Aug. 24, 2009 Issue #149
HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER
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. OUR NEW GROUP ORGANIZES PROTESTS — We gotta blow our own horn once in a while, so we take note of the fact that our new organization, Peace and Social Progress Now!, is organizing two demonstrations Sept. 12 and Oct. 17, and we'd like you with us.
2. Editorial: HEALTHCARE IN CONSERVATIVE AMERICA — The right wing disruption at Town Hall healthcare meetings stimulated several thoughts about politics in our society.
3. THE U.S. AND THE COUP IN HONDURAS — The Obama Administration said it opposed the coup but has done next to nothing to back up its words with deeds.
4. INCIDENT AT A LOCAL HEALTHCARE FORUM — A first-person report of a disruptive Town Hall forum on healthcare in the Hudson Valley's Orange County.
5. THE BLUE DOG DAYS OF AUGUST — The Blue Dogs parade as "fiscal conservatives" and "moderates," but it's false advertising that the mainstream press mindlessly echoes. In fact, they are the epitome of a Washington captured by moneyed interests.
6. THE REAL DEATH PANELS — The best estimate of the annual death toll among Americans of working age due to lack of insurance or under-insurance is at least 20,000.
7. PRISONHOUSE AMERICA — With 5% of the world population, the U.S. and state/local prison and jail population, amounts to some 25% of the world's incarcerated population.
8. U.S. MILITARY BASES GROW IN LATIN AMERICA — Colombia deal is a major expansion of American military power in South America.
9. TROY DAVIS WINS COURT DECISION — Sitting on death row in Georgia, Troy Davis has won a key victory against his own execution.
10. CLIMATE TALKS MOVE AT SNAIL'S PACE — Global warming talks are moving so slowly that "at this rate, we will not make it," said the UN’s top climate change official.
11. "CAP AND TRADE" WON'T HALT GLOBAL WARMING — So writes progressive Hudson Valley activist Steve Greenfield.
12. NINE ARRESTED AT END OF 3-DAY PEACE WALK — They were apprehended after walking onto the central-Wisconsin military base at Ft. McCoy to protest war.
13. KEEP CHURCH AND STATE SEPARATE — Liberals evidently worry less about Church-State togetherness when Democrats advance "faith-based" programs.
14. ANOTHER WAR CRIME CHARGED TO ISRAEL — This time it involves the shooting deaths of 11 unarmed civilians (five women and four children) holding white flags.
15. THE 'PRISON' KNOWN AS GAZA — There's a new UN report titled, "Locked In: The Humanitarian Impact of Two Years of Blockade on the Gaza Strip."
16. THE CLASS IN THE CLASSROOM — Who's kidding whom about a "classless" American educational system?
17. WAR BY REMOTE CONTROL — Robots in the sky and on the ground are transforming warfare, and the U.S. military is rushing to recruit the new warriors that never sleep and never bleed.
18. NEWS SHORTS — Mental illness in U.S juvenile detention centers; corporal punishment in American schools; attacks on homeless are called hate crimes; record number of U.S. prisoners are serving life terms.
19. AMERICA'S UNJUST SEX LAWS — America’s sex-offender laws are the strictest of any advanced democracy. Too strict, says this article.
20. THE WOODSTOCK (NY) FORUM — Weekend meeting rejects U.S. propensity to "foment wars around the world and to manufacture, export and sell weapons."
21. "JUDEO-CHRISTIAN" FOREIGN POLICY? — It is historically untrue that our secular republic was founded upon a so-called Judeo-Christian (or any religious) tradition.
22. U.S. GROUPS CHALLENGE TRAVEL BAN TO CUBA — Hundreds of Americans intentionally broke Washington's travel ban to Cuba this year. Right-on!
1. OUR NEW GROUP ORGANIZES PROTESTS
Our announcement to local lists Aug. 10 about forming a new multi-issue progressive organization in the Hudson Valley — titled Peace and Social Progress Now! (PSPN) — has attracted a greater than expected positive response. Thank you to the several score readers who have sent us words of encouragement.
The new group will conduct two actions in coming weeks, each coinciding with national demonstrations.
• On Saturday, Sept. 12 , we will organize a picket line/vigil in New Paltz on behalf of two issues: the Honduras coup, about which the U.S. is not doing enough to support the deposed president or in opposing violence against demonstrators, and the Cuban Five anti-terrorists, now starting their 12th year in American prisons. The event will take place 10 a.m.-12 noon on the sidewalk of heavily trafficked Main St. (Rt. 299) in front of New Paltz Plaza (the mall with the movie theater).
• On Saturday, Oct. 17, we will hold an antiwar rally, probably at Academy Green Park in Kingston (but the location is not yet firmed up) to mark the eighth anniversary of the Bush Administration's war against Afghanistan. The main demand will be for the U.S. to immediately withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq
Full details on both actions will be available soon — and we urge our readers to join with us on both occasions. (Check out the Honduras article below, which explains why the U.S. must increase its opposition to the coup-maker government.)
The editors of the Activist Newsletter have formed PSPN in an effort is to kick-start the declining antiwar movement in the Hudson Valley and to activate the progressive forces in the region on issues from healthcare to actions promoting environmental consciousness, from reducing the defense budget to strengthening civil liberties, from a genuinely progressive taxation plan to increased social programs for working families. We will also fight racism, support affirmative action, back LGBT equality, and firmly stand with organized labor.
Despite some welcome changes in Washington after eight ghastly neoconservative years, many unsavory Bush-Cheney initiatives are still being carried out. This includes the unnecessary wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, an increased Pentagon budget, a militarist national/foreign security strategy, and continuing erosions of civil liberties, among other reactionary programs. In addition, millions of American families are suffering joblessness and home foreclosures, but they have not received the kind of solicitous attention bestowed upon the banking system and Wall St. Meanwhile, the gap between wealth and poverty continues to widen.
The struggle for peace and social progress is as relevant today when the Democrats are in power as it is during periods when the Republicans occupy the White House and Congress. The need for that struggle continues until its goals are achieved. Yet, it appears to us the antiwar forces and other movements dedicated to advancing progress are weaker today than they were a year or two ago, much weaker in some cases.
We will be meeting with several regional organizations to propose joint actions and occasional ad hoc coalitions around big issues. In addition, several leading members of such groups have agreed to serve on our advisory board and others will be asked to do so in coming weeks.
If you have questions, comments, or wish to become more closely associated with PSPN as it develops over the next months, please communicate with us at email@example.com.
HEALTHCARE IN CONSERVATIVE AMERICA
The Republican attack on the Obama Administration's healthcare proposals — compounded by its campaign to inspire intimidating confrontations at Town Hall meetings across the country — has highlighted a number of realities about American politics today. Key among them are:
• Conservative leaders and their wealthy backers are promoting the growth of extreme right wing populism throughout the U.S., first focused on healthcare but inevitably spreading to other issues as well. The purpose is to rise from the ashes of political defeat last November in order to crush any remaining aspect of liberalism in Presidential Obama's middle-of-the-road legislative agenda. The ultimate goal is to win back seats in the 2010 congressional contest.
This conservative cabal is intentionally circulating outrageous lies, fear, red-baiting, xenophobia, and racism throughout the country to further its ambitions. Judging by the response to right wing antics this summer, a fairly large conservative constituency is being mobilized for political battle. The enthusiastic pro-Obama crowds of yesteryear seem passive by comparison. (See below: "Incident at a Local Healthcare Forum" and "The Real Death Panels.")
• It is hardly a surprise that President Barack Obama's repeated emphasis upon creating a "post-partisan" political era, where left and right wing views no longer contend, quickly became a shambles. Suggestions of lion-lamb compatibly may have produced votes during a remarkably vague "Yes we can!" election campaign, but it cannot result in progressive legislation.
It takes intense struggle and the defeat of the Republicans in Congress — a task made all the more complex because the Obama Administration bargains with the right wing from the center/center-right, and is committed to compromise. At least a center-left orientation and a willingness to do battle is required.
• With a large Democratic majority in the House and 60-40 domination in the Senate, a main enemy of a comprehensive healthcare bill — whether single-payer or the considerably more modest "public option" — is right wing Democrats in both chambers. It's like dealing with two opponents, first making concessions within the party, they with the other party.
Conservative Democrats destroyed President Harry Truman's universal healthcare plan in 1948 and are still at it 61 years later. Then they were Dixiecrats, today it's Blue Dogs.
The progressive minority of House Democrats appear to be taking a defiant stand in favor of the public option. Whether the left perseveres or caves in will be determined after Congress reconvenes. (See below: The Blue dog days of August.)
• Truly adequate healthcare, as exists for the people in most other wealthy capitalist countries, was brought about by center-left or left governments, often responding to mass movements, certainly not by center, center right and right wing administrations such as have ruled the U.S. in recent decades. Despite the Democratic victory over the ineffably reactionary Bush-Cheney neoconservatives, the American political system largely remains in a conservative straitjacket that can only be shredded by a veritable uprising of the progressives and the left.
Many of the progressives who enthusiastically backed Obama in the election campaign obviously feel let down as their own political priorities — quite predictably — have been sidetracked once again. A relatively small number seem to be fighting back by trying to apply additional pressure on the White House and Congress. Many more should be fighting back in coming months, but keeping in mind as they do that the minimum requirement for genuine reform in capitalist society is a party of the center-left.
As our country gradually emerges from the latest recession over the next couple of years, the working class, lower middle and middle classes, and the poor will return bruised and battered to the same conditions of economic inequality and the same inadequate government social programs that existed before the downturn. In our view, genuine reform is possible in such objective political and economic conditions.
Paradigm shifts in American politics have taken place before and can take place again. What's required is the building of mass movements demanding progressive social and structural change, strengthened unions, and a leadership devoted to creating the conditions that allow extensive reform to flourish, including construction of a social democratic-type party.
The alternative is to proceed as usual, with the political center succeeding the right and the right succeeding the center ad infinitem as the majority of people in the richest country in the world get short-changed, and far too often trampled upon by the wealthiest elite known to history.
Aren't "We the People" supposed to be in charge of all this? After watching much of our social welfare system stagnate in recent years and upward mobility is now going downward for many people, isn't it time — as we bid farewell to single payer and probably public option, too — to finally take charge? Doing so just may lead to better times, perhaps much better than we all think.
3. THE U.S. AND THE COUP IN HONDURAS
By Jack A. Smith
President Barack Obama's recent effort to convince skeptical Latin American nations that the United States was seeking a new relationship no longer based on Yankee domination is being undermined by his lukewarm opposition to the right-wing coup in Honduras.
Four months ago, at the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, Obama sought to develop a "new beginning" in relations between the U.S. and the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.
The purpose was to retain influence in a region of traditional U.S. hegemony in response to a left political trend that has caused over a dozen governments to distance themselves in varying degrees from Uncle Sam's inhibiting embrace and neoliberal economic policies.
The Obama Administration said it opposed the coup but has done next to nothing to back up its words with deeds. Washington's restrained attitude toward the military takeover June 28 that exiled President Manuel Zelaya has provoked criticism of the U.S. from some Latin American leaders and politicians.
