September 18, 2009 Issue #150
HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER/CALENDAR
The Activist Newsletter, published in New Paltz, N.Y., appears once a month, supplemented by the Activist Calendar of progressive events, which is sent to Hudson Valley readers only. Editor: Jack A. Smith (who writes the articles that appear without a byline or credit to other publications). He is the former editor of the (U.S.) Guardian Newsweekly. Copy Editor: Donna Goodman. Calendar Editor: Rocco Rizzo. If you know someone who may benefit from this newsletter, ask them to subscribe at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you no longer wish to receive the newsletter, unsubscribe at the same address. Please send event listings to the above email address. The current and back issues of the newsletter/calendar are available at http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com.
1. REVIVING THE PEACE MOVEMENT OCT. 17 — Save the date! Nationwide peace demonstrations, including in the Hudson Valley, coincide with the eighth anniversary of Bush's war in Afghanistan. This is a chance to revive our antiwar movement. Don't miss it!
2. CLIMATE CHANGE LEGISLATION: TOO HOT TO HANDLE IN CONGRESS — Republicans and other problems beset the Obama Administration's climate change/energy legislation, but many of the difficulties come from conservative Democrats.
3. SHUT IT DOWN! — Up to 300 peace demonstrators marched in protest to the Army Experience Center (AEC) in Philadelphia Sept. 12, resulting in the arrest of six activists.
4. END THE EMBARGO, FREE THE FIVE — Just three days after we demonstrated in a Mid-Hudson village against the economic and trade sanctions on Cuba, President Obama announced he was extending them for another year. He obviously didn't get to read our leaflets.
5. IT'S TOUGH FOR YOUNG WORKERS — If they can find jobs at all, young workers today have lower-paying jobs than their counterparts did 10 years ago. Health care is a luxury, and retirement security is something for their parents, not them."
6. SETBACK FOR CIVIL LIBERTIES — The Obama Administration has made two decisions this month that eroded civil liberties. One strengthens the Patriotic Act. The other denies rights to foreign inmates in the Pentagon's main prison in Afghanistan.
7. AFL-CIO ENDORSES SINGLE-PAYER — It marks the first time in perhaps two decades that the union federation has formally supported "Medicare for all."
8. IRAN DOES NOT BACK THE TALIBAN — Contrary to U.S. allegations, Shi'ite Iran is certainly not aiding the Sunni Taliban.
9. HIDDEN NUMBERS OF ELDERLY IN POVERTY — Poverty among Americans 65 years and older my be twice as high as official statistics indicate.
10. END OF LIFE COUNSELING — The "death panel" hoax articulated by Sarah Palin and her ultra-right cohorts amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
11. BIG FOOD VS. BIG HEALTH INSURANCE — Even the most efficient healthcare system would still confront a rising tide of chronic disease linked not to illness or injury but to diet.
12. HONDURAS: VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS — Inter-American Commission condemns crackdown on civil rights and violations of human rights by right wing coup regime.
13. NEWS BRIEFS
14. QUOTES IN THE NEWS
This is Part 1 of our October newsletter, a couple of weeks early. Part 2 will be sent on Sept. 28. Contents of the next issue include an analysis of the Obama Administration's decision to reposition the U.S. anti-missile system; a report on the failing Afghan war; developments in the fight over healthcare; and a study of the new Census Bureau statistics showing as significant rise in poverty, among other pieces.
The Activist Calendar will be sent to Hudson Valley readers in several days.
1. REVIVING THE PEACE MOVEMENT OCT. 17
Save the date Saturday, Oct. 17. That's when our new organization, Peace & Social Progress Now! (PSPN), will conduct an antiwar demonstration in Kingston, N.Y. Anti-war protests will be taking place in many cities on that day, including in Albany and in Rockland.
October marks the eighth anniversary of President George W. Bush's ill-advised invasion of Afghanistan — a stalemated war that has lasted longer than World Wars I and II combined, with no end in sight other than the inevitable quagmire.
The anniversary comes at a time when the majority of Americans now oppose that war, according to all the recent public opinion polls. Yet, our peace movement in the Hudson Valley — once strong and vital — is now considerably weaker, an unfortunate process that has been developing over the last two years. Aside from the remaining weekly vigils in various towns, not much has been happening.
That will change on Oct. 17. One of the main purposes of this action, calling for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops, is to reinvigorate our peace movement — nationwide and, for our purposes, throughout the Hudson Valley.
Our Kingston demonstration will be held in Academy Green Park, for which we have a permit, from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. There will be speakers, singers, literature tables, petitions — the works. We encourage people to attend from throughout the Mid-Hudson region.
PSPN is now seeking endorsements of the Kingston rally from regional peace groups. How about your group? Talk it over and send us an endorsement. It just means the group supports the action and will spread the word, and that some members plan to show up. This is very important to us because it will help rebuild and unify our movement for the future. Contact us at email@example.com or call at (845) 255-5779.
We'll have more information about this rally in Kingston and the activities in Albany and Rockland in the next newsletter on Sept. 28, including speakers, directions, slogans, etc.
2. Climate change legislation:
TOO HOT TO HANDLE IN CONGRESS
The Democrats may have possession of the White House and a substantial majority in Congress but — similar to their healthcare proposals — they are encountering considerable difficulties producing climate and energy legislation, another major goal of the Obama Administration.
The main problem is the adamant rejection by congressional Republicans of all major White House initiatives except for expanding the Afghan war, about which their enthusiasm is boundless. Even the few Republican Senators who last year expressed support for legislation to reverse global warming — such as Sen. John McCain, the GOP presidential candidate — seem to have drifted away.
