Feb. 28, 2009, Issue #144
HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER/CALENDAR
This newsletter/calendar, 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 email@example.com. If you no longer wish to receive the newsletter, unsubscribe at the same address. Please send event listings to the above email address. The current and back issues of the newsletter/calendar are available at http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com.
We are again referring you to our website in order to access Activist Newsletter articles instead of sending our entire long report to you via email. This issue of the newsletter is over 14,000 words and it is sent to about 3,500 people. The combination of large list and long report creates email problems, including garbled type in transmission. So after you check out our index, log on to http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com/
1. OBAMA EXPANDS WAR, SLAPS PEACE VOTERS — The Obama Administration has engineered a triple setback for the U.S. peace movement.
2. LET'S MARCH TOGETHER ONCE AGAIN — An important test of the antiwar sentiment in the United States will take place in Washington, March 21. The White House will be watching.
3. QUOTES IN THE NEWS — Politically interesting words, plus links.
4. THE RECESSION (Part 1): CAN GOOD COME OUT OF BAD? — Possibly, if enough pressure is applied.
5. THE RECESSION (Part 2): MAKE IT A PERMANENT 'STIMULUS' — How about $500 billion a year for social programs to benefit the people, if it can be yanked out of the hands of the wealthy and the war machine.
6. SEVERE CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACT BY 2050 — "Current efforts will do little to ease damaging climate change."
7. MANAGING A SUPERPOWER IN DECLINE — "Yes we can" must turn into "No we can't."
8. NEWS IN BRIEF — Cuban 5, Investigating Bush's crimes, Interior Dept. cancels Bush's drilling leases, FEMA denies aid to homeowners, Fidel meets with Bachelet.
9. CHECK IT OUT — Progressive things to read or watch. http://activistnewsletter.blogspot.com/
10. PENTAGON PROPAGANDA MACHINE — It's working 24/7.
11. SENATE REPUBLICANS LAUD GUANTANAMO — Would you believe, it's a virtual paradise?
12. A PENETRATING LOOK AT COLOMBIA — The importance of the Colombian government to Washington's hegemonic interests in Latin America is immense.
1. OBAMA EXPANDS WAR, SLAPS PEACE VOTERS
The Obama Administration has engineered a triple setback for the U.S. peace movement and the millions of Americans who opposed the Bush Administration's unjust, illegal, immoral wars.
In the last two weeks of February, President Barack Obama — upon whom so many peace supporters had counted to change Washington's commitment to wars and militarism — delivered these three blows to his antiwar constituency:
1. By ordering 17,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan Feb. 17, President Obama is continuing and expanding George W. Bush's war. It's Obama's war now, and it's getting much bigger.
2. By declaring Feb. 27 that up to 50,000 U.S. soldiers would remain in Iraq after "combat brigades" departed, President Obama is continuing the war in a country that remains a tragic victim of the Bush Administration's aggression and which has taken the lives of over a million Iraqi civilians and has made refugees of 4.5 million people.
3. By announcing Feb. 26 that his projected 2010 Pentagon budget was to be even higher than budgets sought by the Bush Administration, President Obama was signaling that his commitment to the U.S. bloated war machine — even at a time of serious economic recession — was not to be questioned.
Whether or not Obama's actions will revive the peace movement is another matter. Antiwar activism during the election year was minimal. And now that a Democrat is in the White House it may be further reduced, since most peace backers voted for Obama. The movement's strength will be tested at the demonstrations in Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other cities on the sixth anniversary of the Iraq war March 21 (see below).
Two recent Washington Post/ABC News public opinion polls provide contradictory and disturbing results. In the January poll, 61% opposed any increase in U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan, and only 34% thought an increase was required. But a month later in the Feb. 26 poll, ABC News reported that "Nearly two-thirds of Americans [64%] support Barack Obama's decision to send 17,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan — despite substantial skepticism on whether the war there has been worth fighting." Only half the respondents in the new poll believed the war "was worth" fighting, yet a substantial majority backed the deployment.
The biggest support for Obama's move came from Republicans, 77%. Democrats, who had been the most opposed in January, were 63% in favor. About 60% of independents were in favor as well. Among those "strongly in favor" Republicans were 52% and Democrats, 35%. "Among liberal Democrats it's just 29%," ABC News revealed.
The additional 17,000 troops will bring U.S. forces up to 55,000 in Afghanistan. This is opposed by the people of Afghanistan. In a recent poll of Afghan opinion by ABC, BBC and ARD (the German news consortium), only 18% approved of sending more foreign troops, and 44% wanted the existing number lowered. The new troops will be added as combat brigades are transferred from Iraq. The Pentagon still wants another 13,000 at some point. In addition there are 23,000 troops from eight NATO countries, largely in non-combat assignments. Secretary of Defense Gates, with negligible success, has been pressuring NATO to send more troops.
Many peace groups were critical of Obama's Afghan surge. CODEPINK Women for Peace declared Feb. 19 it "is heartbroken and discouraged by the deployment," saying it brought "a screeching halt to his rhetoric for change and moving our country in a new direction."
In a statement Feb. 28, the ANSWER antiwar coalition declared: "President Obama decided not to challenge the [Bush Administration's] fundamental strategic orientation in the region. That explains why he kept the Bush team — Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Generals Petraeus and Odierno — on the job to oversee and manage the Iraq occupation. They will also manage the widening U.S. war in Afghanistan and the aerial assaults on Pakistan. There have been over 30 U.S. bombing attacks in Pakistan in the last two months."
On Feb. 18 the UFPJ coalition stated that "military escalation will only exacerbate the horrors that now plague the region and that this escalation is not the answer for Afghanistan and it is not in the interests of the United States."
One of the most descriptive critiques was from Justin Raimondo, the libertarian editor of Antiwar.com, who wrote in an article titled The Silence of the Liberals: "Antiwar voters who cast their ballots for Obama have succeeded in rolling the stone all the way up a rather steep hill, only to see it fall down the other side — and we are right back where we started. The next hill is called Afghanistan, and beyond that is yet another: Pakistan."
Progressive war correspondent Patrick Cockburn, writing in The Independent (UK) Feb. 26, declared: " It is difficult to believe that the Obama administration is going to make as many crass errors as its predecessor . . . . The reinforced US military presence in Afghanistan risks provoking a backlash in which religion combines with nationalism to oppose foreign intervention."
At this stage there are 142,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and all but 50,000 or so will withdraw within 19 months, three months later than Obama pledged. In late February administration sources disclosed how many troops were scheduled to remain in Iraq, much to the consternation of Congressional Democratic leaders who were astonished by the high number. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, joined by New York Sen. Charles Schumer, Washington State's Sen. Patty Murray, Wisconsin's Sen. Russell Feingold, among others, all expressed the view that the number was too high.
Sen. John McCain, the defeated Republican presidential aspirant, supported the size of the "residual" force. He said Feb. 27 that Obama's plan "can keep us on the right path in Iraq. I worry, however, about statements made by a number of our colleagues indicating that, for reasons wholly apart from the requirement to secure our aims in Iraq, we should aim at a troop presence much lower than 50,000."
All U.S. troops are supposed to leave Iraq before 2012 under the withdrawal arrangement between former President Bush and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki that was approved a few months ago — but that's nearly three years from now and anything can happen.
Top American generals, led by Petraeus and Odierno, are known to believe that U.S. forces should remain in Iraq past Dec. 31, 2011. The arrangement can be changed if the Iraqi government "requests" that American forces remain, and this is entirely possible. A number of leading Iraqi politicians, well aware that they owe their power to Uncle Sam's intervention, are said to prefer a longer occupation. The overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people, of course, have opposed the American presence throughout Bush's, and now Obama's, war.
President Obama chose to make public his withdrawal plans during a speech to 2,000 Marines at Camp Lejeune, NC, Feb. 27. He said the troops that remain in Iraq would be engaged in training, equipping and advising the Iraqi security forces, but administration sources indicated that some would engage in combat operations.
Obama lavishly praised the troops as he has done before. Last month, as he prepared to assume command of an Armed Forces engaged in two illegal wars foisted on the world by the neoconservative imperialists of the Bush Administration, Obama declared: "Our troops represent the best America has to offer," an unfortunate incentive to the growth of a warrior culture in America. And to his Marine audience Obama made the following remark that turns history on its head:
"We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime — and you got the job done. We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government and you got the job done. And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life – that is your achievement; that is the prospect that you have made possible." The ANSWER coalition correctly noted that Obama "made Bush’s invasion sound like a liberating act and congratulated the troops.'"
