June 13, 2009, Issue #147
HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER/CALENDAR
The Activist Newsletter, published in New Paltz, N.Y., appears once a month, supplemented by the Activist Calendar of progressive events, which is sent to Hudson Valley readers only. Editor: Jack A. Smith (who writes the articles that appear without a byline or credit to other publications). He is the former editor of the (U.S.) Guardian Newsweekly. 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. The current and back issues of the newsletter/calendar are available at http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com.
1. WE'RE 10 YEARS OLD! — This issue starts our 11th year.
2. Editorial: OBAMA'S RECORD SO FAR — What's good, what's not, and what's to be done?
3. THE U.S., MIDDLE EAST AND LATIN AMERICA — An examination of Obama's initiative to establish "new beginnings" in U.S. relations with the Muslim world, and with Latin America and Caribbean nations. All is not what it seems to be.
4. 'NEW BEGINNINGS' AND OLD THREATS — Ho Hum, Secretary of State Clinton just suggested that the U.S. wants Iran to think Washington or others might launch a preemptive nuclear attack on them.
5. DR. GEORGE TILLER, R.I.P. — What kind of man was Dr. Tiller, the abortion provider who was assassinated May 31? This brief excerpt from a talk he gave in 2008 will shed some light.
6. CUBA INVITED BUT WON'T JOIN OAS — Excluded for 47 years, Havana says of the invitation, thanks but no thanks, because "this is an organization with a role and a trajectory that Cuba repudiates."
7 Religion #1:
NON-RELIGION GAINS IN AMERICA — A total of 15% of Americans now say there have "no religion," a significant jump from 8.2% in 1990, and the number of adults identifying as Christian has declined from 86% in 1990 to 76% today.
8. Religion #2:
GOD'S WILL BE DONE — New evidence shows that both President Bush and Great Britain's Prime Minister Blair believed they were fulfilling "God's Will" when they led the invasion of Iraq.
9. Religion #3:
OBAMA'S RELIGIOUS VIEWS — Compared to his predecessor, who declared, "I trust God speaks through me," Obama is an enlightened believer, but an important question must be posed.
10. Religion #4:
WITH GOD ON OUR SIDE — Dylan's song.
11. DON'T EXECUTE TROY DAVIS — NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous makes a case for saving an innocent man from execution.
12. ACTIVIST CONVICTED FOR SUPPLYING WATER — Many people have died in the Arizona desert from heat and thirst after crossing over from Mexico, "illegally" seeking work. Some Arizona residents have been leaving bottles of water in the area to avert future deaths. Here's what happened to one of them.
13. REMEMBERING THE REAL HELEN KELLER — Almost all Americans learn about her in school, but it's only half the story. Here, in the month of her birth and death, is the other half.
14. NEWS IN BRIEF — Hungry American children; global warming endangers the world's most biologically diverse lake; bosses expand anti-union practices; more countries ban cluster weapons; increase in home foreclosures.
15. QUOTES IN THE NEWS — The anti-abortion far right; Which way for Israel?
16. CHECK IT OUT — A fair hearing for conservatives; MSNBC: a liberal Mecca?; Obama's policies.
17. SICK AND BANKRUPT — Medical problems contributed to nearly two-thirds (62.1%) of all bankruptcies in 2007.
18. Rx AND THE SINGLE PAYER —Bill Moyers notes that Barack Obama declared in 2003, "I am a proponent of a single-payer universal health care program," and considers why, as president, he opposes it.
19. ISRAEL'S FAR RIGHT TAKES OVER — Israeli peace movement leader Uri Avnery discusses his country's governing coalition of the right, far right, and ultra right, and says it's racist, too.
20. LIBERAL CONCERNS ABOUT OBAMA — The disappointment of progressives and Democratic Party liberals in some the Obama's Administration's policies is becoming more evident every day a number of articles in the liberal press. Here's one of them, from The Nation.
21. TRUE AND FALSE IN OBAMA'S D-DAY SPEECH — The further they get from D-Day, the more American presidents disregard the USSR's extraordinary contribution to defeating Nazi Germany, as did President Obama on the June 6 anniversary. This article tells what he left out.
1. WE'RE 10 YEARS OLD!
By Jack A. Smith
With this issue the Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter and Calendar observes its 10th anniversary. We began the newsletter in the spring of 1999 during the U.S. war against Yugoslavia, mainly to activate the liberal, progressive and left community in the Mid-Hudson region of New York State.
The newsletter and calendar were launched to supplement our own peace and justice organizing work which began in the region five years earlier. We started with a list of 20 people and reached a circulation plateau of about 3,500 recipients nearly three years ago, remaining at that level today. Thousands more read the newsletter on a number of listservs and quite a few articles are reprinted on other websites.
We obtained the names of most people on our subscription list from meetings and demonstrations we've organized and from innumerable bus trips to distant peace rallies. About 10% come from names sent to us by readers who think a friend might be interested (if you have a candidate, let us know). All but 300 readers live in proximity to the Hudson River from its source in the Adirondack Mountains south to what Woody Guthrie called "the New York island."
The newsletter loses between 100-200 students every year when they graduate from our local Mid-Hudson colleges — SUNY in New Paltz (where we live), Vassar and Bard — and leave the area, as most do. Incoming students from throughout the state compensate for the loss.
For the last few years our organizing efforts have been done in the name of the newsletter instead of the group we previously formed. But Donna Goodman and I are going to form a local multi-issue group over the summer to help boost peace and justice activism in the region. It's hardly a secret that peace activism in particular declined during the 2008 election year and has continued to do so now that the Democrats control the White House and Congress.
The new group will focus on educational meetings and protest demonstrations. The antiwar struggle, environmental preservation and opposition to imperialism will receive considerable attention, along with various issues of social inequality, the ravages of a recession exacerbated by capitalist greed, critiques of government policy, and support for unions. Every now and then we will continue to do a little something for vegetarianism/veganism and animal rights.
I'm going to be 75 this summer but am keeping in shape so I can write an editor's note like this on the 20th anniversary. Activism and a commitment to work toward a better society keep one young and happy, friends — pass it on!
2. Editorial: OBAMA'S RECORD SO FAR
Most liberals and progressives, nearly five months after Barack Obama became president, still wake up every morning and thank their lucky stars that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney no longer occupy the White House. It's understandable — the Bush Administration with its imperialist wars and slavish devotion to the interests of wealth and big business is considered by many to be the worst government in U.S. history.
But it's not adequate to judge the performance of the Obama Administration against its failed predecessor. To do so establishes far too low a standard for achievement. Some of the worst presidents — such as Franklin Pierce (1853-1857), James Buchanan (1857-1861) and Warren Harding (1921-1923), among others — would get passing grades if simply surpassing Bush II was the criterion.
President Obama's government must be evaluated in relation to the concrete needs of the people of the United States, and — given America's global reach — the peoples of the world as well, especially at this time of economic, environmental and militarist danger.
The average working people of the U.S. want peace instead of wars. They want to stop global warming and ecological disaster. They favor sharply narrowing the growing gap between the rich and everybody else. They want jobs, housing, economic security and comprehensive healthcare for all, not just for some. They seek tighter restrictions on the banks and financial markets. And they want action from a party that controls both the White House and Congress, not dithering compromises and, worse yet, continuations of some of Bush's bad policies.
How does the Obama Administration measure up? There are some good signs, and some distressing signs. Even the liberal and progressive media and organizations, which enthusiastically supported Obama's run for the White House, have been criticizing the administration for timidity, unnecessary compromise, and too much backtracking from what the people were led to expect during the election campaign.
For instance, the liberal Nation magazine noted June 15 that "even with coordinated efforts to support his agenda, it is likely to be deeply compromised unless an independent movement challenges business as usual and forces far bolder changes than Washington now thinks possible." And the Campaign for America's Future, mainly supported by left Democrats, pointed out that "Real reform won't happen if progressive activists watch from the sidelines. This is a job for an aggressive, unyielding, grassroots movement."
In other words, if any substantive reform is to emerge from the center/center-right Democratic Party government at a moment when opinion polls indicate a majority of Americans are tilting to the center-left, the liberals, progressives and the broad left had best begin to exert emphatic, organized political pressure before the opportunity for serious change passes. At minimum, even if ignored by Washington, it'll push forward the longer range struggle for a better society.
Over the next months we are going publish articles to spotlight some of the Obama Administration's key domestic and foreign policy moves, seeing which ones are positive and which fall short of progressive goals but may be strengthened through serious political activism.
We start directly below with a look at Obama's Cairo speech and the meaning of his attempt to initiate "new beginnings" with the Muslim world and Latin America, and we're shocked, shocked, to discover that things are not always as they seem.
3. THE U.S., MIDDLE EAST AND LATIN AMERICA
What's behind President Barack Obama's initiative to establish "new beginnings" in U.S. relations with the Muslim world, particularly the Arab countries, and with Latin America and Caribbean nations?
Urgency, for one thing, before relations deteriorate even further. Enhanced world power, for another, when better relations are created.
Before examining what The Economist described as President Obama's "superb oratorical performance" in Cairo June 4 when he addressed the world Muslim community, it is worth discussing the context within which he spoke, both there and at the earlier Summit Conference of the Americas.
These efforts at "new beginnings" are part of a strategic campaign by the Obama Administration to change Washington's negative image around the world in order to help fully restore the power, prestige and global leadership of the United States. The Bush Administration contributed considerably to America's image problem, but it's been a long time in the making, going back many decades.
The U.S. continues to exert global geopolitical dominance, but its power is declining by degrees. Other countries are no long willing to follow the U.S. into its many wars, or to automatically agree to its economic dictates. Even militarily, where the Pentagon controls the world's land, sea, air and outer space, it cannot defeat a few tens of thousands of poorly equipped defenders in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Throughout Obama's campaign and presidency, his subtext has been the retention of American power. Speaking at the U.S. Naval Academy graduation in May, he sounded like George W. Bush when he said the U.S faced a "full spectrum of threats," but that his administration would "maintain America’s military dominance."
In New Hampshire last October, candidate Obama told his ecstatic supporters, "there's no reason we can't make this century another American Century." Did they know this was a nationalist phrase, popular in the Cold War, for American superiority over other nations? Did Obama?
We find it puzzling that a number of Obama's progressive supporters ignore the militarism, nationalism, and expansionism implicit in the administration's national security policy. Some prefer silence to protesting the new administration's thrust into the waist-deep quagmire of Afghanistan, the "good war" — an adventure probably applauded by Osama bin-Laden because it will continue to drain America's treasury, kill civilians, and generate more enemies.
To those who question why the Democratic government's national security actions resemble certain policies of its predecessors, Obama unconvincingly declared in late April: "The ship of state is an ocean liner. It's not a speedboat…. [I]f we can move this big battleship a few degrees in a different direction, you may not see all the consequences of that change a week from now or three months from now, but 10 years from now or 20 years from now."
Actually, it only takes minutes for a battleship (and probably an ocean liner) to complete a 90 degree left turn, but no matter. The present administration lacks the desire to execute such an audacious maneuver, despite favorable recessionary winds and populist weather.
Obama's commitment to American world "leadership" was a continual theme during his run for the nomination and the presidency, beginning with his important article in Foreign Affairs (July/August 2007) where he mentioned it 22 times. In a speech at the State Department days after he took office, the new president declared:
"Let there be no doubt about America's commitment to lead. We can no longer afford drift, and we can no longer afford delay, nor can we cede ground to those who seek destruction. A new era of American leadership is at hand, and the hard work has just begun."
Obama's call for continued American global "leadership" has not been seconded or requested, to our knowledge, by any other countries. In fact, a lot less American "leadership" would be appreciated in many of the world's capitals, most certainly throughout Latin America (Colombia and Mexico are big exceptions), and in the Middle East by the great majority of people, if not by Uncle Sam's client oligarchs, kings, authoritarians and surrogates.
There's no doubt that American influence in the world today is less than it was throughout the latter half of the 20th Century. It's not because Washington gave up trying. There are two main reasons:
First, the U.S. has been weakened internationally by the Bush Administration's eight years of hubris, blunders, military aggression, unilateralism, and neoliberal economic policies, including its stewardship of an extreme form of laissez-faire capitalism that sparked the global recession.
In almost all cases pertaining to national security — the monomania of an imperial state — the Republican government's excesses were enabled by the Democrats, either by conviction or fear of being characterized as "weak on defense" by right wing political bullies. Bipartisan support made possible the unjust, unnecessary wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Bush Administration was unusually blatant in its nefarious actions. But it didn't invent illegal acts of aggression, or imperialism, or regime change, or hideous tortures, or unilateral global domination. Washington engaged in such practices throughout the "American Century," especially the second half. By the time Bush II came to power as the century turned many countries were already distancing themselves from American "leadership." Bush's excesses speeded up a process in motion.