Secondarily, right wing Democrats in Congress continue to successfully adulterate already moderate administration goals. Even after major concessions were made to coal mining, forestry, agricultural, electric utility and other business interests, some Democratic representatives ended up siding with the Republicans. The House Democrats enjoy a 256-178 majority, but the climate change bill — the American Clean Energy and Security Act — was passed June 29 by a close vote of 219-212. Four more Blue Dog defections and it would have lost.
In addition, while most environmental groups back the legislation despite justifiable reservations, a few groups — such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and Rainforest Acton Network — are sharply critical of the cap and trade provisions of the Democratic measure, while some progressives are balking at the huge giveaways to big business.
At the same time, a broad coalition of 63 organizations has been formed to fight for congressional passage of the administration's environmental agenda. Known as Clean Energy Works, it is composed of environmental, labor, religious, social, political and community groups. Opposition to global warming will get a big boost Oct. 24, the International Day of Climate Action, when demonstrations will take place in the U.S. and over 100 other countries.
Commenting on the House bill, New York Times reporter John M. Broder termed it "the most ambitious energy and climate-change legislation ever introduced in Congress," but pointed out that it was "fat with compromises, carve-outs, concessions and out-and-out gifts intended to win the votes of wavering lawmakers and the support of powerful industries.
"The deal making continued right up until the final minutes, with the bill’s co-author Rep. Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, doling out billions of dollars in promises on the House floor to secure the final votes needed for passage. The bill was freighted with hundreds of pages of special-interest favors, even as environmentalists lamented that its greenhouse-gas reduction targets had been whittled down....
"The biggest concessions went to utilities, which wanted assurances that they could continue to operate and build coal-burning power plants without shouldering new costs. The utilities received not only tens of billions of dollars worth of free pollution permits, but also billions for work on technology to capture carbon-dioxide emissions from coal combustion to help meet future pollution targets."
A version of this bill is now before Senate committees. The Democrats prevail 60-40, but they evidently are further diluting the legislation in hopes of winning over their own conservative Blue Dogs, such as Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, among others.
Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and John Kerrey of Massachusetts were to have introduced legislation they co-authored in early September, but it's been put off a few weeks. It may take months to reach the Senate floor for a vote, thus missing an early December deadline for passage before the international global warming summit conference in Sweden.
Most environmental groups and leaders supported the House effort, which is also known as the Waxman-Markey bill, but were quite critical of the Obama Administration's many concessions to greenhouse gas-producing industries that are responsible for the increase in global warming.
Typical was a comment by Angela Ledford, U.S. Climate Action Network: "We cannot blow this moment. But we shouldn’t think for a second our job is done once the bill is passed." Said Joseph Romm of the Center for American Progress: "Waxman-Markey is the only game in town. Let’s work hard to improve it, but killing it would be an act of environmental suicide."
Greenpeace USA's Carroll Muffett said her organization opposed Waxman-Markey because it "sets emission reduction targets far lower than science demands, then undermines even those targets with massive offsets. The giveaways and preferences in the bill will actually spur a new generation of nuclear and coal-fired power plants to the detriment of real energy solutions."
Michael Brune of Rainforest Action Network said, "Scientists state that an atmospheric concentration of 350 parts per million of CO2 is the upper limit for a stable climate; this bill aims for 450." The 350 goal is the objective of the Oct. 24 climate change demonstrations. (We will list them in an upcoming calendar.)
Friends of the Earth, a network of grassroots groups in 77 countries, published a major report Sept. 10 critical of the cap and trade practice of carbon offsetting — a central feature of the House bill. The report explains how offsets work and concludes that they are a flawed approach to combating global warming.
Offsetting, says the environmental group, "allows U.S. polluters to send money overseas in exchange for promised — and often pretend — pollution reductions elsewhere." Offsets are a centerpiece of the House legislation, and are expected to appear in the Senate proposal.
"It is suicide to base our future on offsets," according Michael Despines, one of the authors of the report. "Offsets provide the illusion of taking action to stop global warming when in fact they often allow emissions to rise. People need to realize how dangerous offsets can be — they provide a false sense of security because they often do not deliver as promised."
The offsets in the House bill, "could allow the United States to keep increasing emissions of heat-trapping gases until 2029, even though scientists say we need to reduce emissions now," said Karen Orenstein, a climate finance campaigner at Friends of the Earth.
The 28-page report titled "A Dangerous Distraction" recommends that the U.S. establish ambitious climate pollution reduction targets that do not rely on offsets; urges policy makers to reject any plans for new or expanded offset schemes, and finally recommends that the U.S. support alternative financial mechanisms that will promote sustainable development in poor countries.
The formation of Clean Energy Works, the coalition supporting passage of the Obama Administration's climate and energy legislation, was announced Sept. 8. Its objective is to get a law this year, but that may be unrealistic, particularly since the White House is putting most of its resources into obtaining approval for healthcare legislation. The coalition has sent organizers to 28 states — mostly in the South, West and Midwest —to drum up support for congressional passage of the environmental bills. The group will also advertise on radio, the Internet and TV.
According to David Di Martino, coalition communications director: "Millions of Americans want more clean energy jobs, less pollution, and greater national security. We send a billion dollars a day overseas to pay for our oil. It's time to invest that money here — in secure, renewable energy sources that are made in America, provide jobs for Americans and work for America.... Public support for clean energy legislation is overwhelming. Unfortunately, an army of special interests are doing everything they can to block comprehensive energy reform. This campaign will mobilize the voices of those millions of Americans who want to put us back in control of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet."