We won't go into the real causes of the war and occupation here, but in terms of the "better life" given to the Iraqis, here's how Robert Dreyfuss describes the situation in Iraq today in the March 9 issue of The Nation: "Key political actors on all sides remain bolstered by paramilitary armies. Unemployment is vast, and basic services — electricity, water, trash collection, healthcare — are intermittent or nonexistent. The army and police are infiltrated by militias, and their loyalty is suspect. Baghdad is a bewildering maze of blast walls and sealed-off enclaves surrounding the fortress-like Green Zone, and the city is reeling from years of brutal ethnic cleansing. The provincial capitals are rife with intrigue, and many of them — Kirkuk, Mosul, Baquba and Basra, for instance — are perched at the brink of civil strife. And the elections themselves, in which millions of voters were disenfranchised, were deeply flawed."
Life in pre-war Iraq was hard — U.S./UN sanctions killed over a million people between 1991-2003 — but it was better than what has happened to that country during the devastating U.S. invasion and occupation.
The Obama Administration's provisional Pentagon budget for fiscal 2010, which starts Oct. 1, was included in a 10-year general budget projection released by the White House Feb. 26. This preliminary war budget (a complete proposal will be made in April) increases "defense" spending by 4% over Bush's budget for 2009.
In addition President Obama is requesting a supplementary appropriation of $75.5 billion to finance the three wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and "on terrorism" until the end of September this year, and $130 billion "to support ongoing overseas contingency operations, while increasing efforts in Afghanistan and drawing down troops from Iraq responsibly." Including the war costs, defense spending amounts to $664 billion, $10 billion more than 2009. These figures, however, are totally misleading — not in the allocations just listed but in the war money that is hidden in other sectors of the budget. All told, the war budget exceeds $1 trillion in 2010, as we explain in part 2 of our article on The Recession below.
Despite unlimited financing, the Pentagon has lost the war in Iraq. When the world's greatest military juggernaut is fought to a stalemate by an erratic irregular force of perhaps 20,000 effectives, it is a defeat that cannot be covered up — at least by history — through a cosmetic "surge" consisting of equal parts violence and bribery. But the Obama Administration seems committed to a clear victory in Afghanistan (as were the British and Russians of previous eras, much to their chagrin). In the Department of Defense budget proposal the monies are to facilitate "achieving U.S. objectives in Afghanistan," and those objectives of necessity include wiping out the military humiliation in Iraq.
Some of the war budget will go toward increasing the Army and Marines troop strength by a total of 90,000 new recruits. Recruitment, for the first time in years, has been successful in the last few months because of the recession. So many young people cannot find jobs that they are lining up to join the military. The budget also includes another pay increase for the Armed Forces, of about 3%.
Eventually, Obama is going to make the gesture of nominally reducing the overstuffed military budget, mainly concentrating on cutting some of the obsolete Cold War-type big-ticket items. He had been expected to do so upon taking office, but evidently saw the need to prove his militarist credentials to the Pentagon, Congressional Republicans, and the pro-war sector of American opinion. In time he will have to make some cuts, probably explaining it is a concession to the staggering economy.
Since taking office, President Obama has shown the back of his hand to the U.S. antiwar movement, which consists in large majority of Democratic Party voters. Expanding the Afghan war, keeping troops many years longer in Iraq, and increasing war spending is exactly what those voters didn't want. It's certainly not the "change" they believed in.
If the Obama supporters who genuinely opposed Bush's wars now become silent or reduce their antiwar activities because a Democrat is in the White House, our peace movement, and the humanitarian cause it represents — already weakened since the "surge" — is headed for very difficult times indeed. And without that movement the political pressure for peace will quickly dissipate.
2. LET'S MARCH TOGETHER ONCE AGAIN
An important test of the antiwar sentiment in the United States will take place Saturday, March 21, when peace demonstrations are scheduled for Washington and several other major cities, in observance of the sixth anniversary of the Bush Administration's unjust war against Iraq. The White House will be watching.
At a public meeting at SUNY New Paltz Feb. 27 liberal Democrat Rep. Maurice Hinchey noted that he was "surprised there are not more people in the street" protesting. So are we, which is why we have chartered buses to bring people to the Washington demonstration. Will you be there? If so, and you live in the Mid- or Lower-Hudson Valley, travel with us.
The Washington action is sponsored by the ANSWER Coalition, National Assembly to End the Iraq & Afghanistan Wars and Occupations, and scores of other coalitions and peace groups from around the country. Following a rally, there will be a march first to the Pentagon and then to the nearby corporate offices of several leading war contractors.
These actions will occur just after the Obama Administration announced it is extending the war against Afghanistan, now heading toward its eighth year, keeping 50,000 troops in Iraq after "withdrawal," and increasing the size of the elephantine Pentagon budget. As such, they will be interpreted as a gage of American antiwar sentiment.
Granted, Barack Obama is head and shoulders above George W. Bush as a president, but does this mean that Bush's bad wars have been transformed into Obama's good wars?
We know as a fact that the great majority of our readers are opposed to these wars, and many of us have marched together for peace, often many times. As the Afghan war spreads, we must march together again. We must show President Obama that our peace movement won't give up the struggle against an unjust war until there is peace!
The Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter buses are leaving from Kingston, New Paltz, and Poughkeepsie in the Mid-Hudson region, and a Lower Hudson Valley pickup location as well (by the N.Y. Thruway), depending on demand. The round trip price is $55, and there will be subsidies for students and low income people if we receive sufficient donations from our readers. That depends on you.
To reserve a seat, send an email message to Jack Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, town, phone number and email address. If you are ordering for other people as well, we need the same information for them. Make out your check for $55 for each person to the H.V. Activist Newsletter and mail it to P.O. Box 662, New Paltz, NY 12561. Your reservation(s) will be secured when we receive your check. If you wish to make a donation, mark "donation" on your check and we will add it to our subsidy fund. For questions or to reserve by phone, call (845) 255-5779.
Buses will also be leaving from Albany in the Upper Hudson Valley, chartered by Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace. For information, contact Joe Lombardo at (518) 439-1968.
Friends, after all these years, all the lies, all the money, all the death and destruction in wars that need not have happened — it's time for all the U.S. troops to come home now. And it's time for us to take our message directly to the Pentagon and the corporate headquarters of the military-industrial complex.
For peace, Jack
More information: http://www.pentagonmarch.org/
3. QUOTES IN THE NEWS
• IRAQI HERO ON TRIAL: The trial of Muntader al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush during a Baghdad press conference in December began on Feb. 19 but after 75 minutes was adjourned until March 12. Zaidi, 30, is considered a national hero by the Iraqi people and by most of the Arab world — a sentiment that was reflected in the courtroom, which was packed with his supporters. Even a uniformed police officer cheered when Zaidi entered the courtroom, commenting "I salute such a brave man. He should not be on trial." Zaidi spoke briefly, explaining his actions, as reported by the International Herald Tribune Feb. 20:
"In that moment, I saw nothing but Bush, and I felt the blood of the innocents was flowing under his feet while he was smiling that smile. I felt that this person was the reason for the killing of my people and I am a part of these people, so I tried to pay him back even a small or a simple part of what he committed."
— Full article at: http://www.iht.com/articles/2009/02/20/africa/20iraq.php
• MORE TROOPS TO AFGHANISTAN: Retired U.S. Army colonel Daniel Smith has written an article for Foreign Policy in Focus titled, "Warring on Warriors," elsewhere titled "Why Obama Should Reconsider His Afghanistan Pledge" to send more troops. He gives three reasons which have more to do with the condition of the American troops than any other factor, though he also points out:
"Afghanistan isn't the 'good war.' It's wrong not only for Afghanistan but for U.S. soldiers…. Obama was elected in part because the American public was tired of more and more veterans returning home mentally and physically damaged by experiences they didn't need to endure. Obama may find that, if he continues down this path, 'the war Bush forgot' will all too soon turn into 'Obama's war.' And he'll have to shoulder the responsibility for all the damage done to Afghan civilians and U.S. soldiers alike."
— Full article at: http://www.antiwar.com/orig/dsmith.php?articleid=14251.
AN AMERICAN FOREIGN LEGION?: Retired Air Force lieutenant colonel William J. Astore has written an article for TomDispatch suggesting that the U.S. armed forces are coming to resemble "an imperial police force" similar to the French Foreign Legion. The real way to support the troops is not to use them in this fashion. He declares:
"Caught in the shock and awe of 9/11, we allowed our military to be transformed into a neocon imperial police force. Now, approaching our eighth year in Afghanistan and sixth year in Iraq, what exactly is that force defending? Before President Obama acts to double the number of American boots-on-the-ground in Afghanistan – before even more of our troops are sucked deeper into yet another quagmire – shouldn't we ask this question with renewed urgency? Shouldn't we wonder just why, despite all the reverent words about 'our troops,' we really seem to care so little about sending them back into the wilderness again and again?"