The second reason for the decline in "leadership" is more complex. The U.S. has been an economic, military and political superpower since the end of World War II, leading the capitalist countries in a Cold War against the USSR and other socialist societies. But it has only exercised unilateral global supremacy for two decades, following the implosion of the USSR.
The U.S. remains a rich, powerful society. It is a military behemoth with an annual war budget exceeding all other countries combined, a doctrine justifying preemptive war, and over 800 bases spanning the world. But its days of ruling the global roost seem to be ending.
Other strong countries and influential blocs have emerged in recent years. Many are critical of Washington's heavy-handed, self-serving management of world affairs, but do not express such views in public. Many countries despair of America's aggression and violence conducted under the pretext of spreading democracy, and its lack of initiative in resolving pressing world problems such as the impending environmental disaster.
At the same time, the U.S. is more deeply in debt than any other country in history; its manufacturing base is depleted; much of its infrastructure is in disrepair; its educational system is middling; and it is far behind the other advanced capitalist countries in social services for its people and in the alleviation of domestic poverty.
In geopolitical matters it is essential to expect the unexpected, so things can change quickly. But it seems to us that a multilateral world is in formation, and that several countries and blocs will assume more global influence in near-future years. This means less influence for the United States, which prefers otherwise, but which may settle for being first among equals if retention of unipolar power becomes unrealistic.
The European Union is immensely strong economically, with a population nearing 500 million, and will become a major world power when it finally solves it daunting internal political problems, which may be described superficially as "Old vs. New Europe." Great Britain, of course, seems likely to remain America's honorary 51st state. China is the world's manufacturing superpower and within 30 years is expected to replace the U.S. as the number one economy. Then there are Russia, India, Brazil, and other countries and regional blocs that will in time share world influence. In not too many years the UN power composition will change to accommodate the new reality, probably by reorganizing membership in the Security Council.
One early result (and thus an additional cause) of this gradually changing power structure is that Latin America is breaking away from over 110 years of U.S. political, economic and military domination, somewhat like the effect of global warming on the icecap. The majority of countries in South America, and others in Central America, have moved to the political left in the last decade, with most of them rejecting Washington's neoliberal economic policies and setting up their own regional organizations.
It will be a blow to Washington if most of the nations south of the U.S. border attain true economic and political independence from the Yankee colossus. Left intellectual Noam Chomsky put it this way: "If this hemisphere is out of control, how can the United States hope to resist defiance elsewhere?" Addressing the House Armed Services Committee a few years ago as commander of the U.S. Southern Command (Southcom), Gen. James T. Hill, now retired, declared: "The security, economic well being, and demographic fortune of our country is inextricably linked with Latin America and the Caribbean." Linked, that is, in an unequal relationship.
President Obama is doing his best to keep Latin America in the fold, seeking a "new relationship" between the U.S. and the other countries of the Western Hemisphere. He made this clear in April at the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, which was attended by 34 regional heads of state.
Only socialist Cuba was excluded, as usual, but probably for the last time because Latin American countries, led by the left wing governments, will no longer tolerate having a neoliberalism, theYankee boss decide who can and cannot attend such meetings. Just this month Cuba was invited to become a member of the Organization of American States (OAS), 47 years after being banished by the U.S. In a statement June 8, the revolutionary Havana government said thanks but no thanks, because "this is an organization with a role and a trajectory that Cuba repudiates."
Cuba is a relatively poor, small developing country of 11.5 million people — long the target of U.S. hostility and subversion. It has had a large impact on the development of the left in Latin America, not only because it managed to survive the enmity of its mighty northern neighbor, but because of its persistent critique of American imperialism, neoliberalism, the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and unequal treaties. The text of Cuba's rejection is below, in an article headlined "Cuba Invited But Won't Join OAS."
At the Fifth Summit, Obama made a big pitch for reconciliation and a "new beginning," and told the conference:
"I know that promises of partnership have gone unfulfilled in the past, and that trust has to be earned over time. While the United States has done much to promote peace and prosperity in the hemisphere, we have at times been disengaged, and at times we sought to dictate our terms. But I pledge to you that we seek an equal partnership…. There is no senior partner and junior partner in our relations; there is simply engagement based on mutual respect and common interests and shared values."
Obama has told different stories when talking to the right wing, where his rhetoric has been known to conform to the imperial Monroe Doctrine. In an address to the counter-revolutionary Cuban American National Foundation in Miami last year in May he blamed President Bush for being "incapable of advancing our interests in the region," continuing:
"No wonder, then, that demagogues like Hugo Chavez [the thrice democratically elected president of Venezuela whom Bush sought to overthrow in 2002] have stepped into this vacuum. His predictable yet perilous mix of anti-American rhetoric, authoritarian government, and checkbook diplomacy offers the same false promise as the tried and failed ideologies of the past.
"But the United States [under Bush] is so alienated from the rest of the Americas that this stale vision has gone unchallenged, and has even made inroads from Bolivia to Nicaragua. And Chavez and his allies are not the only ones filling the vacuum. While the United States fails to address the changing realities in the Americas, others from Europe and Asia — notably China — have stepped up their own engagement. Iran has drawn closer to Venezuela, and just the other day Tehran and Caracas launched a joint bank with their windfall oil profits."
Obama and the elites to which he is responsive are centrist "realists," as opposed to the Bush Administration's rightist "idealists." The "realists" understand Washington's historic domination of Latin America is no longer viable in the old format. Washington thus seeks to retain its traditional advantage by articulating the rhetoric of "mutual respect and common interests and shared values" in order to construct a new relationship where the U.S. is no longer the openly crass overlord but, at minimum, the very first among equals.
This keeps Uncle Sam in the game with a new image, and an endless supply of the old wine of hegemony, watered down for the occasion, in new bottles now labeled "Equal Partnership."
Although the geopolitical circumstances are very different, President Obama's proposed "new beginning" to relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world is similar to his Latin America approach. Washington has a number of worries about the growing antipathy toward the U.S. from a religious community of 1.5 billion people, second in size only to Christianity, with 2.1 billion adherents. Its concern is magnified by the fact that many Muslims reside in Middle Eastern countries that sit atop enormous petroleum reserves.
The people of the region have long been wary of the West. They were colonized and ruthlessly exploited by Western imperialism. After World War II, as the Cold War began, Washington started making deals with reactionary Arab governments, promising them protection from internal and external enemies, including "the communists," of course, in return for secure oil supplies at favorable prices.
The U.S. distrusted the development of progressive movements and governments in the region, whether they had oil or not, for fear they would "turn communist." Washington supported the authoritarian monarchies and republics when they endeavored to crush left wing organizations. That's one reason the left is now so weak in the Middle East, and why revolutionary religious movements have filled the vacuum.
Iran would not be a strict theocracy today had the CIA not orchestrated the overthrow of a democratically elected secular government in Tehran in 1953. For that matter, the Taliban in Afghanistan and the al-Qaeda network were the derivative products of clandestine U.S. financial and arms support for warlords and religious fighters seeking to overthrow a progressive government in Kabul supported by the USSR and the Red Army.
The U.S. response to the terror attack on 9/11 wasn't worldwide police work, sanctions and diplomacy but the absurd declaration of an endless "war" on the concept of terrorism, beginning with the invasion of Afghanistan nearly eight years ago and Iraq over six years ago. The Bush Administration's Afghan adventure was largely to demonstrate that the prideful U.S. wasn't going to take the attack lying down.
At issue was striking back somewhere at something, and it has accomplished nothing but an ineffective regime change in Kabul and calamitous collateral damage and retaliation, now battering Pakistan, too.
It is useful to remember that in October 2001, when President Bush demanded that the Kabul government hand over al-Qaeda's Osama bin-Laden, the Taliban leadership offered to send him to a neutral third country, where he could be picked up, if (1) the U.S. suspended its bombing and (2) provided proof that bin-Laden actually ordered the 9/11 terror attacks. Bush wouldn't agree, arguing that "There's no need to discuss innocence or guilt; we know he's guilty." The war went on, and the al-Qaeda leader is still issuing well publicized denunciations of the U.S. from wherever he's hiding.
The invasion of Iraq was supposed to quickly result in the installation of a puppet government in Baghdad responsive to Washington's dictates, followed by bringing Syria and Iran into line by any means necessary. This would be a big step toward the neoconservative goal of placing the entire region and its priceless petroleum under American hegemony. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and a few others were already in the bag.
The WMD and al-Qaeda connection pretexts were baseless, and Bush Administration heavies probably knew it from the beginning, even as Bush evidently was receiving messages to the contrary from God. (See the article below, "God's Will Be Done," about the Bush/Tony Blair Christian crusade.)
These actions, combined with the 61-year plight of the Palestinians at the hands of Israel backed by its U.S. enabler, plus the 1991 U.S. attack on Iraq, followed by a dozen years of killer sanctions, are the reasons why the masses of people in the Middle East and most Muslims throughout the world in their scores of millions have an extremely low opinion of America.
President Bush made it seem that terrorists were hiding behind every tree and rock, but only a very small minority of Islamic militants are resorting to violence. Anyway, the word "terrorist" is often misused. People defending their homelands from invasion or fighting against an oppressor aren't terrorists. In Afghanistan President Reagan called the Mujahidin "freedom fighters" when they fought the Russians. Now they are terrorists. If they turned up in Venezuela they'd be freedom fighters again, and so it goes.
Given the signs of a gathering global trend toward multilateralism and the prospect, of a smaller leadership role for the U.S. as time goes on, the projection of a "new, improved" image of America to facilitate a warmer relationship with Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere is much in Washington's favor.
All of this is what brought President Obama to Cairo June 4 to deliver a well received speech at a secular university. The fact that Obama descended in part from an African family with a Muslim background was a great asset for the American president, which he made use of during his historic presentation.
"I've come here to Cairo," Obama said, "to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings."
Obama's rhetoric was a marvel of political manipulation, forthrightly alluding to a few of America's more public misdeeds but doing so in ways that minimized any critique of the United States — a form of praise with faint damn, to reverse the cliché. The U.S. president's reference to the historic accomplishments of the Islamic world were correct and welcome, but since they were mentioned only to achieve a political objective they sounded like a form of flattery known as "sweet talk."
The most President Obama would say about the Bush Administration's 2003 invasion of Iraq was that it was a "war of choice," but he did not condemn it for being unjust and illegal in terms of internationally recognized laws. He actually seemed to justify the war when he commented, "I believe the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein" — better off with a million dead, four million refugees and a half-destroyed country!
The president characterized the Bush Administration's nearly eight-year war against Afghanistan as "necessary," though he did not mention to the Cairo University audience that he had ordered 21,000 more U.S. soldiers to the country in a vast expansion of hostilities.
Discussing the Palestinians, Obama repeatedly insisted they "must abandon violence," and that "resistance through violence and killing is wrong, and it does not succeed," perhaps forgetting the American Revolutionary War wasn't fought with paint balls, and the Vietnamese resistance to the U.S. invader was hardly unsuccessful.
Obama excoriated violence against the U.S. and Israel, but he mentioned nothing about U.S. violence in Afghanistan and Iraq or Israeli violence against the Palestinian people, including Israel's astonishingly disproportionate violence (1,400 Palestinians killed to 14 Israelis) during its most recent rampage in Gaza, a massacre the president has never criticized.
In order to further Washington's objective of improved relations with Muslims, the president sought to convey the impression that he was pushing Israel against the wall by declaring that (1) "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements," and (2) "The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security."
After the speech, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ultra-right Likud coalition reiterated their rejection of the two state proposal and any limitations on settlements. This was hardly unexpected, but the fact is that both the U.S. and Israel formally agreed to the two state proposal several years ago. It was contained in the Bush Administration's 2003 "Road Map" agreement which was signed by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Obama has the upper hand in this conflict since a majority of Jews in Israel and America have supported the two state proposal in the past.
Obama's expressed opposition to "continued settlements" refers to the construction of new settlements and the expansion of existing settlements in the occupied West Bank, which now enclose over 300,000 Israeli Jews. He is not specifically calling for termination of the existing settlements at this point, though if there are to be two states the settlers either would have to return to Israeli territory or remain on the basis of an equitable reconfiguration of boundaries.
Our guess is that Netanyahu will concede on two states, recognizing that the process of establishing a Palestinian state can be dragged out for a very long time, and anything can happen in the interval.