Zelaya, who was kidnapped at gunpoint and flown by military plane to Costa Rica, is a former conservative turned progressive in office. He began to advocate a populist approach to some of the nation's problems, particularly poverty, and enlisted Honduras in ALBA (the Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean), a trade organization set up by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to rival Washington's proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. This immediately transformed him from "friend" to "possible enemy" in State Department evaluations.
Such a seeming political left turn was completely unacceptable to the oligarchy that largely rules this Central American country of 7.3 million people through the vehicle of electoral democracy. Two parties dominate Honduran politics: Zelaya's center-right Liberal Party and the more rightist National Party.
The entire Honduran power structure seemed to support the coup — the military, Congress (where the National Party is the majority), some key Liberal Party politicians, the business elite, and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. (Some 97% of the religious population is considered Catholic.)
Most of the poor, the working class and the unions came to Zelaya's defense when his government was abruptly dissolved. Anti-coup demonstrations continue to take place two months later on a regular basis in the capital and smaller towns, often in the face of extreme violence from the police and army. On Aug. 19, Amnesty International published a report on "Honduras: Human rights crisis threatens as repression increases," describing "serious human rights concerns," including:
"The increasingly disproportionate and excessive use of force being used by the police and military to repress legitimate and peaceful protests across the country. Female protestors are particularly vulnerable and some women and girls taking part in the demonstrations are reportedly suffering gender based violence and abuse at the hands of police officers.... As protests increase and spread throughout the country, violent methods of repressing dissent intensify and Honduran citizens are increasingly exposed to violations of their fundamental rights." (A link to the full report is below.)
Earlier in August, 16 Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama stating we "urge you to publicly denounce the [Honduran government's] use of violence and repression of peaceful protestors, the murder of peaceful political organizers, and all forms of censorship and intimidation directed at media outlets." To our knowledge the White House has remained silent.
The coup leaders said Zelaya was seeking to change the constitution so he could serve a second term. What he actually did was call for a nonbinding referendum on whether to convene a constitutional convention. Even if the one term limit was changed, Zelaya would not have been able to run for reelection this November. The Organization of American States unanimously suspended Honduras because of the coup, and the UN General Assembly issued a July 1 resolution condemning the overthrow and demanding "immediate, unconditional" restoration of the Zelaya government.
Costa Rican President Oscar Arias has been trying to negotiate between the coup-makers and Zelaya for several weeks but isn't getting anywhere because the fraudulent regime is obviously stalling until the clock runs out in November when there will be new elections. At that point it is assumed a candidate acceptable to the right wing will be elected and, probably sooner than later, loyal Honduras will be fully restored to the Washington's good graces.
After a number of progressive Latin American leaders began criticizing what appeared to be the U.S. government's subdued response to the coup in a country basically in liege to Washington, President Obama retorted Aug. 9 with a sharp statement, implying his critics were hypocrites. A week later, Venezuela's Chavez — a leader of the left trend in the region — replied to Obama's charge, suggesting he missed the point.
Addressing a press conference during the North American Summit in Mexico, Obama said the White House "has been very clear in our belief that President Zelaya was removed from office illegally, that it was a coup and that he should return. We have cooperated with all the international bodies in sending that message.
"The same critics who say the U.S. has not intervened in Honduras are the same people who say we are always intervening and Yankees need to get out of Latin America. If these critics think that it's appropriate for us to suddenly act in ways that in every other context they consider inappropriate, then I think that what that indicates is that maybe there's some hypocrisy involved in their approach to U.S.-Latin American relations."
On Aug. 16 Chavez told his regular Sunday night radio-TV audience that Obama "didn't get it," continuing: "We are not asking you to intervene in Honduras. On the contrary, we are asking that the empire get its hands off Honduras and get its claws out of Latin America." Declaring that President Obama "has lost his bearings," Chavez called on the American leader to "get with it, brother."
The Venezuelan leader was referring to proposals urging the U.S. — which wields decisive influence in Honduras — to do more than wring its hands or just take symbolic action against the rightist coup in one of the region's poorest countries (about 70% of the people live below the poverty line). This was not a call for Washington to engage in undemocratic intervention but for withdrawing American material support for the illegitimate coup government.
For example, Chavez and others have recommended that Washington terminate the annual $200 million in subsidies, loans and other aid from Washington to the Tegucigalpa government, which has long functioned in a subordinate relationship to the U.S., and as a CIA jumping off point for subversion in the region. Some liberal Democrats in Congress have suggested at least withdrawing the U.S. ambassador and freezing bank accounts of coup leaders, but have been ignored by the White House.
Some Latin leaders have suggested that President Obama should withdraw the 600 American troops at its Soto Cano military air base, and terminate its policy of training and equipping the Honduran army, which carried out the coup on behalf of the reactionary oligarchy. According to a July 16 statement by former Cuban President Fidel Castro, "the Soto Cano base — headquarters of the Joint Task Force Bravo belonging to the U.S. Armed Forces — is the central support point of the coup d'état in Honduras."
This army has long been a creature of the Pentagon and it is difficult to believe it didn't consult with Washington about the plan to depose the elected government. Both Honduran Army Gen. Romeo Vásquez, who led the military takeover, and Air Force Gen. Luis Javier Prince Suazo, are graduates of the notorious U.S. School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, GA, also known as the "School of Assassins." This puts them in the Pentagon's pocket, where they presumably still reside.
Actually, reported the Wall St. Journal the day after the coup, "senior U.S. officials" acknowledged that Washington "had worked for weeks to try to avert any moves to overthrow President Zelaya."
That's good to hear, if true, but it raises two questions: (1) Why didn't Washington inform the plotters that it would discontinue all annual aid and other favors if they went ahead with the scheme? (2) Of greater importance, why did the White House refuse to warn the Zelaya government before the military takeover, since it was aware "for weeks" that the coup-makers were determined to strike? Zelaya was uninformed about the planned coup until 100 soldiers surrounded his home as he was arrested at gunpoint in the early morning hours.
Seeking, as usual, to placate congressional Republicans — who in this instance actually support the coup — the Obama Administration announced it has purposely held back only a small portion of its annual aid-subsidy-loan program to Honduras. In an Aug. 5 letter to GOP Sen. Richard Lugar, the State Department noted that "We have rejected calls for crippling economic sanctions." Such sanctions would have seriously weakened the coup regime of "President" Roberto Micheletti, a member of the Liberal Party and former leader of Congress, who was sworn in on the basis of a bogus letter of resignation by Zelaya.
The U.S. State department assured Lugar that "our policy and strategy for engagement is not based on supporting" the ousted president, and noted that " Zelaya's insistence on undertaking provocative actions ... led to a confrontation that unleashed the events that led to his removal."
This criticism — blaming Zelaya for provoking the coup — coupled with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remark that his attempt to return to Honduras by symbolically stepping over the border was "reckless," led the deposed president to comment that "the United States should be helping me, not criticizing."
Zelaya sought a meeting with Obama after the coup but the White House refused, and continues to keep him at arm's length. Zelaya ultimately traveled to Washington in July for a meeting with Clinton. By late July, the deposed leader told reporters that Clinton is "not really denouncing [the coup] and she's not acting firmly against the repression that Honduras is suffering." In Mexico for talks with President Felipe Calderon earlier this month, Zelaya told the press: "The United States only needs to tighten its fist and the coup will last five seconds." And on Aug. 19, speaking of Obama and Clinton: "The measures taken until now are lukewarm. They have been lukewarm hands against those who led the coup."
According to Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, "Clinton is very close to the Honduran dictatorship's chief strategists led by Americans Lanny Davis and Bennett Ratcliff — both top-rung Washington lobbyists. Davis was a former counsel to President Bill Clinton and also helped Hillary's own presidential campaign. Most likely Clinton hopes to stall Zelaya's return until shortly before the election.
"This would guarantee an unfair election that her friends in the dictatorship would easily win. The presidential election campaign has already started, and the longer it continues under conditions of political repression and censorship, the less likely it is that anyone outside of Washington will consider it legitimate.
"And an illegitimate government in Honduras would become a festering sore, with boycotts and economic sanctions of the type that targeted the South African apartheid regime in the 1970s and 80s. The Obama administration can still change course and support democracy in Honduras. But time is rapidly running out."
Some on the Honduran left who were close to Zelaya suggest Washington was behind the coup. We have not come across concrete evidence to support the allegation. But it would hardly be inconsistent with actions repeatedly taken in the region by Yankee imperialism during the 111 years since the 1898 Spanish-American war — up to supporting the failed coup against Chavez in 2002 and encouraging right wing attempts last year to destabilize the government of President Evo Morales of Bolivia, another left leader.
The U.S.-Honduran relationship goes back a long time. Between 1907 and 1931, Washington sent troops to invade Honduras seven times, either in support of client regimes against the people or to defend American corporations. Honduran governments have functioned as loyal subordinates of the U.S. for many decades, which may explain Washington's reluctance to withhold more than a token of its aid.
To provide a small window into this relationship we'll quote two paragraphs from the book "Rogue State – A guide to the world's only superpower" by William Blum:
"The U.S. turned Honduras into an instant colony in the early 1980s — a military base with thousands of American troops — to support counter-insurgency operations in El Salvador and Guatemala, and, above all to serve as a staging area, supply center and refuge for the Contras an their war against the Nicaraguan government. Inasmuch as the uninterrupted continuance of such operations required a quiescent population, the U.S. gave the Honduran military and police the training, army, equipment and funds needed to efficiently suppress dissidents....
"During the 1980s, the CIA gave indispensable support to the infamous Battalion 3-16, which kidnapped, tortured and killed hundreds of citizens, using shock and suffocation devices for interrogation, among other techniques. The CIA supplied torture equipment, torture manuals, and in both Honduras and the U.S taught battalion members methods of psychological and physical torture."
Several leading members of the old death squad Battalion 3-16 took part in the coup and are reported to be close to the Micheletti regime.
The U.S. State Department web site brags that Honduras is a country that "generally supports U.S. initiatives in international fora.... During the 1980s, Honduras supported U.S. policy opposing a revolutionary Marxist government in Nicaragua and an active leftist insurgency in El Salvador," also noting that the country "contributed 370 troops for stabilization in Iraq."
Washington viewed Honduras as a beacon of resistance to the left political trend in Latin America and the Caribbean until Zelaya began to promote populist policies after assuming office. More disturbing, from the White House and Honduran ruling class point of view, Zelaya not only supported ALBA but developed a warm relationship with Chavez and a friendly attitude toward Cuban President Raúl Castro. The oligarchy feared this would result in a future erosion of its privileges. The U.S. fretted that a bulwark against the left trend might be crumbling.
The U.S. government and the corporate mass media have had little to say about the violent military crackdown on numerous anti-coup protests in Honduras conducted by the working class, its allies, students and unions. Perhaps the reason is that it's not taking place in Iran but within the U.S. orbit of hegemony by an army and officer corps well trained by the Pentagon in repressing dissidents.
Here's a couple of examples of the many protest actions against the right wing coup, excerpted from a longer report by Agence France-Presse:
"Police fired teargas and water cannon at some 3,000 students who amassed in the Honduran capital Aug. 7 to protest against the ousting of President Manuel Zelaya last June. Heavily-protected riot police beat back demonstrators who blocked one of the city’s main thoroughfares in front of the National Autonomous University, fulfilling a pledge to clampdown on protests that have convulsed the Central American country since June 28.
