January 18, 2010, Issue #154
HUDSON VALLEY ACTIVIST NEWSLETTER
P.O. Box 662, New Paltz, NY 12561
1. LET'S GO TO WASHINGTON FOR PEACE! — Sign up for our buses to Washington to participate in the March 20 antiwar rally and march.
2. OBAMA'S FOREIGN/MILITARY POLICY — President Obama's policy is aimed at maintaining U.S. global supremacy, as has that of every Washington government since 1945, including that of George Bush. We try to explain what's really going on.
3. SKY HIGH FOR THE CUBAN FIVE — Three Argentine men have just scaled the highest mountain in the Western Hemisphere in order to unfurl a banner inscribed, "Obama: Free the five Cuban heroes."
4. "TERROR" TRUMPS CIVIL RIGHTS — Amid incessant government terrorism warnings and the foiled effort to destroy a Detroit bound airliner, civil liberties are taking a beating in the United States.
5. AN UNEASY FEELING — "We’re escalating in Afghanistan, falling back into panic mode over an attempted act of terror, and squandering a golden opportunity to build a better society."
6. DON'T APOLOGIZE FOR DEMOCRATS — From media critic Jeff Cohen: "Don't defend Democrats when they don't deserve defending. And that certainly includes President Obama."
7. LET'S EDUCATE FOR PEACE — Antiwar activists must also become antiwar educators. We recommend a couple of books that will help.
8. TEA PARTY, MEET THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT — The old-school Christian right is trying to take over the tea-party movement.
9. HONDURAS: PRESIDENTIAL 'PEACEMAKING' — Noam Chomsky's take on Obama and the Honduras coup.
10. HONDURAS: UNCLE SAM'S SIGNATURE — The death squads are circulating once more, and Washington doesn't really seem to mind.
11. A WITCH'S CAULDRON BREWS IN YEMEN — A fast-paced geopolitical analysis from Lebanon to Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Yemen.
12. NEWS BRIEFS — Juvenile detention center abuse; U.S. still won't sign treaty to end Korean war; unemployment hits new high.
13. CLIMATE CHANGE AND CAPITALISM - 1 — Bolivia's Evo Morales tells UN environmental conference in Copenhagen: "We are here to save Mother Earth."
14. CLIMATE CHANGE AND CAPITALISM - 2 — Venezuela's Hugo Chávez tells conference: "Let’s not change the climate, let’s change the system! And consequently we will begin to save the planet."
15. "BURN" & "THE ECOLOGICAL REVOLUTION" — Check out this a 40-year-old film, and a new book — very different, very connected.
16. MORE ACCEPTANCE FOR MARIJUANA IN U.S. — The "Top 10 events in 2009 that will change the way we think about marijuana." That's cool.
17. JOURNEY TO NOWHERE — Writes columnist Gideon Levy on Israel and the Palestinians: "Here we are again: The season of negotiations is upon us, negotiations that amount to nothing."
18. SCIENTISTS BLAST MOUNTAINTOP MINING — Environmental experts want it halted.
1. LET'S GO TO WASHINGTON FOR PEACE!
Dear Hudson Valley Friends: We urge you to join us Saturday, March 20 — nine weeks from now — on a bus trip to Washington to join a mass rally and march for peace sponsored by most of our country's major national antiwar organizations.
The United States in engaged in armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and the Philippines. Can anyone doubt America needs a strong peace movement? It's time to revive our movement — and the place to do it is where the U.S. government and the Pentagon plan and finance their wars.
Washington is spending trillions on these wars, while its just been reported 2.8 million families received foreclosure notices last year, and that a million families actually lost their homes and were put out on the streets in 2009.
We must tell President Obama that it is time — indeed 12 months past time — to end George W. Bush's neoconservative wars! We need money for jobs, housing and education at home, not for unjust wars and violence around the world.
The Activist Newsletter and Peace and Social Progress Now are chartering comfortable buses to the nation's capital March 20 leaving from Kingston, New Paltz, and Poughkeepsie in the early hours. We will consider establishing other pickup locations farther down the Valley if groups of a dozen or more people commit to boarding at a particular location convenient to our buses. We'll eat at highway restaurants for breakfast and dinner and get home that same night.
We will be sending more information soon. We don't have a price for a few more days but the roundtrip will probably cost between $50 to $60. If we receive contributions from readers we will be able to offer discounts for students and low-income people who otherwise couldn't make it. Your generosity will determine how many can go. If you plan to make a donation for this purpose please send your contributions early so we can offer discounts up front. Make out your check to Activist Newsletter, and address it to Activist Newsletter, PO Box 662, New Paltz, NY 12561. Mark the check "donation."
If you plan travel with us, we need to hear from you very soon in order to figure out how many buses to charter and to work out the stops and other details. Send us an email to reserve a seat as soon as possible with your name, town, email and phone. Don't send checks yet. We'll get back to you about costs, locations and other details in a week or so. Don't wait until the last week , because our buses may be filled up by then — we hope!
This will be the 24th time we have organized buses to out-of-town peace demonstrations, averaging three or four charters each time, except for last year when our movement was weaker and we managed just one. We estimate that about 2,000 of our present readers are veterans of some of those bus trips. Let's do it again, friends! It takes repeated efforts to stop wars, and stop them we must. Urge your friends, family and co-workers to come with you to the big demo. Let's work together to make our peace movement stronger than ever.
Jack Smith and Donna Goodman, firstname.lastname@example.org,(845) 255-5779.
2. OBAMA'S FOREIGN/MILITARY POLICY
A year has gone by since Sen. Barack Obama assumed the presidency, replacing George W. Bush, who was among the worst chief executives in American history.
The election of an African American to the White House is an historically positive development. And his first year in office has shown his superiority to Bush and his defeated opponent, rightist Sen. John McCain, in several areas.
At the same time, in terms of foreign/military policy, President Obama has essentially continued many of the Bush Administration's initiatives — first and foremost his predecessor's "global war on terrorism," but in other international endeavors as well.
Democrats of the political center and center right have remained uncritical of President Obama— some to the extent of keeping quiet about, or supporting, his administration's expanding wars, although they may have opposed the wars during Bush's reign.
But a number of liberal Obama supporters who identify with the party's center left are expressing serious disappointment. Center right governance, continual compromise with the right wing Republicans, and more wars are not the changes they expected from a candidate some believed to harbor progressive intentions.
In this article we will explore the first year of President Obama's foreign/military policies — a principal source of progressive dissatisfaction.
On one level, the Bush-Obama global war on terrorism, with its military moves in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines and elsewhere, are aimed at defeating al-Qaeda, which claims responsibility for the attack of Sept. 11, 2001, and other organizations it deems to be "terrorist," even if their activities are confined to their own countries or in fact are not actually terrorists at all.
But on another far more important level the real objective of this endless series of wars is the attainment of geostrategic advantage against any country or bloc that potentially might undermine Washington's dominion over world affairs.
Within this strategic context the Obama government is particularly interested in five objectives: (1) Winning the Afghan war, or at least conveying the impression that the U.S. has not lost; (2) Making sure Washington's old Cold War rivals — now reconstituted as the economic powerhouse of China and resource-rich Russia — are "contained," or at least are not subverting American power; (3) keeping the European Union in tow as a junior partner; (4) insuring that Latin America and the Caribbean remain firmly within the Yankee sphere of influence; and (5) certifying that the lion's share of the world's petroleum and natural gas resources continue to accrue to the world's only military superpower.
Obama's foreign/military strategy is a continuation of policies that began in the aftermath of World War II in 1945. For the first 45 years, to 1990, the main goal was to dominate and lead the capitalist countries in a Cold War to overpower socialist and communist alternatives to capitalism. For the remaining 20 years the main goal was for the U.S. to dominate and lead all of countries of the world as the "indispensable" unipolar hegemon.
The eight years of the Bush Administration deviated from America's postwar international line, but not in its devotion to fulfilling the political system's hegemonic and militarist goals. Where Bush ruptured the continuity of traditional U.S. foreign/military policy was in the counterproductive methodology and dysfunctional risk evaluation emanating from the hubris and gross misperceptions of the neoconservative ideologists who crafted presidential decisions.
Starting unjust wars against much smaller countries hardly contradicts traditional U.S. international behavior. Indeed, it is the hallmark of such behavior. But responding to 9/11 with an amorphous, endless, and unwinnable "war on terrorism" was absurd. The subsequent attack on desperate, underdeveloped Afghanistan, and then invading already half-crippled Iraq, were disastrous errors that have cost Washington mightily in terms of treasure and reputation.
Bush announced early in his administration: (1) that the Pentagon would exercise its full spectrum military dominance, preemptively when desired, against any challenge from anywhere — and demanded worldwide allegiance to Washington's adventurism; (2) that the mission of the White House was to transform the governments of "rogue countries," "failed states," and societies that "harbored terrorists" into "democratic" subsidiaries of the U.S. government by violence if persuasion failed; (3) that other countries — especially America's NATO allies — must dance to Washington's martial music or risk being shunned or even tossed aside like a used tissue or an Old Europe.
The result of Bush' overt imperialist grab to extend Washington's global domination, coupled with rude treatment and bullying of hesitant allies, was the weakening of U.S. world power politically, militarily, and economically.
Politically, many allied nations grew more distant. Much of heretofore subordinate Latin America began to move left and to ignore Uncle Sam's orders. The Muslim world was aghast at Bush's unjust wars against two Islamic countries and 100% support for Israel. Militarily, the Pentagon's armies suffered the humiliation of being fought to a stalemate by small and poorly armed guerrilla forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Economically during this period the U.S. became the world's greatest debtor nation, and of course it sank into a painful recession.
Regarding debt, which is often brushed aside, an article in the Dec. 29 Financial Times pointed out: "Over the next decade U.S. publicly held debt is forecast to more than double to 85% of gross domestic product — the highest rate since the second world war. And that is without including the intra-government debt in Social Security and Medicare, the government health scheme for the elderly, which would push U.S. indebtedness well above 100% of GDP during Mr. Obama’s second term. Hegemons cannot for long survive such rising indebtedness."
As President Obama entered the White House a year ago, the U.S. was still the world's only superpower and despite its debts and the recession it remained a rich and dominant country. Its share of global income remains about where it has been for decades: 22%. But America's standing in the world was greatly diminished because of its past and especially more recent policies. Also, other nations were rising, such as the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China). And some previously subordinate countries were disinclined to continue playing follow the leader after Washington's neoliberal economic model caused them grave hardship and its extreme laissez faire form of capitalism sparked the present recession.
What principally props up the U.S. today is (1) its overall military power and hair-trigger willingness to use it; (2) the continuing political and organizational weakness of the European Union, a potentially powerful economic competitor and rival were it to leave Washington's orbit; (3) and China's expressed indifference to displacing the U.S. as the global hegemon. Beijing has been committed for decades to multipolarity — global leadership by several countries and blocs, not just the present unipolar superstate. Many other countries support such a reorganization.
Washington grudgingly recognizes that some form of multipolarity is unavoidable within the next decade or two at most, in which case it would certainly seize the opportunity to become "first among equals," retaining as much "leadership" as possible.
This is where Obama fits in, and we'll begin at the beginning. At 48, he is an exceptionally intelligent, self-confident and ambitious man who obviously feels comfortable wielding power. He had not even served a full first Senate term in Washington, after several years as an obscure Illinois state legislator, when he put himself forward and was selected by the power elite to seek the Democratic nomination for the presidency.
