the U.S. concentration camp in Guantanamo, Cuba, where prisoners have been held for years without issue. We hope they get justice when brought to the U.S. for trial, which is not at all guaranteed. (Further, it would be appropriate for the U.S. government to return this misused territory to Cuba, from whence it was stolen in a shamefully unequal gun-to-the-head treaty 107 years ago — but this is hardly on the new administration's agenda.)
In general, these are good measures, repairing some of the damage done by Bush-Cheney neoconservatism. But what progressive-thinking American could deny the immediate need for much more just to catch up with the social welfare programs of the mid-ranking capitalist states in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), much less with the leading countries such as Sweden or Germany? American laissez-faire capitalism is perhaps the least generous of all such mature systems to its own working people.
Our wealthy country is many decades behind these comparable societies in reducing poverty and the rich-poor gap, in worker protections and family benefits, in time off and adequate vacations, in unemployment insurance and job creation, and in health care provisions in advance of any that may emerge from the Obama Administration.
One program that is not near the top of the incoming administration's priority list is a significant attack on poverty, a situation growing worse by the day.
The percentage of Americans living below the poverty level — already the highest in the industrialized world's OECD — is expected to reach new heights as a result of the recession. Assuming, as does the financial house of Goldman Sachs, that unemployment will rise to 9% by the end of 2009, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities predicts the following:
The number of American's living in poverty will jump by up to 10.3 million people, increasing total "official" poverty to about 47 million. Within this figure, the number of people experiencing what is termed "deep poverty" is expected to increase by up to 6.3 million, bring that total to some 22 million. (The poverty level, which is obviously too low, is $22,200 for a family of four. Deep poverty means an income at or below half the poverty line.)
Another missing program is one that would address the fact that white unemployment is about half that of black, while white median income is about double that of black. Another matter not addressed is the pay gap between male and female workers.
And what about labor? The two labor federations, most individual unions, and rank and file members went all-out for Obama. We estimate that their overall contribution to the Obama campaign was up to $200 million, if not more. Union member volunteers worked an enormous number of hours throughout the country to elect the Democratic candidate. They do this every election, and what they get in return is a pittance from the Democratic Party. The Democrats owe it to the union movement to at least fight to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, and there are dozens of anti-labor laws that should be wiped off the books.
We won't even mention (as we are about to mention) the mother-of-all anti-union legislation — the onerous Taft-Hartley bill of 1947 that has survived several Democratic presidencies with Democratic congresses for 61 years, and counting. The union movement hardly brings up Taft-Hartley any more because the Democrats have so many conservative congresspeople within their own ranks. But perhaps an ideological centrist like Obama can bring the party together to finally do the right thing for the unions and the working class because the Democrats owe the unions big time.
Obama is keen on American leadership, and one of his principal objectives seems to be convincing Washington's major allies to once again bend the knee to U.S. management of world affairs after the insults of the Bush-Cheney years. In an article he wrote for Foreign Affairs in the July/August 2007 issue — the effort being to win over the foreign policy "realists" — he mentioned the need for American world leadership 15 times and the fact that America must lead seven times.
The President-elect, and the political system for which he stands, doesn't seem to be aware of, or agreeable to, the obvious fact that the rest of the world is not demanding Washington's leadership. Several months after Obama's article, even Foreign Affairs — the voice of the Council on Foreign Relations, the most powerful presence in the U.S. foreign policy establishment — pronounced those days to be over, suggesting the need to share leadership with other countries and blocs.
America's international role in the 21st Century is the most important and urgent geopolitical question facing today's world, and there hasn't been the slightest recognition of this fact throughout the entire election period. It was all about American leadership and military victories. Is Washington ignorant of the change that is already taking place? Or does it believe its unparalleled military might will forestall change?
The United States in this new century is not the country it was when it emerged from the intra-capitalist World War II in 1945 as the only powerful state left standing to assume global leadership. The USSR was nearly crippled at the time, having lost over 25 million people leading the war against the Nazis and fascism, when our "great Soviet ally," as heretofore known, was yanked into a Cold War by the American right wing and liberal anticommunism a couple of years after the death of Roosevelt and the New Deal.