"Police used water cannon to disperse the protesters, who sought refuge on the university campus, where they were pursued and beaten with batons. The university’s rector Julieta Castellanos intervened in an attempt to calm both sides, but she too was beaten to the floor. Elsewhere in the capital, another crowd gathered in front of the Supreme Court — which had sanctioned the move against Zelaya — demanding that coup leaders "get out."'
Democracy Now! reported that 60 demonstrators were arrested in Tegucigalpa during protests Aug. 11-12. "Honduran police fired tear gas at thousands of people in the capital for the second straight day. Police also occupied and closed off a teacher’s college where protesters have gathered. The coup regime has imposed a curfew in the capital after a pro-Zelaya rally Aug. 11 drew more than 10,000 people."
On Aug. 13, "an estimated 5,000 supporters of Zelaya marched to denounce the arrest of 60 protesters earlier this week." The next day, AP reported, "two dozen supporters of Honduras' ousted president were charged with sedition in an intensifying crackdown on protests against the coup-installed government." Following these protests the usurper government reimposed a nighttime curfew in the capital.
The full Amnesty International report is at
4. INCIDENT AT A LOCAL HEALTHCARE FORUM
[Following is a first-person report of an Aug. 17 Town Hall forum in Greenwood Lake, in the Hudson Valley's Orange County. It's by Sam Sussman, a local resident and progressive student activist involved with a number of organizations and causes. He just returned from a two-month congressional internship in Washington (where he learned a great deal about healthcare) and will be returning to his studies at Binghamton University.]
Tonight, I attended a forum on health care with Greg Ball, NYS Republican Assemblyman who is challenging Rep. John Hall in the 19th Congressional District in 2010. Ball opened the meeting by stating that he was there to hear all perspectives on "government-run" healthcare.
The first speaker stood up and began to rant — quite inarticulately — about how socialism was evil. She mentioned no specifics or facts that related to any of the five health care bills presently in Congress.
The next speaker did the same. This continued for 45 minutes. Again and again, individuals —mostly elder — would stand up and do anything from rant against socialism to complain, incorrectly, that illegal immigrants were covered in the bill. Many complained that abortion would be mandated in the bill (also untrue) and whined about the high cost, despite the fact that the bill is deficit neutral.
Others complained about government rationing, ignoring the fact that individuals can keep their private insurance under the new plan if they desire. More made comparisons to the British and Canadian systems, ignoring the fact that the proposed bills offer a public option, not single-payer. Others claimed the bill would destroy small businesses by mandating that they insure their employees, although this mandate applies only to small businesses with a payroll of $500,000 or more. Others skipped concrete complaints altogether, and merely rampaged against President Obama and his perceived socialist agenda.
Although there were some Democrats in the hall and they weren't happy, nobody was stepping up to the plate, so I got on the line. Medicare seemed to be a good place to start. The crowd was overwhelmingly composed of senior citizens, and there had been much complaining about cuts to Medicare, but I knew that individual Medicare plans won't be touched.
Finally it was my turn. As I took the microphone, I looked out at the crowd. "My name is Sam Sussman," I said, "and I live in Chester. May I see, by a show of hands, how many of you are on Medicare?" Almost everybody raised his or her hand. "OK," I continued, "we have a system whereby health insurance for senior citizens is subsidized, because if it wasn't, you wouldn't be able to afford health care. What would be wrong with doing the same for those who presently cannot afford health care?"
The crowd went nuts. There was screaming and booing. Some yelled, "We worked for ours!" —obviously missing the points that Medicare is subsidized, and that many people without insurance also work.
One woman yelled out "It's not our problem, it's not our responsibility!" I was taken aback by the outrageous audience response, and was unable to speak over the noise for a few moments, but I began again. "Oh, it's not your responsibility?" I said, voice rising. "It's not your problem? Guess what, people die in America because they don't have health care. That's wrong. It is our problem. It is our responsibility. We're all Americans and we're all in this together."
The crowd kept yelling, screaming, booing. Many yelled out "Let him speak," but others called for me to step down. One of Ball's aides came over to me and asked for the mic until the crowd calmed down. I handed it to him.
Ball, who had been sitting several feet away from me, stood up and took the mic. "How many veterans do we have here?' he asked. Many hands went up. "You fought for this," he said, "You fought for freedom of speech." Then he turned to me. "But you know you were the first person to get up here and yell, and you didn't need to do that." I was outraged. I had only raised my voice because the entire crowd of some 200 people was screaming and booing me in an attempt to drown me out. A friend stood up and said something to support me.
Ball then returned the microphone and I continued. "You mention veterans, sir," I said, turning to him. "You served, correct?" He responded in the affirmative. "Thank you for your service, sir. We have single payer for our veterans through the VA. How do you feel about giving government-run health care to those who gave their blood, sweat, and tears for America?"
Ball responded by telling me that he knew a woman whose husband had died under the VA system, and that, therefore, they weren't too happy with "government healthcare." Conservatives are great at pointing out one or two people who take advantage of the system, or one horror story in a government-run program, and then move from that single example to the conclusion that the whole system or program is flawed.
I asked Ball, "So then you support repealing the VA single payer system as it stands now? At that point the crowd took over. One man to my right started screaming at me. Many in the crowd were yelling at me to leave, even though my remarks were much shorter than most other speakers.
The next few seconds are fuzzy in my mind, but there was more yelling and Ball's aide indicated I should give up the mic. I handed it to the next man on line, who remarked that he was going to "give me a civics lesson."
I was still standing in front of the room, and a few people came up to me. One man said that my problem was that I evidently don't watch FOX News. Another said, "I'm from Romania. I can tell you all about the evils of communism." I'm still trying to figure out how a public option fits into Marxism.
Many other people approached me. Some shook my hand and commended my courage. Others tried to argue with me. I attempted to explain calmly and rationally the truth behind many of the false and malicious rumors, ranging from euthanasia to Medicare cuts.
The Democratic showing was weak at the forum. Nobody else articulated support for a public option or single payer. We have the facts and know the truth. We have to speak out.
5. THE BLUE DOG DAYS OF AUGUST
[Editor's Note: A number of progressive commentators and publications — all big supporters of Obama's election — have lately been disturbed by the flaccid performance of Democratic Party politicians in office. The following editorial appears in the Aug. 31 issue of The Nation magazine, a virtual house organ of liberalism.]
No doubt progressives need to mobilize to counter the thuggery of wing nuts — aided and applauded by Republican leaders and health industry lobbyists — trying to take over town meetings. The right should be scorned for trying to "break" the Obama presidency by stopping any reform whatsoever.
But Democrats have 60 votes in the Senate and a large majority in the House. If they were unified behind their president and their leaders, significant healthcare reform would pass. That Congress recessed without agreement on a sensible bill is mostly the result of the destructive maneuvers of a handful of conservative Democrats in the House, largely from the 52-member Blue Dog caucus and their allies in the Senate, headed by Max Baucus, chair of the Finance Committee and poster child of corrupt and compromised incoherence.
Baucus, mired in unending "bipartisan" negotiations with all of three Republicans, has failed to produce a bill from the Finance Committee; what eventually emerges will probably be deeply, if not fatally, flawed. Representative Mike Ross and a pack of Blue Dogs managed to force the House Energy Committee to gut the public option, while lowering subsidies to middle-income families forced to pay higher prices to insurance companies.
The Blue Dogs come largely from rural and Southern districts, and often campaign by distancing themselves from the national party. Their support comes from voters who are conservative on social issues like guns and abortion. But on bread-and-butter concerns, these legislators are voting with their contributors, not their constituents.
The Blue Dogs parade as "fiscal conservatives" and "moderates," false advertising that the mainstream press mindlessly echoes. In fact, they are the epitome of a Washington captured by moneyed interests. They aren't working to ensure that healthcare reforms are paid for; they are laboring on behalf of insurance companies to protect their obscene profits. The Blue Dogs are maneuvering on behalf of Big Pharma to make sure the government won't negotiate reasonable drug prices. They're doing their best to derail reasonable tax hikes on the affluent, hikes that would make insurance affordable for working- and middle-class families. Even on the Blue Dogs' signature issue—the "pay-go" rules, which they insist must be passed into law—they exempt reductions in the estate tax on the wealthiest Americans and, of course, the cost of any military adventure whatsoever.
White House officials apparently think these legislators can be bought off one by one, and fear that offending Blue Dogs en masse might raise their price. More destructively, they care far more about passing something called "comprehensive healthcare" than about what is in the actual legislation. Focus on those who oppose any bill, they urge. Let us make the best deals we can in the back rooms.
The problem with this strategy is that the lobbies own the back rooms. We saw evidence of that when Big Pharma announced that Obama had privately agreed to sustain the most outrageous Bush handouts to the drug companies.
The White House call for progressives to ignore these Democratic obstructionists is not much different from Lyndon Johnson telling Martin Luther King Jr. to halt civil rights demonstrations in a South ruled by segregationist Democrats. Change never comes from following such advice.
What the country needs — what Obama needs, whether he realizes it or not — is an independent, mobilized, progressive citizens' movement that takes on the corporate lobbies, from Big Pharma to Big Oil to Wall Street; challenges the legislators who are in their pockets; and demands affordable national healthcare, renewable energy, empowerment of workers, regulation of Wall Street and more. That movement should go after the conservatives and the compromised in both parties— anyone who stands in the way of reform.
The obstruction by Republicans and the right is real and must be opposed. But so should the back-room guile of the moneyed lobbies and their Democratic allies. If we are going to get the change we need, progressives will have to challenge those in both parties who can't see which way the wind is blowing.
6. THE REAL DEATH PANELS
By Joe Conason, Truthdig, Aug. 13
When Republican politicians and right-wing talking heads bemoan the fictitious "death panels" that they claim would arise from health care reform, they are concealing a sinister reality from their followers. The ugly fact is that every year we fail to reform the existing system, that failure condemns tens of thousands of people to die—either because they have no insurance or because their insurance companies deny coverage or benefits when they become ill.
The best estimate of the annual death toll among Americans of working age due to lack of insurance or under-insurance is at least 20,000, according to studies conducted over the past decade by medical researchers, and the number is almost certainly rising as more and more people lose their coverage as costs continue to go up.
They die primarily because they didn’t have the coverage or the money to pay doctors and thus delayed seeking treatment until it was too late. They don’t get checkups, screenings and other preventive care. That is why uninsured adults are far more likely to be diagnosed with a disease, such as cancer or heart disease, at an advanced stage, which severely reduces their chances of survival.
This isn’t news. Seven years ago, the Institute of Medicine found that approximately 18,000 Americans had died in 2000 because they had no insurance. Using the same methodology combined with Census Bureau estimates of health coverage, the Urban Institute concluded that the incidence of death among the uninsured was enormous. Between 2000 and 2006, the last year of that study, the total number of dead was estimated to have reached 137,000—a body count more than double the number of casualties in the Vietnam War.
The Institute of Medicine also found that uninsured adults are 25% more likely to die prematurely than adults with private health insurance, and other studies have warned that uninsured adults between the ages of 55 and 64 are even more prone to die prematurely. A lack of health insurance is the third-leading cause of death for that age cohort, following heart disease and cancer.