By power elite —the term coined by the great sociologist C. Wright Mills — we're speaking of that informal assemblage of corporate, financial, military, and political leaders and their intellectual minions in the U.S. who together possess hugely disproportionate influence and access to wealth. During the grueling primaries and the presidential campaign corporate and financial institutions were among Obama's biggest contributors, uniquely investing more in the Democrat this time than in his openly pro-business Republican opponent.
Obama of course was elected by the masses of American people, but it is extremely doubtful he would have been a serious candidate to begin with were it not for the backing of these powerful interests.
The elite wanted a chief executive who would (1) repair the damage Bush caused, and quickly restore U.S. dominance in world affairs; and (2) should the days of unipolarity prove short, as seems likely, manipulate the transition to multipolarity so that the United States comes out on top.
Obama made it clear in the two years before the election that his foreign/military strategy would rest upon a combination of the reliable hegemonic policies of the Democratic Clinton Administration and the "realist" international program of the Republican administration of George H. W. Bush (the First). These were the "successful" policies that existed during the dozen halcyon years before the neocon Vandals sacked Washington.
Obama won election for several reasons. The most important were that the Democratic candidate followed eight dreadful years of President Bush, and the country was in an economic recession. But equally important was the "hope for change" he cultivated in the minds of multitudes of Democrats and independents, while never specifying clearly what that "change" was supposed to be, though many voters assumed it would be progressive. That he opposed the Iraq war was a big plus, even though he voted to fund it during each of his few years in national politics. Not to be overlooked, of course, were his winning personality, and spellbinding ability as a public speaker.
Obama's first payback to his elite backers was the selection of an economic team that would not impose overly harsh regulations on the financial system. Treasury Secretary Geithner, National Economic Council Director Summers, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke had also supported policies that facilitated the recession but they've supposedly learned from their colossal mistakes.
The second payback was keeping Bush's Defense Secretary Robert Gates (who is also connected to Bush the First's administration) in his old job, naming pro-Iraq war Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton Secretary of State, and retaining Gen. David Petraeus as head of Central Command. This triumvirate seems mainly responsible for the vast expansion of the Afghan war, its overlapping into Pakistan and now the extension to Yemen. With their help, Obama believes he will "win" the Afghan war (and thus a second term).
Obama's immediate task upon assuming office was to repair the Bush Administration's mishandling of relations with the rest of the world. He quickly made peace with the major U.S. allies who had been offended by the Bush regime's arrogance and unilateralism. He promised a new policy for Latin America based on equality and mutual respect. He assured the nearly 1.6 billion Muslims that America was their friend.
When these overtures were made, it seemed as though the conduct of the old foreign policy — which had served the U.S. handsomely since the mid-1940s until the neoconservative train wreck — was back on track. No more alienating our friends, and no more harebrained wars.
After a year, what does this foreign/military policy look like? It's quite similar to Bush's but without with the neocon management, so it looks better.
There has been a huge expansion of the Afghan war, increasing thrusts into Pakistan, and now Yemen's the target of Washington's bombings, pilotless drones, military aid and bribes. The war budget is more bloated than ever before. The costs of it all are astronomical, but it will be future generations of Americans — those of our children and grandchildren — who will pay big time for the imperial wars of the Bush-Obama years.
The overture to Latin America was a charade. Washington mildly criticized but facilitated the successful anti-democratic Honduran coup to prevent a reliable satellite from possibly turning toward the left in future years. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is taking over seven new military bases in Colombia, threatening adjacent Venezuela — the CIA's number one target in South America. And of course the Cold War with Cuba is as cold as ever.
The Obama Administration is still pursuing the goal of exercising hegemony over the entire oil-rich Middle East. Washington's total partiality to Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people remains unchanged. The attitude of the Democratic Congress and the Obama White house toward the suffering people of Gaza is unforgivably cruel. The White House still supports dictatorial Egypt and backward Saudi Arabia against the aspirations of their own people.
Muslims around the world welcomed Obama's Cairo speech June 4, but the good will it generated has dissipated. Efforts to destabilize Iran are continuing apace, along with threats of "killer" sanctions, and the prospect of war remains "on the table."
NATO, which is remotely controlled from Washington like a drone over western Pakistan, is still inching toward Russia, to Moscow's continuing annoyance. And by penetrating Afghanistan, the armies of the North Atlantic are situated close to the Central Asian oil and gas reserves located in several former southern republics of the late Soviet Union. NATO bases are now virtually touching western China.
Billions are being spent to convert Guam into a major U.S. base in the Pacific, undoubtedly with China in mind. In northeast Asia Obama is continuing Washington's 57-year refusal to sign a peace treaty with North Korea to officially end the Korean War — a major irritant stimulating Pyongyang's antipathy toward Washington. All the over 700 U.S. major military outposts abroad — "America's Empire of Bases," as Chalmers Johnson puts it — are remaining in place, as are the nuclear-armed missiles targeting China's cities, a push-button away from oblivion.
Despite its rhetoric about taking environmental action — a foreign policy issue of enormous importance — the Obama Administration's performance at the UN's December climate conference in Copenhagen was big on posturing but small indeed on programmatic commitments.
The Obama White House couldn't do much about Iraq because Bush made the deal with the Baghdad government to withdraw at the end of 2011. We will believe the complete withdrawal when we see it. At this stage it is likely that there will be an eventual agreement between Baghdad and Washington to prolong the Iraq occupation with a substantial number of American troops remaining indefinitely.
Progressives have every reason to be dismayed by the Obama Administration's foreign/military policy. It's essentially a continuation of the postwar policy that brought the U.S. to global power, though in a bright new wrapping. It's better than the Bush years, but that's the faintest of praise.
Barack Obama was the candidate of change, but the reality in international endeavors is small change indeed. Social commentator Glenn Greenwald remarked on this general point during an interview on Democracy Now in early January:
"It's ironic, given that the campaign was all based on changing the nature of how Washington works — [but] the central attribute of the Obama Administration is to accommodate and keep in place the same power factions that have run Washington forever, and as a result, the same mindset, the same dynamic that governs Washington in virtually every area."
Unless we Americans take a public stance against war and hegemony, and associate ourselves with the antiwar and social movements struggling for substantial change, there will be no change at all. It'll just be war after war. Maybe if Albert Einstein said this it would be more convincing. Well, he did:
"We must not conceal from ourselves that no improvement in the present depressing situation is possible without a severe struggle; for the handful of those who are really determined to do something is minute in comparison with the mass of the lukewarm and the misguided. And those who have an interest in keeping the machinery of war going are a very powerful body; they will stop at nothing to make public opinion subservient to their murderous ends."
3. SKY HIGH FOR THE CUBAN FIVE
In a dramatic expression of support for the Cuban Five political prisoners incarcerated in the United States for the last 11 years, three Argentine men on Jan. 10 reached the top of Mt. Aconcagua — at 22,841 feet the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere — to unfurl a banner inscribed, "Obama: free the five Cuban heroes." They also waved a Free the Five flag. (See video link at end.)
The climbers, all from the province of Neuquén, were radio and TV journalist Santiago Vega, bank employee Aldo Bonavitta, and social activist Alcides Bonavitta. The Andean mountain — the tallest outside of Asia — is in Argentina close to the border with Chile.
According to the Cuban news agency ACN, "After finishing the deed, the three young men arrived euphoric at the Penitentes upper level camp on the first stop of their descent. They are expected to reach home Jan. 18.
"The purpose of the expedition was to join the world demand for the release of the five Cuban prisoners — Ramon Labañino, Gerardo Hernandez, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando Gonzalez and Rene Gonzalez."
The plight of the Cuban Five is well known throughout Latin America and much of the world, though the American people are generally ignorant of their astonishingly unjust case since positive news about Cuba or Cubans loyal to their own government is routinely distorted or omitted by the U.S. mass media.
To break the silence locally, the Activist Newsletter, Peace and Social Progress Now, and the Caribbean and Latin America Support Project conducted an informational picket line in New Paltz in September.
So who are the Cuban Five? They are anti-terrorists who have been locked up in U.S. prisons since Sept. 12, 1998.
The "crime" of these Cuban men is opposing terrorism. They joined émigré groups in Florida that had committed many past acts of terrorism against Cuba. The five monitored the groups, and when they discovered plans for a new attack on Cuba they notified authorities in Havana, who then told Washington about the plan.
But instead of moving against the terror group, the U.S. government arrested the five opponents of terrorism. They were sentenced to from 15 years to double life.
The U.S. government not only considers these five men to be terrorists but claimed on Jan. 5 that the Havana government itself was a terrorist organization — a charge that the Obama Administration well knows is a complete fabrication.
Ironically, over the years the U.S. has sponsored or covered up for numerous and well documented acts of terrorism and violence against Cuba, from the CIA invasion and hundreds of attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro to the bombing of a Cubana Airlines plane in 1976, killing all 73 people aboard. Confessed terrorists Orlando Bosch Avila and former CIA operative Luis Posada Carriles were responsible for the airline tragedy, but have been protected by the U.S. government. Bosch was even pardoned by President G. H. W. Bush.
The National Committee to Free the Cuban Five in San Francisco 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 the Cuban Five case and suggestions about how to help are at http://www.freethefive.org/.
— A brief video of the climbers atop Aconcagua is at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crmT_3r9Gmg&NR=1
— Here's a link to a list of Cuban exile terrorist acts:
4. "TERROR" TRUMPS CIVIL RIGHTS
Amid the plethora of incessant government terrorism warnings and obsessive media concentration on the young Nigerian man who bungled an attempt to destroy an airliner headed for Detroit from Amsterdam, civil liberties are taking a beating in the United States.
As a result of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's Christmas day misadventure (the explosive powder hidden in his underwear didn't detonate properly), the Obama Administration is overhauling its airport "watch list" to intensify surveillance of passengers boarding in 14 different countries, and expanding its use of full-body scanning machines in U.S. airports, subjecting American citizens and foreign visitors to virtual strip searches.
Further, President Obama caved in to Republican pressure and announced Jan. 5 that he will prohibit the transfer of up to 91 Yemeni prisoners held in the Guantanamo concentration camp to their homes in Yemen, including 40 to 45 already cleared but not yet released.
The actual Republican goal is to scuttle Obama Administration plans to close the detention facility, which at this point is on indefinite hold until it's decided what to do with the Yemenis. Conservative politicians opportunistically criticized the White House because Abdulmutallab was allowed to board Northwest Flight 253, which prompted Obama to cover his right flank by widening Washington's covert war in Yemen and engaging in ethnic profiling.
The rationale for preventing the prisoners from returning to Yemen is that Abdulmutallab is alleged to have received training in that country from the group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. It is also alleged that two former "Yemeni" prisoners returned home and joined AQAP, but it turns out — according to a Jan. 7 report on the website of the Neiman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University — that both men were actually from Saudi Arabia.
Two top U.S. civil liberties organizations — the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) — issued strong criticisms of the Obama Administration's actions.
The ACLU, which has argued against intrusive scanning in the past, declared Jan. 5 that "full body screening machines pose serious threats to privacy with uncertain benefits to our safety. The machines should only be used when individualized suspicion suggests they are the best method for screening specific passengers, not as an automatic procedure for all passengers.... [W]e need to act wisely, and that means not trading away our rights and liberties for ineffective policies."
Both groups deplored the order continuing the incarceration of Yemeni prisoners.
Said the ACLU: "The decision to halt all transfers of detainees to Yemen will prolong a shameful chapter in American history without making Americans any safer. Continuing to detain individuals who have been cleared for release simply because they come from a certain country is unwise, unjust and does absolutely nothing to improve our security."