The far right coalition cannot appear to walk away from the settlements, for ideological, religious and practical reasons, although the Sharon government agreed to the Road Map provision calling for the removal of 24 of the settlements (which has not been carried out). The ideological right believes that since Israel won the 1967 Six-Day War, the geographical spoils belong to the victor. This is illegal according to the UN Security Council and all international laws. The religious right thinks God deeded the land to the Jews, but this too has no weight in international law. The practical reason is that the settler community staunchly supports the right wing parties, for one thing, and that the process of removal could result in violent, destabilizing confrontations with militant settlers.
In his speech Obama saw the 2002 "Arab Peace Initiative" as a viable first step toward an Israel-Palestine settlement. This initiative pledged the Arab world to "offer full peace and normal relations between Israel and all the Arab states in return for Israel’s withdrawal from territories occupied after June 4, 1967, as well as an agreed solution to the refugee problem and the establishment of a Palestinian state." The present Tel Aviv regime spurns the initiative.
Aside from calling for Israel to "live up to its obligation" to follow past agreements, there was nothing in Obama's speech that indicated the United States intended to use its power to bring about a settlement. After all, Washington (1) delivers $3 billion a year to Tel Aviv, largely to finance the state-of-the-art Israeli Defense Force; (2) it pledges to defend Israel's security with its own formidable military power; and (3) extends decisive political support to Israel in the UN and throughout the world, among other acts to guarantee Israel's security and well being.
Washington, however, has yet to suggest to Tel Aviv that it might withdraw some of all or its support unless there is serious progress toward a settlement. Israel has frequently noted that it faced "existential threats" from the Arab countries, and these days from Iran, but as a June 4 article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz pointed out, "Israel's only real existential danger is losing U.S. support."
All President Obama has really done in terms of a new beginning in U.S.-Muslim relations is talk. It was productive talk. Many people in the Arab world want to like Obama because he is so refreshingly different from previous American presidents, and his talk offers them some hope.
But that's certainly not going to be enough. Is the U.S. even capable of doing the right thing to achieve a truly improved relationship?
For example, will Obama quickly remove U.S. troops from the entire Middle East, including in Afghanistan? Will Washington publicly criticize Israel's maltreatment of the Palestinians? Will the Obama Administration use its muscle to propel Israel toward progress on two states and settlements? Will the U.S. stop interfering in the politics of the region, particularly when it supports authoritarian regimes and ultra-conservative monarchies when they oppress their people?
As with some other aspects of the Obama Administration's national security project, such as expanding the Afghan war or withholding the torture photos, some right wingers approve of the White House initiative unveiled in Cairo. For example, warhawk Max Boot, a leading neoconservative, wrote this about the Cairo speech on the website of Commentary magazine:
"I realize that the Obama speech isn’t going to satisfy those (like me) who once thrilled to Bush’s unapologetic pro-democracy rhetoric but, for all of Obama’s rhetorical sleight of hands and elisions, I thought he did an effective job of making America’s case to the Muslim world. No question: He is a more effective salesman than his predecessor was."
From an opposite perspective, leftist historian Howard Zinn said this to his fellow Obama supporters in the May issue of The Progressive magazine: "Our job is not to give him a blank check or simply be cheerleaders. It was good that we were cheerleaders while he was running for office, but it’s not good to be cheerleaders now. Because we want the country to go beyond where it has been in the past. We want to make a clean break from what it has been in the past."
Editor's Note: We are preparing further articles on the Obama Administration's National Security policy, including a detailed analysis of the "good" Afghanistan war, the government's refusal to order an inquiry into the Bush-Cheney torture policies, and other relevant matters. Reader comments and suggestions are always welcome.
4. 'NEW BEGINNINGS' AND OLD THREATS
On June 7, three days after President Obama's Cairo talk of "new beginnings" with the international Moslem community, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested that Washington wants Tehran to think that the U.S. or others might launch a preemptive nuclear attack on Iran. This is supposed to keep them in line.
Clinton, who usually weighs he words rather carefully, made the comment on the This Week television news program hosted by George Stephanopoulos — well aware that in December 2007, the National Intelligence Estimate (compiled by the CIA and 15 other U.S. spy agencies), reversed a previous claim and reported Iran does not now have a nuclear weapons program.
The Tehran government has no nuclear weapons and states it does not intend to build them. Iran, known as Persia until 1935, has not initiated a war or hostilities with another country in modern history, but it did send troops to occupy a small piece of territory in the western sector of neighboring Afghanistan for three months — 153 years ago. They had been invited in by the local government, and were told to get out by Afghanistan's British overlords, and did.
In the region at this point only Israel possesses nuclear weapons, about 200 of them, and is, of course, in severe violation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The U.S. missile fleet is capable of depositing nuclear bombs upon any location in the Middle East, or the world for that matter. The Tehran government's intention to build a nuclear power plant is in accord with the NPT.
Here is a transcript of the relevant portion of the This Week interview, which took place after Stephanopoulos played an excerpt from a past Clinton statement: "I would make it clear to the Iranians that an attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation from the United States."
Stephanopoulos: Is it U.S. policy now?
Clinton: I think it is U.S. policy to the extent that we have alliances and understandings with a number of nations. They may not be formal, as it is with NATO, but I don't think there is any doubt in anyone's mind that, were Israel to suffer a nuclear attack by Iran, there would be retaliation.
Stephanopoulos: By the United States?
Clinton: Well, I think there would be retaliation. And I think part of what is clear is, we want to avoid a Middle East arms race which leads to nuclear weapons being in the possession of other countries in the Middle East, and we want to make clear that there are consequences and costs.
Now, let me just put it this way: If Iran is seeking security, if they believe — and, you know, you have to put yourself into the shoes of the other party when you negotiate — if they believe that the United States might attack them the way that we did attack Iraq, for example....
Stephanopoulos: Before they attack, as a first strike?
Clinton: That's right, as a first strike, or they might have some other enemy that would do that to them, part of what we have to make clear to the Iranians is that their pursuit of nuclear weapons will actually trigger greater insecurity, because, right now, many of the nations in the neighborhood, as you know very well....
Stephanopoulos: Because Israel will strike before they can finish?
Clinton: Well, but not only that. I mean, other countries, other Arab countries are deeply concerned about Iran having nuclear weapons. So does Iran want to face a battery of nuclear weapons countries....
5. DR. GEORGE TILLER, R.I.P.
A good man, Dr. George Tiller, was assassinated Sunday, May 31, during his duties as an usher at church services Wichita, Kansas. Tiller, 67, was an abortion provider since 1973, known for his lifelong dedication to women's reproductive health. He was slain by a right wing fanatic — a killer on behalf of "pro-life" values — who has been captured.
Dr. Tiller had been harassed for decades. He was shot and wounded before, in 1993, but he persevered in what he believed was a necessary responsibility toward women. Here is part of a talk he delivered in 2008 at a meeting organized by the Feminist Majority Foundation:
"I personally see a society that respects the integrity of its citizens to struggle with complex health issues and make decisions that are appropriate for them and their personal lives. I see a society that respects the religious differences of its citizens. I see a society that rejects hate, rejects judgmental condemnation, and rejects prejudice and racism.
"I see a government that honors the privacy of its citizens without unwarranted surveillance. I see a society where war is not an option. And the negotiation with mutual respect is the hallmark, rather than mutual self-destruction. I see a society where the welfare of all—I see a society where the welfare of all is equally important as the riches of the few. I see a world that discusses solutions without demanding its own answers.
"We have given war, pestilence, hate, greed, judgment, ego, self-sufficiency a good try. And it failed. We need a new paradigm that consists of kindness, courtesy, justice, love and respect in all our relationships.
"Work hard. Be a leader, your way of life depends on it…. And how do we do that? We do it the way we have always done things. We feel our way forward. We consider defeat a temporary inconvenience. And we never, ever, ever take no for an answer."
As we remember this brave doctor, we also remember those who fell earlier from anti-abortion assassins: March 10, 1993, Dr. David Gunn of Pensacola, Florida, fatally shot during a protest; June 29, 1994, Dr. John Britton and James Barrett, clinic escort, were both shot to death outside a Pensacola facility; December 30, 1994, two receptionists, Shannon Lowney and Leanne Nichols, were killed in two clinic attacks in Brookline, Massachusetts; in 1998, Robert Sanderson, off-duty police officer killed, as well as Dr. Barnett Slepian, an OB/GYN who was shot and killed in his home by an anti-abortion activist.
6. CUBA INVITED BUT WON'T JOIN OAS
In 1962, in the midst of the Cold War, the United States initiated a move that resulted in the exclusion of Cuba from the Organization of American States, which Washington totally controlled at the time.
Forty-seven years later, on June 3, at the behest of every country in the hemisphere except the U.S., the organization voted to revoke the original ban. The Obama Administration would have preferred to keep the exclusionary rule for a while longer, but it had no choice but to join the rest of the nations.
As anticipated, Cuba has no desire to become a member. Following is the June 8 Declaration of the Revolutionary Government concerning the OAS and explaining why it will not join:
In an act of unusual historic significance, the OAS has just formally buried the shameful resolution which excluded Cuba from the Inter-American System in 1962.
That decision was despicable and illegal, contrary to the declared aims and principles of the OAS Constitution. It was, at the same time, consistent with the trajectory of this organization — the motive for which was created, promoted and defended by the United States. It was consistent with its role as an instrument of U.S. hegemony in the hemisphere and with Washington's capacity to impose its will on Latin America at the historic moment in which the Cuban Revolution triumphed.
Today, Latin America and the Caribbean are experiencing another reality. The decision adopted at the 39th session of the OAS General Assembly is the fruit of the will of governments more committed to their peoples, with the region's real problems and with a sense of independence that, unfortunately did not prevail in 1962. Cuba acknowledges the merit of the governments that have undertaken to formally erase that resolution, referred to in that meeting as "an unburied corpse."
The decision to rescind Resolution 6 of the 8th OAS Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs constitutes an unquestioned disrespect for the policy on Cuba the U.S. followed since 1959. It pursues the aim of repairing a historic injustice and is a vindication for the Cuban people and peoples of the Americas.
Despite the last-minute consensus achieved, that decision was adopted against Washington's will and in the face of intensive moves and pressure exerted by governments in the region. In that way, it dealt imperialism a defeat using its very own instrument.
Cuba welcomes with satisfaction this expression of sovereignty and civic-mindedness, while thanking those governments which, with a spirit of solidarity, independence and justice, have defended Cuba's right to return to the organization. It also understands the desire to free the OAS from a stigma that has remained as a symbol of the organization's servility.
However, Cuba once again confirms that it will not return to the OAS.
Since the triumph of the Revolution, the Organization of American States has played an active role in Washington's policy of hostility against Cuba. It made the economic blockade official, ruled on the embargo of weapons and strategic products, and stipulated member countries' obligatory breaking off of diplomatic relations with our revolutionary state. Despite the exclusion in place, over the years it even tried to keep Cuba under its authority and to subject it to its own jurisdiction and that of its specialized agencies. This is an organization with a role and a trajectory that Cuba repudiates.
The Cuban people were able to resist the aggressions and the blockade, overcome the diplomatic, political, and economic isolation, and face, on their own, without yielding, the persistent aggressiveness of the most powerful empire known to the planet.
Today our country enjoys diplomatic relations with all the countries of the hemisphere apart from the United States. It is developing broad links of friendship and cooperation with the majority of them.
Moreover, Cuba has won its full independence and is marching unstoppably toward a society that is more just, equitable, and full of solidarity every day.
It has done so with supreme heroism and sacrifice, and with the solidarity of the peoples of the Americas. It shares values that are contrary to those of neoliberal and egotistical capitalism promoted by the OAS, and feels that it has the right and the authority to say "no" to the idea of joining a body in which the United States still exercises oppressive control. The peoples and governments of the region will understand this just position.
Today it can be understood more clearly than in 1962 that it is the OAS that is incompatible with the most pressing desires of the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, that it is incapable of representing their values, interests and genuine yearning for democracy; it is the OAS that has been unable to solve the problems of inequality, disparities in wealth, corruption, foreign intervention, and the predatory actions of transnational capital. It is the OAS that has remained silent in the face of the most horrendous crimes, communes with the interests of imperialism, and conspires against and subverts governments genuinely and legitimately constituted with demonstrable popular support.
The speeches and declarations of San Pedro Sula [in Honduras, where the meeting was held] have been more than eloquent. Well-founded criticisms of the organization's anachronism, given its divorce from continental realities and its disgraceful record, cannot be ignored.