Today, though the richest country, the U.S. is the world's major debtor by far, a largely de-industrialized capitalist state with a compromised democracy, and which has just led the rest of the globe into a mighty recession because of its fast and loose financial policies.
The European Union, Russia, China, Japan, India and Brazil, among others, are justly expecting more say in directing world affairs. The days of unipolar leadership are giving way to multipolarity. Within a few years the leadership of the United Nations will expand, reducing Washington's dominant role. American direction of the world economy, based on the postwar Bretton Woods agreements, the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and probably the World Trade Organization, will be reorganized to suit world needs, not primarily, as now, the needs of the United States.
Barack Obama may become a better-than-average president, given the caliber of nearly all of them in modern times, and a serious improvement over his disgraceful predecessor. But he has situated himself politically as an unmovable man of the middle at a time requiring substantial domestic reforms, a reorganization of the economy, a diminution of militarism, an end to imperialism, and a new foreign policy based on international cooperation, shared world leadership, and above all a dedication to lasting peace.
There is a chance that intense pressure from progressives and the left — especially if propelled by massive protest movements — may be able to move the new president toward more serious long-range reforms. But reform of this nature may have to await a swing of the national political pendulum from center to at least to the center-left and hopefully beyond, which could take some time and intensive organizing between now and then. So if we really seek progressive change, it's time to get moving left.
4. U.S. REPORT: CLIMATE CHANGE DANGER
Climate change is a major danger facing the U.S. and the world, according to an authoritative report recently released by the National Intelligence Council — the government body that includes all America's intelligence agencies — titled “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World.”
According to the Washington Post, "The report predicts that climate change will cause drought and food shortages and exacerbate [the decline of] freshwater supplies around the globe; it will also likely cause dustbowl conditions in the U.S. Southwest making the area hostile to agriculture. For developing countries, climate change 'could be the straw that breaks the camel's back,' leading to political and humanitarian crises and spurring mass migrations. The new report's climate conclusions are in line with three other climate-change security assessments also released this year from the U.S., Britain, and the European Union."
The NIC report, which was made public Nov. 24, stated:
"Climate change is expected to exacerbate resource scarcities. Although the impact of climate change will vary by region, a number of regions will begin to suffer harmful effects, particularly water scarcity and loss of agricultural production. Regional differences in agricultural production are likely to become more pronounced over time with declines disproportionately concentrated in developing countries, particularly those in Sub-Saharan Africa. Agricultural losses are expected to mount with substantial impacts forecast by most economists by late this century. For many developing countries, decreased agricultural output will be devastating because agriculture accounts for a large share of their economies and many of their citizens live close to subsistence levels.
"New technologies could again provide solutions, such as viable alternatives to fossil fuels or means to overcome food and water constraints. However, all current technologies are inadequate for replacing the traditional energy architecture on the scale needed, and new energy technologies probably will not be commercially viable and widespread by 2025. The pace of technological innovation will be key. Even with a favorable policy and funding environment for biofuels, clean coal, or hydrogen, the transition to new fuels will be slow. Major technologies historically have had an “adoption lag.” In the energy sector, a recent study found that it takes an average of 25 years for a new production technology to become widely adopted."
The NIC report estimates that the earliest global effects of climate change will begin to occur in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2025. It then will spread. The report noted that 200 million people may be forced to migrate to more temperate zones.
Hardly a day goes by without ever more dire warnings about climate change from scientists stationed around the world. On Nov. 25, for instance, the World Meteorological Organization reported from Geneva that last year registered the highest levels ever recorded of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. On Nov. 28, scientists from the Center for International Forestry Research announced that governments around the world must take swift action to significantly reduce greenhouse gases or climate change will devastate the world's forests.
Unless a massive international effort — many times more demanding than the Kyoto Protocol — is launched immediately, the world may reach a tipping point around 2050 when the destruction from global warming may become irreversible. World governments, even the sluggard United States, are becoming alert to the danger and are launching programs to lower carbon emissions. But so far their combined programs and future plans are woefully distant from adequately meeting the challenge.