Among the organizations joining the coalition are American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; American Federation of Teachers; ACORN; Audubon; Catholics United; Center for American Progress Action Fund; Environmental Defense Fund; Faithful America; Laborers’ International Union; League of Conservation Voters; League of Rural Voters; NAACP; National Security Network; National Wildlife Federation; Natural Resources Defense Council; Service Employees International Union; Sierra Club; Sierra Student Coalition; Wilderness Society; Union of Concerned Scientists; United Steel Workers; Utility Workers Union of America; Veterans and Military Families for Progress; Veterans Green Jobs; and World Wildlife Fund.
— The Friends of the Earth report is at: http://www.foe.org/dangerous-distraction.
— Clean Energy Works is at: http://www.cleanenergyworks.us.
3. SHUT IT DOWN!
Up to 300 peace demonstrators marched in protest to the Army Experience Center (AEC) in Philadelphia's Franklin Mills Mall Sept. 12, resulting in the arrest of six activists — five women and one man — and a woman journalist photographing the event who was not part of the protest.
The right wing mounted a counter-demonstration at the event, including the pro-war "Gathering of Eagles" motorcyclists, who still seem to be fighting the Vietnam War, and others who were on hand to "defend" the militarist project from the nonviolent protestors.
The Experience Center is a $13 million dollar, 14,500 sq. ft. Pentagon experiment to induce young teens to join the Armed Forces when they reach recruitment age. In essence, its an "amusement" arcade offering 80 free video games for young people, nearly all of which tend to glorify war and military service.
The AEC includes a replica command-and-control center, video games and virtual shooting ranges offering overwhelmingly male teens the opportunity to "kill" America's enemies from simulated helicopters and Humvees. Military personnel are on hand to discuss the virtues and opportunities of life as a warrior with impressionable young visitors.
A total of 34 local and national peace groups, including peace-minded veterans, supported the anti-militarist action, which was organized by Shut Down the Army Experience Center. This group held an earlier protest in May, when seven other activists were arrested.
Among those arrested was Elaine Brower of Military Families Speak Out, who declared: "The AEC is giving guns to 13 year olds, drawing them in with violent video games. As more and more Afghani civilians and U.S. military are being killed in the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, we're saying 'No' to these wars. We've got to stop the flow of youth into the military where they're being used to commit war crimes in our name."
The event began with a rally addressed by several speakers including Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Christopher Hedges, a former New York Times war correspondent. He stated: "War is not a game. Weapons are not toys. The essence of war is death. The purpose of war is to extinguish all opposing living systems from the economic to the political, social, cultural and finally, familial. Those who entice children to play with mock weapons of war will never allow these children to see what these weapons do to human bodies. They hide from them the fundamental truth about violence and in this way socialize them to kill."
It is understood the Army may not continue the Experience Center experiment when its trial period is over next summer, though this could change. The protests may be a factor in a closing, but the Pentagon says it's mainly because recruitment goals — which had been lagging for years — are now being met or exceeded due to increasing joblessness for young workers.
4. END THE EMBARGO, FREE THE FIVE
Three days after our new group, Peace and Social Progress Now!, conducted a small street demonstration in New Paltz, N.Y., Sept. 12 calling on the U.S. government to finally end its economic and trade embargo against Cuba, President Barack Obama decided to extend the onerous sanctions for another year.
He obviously didn't read our leaflets. And for some reason he seems not to be listening to major business organizations, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, public opinion polls showing a majority of Americans want to normalize relations with the Havana government, the views of members of Congress, and a virtually unanimous demand from world nations. We'll get to this later.
Standing with our signs and distributing handbills on Main St. near a shopping plaza, we also demanded freedom for five Cuban anti-terrorists on the anniversary of the 11th year of their unjust incarceration in U.S. prisons, and an end to restrictions preventing U.S. citizens from traveling to Cuba.
In extending the Cold War sanctions — known as the Trading with the Enemy Act — for another year (the 48th), Obama indicated it was in America's "national interest" to continue punishing this small, neighboring, socialist Caribbean island nation of 11.5 million people. The rest of the world does not agree, of course, judging by about a dozen years of lopsided UN General Assembly votes calling on Washington to end the embargo.
Actually, the sanctions would have been continued automatically, as a result of the Helms-Burton law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996. So it can only be assumed that the White House took "credit" for the extension because it wanted to make a point about defying not only the General Assembly but virtually all the other countries in our Western Hemisphere. This action comes just months after President Obama announced he wanted a "new beginning" and "equality" in relations between the U.S. and the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean.
"If the U.S. can maintain friendly and profitable relations with the gigantic People's Republic of China," we asked in our leaflets, "why does it remain hostile to tiny Cuba nearly 20 years after the end of the Cold War? Cuba is no danger to the U.S. or any other country." We also asked why the U.S. has erected an "Iron Curtain" to prevent American citizens from traveling to Cuba — to vacation in the sun, for business travel or just to check things out for themselves.
President Obama implicitly stipulates that Cuba must turn away from socialism, and first and foremost release its political prisoners, before he would entertain a reduction in sanctions. Many Americans evidently have the impression — based on Washington's decades of demonizing the Havana government and socialism — that Cuba's jails are bursting with dissenters. According to Amnesty International two years ago there are about 70 prisoners of conscience in Cuba. Some were arrested six years ago, charged with being financed from the U.S. to cause disruptions in Cuba. (A human rights NGO in Cuba claims there are 206 dissidents in prison, a number the Havana government disputes. This group has functioned freely in Cuba for years.)