The demands to end, once and for all, the criminal U.S. blockade of Cuba reflect the growing and unstoppable sentiment of an entire hemisphere. The spirit of independence represented there by the many that spoke is the one with which Cuba identifies.
Aspirations for the integration and coordination of Latin America and the Caribbean are increasingly manifest. Cuba is actively participating in, and proposes continuing to do so, the representative regional mechanisms of what José Martí called "Our America," from the Rio Grande to Patagonia, including all of the Caribbean islands.
Strengthening, expanding and harmonizing those bodies and groups is the path chosen by Cuba; not the outlandish illusion of returning to an organization that does not allow reform and that has been condemned by history.
The response of the people of Cuba to the ignominious 8th Meeting of Consultation of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the OAS was the Second Declaration of Havana, approved in a mass assembly on February 4, 1962 by more than one million Cubans in the Plaza de la Revolución. The declaration textually affirmed:
"…Great as was the epic of Latin American independence, heroic as was that struggle, today's generation of Latin Americans is called upon to engage in an epic which is even greater and more decisive for humanity. For that struggle was for liberation from Spanish colonial power, from a decadent Spain invaded by Napoleon's armies. Today the call for struggle is for liberation from the most powerful imperial metropolis in the world, from the most important force in the imperialist world and to render humanity an even greater service than that rendered by our predecessors.
"…For this great humanity has said, "Enough!" and has begun to march. And its march of giants will not be halted until they conquer real independence, for which they have died in vain more than once."
We will be loyal to these ideas which have made it possible for our people to maintain Cuba free, sovereign and independent.
7. Religion #1:
NON-RELIGION GAINS IN AMERICA
The United States remains an extremely religious country, but non-belief is rising comparatively rapidly, and Christianity — the country's predominant creed — is losing some adherents.
The majority of the American population still looks askance at nonbelievers in general and disapproves of atheists in particular, but more and more atheists and others are coming out of the closet.
New popular books criticizing religion abound. Non-religious groups growing. Some are taking public stands. Some argue on the basis of UN statistics that the more secular and non-religious the society, the greater the social well-being of its people.
A total of 15% of Americans now say there have "no religion," a significant jump from 8.2% in 1990, according to a recent American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). Some 50 years ago, so few residents of the U.S. openly acknowledged non-belief that the Gallup Poll declared "nearly all Americans believe in God."
Associated Press reports the ARIS found that "Nationally, Catholics remain the largest religious group, with 57 million people saying they belong to the church. The tradition gained 11 million followers since 1990, but its share of the population fell by about a percentage point to 25%. Christians who aren't Catholic also are a declining segment of the country. Researchers said the dwindling ranks of mainline Protestants, including Methodists, Lutherans and Episcopalians, largely explains the shift. Over the last seven years, mainline Protestants dropped from just over 17% to 12.9% of the population. Many mainline Protestant groups are riven by conflict over how they should interpret what the Bible says about gay relationships, salvation and other issues."
The number of adult Jews who described themselves as religiously observant continued to drop, from 1.8% in 1990 to 1.2%, or 2.7 million people, last year. The percentage of Americans who identified themselves as Muslim grew from 0.3% to 0.6% of the population."
The ARIS survey was conducted by The Program on Public Values at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., and released in March. A huge pool of 54,461 adults were questioned in English or Spanish throughout last year. Previous ARIS surveys took place in 1990 and 2001.
An article in Newsweek April 13 quoted R. Albert Mohler Jr. — president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary — as commenting after examining the survey: "A remarkable culture-shift has taken place around us. The most basic contours of American culture have been radically altered. The so-called Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium has given way to a post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western cultural crisis which threatens the very heart of our culture." Baptists fell from 19.5% in 1990 to 15.5% last year.
Atheists comprise a minority in the category of "no religion." Others include agnostics, secular humanists, the non-religious, and those with spiritual or other beliefs that may or may not recognize a "higher power" but do not recognize the existence of God.
"Even more newsworthy," writes Professor Ronald Aronson of Wayne State University, "when the widely-scorned labels 'atheist' and 'agnostic' are replaced with specifics about beliefs — such as 'There is no such thing' as God, 'There is no way to know,' or 'I'm not sure,' and added to those who refused to answer — it turns out that over 18% of Americans do not profess belief in a God or a higher power. According to ARIS, then, there could be as many as 40 million adult nonbelievers in the United States!"
The ARIS survey shows that those who identify as atheist or agnostic, the most intense category of nonbelievers, increased in the U.S. during 1990-2008 from under 2 million to 3.6 million. Why this significant increase? Here's one factor, quoting Aronson: "For those who think that books and ideas simply don't matter, it is dramatic tribute to the success of the 'new atheist' writers — including Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens. To paraphrase the title of Dennett's book, their goal has been to 'break the spell' of religion — and they have evidently helped more Americans 'achieve' that goal." (Editor's Note: We particularly recommend Dawkins' "The God Delusion" for those who wish to further understand the nontheist position.)
The survey reported that the percentage of nonbelievers increased in all 50 states. The highest proportion now reside in Northern New England, surpassing the Pacific Northwest for the first time. Vermont leads in irreligion with 35%. Southern Baptist Mohler said the geographical shift "really hit me hard." He told Newsweek that "the Northwest was never as religious, never as congregationalized, as the Northeast, which was the foundation, the home base, of American religion. To lose New England struck me as momentous."
The ARIS also declared that "the number of adults identifying as Christian declined from 86% in 1990 to 76% today." Evangelical or born-again Americans make up 34% of all adults and 45% of all Christians and Catholics, the study found. Researchers determined that 18% of Catholics consider themselves born-again or evangelical, and nearly 39% of mainline Protestants prefer those labels. Many mainline Protestant groups are riven by conflict over how they should interpret what the Bible says about gay relationships, salvation and other issues."
USA Today made this observation March 9: "Anger and dismay over the clergy sexual abuse scandal, which erupted in Boston in 2002, may be reflected in declining rates of Catholics across New England. But the total percentage of Catholics in the USA declined only slightly from 1990 to 2008. Analysts say immigration and other demographic shifts account for most of the changes."
The survey showed that the trappings of organized religion are declining for a portion of the population. Some 30% of married couples eschewed a religious wedding ceremony, and 27% will reject a religious funeral. About 12% of Americans believe in a "higher power" of one form or another but not the personal God at the core of monotheistic faiths. And, since 1990, a slightly greater share of respondents — 1.2% — said they were part of new religious movements, including Scientology, Wicca and Santeria.
A recent Newsweek Poll found that "fewer people now think of the United States as a 'Christian nation' than did so when George W. Bush was president (62% in 2009 versus 69%) in 2008). Two thirds of the public (68%) now say religion is 'losing influence' in American society, while just 19% say religion's influence is on the rise. The proportion of Americans who think religion 'can answer all or most of today's problems' is now at a historic low of 48%. During the Bush II and Clinton years, that figure never dropped below 58%."
In our view, the percentage of nonbelievers is probably higher than indicated by the latest statistics. We suspect that some Americans claiming to be religious may actually harbor grave doubts or not believe at all but keep quiet because of the immense social pressure on behalf of religious conformity in the United States.
Among the varieties of non-religious views, atheism is the main target of conservative ire. Commenting on American opinion polls in recent years, Austin Cline wrote in About.com: "Every single study that has ever looked at the issue has revealed massive amounts of bigotry and prejudice against atheists in America. The most recent data shows that atheists are more distrusted and despised than any other minority and that an atheist is the least likely person that Americans would vote for in a presidential election."
The 2006 survey conducted by the University of Minnesota and titled "American Attitudes Towards Atheists & Atheism," showed the following results:
• In answer to the statement "this group does not at all agree with my vision of American society," the reply was: Atheist: 39.6%, Muslims: 26.3%, Homosexuals: 22.6%, Hispanics: 20%, Conservative Christians: 13.5%, Recent Immigrants: 12.5%, Jews: 7.6%."
• Replying to "I would disapprove if my child wanted to marry a member of this group," the response was: "Atheist: 47.6%, Muslim: 33.5%, African-American 27.2%, Asian-Americans: 18.5%, Hispanics: 18.5%, Jews: 11.8%, Conservative Christians: 6.9%, Whites: 2.3%."
Cline also reported that a "March 2007 survey done by Newsweek shows that 62% of people would refuse to vote for any candidate admitting to being an atheist." Interestingly, 47% said America today is more accepting of atheists than in the past, and 68% conceded that atheists could also be moral." This latter is a notable concession since many religionists believe that individual morality derives from submission to religious principles, and that atheists could not possess moral views.
There is only one acknowledged nontheist in the entire U.S. Congress. He is Rep. Pete Stark, a Democrat from California's 13th CD. Stark, 77, has held his seat since 1973. In January 2007 he publicly stated: "[I am a] Unitarian who does not believe in a Supreme Being. I look forward to working with the Secular Coalition to stop the promotion of narrow religious beliefs in science, marriage contracts, the military and the provision of social service."
We are sure that over the decades there are other, possibly many other, nonbelievers in Congress and the White House who concealed their "godless" beliefs in order to get elected.
There is a new openness and energy in the non-religious community. Despite lingering prejudice against nonbelievers, their number is increasing and their impact on U.S. society is deepening. Several of the "new atheist" books were best sellers, and more will be written. Further, as the New York Times reported in a page 1 headline April 27, "More Atheists Are Shouting It From Rooftops."
"More than ever," the article said, "America's atheists are linking up and speaking out…. They are connecting on the Internet, holding meet-ups in bars, advertising on billboards and buses, volunteering at food pantries and picking up roadside trash, earning atheist groups recognition on adopt-a-highway signs.
"They liken their strategy to that of the gay-rights movement, which lifted off when closeted members of a scorned minority decided to go public. 'It's not about carrying banners or protesting,' said Herb Silverman, a math professor at the College of Charleston who founded the Secular Humanists of the Low Country, S.C., which has about 150 members on the coast of the Carolinas. 'The most important thing is coming out of the closet.'"
The article also noted that "local and national atheist organizations have flourished in recent years." For instance, the Secular Student Alliance, which had 42 campus chapters in 2003, now has 146.
Throughout the world it is estimated that between 900 million and 1.2 billion people are within the non-religious/agnostic/atheist category — about 16% of the global population. The only two religious creeds with more adherents than the non-religious group are Christianity with 2.1 billion adherents and Islam with 1.5 billion.
Among the inhabitants of the "Western" world, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the greatest number of atheists (as opposed to the broader non-religious category) reside in Europe — 41 million, out of an estimated 150 million to 240 million atheists worldwide.
In a fascinating article titled "Is Faith Good for Us?" (published by the Council for Secular Humanism in October 2007) it is posited that secular societies with a large number of nonbelievers take better care of their citizens than more religious countries. Author Phil Zuckerman, an associate professor at California's Pitzer College writes:
"Fundamentalists agree that, when large numbers of people in a society reject God or fail to make him the center of their lives, societal disintegration is sure to follow. Every societal ill — whether crime, poverty, poor public education, or AIDS — is thus blamed on a lack of piety. (1)
"If this often touted religious theory were correct — that a turning away from God is at the root of all societal ills — then we would expect to find the least religious nations on earth to be bastions of crime, poverty, and disease and the most religious nations to be models of societal health. A comparison of highly irreligious countries with highly religious countries, however, reveals a very different state of affairs. In reality, the most secular countries — those with the highest proportion of atheists and agnostics — are among the most stable, peaceful, free, wealthy, and healthy societies. And the most religious nations, wherein worship of God is in abundance, are among the most unstable, violent, oppressive, poor, and destitute."
Zuckerman then analyzed the UN Human Development Report and Index that ranks the well being of the inhabitants of 177 countries, from life expectancy to per capita income, and continued: "According to this report, the five top nations were Norway, Sweden, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands. All had notably high degrees of organic atheism. Furthermore, of the top 25 nations, all but Ireland and the United States were top-ranking nonbelieving nations with some of the highest percentages of organic atheism on earth. Conversely, the bottom fifty countries of the Human Development Index lacked statistically significant levels of organic atheism."
His conclusion: "Belief in God may provide comfort to the individual believer, but, at the societal level, its results do not compare at all favorably with those of the more secular societies. When seeking a more civil, just, safe, humane, and healthy society, one is more likely to find it among those nations ranking low in religious faith — contrary to the preaching of religious folks."
— Link (1): http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=library&page=pzuckerman_26_5
8. Religion #2:
GOD'S WILL BE DONE
When the U.S. and its principal ally Great Britain invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, in 2001 and 2003 respectively, both President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair believed they were fulfilling "God's Will."