Said the CCR: " Dozens of men from Yemen who have been cleared for release after extensive scrutiny by the government’s Guantanamo Review Task Force are about to be left in limbo once more due to politics, not facts. Many are about to begin their ninth year in indefinite detention. Halting the repatriation... is unconscionable. It will effectively prevent any meaningful progress towards closing Guantánamo. As we approach the eighth anniversary of Guantanamo and the president’s failed deadline for its closure, it is important to remember that the vast majority of the men at Guantánamo should never have been detained in the first place."
According to Anthony D. Romero, ACLU executive director, "We are also deeply troubled by the administration's decision to subject the citizens of 14 nations who are flying to the United States to intensified screening. Using national origin or religion as proxies for suspicion is nothing less than racial profiling. Such profiling is ineffective, unconstitutional and counter to American values. Instead of profiling, we should be focusing on evidence-based, targeted investigations based on individualized suspicion, which would be both more consistent with our values and more effective at making us safer."
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) now requires enhanced passenger screening for all people flying from or through these countries to the U.S., including a full-body scan or body "pat-down" and a thorough investigation of carry-on luggage.
Thirteen of the countries have majority Islamic populations. They are Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
The 14th is Cuba, which the State Department charges is a sponsor of terrorism — a vindictive, politically motivated allegation based on no evidence whatsoever. The implicit suggestion that Cuba is a transmission point for al-Qaeda operatives makes Washington look ridiculous. We surmise Cuba was included to convey the fabrication that the ruling is not entirely aimed at Muslims, which of course it is.
Associated Press notes that "While there are no direct commercial flights between Cuba and the U.S. because of the trade embargo, several companies operate charter services to take Cuban-Americans to the island. The security measures would presumably apply to such flights." Havana calls the measure "discriminatory and selective" and registered protests with the U.S. government.
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, charged the ruling amounted to "ethnic cleansing." He also declared Jan. 5 that "while singling out travelers based on religion and national origin may make some people feel safer, it only serves to alienate and stigmatize Muslims and does nothing to improve airline security."
Agence France-Press reported the same day that Nigeria's Information Minister Dora Akunyili said "It is unfair to discriminate against over 150 million [Nigerian] people because of the behavior of one person." Syria also protested, terming the measures an "unfriendly double-standard,'' indicating it might be "forced to reciprocate."
According to CNN, "150 new full-body scanning machines are set to be placed in airports across the United States .... The Transportation Security Administration ordered the scanners before the bombing attempt for up to $170,000 apiece. Plans are also in place to purchase an additional 300 units by 2012, TSA officials said."
Aside from the dreadfully intrusive aspect of such scanners, which observe the naked body beneath the clothing (supposedly distorted but not in the samples we've seen), the machines may not spot all dangerous devices and substances. According to Time magazine Jan. 5, "One of the main criticisms of the scanners, which have already been installed at 19 airports in the U.S., is that they cannot detect low-density materials such as powders, liquids, thin pieces of plastic or anything that resembles skin. Nor can they detect any explosives concealed internally. Some politicians and aviation experts have questioned whether the scanners would have detected the powder that Abdulmutallab carried."
A Jan. 4 report in The Epoch Times points out that "FlyersRights, a nonprofit advocacy group, said in a press release that canines would be more effective in detecting explosive devices on people. FlyersRights represents approximately 25,000 people. Dr. Kenneth G. Furton, professor of chemistry at Florida International University said that full body scanners are "both expensive and not proven to be able to reliably detect the explosives used in this last terrorist event." He too said canines are more effective than scanners in detecting explosives.
Britain's Daily Telegraph noted Jan. 4 that "Swabbing airline passengers and their hand luggage for chemicals is cheaper, easier and more effective than the hotly-debated use of X-ray style body scanners, according to two top former US government security officials.... Supporters of the trace detection tests say not only are they easy and quick but also cheap.... By contrast, the X-ray style scanners are expensive, raise privacy issues for some and may not pick up devices hidden in body folds and cavities."
In an indication of the extreme fear of terrorism in the U.S., despite the paucity of domestic incidents in the eight years since 9/11, USA Today reported Jan. 11 that "Air travelers strongly approve of the government's use of body scanners at the nation's airports even if the machines compromise privacy, a USA Today/Gallup poll finds.... In the poll, 78% of respondents said they approved of using the scanners, and 67% said they are comfortable being examined by one.... The survey was taken Jan. 5-6 of 542 adults who have flown at least twice in the past year."
The U.S. mass media reaction to the Northwest Flight 253 incident was breathlessly hysterical. The story, mostly without significant updating, led the network and cable news cycles for over two weeks. The White House — ever mindful that the Republicans were set to pounce at its first misstep — responded as though it was a mini-9/11. Billions more dollars will now go down the drain to "protect the Homeland."
According to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, "More than eight years after 9/11, the ability of a terror attack — even a failed one — to transform and dominate the news landscape was evident last week. With the fallout from the Christmas Day airline bombing plot as the No. 1 story, topics intertwined with terrorism accounted for more than one-third (36%)" of news programs from Jan. 4-10. At the same time, the two top domestic policy issues, the economy and health care, combined to account for 15% of the week's overall coverage.
The Obama administration's sweeping measures led African American progressive columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson to write: "Are Muslim-only lines at airports next? The thought is offensive, disgusting, and blatantly unconstitutional. But it's hardly far-fetched."
5. AN UNEASY FEELING
[Editor's Note: Many of the new year editorials and opinion columns this January were surfeit with gloom about the state of American society. It's entirely justified, of course, as New York Times columnist Bob Herbert makes clear in this article, which appeared Jan. 5. We append a brief commentary at the end.
By Bob Herbert
I’m starting the new year with the sinking feeling that important opportunities are slipping from the nation’s grasp. Our collective consciousness tends to obsess indiscriminately over one or two issues — the would-be bomber on the flight into Detroit, the Tiger Woods saga — while enormous problems that should be engaged get short shrift.
Staggering numbers of Americans are still unemployed and nearly a quarter of all homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Forget the false hope of modestly improving monthly job numbers. The real story right now is the entrenched suffering (with no end in sight) that has been inflicted on scores of millions of working Americans by the Great Recession and the misguided economic policies that preceded it.
As The Washington Post reported over the weekend, the entire past decade “was the worst for the U.S. economy in modern times.” There was no net job creation — none — between December 1999 and now. None!
The Post article read like a lament, a longing for the U.S. as we’d once known it: “No previous decade going back to the 1940s had job growth of less than 20 percent.”
Middle-class families in 2008 actually earned less, adjusted for inflation, than they did in 1999. The data for 2009 are not yet in, but you can just imagine what happened to those families in that nightmarish downturn. Small children over the holidays were asking Santa Claus to bring mommy or daddy a job.
One in eight Americans, and one in four children, are on food stamps. Some six million Americans, according to an article in The Times on Sunday, have said that food stamps were their only income.
This is a society in deep, deep trouble and the fixes currently in the works are in no way adequate to the enormous challenges we’re facing. For example, an end to the mantra of monthly job losses would undoubtedly be welcomed. But even if the economy manages to create a few hundred thousand new jobs a month, it would do little to haul us from the unemployment pit dug for us by the Great Recession. We need to create more than 10 million new jobs just to get us back to where we were when the recession began in December 2007.
What’s needed are big new innovative efforts to fashion an economy that creates jobs for all who want and need to work. Just getting us back in fits and starts over the next few years to where we were when the recession began should not be acceptable to anyone. We should be moving now to invest aggressively in a new, greener economy, leading the world in the development of alternative fuels, advanced transportation networks and the effort to restrain the poisoning of the planet. We should be developing an industrial policy that emphasizes the need for America to regain its manufacturing mojo, as tough as that might seem, and we need to rebuild our infrastructure.
We’re not smart as a nation. We don’t learn from the past, and we don’t plan for the future. We’ve spent a year turning ourselves inside out with arguments of every sort over health care reform only to come up with a bloated, Rube Goldberg legislative mess that protects the insurance and drug industries and does not rein in runaway health care costs.
The politicians will be back soon, trust me, screaming about the need to rein in health costs.
We keep talking about how essential it is to radically improve public education while, at the same time, we’re closing libraries and firing teachers by the tens of thousands for economic reasons.
The fault lies everywhere. The president, the Congress, the news media and the public are all to blame. Shared sacrifice is not part of anyone’s program. Politicians can’t seem to tell the difference between wasteful spending and investments in a more sustainable future. Any talk of raising taxes is considered blasphemous, but there is a constant din of empty yapping about controlling budget deficits.
Oh, yes, and we’re fighting two wars.
If America can’t change, then the current state of decline is bound to continue. You can’t have a healthy economy with so many millions of people out of work, and there is no plan now that would result in the creation of millions of new jobs any time soon.
Voters were primed at the beginning of the Obama administration for fundamental changes that would have altered the trajectory of American life for the better. Politicians of all stripes, many of them catering to the nation’s moneyed interests, fouled that up to a fare-thee-well.
Now we’re escalating in Afghanistan, falling back into panic mode over an attempted act of terror and squandering a golden opportunity to build a better society.
From the Activist Newsletter:
We agree with most of what Bob Herbert so powerfully expressed. He is accurate in pointing to the White House, Congress and the mass media as culpable in America's dilemma, but it is not correct that "the fault lies everywhere."
It principally reposes with a political system that is failing the needs of America's working class, lower middle and middle class and the poverty caste, plus a foreign policy based on militarism and imperialism, and an economic system that primarily serves the interests of wealth, and that — at minimum — requires a major overhaul.
This will only change when the American people bring forth a political left that can break the center right/right wing control of government that has paralyzed social progress for decades
6. DON'T APOLOGIZE FOR DEMOCRATS
[Editor's Note: The author is a well known media critic, and an associate professor of journalism and the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca (N.Y.) College. During the 2008 election campaign he was a board member of Progressive Democrats of America.]
By Jeff Cohen
For the new year, let's resolve: Don't defend Democrats when they don't deserve defending. And that certainly includes President Obama.
Let's further resolve: Put principles above party and never lose our voice on human rights and social justice.
When we mute ourselves as a Democratic president pursues corporatist or militarist policies, we only encourage such policies.
If it was wrong for Bush to bail out Wall Street with virtually no controls, then it's wrong for Obama. If indefinite "preventative detention" was wrong under Bush, then it's wrong under Obama. If military occupation and deepening troop deployments were wrong under Bush, then they're wrong under Obama.
Imagine if McCain had defeated Obama in 2008 and soon tripled the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. I have little doubt that activists would have mobilized major opposition, denouncing the reality of more U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq combined than even Bush had deployed.
But as Obama goes about tripling the troops in Afghanistan, with more U.S. soldiers in war zones that Bush ever had — and proposes the biggest military budget in world history — many activists have lost their voices.
When Obama's West Point speech on Afghanistan paid lip service to benchmarks and a timeline (as even Bush learned to do on Iraq), how did the once independent MoveOn react? Its leaders sent out a muted petition urging benchmarks and a timeline. The email might as well have been written by Rahm Emanuel in the West Wing.
Taking cues from the Obama White House, liberal groups went quiet on Wall Street bailouts and bonuses — thus helping rightwing teabaggers and corporate-fronts to pose as populist saviors of the middle class.
By going soft on the White House or Democratic Congressional leaders, most netroots groups have undermined genuine progressives in Congress — on issues from Iraq and Afghanistan to Wall Street and health care.
Instead of launching their health care reform efforts behind an easily-explained, cost-effective "Enhanced Medicare for All" bill co-sponsored by dozens of progressive Congress members, netroots leaders meekly made a "public option" their starting demand and pretended not to notice when Rahm Emanuel began signaling last spring that the White House had no intention of pushing for it.