All those appalling figures, which are real rather than mythical, do not include the casualties of insurance company profiteering—namely, all the people, including small children, who perish because of the anonymous "death panels" that deny or delay coverage to consumers.
Perhaps the most notorious case in recent years was that of Nataline Sarkisyan, the 17-year-old leukemia patient whose liver transplant was held up by insurance giant Cigna HealthCare. She died for no reason except to protect Cigna’s profit margin, but her unnecessary and cruel demise was hardly unique.
Research by the American Medical Association found that the nation’s largest insurance companies deny somewhere between 2% and 5% of all the claims submitted by doctors. That rough estimate is the best available because private insurers are not required to reveal such statistics (although they certainly maintain them), and the government does not collect them.
But in June, a House Energy and Commerce Committee investigation found that three major insurance companies—Golden Rule, Assurant and WellPoint—rescinded the coverage of at least 20,000 people between 2003 and 2007 for minor errors, including typos, on their paperwork; a pre-existing condition; or a family member’s medical history.
"They try to find something — anything — so they can say that this individual was not truthful," said Rep. Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who oversaw the committee probe. He warned that insurance companies launch these nitpicking inquisitions whenever a policyholder becomes ill with a certain kind of condition — usually a costly and deadly one, such as ovarian cancer or leukemia. The result is denial and loss of coverage — and we now know that means increased mortality for innocent people.
So, who are the members of the death panels?
You can find them among the corporate bureaucrats who concoct excuses to deny coverage and throw the sick off their rolls. You can find them among the politicians and lobbyists who have stalled reform for years while people died. You can find them among the morons who show up to shout slogans at town halls rather than seek solutions. And you can find them among the cable and radio blabbers, who invent scary stories about reform to conceal the sickening truth.
7. PRISONHOUSE AMERICA
The population of the United States is about 307,200,000 — roughly 5% of the population of the entire world. America's prison and jail population, however, which is estimated at nearly 2.5 million people, amounts to some 25% of the world's incarcerated population.
In 1970, approximately 100 people were behind bars for every 100,000 U.S. residents, but today the prison population is nearly 800 per 100,000 — and the shocking increase had nothing to do with any kind of crime wave.
Over these four decades the U.S. political system has developed a vicious and inhumane lock 'em up mentality, far exceeding all other nations. Russia is closest to the U.S. with about 620 per 100,000. And China, contrary to many assumptions in our society, has a relatively low prison rate — about 115 per 100,000 — equal to that of Canada.
It wasn't always this way, according to an important economic and political analysis of modern America's penchant for incarceration in the June 2009 issue of Monthly Review titled, "The Penal State in an Age of Crisis." What happened?
"The slowdown in the economic growth rate of U.S. capitalism beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s — converging with the emergence of radical social protest around the same period — was accompanied by a rapid rise in public safety spending as a share of civilian government expenditures," explained the article, which was written by Hanna Holleman, Robert W. McChesney, John Bellamy Foster, and R. Jamil Jonna.
"So significant was this shift that we can speak of a crowding out of welfare state spending (health, education, social services) by penal state spending (law enforcement, courts, and prisons) in the United States during the last third of a century."
The article points out that "Bernie Madoff notwithstanding, prisoners come almost entirely from the poor and working class. Rising incarceration rates reflect in the first instance a rising industrial reserve army of the unemployed/underemployed. Thus there is normally a close relationship between inequality, joblessness, poverty, crime, and incarceration."
In addition, "Incarcerated drug offenders have soared 1,200% since 1980. Those in prison due to drug possession now account for 53% of all federal prisoners, and 20% of state prisoners. These offenses were victimless, and nonviolent." About 75% of those incarcerated for drugs are black of Hispanic, even though whites use illegal drugs in about the same proportion.
"The prison population is disproportionately African American and nonwhite," the article shows. "By disproportionate, we mean not only in relation to the population as a whole, but also in relation to the population of poor and working-class people. It is impossible to look at the prisoner explosion without seeing racism in all its fury."
It seems obvious that the entire American prison system requires an extensive overhaul, from overturning draconian sentencing rules and finding alternatives to prison for nonviolent offenders, to ending capital punishment, introducing serious rehabilitation and job training programs, and taking steps at last to end rape throughout the prison and jail system, among many other reforms.
There is much more to this 6,000 word article and we encourage our readers to peruse the entire piece at http://monthlyreview.org/090601holleman-mcchesney-foster-jonna.php.
8. U.S. MILITARY BASES GROW IN LATIN AMERICA
Many key Latin American leaders are strongly critical of an impending pact between the Obama Administration and the right wing Bogotá government that allows the Pentagon to station its forces in seven Colombian military bases — a major expansion in American military power in South America.
Venezuela and Ecuador, which border Colombia, are most upset by the deal, which involves three air bases, two navy bases and two army bases, but criticism has also come from the governments of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, among others.
Latin American unease reached the point where State Hillary Clinton told a news conference Aug. 18: "I want to be clear about what this agreement does and does not. First: the agreement does not create U.S. bases in Colombia, it does provide U.S. access to Colombian bases.... This agreement does not pertain to other countries. This is about the bilateral cooperation between the United States and Colombia regarding security matters within Colombia."
President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela stated: "They know what they are telling the world is not true.... We are the first target of the United States. Using Colombia and the bases in Aruba and Curacao, they are surrounding us." President Rafael Correa of Ecuador denounced the agreement for the same reasons. Clinton said the deal will be consummated in the near future.
Washington reporter Yang Qingchuan, writing for China's Xinhua News Agency Aug. 14, provided the background for understanding the latest conflict between the Obama Administration and several countries in Latin America. His report follows:
Despite protests and warnings from many Latin American countries, the United States is poised to sign an agreement with Colombia to expand Washington's military presence in that country.
The move has raised ire in the Latin America region where memories of U.S. military interventions are still fresh and seems to undermine the Obama Administration's latest efforts to forge warmer ties with the region.
The implications of the controversy extend beyond the region and suggest an unchanged U.S. policy to maintain a mammoth global military presence despite the change of government, analysts said.
Excluding the huge presence of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are about 900 U.S. military facilities in 46 countries and territories, accommodating 190,000 U.S. troops and 115,000 civilian employees, according to official figures. Some analysts say the real figures may be far greater.
Latin American leaders have been critical of the U.S.-Colombia deal. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez suggested that "the winds of war are blowing," while Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner called the move "belligerent." Uruguayan President Tabar Vasquez has proposed banning foreign military bases in the region and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva also expressed concern.
Confronting such concerns, President Obama declared Aug. 7 that the United States has "no intent in establishing a U.S. military base in Colombia." However, whether the bases in the deal will have the two letters of "U.S." in their names, the reality is that Washington's military presence in Colombia will grow, said John Lindsay-Poland, a California-based researcher on Pentagon bases in Latin America.
According to U.S. media reports, the agreement involves the use of Colombian military bases by U.S. aircraft and troops engaged in counter-narcotics and counter-guerrilla surveillance programs. They would make up for last month's closure of a similar U.S. operation out of Manta, Ecuador [as the request of the progressive Correa government].
U.S. officials described the Colombian bases involved in the deal as "Forward Operating Locations (FOLs)" for U.S. military. "We're not talking about U.S. bases at all.... We're talking about access by U.S. personnel to existing Colombian bases," a State Department official told Miami Herald on condition of anonymity.
However, according to the Pentagon's descriptions, FOLs in overseas facilities come in three types. By the Pentagon's definition, FOLs are "expandable facilities maintained with a limited U.S. military support presence and possibly pre-positioned equipment," such as the Incirlik Airbase in Turkey and the Soto Cano Airbase in Honduras. The second type are "Main operating bases," with permanent personnel, strong infrastructure, and often family housing, such as the Kadena Airbase in Japan and the Ramstein Airbase in Germany. The third is "cooperative security locations," which are sites with few or no permanent U.S. personnel, maintained by contractors or the host nation for occasional use by the U.S. military.
Some observers argue that the FOLs are de facto U.S. bases without a formal title.
Speaking to a group of Spanish-language reporters recently, Obama said the new deal with Colombia is an "update" of existing security agreement between the two countries and is a "continuation" of existing bilateral military cooperation.
However, some analysts pointed out that it signaled a continuous trend of expanding a web of U.S. military facilities and functions in Latin America over recent years.
"New U.S. bases and military access agreements have proliferated in Latin America," analyst Lindsay-Poland wrote in a research paper. He pointed out that instead of operating large bases in the region, now Washington prefers smaller and "informal" facilities such as the FOLs, in order to maintain a broad military foothold while accommodating regional leaders' reluctance to host large U.S. military bases.
After the U.S. military withdrawal from Panama in 1999, the Pentagon has been expanding the "cooperative security locations" in the region. The U.S. Southern Command also operates some 17 radar sites, mostly in Peru and Colombia. This is in addition to existing U.S. bases in Latin America, including a missile tracking station on Ascension Island in the Caribbean, and Soto Cano in Honduras.
Furthermore, the United States has small military presences and property in Antigua, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, and on Andros Island in the Bahamas. In Panama, although all U.S. military forces left the country in 1999, the Pentagon continues to enjoy access for military flights into and out of Panama.
Military supremacy is a U.S. goal in the world. To maintain an unmatched military power is always a national goal of the United States, thus continuing a policy of maintaining a far-reaching global military presence seems to fit that logic. Obama made it clear in his inauguration speech that it is vital for the country to maintain the "strongest military on the planet."
"Barack Obama shows no sign of scaling back the U.S. military presence in the world," said Catherine Lutz, a professor at Brown University. In fact, "many of the Obama administration's diplomatic efforts are being directed towards maintaining and garnering new access for the U.S. military across the globe."
9. TROY DAVIS WINS COURT DECISION
[Editors Note: This article was written by Amy Goodman, the host of the best daily progressive news program on radio/TV, Democracy Now. It appeared Aug. 18 on Truthdig.]
Sitting on death row in Georgia, Troy Davis has won a key victory against his own execution. On Aug. 17, the U.S. Supreme Court instructed a federal court in Georgia to consider, for the first time in a formal court proceeding, significant evidence of Davis’ innocence that surfaced after his conviction. This is the first such order from the U.S. Supreme Court in almost 50 years. Remarkably, the Supreme Court has never ruled on whether it is unconstitutional to execute an innocent person.
The order read, in part, "The District Court should receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes petitioner’s innocence." Behind the order lay a stunning array of recantations from those who originally testified as eyewitnesses to the murder of off-duty Savannah police officer Mark Allen MacPhail on Aug. 19, 1989. Seven of the nine non-police witnesses who originally identified Davis as the murderer of MacPhail have since recanted, some alleging police coercion and intimidation in obtaining their testimony. Of the remaining two witnesses, one, Sylvester "Redd" Coles, is accused by others as the shooter and identified Davis as the perpetrator probably to save himself from arrest.
On the night of the murder, MacPhail was off duty, working as a security guard at a Burger King. A homeless man was being beaten in the parking lot. The altercation drew Davis and others to the scene, along with MacPhail. MacPhail intervened, and was shot fatally with a .38-caliber gun. Later, Coles arrived at the police station, accompanied by a lawyer, and identified Davis as the shooter. The police engaged in a high-profile manhunt, with Davis’ picture splayed across the newspapers and television stations. Davis turned himself in. With no physical evidence linking him to the crime, Davis was convicted and sentenced to death.