— Full article at: http://www.antiwar.com/engelhardt/?articleid=14254.
• THE ILLUSION OF WEALTH: Similar to "Bernard Madoff’s duped investors," many Americans were deceived by the powers that be into believing their wealth had been increasing over the last several years, wrote influential New York Times columnist — and the 2008 Nobel laureate in Economics — Paul Krugman on Feb. 16. Now they know better:
"Last week the Federal Reserve released the results of the latest Survey of Consumer Finances, a triennial report on the assets and liabilities of American households. The bottom line is that there has been basically no wealth creation at all since the turn of the millennium: the net worth of the average American household, adjusted for inflation, is lower now than it was in 2001…. Yet until very recently Americans believed they were getting richer, because they received statements saying that their houses and stock portfolios were appreciating in value faster than their debts were increasing."
— Full article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/16/opinion/16krugman.html
• IS A GED MORE VALUABLE THAN A PHD?: A humanities PhD has always been seen as something extra special, but that doesn't necessarily lead to a good job these days, writes Kai Ma, as reprinted in AlterNet Jan. 28:
"The demand for humanities PhDs has long been tight -- for four decades, the number of jobs requiring them hasn’t kept pace with the number of people earning them. But by all indications, recent university hiring freezes and evaporating grant money have reduced the world’s most elite degree to junk-bond status…. Those not giving up entirely are taking whatever they can get."
— Full article at: http://www.alternet.org/story/123101/
• DON'T MOURN FOR DASCHLE: Some liberal Democrats, such as John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine, are quite satisfied that Tom Daschle, former Democratic Senate Majority Leader and a foremost backer of Barack Obama during the primary campaign, withdraw as the nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services because of an income tax scandal. Writing in The Nation Online Feb. 3, Nichols declared:
"No top Democrat did more to undermine opposition to the Republican regime than Daschle, who as the majority leader during the first years of George Bush's presidency put so much emphasis on the 'loyal' part of the term 'loyal opposition' that he failed his party and his country…. No one -- or, at least, no one who is invested either in securing real health care reform or seeing an Obama presidency succeed -- should mourn Daschle's departure."
— Full article at: http://www.thenation.com/blogs/thebeat/404778/print
4. THE RECESSION (Part 1)
CAN GOOD COME OUT OF BAD?
The United States government is in the process of spending what will amount to an unprecedented several trillion tax-payer dollars to prevent the present Great Recession from transforming into the first Great Depression of the 21st Century.
Most of these trillions will be invested in bailing out the financial oligarchy that has brought the U.S. model of capitalism to the brink of economic insolvency as a consequence of its extreme free market laissez-faire policies.
We're referring to the Wall Street gamblers, the bankers who took insane risks in quest of profits, the greedy houses of high finance and, above all, the utterly irresponsible White House, Congress, and government departments that presided over their destructive practices for decades.
Lesser trillions will be devoted to "stimulating" our stagnant, sinking economy with a massive infusion of government deficit financing — a remedy largely based on the theories of the late English economist John Maynard Keynes that were followed to an extent by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression. President Barack Obama has won approval of a $787 billion spending plan to revive the faltering economy (to be discussed in part 2).
While it is entirely possible American capitalism may hit bottom and stay there for a decade, as occurred in the economic meltdown of 1930s, the probability is that our country will emerge from this recession in two to five years — atrociously in debt, and weakened internationally, but back in business.
Our question — and the subject of this 2-part article — is, what then? What will happen after the deep recession impoverishes tens of millions of American working families, and many millions more suffer the loss of their material assets and their houses, the value of their pensions, savings, and paychecks?
So far it is estimated that American workers have lost 30% of their net worth in the last 20 months, and it's going to get worse as more workers lose their jobs and millions more families are ejected from their homes. Retirement assets have been reduced by at least 20%. The value of all U.S. housing will fall by a third during the recession — a drop of $4.5 trillion from a high of $13 trillion in 2006. It is going to take a long time, if ever, for these values to be recovered by the individuals affected.
As of Feb. 6, 11.6 million American workers are unemployed, or 7.6% of the workforce — but that's only part of the story. Some 7.8 million workers in need of a full-time jobs can only locate part time work. Further, some 2.1 million jobless workers are not included in the Labor Department figures. They are defined as "discouraged" workers who may have been looking for jobs for a year or so but simply gave up four or more weeks before the February survey. All told there are 21.5 millions workers who are unemployed, underemployed or jobless by "discouraged" — 14% of the labor force.
Nationally, patronage at free food banks increased 30% last year, and this too is increasing. In a front page article Feb. 20 reporting from a food bank in Morristown, N.J., the New York Times described the newer recipients as "the next layer of people — a rapidly expanding roster of child care workers, nurse's aides, real estate agents and secretaries facing a financial crisis for the first time."
The pain inflicted by the crisis upon the working people of our country cannot yet be calculated because it is increasing by the day and no end is in sight. So far there have been no significant domestic protests against millions of housing foreclosures, increasing unemployment and other derivatives of the capitalist recession, unlike militant worker and student actions in scores of countries around the world.
Internationally, much of the blame for the economic meltdown is sensibly directed at the American model of reckless neoliberal capitalism and its greedy practitioners and complicit government overseers. Within the U.S., the mass media, Washington and the business community seem not to direct a word of criticism toward the economic system itself, which is like being mauled by an obviously vicious dog but not blaming the nearby owner for letting it off the leash.
When the economy finally recovers, the American people — as President Obama picturesquely noted in his inaugural speech — will pick themselves up and dust themselves off, and return to the good old days of pre-recession America. But they were also days of the ever-widening rich-poor gap; of growing poverty and decades of stagnant wages for the working class and lower middle class (productivity has grown 70% since 1980 but wages have only increased 5%); of pitifully inadequate social services for working people; and of preposterously large government investments in militarism and wars.
This could change. Candidate Obama, in response to the electoral mood of the American people, repeatedly promised to promote "change" when elected, though far too vaguely for the White House to be held to account.
But it seems to us that objective conditions are ripe for progressive change in our country. Such conditions include: • the deep recession; • the recent electoral defeat of the right wing; • public unease over endless wars and erosions of civil liberties; • the mountainous national debt; •long-delayed essential social needs; • urgent problems such as the environmental crisis and a crumbling national infrastructure requiring major government intervention; • a world in transition away from U.S. hegemony; and • the erosion of America's superpower status with the exception of its military might.
The demand for change should be raised anew, but with progressive and at least left-of-center goals.
Real progressive change does not materialize by simply going to the ballot box and voting for the candidate of the political center/center-right against the candidate of the right/far right. It's a step in the correct direction, but other steps are needed, even if the goal is limited to reforms associated with modest social democracy, such as single payer healthcare, paid family leave, genuinely progressive taxation, affordable rental housing, and the like.
In the absence of mass left parties, such as those in most of Europe and elsewhere, the galvanizing agency for the attainment of progressive reform in the U.S. political system is based upon diverse and mass social movements, unified and activist in a national campaign demanding a specific package of programmatic reforms. No such campaign exists today, but it could tomorrow were there a will to do so.
Specifically, great pressure must be applied to the recession-era Obama Administration to go beyond the centrist Democratic agenda and to stop compromising with the right wing when it is possible to enact better legislation without them. The times call for a national government in Washington that will use its abundant persuasive power to lead the nation toward acceptance of a seriously progressive agenda and then fight to get it through Congress. President Obama promised change, big time. Hold him to it.
(Continued in Part 2)
5. THE RECESSION (Part 2):
MAKE IT A PERMANENT 'STIMULUS'
In his budget message to Congress Feb. 27, which included a 10-year projection of America's needs, President Obama put forward a program containing several worthwhile liberal initiatives. These include infrastructure rebuilding, development of alternative energies, health care, education and measures to combat global warming. Many of these initiatives are also included in his stimulus plan to revive the economy. In addition, Obama called for a tax hike on the wealthy and corporations.
Here's the problem. Many of these projects will come about with temporary start-up funds provided by the Obama Administration's anti-recession stimulus plans, which will dry up in a year or two. And funding for the annual national budgets, assuming congressional approval, is simply not going to be enough to sustain these initiatives to successful a conclusion without another major source of funding. Part of the reason is that the anticipated tax hikes on the rich are far too low. Another part is that other sources of income are not being tapped, principally by slashing the mammoth military budget.