What's more, President Raul Castro repeatedly tells Washington that Havana will exchange all its imprisoned so-called dissidents for the five anti-terrorist Cubans held in American prisons since Sept. 12, 1998, but the U.S. refuses the offer. Their case is a cause célèbre in Cuba and the subject of many large demonstrations on the island. Their situation is not well known in the U.S. except to Americans who care enough to find out.
So who are the Cuban Five? They are five Cuban men who devoted themselves to opposing terrorism against their country. They joined émigré groups in Florida that had committed or planned past acts of terrorism against Cuba. The five monitored these groups, and when they discovered plans for a new attack on Cuba they notified authorities in Havana, who then told Washington about the plans.
But instead of moving against the terror group, the U.S. government arrested the five opponents of terrorism on charges of being unregistered foreign agents (not spies, as some reports falsely claim). Their sentences range from 15 years to double life. Three will be re-sentenced in Miami Oct. 13, a venue not distinguished by its generosity toward those who support Cuban socialism.
In the U.S. the Cuban Five have received support from the National Lawyers Guild, the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and a defense group centered in San Francisco — the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five. This committee urges that the men be released, and requests in the interim that Washington at least allow the prisoners to receive visits from their families, which have been prohibited.
Details about this case and suggestions about how to help are at http://www.freethefive.org/ or call (415) 821-6545.
The defense committee announced Sept. 9 that "the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund filed a lawsuit on its behalf today in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the Broadcasting Board of Directors (BBG) because it has 'unlawfully failed to disclose specific U.S. government-paid contracts with journalists' who published materials that were negative to Cuba and prejudicial to the case of the Cuban Five."
The five men are also backed by various left and progressive organizations, and Latin America solidarity groups in the U.S. Locally these include the Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter, Peace and Social Progress Now!, and the two Mid-Hudson organizations who endorsed our Sept. 12 demonstration: the Caribbean and Latin America Support Project and Middle East Crisis Response.
We don't know what's going to happen to the Cuban Five, but we believe the embargo and travel restrictions — regardless of the present negative attitude of the Obama government — will be dropped completely within the next several years, assuming public pressure continues.
The anti-communist Cold War is long over, except in the minds of the ultra-right and political opportunists who prey upon the naiveté of those subject to a lifetime of anti-Cuba propaganda. The Cuban-American émigré community has softened up a great deal, though it still has a small minority of die-hards who want to retake the island through violence.
A number of NGOs are calling on the U.S. to drop the sanctions and the travel ban — for humanitarian as well as political reasons, and just plain common sense. Amnesty International, for instance, criticized President Obama for extending the sanctions. Amnesty Secretary-General Irene Khan declared: "The U.S. embargo against Cuba is immoral and should be lifted. It's preventing millions of Cubans from benefiting from vital medicines and medical equipment essential for their health."
The AFL-CIO, meeting in convention in mid-September, passed a resolution to "end travel restrictions on Americans seeking to visit Cuba," and "calls upon Congress to initiate legislation that would repeal the economic embargo against the Republic of Cuba and broaden diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba."
A considerable number of U.S. corporations and major agricultural producers have been calling for an end to the boycott for years. They want to export to Cuba, invest in its tourist industry, and hunt for oil in its territorial waters. Members of Congress — such as Mid-Hudson Democratic Rep. Maurice Hinchey — say it's time to resume normal relations with Cuba.
According to an Inter-Press Service article by respected news analyst Jim Lobe, if President Obama "wants to begin dismantling Washington’s nearly 50-year-old trade embargo against Cuba, it appears he will have widespread support for doing so." He wrote several months ago that "foreign policy heavyweights" and "major U.S. business groups" are agreeable. Among the favorable groups he named were the "politically potent Business Roundtable, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Retail Federation, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce."
In April nine retired U.S. Army generals and two rear admirals wrote a letter to President Obama stating that America's "current policy of isolating Cuba has failed," and after 50 years "it is time to change the policy." They encouraged the president to back those in Congress who want to end the embargo and travel restrictions.
Six months ago, CNN / Opinion Research Corp. poll showed that 64% of Americans surveyed think the U.S. should lift its travel ban on Cuba, while 71% thought the U.S. should reestablish diplomatic relations with the island nation.
We don't know why the White House is still continuing this Cold War absurdity. Presidential advisers probably think Obama may lose some votes if he ended sanctions without receiving major concessions in return. Perhaps they worry that the Republicans may criticize him, or think that it's the obligation of a superpower to punish a small country that insists on going its own way in the very shadow of the Yankee colossus.
No wonder the Cuban people, among many others in Latin America, look upon the U.S. as "the Empire." We act that way toward them and have done so for over 100 years. Let's bury this relic of imperialism and the Cold War. Let's lift the embargo and travel ban, free the Cuban Five, and extend the hand of neighborly acceptance and friendship to a cultured, educated and creative people just 90 miles from our shores.
5. IT'S TOUGH FOR YOUNG WORKERS
A new report by the AFL-CIO and Working America points out that "if they can find jobs at all, young workers today have lower-paying jobs than they did 10 years ago. Health care is a luxury, and retirement security is something for their parents, not them."
The report, "Young Workers: A Lost Decade," finds that the economic meltdown over the past decade has handicapped young workers' ability to transition into adulthood and financial independence. Some of the report’s key findings include:
• 31% of young workers report being uninsured, up from 24% 10 years ago, and 79% of the uninsured say they don’t have coverage because they can’t afford it or their employer does not offer it.