Jeffrey Sapp is typical of those in the case who recanted their eyewitness testimony. He said in an affidavit:
"The police ... put a lot of pressure on me to say ‘Troy said this’ or ‘Troy said that.’ They wanted me to tell them that Troy confessed to me about killing that officer ... they made it clear that the only way they would leave me alone is if I told them what they wanted to hear."
Despite the seven recantations, Georgia’s parole commission has refused to commute Davis’ sentence. Courts have refused to hear the evidence, mostly on procedural grounds. Conservatives like former Georgia Congressman and prosecutor Bob Barr and former FBI Director William Sessions have called for justice in his case, along with Pope Benedict XVI, President Jimmy Carter, the NAACP and Amnesty International.
Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority, "The substantial risk of putting an innocent man to death clearly provides an adequate justification for holding an evidentiary hearing." Yet conservative Justice Antonin Scalia dissented (with Justice Clarence Thomas), writing that Davis’ case "is a sure loser," and "[t]his Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent."
Davis has had three execution dates, and in one instance was within two hours of lethal injection. Now he will finally have his day in court. With the courageous support of his sister, Martina Correia (who has been fighting for his life as well as her own—she has stage 4 breast cancer), and his nephew, Antone De’Jaun Correia, who at 15 is a budding human rights activist, Davis may yet defy death. That could lead to a long-overdue precedent in U.S. law: It is unconstitutional to execute an innocent person.
— To watch, listen or read the Monday-Friday one-hour Democracy Now! reports, access http://www.democracynow.org/.
10. CLIMATE TALKS MOVE AT SNAIL'S PACE
By Environmental News Service
Negotiations toward a new agreement to limit global warming ended Aug. 14 in Bonn, Germany, with little progress, United Nations officials and conservationists said. "At this rate, we will not make it," said the UN’s top climate change official, Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Climate Change Secretariat.
Negotiations need to move much faster to deliver strong outcomes on areas such as adaptation, technology and building skills in developing nations, he told reporters. Governments need to buckle down and concretely identify how to achieve this.
Attended by some 2,400 participants, the talks in Bonn were part of a series of UN gatherings this year designed to culminate in an ambitious and effective international climate change deal at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen Dec. 7-10. De Boer stressed that "a climate deal in Copenhagen this year is an unequivocal requirement to stop climate change from slipping out of control."
The Copenhagen agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions is to follow the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol, which expires at the end of 2012. Negotiations will need to considerably pick up speed for the world to achieve a successful result at Copenhagen.
Dr. Jonathan Pershing, head of the U.S. delegation in Bonn, described progress as "modest but real" and said common elements are emerging that the United States would support. He said a deal in Copenhagen depends on India and China being included in any agreement. "Ourselves, Europe, China, India, Japan — it has to be the major emitters," he told BBC News. "If we think of a group of about 15 countries, they comprise on the order of 75% of global emissions. We can't solve this without them; you need them all and they all have to move immediately."
A key stumbling block is still the level and the source of financial support for poor countries, said Kim Carstensen, the head of WWF Global Climate Initiative. "The growing number of countries supporting the idea of Copenhagen delivering a legally binding outcome was a positive sign," he said, but "delegates spent too much time arguing over procedures and technicalities."
New UN figures released in Bonn show that 39 industrialized nations, excluding the United States, are planning to cut greenhouse gas emissions by between 15-21% below 1990 levels by 2020. Canada, for instance, presented their national target to reduce emissions by 20% from 2006 levels by 2020. Russia detailed plans to reduce emissions by 10-15% by 2020 in comparison to 1990s levels.
These levels are higher than those mandated by the Kyoto Protocol — an average 5.2% emissions cuts from 1990 levels — but they fall far short of the 25-40% emissions cuts most scientists say are necessary to avert the worst effects of global warming.
Executive secretary De Boer told reporters these promises are "miles away" from the ambition needed to meet the goal, set by the G8 leaders last month, to cut emissions by 80% by 2050.
11. "CAP AND TRADE" WON'T HALT GLOBAL WARMING
[Editor's Note: The American Clean Energy and Security Act, H.R. 2454 — the Waxman-Markey bill — is President Barack Obama's big effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It recently passed in the House and is now before the Senate. A number of environmentalists backed the bill, but most of them also expressed serious reservations because of its limitations. Some environmental groups — such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and Rainforest Acton Network — opposed the bill. Greenpeace said: "It’s like building a four-foot levee in New Orleans as the waters rush in at 40 feet." We asked Ulster County activist Steve Greenfield, a progressive critic of the measure, to write the following article.]
By Steve Greenfield
The United States, under the leadership of the Obama Administration, is moving rapidly toward choosing what is known as "cap and trade" to reduce increasing greenhouse gas emissions that produce global warming. This means polluters purchase the "right" to pollute for a price, which they might recoup by with higher prices to consumers.
Most climate scientists, environmentalists, and economists not affiliated with greenhouse-gas emitting industries or banking institutions eligible to trade in the carbon permits, credits, and offsets that are the basis of "cap and trade," agree that the scheme is inadequate to the task at hand. Even the economists who invented and developed it in the 1960s and 1970s now accept this view.
And precious little is being discussed about the risk to the U.S. economy of giving financial institutions a massive, new, unregulated paper asset to divide into limitless derivatives — the initial carbon permit giveaway — that not only would amount to bailout #3, but also sets up the next banking collapse by not regulating the mechanisms under which the paper can be traded.
Many Americans confuse this massive giveaway of tax dollars to the fossil fuel-laden energy, agribusiness, and financial sectors with something that could actually slow and reverse global warming because President Barack Obama and former Vice President Albert Gore embrace this view.
It should noted that Gore, who has played a major role in alerting people to the danger of global warming, is now in a partnership with former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson — the architect of Bailout #1 — and some members of the board of Goldman Sachs (the world’s leading carbon credit trading group), who benefited from Bailouts # 1 and 2.
There may still be time to demand a fresh start if enough Americans develop an adequate understanding of how cap-and-trade fails to sufficiently reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Senate has yet to act on the Democratic supported cap-and-trade Waxman-Markey legislation, which was passed by the house June 26 in a 219-212 vote.
One reason cap-and-trade can’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions is the complete inability to determine that those in a position to sell carbon offsets or surplus permits are doing anything differently than they would have done without the potential to profit from the scheme.
Owners of forested acreage can sell the carbon-offsetting capacity of that acreage even if they previously had no capacity or financial motive to harvest it. Cap-and-trade only balances the harm of the greenhouse gas emitter if greenhouse gas absorption is increased elsewhere — not if an existing status-quo is simply being maintained. So polluters receive a price incentive to purchase polluting rights from people who aren’t actually reducing pollution — they’re just getting cut in on the profits, with the additional cost of that new profit passed on to consumers of the polluter’s products, through higher prices.
In other words, a private taxation system is managed and collected by a partnership of polluters, owners of unexploitable land, and their go-betweens like the Gore-Goldman Sachs-affiliated Generation Investment Management "private equity fund." In fact, the polluters may pretend to be offsetting themselves by purchasing a few acres of worthless vegetation every time they expect to generate more carbon dioxide, so long as such vegetation remains below the market price of privately offered offsets for the same amount of carbon. Without a requirement that greenhouse gas emissions may only be offset by demonstrable new greenhouse gas absorption on the part of the offset seller, cap-and-trade is a façade.
Another reason it can’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions is that it can’t be policed. Anyone in the billions of acres of existing remote forestland throughout the world can say they’ve sold a guarantee that they’ll protect those acres from cutting, but who’s going to search through the entire Amazon to make sure a hundred acres here, a hundred acres there, haven’t been cleared?
A third reason is the big up-front carbon permit giveaway, which not only sets up future banking destabilization of the like repeatedly seen in derivatives trading, and under which the world’s economy and United States Treasury suffers today, but is already known to be the main source of the failure of the European cap-and-trade program (their emissions have increased since adoption). The issuance of the initial permits allows the recipients to either rapidly escalate their own emissions, or if they maintain them, sell their surplus permits to polluters whose emissions are increasing, and to sell it at a pure profit no matter how low the surplus drives the value of the permits — because the permits were simply given to them for free by the taxpayers. By encouraging permit sale even if prices approach zero, the giveaway system guarantees that the permits won’t add meaningful cost to the production of carbon, and whatever costs may someday be incurred are decades away, after it’s way too late.
A fourth reason, one that should have been simple to control, is that too many industries, particularly agriculture, have successfully lobbied for exemption. Combine this with the stimuli in the same bill to use agriculture for direct biofuel production, and you can easily see an escape valve designed to exceed the capacity of the supposedly capped tank itself. If we don’t deforest to sow biofuel crops, we can only do so by sowing existing food acreage and drastically driving up food costs, which the laws of supply and demand will offset with new stimuli for fossil-fuel derived, ecocidal herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers, as well as genetically modified crops. And that will be the effect in well-fed countries. In poor countries, the result — already widely observed — will be starvation.
The list of fatal flaws in cap-and-trade as a mechanism to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is long and well-researched, and space limitations require that these few descriptions suffice to halt support for cap-and-trade by readers and stimulate personal exploration of the rest — and the advocacy that must follow.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, picked up mostly in left-wing alternative media, revealed that the economists who invented and developed cap-and-trade four decades ago (primarily used to date to reduce acid rain), claim that cap-and-trade cannot work for greenhouse gas emissions, and only works for pollutants emitted on much smaller, policeable scales with access to existing, proven pollutant-reducing technologies. These qualifiers do not exist in the case of greenhouse gases.
Only direct greenhouse gas taxation — rendered revenue-neutral through redirection of revenues into payroll tax reductions, poverty rebates, and credits for energy efficiencies and investment in greenhouse gas-reducing energy sources — will actually produce the desired effect, effective upon enactment, and with minimum bureaucracy.
12. ARRESTED AT END OF 3-DAY PEACE WALK
Nine antiwar activists were detained at Fort McCoy Aug. 10 after walking onto the central-Wisconsin military base to protest the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the continued U.S. possession of nuclear weapons.
According to Voices for Creative Nonviolence in Chicago, five of the nine were ticketed and released from the site after being permanently banned from entering the base again. Four of the group were taken by U.S. marshals to Madison where they face federal trespass charges in U.S. District Court. The four had previously been banned from the base for earlier protests.
All nine, ranging in age from 20 to 72, were part of a three-day walk for peace that began Aug. 7, near Camp Williams, WI. Some 50 people joined the peace walk. Five activists from Chicago pedaled for five days to join the march. Of the nine arrested, four lived in Wisconsin, and the rest were from Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and New York.
The walk was also a commemoration of the U.S. atomic bombings of the cities of Hiroshima, Aug. 6, and Nagasaki Aug. 9, 1945, and an appeal for a moratorium on the use of armor-piercing shells made from waste uranium-238 known as "depleted uranium" munitions.
Walkers carried dozens of placards along highways 12 and 21. Principle among them were demands to bring all the troops home; to compensate the victims of the U.S. military occupations; to abolish nuclear weapons; and to inform the National Guard troops of all their legal rights.