How about adding a $500 billion program of progressive social services and major projects to benefit the American people and the nation in Washington's post-recession annual budgets from now on? Some exclaim, "but there's no money!" No? Read on.
Congress approved the Obama Administration's $787 billion emergency economic stimulus plan Feb. 13, and President Barack Obama signed the measure into law four days later. Republicans in the Senate and House sought to scuttle the measure — titled the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act — even after they had won major concessions from the Democrats. The legislation passed the Senate 60-38 with only three Republican votes, and was approved by the House 246-183 with not one GOP vote. Senate Republicans actually wanted to replace Obama's plan with $3 trillion in tax cuts over the decade!
Petulant Congressional Republicans are largely playing the role of obstructionists at a time when their own party is primarily responsible for creating the swamp into which the economy is sinking. And even though most GOP governors welcome the state aid contained in the stimulus, several of them are making a phony show rejecting help, even though their residents of their state face serious cutbacks in social services.
Clearly, the mantra President Obama has repeated in numerous incantations since the 2004 Democratic Convention — "there's not a liberal America and a conservative America, there is the United States of America" — has not produced the collegial results he sought despite an evident willingness to "split the difference" with the right wing. At last report Obama was still "reaching across the aisle" to cohabit with a reactionary political opposition that views his overtures with contempt.
The antics of Republican politicians seem to be helping Obama, however. According to the New York Times/CBS News poll published Feb. 24. Almost 80% of respondents agreed Republicans should "work in a bipartisan way" with Democrats, and 63% approved of Obama's job performance against 22% who disapproved.
The purpose of the Reinvestment and Recovery program — which is not to be confused with the Treasury Department's impending second giveaway bailout plan for the banks and financial markets, mainly to reconstitute the shattered loan market as the expense of taxpayers — is to stimulate demand in a stagnant, sinking economy with a massive infusion of government deficit financing.
Despite the unprecedented size and scope of the stimulus, several progressive economists suggest it is far less than required to achieve its entire objective and will likely require an expensive booster shot in a year or two. They also question the hundreds of millions of dollars in the $787 billion stimulus plan devoted to tax cuts, and to the elimination of several important populist programs demanded by the Republicans, who then turned their backs on the entire legislation. Said liberal Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa: "I think our side gave in too much in order to appease a few people …. I think the people are getting shortchanged."
Dedicated Democrat Paul Krugman, last year's recipient of the Nobel Prize in economics, has been critical of the Obama Administration on several recent occasions in his regular column in the New York Times. On Feb. 9 he wrote:
"[M]any people expected Mr. Obama to come out with a really strong stimulus plan, reflecting both the economy’s dire straits and his own electoral mandate. Instead, however, he offered a plan that was clearly both too small and too heavily reliant on tax cuts. Why? Because he wanted the plan to have broad bipartisan support, and believed that it would. Not long ago administration strategists were talking about getting 80 or more votes in the Senate.
"Mr. Obama’s post-partisan yearnings may also explain why he didn’t do something crucially important: speak forcefully about how government spending can help support the economy. Instead, he let conservatives define the debate, waiting until late last week before finally saying what needed to be said — that increasing spending is the whole point of the plan. And Mr. Obama got nothing in return for his bipartisan outreach."
Minus the short-term individual and business tax relief aspects, the two-year stimulus plan will invest $500 billion in meeting needs of the people and country in the name of enhancing the economy. It seems a pity that all this needed spending on education, health, infrastructure, science, the environment, jobs and jobless benefits, poverty, transportation and other worthy investments should just be a one-shot temporary pump-priming program to prevent the latest of capitalism's periodic recessions from turning into a dreaded depression.
Is it pie in sky to suggest that when the economy starts growing again an annual version of the economic stimulus plan should be included in future U.S. budgets, not as a stimulus but as a progressive social benefit for the American people?
"We can't afford it," Washington will reply whenever social programs are advocated, but the money is there. Remember last September, when the Bush Administration's Secretary of the Treasury and Chairman of the Federal Reserve suddenly discovered that U.S. capitalism was about to implode in few weeks, a deus ex machina abruptly materialized in the White House offering trillions of dollars in cash and guarantees to save the sacred system?
But we're not recommending that the Treasury Department simply print more money to finance greatly expanded benefits for the people in future annual budgets, as Washington is doing now to finance the bailout and stimulus — leaving it to our grandchildren to pay the piper.
There is no need for a mechanized deity or high-speed printing press to finance $500 billion a year in additional social service and national projects for the common good. The money to finance progressive programs already exists in two locations:
• First, it is in the budget for militarism and the military-industrial complex, which has increased 74% since George W. Bush entered the White House. In total, military spending now amounts to over $1 trillion a year. This is several hundred billion more than Washington admits but we shall explain the discrepancy below. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) has been calling for a 25% cut in the "official" Defense Dept. budget, which is about half the real military budget. We think a 50% reduction in the real budget is more appropriate, for starters.
A lot more jobs can be created by investing in labor intensive peacetime pursuits instead of financing a high-tech war industry, computerized battlefields, nuclear submarines and remote-controlled wars. (Speaking of modern American warfare, guess how much it costs to send a single U.S. soldier to fight in Afghanistan for one year? According to the Dec. 26 Time Magazine, the cost "is about $775,000, three times more than in other recent wars." Multiply by 17,000 — and you must know where that number comes from — and it's $13.2 billion, not counting the other 35,000 U.S. troops already in Afghanistan, or the 140,000 in Iraq.) Such monies could rebuild America, develop alternative energy resources, reduce global warming, and provide better lives for America's working people.
• Second, the funding for enhanced social programs is in the vaults of big corporations, giant financial houses, stock market profiteers and the wealthy 5% of American families who possess 58.9% of all assets and wealth in our country. These companies and individuals do not pay a fair share of taxes due to decades of government policy favoring a regressive redistribution of wealth and income from the bottom to the top.
Given that 44% of American workers live from paycheck to paycheck with low wages and few benefits, mandating higher taxes from those sectors of society abundantly able to pay their share of national expenses is simple justice in a genuine democracy.
Now we will discuss the real cost of "defense" expenditures, which are much higher than official statistics acknowledge, followed by an examination of the real taxes on business and wealth, which frequently are lower than the rates suggest.
The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) states that the fiscal 2009 Pentagon budget that began in October amounts to $518.3 billion, not counting the war appropriations. Actually, the Defense Dept. spent a great deal more, but that's routinely concealed from the public.
According to the annual computation by the War Resister's League (WRL) titled, "Where Your Income Tax Money Really Goes," real military expenditures for fiscal 2009 will total $1,449 trillion. (See footnote 1.) This is composed of current military expenses of $965 billion combined with past but not yet paid military expenses of $484 billion.
The current Pentagon payment costs, which WRL itemizes, include many billions in military monies concealed in non-Pentagon budgets, such as those of the State Dept., NASA, Homeland Security, intelligence services, and elsewhere. The 2009 Pentagon budget estimates the allotment for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will amount to about $60 billion this year, a gross understatement. The WRL anticipates the two wars will cost $200 billion this fiscal year.
Expenditures for past wars are not included in the Pentagon budget. They amount to $94 billion in veterans' benefits and $390 billion in interest on the national debt (80% of which is for past wars).
Chalmers Johnson, an author we have quoted many times before (he wrote the trilogy "Blowback," "Sorrows of Empire," and "Nemesis"), calculated the fiscal 2008 military budget as amounting to $1.1 trillion. (See note 2 for his excellent analysis of military spending.) A splendid and well researched article in the October 2008 Monthly Review (MR) titled "The Military, Industrial, Media Triangle" (note 3) argues that the real fiscal 2007 war budget was just over $1 trillion. The figures from the WRL, Johnson and MR are between two and three times higher than the "official" figures, and we believe them far closer to the truth than misleading government estimates.
There are three reasons why the Defense Department and related budgets are considered sacrosanct.
First, despite America's rapidly declining international stature, or because of it, a rate of military spending larger than the rest of the world combined is perceived to be necessary to retain America's unipolar and hegemonic global leadership. Second, investment in the military-industrial complex and its resulting arms sales abroad and wars is viewed as a major boost for the domestic capitalist economy. This is known as Military Keynesianism (note 4). Third, Washington has consistently cultivated fear, jingoism and hyper-patriotism among the people in order to maintain excessive military spending.
The Obama administration has called for an increase in military spending in the upcoming 2010 Pentagon budget, but it is possible there will be some small reductions in military spending at some point — primarily to convey the illusion of "austerity" during the Great Recession and secondarily to preempt possible demands for greater cuts because war spending is so obviously over the top. In the recent words of Frida Berrigan, a well known peace activist, writer and researcher: "Obama is not about to go toe-to-toe with the military-industrial complex."