This has been rumored for years after fundamentalist Bush was quoted six years ago as saying that he launched the invasions because he was "on a mission from God." But new evidence establishes both former leaders were convinced that the Christian deity supported their attacks on the two Islamic countries.
Former French Premier Jacques Chirac, in a book published in March, revealed that Bush said he was fulfilling Biblical prophesy in starting each of his unjust, illegal wars. In late May, John Burton, one of Blair's closest political associates for a quarter-century and often described as his mentor, told the press that the British leader's support of the wars was "all part of the Christian battle; good should triumph over evil."
An account of Bush's religious motivations appeared May 24 in CounterPunch under the byline of Clive Hamilton, a visiting professor at Yale.
"In 2003 while lobbying leaders to put together the Coalition of the Willing, President Bush spoke to France's President Jacques Chirac," Hamilton wrote. "Bush wove a story about how the Biblical creatures Gog and Magog were at work in the Middle East and how they must be defeated. In Genesis and Ezekiel Gog and Magog are forces of the Apocalypse who are prophesied to come out of the north and destroy Israel unless stopped.
"The Book of Revelation took up the Old Testament prophesy: 'And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.'"
"Bush believed the time had now come for that battle, telling Chirac: 'This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people's enemies before a New Age begins.'"
"…. The story has now been confirmed by Chirac himself in a new book, published in France in March, by journalist Jean Claude Maurice. Chirac is said to have been stupefied and disturbed by Bush's invocation of Biblical prophesy to justify the war in Iraq and 'wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs.'" (1)
Blair's support for wars of aggression was likewise justified by religious beliefs, which is hardly a new phenomenon in either the ancient or modern world. Has there ever been a war when God wasn't on America's, or Great Britain's side?
The London daily Telegraph of May 23 published an interview with Blair's friend Burton who revealed that the ex-Prime Minister was frustrated because British politics — as opposed to the politics of godly America — frowned upon expressions of religious zeal by the country's top leaders. Now that he's out of office, Blair has established the "Tony Blair Faith Foundation" and has been interviewed numerous times about his religious views.
According to the Telegraph, "The former Prime Minister's faith is claimed to have influenced all his key policy decisions and to have given him an unshakeable conviction that he was right." Burton said "It's very simple to explain the idea of Blair the Warrior. It was part of Tony living out his faith…. While he was at Number 10, Tony was virtually gagged on the whole question of religion…. But Tony's Christian faith is part of him, down to his cotton socks. He believed strongly at the time, that intervention in Kosovo, Sierra Leone — Iraq too — was all part of the Christian battle; good should triumph over evil, making lives better."
The newspaper continued: Burton's "comments will add to the suspicions of Mr. Blair's critics, who fear he saw the Iraq war in a similar light to… Bush, who used religious rhetoric in talking about the conflict, as well as the war in Afghanistan, describing them as 'a crusade.'" (2)
The BBC reported Bush's "mission from God" statement following the U.S. president's June 2003 meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath. They disclosed that "President Bush said to all of us: 'I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq.' And I did."
A year later, the Commander in Chief of the most deadly war machine in history confessed that, in effect, his is the voice of a supernatural being: "I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn't do my job."
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was a skilful manipulator of Bush's delusional religious beliefs. It was revealed in May by GQ magazine that Rumsfeld adorned the covers of his top secret war intelligence reports to the president with biblical quotations along with photos of American soldiers and battle equipment. One such report, a few days after the invasion, showed a U.S. tank in the desert and a paragraph from Ephesians 6:13, declaring: "Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." (3)
The Los Angeles Times May 25 published a report stating that "the hawkish use of scripture has prompted many faithful to ask whether Americans lost their lives in Iraq defending democracy or fighting a religious crusade…. Meanwhile, some Jewish and Christian leaders say that the biblical passages were misused." According to Scott Alexander, director of the Catholic-Muslim Studies Program at Chicago's Catholic Theological Union, "What is at issue is the possibility that the highest levels of the executive branch took biblical texts out of their proper context to cast the mission of the U.S. military in explicitly religious terms."
On March 22, 2003, Rumsfeld announced in a worldwide broadcast that his threatened "shock and awe" bombing of Baghdad had just commenced. The dark sky over the Iraqi capital was illuminated throughout the long night by Washington's bombs bursting in air like Fourth of July firecrackers, accompanied in effect by the "ohs" and "ahs" of a huge American television audience gaping at the red, white and blue spectacle. The patriotic mass media saw to it that the screaming and pain were off camera, as it has been throughout the Iraq war. Over the course of six years more than a million Iraqis have been slain in carrying out Bush's mission from God to "liberate" the country and confiscate all its nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.
To Bush, Rumsfeld's "shock and awe" terror bombing was the equivalent of a vengeful God's threat against Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38:22: "And with pestilence and with blood I shall enter into judgment with him; and I shall rain on him, and on his troops, and on the many peoples who are with him, a torrential rain, with hailstones, fire, and brimstone."
Religiosity did not cause the war, of course. The impetuous imperialism of neoconservatives in power, strengthened by America's already existing aggressive military posture, was the primary cause of the unjust invasion of Iraq. But Bush's hallucination that he was being instructed by God removed any doubts that a more rational leader might have entertained before leading the U.S. into losing war that will ultimately cost $3 trillion dollars and compromise America's standing in the world.
Prime Minister Blair, for his part, would have supported Washington under virtually any circumstances because of the acquiescent nature of Great Britain's post-World War II relationship to the U.S. But Blair's strongly held religious beliefs contributed to his undeviating defense of Bush's folly long after a less "faith" motivated government leader would have backed away.
Without London's enthusiastic support, Washington would not have had an impressive major ally at its side — a fact that may have caused the White House a degree of hesitation before letting loose its righteous wrath upon the Antichrist of Baghdad and the civilian population of Iraq.
(1) Hamilton's full article is at http://www.counterpunch.org/hamilton05222009.html.
(2) The Telegraph article is at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/5373525/Tony-Blair-believed-God-wanted-him-to-go-to-war-to-fight-evil-claims-his-mentor.html.
(3) GQ slide show of Rumsfeld reports, http://men.style.com/gq/features/topsecret?
9. Religion #3:
OBAMA'S RELIGIOUS VIEWS
All American presidents, with the exception of a few deists in the early years of the Republic, have been Christians.
President Barack Obama is a Christian who was raised in a basically secular household. He is an advocate of church-state separation, with a fairly liberal perspective on religion compared to the born-again fundamentalism of his predecessor, who viewed himself as being on a mission from God when he invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.
Obama carefully crafts his spiritual views to appeal to both the religious and non-religious, a middle of the road practice he occasionally carries over into legislation when he seeks to mollify liberals and conservatives simultaneously. He frequently evokes God, religion and prayer before mass audiences, but he also has declared that "I do not believe that religious people have a monopoly on morality," and has noted that "America is not a Christian country." These statements are obvious but in the past they rarely emanated from the White House.
Obama is a conventional politician, however. Last year, when the right wing launched a slander campaign against his religious adviser and family friend, Rev. Jeremiah Wright — alleging he was an anti-American, anti-white, political extremist — Obama publicly criticized the Chicago minister who has been described as his mentor for 20 years, and quickly transferred to another church and minister.
Obama had long been aware of Wright's passionate views. He knew the right wing charges were unfair and that many progressive Americans agreed with Wright's denunciations of racism and imperialism, but the preacher and his ideas had become a liability to political ambition.
According to an April 28 article in Religion Dispatches by Ronald Aronson, critics — including Americans United for the Separation of Church and State — worry that "Obama's renewal of the Bush Faith-Based Initiative in the new Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships has not ruled out proselytizing and discriminatory hiring for religious social service programs that are granted Federal dollars. [Americans United also holds that the 'initiative' is a euphemism for taxpayer-supported religion.] And they wince when recalling that he subjected himself to the informal religious test of being drilled like a catechism pupil by Rick Warren on his own particular way of believing in Jesus Christ." The right wing fundamentalist Warren delivered the Inauguration invocation at Obama's request.
President Obama's Cairo speech June 4 was suffused with religiosity and the declaration that Middle East peace and reconciliation can be brought about by following religious scriptures in the holy books. In closing his oration he intoned:
"We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written [in scripture].
"The Holy Koran tells us: 'O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.' The Talmud tells us: 'The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace.' The Holy Bible tells us: 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.' The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth. Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you."
For those with an objective interest in religious history, Obama's words also were a reminder of the millennia of wars and violence, continuing unto this day, perpetrated in the name of God.
Obama may be an enlightened believer, but this question must be posed: How many poor, innocent peasant and worker families will be destroyed as "collateral damage" because the successor to Bush and his Christian Crusade has decided to hurl his own "hailstones, fire, and brimstone" (Ezekiel 38:22) against some other religious fundamentalists in destitute Afghanistan? But of course "you don't count the dead when God's on your side."
10. Religion #4:
WITH GOD ON OUR SIDE
By Bob Dylan
Oh my name it is nothin'
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I's taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And the land that I live in
Has God on its side.
Oh the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side.
War had its day
And the Civil War too
Was soon laid away
And the names of the heroes
I's made to memorize
With guns on their hands
And God on their side.
The First World War, boys
It came and it went
The reason for fighting
I never did get
But I learned to accept it
Accept it with pride
For you don't count the dead
When God's on your side.
When the Second World War
Came to an end
We forgave the Germans
And then we were friends
Though they murdered six million
In the ovens they fried
The Germans now too
Have God on their side.
I've learned to hate Russians
All through my whole life
If another war comes
It's them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side.
But now we got weapons
Of the chemical dust
If fire them we're forced to
Then fire them we must
One push of the button
And a shot the world wide
And you never ask questions
When God's on your side.
In a many dark hour
I've been thinkin' about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can't think for you
You'll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.
So now as I'm leavin'
I'm weary as Hell
The confusion I'm feelin'
Ain't no tongue can tell
The words fill my head
And fall to the floor
If God's on our side
He'll stop the next war.
11. DON'T EXECUTE TROY DAVIS
By Benjamin Todd Jealous (NAACP President)
Despite a strong claim of innocence, Troy Davis, an African-American man from Georgia, faces execution for purportedly killing a police officer.
Seven out of nine witnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony, no murder weapon was found, and no physical evidence links Davis to the crime. The Georgia Board of Pardon and Paroles has voted to deny clemency, yet Governor Sonny Perdue can still exercise leadership to ensure that Troy Davis's death sentence is commuted.
Please sign the petition (below) asking him to support clemency for Davis. The Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, which has been a leader in the fight for Troy Davis, will deliver the petition to the governor to ensure your voice is heard.
The case of Troy Davis highlights the need for criminal justice reform in the United States. The NAACP, with its long and accomplished history of promoting civil rights, is on the forefront of a movement to revolutionize the criminal justice system.
More than 60% of the people in prison are people of color. For Black males in their twenties, one in every eight is in prison or jail on any given day. These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the "war on drugs," in which three-fourths of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color. The most extreme end of the criminal justice system, the implementation of the death penalty, is no exception: currently, more than 41% of those on death row are Black. We must fight for change.
Please help us fight for the rights — and life — of Troy Davis today. Here are some facts about Davis's case:
Davis was sentenced to death for the murder of Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail at a Burger King in Savannah, Georgia, a murder he maintains he did not commit. There was no physical evidence against him and the weapon used in the crime was never found. The case against him consisted entirely of witness testimony which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial. Since then, all but two of the state's non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted or contradicted their testimony. Many of these witnesses have stated in sworn affidavits that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Troy Davis.
One of the two witnesses who has not recanted his testimony is Sylvester "Red" Coles—the principle alternative suspect, according to the defense, against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the gunman. Nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles.
Please urge Georgia Gov. Perdue to commute Davis's sentence and bring justice to this case by signing our petition today: http://org2.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=nSwJ%2F0lYOSjNmyCzxvADw2nof%2FA5wbS3
12. ACTIVIST CONVICTED FOR SUPPLYING WATER
Over the past decade, nearly 2,000 men, women and children — almost all of them entering the U.S. without documents in order to find work — have died while trying to cross the border from Mexico into the 115-degree desert heat of Arizona, many from lack of water.
Human rights activist Walt Staton, 27, of Tucson, a member of the group No More Deaths, decided to do something about it. He, as well as other members, left gallon-sized plastic jugs of water in accessible locations to prevent thirsty migrants from dying of dehydration.
Staton was apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol agents Dec. 4. "I was just trying to save lives," Staton said. "I was trying to end the death and suffering in the desert." On June 3, after a two-day trial, an Arizona court convicted him for "knowingly littering" in the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge. He will be sentenced Aug. 11 and could possibly receive up to a year in jail or a large fine.