Ft. McCoy plays a key role in mobilizing Army National Guard and Army Reserve units shipping out to the two U.S. military occupations. Several Guard units are undergoing mobilization training this summer at the Fort prior to their deployment. The 32nd Brigade Combat Team is currently deployed to Iraq, the largest combat deployment of the Wisconsin National Guard since WW II.
13. KEEP CHURCH AND STATE SEPARATE
The separation of church and state has been enshrined in the U.S. Constitution since the adoption of the First Amendment, which stipulates that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." President Thomas Jefferson's interpretation of this clause as "a wall of separation between church and state" continues as the law of the land, despite various efforts to dilute its meaning.
In recent years, most liberals and many newspapers supportive of the Democratic Party and secularism expressed criticism when President George W. Bush introduced his controversial "Faith-Based Initiative" in 2001, charging that it violated the principal of separation of church and state. The program expanded the role of tax-payer subsidized religious organizations in the delivery of social services in place of government programs.
Since then, most of born-again Bush's Initiative has been adopted by President Barack Obama, who has lately been displaying his Christian credentials as a defense against right-wing lies that he is a believer in Islam. But, according to a poll released Aug. 13 by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, "Obama's faith-based initiative has so far generated little of the contentious press coverage associated with Bush's effort." And as far as we can determine, the outcry of the liberals has been muted.
According to the Pew report: "The faith-based initiative... met resistance from both religious and nonreligious leaders, who voiced concerns that the effort was being politicized and fears that the initiative would undermine church-state boundaries. The controversial nature of the initiative became the focus of much of the early 2001 press coverage. But when Obama established his own faith-based initiative, the press coverage focused primarily on procedural matters.
"The one controversy that generated a relatively significant amount of coverage in the first six months of the Obama administration concerned whether faith-based groups that receive federal funds should be able to consider a potential employee's religion when making hiring decisions....
"Coverage of the faith-based initiative was almost 50% more likely to be on the front page of newspapers in 2001 than in 2009. Issues related to the separation of church and state were the top concern in the press in 2001. Fully 40% of the newspaper coverage focused on whether the initiative violated this constitutional line. In 2009, the top controversy in the coverage analyzed was the unresolved faith-based hiring issue. More than a third of the stories (36%) dealt with this debate."
According to Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU): "The so-called 'faith-based' initiative is a euphemism for taxpayer-supported religion. The initiative funnels taxpayer dollars to religious social service providers without adequate safeguards to prevent proselytism. In addition, these groups seek to discriminate in hiring based on religion even though their programs are publicly funded."
Commenting Feb. 6 on President Obama's embrace of the Bush religious initiative, the organization declared that it "believes any fair review of the faith-based initiative would conclude that taxpayer-funded religious discrimination runs counter to America’s civil rights laws and our shared values.... In July , Obama gave a major speech on 'faith-based' initiatives in Ohio and promised to end proselytism and job discrimination in tax-funded programs. His order yesterday does not do that. In fact, it leaves a series of executive orders issued by George W. Bush in place."
AU executive director Rev. Barry W. Lynn, commented that "I am very disappointed that President Obama’s faith-based program is being rolled out without barring evangelism and religious discrimination in taxpayer-funded programs. It should be obvious that taxpayer-funded religious bias offends our civil rights laws, our Constitution and our shared sense of values."
Two months ago, AU asked Attorney General Eric Holder to terminate or at least investigate nine Bush-era federal grants awarded to faith-based groups that proselytize and that discriminate in hiring.
The grants ranged from a high of $1,128,000 to an Indiana Evangelical Christian college to $47,000 for an Albany, N.Y., group. Albany Teen Challenge was paid to run several drug-prevention program, during which an "altar call is given, Bibles are provided, and salvation cards are distributed." AU said the ministry has a policy of hiring only Christians.
Though the financing involved is relatively small, the issue is huge, and we hope progressives do not ignore the unfortunate conjunction of church and state in the Faith-Based Initiative, no matter who is president. We should keep in mind a statement on this matter by another president, James Madison, the principal author of the First Amendment: "The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries."
14. ANOTHER WAR CRIME CHARGED TO ISRAEL
[Information from Antiwar.com, HRW, and Democracy Now!]
A new report by Human Rights Watch Aug. 13 cites investigations and statements by eyewitnesses who say Israeli soldiers shot 11 unarmed Palestinians, including five women and four children, who were waving white flags at them. This is the latest in a multitude of war crimes charges leveled at Israeli forces during their December-January invasion of the Gaza Strip.
The 63-page report, "White Flag Deaths: Killings of Palestinian Civilians during Operation Cast Lead," is based on field investigations of seven incident sites in Gaza, including ballistic evidence found at the scene, medical records of victims, and lengthy interviews with multiple witnesses — at least three people separately for each incident.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) declined repeated Human Rights Watch requests for a meeting to discuss the cases and did not respond to questions submitted in writing.
The report urged Israel to conduct a thorough investigation into the charges, but this appears unlikely as the Israeli military publicly condemned Human Rights Watch for releasing the report. Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the invasion, along with 14 Israelis.
The Israeli military also claimed that on occasion Gazans had acted illegally in waving white flags, insisting that this had endangered the civilian population. It did not appear to provide any information to directly dispute the evidence of the particular incident, but merely appeared irked that Human Rights Watch didn’t present it to them before releasing it to the public.
On the Democracy Now! radio/video/website program Aug. 14, Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch said most of the victims were women and children: "These are incidents in which eleven Palestinian civilians, nine of them children and women, were killed, despite the fact that they were holding or waving white flags to signify that they were civilians, they were unarmed, they had no hostile intent. But still, Israeli soldiers, in many cases after calling them out of their homes, shot them."
In a homemade video shown on the program, Gaza resident Khalid Abed Rabbo described the shooting death of his two young daughters: "When the soldiers arrived outside our house, they yelled for us to come outside. My wife, mother, three daughters and I went outside. We were holding cloths, because we are a peaceful family. I thought that the soldiers would realize that they were looking at women and children."
Abed Rabbo’s three-year-old daughter and the children’s grandmother were also wounded in the shooting. The girls’ mother, Umm Soad Abed Rabbo, also witnessed the attack and said: "Right in front of me, they shot my eldest daughter. Then they shot the little one, Amal, and then Samar, who was in front of her. When we ran inside, they shot their elderly grandmother who can hardly walk."
Israel’s own probes into the Gaza War have uncovered virtually no misdeeds, even when several of its own soldiers reported indiscriminate killing of civilians. The military declared that their testimony was "hearsay" and that not a single claim was true.
— For an article on the "Traumatized children of Gaza" as a consequence of the invasion, see Check it Out item below.
15. THE 'PRISON' KNOWN AS GAZA
The United Nations issued a 30-page report in mid-August titled, "Locked In: The Humanitarian Impact of Two Years of Blockade on the Gaza Strip," produced by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for Occupied Palestinian Territory. Here are excerpts from the Executive Summary:
Following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, Israel has imposed an unprecedented blockade on all border crossings in and out of the Gaza Strip. The blockade has "locked in" 1.5 million people in what is one of the most densely populated areas on earth, triggering a protracted human dignity crisis with negative humanitarian consequences.
At the heart of this crisis is the degradation in the living conditions of the population, caused by the erosion of livelihoods and the gradual decline in the state of infrastructure, and the quality of vital services in the areas of health, water and sanitation, and education. The blockade resulted in:
• The lack of essential imports, including raw materials, coupled with the ban on exports, has decimated economic activity in the private sector and resulted in the loss of approximately 120,000 jobs. Over 40% of Gaza’s workforce, or more than 140,000 people, are currently unemployed.
• Approximately 75% of Gaza’s population (more than 1.1 million people) is food insecure, up from 56% in the first quarter of 2008. The main causes of food insecurity are the increase in poverty, the destruction of agricultural assets and the inflation in prices of key food items.
• The reported number of Palestinian fatalities during "Cast Lead" ranges from 1,116 (IDF) to 1,455 (Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza). Based on the cross-checking of multiple fatality lists, OCHA has identified the records of 1,383 Palestinians, including 333 children whose death was confirmed by at least two independent sources; a significant proportion of these fatalities were civilians not involved in the hostilities.
• The ban on the import of building materials has prevented the reconstruction of most of the 3,540 homes destroyed and the 2,870 homes severely damaged during the last military offensive. No new construction for 7,500 planned housing units to cater for Gaza’s rapidly expanding population has been possible due to the lack of building materials available in Gaza.
• The reduction in the amounts of industrial fuel allowed entry has forced Gaza’s sole power plant to reduce its level of production, creating a 15-20% electricity deficit. Ninety percent of the population currently experience scheduled electricity power cuts of 4-8 hours a day. The remaining 10% have no electricity supply due to the lack of construction materials needed to maintain and repair the network.
• Some 10,000 people in northern Gaza still do not have access to running water due a lack of available building materials to maintain and upgrade the wastewater infrastructure. As a result of the lack of adequate maintenance and upgrading of the wastewater infrastructure, 80 million liters of raw and partially-treated sewage are being discharged daily into the environment.
• Follow-up treatment for people suffering from complex injuries and permanent disabilities inflicted during the most recent Israeli offensive has created an enormous burden for a health system weakened by shortages of facilities, equipment, and drugs. The inability of medical staff to upgrade their knowledge and skills due to the continued travel restrictions has significantly undermined the quality of health services in Gaza.
• Over-crowding of schools as a result of the inability to expand and repair existing facilities, compounded by the recurrent shortages of educational materials delayed or denied entry at the crossings, and frequent electricity power cuts have contributed to a decline in school attendance and performance. In the first semester of the 2007-2008 school year only 20% of sixth graders in Gaza passed standardized exams in math, science, English and Arabic.
—The full UN report is at
16. THE CLASS IN THE CLASSROOM
In recognition of the reopening of schools in September, here are five of what might be called "alternative" quotations about education — or rather about the system of education in societies such as our own — from five progressive in experts in the field. But first a word of explanation as you tighten your seatbelts in anticipation of what is to come.
While many concerned citizens are worried because of the perceived shortcomings in the American educational process — and most of us, including many teachers, can agree with that — some educators of leftist persuasion also point out that the system is quite successful in terms of what those who rule our society actually seek to achieve.
Is it not true, for example, that in general the children of the rich receive an excellent education as befits candidates for tomorrow’s leadership? Is it not likely in the main that the children of the middle class obtain a sufficient education to fill the ranks of middle and upper-middle management, the professions and small businesses? Or that the odds suggest the children of the working class are educated to perform adequately as cogs in the labor machine, usually paid below their level of productivity in wages and benefits? And that in most cases the children of the poor, including a disproportionate percentage of young people from oppressed minorities, are largely trained for low-wage jobs, the military, unemployment and prison?
Of course there are exceptions to this class-based scenario. A certain upward mobility continues in American society despite a sharp reduction in such options in recent decades.
Although there are different educational goals for children of different class backgrounds, however, one aspect of the education system seems common to almost all. That is a distinct lack of emphasis upon developing a critical faculty in the minds our nation's children. This is particularly the case in matters relating to the sacrosanct categories of citizenship — patriotism, nationalism, the nature of the state, the classless society, the official version of national history, capitalism, "authorities" of all kinds, and the self-evident goodness and utility of religion.