Another reason to doubt the powerful military-industrial complex will lose much business is the Obama Administration's choice of William J. Lynn as Deputy Defense Secretary, the number two Pentagon official after Secretary Gates. Lynn was the senior VP for government operations (i.e., chief lobbyist) for Raytheon Co., the big defense contractor, until a few months ago.
Now we turn to the matter of increasing taxes on the wealthy sector of society, about which an article in the Feb. 24 Christian Science Monitor pointed out: "The amount of money that goes into executive pockets is staggering. So is the amount that comes out of those pockets in taxes: precious little. America's super-rich are paying far less of their incomes in taxes than average Americans who punch time clocks." Authors Chuck Collins and Sam Pizzigati also noted that " Back in 1955, America's top 400 paid more than 50% of their incomes in federal tax, almost triple the rate of today's top 400."
During the election campaign President Obama pledged to cancel the Bush Administration's regressive millionaire tax cuts upon taking office, but now he will continue them for nearly two years, allowing the legislation to expire at the end of 2010. The White House suggests that ending reductions now would depress economic activity, but this is not convincing. Writing in the New York Times Dec. 7, economist Robert H. Frank stated that "we'd get a lot more stimulus for any given budget deficit if we scrapped the Bush tax cuts immediately and steered the resulting revenue to people who would spend it. . . . Higher tax rates for top earners wouldn't appreciably reduce their spending."
Details of the fiscal 2010 budget (beginning in October) won't be released until April, but the New York Times disclosed Feb. 22 that the White House will propose "to tax the investment income of hedge fund and private equity partners at ordinary income tax rates, which are now as high as 35% and could return to 39.6% under his plans, instead of at the capital gains rate, which is 15 percent at most." While this is a step forward, it is a very small step, on par with the Pentagon's spigot closing.
Progressives have long argued that the big corporations are paying too little in taxes considering the enormous profits they have enjoyed in the last couple of decades, often at the expense of stagnant wages for U.S. workers and substandard wages in their foreign factories. But Big Business always points to the 35% statutory tax rate on large corporations (taxes get smaller as the corporations decrease in size), which the Wall St. Journal notes is the second highest in the developed, industrialized capitalist world.
But "second highest" is the official tax rate, not the "effective" rate (i.e., what's really paid). According to an Oct. 27 report from Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a liberal think-tank:
"The U.S. corporate tax burden is smaller than average for developed countries. Corporations in the 19 member states of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development paid 16.1% of their profits in taxes between 2000 and 2005, on average, while corporations in the United States paid 13.4%.... Because the U.S. tax code offers so many deductions, credits, and other mechanisms [i.e., loopholes] by which corporations can reduce their taxes, the actual percentage of profits that U.S. corporations pay in taxes — or what analysts refer to as their effective tax rate — is not high, compared to other developed countries."
To give you an idea of how corporate taxes have been declining in the U.S., consider this: In 1943, during World War II, corporations accounted for just under 40% of all the tax money collected by the U.S. government. Last year, during the Iraq, Afghanistan and Terrorism wars, it was 7.4%, a drop from the second half of the 1990s when receipts amounted to 10-11%.
In a report Aug. 12, the Government Accountability Office revealed that 57% of U.S. companies doing business in the United States paid no federal income taxes for at least one year between 1998 and 2005, and 42% were in this category for two or more years. Foreign companies doing business in the U.S. compiled an even worse record. In 2005, the report noted, a quarter of the largest American corporations paid no taxes on gross sales of $1.2 trillion.
The GAO report resulted from a request by two Democratic senators, Michigan's Carl Levin and North Dakota's Brian Dorgan. Levin said it showed "too many corporations are using tax trickery to send their profits overseas and avoid paying their fair share in the United States." Dorgan termed it "a shocking indictment of the current tax system."
Tax loopholes, exemptions, depreciation allowances, credits and the ability of corporations to shift income to lower tax countries are all factors in the declining percentage big business pays to the U.S. government. These tax concessions, even during down times, are a major factor in lower tax receipts. (Of course, a number of companies have taken big losses because of the recession, a factor in lower tax collections this year.)
The CBPP report noted that "the Treasury Department estimates that various corporate tax breaks will cost the federal government more than $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years (2008-2017), a period during which total corporate revenues are projected to equal $3.4 trillion." Imagine what could be obtained for the social good with $1.2 trillion. And we won't even go into the $2 to $3 trillion that the Iraq war will cost when the final accounting is taken years from now.
It seems to us that progressives should call upon the Obama Administration and Democratic Congress to immediately end the Bush tax cuts for the rich; substantially increase taxes on high incomes, including on the estate tax; eliminate tax loopholes for wealthy individuals and for the big corporations; and impose a hefty financial transactions tax on the transfer of stock and similar assets.
Through increases in taxes for the rich and corporations coupled with sharp reductions in military spending it seems quite possible for the U.S. government to invest $500 billion a year above its present obligations on significant permanent social programs similar to —but going beyond — those now temporarily receiving support from President Obama's anti-recession economic stimulus program.
Given the current economic crisis, coming on top of decades of economic stagnation for many millions of workers, now may be the time when the American people — long misled by conservative and centrist politicians — will welcome a major increase in government spending on progressive social programs, and progressive leadership from Washington, over the next years.
But where are the politicians in Washington who will demand huge reductions in military spending, which will mean a serious change in U.S. foreign policy, far fewer or no more wars, and an end to the quest for global domination? Who in the White House and Congress will demand big increases in the taxation of wealth and tight government regulation of corporations, markets and banks, which means greatly weakening the power of the monied oligarchy and transferring some power to the people for a change.
The key to transforming this situation depends on the pressure exerted by the progressive forces, the political left, the trade unions, the various movements for social change, and the masses of people influenced by these various agencies. True, these are still conservative times in America, and the forces of social change are neither strong nor united. But a serious, prolonged economic crisis has ways of educating people politically, of sparking extensive demands not heretofore deemed practical, and of inspiring unity and a desire to fight back.
(1) The War Resisters League pie chart detailing the 2009 U.S. military budget is at http://www.warresisters.org/pages/piechart.htm.
(2) The Pentagon Strangles Our Economy by Chalmers Johnson, http://mondediplo.com/2008/02/05military.
(3) The October 2008 Monthly Review article ("The Military/Industrial/Media Triangle") is an important analysis of why the U.S. spends so much on the military. It is located at http://www.monthlyreview.org/081001foster-holleman-mcchesney.php.
(4) Military Keynesianism, which is a distortion of Keynes' thesis (see part 1), has been described as "a government economic policy to devote large amounts of spending to the military in an effort to increase economic growth." C. Johnson calls the U.S. government's attachment to Military Keynesianism a "mistaken belief that public policies focused on frequent wars, huge expenditures on weapons and munitions, and large standing armies can indefinitely sustain a wealthy capitalist economy. The opposite is actually true." The U.S. has been following this policy since World War II for economic growth but mainly to pursue the objective of "world leadership" through expanding hegemony based on superior military and economic power.
6. SEVERE CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACT BY 2050
Reuters news agency reports that "current efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions will do little to ease damaging climate change, according to information issued Feb. 13 that predicts Greenland's ice sheets will start melting by 2050." The news agency continued:
A computer model calculated that if carbon dioxide emissions continue to grow at the current rate over the next 40 years, global temperatures will still rise 2 degrees Centigrade compared with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
This would push the planet to the brink, sparking unprecedented flooding and heat waves and making it even more difficult to reverse the trend, according to the report from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in Britain.
"Indeed organizations such as the European Union believe that an increase of 2 degrees Centigrade relative to the pre-industrial climate is the maximum acceptable temperature rise to prevent uncontrollable and catastrophic climate change," the report said.
The researchers from the engineering group used the 1.9% average annual increase of carbon dioxide emissions over the past 25 years for their model and assumed that rate would continue until 2050. "What we are saying is that even with mitigation there will be significant changes in the climate," said the Institute's Tim Fox, who helped write the report.
The computer model also calculated effects over the next 1,000 years, predicting that by the end of the first decade of the 22nd century, atmospheric carbon dioxide would be four times the pre-industrial level even with a decreasing rate of emissions. Temperatures would continue to rise.
Another report shows that the emissions are rising at a much faster rate than in the 1990s. At one measurement, levels of atmospheric carbon are 392 parts per million, an increase of two to three ppm from the previous year. This is higher than for all of the past 800,000 years. Overall, emissions are rising at the rate of 3.5% per year, up from 0.9% in the 1990’s. A major reason for this continued increase appears to be the use of coal as a fuel.