Predictably, we've ended up with corporate-enrichment legislation that forcibly delivers tens of millions of customers to big insurers and Big Pharma — with almost no cost controls because of private deals cut in the White House. In the New York Times before Christmas, beneath an accurate header, "Corporate Glee," a news article asserted: "The insurance companies were probably among the merriest of industries last week.... But the drug companies were certainly joyful, too." Insurance stocks are soaring on Wall Street.
It's tragically ironic that netroots forces joined Democratic leaders in killing Medicare-for-All as an unrealistic starting demand and now are belatedly urging "kill the bill."
I'm old enough to remember that when Democrats are in majority power — controlling both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue — they are capable of horrific policies. With Lyndon Johnson in the White House, most Democrats in Congress went along with Vietnam escalation. And with President Clinton, some leading Congressional Democrats joined mostly Republicans in backing the anti-worker, anti-environmental NAFTA.
The good news — during the eras of Vietnam and NAFTA — is that large numbers of progressive activists stood fast to their principles and vocally opposed those wrong-headed Democratic policies. They didn't follow Democratic leaders over the cliff or pretend that Democratic presidents are automatically "on our side" or well-intentioned.
And back then we lacked the most awesome tool ever invented for independent grassroots mobilization: the Internet.
The Net has helped unleash a golden age for independent media — and for journalists unafraid to challenge leaders of both parties: folks like Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, Arianna Huffington, Matt Taibbi and Amy Goodman, to name a few.
Thanks to the Internet and independent media, progressive activists are more fully and more quickly informed about national and global issues than ever. Yet many activists are poorly represented by national netroots groups that often function as appendages of the Democratic leadership.
While independent progressive media are booming on the Internet, the largest netroots political-action groups are sorely lacking in independence.
Be it resolved: In 2010, we will not apologize for indefensible Democratic policies, and we will no longer support netroots groups that fail to resist such policies.
—This article originally appeared at Commondreams.org on Dec. 30.
7. LET'S EDUCATE FOR PEACE
It's fairly obvious that most Americans have been misled by Washington, the mass media, and the nation's educational institutions about the true role of the United States in international affairs, particularly in the decades since the end of World War II in 1945.
We won't go into details because virtually all our readers are aware of this situation and its political consequences, not the least being a general public acquiescence to America's continual wars. At the moment the U.S. is fighting in five countries that we know about — while our antiwar movement has not yet fully recovered from its downturn of recent years.
If we are to rebuild that movement — and this is one of the most important tasks confronting progressive-thinking people these days, particularly with the March 20th Washington demonstration in mind — it is necessary not only to take part in its activities but also to help educate as many people as possible about the realities of Washington's foreign/military policies.
In addition to brushing up on the facts ourselves, we all have friends, relatives, fellow students or work mates who would benefit from possessing the knowledge most readers have to offer. Much information and literature are available from various peace organizations and on the Internet that can be distributed free for educational purposes. There also are very good books that provide a comprehensive critical analysis of U.S. foreign/military policy.
After evaluating a dozen or so books on this crucial subject we would like to recommend two outstanding volumes that have been published in the last couple of years that will make us better peace educators. Interestingly, while they objectively put forward a far reaching progressive/left critique of U.S. militarism and imperialism, each author considers himself to be somewhat conservative in outlook. As such, there are flaws from a left point of view, but not sufficient to undermine their trenchant critique.
One book is "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism" by Andrew J. Bacevich, a writer we have quoted several times in this newsletter. The other is "The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic" by Chalmers A. Johnson, some of whose articles we have referenced in the past.
Bacevich, a West Point graduate and former Army colonel, is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. He has written several informative books that are also worth reading, including "The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War," and "The Long War: A New History of U.S. National Security Policy Since World War II."
Johnson, a professor emeritus of the University of California, a Korean War vet, and a one-time consultant for the CIA (1967-1973), has written the "Blowback Trilogy," of which "Sorrows of Empire" is the second volume. The third volume — which you may wish to read after "Sorrows" — is "Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic." The first volume, also worthwhile, is titled "Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire" (2nd Edition).
Both of the books we have endorsed are available in print (and in audio book format) through the Mid-Hudson Library system, and paperback copies are relatively inexpensive as recommendations or gifts for those we try to inform.
If we think of ourselves and act as peace educators as well as antiwar activists, we will strengthen our movement at a time when it needs many more shoulders to the wheel.
8. TEA PARTY, MEET THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT
By Michelle Goldberg
Next month's Tea Party National Convention has been making news for the fat fee Sarah Palin is commanding — $100,000, according to many reports. But the gathering, to be held at Nashville's Opryland Hotel, is interesting for another reason as well: It marks the attempt of the old-school Christian right to take over the tea-party movement.
Speakers joining Palin include Rick Scarborough, Roy Moore, and Joseph Farah, men who are radical even by religious-right standards. Their presence shows that the tea-party movement is no longer merely populist, libertarian, or anti-government, if it ever was. It is theocratic. Indeed, after several months in which the religious right seemed lost and dispirited, it has found a way to ride the tea-party express into renewed relevance.
From the beginning, of course, there's been overlap between the tea parties and the Christian right. Both have their strongholds in the white South, and both arise out of a sense of furious dispossession, a conviction that the country that is rightfully theirs has been usurped by sinister cosmopolitan elites. They have the same favorite politicians — particularly Palin and Rep. Michele Bachmann, who is also speaking in Nashville. Glenn Beck, the media figure most associated with the tea-party movement, has a worldview deeply shaped by apocalyptic Mormonism; he is contemptuous of the idea of church-state separation and believes the United States was founded to be a Christian nation.
Nevertheless, so far, the tea-party movement has appeared as something quite distinct from the Christian right. Its rhetoric has been markedly libertarian; at its rallies and on its Web sites, one is generally more likely to see Gadsen flags than crucifixes. [The Gadsen flag is the Revolutionary War-era emblem of a rising coiled snake and the words Don't Tread on Me. Today the symbol is favored by self-described "anti-government patriots."]
Movement leaders spend much more time fulminating against taxes than against homosexuality. Many in the movement were fans of Ron Paul, whose foreign-policy isolationism is far removed from the crusading spirit popular among many religious conservatives. To people who study the right, it was easy to hear echoes of, say, The Christian Anti-Communism Crusade in the tea partiers' overheated fears of socialist tyranny. But the movement mostly kept religion in the background.
Meanwhile, as the tea-party movement grew, the Christian right was in a funk. A generation of leaders like Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy had died. Erstwhile up-and-comers from Ralph Reed to Ted Haggard were felled by scandal, as were political allies from Larry Craig to Mark Sanford. Shortly after Obama’s election, Focus on the Family laid off a fifth of its work force, and James Dobson later stepped down as chair. Just last month, Rod Parsley, a high-profile Pentecostal televangelist who was heavily involved in Ohio politics, issued a desperate plea to his supporters to help stave off a "demonically inspired financial attack" which threatened to bust his church's budget. (The church’s financial woes were partly caused by a $3.1 million settlement his ministry paid to a boy who was physically abused in its day-care center.)
Naturally, enterprising theocrats would look to the tea parties for salvation. And Scarborough, for one, is nothing if not enterprising. For years, the Baptist minister has been positioning himself as a next-generation Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. In 2002, he left his post as pastor of Pearland First Baptist Church to form Vision America, a group dedicated to organizing "patriot pastors" for political action. That year, Falwell identified him as one of the new leaders of the Christian right. The author of books like "In Defense of … Mixing Church and State" and the pithier "Liberalism Kills Kids," Scarborough spent the Bush years organizing conferences that brought together conservative Republicans with preachers and activists working for the imposition of biblical law.
The fall of Scarborough's closest political ally, the once-formidable Tom DeLay, eroded Scarborough's political influence. [DeLay, now a right wing leader, is the former GOP House minority leader who left his post in 2005 because of legal problems]. So did the broader decline of the religious right. "His group has been puttering along with a tiny budget, and he has practically no national presence," says Rob Boston, assistant director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "His goal was to be the next Jerry Fawell, and it has not worked out. The tea-party movement could be the vehicle to give him a much-needed boost."
Roy Moore, a hero of the Christian right just a few years ago, also has much to gain by joining forces with the tea-party movement. In 2003 Moore, then-chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, installed a 2.6-ton granite Ten Commandments monument in the judicial building. After defying another judge's order to remove it, he was stripped of his position, a martyrdom that turned him into a conservative folk hero. But Moore's attempt to parlay his cult status into public office was a debacle; he challenged the state's governor in the Republican primary but lost overwhelmingly.
As mainstream evangelical leaders like Rick Warren and Joel Osteen cultivated a kinder, gentler image, Moore's fierce, punitive moralism came to seem like a throwback. This is a man, after all, whose judicial opinions seem to sanction the execution of gay people.
In a 2002 decision awarding custody of three children to their allegedly abusive father over their lesbian mother, he wrote that homosexuality is "abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature, and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature's God upon which this Nation and our laws are predicated." The state, he wrote, "carries the power of the sword, that is, the power to prohibit conduct with physical penalties, such as confinement and even execution. It must use that power to prevent the subversion of children towards this lifestyle, to not encourage a criminal lifestyle."
Late last year, when Uganda's government began considering a law making homosexuality a capital crime, high-profile Christian conservatives in the United States felt compelled to speak out against it. Moore's views, then, might seem to be beyond the pale, but thanks to the tea-party convention, he'll once again have a national stage. He needs it, because he's again running for governor in 2010.
Farah, too, is a fundamentalist with little use for libertarians. (Indeed, he once wrote a column titled, "Why I Am Not a Libertarian," in which he explained, "We cannot ignore that a libertarian society devoid of God and a biblical worldview would quickly deteriorate into chaos and violence.") His Web site, WorldNetDaily, has often attacked Ron Paul for his softness on "Islamofascism."
Lately, Farah has been feuding with the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, the most influential right-wing confab in the United States — because CPAC isn't conservative enough. There are two issues at stake. First, CPAC won't let Farah hold a panel about Obama's supposedly foreign birth at its February conference, which takes place less than two weeks after the tea-party convention. Second, CPAC is accepting a co-sponsorship from GOProud, a gay conservative group. A WorldNetDaily headline from late December read, "CPAC leaving conservative roots? Censorship of Obama questions, cooperation with 'gays' cited."
Palin, of course, has also made news for snubbing CPAC, ostensibly because she objects to the financial activities of its chief organizer David Keene. The odd result of all this is to render the Tea Party National Convention the fundamentalist alternative to CPAC, a gathering that has always been immensely congenial to fundamentalists.
For those who oppose the right, all this offers cause for both hope and alarm. Neither the tea parties nor Sarah Palin are likely to expand their appeal by association with the most bellicose of religious reactionaries. Some have speculated that a third party may emerge from the Nashville convention, an outcome that can only benefit Democrats in upcoming elections. But we've now reached a point where CPAC, a conference whose co-sponsors include The John Birch Society, represents a comparatively moderate sector of the GOP. That may turn out to be bad for the Republicans, but it's even worse for America.
— Michelle Goldberg is a senior correspondent at The American Prospect. She is also the author of Kingdom Coming and The Means of Reproduction. This article was published Jan. 13 by The American Prospect, which is located at http://www.prospect.org/
— Readers may also be interested in "White Supremacists Crash Anti-Obama Tea Party" by Bill Berkowitz. It's published by Inter Press Service at http://ipsnorthamerica.net/news.php?idnews=2753.
9. HONDURAS: PRESIDENTIAL 'PEACEMAKING'
By Noam Chomsky
President Barack Obama separated the United States from almost all of Latin America and Europe by accepting the military coup that overthrew Honduran democracy last June.