As the conservative curmudgeon H.L. Mencken observed in a review of socialist Upton Sinclair's 1924 book criticizing American schools ("The Goslings"), the aim of the school system is "putting down political and economic heresy" and "to make docile and patriotic citizens."
Now, here are the five brief quotes from educators who are critical of the educational system from this general perspective, plus a final comment by a snobbish English novelist:
Jonathan Kozol: (1991): "Like grain in a time of famine, the immense resources which the nation does in fact possess go not to the child in the greatest need but to the child of the highest bidder — the child of parents who, more frequently than not, have also enjoyed the same abundance when they were schoolchildren."
Paulo Freire, Brazil (1985): "It would be extremely naive to expect the dominant classes to develop a type of education that would enable subordinate classes to perceive social injustices critically."
Walter Karp (1985): "The public schools we have today are what the powerful and considerable have made of them. They will not be redeemed by trifling reforms."
Henry Giroux (1981): "The dominant culture actively functions to suppress the development of a critical historical consciousness among the populace."
Henry M. Levin (1976): "The educational system will always be applied toward serving the role of cultural transmission and preserving the status quo."
The English understand class better than most Americans, who usually embrace the national mythology that there is no class system in the United States. (The big exception to this naïve belief, of course, are people of great wealth — led by the richest 5% of U.S. families who possess 58.9% of all assets and wealth in our country — who well understand and defend their class privileges with gusto.)
What British writer Evelyn Waugh declared in his novel, "Decline and Fall" (1928), might well apply to aspects of the education system in our country, when stripped of its egalitarian rhetoric: "We class schools, you see, into four grades: Leading School, First-rate School, Good School, and School."
If such frank rankings prevailed in America, guess who gets to go to "School"?
17. WAR BY REMOTE CONTROL
[Editor's Note: As soon as possible, and wherever feasible, the Pentagon hopes to fight its recurrent wars almost entirely by remote control with U.S. soldiers situated at computer screens behind the front lines or thousands of miles away, pushing buttons that "erase" human targets and structures. For many GIs it will be like a video game. We already see the beginning of this kind of warfare with the piotless drones flying over Afghanistan and Pakistan.
[Over the years we have written major articles about the Defense Department's space war planning and its designs for operating a futuristic electronic battlefield where only its robots get "killed." It's an extremely efficient way to kill (or delete) enemy individuals, groups or whole societies because few if any Americans get hurt, thus greatly reducing the size of the antiwar movements of tomorrow. Below is an update on the U.S. military's "robot revolution," distributed by the French news agency Agence France-Presse, Aug. 13, 2009.]
Robots in the sky and on the ground are transforming warfare, and the US military is rushing to recruit the new warriors that never sleep and never bleed.
The latest robotics were on display at an industry show Aug. 10 at a naval airfield in Maryland, with a pilotless helicopter buzzing overhead and a "Wall-E" look-alike robot on the ground craning its neck to peer into a window.
The chopper, the MQ-8B Fire Scout, is no tentative experiment and later this year will be operating from a naval frigate, the USS McInerney, to help track drug traffickers in the eastern Pacific Ocean, Navy officers said.
The rugged little robot searching an enemy building is called a Pakbot, which can climb over rocks with tank treads, pick up an explosive with its mechanical arm and dismantle it while a soldier directs the machine from a safe distance.
There are already 2,500 of them on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a lighter version weighing six kilograms has arrived that can be carried in a backpack, according to iRobot, the same company that sells a robot vacuum to civilians, the Roomba.
Monday's demonstration of robotic wonders was organised by defense contractors and the U.S. Navy, which says it wants to lead the American military into a new age where tedious or high-risk jobs are handed over to robots.
"I think we're at the beginning of an unmanned revolution," Gary Kessler, who oversees unmanned aviation programs for the US Navy and Marines, said. "We're spending billions of dollars on unmanned systems."
Kessler and other Pentagon officials compare the robots to the introduction of the aircraft or the tank, a new technology that dramatically changes strategy and tactics.
Robots or "unmanned systems" are now deployed by the thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan, spying from the sky for hours on end, searching for booby-traps and firing lethal missiles without putting US soldiers at risk.
The use of robotics in the military has exploded in the past several years as technology has advanced while Washington faced a new kind of enemy that required patient, precise surveillance.
18. NEWS SHORTS
By Nathan Rosenblum
INADEQUATE TREATMENT FOR YOUNG INMATES: Two-thirds of the 93,000 juvenile inmates currently in U.S. detention facilities suffer from mental illnesses, according to an article in the Aug. 10 New York Times. Due to the closing down of many mental hospitals and treatment centers in America over the decades, as well as inadequate state funding, a huge number of "offenders" with mental problems end up in juvenile or adult jails and prisons.
Psychological treatment for young inmates is frequently lacking, and recidivism rates are very high as a consequence. Many jails "treat" such inmates with large amounts of medication, often up to four psychotropic drugs per patient. Lacking post-prison placement options for such inmates, many remain locked up beyond their actual sentences.
Conditions in these centers of juvenile detention often contribute to making matters worse. One study in California uncovered widespread reports of physical and sexual abuse of the young prisoners by guards — a situation known to exist in many states. In order to reduce prison overcrowding, states often transfer youths to county facilities even less able to offer proper treatment.
CORPORAL PUNISHMENT IN U.S. SCHOOLS: According to a new study by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, 200,000 children in the United States are physically punished in public schools each year. Twenty states, all in the South or West, still permit corporal punishment in schools, although in some the decision to allow this form of punishment is made by the school district. In a shocking revelation, students with disabilities constitute nearly 20% of those receiving corporal punishment.
Among the forms of physical punishment reported are beating, slapping, spanking, paddling, pinching, dragging and being thrown on the floor. Severe bruising and lacerations are often the result and many parent remain unaware of the exact nature of the punishment. The rationale for these punishments have been as varied as turning in homework late or creating disturbances. According to Alice Framer, author of the report, "students with disabilities already face extra challenges, and being hit by teachers only makes it worse.” The report suggests that corporal punishment is a violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and a number of other similar agreements.
For more information go to:
HATE CRIME: ATTACKS ON HOMELESS: There are over 1,000,000 homeless people in the United States at any given time. According to a new report from the National Coalition for the Homeless, last year there were 106 reported attacks on the homeless, including 27 murders (the second highest number since 2001), 54 beatings, nine rapes, and eight shootings. Because attacks often go unreported, the number is undoubtedly higher.
In order to stem the tide of violence, Maryland will become the first state to make attacks on homeless people a hate crime. The District of Columbia has also approved a similar program, five other states are considering it and it has been introduced on the federal level as well.
Groups of men or teenage boys (who are not themselves homeless) have been known to shoot, stab, punch kick, and set on fire homeless people for "sport." Other abuses including rape and paying homeless people to fight each other have also been reported.
A hate crime has been defined as a criminal offense committed against persons, property or society that is motivated, in whole or in part, by an offender's bias against a specific characteristic of an individual or a group such as race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation.
—For more information go to:
RECORD NUMBER OF U.S. PRISONERS SERVING LIFE TERMS: According to a new report form The Sentencing Project, the U.S. — which already has more people imprisoned than any other country in the world (see Prisonhouse America, above) — now has a record number serving life sentences.
One out of ten prisoners (one in five in California), about 140,610 out of 2.3 million, are serving life terms. Two-thirds of the "lifers" are black or Latino (In New York State, only 16.3 % of those serving life terms are white). Many are imprisoned for nonviolent drug offences due to mandatory sentencing laws. There are 6,807 juveniles serving life terms of which 25.8%, or 1,775, are ineligible for parole and 47.3 % are black. Of the 4,694 women serving life sentences, 28.4% do not have a possibility of parole and 176 are juveniles. Large numbers of the juveniles serve in regular prisons. Seven states and the federal government do not permit parole for any sentenced to life imprisonment.—For more information, go to: http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/inc_noexit.pdf
19. AMERICA'S UNJUST SEX LAWS
[Editor's note: The influential conservative British weekly magazine The Economist has published an editorial and a well-researched article on what it terms "America's unjust and ineffective sex laws." The Aug. 8-14 issue notes that the U.S. "has pioneered the harsh punishment of sex offenders," and that other countries are beginning to follow its example. It calls for substantial reforms. The editorial follows. A link to the longer article is at the end.]
It is an oft-told story, but it does not get any less horrific on repetition. Fifteen years ago, a pedophile enticed seven-year-old Megan Kanka into his home in New Jersey by offering to show her a puppy. He then raped her, killed her and dumped her body in a nearby park. The murderer, who had recently moved into the house across the street from his victim, had twice before been convicted of sexually assaulting a child. Yet Megan’s parents had no idea of this. Had they known he was a sex offender, they would have told their daughter to stay away from him.
In their grief, the parents started a petition, demanding that families should be told if a sexual predator moves nearby. Hundreds of thousands signed it. In no time at all, lawmakers in New Jersey granted their wish. And before long, "Megan’s laws" had spread to every American state.
America’s sex-offender laws are the strictest of any rich democracy. Convicted rapists and child-molesters are given long prison sentences. When released, they are put on sex-offender registries. In most states this means that their names, photographs and addresses are published online, so that fearful parents can check whether a child-molester lives nearby. Under the Adam Walsh Act of 2006, another law named after a murdered child, all states will soon be obliged to make their sex-offender registries public. Such rules are extremely popular. Most parents will support any law that promises to keep their children safe. Other countries are following America’s example, either importing Megan’s laws or increasing penalties: after two little girls were murdered by a school caretaker, Britain has imposed multiple conditions on who can visit schools.
Which makes it all the more important to ask whether America’s approach is the right one. In fact its sex-offender laws have grown self-defeatingly harsh (see article). They have been driven by a ratchet effect. Individual American politicians have great latitude to propose new laws. Stricter curbs on paedophiles win votes. And to sound severe, such curbs must be stronger than the laws in place, which in turn were proposed by politicians who wished to appear tough themselves. Few politicians dare to vote against such laws, because if they do, the attack ads practically write themselves.
In all, 674,000 Americans are on sex-offender registries—more than the population of Vermont, North Dakota or Wyoming. The number keeps growing partly because in several states registration is for life and partly because registries are not confined to the sort of murderer who ensnared Megan Kanka. According to Human Rights Watch, at least five states require registration for people who visit prostitutes, 29 require it for consensual sex between young teenagers and 32 require it for indecent exposure. Some prosecutors are now stretching the definition of "distributing child pornography" to include teens who text half-naked photos of themselves to their friends.
How dangerous are the people on the registries? A state review of one sample in Georgia found that two-thirds of them posed little risk. For example, Janet Allison was found guilty of being "party to the crime of child molestation" because she let her 15-year-old daughter have sex with a boyfriend. The young couple later married. But Ms Allison will spend the rest of her life publicly branded as a sex offender.
Several other countries have sex-offender registries, but these are typically held by the police and are hard to view. In America it takes only seconds to find out about a sex offender: some states have a "click to print" icon on their websites so that concerned citizens can put up posters with the offender’s mugshot on trees near his home. Small wonder most sex offenders report being harassed. A few have been murdered. Many are fired because someone at work has Googled them.