7. MANAGING A SUPERPOWER IN DECLINE
[Editor's Note: This article by fairly conservative journalist Matthew Parris in the London Times Feb. 4 comes close to reality as far as the strategic task confronting President Barack Obama is concerned during his four or eight years in office. So far the American people have little comprehension that the U.S. is no longer Number One, except for its military might.]
How often does a leader know, before he asks us for our votes, what office will ask of him? He mouths the promises of the moment but history may have a different task in mind. The role may be glorious, it may be tedious, but — count on this — it will be different.
Barack Obama declares and believes that he will change America, and that this “makes possible incredible change in the world.” The accent throughout has been on the positive. Making things possible has marked the whole tenor of his campaign. Hope, optimism, ambition, confidence, reform amounting almost to renaissance — such has been his appeal. “Yes, we can” was a cocky, but not an empty slogan. A deep and swelling sense of the possible, focused on America's future but rooted in America's past, has dominated the struggle for the presidency. It would hardly be an exaggeration to call Mr. Obama's promise transfigurative.
But maybe destiny has other plans. America's fate in the half-century ahead is not to be transfigured, but to be relegated. Steering your team through a relegation can be as important a test of leadership as handling a promotion, but it is a different test. Though he may not yet know it, the role for which the U.S. President has been chosen is the management of national decline. He will be the first U.S. president in history to accept, and (if he has the gift) to teach, not the possibilities but the constraints of power.
The fate of his predecessor George W. Bush was to test almost to destruction the theory of the limitlessness of American wealth and power — and of the potency of the American democratic ideal too. With one last heave he pitched his country into a violent and ruinous contest with what at times seemed the whole world, and the whole world's opinion. He failed, luminously.
But maybe somebody had to. Maybe we shouldn't be too hard on President Bush for donning a mantle hardly of his own making but a well-worn national idea created in the triumph and hegemony of victory in the Second World War. Maybe somebody had to wear those fraying purple robes one last time and see how much longer the world would carry on saluting; to pull the levers of the massive U.S. economy one last time and see if there was any limit to the cash that the engine could generate; to throw the formidable U.S. war machine into two simultaneous foreign wars and test — and find — a limit….
Eight years later it's hemorrhage, not regeneration, that the Obama presidency will have to nurse as it looks ahead…. Mr. Obama will have to find a way of being honest with Americans about their country's fall from predominance. Reading, as I often do, the furiously chauvinistic online reaction from U.S. citizens to any suggestion that their country can be beaten at anything, I quail for him.
We British know something about the loss of empire. Successive 20th-century prime ministers struggled both to manage relative national decline and to make it explicable to the electorate. It is upon this road that 21st-century American presidents must now set foot. Mr. Obama will be the first. “Yes we can!” was an easy sentiment to recommend. “No we can't,” will be a far, far harder thing to say.
8. NEWS IN BRIEF
By Nathan Rosenblum
CUBAN FIVE FILE SUPREME COURT APPEAL: The Cuban Five political prisoners in the U.S. have filled an appeal for a hearing before the Supreme Court to challenge their imprisonment. The five men were convicted of espionage against the U.S. in 2001, But what they really did was infiltrate several right-wing terrorist groups in the Miami area that were planning to launch attacks on Cuba. They reported back to Cuba about an intended action, and the Havana government informed Washington. But instead of penalizing the anti-Cuba group, the U.S. arrested the five Cubans. The men have all received long sentences and two are serving life terms. The appeal is based on the contention that the men did not receive a fair trial because of its being located in the Miami area, with its large population of right-wing Cuban expatriates. According to one of the lawyers for the men, Thomas Goldstein, “the case presents really incredibly important questions of justice.” The court will make a decision on whether to hear the case in the next few months. The Cuban government is willing to trade a number of Cubans the U.S. considers political prisoners to obtain freedom of the five
AMERICANS FAVOR PROBE OF BUSH EXCESSES: A new poll from USA Today/Gallup indicates that 62% of Americans are in favor of an investigation of former President George W. Bush and his coterie for torture of prisoners and wiretapping of American citizens. About 38% were in favor of a criminal investigation while 24% preferred an independent panel. President Obama does not appear to favor an investigation. Attorney General Eric Holder has also indicated that the Obama administration does not “want to criminalize policy differences that may exist.” Obama’s CIA Director Leon Panetta indicated that CIA personnel who participated in torture will not be prosecuted. Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and some others support a “reconciliation commission” similar to that held in South Africa following the collapse of the apartheid regime. As in South Africa, there would be some form of amnesty in exchange for testifying.
DRILLING LEASES CANCELLED: Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has thwarted a last minute attempt by the Bush Administration to sell 132,000 acres in Utah to companies that would drill for gas and oil near national parkland and monuments. The White House announced the land was being sold in President Bush's last days in office, but Salazar cancelled the sales Feb. 4. Environmental groups had detailed the substantial damage that would have resulted had the sales gone through. This included large amounts of air pollution and damage to the landscape which is one of the largest wilderness areas in the United States and does not even have roads. Among the areas that would have been impacted include Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dinosaur National Monument (known for its prehistoric rock paintings). Salazar indicated, however, that the leases may be put up for sale again some time in the future. Environmentalists also intend to challenge six management plans that allow for oil extraction from other areas in eastern and southern Utah, which together encompasses 11 million acres.
FEMA DENIES AID TO HOMEOWNERS: Over 650,000 people, more than 90% of those filing claims with FEMA in Texas for damages from Hurricane Ike, have been deemed ineligible for aid. It was reported that the 2,600 assessors FEMA sent to investigate the claims had only one-day of training, and were paid a flat rate, forcing them to cover most of their own expenses. Those that were able to get assistance — about 82,000 people who collectively received about $371 million — may also have difficulties. FEMA pays only the minimum required for a house to be habitable even if certain areas or rooms remain seriously damaged
FIDEL MEETS WITH BACHELET: Former Cuban President Fidel Castro hasn't left his hospital quarters in over two years, but he has managed to meet with four Latin American presidents before new year 2009 was a month-and-a-half old. The latest meeting was Feb. 12, when Chilean President Michelle Bachelet dropped in for a visit. She reported that Fidel, 82, “is in very good condition.” The last Chilean President to visit Cuba was socialist Salvador Allende in 1972. He was slain a year later in a U.S.-backed coup that installed fascist General Augusto Pinochet in power to rule for 17 years. The U.S. for decades sought to isolate Cuba from the other nations in the region, but those days are over. Today virtually all the countries Latin America call on Washington to end its long economic blockade and travel restrictions against Cuba.
9. CHECK IT OUT:
POWER TO THE PEOPLE: As the Great Recession deepens, and more working families lose their jobs and homes, this 3 minute 20 second video of John Lennon's Power to the People might help you through the day: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wos-dDxpJlQ
MOST AMERICANS DON'T ACCEPT DARWIN'S THEORY: On the eve of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth Feb. 12, Gallup polled the American people on whether or not they believed in his theory of evolution. Only 39% thought the theory valid, 36% had no opinion, and 25% considered it untrue. Education, church attendance and age were factors in the results, which are available (with graphs) at http://www.gallup.com/poll/114544/Darwin-Birthday-Believe-Evolution.aspx?version=print.
ORGANIZING THE UNEMPLOYED: One of the big differences between the early days of the Great Depression and today's Great Recession is the workers' fightback that began just months after the stock market crash in October 1929. So far, there are just a few fightbacks in the U.S. today. Among the most active organizations in fighting unemployment and rousing the working class in the Great Depression was the Communist Party USA. On March 6,1930, in response to a call from the Communist International, the CPUSA organized dozens of large demonstrations demanding jobs throughout the U.S. Some 100,000 jobless workers showed up in New York City. The N.Y. Times page 1 headline the next day read: "Reds Battle Police in Union Square; Scores Injured, Leaders are Seized." Struggles for jobs, food and housing took place throughout the decade of Depression, and the CPUSA played a big role, eventually growing in size to 100,000 members. An article about this situation appears in the Feb. 27 issue of Liberation, a newspaper published by the Party for Socialism and Liberation. It's at: http://www.pslweb.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=11351&news_iv_ctrl=1008&printer_friendly=1
IRAN AND ISRAEL: For decades, Israel and Iran were allies — sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly. It began to end in the 1990s, primarily when Israel decided to change its policy. Now Tel Aviv says the Baghdad government is an existential danger. A relatively brief article in the February Le Monde diplomatique by Alistair Crooke describes how these two countries came together and broke apart. The article is titled "The Strange Tale of Iran and Israel" and much of the information is based on Trita Parsi's excellent and eye-opening 2007 book "Treacherous Alliance: Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the U.S." The article is at http://mondediplo.com/2009/02/05iran.