Despite his conviction, he told the Arizona Daily Star he will continue to place water in the desert. "We're not asking permission from the United States to save people's lives. We never have, because we know they'd say no."
"In a move criticized by defense attorneys," reported Democracy Now June 5, "the jury was ordered to reach a verdict after initial deliberations ended in a deadlock.
In a statement, No More Deaths said, "By penalizing life-saving work, the United States is showing callous disregard for the lives of our neighbors to the south, whose only crime is to seek a better life." Commented Laura Ilardo, coordinator of the Phoenix chapter of the group: "We have a humanitarian crisis on our borders; it is a disaster and very little if anything is being done to address it in a humanitarian way."
According to journalist Valeria Fernández, in an article for the website feetin2worlds.wordpress.com, the No More Deaths project has saved lives:
"José López, 22, injured his left leg while jumping the border fence in the middle of the night as Border Patrol agents chased him. At daylight, he found himself lost and alone in the middle of the Sonoran desert. Three days later he ran out of water and food. He survived by refilling his jug at water tank stations he happened to find across the desert, until he found a road and, in desperation, turned himself in to the Border Patrol.
"As three-digit summer temperatures loom, human rights activists are stepping up their efforts to provide humanitarian aid in the form of water and food to immigrants who cross the Mexican border into Arizona. The state is a principal gateway for unauthorized migration to the U.S.
Rev. Robin Hoover, president of Humane Borders, a humanitarian group that also provides water in the desert at 102 water stations, said that despite a reduction in the number of people crossing the border because of the recession and Border Patrol activity, "the migrant death rate is going up. It's not necessarily the total number of deaths, it's the ratio of the number of people that are crossing and dying."
13. REMEMBERING THE REAL HELEN KELLER
Helen Keller, one of the most respected women in American history, was born on June 27, 1880 — 109 years ago this month. She died June 1, 1968, known to all but really known to few.
Every child attending a school in the United States learns that Keller contracted an illness when she was 19 months old that rendered her blind and deaf for the remainder of her life. They learn that despite her handicap she went on to earn a Radcliffe College degree in 1904 and became a famous author, a prolific essayist and lecturer and an activist on behalf of the blind. They learn she initiated state commissions for the blind throughout the U.S. and was a dynamic force behind the American Foundation for the Blind.
But what the children are not taught, and what most adults still do not know because this information is kept quiet in our schools and media, is that Helen Keller became a socialist in her early 20s and remained so until her death. She joined the Socialist Party at 29 and a few years later moved further to the left by joining the IWW. She was a supporter of the USSR.
In her first autobiography, "The Story of My Life," she wrote, "Militarism...is one of the chief bulwarks of capitalism, and the day that militarism is undermined, capitalism will fail."
In "Midstream: My later Life," she wrote: "I had once believed that we were all masters of our fate — that we could mold our lives into any form we pleased.... I had overcome deafness and blindness sufficiently to be happy, and I supposed that anyone could come out victorious if he threw himself valiantly into life's struggle. But as I went more and more about the country I learned that I had spoken with assurance on a subject I knew little about. I forgot that I owed my success partly to the advantages of my birth and environment [she was born to a prominent Alabama family].... Now, however, I learned that the power to rise in the world is not within the reach of everyone."
In an essay contained in "The Cry for Justice," edited by Upton Sinclair, she wrote, "How reconcile this world of fact with the bright world of my imagining? My darkness has been filled with the light of intelligence, and behold, the outer daylight world was stumbling and groping in social blindness."
In 1920, three years after the Bolshevik Revolution, she told an audience at the Rand School of Social Science in New York City: "In the East, a new star is risen! With pain and anguish the old order has given birth to the new, and behold in the East a man-child is born! Onward, comrades, all together! Onward to the campfires of Russia! Onward to the coming dawn."
In the early 1960s, Keller wrote to Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a Communist Party leader imprisoned in 1953 after her conviction under the Smith Act: "Loving birthday greetings, dear Elizabeth Flynn! May the sense of serving mankind bring strength and peace into your brave heart!" The Bureau of Prisons refused to allow the note to reach Flynn. (It was about the young Elizabeth Flynn that the great Wobbly Joe Hill wrote his famous 1915 song, "The Rebel Girl," while himself locked in a jail cell in Utah soon before he was murdered by a firing squad.)
So this, too, was Helen Keller, whose own brave heart we salute during the month of the birth and death of a truly remarkable woman.
— Bluegrass singer Hazel Dickens performs a wonderful version of The Rebel Girl, which undoubtedly characterizes Keller as well as Flynn (they were both veterans of the IWW) and many other women fighters for justice. Check out Dickens' music video, which is introduced by the elderly Flynn before the singing begins. The pictures of rebel women accompanying the music are just fine, though some of the captions are hard to read. It's at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHNwKN5D-Co .
14. NEWS IN BRIEF
By Nathan Rosenblum
MORE U.S. CHILDREN FACE HUNGER: According to a recently released report from the food bank program Feeding America, over 3.5 million American children up the age of five, or one in six of this cohort, face hunger in 26 states. The full number of hungry children in the entire country is as many as 12 million. This number has been increasing in many states. For very young children this "food insecurity," as it is officially known, may have particularly serious medical consequences. According to John Cook of the Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine, "the first three years of life are the most critical period of brain growth and development" and the physical and mental effects of malnutrition at such a young age may not be reversible.
Hunger is particularly present among children from ethnic minority backgrounds. As reported by Pulitzer winning journalist David K. Shipler in his book "The Working Poor," the Boston Medical Center’s child malnutrition program sees predominantly minority children. Many of the children that come to the clinic are emaciated from malnutrition and have developed weakened immune systems. According to Shipler, this is not helped by the fact that what food is available in many inner city communities is not nutritious and consists in a large part of snack foods and soda.
GLOBAL WARMING THREATENS LAKE BAIKAL: The deepest lake in the world and largest by fresh water volume, southern Siberia's Lake Baikal, is facing the possibility of major degradation due to global warming, says an analysis of a recent report by a joint U.S.-Russian team. Baikal, which is just over a mile deep, is said to be the most biologically diverse lake in the world. It supports large numbers of unique species including the Baikal Seal, crustaceans, fish, and microscopic plants known as diatoms. These diatoms serve as the first layer of the food chain for the lake and require ice cover in order to bloom.
The reduced amount of time that the lake is covered by ice due to increased temperatures means that the diatoms are likely to decrease in abundance. The reduced ice will also likely have harmful effects on other species such as the Baikal Seal which mates and gives birth on the ice. In addition, due to its geographic location, the lake is vulnerable to other feedback effects of global warming such as the release of material long contained in the permafrost that could affect nutrient levels and add pollution to the lake. The team indicated that while people in Russia are very concerned about protecting the lake, there needs to be increased monitoring of the area and international commitments to curb releases of greenhouse gasses are essential to prevent further harm to the ecosystem.
BOSSES EXPAND ANTI-UNION PRACTICES: According to a new study by Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner, the director of labor education research at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, the use of anti-union tactics by employers facing organizing campaigns has been increasing. The study looked at 1,004 union organization efforts from between 1999 and 2003, and included information from the National Labor Relations Board and 562 organizers.
It was determined that in 57% of campaigns, employers threatened to close plants. In 47%, employers threatened to cut wages and benefits. Pro-union workers were fired in 34% of organizing drives. Other forms of intimidation included interrogating workers in one-on-one meetings about their own or other worker’s willingness to joining a union in 63% of elections (this sort of harassment of workers is illegal), and in 54% of these meetings workers were actually threatened. The use of 10 or more anti-unionization tactics by employers has increased to include 49% of organizing efforts, up from 26% in a study conducted by the same researcher 12 years ago. She believes that these tactics have been in large part responsible for the decrease in unionization rates in the United States from 22%, 30 years ago, to 12.4% today. It is suggested that this study may be influential in congressional consideration of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow a union to represent the workers in any setting where a majority sign union member cards rather than requiring an election and thus make organizing easier. The EFCA, however, may fail to secure passage despite the large Democratic majority in Congress.
MORE COUNTRIES BAN CLUSTER WEAPONS: The prohibition on cluster "munitions is firmly taking hold as more countries join the new treaty banning the weapon and hold-out states shift their policies in the right direction," says a report issued last month by Human Rights Watch (HRW), Landmine Action, and Landmine Monitor. While many countries have produced and stockpiled cluster munitions, only a handful have actually used them, including the United States and Israel. These munitions, which can be delivered by aircraft, rockets or artillery, are packed with small "bomblets" that explode in the air and can maim or kill people over a large area. A considerable number do not explode on impact but do so when stepped upon or picked up.
Many people in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia are killed each year by such devices left over from attacks by the United States decades ago. HRW states that "A total of 96 countries have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions since December 2008, including 20 of the 28 NATO members. Thirty-five countries that have stockpiled cluster munitions have signed the treaty. A number of countries with large supplies of cluster munitions, including the U.S., Russia, China and Israel, have not yet agreed to the ban. The Bush Administration last year said the U.S. might eventually agree to withdraw the munitions in another 10 years.
INCREASE IN HOME FORECLSURES: The number of home foreclosures in the past year has continued to increase and is affecting conventional as well as sub-prime mortgages. Rising unemployment is a major reason. The official jobless rate (which does not include the underemployed and those who have abandoned the search for a new job) is currently at 9.2%% and is expected by many economists to reach double digits. Unemployment is anticipated to be responsible for 60% of mortgage defaults this year.
From last November through this February, 473,000 prime mortgages, 14,000 sub-prime, and 159,000 Alt-A (a category similar to sub-prime), were foreclosed, with totals of 1.5 million, 1.65 million and 836,000 respectively since the beginning of the crisis. Prime mortgage defaults have been increasing the fastest. The total value of all of the loans defaulted on has been estimated to be $717 billion, a 60% increase from last year. The Obama plan, which has allocated only $75 billion to encouraging lenders to modify debt obligations, is estimated to have been instrumental in modifying only between 10,000 and 55,000 loans.
15. QUOTES IN THE NEWS
• THE ANTI-ABORTION FAR RIGHT: Taking off on the suspected murder of Dr. George Tiller by Scott Roeder, a member of the Montana Freeman white separatist anti-government group, the well known journalist James Ridgeway penned an article titled "A Brief History of the Radical Right" that was published in the June issue of Mother Jones magazine. He wrote:
"[T]he journey from radical racialist to anti-abortionist isn't as unusual as you might think…. The Freeman aimed to rid the nation of '14th Amendment citizens' —anyone who wasn't a white Anglo Saxon directly descended from God. Nonwhites, or 'mud people,' weren't really people at all, but God's failed attempts to create Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden…. One might think that the divisions between pro-life Christians and far-right racists would preclude any sort of working alliance. In the early and mid-'80s, however, the racialist underground often railed against abortion [and] by the 1990s, the far right had started to attack abortion clinics."
— Full article at http://www.motherjones.com/print/24189.
• WHICH WAY FOR ISRAEL?: President Obama and Israel's hard-line right wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are at odds about the two-state solution to resolve the Palestinian land question, and about building or expanding Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory. Netanyahu now rejects both projects, though they had been accepted by previous Tel Aviv governments. Obama insists upon it. Who will win? According to political columnist Gideon Levy, writing June 4 in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, "the issue has been settled in Washington," continuing:
"An Israeli prime minister has no option of saying no to America once Washington has dug in its heels. Netanyahu knows this better than anyone, and the time has come to explain as much to his 'patriotic' coalition allies. Israel's only real existential danger is losing U.S. support."
— Full article at http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1090367.html.
16. CHECK IT OUT
• A FAIR HEARING FOR CONSERVATIVES: In line with President Obama's efforts to reach across the aisle to GOP politicians, and to keep in mind that "left" and "right" are divisive terms that have no place in the new "post-partisan" era, we think it's time to give a fair hearing to our Republican friends who believe that "government's the problem, not the solution." This video, titled "Regulation Vacation Celebration," is only a minute long, but it gives them their full due.