• Only 31% say they make enough money to cover their bills and put some money aside — 22% fewer than in 1999 — while 24% cannot even pay their monthly bills.
• A third cannot pay their bills and seven in 10 do not have enough saved to cover two months of living expenses.
• Some 37% have put off education or professional development because they can’t afford it.
• When asked who is most responsible for the country’s economic woes, close to 50% of young workers place the blame on Wall Street and banks or corporate CEOs. And young workers say greed by corporations and CEOs is the factor most to blame for the current financial downturn.
• By a 22-point margin, young workers favor expanding public investment over reducing the budget deficit. Young workers rank conservative economic approaches such as reducing taxes, government spending and regulation on business among the five lowest of 16 long-term priorities for Congress and the president.
• A total of 35% say they voted for the first time in 2008, and nearly three-quarters now keep tabs on government and public affairs, even when there’s not an election going on.
• The majority of young workers and nearly 70% of first-time voters are confident that Obama will take the country in the right direction.
Young workers are hardest hit by frequent recessions in the U.S. economy. They are laid off first and re-hired last. Indeed, not all the teen jobs lost in the 2002 recession were ever recovered. In August, according to the Sept. 4 New York Times, "the teenage unemployment rate — that is, the percentage of teenagers who wanted a job who could not find one — was 25.5%." This summer, total teen employment fell to 29.1% — the lowest since records were kept 64 years ago. This was despite some $1.2 billion in economic stimulus money set aside for summer jobs.
According to John Sweeney, who stepped down as president of the AFL-CIO at the organization's convention, "Young workers in particular must be given the tools to lead the next generation to prosperity. Our national survey shows just how broken our economy is for our young people — and what's at stake if we don't fix it."
The labor federation's new president, former Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka, summed up the report’s findings this way: "We’re calling the report 'A Lost Decade' because we’re seeing 10 years of opportunity lost as young workers across the board are struggling to keep their heads above water and often not succeeding. They’ve put off adulthood — put off having kids, put off education — and a full 34% of workers under 35 live with their parents for financial reasons."
Trumka, the former head of United Mineworkers, is making union outreach to young people a top priority. He said one of the report’s conclusions is especially striking: "Young people want to be involved but they’re rarely asked. Their priorities are even more progressive than the priorities of the older generation of working people, yet they aren’t engaged by co-workers or friends to get involved in the economic debate."
— Here's a link to an article that provides access to the full report on young workers:
6. SETBACK FOR CIVIL LIBERTIES
The Obama Administration has made two decisions this month that are considered setbacks for civil liberties. One was to strengthen the Patriot Act, an intrusive Bush Administration law long opposed by progressives. The other was to deny prisoners being held at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan the same limited rights now extended to inmates held in Guantanamo.
The New York Times reported Sept. 16 that the Justice Department told Congress the White House "supports extending three provisions of the USA Patriot Act that are scheduled to expire at the end of the year. The provisions give the government the authority to access business records, operate roving wiretaps and conduct surveillance on 'lone wolf' suspects with no known link to foreign governments or terrorist groups. Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich said the administration was willing to consider stronger civil rights protections in the law 'provided that they do not undermine the effectiveness' of the three provisions."
Jason Ditz reported in Antiwar.com Sept. 14 that "though the Department of Defense has made a big deal about the major changes being made in the detention procedures at Bagram... the Obama Administration showed today that those 'rights' don’t extend very far." In effect, they are denying habeas corpus rights to some 600 prisoners.
A judge ruled recently that foreign prisoners in Bagram were similar to those held at the U.S. internment camp in Cuba and should receive the same rights. But the Obama Administration challenged this ruling in the federal Court of Appeals, arguing that to do so may be a threat to the Washington's war effort in Afghanistan.
Instead of being assigned a lawyer, as in Guantanamo, "the Pentagon will assign a non-lawyer soldier to them to help them gather evidence in an attempt to prove" their innocence. Responding to the Obama Administration decision, ACLU lawyer Melissa Goodman commented that "since the Supreme Court declared that prisoners in Guantánamo Bay have the right to habeas corpus, it would appear that the government is attempting to use Bagram, instead, as the new off-shore warehouse for indefinite detention."
7. AFL-CIO ENDORSES SINGLE-PAYER
By California Nurses Association
In a historic vote that adds the nation’s leading voice of American workers to a broad national campaign, the AFL-CIO voted unanimously at its national convention in Pittsburgh Sept. 15 to endorse the enactment of single-payer universal healthcare for all Americans.
The resolution was sponsored by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and the Alameda County (California) Central Labor Council.
It marks the first time in perhaps two decades that the AFL-CIO has been formally on record in support of single-payer, which would essentially expand and improve Medicare to cover all Americans. Labor unions around the country have been in the forefront of grassroots actions around the nation in support of single-payer and many labor bodies submitted resolutions to the national convention in support of an endorsement.
The resolution notes that "the experience of Medicare (and of nearly every other industrialized country) shows the most cost-effective and equitable way to provide quality healthcare is through a single-payer system. Our nation should provide a single high standard of comprehensive care for all." It also sites specific single-payer bills, including HR 676, which has 86 cosponsors in Congress.