The coup reflected a "yawning political and socioeconomic divide," The New York Times reported. For the "small upper class," Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was becoming a threat to what they call "democracy," namely, the rule of "the most powerful business and political forces in the country."
Zelaya was initiating such dangerous measures as a rise in the minimum wage in a country where 60 percent live in poverty. He had to go.
Virtually alone, the United States recognized the November elections (with Pepe Lobo the victor) held under military rule — "a great celebration of democracy," according to Hugo Llorens, Obama's ambassador.
The endorsement also preserved the use of Honduras' Palmerola air base, increasingly valuable as the U. S. military is being driven out of most of Latin America.
After the elections, Lewis Anselem, Obama's representative to the Organization of American States, instructed the backward Latin Americans that they should recognize the military coup and join the United States "in the real world, not in the world of magical realism."
Obama broke ground in supporting the military coup. The U.S. government funds the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, which are supposed to promote democracy.
The IRI regularly supports military coups to overthrow elected governments, most recently in Venezuela in 2002 and Haiti in 2004.
But the NDI has held back. In Honduras, for the first time, Obama's NDI agreed to observe the elections under military rule, unlike the OAS and the United Nations, still wandering in the world of magical realism.
Given the close connections between the Pentagon and the Honduran military, and the enormous U.S. economic leverage in the country, it would have been a simple matter for Obama to join the Latin American/European effort to protect Honduran democracy.
But Obama preferred the traditional policy.
In his history of hemispheric relations, British scholar Gordon Connell-Smith writes, "While paying lip-service to the encouragement of representative democracy in Latin America, the United States has a strong interest in just the reverse," apart from "procedural democracy, especially the holding of elections, which only too often have proved farcical."
Functioning democracy may respond to popular concerns, while "the United States has been concerned with fostering the most favorable conditions for her private overseas investment."
It takes a large dose of what has sometimes been called "intentional ignorance" not to see the facts.
Such blindness must be guarded zealously if state violence is to proceed on course — always for the good of humanity, as Obama reminded us again in his Nobel Prize address.
— From In These Times, January 5, 2010
10. HONDURAS: UNCLE SAM'S SIGNATURE
By Bruno Odent
Since the November 29 electoral farce, the putschist government of Honduras has been pursuing its work of normalization. No question of behaving like vulgar Pinochets from another era in Chile. The effect on international public opinion would be unacceptable. Above all, the context has become more delicate in a continent living through a changed balance of power. Hence, this desire to be discreet, to make the situation that emerged from the June golpe [coup d'état] against President Zelaya as mundane as possible. Yet, what comes naturally is returning at a gallop to bring citizens who resist to heel.
The death squads are circulating once more. A week does not go by without atrociously mutilated corpses of militants from the various democratic organizations gathered together in the Resistance Front against the Coup d'État (FRCG) being found. The mutilations prove that they were tortured before being killed. President of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights Andres Pavon talks about a planned "wave of terror" that has already taken several dozen victims, and he accuses the government of wanting to tear apart the resistance.
They murder; they torture; they trample democracy, and one strains to hear the least official voice be raised in France, in Europe, against these exactions. Quiet, we're murdering. Why so much complacency for the putschists? Why so much media disinterest, and, in consequence, so much solicitude to go along with the process of normalization of the golpe against President Zelaya, who is still taking refuge in the Tegucigalpa Brazilian embassy? Would there be some more "politically correct" coup d'état organizers, some more "politically correct" dictators than others? The answer to these questions naturally hinges on the issue that Manuel Zelaya's eviction represents. It clearly extends well beyond the borders of little Honduras.
The president elected on a center-right ticket in November 2005 had not at that point aroused the least concern in Washington or in Western chancelleries. Except that, in the meantime, confronted with the poverty and the deterioration in the standard of living of the majority of his fellow citizens, he decided to get closer to the ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the peoples of Latin America) countries. In December 2008, he decreed an increase in the minimum wage to 202 euros from 126 [per month]. To the great relief of the banana plantations' agricultural workers.
To the great dismay of the U.S.-based transnational, Chiquita, a descendant of the famous United Fruit - contracting authority for every putsch that has peppered the country's modern history. Zelaya had also made an agreement with Venezuelan Hugo Chavez's Petrocaribe organization in order to reduce energy costs, thus squeezing the big American companies. Finally, in the height of "political adventurism," he came to an agreement with Cuba to import cheap generic medicines that the poorest populations of his country were so cruelly lacking.
While other countries in the region had turned to the left, the fear of a more pronounced swing by Honduras into the Latin American progressive camp became insistent. And then along came Zelaya, contemplating the convocation of a Constitutional Assembly to strengthen democracy and reinforce citizens' powers. For the Empire, that was the last straw.... Leading figures from the U.S. State Department and ex-President Bush's entourage came to give support to the putschist Micheletti, whom they are still "advising" today. Obama, after a moment of hesitation, has followed. He even upped the ante by pushing for the installation of seven United States bases in Colombia, de facto ratifying the return to Cold War logic against progressive Latin America.
— From L'Humanité (Paris) Dec. 31, 2009. Translated from French by Truthout.
11. A WITCH'S CAULDRON BREWS IN YEMEN
[Editor's Note: An interesting account of some of the complexities in the Yemen situation — especially its uncertain relations with neighboring Saudi Arabia — occupies the last third of this article by a retired Indian ambassador to several countries and a regular contributor to Asia Times. We are printing the entire article — even though it was first published Nov. 14, over a month before Washington's December attacks on Yemen took place — because of the insightful, fast-paced geopolitical journey the author embarks upon from Lebanon to Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and finally Yemen. We circulated a more recent article by this writer last week titled, "Obama's Yemeni Odyssey Targets China."]
By M. K. Bhadrakumar
Lebanon has always been the cauldron where the alchemy of the regional politics in the Middle East can be tested. The formation of the unity government in Beirut this week signifies a considerable advancement of the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Syria that began with the visit of King Abdullah to Damascus last month. Clearly, the Saudis have accommodated Syria's preponderant influence in Lebanese politics.
The speech on Martyr's Day in Beirut Nov. 10 by Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah indirectly underscored that the political deal behind the unity government stemmed from a Syrian — Saudi understanding and, more important, that Iran is not party to it. He said:
"We also take positively the Syrian — Saudi summit and we were the first to reap its fruits. We look positively at any rapprochement in the region... Even more, we call for a Saudi — Iranian rapprochement to establish communication between the two countries. Let there be an Iranian initiative toward Saudi Arabia, or a Saudi Arabian initiative toward Iran."
The big question now is how far there could be a similar Syrian — Saudi collusion over Iraq, or more accurately, whether such collusion can gain traction in the critical period of transition ahead as Iraq heads for crucial parliamentary elections in another two months and the American troop withdrawal commences in 2010.
In turn, Syria has reciprocated the Saudis on an issue that poses a formidable challenge to Riyadh's interests — Yemen. It is all the more helpful for Riyadh that the Syrian statement came just a day after Tehran strongly condemned Saudi intervention in Yemen's "internal affairs." Damascus is doing very well to cash in on Saudi gratitude. The youthful Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is indeed a chip off the old block — brooding in the shadows and striking when it's real hot.
Syria merely stated one single principle (among many) in inter — state relations, saying, "Syria supports the legitimate right of the [Saudi] kingdom to defend its sovereignty and the integrity of its territory." Yet Riyadh is delighted.
As a Kuwaiti daily al-Watan succinctly put it, "The Arab states have entered the [Iran] nuclear conflict already." Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen — three different theaters have appeared where the Saudis have moved in to challenge Iran's growing regional influence. All indications are that Yemen is increasingly taking the form of a major regional crisis and Riyadh faces an existential threat here.
First, Afghanistan. To be sure, Saudi Arabia aspires to play a key role in any reconciliation process between the U.S. and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Much of the funding for the Taliban has come from Saudi Arabia — including during the current phase of the war — and that has been evidently with a degree of connivance on the part of U.S. intelligence. The heart of the matter is that Saudi influence over a staunchly Wahhabist movement in Afghanistan has been all along considered a "strategic asset" by the U.S., ever since the inception of the Taliban movement led by Mullah Omar in 1994. [Wahhabism is the fundamentalist sect of Islam promoted by Saudi Arabia.]
The thrust of the Saudi intervention in Afghanistan in the coming phase on the pretext of reconciling the intractable Taliban will also be principally aimed at sidelining Iran's role in a future power structure in Kabul, and to that extent Riyadh will be acting in sync with U.S. (and British and Pakistani) geopolitical objectives.
All signs are that Tehran is cognizant of the U.S.-British-Saudi Pakistani game plan. Tehran can be expected to safeguard its interests as it fears that if the Saudi drive succeeds, Afghanistan will tomorrow turn into a sanctuary for Jundullah — the Sunni terrorist group that is in league with the Taliban in spearheading subversion in Iran's eastern region.
Quite clearly, Iranian statements on Afghanistan have "hardened" lately. While reiterating Tehran's support for President Hamid Karzai's government, Iranian statements have begun vociferously stressing the imperative need of a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Any hint of Iran's readiness to work with the U.S. in stabilizing Afghanistan has receded, especially after October's massive terrorist strike by Jundullah in Iran, where Tehran sees concerted U.S., British, Saudi and Pakistani collusion.
To put it mildly, there is extreme wariness in Tehran about this condominium over Afghanistan. Interestingly, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki is to visit New Delhi on Nov. 16, where the focus will be on cooperation with India in stabilizing Afghanistan. (India is obsessed with a different route than the Iranian one, namely, hitching its wagons with Uncle Sam's, if only the Barack Obama administration recognized Indian primacy in the Indian Ocean region and discarded its unsavory Pakistani baggage.)
Equally, Iraq is fast turning into a testing ground of a Saudi challenge to Iran's influence. The Saudis seem determined to whittle down Iranian influence by supporting the forces of Arab nationalism (as against "sectarianism"). It takes the vague form of support of a future Iraq that is a "civil democratic pluralistic society" that incorporates Iraqi national heritage in which religion occupies its distinctive and spiritual place (unlike in Iran). The stress is on Iraq's Iraqi identity.
There are indeed contradictions between the Saudi and Syrian stances on Iraq, and Riyadh is quite some way from empathizing with the erstwhile (Iraqi) Ba'athist ideology, but a proximity is fast developing with Damascus. The Saudis feel the urge to look beyond their earlier approach of "either/or" toward Iraq, taking into account the arrival of modern political thought in Iraq and the inevitability of majority rule in contemporary politics. Riyadh is increasingly willing to trade with the Iraqi Shi'ite groups (including personalities such as Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ismail al-Sadr) that may harbor resentment toward Iran's shadow over Iraqi politics.
The speaker of the Iranian Majlis (parliament), Ali Larijani, paid a visit to Iraq last week and met with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has openly criticized Saudi policies as "unhelpful." Iraq has also accused Syria for harboring Ba'athist officials it says were responsible for the Oct. 25 suicide car bomb attacks in the heart of Baghdad, killing over 150 people, the deadliest terrorist attack in the past two-year period.
According to Maliki, all efforts by his government to improve relations with Riyadh have reached an "impasse." "All the signals confirm that the Saudi position is negative regarding Iraqi affairs," he said, echoing Baghdad's allegation that the Saudis are deepening sectarian divisions in Iraq by funding and supporting extremists and al-Qaeda insurgents.
In August, a group of Iraqi legislators openly accused the Saudis of employing Ba'athists and al-Qaeda terrorists to root out the Shi'ite faith in Iraq. Indeed, many of the terrorists captured in Iraq are Saudi nationals who have embarked on jihad against the perceived domination by the "apostate" Shi'ites.