• MSNBC — A LIBERAL MECCA?: Cable TV's MSNBC "is now providing the largest toehold progressives have ever had on television," according to Rory O'Connor writing for AlterNet. The station recently added another liberal commentator, Ed Schultz, who joins Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow. The article is at http://www.alternet.org/media/140366/rachel_maddow%2C_keith_olbermann%2C_ed_schultz_--_how_msnbc_became_a_liberal_mecca/
• OBAMA'S POLICIES: Progressive historian and political scientist Howard Zinn, best known for his popular "A People's History of the United States," has written a thoughtful essay about President Obama and U.S. foreign and military policies, titled "Changing Obama's Military Mindset." His comments are largely directed toward liberals and progressives who strongly supported Obama's election but who may now be puzzled by some of the new administration's actions. It's at http://www.alternet.org/story/140035/
17. SICK AND BANKRUPT
By Progressive Democrats of America
Medical problems contributed to nearly two-thirds (62.1%) of all bankruptcies in 2007, according to a study in the August 2009 issue of the American Journal of Medicine. The data were collected prior to the current economic downturn and hence likely understate the current burden of financial suffering. Between 2001 and 2007, the proportion of all bankruptcies attributable to medical problems rose by 49.6%. The authors' previous 2001 findings have been widely cited by policy leaders, including President Obama.
Surprisingly, most of those bankrupted by medical problems had health insurance. More than three-quarters (77.9%) were insured at the start of the bankrupting illness, including 60.3% who had private coverage. Most of the medically bankrupt were solidly middle class before financial disaster hit. Two-thirds were homeowners and three-fifths had gone to college. In many cases, high medical bills coincided with a loss of income as illness forced breadwinners to lose time from work. Often illness led to job loss, and with it the loss of health insurance.
Even apparently well-insured families often faced high out-of-pocket medical costs for co-payments, deductibles and uncovered services. Medically bankrupt families with private insurance reported medical bills that averaged $17,749 vs. $26,971 for the uninsured. High costs — averaging $22,568 — were incurred by those who initially had private coverage but lost it in the course of their illness.
Individuals with diabetes and those with neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis had the highest costs, an average of $26,971 and $34,167 respectively. Hospital bills were the largest single expense for about half of all medically bankrupt families; prescription drugs were the largest expense for 18.6%.
The research, carried out jointly by researchers at Harvard Law School, Harvard Medical School and Ohio University, and supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is the first nationwide study on medical causes of bankruptcy. The researchers surveyed a random sample of 2,314 bankruptcy filers during early 2007 and examined their bankruptcy court records. In addition, they conducted extensive telephone interviews with 1,032 of these bankruptcy filers….
Their 2001 study, which was published in 2005, surveyed debtors in only five states. In the current study, findings for those five states closely mirrored the national trends.
Subsequent to the 2001 study, Congress made it harder to file for bankruptcy, causing a sharp drop in filings. However, personal bankruptcy filings have soared as the economy has soured and are now back to the 2001 level of about 1.5 million annually.
Dr. David Himmelstein, the lead author of the study and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard, commented: "Our findings are frightening. Unless you're Warren Buffett, your family is just one serious illness away from bankruptcy. For middle-class Americans, health insurance offers little protection. Most of us have policies with so many loopholes, co-payments and deductibles that illness can put you in the poorhouse. And even the best job-based health insurance often vanishes when prolonged illness causes job loss - precisely when families need it most. Private health insurance is a defective product, akin to an umbrella that melts in the rain."
"For many families, bankruptcy is a deeply shameful experience," noted Elizabeth Warren, Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at Harvard and a study co-author. Professor Warren, a leading expert on personal bankruptcy, went on: "People arrive at the bankruptcy courts exhausted - financially, physically and emotionally. For most, bankruptcy is a last choice to deal with unmanageable circumstances."
According to study co-author Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard and primary care physician in Cambridge, Mass.: "We need to rethink health reform. Covering the uninsured isn't enough. Reform also needs to help families who already have insurance by upgrading their coverage and assuring that they never lose it. Only single-payer national health insurance can make universal, comprehensive coverage affordable by saving the hundreds of billions we now waste on insurance overhead and bureaucracy. Unfortunately, Washington politicians seem ready to cave in to insurance firms and keep them and their counterfeit coverage at the core of our system. Reforms that expand phony insurance - stripped-down plans riddled with co-payments, deductibles and exclusions - won't stem the rising tide of medical bankruptcy."
Dr. Deborah Thorne, associate professor of sociology at Ohio University and study co-author, stated: "American families are confronting a panoply of social forces that make it terribly difficult to maintain financial stability — job losses and wages that have not kept pace with the cost of living, exploitation from the various lending industries, and, probably most consequential and disgraceful, a health care system that is so dysfunctional that even the most mundane illness or injury can result in bankruptcy. Families who file medical bankruptcies are overwhelmingly hard-working, middle-class families who have played by the rules of our economic system, and they deserve nothing less than affordable health care."
A copy of the study is available at http://pnhp.org/new_bankruptcy_study/.
18. Rx AND THE SINGLE PAYER
By Bill Moyers (PBS 5-22-9)
In 2003, a young Illinois state senator named Barack Obama told a local AFL-CIO meeting, "I am a proponent of a single-payer universal health care program."
Single payer. Universal. That's health coverage, like Medicare, but for everyone who wants it. Single payer eliminates insurance companies as pricey middlemen. The government pays care providers directly. It's a system that polls consistently have shown the American people favoring by as much as two-to-one.
There was only one thing standing in the way, Obama said six years ago: "All of you know we might not get there immediately because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate and we have to take back the House."
Fast forward six years. President Obama has everything he said was needed – Democrats in control of the executive branch and both chambers of Congress. So what's happened to single payer?
A woman at his town hall meeting in New Mexico last week asked him exactly that. "If I were starting a system from scratch, then I think that the idea of moving towards a single-payer system could very well make sense," the President replied. "That's the kind of system that you have in most industrialized countries around the world.
"The only problem is that we're not starting from scratch. We have historically a tradition of employer-based health care. And although there are a lot of people who are not satisfied with their health care, the truth is, is that the vast majority of people currently get health care from their employers and you've got this system that's already in place. We don't want a huge disruption as we go into health care reform where suddenly we're trying to completely reinvent one-sixth of the economy."
So the banks were too big to fail and now, apparently, health care is too big to fix, at least the way a majority of people indicate they would like it to be fixed, with a single payer option. President Obama favors a public health plan competing with the medical cartel that he hopes will create a real market that would bring down costs. But single payer has vanished from his radar.
Nor is single payer getting much coverage in the mainstream media. Barely a mention was given to the hundreds of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals who came to Washington last week to protest the absence of official debate over single payer.
Is it the proverbial tree falling in the forest, making a noise that journalists can't or won't hear? Could the indifference of the press be because both the President of the United States and Congress have been avoiding single payer like, well, like the plague? As we see so often, government officials set the agenda by what they do and don't talk about.
Instead, President Obama is looking for consensus, seeking peace among all the parties involved. Except for single payer advocates. At that big White House powwow in Washington last week, the President asked representatives of the health care business to reason together with him. "What's brought us all together today is a recognition that we can't continue down the same dangerous road we've been traveling for so many years," he said, " that costs are out of control; and that reform is not a luxury that can be postponed, but a necessity that cannot wait."
They came, listened, made nice for the photo-op and while they failed to participate in a hearty chorus of "Kumbaya," they did promise to cut health care costs voluntarily over the next ten years. The press ate it up – and Mr. Obama was a happy man.
Meanwhile, some of us looking on – those of us who've been around a long time – were scratching our heads. Hadn't we heard this before?
Way, way back in the 1970s Americans were riled up over the rising costs of health care. As a presidential candidate, Jimmy Carter started talking about the government clamping down. When he got to the White House, drug makers, insurance companies, hospitals and doctors – the very people who only a decade earlier had done everything they could to strangle Medicare in the cradle – seemed uncharacteristically humble and cooperative. "You don't have to make us cut costs," they promised. "We'll do it voluntarily."
So Uncle Sam backed down, and you guessed it. Pretty soon medical costs were soaring higher than ever.
By the early '90s, the public was once again hurting in the pocketbook. Feeling our pain, Bill and Hillary Clinton tried again, coming up with a plan only slightly more complicated than the schematics for an F-18 fighter jet.
This time the health industry acted more like Tony Soprano than Mother Teresa. It bludgeoned the Clinton reforms with one of the most expensive and deceitful public relations and advertising campaigns ever conceived – paid for, of course, from the industry's swollen profits.
As the drug and insurance companies, hospitals and doctors dumped the mangled carcass of reform into the Potomac, securely encased in concrete, once again they said don't worry; they would cut costs voluntarily.
If you believed that, we've got a toll-free bridge to the Mayo Clinic we'd like to sell you.
So anyone with any memory left could be excused for raising their eyebrows at the health care industry's latest promises. As if on cue, hardly had their pledge of volunteerism rung out across the land than Jay Gellert, chief executive of Health Net Inc. and chair of the lobbying group America's Health Insurance Plans, assured his pals not to worry abut the voluntary reductions. "We believe that we can do it without undermining the viability of companies," he said, "and in effect enhancing the payment to physicians and hospitals." In other words, their so-called voluntary "reforms" will in no way interfere with maximizing profits.
Also last week, John Lechleiter, the chief executive of drug giant Eli Lilly, blasted universal health care in a speech before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: "I do not believe that policymakers have yet arrived at a full and complete diagnosis of what's wrong and what's right with U.S. health care," he declared. "And I am very concerned that some of the proposed policies—the treatments, to continue my metaphor—will have unintended side-effects that make our situation worse."
So why bother with the charm offensive on Pennsylvania Avenue? Could it be, as some critics suggest, a Trojan horse, getting the health industry a place at the table so they can leap up at the right moment and again knife to death any real reform?
Wheelers and dealers from the health sector aren't waiting for that moment. According to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, they've spent more than $134 million on lobbying in the first quarter of 2009 alone. And some already are shelling out big bucks for a publicity blitz and ads attacking any health care reform that threatens to reduce the profits from sickness and disease.
The Washington Post's health care reform blog reported Tuesday that Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina has hired an outside PR firm to put together a video campaign assaulting Obama's public plan. And this month alone, the group Conservatives for Patients' Rights is spending more than a million dollars for attack ads. They've hired a public relations firm called CRC – Creative Response Concepts. You remember them – the same high-minded folks who brought you the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the gang who savaged John Kerry's service record in Vietnam.
The ads feature the chairman of Conservatives for Patients' Rights, Rick Scott. Who's he? As a former deputy inspector general from the Department of Health and Human Services told The New York Times, "He hopes people don't Google his name."
Scott's not a doctor; he just acts like one on TV. He's an entrepreneur who took two hospitals in Texas and built them into the largest health care chain in the world, Columbia/HCA. In 1997, he was fired by the board of directors after Columbia/HCA was caught in a scheme that ripped off the Feds and state governments for hundreds of millions of dollars in bogus Medicare and Medicaid payments, the largest such fraud in history. The company had to cough up $1.7 billion dollars to get out of the mess.
Rick Scott got off, you should excuse the expression, scot-free. Better than that, in fact. According to published reports, he waltzed away with a $10 million severance deal and $300 million worth of stock. So much for voluntarily lowering overhead.
With medical costs rising six percent per year, that's who's offering himself as a spokesman for the health care industry. Speaking up for single payer is Geri Jenkins, a president of the California Nurses Association and National Nurses Organizing Committee – a registered nurse with literal hands-on experience.
"We're there around the clock," she told our colleague Jessica Wang. "So we feel a real sense of obligation to advocate for the best interests of our patients and the public. Now, you can talk about policy but when you're staring at a human face it's a whole different story."
— Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal. Winship co-wrote this article.
19. ISRAEL'S FAR RIGHT TAKES OVER
[Following is an excerpt from a May 30 article by Uri Avnery, a leader of the Israeli peace movement organization Gush Shalom. He is a well known critic of the Tel Aviv government's treatment of the Palestinian people. Avnery is all the more trenchant these days since the assumption of power by the hard-line right wing Likud Party and its radical right allies. The opportunistic Labor Party is also part of the Likud alliance, but the power reposes with the right-far right.]
By Uri Avnery
How lucky we are to have the extreme Right standing guard over our democracy.
This week, the Knesset [legislature] voted by a large majority (47 to 34) for a law that threatens imprisonment for anyone who dares to deny that Israel is a Jewish and Democratic State.
The private member's bill, proposed by MK [Member of Knesset] Zevulun Orlev of the "Jewish Home" party, which sailed through its preliminary hearing, promises one year in prison to anyone who publishes "a call that negates the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State," if the contents of the call might cause "actions of hate, contempt or disloyalty against the state or the institutions of government or the courts."
One can foresee the next steps. A million and a half Arab citizens cannot be expected to recognize Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State. They want it to be "a state of all its citizens" — Jews, Arabs and others. They also claim with reason that Israel discriminates against them, and therefore is not really democratic. And, in addition, there are also Jews who do not want Israel to be defined as a Jewish State in which non-Jews have the status, at best, of tolerated outsiders.