5. CONGRESS TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE
Climate change legislation will be a prominent feature of the new Congress that convenes Jan. 6.
President-elect Barack Obama recently said: "Few challenges facing America — and the world — are more urgent than combating climate change. The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear. Sea levels are rising. Coastlines are shrinking. We've seen record drought, spreading famine, and storms that are growing stronger with each passing hurricane season."
Obama proposes to reduce U.S. greenhouse gases that cause global warming by up to 80% by 2050 — the minimum amount of reduction required to avoid a disastrous increase in global warming, according most scientists. Some scientists, however, maintain that only a 95% reduction will attain that objective.
The president-elect also indicates he will support the soon-to-be-upgraded Kyoto Protocol and expects the Democratic Congress to ratify the new document. This is a reversal of Bush Administration and previous Democratic Party opposition to the treaty reducing global warming. Some critics maintain that the new treaty will fall far short of what is required to stop an environmental breakdown (see article directly below).
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who will continue to chair the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, announced Nov. 18 that she will introduce two pieces of climate legislation in January. "The first bill will establish a grant program to reduce global warming emissions under the Clean Air Act with up to $15 billion a year available to spur innovations in clean energy, including advanced biofuels," Boxer said. She will also propose a bill amending the Clean Air Act that directs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set up a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases that meets Obama's goals.
Boxer also announced her committee's first hearing in the 111th Congress. "The hearing will take place as soon as possible after we convene in January, and will be entitled "How Fighting Global Warming is Good for the Economy and Will Create Jobs," she said.
One favorable factor for environmental reform took place Nov. 20 in the House of Representatives when the Democratic Caucus elected Rep. Henry Waxman of California as chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. He replaces Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, who presided as chair and ranking member of the committee for nearly 30 years. Environmentalists say Waxman's tenure will sharply reduce the obstructive influence of the Detroit auto industry, and help clear the way for clean energy and emissions control legislation.
It's not just Congress and the White House that are concerned about climate change. Says the Washington Times Nov. 14: "Defense officials are laying plans to address the national security implications of a warmer planet…. In recent months, U.S. military planners have discussed the impact on personnel, equipment and installations of extreme weather events, rising ocean temperatures, shifts in rainfall patterns and stresses on natural resources. Among the concerns: 63 U.S. coastal military facilities and several nuclear reactors are in danger of flooding from storm surges…." The Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), a Pentagon-funded think tank, issued a report last year that called climate change a "serious national security threat."
Despite a commitment from the new administration to address climate change and the need to develop alternatives to fossil fuels, there is considerable skepticism among many progressive environmentalists and others about the effectiveness of the actions contemplated by Congress and the new administration.
There is a growing sense among these critics that the incoming Obama government must spend far more money and quickly develop an enhanced legislative program in order to avoid the possibility of an ecological catastrophe in this century.
6. CAN CAPITALISM AVOID CLIMATE CRISIS?
One of the leading leftist figures in the international environmental movement, Bard College Professor Joel Kovel, addressed a public meeting in New Paltz, N.Y., in early November. He pulled no punches.
"If the carbon emissions from fossil fuels that cause climate change are reduced by 95% by 2050," he said, "we have a fighting chance of preventing an ecological catastrophe. If not, the world and its over 9 billion people by that time are in very deepest trouble."
At this stage it is highly doubtful such a goal will be reached. A spokesperson for the EU's European Commission, which has set a goal of a 20% reduction in emissions by 2020, indicates the process is being slowed by the economic downturn. The New York Times reported on its front page Nov. 25:
"Just as the world seemed poised to combat global warming more aggressively, the economic slump and plunging prices of coal and oil are upending plans to wean businesses and consumers from fossil fuel. From Italy to China, the threat to jobs, profits and government tax revenues posed by the financial crisis has cast doubt on commitments to cap emissions or phase out polluting factories."