Whereas the Saudis are on the offensive in Afghanistan and Iraq, they are very much on the defensive in Yemen. Like Iraq and Afghanistan, Yemen, too, has become a safe haven for al-Qaeda elements. But here the table is turned against the Saudis. The al-Qaeda elements use Yemen to make incursions into Saudi Arabia. The rebellion by the Shi'ite Houthi clan in mountainous northwest Yemen has also made the Saudi Arabia-Yemen border highly volatile. (To compound matters, there are Yemeni-Saudi border disputes waiting to be reopened.)
The Houthis lack modern weaponry, but they are strong in numbers, highly motivated and are reportedly skilled in the use of land mines. The Saudis see in the Houthi militia a potential Hezbollah-like movement based on egalitarian ideals of political justice and equity, with a highly disciplined and trained cadre that may come to inhabit Saudi borders. There is virtual paranoia in Riyadh as to how to deal with the rising specter of a Yemenese-style Hezbollah right on its borders.
The archetypal Saudi fear — which is scrupulously left unspoken due to its extreme sensitivity — is that the Houthi-dominated region of northern Yemen also borders Saudi Arabia's restive eastern province, which is Shi'ite (and oil-rich) and seething with resentment over Wahhabi intolerance.
A 32-page report by Human Rights Watch in August documented that Saudi Arabia was passing through its sharpest sectarian tensions in years. To quote the HRW director for the Middle East, Sarah Leah Whitson, "All the Saudi Shi'ites want is for their government to respect their identity and treat them equally. Yet Saudi authorities routinely treat these people with scorn and suspicion."
"The Saudi government has long regarded its Shi'ite citizens through the prism of Wahhabi dogma or state stability, branding them as unbelievers or suspecting their national loyalties." According to the HRW report, state discrimination against Saudi Shi'ites extends to realms other than religious freedom. It cites discrimination in education freedom, bias in the judiciary (with Sunni judges disqualifying Shi'ite witnesses on the basis of their religion), and exclusion from employment.
Riyadh seems to have no clue on how to respond to the boiling Yemenese cauldron, especially as the Saudi regime is in transition. Throwing traditional Saudi caution and circumspection to the wind, Riyadh has used excessive force against the Houthis, who have claimed to be subject to phosphorous bombings by Saudi aircraft. It seems King Abdullah has passed the baton to the Gen-Next in Riyadh to handle the developing situation.
According to well-informed American scholars, this new generation of Saudi princes inclined to the use of muscle power includes assistant defense minister Prince Khaled bin Sultan, (son of the ailing Crown Prince Sultan); counter-terrorism chief Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, who recently escaped an al-Qaeda strike on his life; the governor of Najran, capital of Eastern province, Prince Mishal bin Abdullah; and the local government minister, Prince Mishal bin Miteb, who is also the king's nephew.
The young Saudi authorities have a three-pronged plan: create a "buffer zone" in northern Yemen by bombing the Houthi communities that inhabit the border region to retreat; fence the 932-mile long Saudi-Yemenese border to keep the impoverished Yemenese from infiltrating; and effect a naval blockade of northern Yemen so that the Houthis cannot source arms. The efficacy of the Saudi approach is highly doubtful and it may end up only in creating a "Yemenese Hezbollah" that sooner or later taps into the Shi'ite resentment in Saudi Arabia's Eastern province.
A time bomb is ticking. In all probability, the hot-headed Saudi policies may only end up incrementally driving Yemen into a "failed state" resembling nearby Somalia. (To cap it all, the U.S. is gearing up to offer a new front in Yemen in the "war on terror.")
Saudi commentators allege that Tehran is supporting the Houthis and is hoping for a Saudi quagmire. The allegation remains to be tested as the crisis evolves. Conceivably, Tehran will feel greatly relieved if a situation emerges whereby Riyadh has no time or energy to spare to mess around with Iraq and Afghanistan — or with Jundullah.
One thing is certain. Tehran will do nothing adventurous that sullies its reputation as a "responsible" regional power. A confrontation with the U.S. is the last thing that Tehran is looking for, either. Persians have a keen sense of history and have always preferred brain over brawn. Tehran cannot be oblivious that in any case, it is well placed to garner political mileage out of excessive Saudi involvement in Yemen, which will tarnish Riyadh's regional standing and inevitably produce a Houthi (Yemenese nationalist) backlash. To call such a backlash Hezbollah or not becomes a minor detail.
Israeli army chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi couldn't have summed it up better when he said recently in Knesset (parliament) testimony, "Iran is very radical on one hand, but on the other hand you can't say that it is an irrational country."
— Ambassador M. K. Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.
12. NEWS BRIEFS
By Nathan Rosenblum
• ABUSE IN NYS JUVENILE DETENTION SYSTEM: The conditions for young people in New York State's juvenile detention centers are so horrific that the Legal Aid Society filed a class action suit in Manhattan Federal Court Dec. 30 on behalf of some 500 youths in 10 state institutions. The suit calls for an injunction to limit the frequency and intensity of harsh physical restraining measures that have injured many of the child inmates, and other excessive punishments. The Legal Aid Society took action after two recent reports from the Department of Justice and from the state itself which describe a number of abuses by prison guards, including serious injuries. In several cases, the children were threatened with further punishment if they spoke about being abused.
In many cases, it was reported, children suffering from mental illness are kept with violent offenders. It is estimated over 50% have been diagnosed with a mental health issue, and over 30% have developmental disabilities, but treatment is inadequate. The suit also calls upon the state to require the Office of Children and Family Services, which oversees the system, to provide sufficient mental health support for the 1,000 youths in its charge, over half of whom have been convicted for misdemeanors. There are stark racial disparities in the juvenile detention system. A disproportionate 80% of the system's 1,000 inmates are African American or Latino despite the fact that the state’s juvenile population is less than half Black and Latino. About 75% are from the New York City area, but the prisons are all located upstate. For many parents it is not only a long journey but prohibitively expensive. Educational services provided in the prisons are minimal. The median age of the inmates is nearly 16, but about a third of them can only read at a third grade level.
An editorial in the New York Times Jan. 5 noted that "Gladys Carrión, New York’s reform-minded commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services, has been calling on the state to close many of its remote, prison-style juvenile facilities and shift resources and children to therapeutic programs located in their communities." The move has been opposed by local interests upstate where prisons are counted upon to provide jobs and income to depressed communities.
In a related development, a new report from the Justice Department shows that juvenile detention centers in many parts of the United States have been the scene of widespread sexual abuse. About 12% of those youthful inmates have suffered sexual abuse, and at some institutions the rate is as high one third of all prisoners. This level of abuse, often by prison staff, is far higher than reported in state records.
• U.S. WON'T OFFICIALLY END KOREAN WAR: The Obama Administration, like previous U.S. governments since a1953 truce halted fighting Korean war, this month refused to sign a treaty with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea) officially concluding the hostilities. Theoretically the war is still continuing, 57 years after a truce was declared. The Pyongyang government has repeatedly sought a treaty all these years, since the absence of a formal end to the war means the U.S. could "legally" resume the fighting any time it desires to do so.
The U.S. has 28,500 troops permanently encamped in South Korea plus nuclear-armed submarines, missiles, and Guam-based bombers ready to attack the DPRK at a moment's notice. Washington's refusal to sign a treaty is a major reason for the communist government's continuing antipathy to the United States. During the three-year war millions of North Koreans were killed in massive attacks by U.S. bombers and the other ravages of war. In Pyongyang, every building over one story high except one was destroyed in the bombings. The north is depicted by the U.S. as warlike and threatening to South Korea, but in reality the south spends about nine times more a year on the military than does the north — even though the U.S. will aid the south in any conflict and the north stands alone.
The latest U.S. rejection of the North Korean call to sign a peace treaty evoked a statement from Washington that it is "not going to pay North Korea to come back to the six-party talks," as though signing a treaty is some kind of blackmail. According to an article the same day by Jason Ditz at antiwar.com: "Despite State Department insistences that a return to the six-party talks come before any discussion of a peace treaty, it is unclear what the talks can possibly hope to accomplish when the participants remain in a state of war, or what harm could possibly be done to them by closing the book formally on one of the bloodiest wars of the later half of the 20th century. The United States clearly has many nations with whom it does not desire 'normal' relations, but in most cases they aren’t at war with them." (The Web site of National Campaign to End the Korean War is at http://endthekoreanwar.org/index.php.)
• U.S.UNEMPLOYMENT HITS NEW HIGH: American workers lost another 85,000 jobs in December, far higher than expected, according to government reports. While unemployment is still officially at 10%, this does not include 661,000 people who were too discouraged to look for work in the month prior to the survey. In addition, it excludes large numbers of people who are underemployed, i.e., working irregularly or part-time who need a full time position to make ends meet. When all categories are included, the rate amounts to 17% of the work force. There is a major ethnic disparity concealed in the jobless figures. From the beginning of the recession, unemployment has increased by 4.9 % for white people and 6.7% for African Americans. Younger workers in their late teens have been hit exceptionally hard. Unemployment for white youth is 23%, for Latinos 34.7%, and for blacks 48.4%.
In addition, workers are unemployed for much longer periods of time during a recession, and 60% of the unemployed who are actively looking for a job do not qualify for unemployment benefits. Higher unemployment means more people without health insurance, since many workers receive this benefit through employers. The Obama administration’s solution to offer tax deductions for businesses that hire workers is widely viewed as offering little assistance. Despite record unemployment, productivity increased 9.5 in the third quarter of 2009, the highest rate in six years. This means that fewer employees are doing more work while corporations make more money. Labor costs declined by 5.2% in the third quarter, the largest decrease since record keeping began in 1948. There is increasing pressure for a government jobs program similar to New Deal agencies such as the Works Projects Administration — but the Obama Administration is having none of it.
13. CLIMATE CHANGE AND CAPITALISM - 1
BOLIVIA'S EVO MORALES
Two left wing presidents from Latin America — Bolivia's Evo Morales and Venezuela's Hugo Chávez — enlivened the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last month by suggesting that global warming was primarily the product of the capitalist mode of production with its driving need to exploit the Earth and its resources for private profit.
"Morales called on the world leaders to raise their ambitions radically and hold temperature increases over the next century to just 1.0 Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit)," the British daily Guardian reported Dec. 17.
"In the most ambitious statement yet made at the climate summit, Morales demanded rich countries pay climate change reparations and proposed an international climate court of justice to prosecute countries for climate crimes. 'Our objective is to save humanity and not just half of humanity,' he said. 'We are here to save Mother Earth. Our objective is to reduce climate change to [under] 1C. [Above this] many islands will disappear and Africa will suffer a holocaust.'"
The Cuban News Agency reported the same day that Morales proposed a world referendum on climate change during his speech at what was formally termed the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Speaking to the plenary of the summit, Morales said that discussing the effects of global warming and not the causes is hypocritical.
Prensa Latina news agency reports that the new initiative of the Bolivian leader includes five questions that all citizens of the world should answer to determine the steps that governments should take.
The questions suggested by Morales are the following: Should the civil society be in harmony with nature? Should the excessive consumerist habits of today’s world be changed? Should the emission of polluting gases be reduced to 1C? Should today’s huge military budgets be earmarked for the fight against climate change? And, should there be an International Court of Justice to defend Mother Earth?
Morales, the only indigenous head of state in the Americas, argued that "The real cause of climate change is the capitalist system. If we want to save the earth then we must end that economic model.