The consequences are inevitable. The prisons will not be able to hold all those convicted of this crime. There will be a need for concentration camps all over the country to house all the deniers of Israeli democracy.
The police will be unable to deal with so many criminals. It will be necessary to set up a new unit. This may be called "Special Security," or, in short, SS.
Hopefully, these measures will suffice to preserve our democracy. If not, more stringent steps will have to be taken, such as revoking the citizenship of the democracy-deniers and deporting them from the country, together with the Jewish leftists and all the other enemies of the Jewish democracy.
After the preliminary reading of the bill, it now goes to the Legal Committee of the Knesset, which will prepare it for the first, and soon thereafter for the second and third readings. Within a few weeks or months, it will be the law of the land.
By the way, the bill does not single out Arabs explicitly — even if this is its clear intention, and all those who voted for it understood this. It also prohibits Jews from advocating a change in the state's definition, or the creation of a bi-national state in all of historic Palestine or spreading any other such unconventional ideas. One can only imagine what would happen in the US if a senator proposed a law to imprison anyone who suggests an amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.
The bill does not stand out at all in our new political landscape.
This government has already adopted a bill to imprison for three years anyone who mourns the Palestinian Naqba ["day of the catastrophe" in Arabic] — the 1948 uprooting of more than half the Palestinian people from their homes and lands.
The sponsors expect Arab citizens to be happy about that event. True, the Palestinians were caused a certain unpleasantness, but that was only a by-product of the foundation of our state. The Independence Day of the Jewish and Democratic State must fill us all with joy. Anyone who does not express this joy should be locked up, and three years may not be enough.
This bill has been confirmed by the Ministerial Commission for Legal Matters, prior to being submitted to the Knesset. Since the rightist government commands a majority in the Knesset, it will be adopted almost automatically. (In the meantime, a slight delay has been caused by one minister, who appealed the decision, so the Ministerial Commission will have to confirm it again.)
The sponsors of the law hope, perhaps, that on Naqba Day [a Palestinian annual day of commemoration each May 15] the Arabs will dance in the streets, plant Israeli flags on the ruins of some 600 Arab villages that were wiped off the map and offer up their thanks to Allah in the mosques for the miraculous good fortune that was bestowed on them….
In the Knesset bakery some new pastries are being baked. One of them is a bill that stipulates that anyone applying for Israeli citizenship must declare their loyalty to "the Jewish, Zionist and Democratic State," and also undertake to serve in the army or its civilian alternative. Its sponsor is MK David Rotem of the "Israel is Our Home" party, who also happens to be the chairman of the Knesset Law Committee.
A declaration of loyalty to the state and its laws — a framework designed to safeguard the wellbeing and the rights of its citizens — is reasonable. But loyalty to the "Zionist" state? Zionism is an ideology, and in a democratic state the ideology can change from time to time. It would be like declaring loyalty to a "capitalist" U.S.A., a "rightist" Italy, a "leftist" Spain, a "Catholic" Poland or a "nationalist" Russia.
This would not be a problem for the tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews in Israel who reject Zionism, since Jews will not be touched by this law. They obtain citizenship automatically the moment they arrive in Israel.
Another bill waiting for its turn before the Ministerial Committee proposes changing the declaration that every new Knesset Member has to make before assuming office. Instead of loyalty "to the State of Israel and its laws," as now, he or she will be required to declare their loyalty "to the Jewish, Zionist and Democratic State of Israel, its symbols and its values." That would exclude almost automatically all the elected Arabs, since declaring loyalty to the "Zionist" state would mean that no Arab would ever vote for them again.
It would also be a problem for the Orthodox members of the Knesset, who cannot declare loyalty to Zionism. According to Orthodox doctrine, the Zionists are depraved sinners and the Zionist flag is unclean. God exiled the Jews from this country because of their wickedness, and only God can permit them to return. Zionism, by preempting the job of the Messiah, has committed an unpardonable sin, and many Orthodox Rabbis chose to remain in Europe and be murdered by the Nazis rather than committing the Zionist sin of going to Palestine.
The factory of racist laws with a distinct fascist odor is now working at full steam. That is built into the new coalition.
At its center is the Likud party [led by rightist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu], a good part of which is pure racist. To its right there is the ultra-racist Shas party, to the right of which is Lieberman's ultra-ultra racist "Israel is our Home" party [Avigdor Lieberman is Israeli's new Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister], the ultra-ultra-ultra racist "Jewish Home" party, and to its right the even more racist "National Union" party, which includes outright Kahanists [followers of the late rabid Rabbi Meir Kahane] and stands with one foot in the coalition and the other on the moon.
All these factions are trying to outdo each other. When one proposes a crazy bill, the next is compelled to propose an even crazier one, and so on.
All this is possible because Israel has no constitution. The ability of the Supreme Court to annul laws that contradict the "basic laws" is not anchored anywhere, and the Rightist parties are trying to abolish it. Not for nothing did Lieberman demand — and get — the Justice and Police ministries.
Just now, when the governments of the U.S. and Israel are clearly on a collision course over the settlements, this racist fever may infect all parts of the coalition….
— A long list of Avnery's more recent columns, including this one in full, is on the Gush Shalom website at http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/avnery.
20. LIBERAL CONCERNS ABOUT OBAMA
[Editor's Note: The disappointment of progressives and Democratic Party liberals in some the Obama's Administration's policies is becoming more evident every day. An editorial in the June 8 issue of The Nation magazine, titled "Obama's Tortured Turn," expresses the views of many who greeted Barack Obama's election with enthusiasm. The article follows.]
In the darkest days of the Bush/Cheney years Barack Obama declared, "Making government accountable to the people isn't just a cause of this campaign--it's been a cause of my life for two decades." No one expected Obama to reveal all the secrets of the temple when he became president. But Americans did expect him to favor transparency and accountability. Unfortunately, with each passing week he stumbles deeper into the thicket of secrecy he promised to clear away.
The administration's reversal of its agreement with the ACLU to release photos of detainee abuse by military and intelligence agents is unsettling and wrongheaded. Obama now argues, as his predecessor did, that revealing the truth "will further inflame anti-American opinion" and potentially endanger US troops. But this logic assumes that anger at the United States is provoked by photos--not the crimes they depict or the impunity they imply. Have these crimes been fully investigated and the perpetrators held accountable? Have adequate steps been taken to put an end to such abuses?
Answering these questions affirmatively and conclusively would be the best way to improve America's standing in the world. As the ACLU's Anthony Romero suggests, "Only by looking squarely in the mirror, acknowledging the crimes of the past and achieving accountability can we move forward and ensure that these atrocities are not repeated." Obama has asserted that this reckoning has already taken place, that the people involved "have been identified, and appropriate actions have been taken." But we can only gauge the veracity of his claim through a public airing of all the files on detainee abuse. The administration's stonewalling, however, breeds suspicion that justice and accountability are still out of reach.
Obama's decision becomes all the more disturbing when seen in the context of his administration's announcement that it will "modify" rather than abandon the use of military commissions. Candidate Obama described these as a "legal black hole" that "undermines the very values we are fighting to defend." He wisely argued, "Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists." President Obama has abandoned that wisdom.
Obama has broken with the past by announcing plans to shutter Guantánamo, releasing torture memos and rejecting waterboarding. But he muddies the waters by compromising on torture photos and military commissions, and by rejecting calls for an independent investigation of the Bush/Cheney administration's authorization of the use of torture. Indeed, there is mounting evidence that it used torture to extract "confessions" that provided false justification for invading Iraq--a grave accusation that deserves a full public hearing.
The prospects for a muscular Congressional inquiry have been blunted by Republican suggestions that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi approved Cheney's schemes. Pelosi has pushed back with charges that the CIA deceived her, demands for the disclosure of the briefings and a renewed call for an independent commission on Bush-era torture. Only an independent panel--perhaps made up of former judges afforded the authority to compel testimony, assign blame and propose prosecutions--will be able to achieve accountability. As candidate Obama rightly said, Americans want to trust their government. If President Obama wants to restore that trust, he must rededicate himself to pursuing transparency and accountability, the great promise of his 2008 campaign
21. TRUE AND FALSE IN OBAMA'S D-DAY SPEECH
By Richard Becker
(June 7, Party for Socialism and Liberation)
"So when the ships landed here at Omaha [Beach], an unimaginable hell rained down on the men inside," President Barack Obama said as he spoke in Normandy on June 6, the 65th anniversary of "D-Day."
This was certainly true. On that day in 1944, U.S., British and Canadian forces landed on the coast of France, opening the western front against Nazi Germany and its Axis allies in World War II. From the cliffs overlooking the beach, dug-in German troops and artillery, as well as airpower, pounded the soldiers coming ashore, many of whom never made it out of the landing craft. So intense and devastating was the fire, whether or not the Allied troops would be able to hold a beachhead was in doubt throughout the day.
An estimated 9,000 soldiers of the 175,000 Allied invasion force, and 3,000 out of 250,000 Axis troops in Normandy, were killed on D-Day. Despite taking very heavy casualties, an Allied foothold was secured on the French mainland and was quickly expanded eastward.
But much of the rest of Obama’s speech was nothing more than resurrected Cold War propaganda, in which he characterized D-Day as not only the decisive turning point of World War II, but of the entire 20th century:
"Had the Allies failed here, Hitler's occupation of this continent might have continued indefinitely. Instead, victory here secured a foothold in France. It opened a path to Berlin. It made possible the achievements that followed the liberation of Europe: the Marshall Plan, the NATO alliance, the shared prosperity and security that flowed from each.
"It was unknowable then, but so much of the progress that would define the 20th century, on both sides of the Atlantic, came down to the battle for a slice of beach only six miles long and two miles wide."
In reality, the decisive battles of World War II were fought not on the Western Front, in North Africa or the Pacific; they were fought inside the Soviet Union. Destruction of the Soviet Union was the number one objective of Hitler and the Nazi war machine. Through most of the war, 80% of Nazi divisions were deployed inside the USSR.
The Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942-1943 was the single most decisive battle of the war. Not only was the Nazi army’s advance stopped, but their Sixth Army was surrounded and totally destroyed. Stalingrad was also the bloodiest battle in world history, with more than 1.5 million casualties—800,000 on the German side and 700,000 on the Soviet side. The battle raged for months, most of the time in sub-zero temperatures.
A few months later, in July-August 1943, the largest tank and artillery battle in history saw the Soviet forces inflict another devastating defeat on the Nazi military. At Kursk, 900,000 German troops, with 3,000 tanks and 2,110 aircraft attacked 1.3 million Soviet forces with 3,600 tanks, 20,000 artillery guns and 2,800 aircraft. The Soviets lost over 500,000 soldiers at Kursk—more than the combined U.S. military deaths in both the European and Pacific fronts.
In the summer of 1944, the Soviet Red Army destroyed two major Nazi army groups made up of 2 million soldiers. By fall, the Red Army was beginning operations that would liberate Eastern Europe from the fascists.
The war in Europe would continue until May 1945, with much heavy fighting and millions more — soldiers and civilians — killed and wounded.
Obama’s assertion that "Hitler's occupation of this continent might have continued indefinitely" if Allied forces had not succeeded on D-Day lacks all credibility. By June 6, 1944, Germany’s eventual defeat was assured thanks to the massive defeats it had suffered on the eastern front. Many scenarios for how the war might end still existed, but continued Nazi occupation of Europe was not one of them.
While they had received some supplies from the United States, the Soviets had to bear the full force of Nazi terror virtually alone. Since 1942, Soviet Premier Josef Stalin had been pressing U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to open the western front. And since 1942, Roosevelt and Churchill had promised to do so — and then stalled.
Meanwhile, the USSR’s losses mounted by the millions, and then tens of millions. At war’s end, the number of Soviet citizens killed exceeded an appalling 27 million, roughly half military and half civilian casualties. U.S. deaths in war were 400,000.
What finally made the June 6, 1944, Allied landing urgently needed, from Washington and London’s point of view, was the prospect that the Soviet Union might very well defeat and destroy Nazism and liberate all of Europe by itself. In a world where anti-fascist revolutionary currents were rising across Europe and Asia, this was viewed as a grave threat to capitalism’s future existence.
Obama’s D-Day speech honors a long tradition among leaders of the Western capitalist powers of rewriting history to their own ends. But for those interested in an objective appraisal of history, the tremendous sacrifices of the Soviet people in the struggle against fascism will be remembered as nothing short of heroic.