Kovel referred to the effects of climate change as "the most serious problem facing our species," and suggested it would take a political administration in Washington led by the likes of an Abraham Lincoln or Franklin D. Roosevelt to guide the United States just part way through the gathering crisis.
The real problem, he continued, isn't simply the burning of oil, coal and natural gas but the very nature of world capitalism because it absolutely requires expansion and the accumulation of ever greater profits to keep going. And this takes energy resources, nearly all of which continue to derive from fossil fuels.
"Modern industry depends on the consumption of fossil fuels," Kovel pointed out. "Our economy, and that of all the industrialized capitalist countries, is driven by an insatiable demand for carbon resources." Reducing carbon emissions — the chemical constituent of such fuels — by the amount required by mid-century would mean "a sustained contraction of capitalist production."
Kovel, a Hudson Valley resident, has been a long time member of the Green Party and was its candidate for senator from New York in the 2000 election. He is the author of a dozen books, including a 2002 analysis of the ecological crisis titled "The Enemy of Nature — The End of Capitalism or the End of the World," the second and updated edition of which has just been published by Zed Books. He is also a leading exponent of what is termed "ecosocialism" — a socialist thrust combining a variant of Marxism with a strong ecological emphasis.
In the Ecosocialist Manifesto essay, which Kovel co-authored in 2001, it is written that "capitalism requires continual growth of the economic product and since this growth is for the sake of [accumulating] capital and not real human need, the result is the continual destabilization of an integral relationship to nature. The essential reason for this lies in capitalism’s distinctive difference from all other modes of production, that is, that it is organized around the production of capital itself — a purely abstract, numerical entity with no internal limit. Hence it drags the material natural world, which very definitely has limits, along with it on its mad quest for value and surplus value, and can do nothing else."
At the meeting, which was organized by the Caribbean and Latin America Support Project, Kovel emphasized that "capitalism must contract or we will go under," but held out hope based on the fact that "capitalism is a human arrangement and human beings can change it." He implied, however, that it may well not be changed in time to prevent serious destruction to the Earth's ecology. Ironically, he noted, the world recession has a positive aspect: "The rate of ecological destruction has temporarily slowed down" due to less consumption of carbon-based fuels by industry and individuals.
Kovel dismissed nuclear power as a substitute for oil, gas, and coal because of its "indisposable toxic wastes," among other reasons, as he wrote in "The Enemy of Nature." He was also highly critical of the Kyoto Protocol, the UN climate change initiative that was formally adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 and subsequently signed and ratified by 183 countries, with the U.S. being the outstanding holdout. Congress refused to ratify the treaty. The measure will soon be revised and updated and there's a good chance the U.S. will ratify.
Kovel argues that the treaty, overall, will remain "an unbelievable disaster and cannot work" because it contains such major capitalist market-driven elements as "emissions trading" and "clean development mechanisms" which he believes will benefit the big capitalist corporations while only slightly chipping away at global warming. He does support investing in renewable energy and taxes on corporate profits from fossil fuels. He also believes capitalist governments should nationalize their energy sectors to force real cutbacks.
Instead of Kyoto, "we must educate the people of the world about what really must be done," he says, "and build an international oppositional movement" that will demand an end to the extreme danger of continued global warming." Although a Green, Kovel is critical of much of the worldwide Green Party movement for not directly taking a stand against capitalism as the agent of proliferation and expansion of greenhouse gases that will continue under the revised Kyoto document. The real solution, he concluded, is the replacement of capitalism with socialism.
— The July-August 2008 issue of Monthly Review contains some of the best articles available on the ecological crisis from a left point of view. They are extremely enlightening. We particularly recommend the article on climate change by Minqi Li, who teaches economics at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. The issue is online at http://www.monthlyreview.org/julaug2008.php
7. HUNGER GROWS IN THE U.S.
By Stacy Dean
Even before the current economic downturn, some 13 million American households, containing 36.2 million people, lacked access to adequate food at some point in 2007 because they didn’t have enough money for groceries, according to a Nov. 17 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
These figures are a slight increase over the findings for 2006, but given the dramatic weakening of the economy in recent months, the number of “food insecure” households has likely grown considerably in 2008. [Such figures are not yet available.]