THE ISRAELI ELECTION: Israeli peace movement leader Uri Avnery has written n important analysis of his country's political situation. "The victory of the Right is not so unambiguous," he writes, but the most significant message of the elections is that "the Israeli public has moved to the right." Avnery examines the two options confronting Tzipi Livni, finding neither of them promising for peace and stability. His conclusion: the mainstream left, Labor and Meretz, has collapsed. The only hope is building a new left "that will include new leaders from the sectors that have been discriminated against: the Orientals, the Russians, and the Arabs." The article is at http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/avnery/1234645625.
A LAND IN FRAGMENTS: The American Friends Service Committee has commissioned a very brief video showing the impossible geography of a Palestinian state unless Washington and Tel Aviv get serious about removing the Jewish settlements and Israeli-only roads on land designated for the Palestinian people. On YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ewF7AXn3dg.
IN THE RUBBLE OF JABAL AL RAYAS: A wrenching 3½ minute video account of Gaza families struggling to survive in homemade shelters after Israel's latest invasion is at http://therealnews.com/t/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=3253
10. PENTAGON PROPAGANDA MACHINE
Under the headline "Pentagon spends billions on PR," the Associated Press reported the following on Feb. 5, 2009:
As it fights two wars, the Pentagon is steadily and dramatically increasing the money it spends to win what it calls "the human terrain" of world public opinion. In the process, it is raising concerns of spreading propaganda at home in violation of federal law.
An AP investigation found that over the past five years, the money the military spends on winning hearts and minds at home and abroad has grown by 63% to at least $4.7 billion this year, according to Department of Defense budgets and other documents….
This year, the Pentagon will employ 27,000 people just for recruitment, advertising and public relations — almost as many as the total 30,000-person work force in the State Department….
On an abandoned Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas, editors for the "Joint Hometown News Service" point proudly to a dozen clippings on a table as examples of success in getting stories into newspapers.
What readers are not told: Each of these glowing stories was written by Pentagon staff. Under the free service, stories go out with authors' names but not their titles, and do not mention Hometown News anywhere. In 2009, Hometown News plans to put out 5,400 press releases, 3,000 television releases and 1,600 radio interviews, among other work— 50% more than in 2007.
The service is just a tiny piece of the Pentagon's rapidly expanding media empire, which is now bigger in size, money and power than many media companies….
The biggest chunk of funds — about $1.6 billion — goes into recruitment and advertising. Another $547 million goes into public affairs, which reaches American audiences. And about $489 million more goes into what is known as psychological operations, which targets foreign audiences.
Staffing across all these areas costs about $2.1 billion, as calculated by the number of full-time employees and the military's average cost per service member. That's double the staffing costs for 2003.
Recruitment and advertising are the only two areas where Congress has authorized the military to influence the American public. Far more controversial is public affairs, because of the prohibition on propaganda to the American public.
"It's not up to the Pentagon to sell policy to the American people," says Rep. Paul Hodes, D-N.H., who sponsored legislation in Congress last year reinforcing the ban…. But on Dec. 12, the Pentagon's inspector general released an audit finding that the public affairs office may have crossed the line into propaganda. The audit found the Department of Defense "may appear to merge inappropriately" its public affairs with operations that try to influence audiences abroad….
Over the past two years, the number of public affairs officers trained by the Defense Information School has grown by 24% to almost 3,500. The military is also expanding its Internet presence from 300 to 1,000 sites and increasing its free cable programming on the Pentagon Channel by 33% to 2,080 programs.
Along with putting out its own messages, the public affairs arm tries to regulate what other media put out.
In recent years, as reporting out of Iraq turned more negative, the public affairs department has increased its ground rules for media who embed with troops from one to four pages.
In mid-2008, Associated Press reporter Bradley Brooks was stepping off a cargo plane in Mosul en route to an embed when he saw pallbearers carry the flag-draped coffins of dead soldiers from Humvee ambulances onto a plane. Brooks talked to soldiers, who mentioned their anger with political leaders, and wrote a story.
Within 24 hours the military had expelled him from northern Iraq. He was told he had broken a new rule that embedded reporters could not write while in transit.
In 2008, eight journalists were detained for more than 48 hours, according to cases tracked by the AP, more than in any other year since the war began. Since 2003, the AP alone has had 11 journalists detained in Iraq for more than 24 hours. And a Reuters journalist has been detained by U.S. forces as "a security threat" since Sept. 2.
"All of these journalists, with the exception of the one being held now, have been released without charge," said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. "That troubles us because it suggests that they are not able to successfully charge these journalists with anything."
The public affairs department has even arranged to fly friendly bloggers to Iraq and Afghanistan, according to documents made available through the Freedom of Information Act. The public affairs office decided who could take part in special "Blogger Roundtables" with Pentagon officials in 2005, and transcripts show that those chosen were overwhelmingly pro-military and repeated the information they heard on their own Web sites without always revealing its source.
11. SENATE REPUBLICANS LAUD GUANTNAMO
By The Progress Report, Feb. 9, 2006
Recently, Sens. James Inhofe (R-OK), David Vitter (R-LA), and other Senate Republicans went on a fact-finding mission to Guantanamo Bay to rally opposition to President Obama's executive order closing the detention facility within one year.
Upon returning, Inhofe praised the conditions of the prison, saying it is "the only complex in the world that can safely and humanely hold these individuals." Vitter agreed, telling right-wing radio host Laura Ingraham in early February. "There is no abuse issue. There is no torture issue." He even claimed there were "specific cases that prove" that detainees would prefer to stay at Guantanamo than return to their home countries.
But according to a Guantanamo military lawyer, detainees are still being beaten and are living in horrific conditions. On Feb. 8, the Guardian (UK) reported that Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley is demanding the release of her client, who is "dying" because of his treatment. "Fifty of its 260 detainees are on hunger strike and, say witnesses, are being strapped to chairs and force-fed, with those who resist being beaten. At least 20 are described as being so unhealthy they are on a 'critical list', according to Bradley." None of the senators, however, reported on these disturbing -— and worsening — conditions.
In fact, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) praised the facility for being "in keeping with our Nation's highest ideals," adding, "If anyone receives mistreatment at Guantanamo, it is the guard force."
12. A PENETRATING LOOK AT COLOMBIA
The importance of the Colombian government to Washington's hegemonic interests in Latin America is immense, according to a report at a public meeting in New Paltz Village Hall Feb. 1 delivered by Sam Holguin, a young worker and left activist from New York City with family in both Colombia and Cuba.
Bogotá President Alvaro Velez Uribe, he said, "is the closest friend the U.S. government has in South America at a time when most countries in the region are distancing themselves from well over 100 years of Yankee domination. Colombia is the third highest recipient of American foreign and military subsidies after Israel and Egypt. The Bush Administration alone invested over $5 billion strengthening the Colombian armed forces."
Throughout Colombia's history of 200 or so years since the liberation struggle led by Simon Bolivar in the early 1800s, "political power in Colombia has belonged to the land-rich oligarchy," Holguin told the meeting, which was sponsored by the Caribbean and Latin America Support Project and endorsed by this newsletter.
He also spoke at some length about the country's decades-long guerrilla struggle led by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) against the oligarchy, the right-wing paramilitary forces, and Yankee influence.
Following is an excerpt from Holguin's talk, focusing on aspects of modern Colombia, a country located in northwest South America with a population of 45 million. He said:
Every historic epoch has its principal players. In Colombia today, the most prominent player is the oligarchy, followed by the guerrilla movements, then the paramilitary groups, the third parties, labor and grass-roots organizations.
At the same time there are two external players. One is U.S imperialism, which is seeking to strengthen its hegemony. The other is the radical trend in Latin American politics that has moved most South American states to the left — some emphatically so, such as Venezuela and Bolivia, some to the center-left, such as Argentina and Brazil. Cuba in the Caribbean is no longer isolated, despite Uncle Sam's 50 years of antagonism.
Attracting Washington's greatest ire at the moment is Venezuela President Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution he promotes throughout the continent. The Bush Administration backed an unsuccessful coup again Chavez in 2002. President Barack Obama has also been critical of the Venezuelan leader, while continuing America's exceptionally close relations with Colombia.
In the 1980s and '90s, politics in Colombia continued to be dominated by two traditional political tendencies led by the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party. A number of new parties have arisen in recent years, with a total of 15 now officially recognized because of their vote totals. Many more have not yet been formally acknowledged.
President Uribe ran in 2002 under a new political party called the First Colombia, which is now called the Democratic Party of Colombia. Both affiliations received wide support from the Conservative Party, which also supported Uribe's reelection in 2006, when he won 62% of the vote.