"Capitalism wants to address climate change with carbon markets. We denounce those markets and the countries which [promote them]. It’s time to stop making money from the disgrace that they have perpetrated. Let’s eradicate poverty and bring in climate justice. If capitalism resists we have to do battle with it. If we do not, then mankind, the greatest creation in the universe, will disappear." [By doing battle he was advocating political struggle.]
The remarks of Hugo Chávez follow directly below.
14. CLIMATE CHANGE AND CAPITALISM - 2
VENEZUELA'S HUGO CHÁVEZ
[Following are substantial excerpts from the Dec. 16 speech by President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen that was attended by some 200 countries and over 100 heads of state. As he spoke, thousands of mostly youthful demonstrators were in the streets of the Danish capital demanding substantial progress in reducing the carbon emissions that are causing global warming. After several days of meetings very little progress took place — but the hopes of the world's peoples have been aroused and they are demanding action in future.]
....There is a group of countries that consider themselves superior to us in the [global] South, to us in the Third World, to us, the underdeveloped countries, or as a great friend Eduardo Galeano [the Uruguayan writer and social scientist] says, we, the crushed countries, as if a train ran over us in history....
[T]o paraphrase Karl Marx, the great Karl Marx, a spectre is haunting the streets of Copenhagen, and I think that spectre walks silently through this room, walking around among us, through the halls, out below, it rises; this is a terrible spectre almost nobody wants to mention: Capitalism is the spectre.... It’s capitalism, the people roar, out there [in the streets], hear them.
I have been reading some of the slogans painted on the streets, and I think the slogans of these youngsters, some of which I heard when I was young.... You can hear among others, "Don’t change the climate, change the system."
And I take it onboard for us. Let’s not change the climate, let’s change the system! And consequently we will begin to save the planet. Capitalism is a destructive development model that is putting an end to life; it threatens to put a definitive end to the human species.
And another slogan calls for reflection. It is very in tune with the banking crisis that swept the world and still affects it, and of how the rich northern countries gave aid to bankers and the big banks. The U.S. alone gave, well, I lost the figure, but it is astronomical, to save the banks. They say in the streets the following: "If the climate were a bank it would have been saved already."
And I think that’s true. If the climate were one of the biggest capitalist banks, the rich governments would have saved it....
The rich are destroying the planet. Do they think they can go to another when they destroy this one? Do they have plans to go to another planet? So far there is none on the horizon of the galaxy....
Current human activity exceeds the threshold of sustainability, endangering life on the planet, but also in this we are profoundly unequal.
I want to recall: The 500 million richest people [in the world],... this seven percent is responsible for 50 percent of emissions, while the poorest 50 percent accounts for only seven percent of emissions.
So it strikes me as a bit strange to put the United States and China at the same level. The United States has just [reached]... 300 million people. China has nearly five times the U.S. population. The United Status consumes more than 20 million barrels of oil a day, China only reaches 5-6 million barrels a day. You can’t ask the same of the United States and China.
There are issues to discuss, hopefully we the heads of states and governments can sit down and discuss the truth, the truth about these issues. So, Mr. President, 60 percent of the planet’s ecosystems are damaged, 20 percent of the earth’s crust is degraded, we have been impassive witnesses to deforestation, land conversion, desertification, deterioration of fresh water systems, overexploitation of marine resources, pollution and loss of biodiversity.
The overuse of the land exceeds by 30 percent the capacity to regenerate it. The planet is losing what the technicians call the ability to regulate itself; the planet is losing this. Every day more waste than can be processed is released. The survival of our species hammers in the consciousness of humanity. Despite the urgency, it has taken two years of negotiations for a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, and we attend this event without any real and meaningful agreement....
The scientifically substantiated objective of reducing the emission of polluting gases and achieving an agreement on long-term cooperation clearly, today at this time, has apparently failed, for now. What is the reason? We have no doubt.
The reason is the irresponsible attitude and lack of political will from the most powerful nations on the planet. No one should feel offended, I recall the great José Gervasio Artigas when he said: “With the truth, I neither offend nor fear.” But it is actually an irresponsible attitude of positions, of reversals, of exclusions, of elitist management of a problem that belongs to everyone and that we can only solve together.
The political conservatism and selfishness of the largest consumers, of the richest countries shows high insensitivity and lack of solidarity with the poor, the hungry, and the most vulnerable to disease, to natural disasters. Mr. President, a new and single agreement is essential, applicable to absolutely unequal parties, according to the magnitude of their contributions and economic, financial and technological capabilities and based on unconditional respect for the principles contained in the Convention.
Developed countries should set binding, clear and concrete commitments for the substantial reduction of their emissions and assume obligations of financial and technological assistance to poor countries to cope with the destructive dangers of climate change. In this respect, the uniqueness of island states and least developed countries should be fully recognized.
Mr. President, climate change is not the only problem facing humanity today. Other scourges and injustices beset us, the gap between rich and poor countries has continued to grow, despite all the millennium goals, the Monterrey financing summit, at all these summits as the president of Senegal said here, revealing a great truth, there are promises and unfulfilled promises and the world continues its destructive march.
The total income of the 500 richest individuals in the world is greater than the income of the 416 million poorest people. The 2.8 billion people living in poverty on less than $2 per day, representing 40 per percent of the global population, receive only 5 percent of world income.
Today each year about 9.2 million children die before reaching their fifth year and 99.9 percent of these deaths occur in poorer countries.
Infant mortality is 47 deaths per thousand live births, but is only 5 per thousand in rich countries. Life expectancy on the planet is 67 years, in rich countries it is 79, while in some poor nations is only 40 years.
Additionally, there are 1.1 billion people without access to drinking water, 2.6 billion without sanitation services, over 800 million illiterate and 1.02 billion hungry people, that’s the global scenario.
Let’s talk about the cause, let’s not evade responsibilities, and let’s not evade the depth of this problem. The cause, undoubtedly, I return to the theme of this whole disastrous panorama, is the destructive metabolic system of capital and its embodied model: Capitalism.
Here’s a quote that I want to read briefly, from that great Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff:
"What is the cause? Ah, the cause is the dream of seeking happiness through material accumulation and of endless progress, using for this science and technology with which they can exploit without limits all the resources of the earth.... Can a finite earth support an infinite project? The thesis of capitalism, infinite development, is a destructive pattern, let’s face it."
How long, we ask from Venezuela, Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, how long are we going to allow such injustices and inequalities? How long are we going to tolerate the current international economic order and prevailing market mechanisms? How long are we going to allow huge epidemics like HIV/AIDS to ravage entire populations? How long are we going to allow the hungry to not eat or to be able to feed their own children? How long are we going to allow millions of children to die from curable diseases? How long will we allow armed conflicts to massacre millions of innocent human beings in order for the powerful to seize the resources of other peoples?
Cease the aggressions and the wars! We the peoples of the world ask of the empires, to those who try to continue dominating the world and exploiting us. No more imperial military bases or military coups! Let’s build a more just and equitable economic and social order, let’s eradicate poverty, let’s immediately stop the high emission levels, let’s stop environmental degradation and avoid the great catastrophe of climate change, let’s integrate ourselves into the noble goal of everyone being more free and united....
Socialism, the other spectre Karl Marx spoke about, which walks here too, rather it is like a counter-spectre. Socialism, this is the direction, this is the path to save the planet, I don’t have the least doubt. Capitalism is the road to hell, to the destruction of the world. We say this from Venezuela, which because of socialism faces threats from the U.S. Empire....
[I]f the destructive nature of capitalism opposes us, let’s fight against it and make it obey us, let’s not wait idly by for the death of humanity. History calls on us to unite and to fight.
If capitalism resists, we are obliged to take up a battle against capitalism and open the way for the salvation of the human species. It’s up to us, raising the banners of Christ, Mohammed, equality, love, justice, humanity, the true and most profound humanism. If we don’t do it, the most wonderful creation of the universe, the human being, will disappear, it will disappear.
This planet is billions of years old, and this planet existed for billions of years without us, the human species, i.e. it doesn’t need us to exist. Now, without the Earth we will not exist, and we are destroying Pachamama as Evo says, as our indigenous brothers from South America say.
Finally, Mr. President, and to finish, let’s listen to Fidel Castro when he said: “One species is in danger of extinction: Humanity.” Let’s listen to Rosa Luxemburg when she said: “Socialism or Barbarism.” Let us listen to Christ the Redeemer when he said: “Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, we are capable of not making this Earth the tomb of humanity. Let us make this earth a heaven, a heaven of life, of peace, peace and brotherhood for all humanity, for the human species.
15. "BURN" & "THE ECOLOGICAL REVOLUTION"
We'd like to recommend a film, and a book. The movie's 40 years old but we just viewed it this month after reading about the plot in John Bellamy Foster's new book, "The Ecological Revolution." The film is "Burn," which takes place in the mid-1800s, stars Marlon Brando, and is directed by the Italian auteur Gillo Pontecorvo, who a few years earlier directed one of the greatest of all films, "The Battle of Algiers." You can obtain "Burn" on Netflix.
It's an extraordinary film — vaguely based on the early history of the French colonies of Guadeloupe and/or Haiti — strongly anticolonialist, but by extension also an allegory about the destruction of the environment in the process of generating superprofits. "Burn" relates to the fact that the movie's fictional colonial overlord, Portugal, virtually burned down the entire island in the 16th Century to destroy the indigenous population and replace it with African slaves.
Some 300 years after Portugal took control of the island and presided over a slave/sugar economy, English secret agent Sir William Walker (Brando) instigates a slave rebellion to bring about British control of the colony and its lucrative sugar trade. The revolt is successful, but the conniving Walker arranged for the white planter class to take over the colony. Slavery is abolished, and the blacks now become powerless and exploited sugar cane workers without any role in the government they fought to control, except as low-ranking obedient soldiers in the white man's army.
A decade after the first rebellion, the black workers revolt again. The imperialist British government sends Walker back to the island with enough British soldiers to crush the uprising in order to protect the imperial interests of the crown and the lucrative sugar industry — and the island is burned again.
As Foster writes, "To defeat [the guerrilla war] Walker orders the burning down of all the plantations on the island. When the local representative of the British sugar interests objects, Walker explains: 'That is the logic of profit.... One builds to make money, and to go on making it, or to make more sometimes it is necessary to destroy.' This, he reminds his interlocutor, is how the island 'Burn' got its name. Nature on the island had to be destroyed, so that labor can be exploited on it for hundreds of additional years."
We also commend Foster's book, an eye-opening analysis of the ecological crisis published by Monthly Review Press. He posits that "it is now widely recognized that an ecological revolution — a massive and sudden change in the relation of humanity to the Earth — is necessary." There are two main approaches.
"The first of these is best described as an eco-industrial revolution — a new industrial revolution that seeks almost entirely by technological means, such as more efficient energy systems, to create the basis for sustainable capitalist development....
"The second approach — the one I advance in this book — is that of a more radical, eco-social revolution, which draws on alternative technologies where necessary, but emphasizes the need to transform the human relation to nature and the constitution of society at its roots within the existing social relations of production. This can be accomplished only through a process of sustainable human development. This means moving decisively in the direction of egalitarian and communal forms of production, distribution, exchange, and consumption, thus breaking with the logic of the dominant social order."
16. MORE ACCEPTANCE FOR MARIJUANA IN U.S.
[Editor's Note: The following article describes the "Top 10 Events in 2009 That Will Change the Way We Think About Marijuana." It was written for AlterNet Jan. 1 by Paul Armentano, the deputy director of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).]