Regardless of the outcome of the current healthcare legislative action, said United Steel Workers President Leo Gerard,"we’re going to continue the fight for single-payer. I’m not in favor of universal insurance, I’m in favor of universal healthcare. We are going to fight to make sure every single American gets high quality healthcare. "
8. IRAN DOES NOT BACK THE TALIBAN
In recent months the Obama Administration has been charging that Iran is supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan in its struggle against the U.S. and NATO occupation forces. As we have pointed out in the past, the charge is incorrect, not least because the Sunni Taliban is antagonistic toward Shi'ite Iran, and vice-versa. The latest exposure of Washington's distortion was reported by the U.S. news agency Inter Press Service (IPS), on Sept. 3, which stated:
In support of the official U.S. assertion that Iran is arming its sworn enemy, the Taliban, the head of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), Dennis Blair, has cited a statement by a Taliban commander last year attributing military success against NATO forces to Iranian military assistance.
But the Taliban commander's claim is contradicted by evidence from the U.S. Defense Department, Canadian forces in Afghanistan and the Taliban itself that the increased damage to NATO tanks by Taliban forces has come from anti-tank mines provided by the United States to the jihadi movement in Afghanistan in the 1980s. [At that time Washington sent arms and billions of dollars to defeat the progressive government in Afghanistan that was supported by the Soviet Union.]
The Taliban claim was cited by ODNI in written responses to questions for the record from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence following testimony by Blair before the Committee Feb. 12, 2009. The responses were released to the Federation of American Scientists under the Freedom of Information Act July 30.
The rapid rise in casualties over the past two years is attributed in part to the increased lethality of the Taliban mines. But according to the Pentagon agency responsible for combating roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, the increased Taliban threat to U.S. and NATO vehicles comes not from any new technology from Iran but from Italian-made mines left over from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's military assistance to the anti-Soviet jihadists in the 1980s.
In response to an inquiry from IPS, the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) said in an email that Italian-manufactured TC-6 anti-tank mines are "very common" in the Taliban-dominated areas of the country and that they have been modified to increase their lethality in IED attacks. The Taliban's tank-killing bombs came from U.S., not Iran.
9. HIDDEN NUMBERS OF ELDERLY IN POVERTY
According to an article by Associated Press writer Hope Yen Sept. 4, "The official poverty rate for Americans 65 years and older has stood for years at 10%, the lowest rate among age groups. But the true rate could be nearly twice that high, reports a revised formula created by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS)."
She reported: The NAS formula would put the poverty rate for older Americans at 18.6%, or 6.8 million people, compared with 9.7%, or 3.6 million people, under the existing measure. The original government formula, created in 1955, doesn't take account of rising costs of medical care and other factors.
"It's a hidden problem," said Robin Talbert, president of the AARP Foundation, which provides job training and support to low-income seniors and is backing legislation that would adopt the NAS formula. "There are still many millions of older people on the edge, who don't have what they need to get by."
In a related development, a Pew Research poll published Sept. 3 revealed that 40% of employed workers age 63 and older postponed retiring due to the economy. The New York Times commented that "in other parts of the developed world, people are retiring as planned, because of relatively flush state and corporate pensions that await them. But here in the United States, financial security in old age rests increasingly on private savings, which have taken a beating in the last year. Prospective retirees are clinging to their jobs despite some cherished life plans." (See item in News Briefs.)
If the academy's formula is adopted, a more refined picture of American poverty could emerge that would capture everyday costs of necessities besides just food. The result could upend long-standing notions of those in greatest need and lead eventually to shifts in how billions of federal dollars for the poor are distributed for health, housing, nutrition and child-care benefits.
The overall official poverty rate would increase, from 12.5% to 15.3%, for a total of 45.7 million people, according to rough calculations by the Census Bureau. Data on all segments, not only the elderly, would be affected:
• The rate for children under 18 in poverty would decline slightly, to 17.9%.
• Single mothers and their children, who disproportionately receive food stamps, would see declines in the rates of poverty because non-cash aid would be taken into account. Low-income people who are working could see increases in poverty rates, a reflection of transportation and child-care costs.
• Cities with higher costs of living, such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco, would see higher poverty rates, while more rural areas in the Midwest and South might see declines.
• The rate for extreme poverty, defined as income falling below 50% of the poverty line, would decrease due to housing and other noncash benefits.
• Immigrant poverty rates would go up, due to transportation costs and lower participation in government aid programs.
The changes have been discussed quietly for years in academic circles, and both Democrats and Republicans agree that the decades-old White House formula, which is based on a 1955 cost of an emergency food diet, is outdated.
The current calculation sets the poverty level at three times the annual cost of groceries. For a family of four that is $21,203. That calculation does not factor in rising medical, transportation, child care and housing expenses or geographical variations in living costs. Nor does the current formula consider noncash aid when calculating income, despite the recent expansion of food stamps and tax credits in the federal economic stimulus and other government programs. The result: The poverty rate has varied little from its current 12.5%.
"The current poverty measure does a very bad job of measuring the impact of quite a few of our anti-poverty policies," Rebecca Blank, the Commerce Department's undersecretary of economic affairs, said in an interview. "It isn't meaningless, but it isn't complete."
Although the White House Office of Management and Budget dictates how federal poverty is measured, legislation pending in Congress would require use of the National Academy approach. Advocates are hoping the White House may act on its own.
Cities are already showing interest. In New York City, roughly one in three senior citizens fell below the poverty line after Mayor Michael Bloomberg adopted the new formula last year; state officials in Albany, N.Y., plan to publish their revised numbers next month. Los Angeles, Miami, Washington, San Francisco and Chicago also have been considering a switch.
In a related development, AARP's Carole Fleck reported Sept. 1: Most Americans are spending less these days as the recession drags on, but older consumers are showing the greatest restraint."