Food stamp caseloads — an indicator of those struggling to afford a basic diet — grew by nearly 2 million people between January and August 2008 (the most recent month for which we have data). The economic downturn also has coincided with a sharp increase in food prices, both of which have undoubtedly exacerbated hardship for many low-income families.
The report included three noteworthy findings.
• About 4.7 million of the 13 million food insecure households in 2007 had very low food security, with household members skipping meals or taking other steps to reduce the amount they ate because of a lack of resources. The size of this group and its share of the overall population have risen steadily over the past decade.
• The number of children with very low food security rose by over 60%, to 691,000.
• The number of food insecure seniors living alone rose by 26%, to 783,000.
Over the 2005-2007 period, food insecurity was greatest in Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, and Maine. In addition, the new data likely understate food insecurity because they don’t include homeless individuals or families.
Congress can take action to help struggling families by increasing food stamp benefits temporarily as part of a new round of economic stimulus. Not only would this help hard-pressed families put nutritious food on the table, it would also boost the overall economy by providing added business for food retailers and their suppliers. Each $1 spent on food stamps generates $1.84 in economic activity, according to USDA.
More broadly, the next President and Congress should consider setting a national goal to reduce poverty and acting upon it, as former Prime Minister Tony Blair did in the United Kingdom. That would significantly shrink the number of households that can’t afford a decent diet. A number of charitable organizations and poverty experts have called for a national effort to cut poverty in half over the coming decade. At the same time, steps could be taken to enhance the federal food assistance programs to address hunger.
The author is the director of food assistance policy at The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization and policy institute in Washington.
8. THE NEWS IN BRIEF
By Nathan Rosenblum
STUDENTS SWAMPED BY COLLEGE DEBT: Debt is causing hardship for large numbers of college students. About 60% of U.S. students have college debt. Average inflation-adjusted debt increased 6% between 2006 and 2007. According to a recent Pew Charitable Trusts report, the total debt for students at public institutions last year averaged $18,482. At private institutions it is $23,065. These are low estimates. According to the report, the true averages are 4-5% higher. Graduate work can add substantial additional debt. Tuition at public universities has been rising much faster than at private colleges, at a time when the recession is causing more students to apply to public institutions.
SECRET U.S. MILITARY ASSAULTS DISCLOSED: The Bush Administration issued a secret war order four years ago that just came to light, according to the Nov. 10 New York Times. The order gave authority to the Pentagon to conduct small-scale military actions largely with Special Forces troops, occasionally including CIA members, in the Middle East, Central Asia, and East Africa. The order was signed by then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and approved by George Bush. The 15 or 20 countries included Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya, among others. About a dozen attacks are reported to have occurred. It was under this order that U.S. soldiers attacked the Islamic Courts government in Somalia. Attacks also have been carried out in Syria and Pakistan. Aborted missions included an assassination attempt in Pakistan. Assassinations and preemptive attacks not in cases of immediate self defense are illegal under international law and thus also under the Constitution.
DOCTORS CALL FOR SINGLE-PAYER HEALTHCARE: Over 15,000 American doctors have called on Congress and President-elect Barack Obama to create a single-payer health program for the United States. Obama's campaign plan involved a hybrid system, similar to that of Massachusetts, where citizens are required to buy health care. Insurance companies would still remain involved. According to Physicians for a National Health Program, 59% of doctors and two-thirds of the public support a single-payer plan. Such a system would save an estimated $350 billion. Rep. John Conyers and over 90 co-sponsors have submitted a single-payer bill that is pending in Congress, H.R.H 676.
FEMALE MAJORITY IN NEW HAMPSHIRE SENATE: For the first time in American history, women have obtained a majority membership in a state legislature. It happened in New Hampshire, where 13 of 24 state senators are female, three of whom have just been elected. One of the women is senate president. New Hampshire is known for the large number of women who have held elected office in the state. This includes a former Governor (Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat who defeated the longtime Republican incumbent John Sununu to become U.S. senator) and the speaker of the state House of Representatives..