Uribe is a special character because of his connection to the old cartels of drug smugglers. Uribe’s father was a good friend of renowned drug king Pablo Escobar. Uribe was at one point under the watchful eye of the CIA as a part of the dangerous Medellin Cartel. He was part of Escobar’s lawyer circle, many of whom were killed by the government and guerrillas during the wars of the 1980s. Uribe in essence represents the new Colombia oligarchy, completely connected to the drug production, the cartels, and international business including American multinationals. Over 70 government officials, mostly congressmen but also some senators of Uribe’s Democratic Party, are being investigated because of their connection to paramilitary death squads, drug money, and political sabotage.
The Liberal Party has been splintered by internal faction fighting, including the split of a group that formed the Democratic Pole.
Today the Democratic Pole is attempting to create political distance from the oligarchy. This new party includes sectors of the traditional Liberal Party, the remnant followers of former populist leader Jorge Eliecer Gaitan (assassinated 61 years ago), former guerrilla members, the Colombian Communist Party, ex-members of the 1970s urban guerilla movement M-19, and members of the Patriotic Union.
The new party has championed the resistance against the proposed free trade agreement sought by United States and the Uribe government. They have also for the most part stood against Uribe’s security plans, the drug war, the U.S ambassador, Colombia’s aggressions in the region (such as the brief foray into Ecuador last year), and Uribe's opposition to the unions and the indigenous struggle. In essence they have tried to publicly pinch every political nerve possible. These new political parties represent all the sectors of Colombian society, except for one major one.
That leads us to the second player — the guerrilla struggle that continues to control wide stretches of land mostly in the southern region of the country. They continue to call for land reform; they have also moved to embrace the Bolivarian movement that appeals to the youth of the country who see the developing transformation in neighboring Venezuela.
The FARC saw its power peak in 1998, but despite some recent setbacks they have not been destroyed. On the contrary they have developed a wide range of community groups, stretching their web of connections deep into urban centers, within universities and as always within the broader working class.
There have been major changes within the FARC in the past year. Last March long standing leaders Manuel Marulanda and Raul Reyes have died, creating problems of leadership and the direction of the guerrilla organization. FARC has regrouped, however, and is now being led by long time tactical commander Alfonso Cano. In September a new military offensive was launched against the Colombian Army.
Within the last year there has also been an international media storm around the group's holding of prisoners for exchange or ransom. The situation has overstepped Colombia’s borders, involving a wide range of external players from Hugo Chavez to Nicholas Sarkozy to the Pope.
The other significant guerrilla force, the ELN, had been engaged in peace talks with the government, but the negotiations stalled in late fall, and the ELN returned to the struggle.
We now move on to the other armed faction of the civil war. The Colombian Army has grown to over 200,000 uniformed effectives. They have been trained and equipped by U.S tax dollars; in fact the Colombian Army’s funding is 65% supplied by Washington. This does not include the over 30,000 right wing paramilitary forces. They are also trained by Colombian and U.S military personnel. They are armed with modern weapons similar to those given U.S troops in Iraq.
Then there are the “false positives.” This is the term used to describe the killing of civilians by the Colombian Army, then clothing them in military fatigues and claiming they were dead guerrillas. Between July 2002 and June 2007, at least 1,122 civilians were murdered and so disguised. Between January 2007 and June 2008 there were 525 "false positives," nearly one victim a day. These incidents often involve coordination between paramilitary forces and drug cartels to find victims for the military. Homeless, unemployed youth or impoverished street vendors make ideal candidates, but an 87-year-old victim was also included. Some "false positives" are even kidnapped from neighboring countries, as decades of evidence has shown.
President Uribe has encouraged this practice by offering soldiers incentives to execute guerrillas, with few questions asked about the victims.
On Nov. 4, Maj. Gen. Mario Montoya resigned due to the investigations into his "false positives." That same week the government tried to clean its hands by firing 27 senior army officials, later followed by eight more. The Colombian public was shocked by the "false positives" scandal.
Two weeks ago, declassified U.S. documents showed that the CIA and former Washington ambassadors knew as far back as 1990 that the Colombian military were committing extrajudicial killings as part of “death-squad tactics.” The U.S. was, in effect, complicit in the brutal killings in Colombia.
The rightist paramilitaries signed a “peace” agreement last year with the government that provided them protection from international courts. The Bogotá regime pardoned all the paramilitary leaders, and started a "truth" campaign wherein the courts and press could investigate and report on past atrocities. Some leaders and paramilitary soldiers then told their stories.
Immune from prosecution for their deeds, the paramilitary officers and soldiers reported not only on the massacres and mass graves throughout the country, but their connections with the drug trade, elected officials, the president, his family, and Colombian and U.S military personal.
The testimony about involvement in the drug trade — which the U.S. was paying heavily to curtail — was too hot for the Colombian ruling class to handle. Within weeks nearly a dozen paramilitary leaders were extradited to U.S prisons. Military personnel involved in slaughtering thousands of innocent civilians were ignored.
I want to move on and speak of the social movements and the overall position of the Colombian people.
After many years of neoliberal politics, the Colombian masses find themselves in desperate economic conditions. This year the government admitted to 10.7% unemployment, but many economists argue it's over double that figure. Some 54% of Colombians live on $1 to $2 a day.
The labor movement, once a strong force in Colombia, has been weakened in recent decades to the point where it now represents only 4% of the workforce, of which fewer then 150,000, or .8%, is under a labor contract.
Violence against union workers and activists has plagued Colombian history. Since the beginning of unionization, the oligarchy and foreign multi-nationals have hired and trained death squads to crush the unions throughout the country.
Over 3,500 union leaders have been killed since the mid-1980s, a staggering number by any measure. In 2001 alone more union activists were killed in Colombia than the rest of the world combined. U.S multi-nationals like Chiquita, Drummond, Coca-Cola, and Pan-American Beverages, among many others, have been implicated with the hiring of paramilitary units and the "disappearance" of dozens of union activists throughout the years.
Such killings and other brutalities over the generations have not silenced the working class. Three major strikes occurred in 2008, including truck drivers, judicial workers, and sugarcane cutters, plus several days of national strikes.
Last year also saw the continual rise of the indigenous struggle for the return of ancestral lands stolen by the oligarchy and multinational corporations. In October the National Organization of Indigenous Colombians (ONIC) organized weeks of roadblocks and mass marches throughout the country, and they received the support of Colombian workers and unions.
The students have engaged in confrontations against the privatization of the state universities. Over 30 students have been slain or "disappeared" in the last two years.
Afro-Colombians, mostly from the predominately black state of El Choco, have been the target of U.S multinationals in the past decade. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced from their lands, replaced with huge plantations that now harvest biofuels for American and European markets. The massive displacement has moved over 4 million Afro-Colombians, indigenous and peasants off their lands. Moving them to the crowded centers of the major urban centers.
Colombia, incidentally, has the highest internal refugee population in the world outside of the Middle East.
Let's move on and speak about the international players — the U.S. and world imperialism, the left trend and the Bolivarian Revolution in Latin America.
The Bolivarian Revolution began in 1999, with the democratic election of Hugo Chavez. Since then Chavez has introduced socialist inspired social programs and large nationalizations. During his first years he established a strong relationship with Cuba, as well as shopping around the world for new markets for Venezuelan oil. He has created an anti-imperialist trade bloc called ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas), trying to outmaneuver U.S free trade agreements in the region. Regarding Colombia, Chavez has repeatedly said the guerrillas are not terrorist groups, contradicting U.S. and European Union statements [although he has also suggested that armed struggle is passé in Latin America - Ed.].
Chavez has successfully worked to negotiate the release of several prisoners from FARC camps.
Venezuela has taken an active role in politically defending its regional allies including Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua — which have challenged the Colombian government in the past year.
Bolivia has fought with Colombia over the trade agreements within the CAN, the Andean trading bloc. Ecuador was virtually threatening war because of Colombia's illegal incursion last March. Nicaragua has continued its claim of the islands San Andres and Provincia, currently a possession of Colombia.
Some of Washington's policies toward the region may change with the passing of the Bush Administration, but the Obama Administration will most likely continue Bush’s program in Colombia behind the disguise of the war on drugs. This policy can only be believable if we ignore the fact that despite the infusion of billions of U.S. dollars cocaine production in Colombia increased 16% last year.
While the drug war is a factor, it seems clear that Washington's so-called Plan Colombia is mainly aimed at destroying the guerrilla struggle, supporting a right wing regional surrogate, and securing the goals of U.S imperialism in the region.