#1 Obama Administration: Don’t Focus On Medical Marijuana Prosecutions
United States Deputy Attorney General David Ogden issued a memorandum to federal prosecutors in October directing them to not “focus federal resources… on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.” The directive upheld a campaign promise by President Barack Obama, who had previously pledged that he was “not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue.”
#2 Public Support For Legalizing Pot Hits All-Time High
A majority of U.S. voters now support legalizing marijuana, according to a national poll of 1,004 likely voters published in December by Angus Reid. The Angus Reid Public Opinion poll results echo those of separate national polls conducted this year by Gallup, Zogby, ABC News, CBS News, Rasmussen Reports, and the California Field Poll, each of which reported greater public support for marijuana legalization than ever before.
#3 Lifetime Marijuana Use Associated With Reduced Cancer Risk
The moderate long-term use of cannabis is associated with a reduced risk of head and neck cancer, according to the results of a population-based control study published in August by the journal Cancer Prevention Research. Authors reported, “After adjusting for potential confounders (including smoking and alcohol drinking), 10 to 20 years of marijuana use was associated with a significantly reduced risk of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.”
#4 AMA Calls For Review Of Marijuana’s Prohibitive Status
In November, the American Medical Association resolved that marijuana should longer be classified as a Schedule I prohibited substance. Drugs classified in Schedule I are defined as possessing “no currently accepted use in treatment in the United States.” In a separate action, the AMA also determined, “Results of short term controlled trials indicate that smoked cannabis reduces neuropathic pain, improves appetite and caloric intake especially in patients with reduced muscle mass, and may relieve spasticity and pain in patients with multiple sclerosis.”
#5 California: Lawmakers Hold Historic Hearing On Marijuana Legalization
State lawmakers heard testimony in October in support of taxing and regulating the commercial production and distribution of cannabis for adults age 21 and older. Additional hearings, as well as a vote on Assembly Bill 390: the Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act, are scheduled for January 12, 2010.
#6 Maine Voters Approve Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Measure; Dispensaries Coming To Rhode Island, Washington, DC In 2010
Voters in November decided in favor of a statewide measure that allows for the state to license non-profit facilities to distribute medical cannabis to qualified patients. The vote marked the first time that citizens ever approved a statewide ballot proposal authorizing the creation of dispensaries. In June, Rhode Island lawmakers enacted a similar measure. In December, Congress lifted federal restrictions to allow for the DC City Council to implement provisions of a ten-year-old medical marijuana law that would allow for the use and distribution of medicinal cannabis in the District of Columbia.
#7 Oakland: Voters Approve First-In-The-Nation Medical Marijuana Business Tax
In July 80 percent of municipal voters approved Ballot Measure F, the nation’s first ever business tax on the retail sales of cannabis. The tax, which takes effect on January 1, imposes an exclusive tax for “cannabis businesses” of $18 for every $1,000 of gross receipts.
#8 Rasmussen Poll: Majority Of Americans Say Marijuana Is Safer Than Alcohol
More than half of American adults believe that alcohol is “more dangerous” than marijuana, according to the results of a national telephone poll of 1,000 likely voters published in September by Rasmussen Reports. Fifty-one percent of respondents, including a majority of women, rated the use of marijuana to be less dangerous than alcohol. Only 19 percent of those polled said that cannabis is the more dangerous of the two substances.
#9 Many Teens See Medical Cannabis As Alternative Treatment Option
Some one-third of adolescents view their use of marijuana as therapeutic rather than recreational, according to survey data published in May by the journal Substance Abuse, Treatment, Prevention and Policy. Teens most commonly reported using cannabis therapeutically to counter symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), physical pain, and sleeplessness. In November several mainstream media outlets, including The New York Times and Good Morning America, featured stories on adolescents using marijuana as a medicine.
#10 Oregon NORML Opens ‘Cannabis Café,’ Media Frenzy Follows
In November Oregon NORML opened the state’s first café catering to state-authorized medical marijuana patients. Unlike conventional marijuana dispensaries that operate in states like California and Colorado, medical cannabis is not sold on the premises, nor is the primary function of the café to dispense marijuana. “This is not a medical marijuana dispensary with a café; this is a café for medical marijuana patients,” said Madeline Martinez, Oregon NORML Executive Director. The Associated Press, Reuters, USA Today, The New York Times, and Democracy Now were among the hundreds of media outlets that covered the story.
17. JOURNEY TO NOWHERE
[Editor's Note: This article appeared in the Dec. 30 English language edition of Haaretz, Israel's oldest and probably most influential daily newspaper. Its editorial policy is considered liberal. The author is a progressive columnist and editorial board member of the same publication.]
By Gideon Levy
Well, here we are. A new year begins at midnight, and for the Middle East, 2010 will be a year of negotiations. Peace envoys are warming up at the starting line, document writers are polishing draft agreements for the envoys, advisers are coming up with their own phraseology, pundits are piling up verbiage, photographers are aiming their cameras, and diplomats are packing their bags and sharpening their tongues.
George Mitchell will be here soon, Benjamin Netanyahu has already been to Cairo, Mahmoud Abbas is on his way. In the end there will be a summit. In Washington they'll be elated, in Europe they'll be exhilarated, the settlers will fulminate and the leftists will somnambulate. Yet another scene in the theater of the absurd, another act in the endless grotesque burlesque.
Here we are again: The season of negotiations is upon us, negotiations that amount to nothing.
Already the archives are bursting at the seams with plans and initiatives, outlines and parameters, all already thick with dust. Never before has there been so dangerous and so protracted a conflict with so many wars and so many peace plans. From the first Rogers Plan of December 1969 to the second and third Rogers plans and up to the present, it's been a horrifyingly dreary tale of sterile diplomacy, a 40-year journey to nowhere.
Everything has already been written and all the plans are amazingly similar, which isn't surprising. If you want peace, just go to one of the drawers and randomly pluck out any of the plans, it really doesn't matter which, and start implementing it. And if you want a "peace process," you're invited to join the coming festivities, including the killer hangover.
One could, for example, pull the original Rogers Plan out of the mothballs. William Rogers himself has been dead for years, but everything is right there in his plan: withdrawal to the 1967 borders, recognition, sovereignty, peace. It was Israel that rejected it. Forty years on, and we are wallowing in the exact same spot. You want to be a little more up-to-date? Take Bill Clinton's plan - everything's there too. So why start off yet again on another campaign of tortuous language? Why do all the Uzi Arads and George Mitchells have to wear themselves out?
Benjamin Netanyahu has already undergone his "historic turnabout," he's reportedly ready to discuss, certainly discuss, the '67 borders, with territory swaps and security arrangements. Even the timetable has already been set - two years, of course it's two years, it's always two years, two years more. At the end, Israel's ultimate triumph will be declared: There's no partner. Again we'll hear that the Palestinian president is "a chicken with no feathers" or that the Palestinian leaders are "a gang of terrorists," and again we'll hear that there's no one to talk to.
There is no Palestinian partner, because there is no Israeli partner who is ready to take action. The day that Israel starts acting, together with the Palestinians, the partner will be there. Even Nelson Mandela wasn't the Mandela we know until he was freed from prison and South Africa was placed in his hands. He too refused to give up armed resistance for decades, but when he was given a true opportunity, he followed a path of peace. The key was in the hands of F.W. de Clerk, not those of Mandela. Israel, too, has that key. Now that it is no longer possible to halt everything because of terrorism, since there is almost none, Israel has lost one of its best weapons. When there is terrorism, one cannot act, and when there is no terrorism, there's no reason to act. But don't worry, it will be back, if nothing happens. The experience of the disengagement won't help either, because the continued imprisonment of the Gazans means that nothing has changed in their lives.
The last person to touch the dream was Ehud Olmert. Countless "excellent" meetings with Abbas, photo ops and bold speeches in abundance. Almost courage, nearly accord, a "shelf agreement" any minute now. Meanwhile, at the edge of the shelf are two lost wars and more settlement construction. All the fine words were rendered worthless by the action on the ground. Because this is the supreme test: It doesn't matter what the Israelis say, it matters what they do.
The time for words is over. Stop negotiating, start doing. Lifting the blockade on Gaza and declaring a perpetual freeze on building in the settlements would do more than a thousand formulations. Someone who wants two states doesn't build even one more balcony. This is the litmus test of Israel's true intentions. Without taking these steps, everything else is a waste of time, the time of the negotiators and of all of us. Does Netanyahu mean to take any of these steps? That is very doubtful, troublingly so.
18. SCIENTISTS BLAST MOUNTAINTOP MINING
By Science Today
Based on a comprehensive analysis of the latest scientific findings and new data, a group of the nation's leading environmental scientists are calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S Army Corps of Engineers to stay all new mountaintop mining permits.
In the Jan. 8 issue of the journal Science, they argue that peer-reviewed research unequivocally documents irreversible environmental impacts from this form of mining which also exposes local residents to a higher risk of serious health problems
The authors — hydrologists, ecologists and engineers — are internationally recognized scientists, including several members of the National Academy of Sciences. They argue that the U.S. should take a global leadership role on the issue, as surface mining in many developing countries is expected to grow extensively in the next decade.
"The scientific evidence of the severe environmental and human impacts from mountaintop mining is strong and irrefutable," says lead author Dr. Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and University of Maryland, College Park. "Its impacts are pervasive and long lasting and there is no evidence that any mitigation practices successfully reverse the damage it causes."
In mountaintop mining, upper elevation forests are cleared and stripped of topsoil, and explosives are used to break up rocks in order to access coal buried below. Much of this rock is pushed into adjacent valleys where it buries and obliterates streams. Mountaintop mining with valley fills (MTM/VF) is widespread throughout eastern Kentucky, West Virginia, and southwestern Virginia.
In their paper, the authors outline severe environmental degradation taking place at mining sites and downstream. The practice destroys extensive tracts of deciduous forests and buries small streams that play essential roles in the overall health of entire watersheds. Waterborne contaminants enter streams that remain below valley fills and can be transported great distances into larger bodies of water.
Co-author Dr. Emily Bernhardt, of Duke University, explains that "The chemicals released into streams from valley fills contain a variety of ions and trace metals which are toxic or debilitating for many organisms, which explains why biodiversity is reduced below valley fills." The authors provide evidence that mine reclamation and mitigation practices have not prevented the contaminants from moving into downstream waters.
The authors also describe human health impacts associated with surface mining for coal in the Appalachian region, including elevated rates of mortality, lung cancer, and chronic heart, lung and kidney disease in coal producing communities.
"Over the last 30 years, there has been a global increase in surface mining, and it is now the dominant driver of land-use change in the Central Appalachian region," says Dr. Keith Eshleman also of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. "We now know that surface mining has extraordinary consequences for both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Notwithstanding recent attempts to improve reclamation, the immense scale of mountaintop mining makes it unrealistic to think that true restoration or mitigation is possible with current techniques."
The scientists argue that regulators should no longer ignore rigorous science. "Mining permits are being issued despite the preponderance of scientific evidence that impacts are pervasive and irreversible and that mitigation cannot compensate for losses. Considering environmental impacts of MTM/VF, in combination with evidence that the health of people living in surface-mining regions of the central Appalachians may be compromised by mining activities, we conclude that MTM/VF permits should not be granted unless new methods can be subjected to rigorous peer-review and shown to remedy these problems." [Note: Just before report was issued the EPA approved a new removal permit in West Virginia.]
"Now more than ever, we need a 21st century approach to fulfilling our nation's energy needs," says Dr. Palmer. "No longer can we risk human and environmental health in our never-ending search for inexpensive energy. We need to move beyond filling valleys with mountaintop mining waste and temporarily storing fly ash in containment ponds to a modern energy production process built upon sound science, environmental safety and economic common sense."