Registration is often just the start. Sometimes sex offenders are barred from living near places where children congregate. In Georgia no sex offender may live or work within 1,000 feet of a school, church, park, skating rink or swimming pool. In Miami an exclusion zone of 2,500 feet has helped create a camp of homeless offenders under a bridge.
There are three main arguments for reform. First, it is unfair to impose harsh penalties for small offences. Perhaps a third of American teenagers have sex before they are legally allowed to, and a staggering number have shared revealing photographs with each other. This is unwise, but hardly a reason for the law to ruin their lives. Second, America’s sex laws often punish not only the offender, but also his family. If a man who once slept with his 15-year-old girlfriend is barred for ever from taking his own children to a playground, those children suffer.
Third, harsh laws often do little to protect the innocent. The police complain that having so many petty sex offenders on registries makes it hard to keep track of the truly dangerous ones. Cash that might be spent on treating sex offenders—which sometimes works—is spent on huge indiscriminate registries. Public registers drive serious offenders underground, which makes them harder to track and more likely to re-offend. And registers give parents a false sense of security: most sex offenders are never even reported, let alone convicted.
It would not be hard to redesign America’s sex laws. Instead of lumping all sex offenders together on the same list for life, states should assess each person individually and include only real threats. Instead of posting everything on the internet, names could be held by the police, who would share them only with those, such as a school, who need to know. Laws that bar sex offenders from living in so many places should be repealed, because there is no evidence that they protect anyone: a predator can always travel. The money that a repeal saves could help pay for monitoring compulsive molesters more intrusively—through ankle bracelets and the like.
In America it may take years to unpick this. However practical and just the case for reform, it must overcome political cowardice, the tabloid media and parents’ understandable fears. Other countries, though, have no excuse for committing the same error. Sensible sex laws are better than vengeful ones.
— The Economist's accompanying article is at http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=14164614.
20. THE WOODSTOCK FORUM
[Editor's Note: The following article summing up the recent Woodstock Forum: Building a Peaceful, Just and Sustainable Economy, was written by Dee Dee Halleck, one of the organizers.]
It is 40 years since the historic Woodstock Festival crowned an era now associated with peace, love and rock and roll. Although the 1969 festival itself did not take place in Woodstock, but in Bethel many miles across the Catskills, the town of Woodstock, N.Y., nevertheless, has become a pilgrimage point for people seeking to either rekindle those years of love and music, or at the very least to buy a tie-dye T-shirt. Despite the great deal of hoopla surrounding the 40th anniversary of the famous festival, very little attention has been paid to the philosophical culture which permeated the event and its aftermath.
In 1969 the Vietnam War was a central focus for the passion of the crowd and the many songs of protest. At the Woodstock Forum, which took place Aug. 15-16, well over 300 people heard and discussed the many pressing issues of our time. We are overwhelmed with ongoing wars, continuing exploitation of people and resources around the world, worsening ecological devastation and usurpation of our communities for weaponry and repression. In 2009, although the name Woodstock is synonymous with "peace and love," the biggest employer in our own town is a military contractor. Given the perilous state of New York, the nation and the world, we need more than ever to discuss how to convert the engines of war for a peaceful future.
In the sessions held at the Woodstock Town Hall on Saturday we heard from historians, poets, workers, social critics and journalists such as: Peter Woodruff, worker in a Maine weapons factory; grass roots organizer Mary Beth Sullivan; legendary activist Diane Wilson, author of "An Unreasonable Woman" and co-founder of Code Pink; poet and teacher Janine Vega; curator and gallery director Ariel Shanberg; award winning journalists Jeremy Scahill and Jeff Cohen; economist Robert Pollin; historians Sylvia Federici, Simon Harak, SJ, and Richard Grossman; social critics Joel Kovel and George Caffentzis; filmmakers DeeDee Halleck and Tobe Carey.
The Saturday speakers painted an ominous view of how militarism has gripped our communities, our culture and our lives. On Sunday. the Forum switched from presentations on what was wrong to reflections on how citizens could right those wrongs. A day of deliberation, contentious at times but essentially forward moving, led to the drafting of an initial statement and the framing of ways to build movements, local as well as regional and national, to carry the struggle forward. Here is the statement decided upon at the Forum:
"We, participants of the Woodstock Forum, meeting Aug. 15-16, 2009, the 40th anniversary of the Woodstock Festival, reclaim the authority for our lives and our communities. We reject the usurpation of our rights by the military-industrial-media complex.
"We reject the actions of our country to foment wars around the world and to manufacture, export and sell weapons. Weapons are the number one U.S. export. Our cities and towns have become home to industries for death and destruction.
"We declare that:
"1. We will map and research the military industries that control the economies of our communities, that control the minds and pockets of our government officials, that pollute and destroy our land and waters;
"2. we will draw attention to these industries of death through educational outreach to local and national media and with imaginative and creative nonviolent actions;
"3. we will build coalitions to convert weapons-making to peaceful manufacturing and to create meaningful work in education, the arts, health care, and ecological development;
"4. we vow to take personal responsibility for the products in our workplaces and in our lives.
"We will not cease our resistance to the death machines in our midst and to the laws that support them."
The Woodstock Forum Committee: Nicholas Abramson, Laurie Arbeiter, DeeDee Halleck, Tarak Kauff, Laurie Kirby, Joel Kovel, Helaine Meisler, Gail Miller, Fred Nagel, Katya and Paul Rehm, Laurie Sheridan
21. "JUDEO-CHRISTIAN" FOREIGN POLICY?
Speaking at the annual Christians United For Israel conference in Washington July 21, House Minority Whip and rumored presidential hopeful Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) discussed his vision for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Namely, that it needs to be "firmly grounded in Judeo-Christian principles," a reference to an outlook based on shared religious scriptures.
Cantor, who is Jewish, told the Christian Zionists: "Reaching out to the Muslim world may help in creating an environment for peace in the Middle East, but we must insist as Americans that our policies be firmly grounded in the beliefs of the Judeo-Christian tradition upon which this country was founded."
Cantor's comment is clearly a critical reference to President Obama's Cairo speech June 4, which was intended to promote better relations with the Muslim world. In this the Virginia Republican was echoing earlier criticism of Obama's talk by right wing American Values president Gary Bauer.
"Somewhere lost in all of the hype over Obama's outreach to the world," Bauer charged, "is a sense that he stands most proudly as the American president. It's time for the president's soaring rhetoric to be applied in support of this great nation and its Judeo-Christian heritage.... Obama cannot have it both ways.... The American president must decide which role is more important to him, Apologist-in-Chief for the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims or Commander-in-Chief of the United States and advocate for American values abroad."
It is historically untrue that our secular republic was founded upon such a "tradition," despite frequent assertions to the contrary, usually by conservatives, Christian Zionists, and pandering politicians of various persuasions. And despite a certain coincidence in moral teaching stemming from a common religious root, Christianity's long "tradition" of oppressing the Jewish people tends to compromise the notion of joint Judeo-Christian principles.
Cantor's remarks were circulated widely on the Internet and drew many deserved criticisms on various websites, such as:
From a reader at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency website: "This nation was founded by liberal deists as a secular democracy. We are now a people of many religions and 15% of the nation professes NO religion at all! Maybe it’s finally time (after 200+ years) to put religion back in the closets of our political houses, where our Constitution so clearly indicates it belongs."
From a reader of the Reason Project website: "Since when does 'Judeo-Christian' policy represent America anyway? Our Constitution doesn’t even have the word god or religion in it."
From the Washington Monthly website: "There is no such thing as 'Judeo-Christian' tradition. There is a Jewish tradition and a Christian tradition, but aside from a period of about three or four decades 2,000 years ago there really hasn't been much overlap.... Why don't people stop with the 'Judeo-Christian' drivel and just come out and say anti-Muslim."
The Huffington Post site included this response: "Here's a little excerpt from Treaty of Tripoli: 'Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims]; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Mohammedan] nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.' This was written in 1797. So why now do some insist we need to pursue a Judeo-Christian policy?"
While there may not be a Judeo-Christian tradition in the sense that Cantor and the Christian Zionists use the term, there certainly is a U.S.-Israeli tradition of more recent vintage. It has nothing do with moral principles. Israel supports the U.S. wars against the Islamic people of Iraq and Afghanistan, while the U.S. supports Israel's attacks on the Islamic people of Gaza and Lebanon, while both are threatening the Islamic people of Iran.
22. U.S. GROUPS CHALLENGE TRAVEL BAN TO CUBA
By Frank Meade, Liberation, August 14, 2009
On Aug. 3, the Venceremos Brigade returned to the United States from Cuba, marking the 40th trip to the island nation without a license from the U.S. government. The brigade allows activists a unique chance to meet with the Cuban people — from Cuban officials to workers and students — to learn about life in Cuba, the problems created by the U.S. blockade and how the socialist government works.
This year, 144 activists participated in the trip demanding an immediate end to the illegal U.S. travel ban and criminal blockade, which seeks to strangle development on the island and force an imperialist counterrevolution.
Also on Aug. 3, the 20th U.S./Cuba Friendshipment Caravan, organized by IFCO/Pastors for Peace, returned to the United States after collecting 132 tons of humanitarian aid for delivery to the Cuban people and visiting Cuba for a nine-day program of education and fellowship.
Rev. Lucius Walker, founder and executive director of IFCO/Pastors for Peace, had the unusual opportunity on this trip to have extended meetings with both Cuban President Raul Castro and with ex-President Fidel Castro.
Difficulties continue to be imposed on the Cuban people, as many supplies are limited or unavailable because of the U.S.-imposed blockade. However, in true internationalist form, Cubans actively seek the friendship of the people of the United States in spite of the policies imposed by the U.S. government. They make a clear distinction between the people and the U.S. government.
It does not take long to notice that the socialist government in Cuba prioritizes the most important necessities for its population. Even with the hardships of the blockade, quality health care and education are accessible and free, housing is guaranteed, employment is a right and every Cuban receives an allotment of food staples.
While in Cuba, the brigade worked in urban gardens alongside Cuban farmers, helped with construction projects, visited health care clinics, attended cultural events and met with Cuban officials and entertainers. There was ample free time as well to explore various cities and get to know the local residents. The trip was well rounded and offered an extensive opportunity to experience Cuban life.
This years travel challenge was especially significant as Cuba is celebrating its 50th anniversary of the triumph of the Revolution. We were visiting on July 26, one of Cuba’s major national holidays, and the date of the attack on the Moncada barracks by a group of young revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro in 1953. The attack failed but helped open the way for the triumph of the Revolution a few years later—a great achievement for the workers of Cuba.
However, this year's celebrations were tempered by further hardship as the world economic crisis — compounded enormously by two devastating hurricanes last year — is beginning to impact Cuba, exacerbating difficulties already caused by the blockade. Even though leaner times lay ahead, the spirit of revolution is evident as Cubans look for solutions determined to keep the socialist state alive and well.
This year marks a critical time for the end of the blockade and travel ban as identical legislation is being debated in both houses of Congress with bipartisan support. At the same time, President Obama has stated he will lift restrictions on travel and remittances for Cuban Americans, though not for other Americans. As Dagoberto Rodríguez of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, explained to us at the Julio Antonio Mella Internationalist Camp, (where we stayed in our second week) despite that promise, the Obama government has yet to even prepare those regulations.