A survey this year of boomers (those born from 1946 to 1964) reported an average of $64 in daily spending, down substantially from $98 in 2008, according to a Gallup poll released Aug. 27. The poll of 260,000 adults excluded spending on typical household bills and major purchases. The survey was conducted between January 2008 and June 2009.
Spending also decreased among those born before 1930 from $63 a day last year to $35 a day in 2009. Those born between 1930 and 1945 pulled back from spending $84 a day last year to $50 a day this year, the poll found.
Despite the downturn, the biggest spenders this year were members of Generation X (born between 1965 and 1979), who averaged $71 a day, down from $110, according to the poll. Millennials (born between 1980 and 1991) spent $61 a day this year compared with $92 last year.
10. END OF LIFE COUNSELING
According to Republican Sarah Palin and other misinformed or malicious conservatives, end-of-life counseling amounts to "death panels" which will decide who will and will not live. This monstrous lie has caused a number of older Americans to draw back from the Obama Administration's healthcare proposals. In this article, Michael Haederle, a writer for the AARP Bulletin, tells a quite different story:
The woman on the phone was worried. She had signed an advance directive specifying what kind of end-of-life care she would receive in the event she could no longer communicate her wishes—and now she wanted to revoke it.
Why? Because someone had told her that it didn’t matter what the directive said — just having a directive meant that she would not be given even the most basic care or pain relief, said Kathy Brandt, the woman who took that call. Brandt, a vice president of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, said the woman had come to believe that she had signed away her right to medical treatment.
Advance directives do not signal the patient wants to die in pain, without any care at all. They are legal documents that specify the kind of treatment patients would like if unable to speak for themselves. But rational planning for debilitating illness and eventual death is an idea that seems to attract whole clusters of frightening misconceptions.
Brandt talked to that caller a few months ago, before an obscure section of House bill HR 3200—the American Affordable Health Choices Act — seemed to take on a life of its own amid charges that the government was creating "death panels" to euthanize the elderly. Angry protesters flocked to town hall meetings where they vented their rage at members of Congress.
What the proposal would actually do is allow physicians to bill Medicare for discussing with their patients what kind of end-of-life care they would want in the event there was little chance of recovery and they were unable to decide for themselves. Would they merely want pain control or expect the doctors to try every available treatment?
Such discussions would not be mandatory, but could help patients to articulate their wishes in a living will and designate a health proxy—usually a spouse or adult child—to carry out their wishes.
"You can boil it down to two words: 'Who decides?'" says Bill Thomas, M.D. of Ithaca, N.Y., a nationally known geriatrician who developed the concept of "green house" nursing homes — facilities that are less institutional and help patients live richer lives in smaller settings.
"The entire point of doing this planning is thoughtful communication with a physician and creating some documents that can guide your care," he says. "It’s so you decide."
Palliative care, in which doctors control pain symptoms without trying to treat a terminal illness, is different from assisted suicide or active euthanasia, Thomas stresses. Palliative care is what’s done "when someone's in an end-of-life situation," he says. "When there’s no cure available, you definitely want palliative care."
11. BIG FOOD VS. BIG HEALTH INSURANCE
[Following is an excerpt from an Op-Ed article in the N.Y. Times Sept. 10 by University of California Professor Michael Pollan. It deals with an important though rarely mentioned reason why U.S. healthcare spending is so high. Pollen is the author of "In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto" (2008).]
To listen to President Obama’s speech Sept. 9, or to just about anyone else in the health care debate, you would think that the biggest problem with healthcare in America is the system itself — perverse incentives, inefficiencies, unnecessary tests and procedures, lack of competition, and greed.
No one disputes that the $2.3 trillion we devote to the healthcare industry is often spent unwisely, but the fact that the United States spends twice as much per person as most European countries on healthcare can be substantially explained, as a study released last month says, by our being fatter. Even the most efficient healthcare system that the administration could hope to devise would still confront a rising tide of chronic disease linked to diet.
That’s why our success in bringing healthcare costs under control ultimately depends on whether Washington can summon the political will to take on and reform a second, even more powerful industry: the food industry.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three-quarters of healthcare spending now goes to treat "preventable chronic diseases." Not all of these diseases are linked to diet — there’s smoking, for instance — but many, if not most, of them are.
We’re spending $147 billion to treat obesity, $116 billion to treat diabetes, and hundreds of billions more to treat cardiovascular disease and the many types of cancer that have been linked to the so-called Western diet. One recent study estimated that 30 percent of the increase in healthcare spending over the past 20 years could be attributed to the soaring rate of obesity, a condition that now accounts for nearly a tenth of all spending on healthcare....
Reforming the food system is politically even more difficult than reforming the healthcare system.... A healthcare reform bill, no matter how ambitious, is only the first step in solving our healthcare crisis. To keep from bankrupting ourselves, we will then have to get to work on improving our health — which means going to work on the American way of eating.
Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/10/opinion/10pollan.html?ref=todayspaper&pagewanted=print
12. HONDURAS: VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS
After several days of on-the-spot observation in Honduras in late August, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a preliminary report condemning the crackdown on civil rights and violations of human rights by the right wing regime that seized power June 28 and crushed the democratically-elected government of President Manuel Zelaya.
Washington has condemned the coup and imposed token sanctions against the bogus regime. But the U.S. still refuses to discontinue all its annual aid to the Honduras government, has not broken ties with Honduran military and the top officers that the Pentagon trained, and continues to station American troops at its base in the Central American country.