RACIST MURDER IN NEW YORK STATE: Marcelo Luchero, an immigrant from Ecuador, was brutally murdered on Nov. 8, in the Long Island town of Patchogue in Suffolk County. The accused, seven teenage whites, taunted, beat and stabbed their victim. Prosecutors have referred to the murder as a racist hate crime. One of the young men apparently indicated to his friends the desire to attack "a Mexican," a "sport" they carried out before. The county is well known for the racist attitudes held by some of its residents toward Latino workers. In 2001, two Mexican workers were beaten nearly to death, while in 2003, a Mexican family’s house was burned. Other members of the immigrant community report frequent threats and attacks on the street. They also told of having their car windows broken, and report that their children have been victims of bullies. The mayor of the town has long campaigned against "undocumented" Latinos, and this is thought to have promoted hatred towards the immigrants. The town is planning to establish a "sensitivity task force" to address this bigotry. A large number of the immigrant workers in the area are from Ecuador. According to Joselo Lucero, the brother of the victim, the two had come to the U.S. from the small town of Gualaceo in order to support their family, particularly their mother, who is a cancer survivor.
EFFORT UNDERWAY TO REPEAL 'DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL':
A total of 104 retired U.S. generals and admirals have called for the repeal of the anti-gay/lesbian "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy instituted by the Clinton administration, it was reported Nov. 18. Last year only 28 generals and admirals signed a similar petition. Between the years 1994 and 2007, 12,340 people were discharged from the military under this policy, 627 of them in 2007. It is estimated that there are about 65,000 gays and lesbians in the military and about a million gay and lesbian veterans. Many other nations already allow gays and lesbians to serve openly. In September, President-Elect Obama indicated that he is in favor of ending the ban, but he is not expected to act soon.
9. CHECK IT OUT
HUNGER, POVERTY, OBAMA: Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges has merged human interest interviews with poor Americans in Trenton, N.J., with hard facts about the economic crisis and comments about President-elect Obama to create an important article that progressives should read. It's titled, "While Some of Us Are Hoping for Change, Others Are Literally Starving for It." It is at http://www.alternet.org/story/108622/.
IGNORANCE IN AMERICA: Here's another piece by Chris Hedges (see above), who has been rather productive this month, titled "Forget Red vs. Blue – It's the Educated vs. People Easily Fooled by Propaganda," wherein he notes that 42 million American adults cannot read, and nearly 50 million others read at a fourth- or fifth-grade level. It may be accessed at http://www.alternet.org/story/106551/.
WORTHWHILE LOCAL PETITION: The Peace Action Network in Ulster County is circulating a petition encouraging the "Woodstock, N.Y., Town Board and all parties in our community to work together to convert its military production to peaceful, sustainable products." It turns out that Woodstock's largest employer, Ametek Rotron Military and Aerospace Products, makes components for many of the Pentagon's major weapons systems. Residents, neighbors and friends of Woodstock may call on the Town Board to convert its military manufacturing to peaceful, sustainable products by signing the petition at http://www.petitiononline.com/wdstk/petition.html.
THE EAST IS RED: President Hu Jintao of China was in Cuba mid-November for two days of talks with Cuban leaders that resulted in further strengthening of bilateral ties. The Chinese leader visited former President Fidel Castro in his hospital room followed by formal discussions with President Raul Castro and government leaders. Fidel published an account of his meeting with Hu on Nov. 20. At a ceremonial meeting to honor president Hu, Raul mounted the stage and looking at his guest proceeded to sing, in Chinese, "The East is Red," which brought down the house. This song was exceptionally popular during the Cultural Revolution period from the mid-1960s-mid-70s, but has not been heard too frequently in China since the CCP began adapting itself to capitalism. MRZine has published Fidel's account of his meeting with Hu and at the bottom is a link to a brief video of the singing Raul. It's at http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/castro201108.html. If you'd like to hear the stirring Chinese version with full orchestra, go to http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/6/64/The_East_is_Red.au.