The IACHR reported that demonstrations against the coup "were suppressed throughout the country — including Tegucigalpa (the capital), San Pedro Sula, Choloma, Comayagua, and the town of El Paraíso." It said that military and police forces loyal to the usurpers engaged in "a pattern of excessive violence, resulting in deaths, cases of torture and mistreatment, hundreds of injured, and thousands of arbitrary detentions." The report continued:
"Along with the loss of institutional legitimacy brought about by the coup d'état, which affects the regular functioning of democratic institutions, during its visit the Commission confirmed a pattern of disproportionate use of public force, arbitrary detentions, and the control of information aimed at limiting political participation by a sector of the citizenry. The Commission confirmed the use of repression against demonstrations through the placement of military roadblocks; the arbitrary enforcement of curfews; the detentions of thousands of people; cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; and poor detention conditions.
"The control of information has been implemented through the temporary shutdown of some media outlets; a ban on the transmission of signals of certain cable television stations that were reporting on the coup d’état; the selective use of power outages to affect the transmission by audiovisual media reporting on the coup; and attacks and threats against journalists from media outlets with editorial positions opposed to the coup d’état.
"In addition, the IACHR received testimony indicating that acts of harassment have been perpetrated against individuals who have publicly demonstrated political affinity with President Zelaya. Governors, deputies, mayors, and social leaders who had allegedly demanded the restitution of the constitutional president have reported that they were subject to reprisals, threats, acts of violence, budget cuts, and military occupation of the public installations in which they worked, among other measures. President Zelaya’s family, in particular, informed the Commission about the harassment and smear campaign that have affected all of their members."
The IACHR, which is headquartered in Washington, promotes and protects humans rights throughout the Western Hemisphere. It is an autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (OAS) and represents [and is elected by] all of its member states.
— Full report at
13. NEWS BRIEFS
By Nathan Rosenblum
MORE AMERICANS DELAY RETIREMENT: A larger number of older workers in the United States are delaying retirement, according to a Sept. 3 report from the Pew Research Center. The reason is a lack of financial security, in large part brought about by the recession. For a number of years American companies have been eliminating so-called defined-benefit pension plans for employees fortunate enough to receive pensions, replacing them with 401(k) plans.
Defined benefit means a retired worker would receive fixed monthly or annual payments for life. The 401(k) plans are connected to the financial markets and are usually administered by fund managers. These plans are primarily invested in stocks, and have lost much of their value. As a consequence, Pew reports, about 10% of workers over 62 have delayed retirement. Almost a third of Americans between age 65 and 69 are still working. This contrasts with workers of that age group in countries that provide social benefits far superior to those offered in the United States. In France, where the retirement age is 60, only 4% of such workers remain on the job. These governments, particularly in most of Europe, provide pensions that retain most of the income workers received before retirement. In the U.S., Social Security provides less than half the income a retiree received while working. Attempts in certain European countries to raise the retirement age or reduce benefits are usually confronted with mass public opposition, often led by unions.
U.S. LEADS WORLD IN ARMS SALES, AS USUAL: According to a recently released congressional report, the United States was responsible for 68.4% of foreign arms sales in 2008. The sales equaled $37.8 billion, an increase from $25.4 billion the previous year. Arms sales declined last year for most of the other countries engaged in the trade. Among the U.S. supplied projects were a $6.5 billion air defense system to the United Arab Emirates, $2.1 billion for jet fighters for Morocco, and $2 billion for attack helicopters to Taiwan. Other countries that purchased U.S. weapons include India, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Brazil. Over the decades Israel has received more U.S. arms than any other country, but it is not on the official list of arms recipients because Washington provides the weapons free of charge. The right wing regime in Colombia likewise receives free military aid. Last year it was over $420 million. Developing countries are among Uncle Sam's biggest clients for weapons. In 2008, the U.S. accounted for over 70% of arms sales to third world nations estimated to be worth almost $30 billion.
14. QUOTES IN THE NEWS
• RACIST OUTBURST: New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd's take on the "You lied!" outburst of South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson during President Obama's healthcare speech was that the underlying motivation was racism — and that anti-black feeling is behind a number of right wing shenanigans these days. As she wrote in her Sept. 13 column:
"I’ve been loath to admit that the shrieking lunacy of the summer — the frantic efforts to paint our first black president as the Other, a foreigner, socialist, fascist, Marxist, racist, Commie, Nazi; a cad who would snuff old people; a snake who would indoctrinate kids — had much to do with race.... But Wilson’s shocking disrespect for the office of the president... convinced me: Some people just can’t believe a black man is president and will never accept it."
— Full article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/opinion/13dowd.html?ref=todayspaper&pagewanted=print
• HOUSE MEMBERS VISIT ISRAEL: Fully 13% of the entire U.S. House of Representatives — 56 members — traveled to Israel last month in a "fact-finding" delegation organized by AIPAC, the influential pro-Tel Aviv lobby. In an article titled "The Best Congress AIPAC Can Buy," conservative writer Philip Giraldi observed Sept. 2:
"The August congressional junkets were paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation, which is a non-profit foundation that is part of AIPAC. The non-profit foundation part means that the trip to convince already acquiescent congressmen that Israel needs more aid and special treatment was more-or-less subsidized by the U.S. taxpayer. Taking congressmen to Israel to make sure they understand the issues properly is not exactly new, but the scale and seniority of the recent visits sent a clear message to President Barack Obama that he should not pressure Israel in any way or he will face bipartisan opposition... that he will not be able to overcome."
— Full article at: http://original.antiwar.com/giraldi/2009/09/02/the-best-congress-aipac-can-buy/